The Detroit Pistons come to town tonight to take on the Blazers at the Moda Center, and so far this year they've seen varying degrees of success with their newly upgraded core of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.
The Pistons are the top overall team in the league in points in the paint, thanks to the solid play of Drummond and Monroe, their starting frontcourt tandem. Both are taking the majority of their shots at the rim and converting efficiently, with Monroe leading the way with almost 18 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Drummond contributes 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds a contest, while shooting 58.5 percent.
Guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum are the other rotational players meeting or exceeding the expectations of the organization and fan base. Both players have shot well so far this season, particularly from outside.
Stuckey, Bynum and rookie guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been the only legitimate threats from behind the three-point line for the Pistons in their first five games, but none of the three averages more than 1.8 three-pointers a game. No, the majority of Detroit's three-point shots are being launched by Smith, Jennings and backup point Chauncey Billups. Their respective success rates from downtown? 28.6, 33.3 and 33.3 percent, and Smith is bombing away 7 times a game from behind the arc. That's not who you want leading your team in three-point field-goals attempted; Smith's been a sub-30 percent outside shooter most of his career, so there's probably not much hope in the Motor City that he'll increase his percentages much.
Smith is averaging 18.8 points, seven boards and three assists and converting three-quarters of his rim attempts. On the downside, he's attempting over 17 shots a game to get those stats and turns the ball over 4.2 times a game. Blazers coach Terry Stotts' game plan will likely allow Smith to handle the ball on the perimeter and jack up as many threes as he wants. Keeping him out of the paint and on the outside would probably prove advantageous for a Blazers team that continues to struggle with its interior defense.
Portland's successes thus far are partly due to the team's ability to hit outside shots and keep the ball movement going. Detroit is pretty average at defending the perimeter and is happy to allow ball movement, so the Blazers' jump-shooters could find themselves open often on the perimeter. Taking advantage of these weaknesses of the Pistons' defense would be a wise move, but the defense is pretty mediocre as a whole this year, save for their ability to slow the game down and not allow a high amount of field-goal attempts. Keeping the offense flowing and the tempo up would force Detroit's defense to adjust to Portland's offense instead of the other way around. Expect to see a lot of three-point attempts for the Blazers and a healthy diet of rim-clanks from Smith and Jennings liberally firing up outside shots.
On the topic of Jennings, he is struggling across the board with only 17.7 points to show for 16.3 attempts per game. He's hitting a third of his shots while turning the ball over 3 times a game. He's gotten teammates involved this year, averaging 7 assists a game and he's somehow averaging 3 steals, so he's not doing all bad, just mainly in terms of efficiency. Allowing him and Smith to toss up over 34 combined shot attempts every night appears a solid key for an opponent victory early on this season.
Damian Lillard should look to affect the game with his outside shooting and distributing. If he can get past the first layer of defense, there should be open teammates on the perimeter. It's not too rough to finish among the tall trees of Detroit's interior defense, but guys on the outside should be able to benefit from Lillard's and Mo Williams' drive-and-kicks.
Portland's big men and penetrating wings should be able to score at the rim, but Detroit's defense might offer better looks around the perimeter. LaMarcus Aldridge should be able to score in his normal variety of ways tonight, so don't be surprised to see him attempting a lot of shots. Same goes for Lillard.
Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright will have their hands full on defense, but should be able to contribute from behind the arc tonight. This Portland team has seen success from outside early on in this young season, and that probably won't change against the Pistons at home.
Portland is actually a better rebounding team than the Pistons. The one glaring advantage for Detroit would be fastbreak points, because they love to push it and Portland is pretty average at defending in transition. Expect the Pistons to be aggressive pushing the ball when they have the opportunity because they don't hold very many distinct advantages over the Blazers.
There will be large dosages of Smith and Jennings, and if Portland can handle the rest of the squad, these two would probably be willing to shoot the Pistons right out of the game. Both teams score well but also allow a lot of points. The Blazers will have to keep their fouling in check because the Pistons convert very well at the line. Portland, on the other hand, should look to improve their game at the foul-line because Detroit will give them opportunities for free points. Converting at the charity stripe could be crucial for a Portland victory.
This is certainly a winnable game for Portland against a Detroit team still struggling to fully integrate its newly acquired pieces, but the Pistons have enough talent to turn it around if things click. If Smith decides to find his way to the rim tonight instead of firing away ill-advised threes, the Pistons automatically become more difficult to defeat. If the Blazers stick to the game plan, Detroit has already shown a willingness to beat themselves with poor shot-selection and pretty marginal defense, though. In an already cushy spot of their schedule, this would be a frustrating game to see Portland lose against an opponent they overmatch on paper.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter