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The Shop: Super Teams, Systems, Contracts

In the second edition of The Shop, Jabari Davis and Lang Greene discuss super teams, systems and extensions.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back for the second installment of The Shop! We appreciate all the feedback we received after the first edition, and we want to remind you that you can weigh in on our conversation on Twitter by using #TheShop and tagging each of us (@JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). You can also leave your thoughts directly in the comment section below.Domantas

Jabari Davis: Alright, Lang, this time around we’re going to discuss the notion of “super teams” a bit more and how the Warriors may handle the pressure and scrutiny this year. We’ll also talk about an apology from the Philadelphia 76ers and see where else the conversation leads us this week.

Let’s start in Oakland, even though I promised myself that I’d Euro-step most of the inevitable and oftentimes media-driven narratives that would surround this team for as long as possible. To a certain degree, it appears certain members of this team may not have anticipated quite as much scrutiny as they’ve already gotten.

That seems a bit crazy, especially because everyone saw what happened just six years ago when the Miami HEAT came together to form their super team. Yes, the circumstances were a bit different, but there are some similarities when it comes to the path and ultimate struggles LeBron James endured while attempting to wear the ‘black hat’ for an extended period of time in that first season. It might have been a good idea for Kevin Durant or someone in his crew to reach out directly to James to discuss how the transition went.

And even though Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were already mainstays and top contributors on a historically good team, they should’ve realized that adding Durant would mean that a Chris-Bosh-like role change would be necessary for the good of the team.

Not to make a mountain out of a relative molehill, but do you get the feeling that perhaps the most difficult adjustment this team will have to make – beyond figuring out how to effectively and consistently defend the interior – will be in fully accepting and embracing the redefined roles as well as the scrutiny and vitriol of fans at times?

Lang Greene: You are onto something, my man. Make no mistake, the Warriors are going to walk that aisle most nights and leave the arena with their arms raised to the sky in victory (I’m projecting 65 victories). They are too talented not to win at a high level, but here is the deal: Sacrifices must be made for teams of this magnitude to work. Period. Without sacrifices, there will not be a title. We touched on this last week when we said that the role players are going to be key. But to your point, the guys at the top of the hierarchy must adjust.

Remember, Klay said he was “not sacrificing shit” before the season started. But Klay is a pro and I think a bit of that was just some macho, broad shoulder talk. You don’t add a superstar like Kevin Durant without adjusting your game to compensate for the future Hall of Famer. I think Klay gets that, but saying it publicly might be perceived as a weakness. That’s the reason I always loved the way Chris Bosh handled being the third man on the totem pole in Miami behind LeBron and Dwyane Wade. CB received all types of slander, but just kept playing ball and that’s the reason he is a future Hall of Famer.

One last note on Durant: It is going to be important that he stops talking about anything related to Oklahoma City. Put the lid on it. Refuse to address it. He has said enough. He made his decision and it is time to move on.

Which leads me to … the Oklahoma City Thunder, who solidified Russell Westbrook’s supporting cast by extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to the tune of over $175 million combined. WhewLawd … the money is flowing. What’s your take on the moves?

Davis: You’re exactly right about the Durant situation. He was actually the guy I was referring to when I mentioned trying to potentially do something you simply aren’t accustomed to. I would never be so presumptuous as to tell a player how to feel, act or even react, but I will say I do worry about Durant coming from what can only be considered an understandably friendly media market in OKC to what will absolutely be a circus (and he should’ve seen that coming). Not just because he joined a West Coast market, but also because of the specific team he joined and all of the circumstances that transpired during last year’s playoffs. Displays like that awkward, “I’mma yell at myself and get all pumped up… oh, what’s that? A camera?” post-workout shooting session are only going to add fuel to that fire.

I liked and understood the extensions by OKC, because it is obvious GM Sam Presti wants to keep that foundation around Westbrook as strong as possible, and can you blame him? I’ve already learned to pretty much ignore the numbers associated with recent contracts, because we’re at a stage where guys are simply going to get paid. While they shocked me over the past couple years, I’m always reminded of the fact that for contracts of that magnitude to be offered, somebody above them is making exponentially more than that. In that regard, I’m definitely happy to see players cashing in.

I actually wrote about the signings immediately after The Vertical reported the agreements. Both Adams and Oladipo make a lot of sense alongside Westbrook and for the future of the ballclub. Adams is only 24 years old, but looks as though he’s ready to take yet another step forward on both ends of the court after an impressive run to finish the regular season and playoffs last year. He has fully embraced his role as a pest who gets under the opposition’s skin, and he’s not afraid to challenge anyone at or around the rim. You can’t have too many guys like that on your roster.

Extending Oladipo also makes a lot of sense to me because even though his offensive game remains a bit of a work-in-progress from an efficiency standpoint, he is effective enough and can really disrupt things around the perimeter on the defensive end. Similar to Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix, Oladipo plays “bigger” than his actual stature and seems like a guy who can continue to thrive playing alongside Westbrook. I can’t state enough how important that aspect is.

I really like Domantas Sabonis and think his progress could determine just how expendable Enes Kanter is at the deadline. Fans are going to be annoyed that I’m always the one to bring up potential roster moves, but that’s just the nature of the business at times, so I don’t see the harm in speculating when things could make sense. And for the record, the fact that I’m mentioning Kanter isn’t because he isn’t a quality player. I think he’s a good player who can absolutely contribute on a winning team. But Kanter also has two years and over $36 million left on his deal after this season and if there’s any chance that Sabonis shows true signs of rapid development between now and next February, I would expect a quality front office such as OKC’s leadership group to at least consider all viable options for their roster.

Greene: I took a brief scroll through some mentions after The Vertical reported the extensions for Adams and Oladipo. One fan said something to the tune of, “Good job Presti, locking up that sixth seed for the next five years.” Yikes. While I don’t agree, it’s true that the Thunder did lock up almost $200 million to a couple of guys who haven’t come close to sniffing an All-Star game.

I have been on record plenty of times stating how much I love Adams’ approach to the game. The guy is like a unicorn in today’s league. Feisty, unapologetic, tough, no frills and hard-nosed. Championship teams have dedicated role playing guys like Adams on their roster. But here’s the deal: Those old championship teams weren’t paying $100 million for their services either. Westbrook is a certified goodie monster, but he’ll need another All-Star (or borderline All-Star) next to him in the rotation if OKC is going to snatch a title, or, at the very least emerge out of the West.

Davis: Switching gears a bit, what did you think about the Sixers and the apology they recently felt compelled to release regarding the situation with the would-be national anthem singer from opening night? For those who may not be familiar with the story, Sevyn Streeter is a singer who was reportedly scheduled to sing the national anthem before the Sixers faced Westbrook’s Thunder in their home opener. Just prior to going out to perform, Streeter was told she could no longer sing the anthem due to her jersey that had the words “We Matter” across the front. For more details beyond that, allow ‘Google’ to be your friend.

Here’s the Sixers’ apology:

We are sorry that this happened. After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe that the wrong decision was made, and Sevyn should have been welcomed to sing. We apologize to her, and in an effort to move the conversation forward, we have reached out to offer her an opportunity to return and perform at a game of her choice. We are waiting to hear back.”

The organization reportedly received some pretty strong feedback from the players that suggested displeasure with the decision and seemed to at least indicate a situation where whoever was responsible for that decision was guilty of being a bit tone-deaf to the room and eventual repercussions. Not to bury said individuals, but part of me wonders if this impacts how “forward-thinking and progressive” the NBA is seen on such matters and if they should be worried about the slippery slope that can come from determining which ways are permissible to protest?

Greene: Interesting situation. I always remind people that this country was built on dissent. The act of protesting or staging protests is at the very foundation of the United States of America. But being a little older now, I also understand that power structures aren’t going to allow protesters to run rampant and do whatever they want – especially not on private property. The First Amendment protects your freedom of speech from GOVERNMENT interference, not private organizations. I think this is important to note. The Sixers were within their rights as an entity to pull Sevyn from the event.

With that said, I thought it was a bad call because the backlash was predictable. Now when/if Sevyn returns to perform, the media attention surrounding the event will be a circus. I believe the league has been progressive (and proactive) in their approach to these challenging social issues.

Lastly, I just find it crazy how a “We Matter” tank top caused this much of a stir.     

Davis: I’ve gone on the record with high praise for the definitiveness with which Commissioner Adam Silver handled the Donald Sterling situation, even though I did at least understand those that wanted to entertain the conversation in defense against the way he actually lost his team. I even thought it was a smart move on the league’s part for preemptively getting together with the players’ union to discuss the matter in advance.

With all of that said, when it comes to limiting the ways people can speak, especially when being done in a peaceful and non-offensive manner as some have attempted, I think the league can find itself in an even more difficult situation when you are eventually asking both players and a significant portion of your total fan base to effectively choose a side when it comes to “the right way to act/feel” versus “who the HELL are you to tell me how to feel about social injustice” conversation if you aren’t careful in this situation if you’re the NBA.

Greene: Think about it … this is a subject people just don’t want to touch. We haven’t even mentioned the elephant (word) in the room yet with all of our back and forth dialogue. So I will: RACE. RACE. RACE.

People just don’t want to touch the issue and I get why they don’t. It’s polarizing, people lose their careers after a failed attempt to discuss the issue on social media and it’s a conversation most want to avoid like the plague.

But here’s my stance … once you allow folks to start telling people how, when and where they should be protesting, the protest loses any steam it truly has. Protests are supposed to make you uncomfortable. When you allow people to say, “Maybe you should change the color of the shirt,” or, “Maybe you should phrase it like this,” or, “Maybe you should wait until next week” then it ruins any possibility of being effective.

Respect to the Sixers for issuing an apology. They didn’t have to … they were well within their right to hold Sevyn off the floor, but the apology signifies that they’re willing to hear another side and, at the end of the day, that constitutes a win.

Now, let me ask you a question: Would you rather have a super team or a super system? My gut answer is to take the super system over the super team. Think of red ants. I know I sound crazy, but follow me… Those little red ants have a SYSTEM running, my man. Everyone giving it up for the team. Role players supporting their star player. Everyone buying into the pecking order. No egos.

But man, when you do get a super team that follows the red-ant blueprint (i.e. last year’s Warriors or the 2012 Miami HEAT), the ride will be special. The problem is… most of these super teams can’t operate like a colony of red ants. There are too many alpha males.

Davis: Can I cheat and say a relative combination of both? I think that’s what the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs each currently have. The Warriors are in the middle of adjusting, so the system won’t instantly look as good as they likely will when we are 40 or so games in. The Cavs have both a great mix of talent and the league’s ultimate cheat code in the motivated “Terminator LeBron” we witnessed over the final three games of the NBA Finals.

The Spurs, while there are some that still find a way to question them as a legitimate contender, continue to simply “do what they do.” But as they’ve done numerous times in the past, they have also shifted the entire attack on both ends around one of the league’s best all-around players in Kawhi Leonard. Prior to the year, even with the significant improvements Leonard showed over the course of a career 50.6 percent/44.3 percent/87.4 percent shooting season, there were still times during the playoff run that left an honest question about him definitively in the role of lead offensive player.

Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are capable of scoring in bunches at times, but it was fair to want to see more of Leonard in that situation. Just as it was fair to wonder about that Spurs’ second unit until we saw how guys like Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon start making the same plays on both ends of the court we’ve come to simply expect from the Manu Ginobili’s and Tony Parker’s of the world.

At this stage, will all due respect to the teams like the Raptors or the Clippers and perhaps to some degree the Pacers and Celtics among a couple others, the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs have done the best jobs of effectively combining incredible talent with superior systems and finding a way to make the personalities blend and mesh together.

Greene: I don’t have a problem with you hedging here and I agree with you. Let me throw this at you, I think an argument can be made that there are more “super” systems in place than we give credit for in the league. While the Dallas Mavericks haven’t had the “deep playoff” type of success in recent years, don’t confuse that with underachieving. In many ways, what Rick Carlisle has been able to do and the quality of play he’s been able to get out of guys over the past few seasons is very impressive. Heck, last year he had Ray Felton ballin’. Also, my man Zaza Pachulia had a career-year. I think the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are two other franchises, on a smaller scale, that are building out their respective cultures … and you’re starting to see more and more of their role-playing guys make big contributions on a nightly basis in the rotation.

I believe teams like the Raptors and Clippers are great teams that are driven by their overall collection of talent, not necessarily the engine of the system that’s running the show. There is a difference.

I will end it with this point … the key to having a super team or super system is having STAR power though. Cleveland’s culture is driven by the greatness of LeBron James. The Warriors’ super team moniker is driven by the presence of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Mavericks’ system is driven by the respect Dirk Nowitzki commands in the locker room. In San Antonio, David Robinson and Tim Duncan laid the groundwork for the culture and the role playing guys quickly fell in line.

I guess there is no right answer and like most things, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. So as much as I hate to hedge, I must here, after further thought.

Alright Hoop Freaks, thanks for joining us for another installment of The Shop. We’ll be doing this each week and in the future, we will also be incorporating special friends of ours to touch on various topics. Until the next time… dare to be great… finish a layup in traffic with your offhand… or sacrifice your points and give your teammate an assist on the break. Ha. Be safe, good people.  

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 12/15/17

Spencer Davies checks in on the race for DPOY with his top six candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s mid-December and candidates for individual awards are starting to really garner attention. On Basketball Insiders, we’ve been taking a close look at players who should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year in a unique fashion.

As the numbers begin to even out and the noise lessens with larger sample sizes, the picture becomes clearer. There is no clear-cut favorite, and the return of Kawhi Leonard will likely complicate things more in the future, but right now there are six players who have stood out from the rest.

 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

It’s a shame that a right shoulder injury is going to keep Mbah a Moute out of action for the next few weeks. He’s done everything that the Houston Rockets have asked of him and more. It’s been his versatility defensively that’s made him a headache for any opponent he’s guarded. He’s able to seamlessly switch onto assignments coming off screens and create turnovers from forcing extra pressure.

The Rockets have the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA (103.7) as it is, but when the veteran forward is on the floor, they allow just 99.8 points per 100 possessions per Cleaning The Glass.

 Andre Roberson

There’s not a lot of good going on with the Oklahoma City Thunder right now, though you can pick out a bright spot when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. As a team, they are first in the league in turnover percentage and second in defensive rating. This is due in part to Roberson’s ability to force his matchups to make errant decisions with the ball, which usually results in a steal for one of his teammates.

Currently, the 26-year-old is the top guard in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking system and 10th in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. According to CTG, Oklahoma City is worse when Roberson isn’t playing (97.9 on/10.5 off) and his impact using those figures ranks in the 94th percentile.

 Kevin Durant

Here’s a case where the numbers don’t exactly tell the real story. The Golden State Warriors are technically a better team defensively by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Durant off the court. But when you go deeper into things, things get clarified. Let’s start simple: He’s tied for most total blocks in the league (51) and the second-most blocks per game (2.1). The Warriors have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 102.9.

How about we go further into individual defense? Durant is contesting nearly 13 field goals per game and only 38.4 percent of those attempts have been successful, a mark that is the second-lowest for opponent percentage among those defending at least 10 tries per game. Diving deeper, the reigning Finals MVP is stifling in the fourth quarter, yielding a league-low 30 percent conversion rate (min. three attempts) to his competition.

 Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process has gone mainstream, and for good reason. Everybody is focused on the beautiful footwork, the sensational euro steps and the dream shakes, but Embiid’s got a suit just as strong on the other side of the ball. The Philadelphia 76ers are barely on the outside looking in as a top-10 defense, and they’ve been a team improving as they’ve grown together over the course of the season. The entire trio of Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Embiid has been the stronghold of the Sixers’ defense, but it’s been the sophomore center who has assumed the most responsibility to anchor down the paint and take on individual challenges against quality big men.

Embiid ranks third in DRPM among those playing at least 30 minutes per game and has the highest defended field goal percentage differential (-8.7) in the NBA for players seeing at least eight attempts per game. Philadelphia is also allowing 112.4 points per 100 possessions with him sitting, which is a 12-point difference that puts his impact in the 97th percentile.

 Eric Bledsoe

Since Bledsoe’s arrival, the Milwaukee Bucks have been on the upswing regarding their defensive principles. The combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo—who could be a candidate for DPOY in his own right—and the strong guard has created havoc for opposing teams. There’s a ton of pressure being applied and it’s worked well. Due to a less-than-ideal stretch a month ago, work still has to be done in order to rid the Bucks out of that bottom-10 stigma in that specific area, but they’re on their way.

Bledsoe’s reputation as an in your face, stick-like-glue defender precedes itself. He’s doing an excellent job with one-on-one matchups. Already hesitant to attack him as it is, opponents don’t try to take him much, but when they do, it doesn’t usually turn out in their favor. In isolation situations, Bledsoe is allowing just 0.44 points per possession and is tied for the second-highest turnover frequency on those plays, ranking in the 97th percentile according to NBA.com. Using CTG, the Bucks’ defensive rating dips by 13 points when he’s off the floor. That discrepancy is also highly regarded and ranks in the 98th percentile.

 Anthony Davis

Where would the New Orleans Pelicans be without Davis? There’s a special talent about The Brow that can’t really be put into words. He takes on the brunt of the defensive load and has for years now. DeMarcus Cousins started off as the physical presence of the duo on that end of the court, but it’s been Davis who has remained the most consistent force.

Answering the question posed in the first paragraph, the Pelicans are giving up 117.5 points per 100 possessions when Davis is not present. That is a ridiculous figure, and given that New Orleans isn’t the best team defensively in the first place, it shows his true importance to that group. Including Cousins, he is one of 13 players defending at least 14 field goals per game. The difference between them, however, is that he is allowing just 40.5 percent of those attempts to be successful. It’s the lowest conversion rate among that list of names. Add in the fact that he’s blocking almost two shots per game and is averaging a steal per game—that’s a convincing case for DPOY.

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Jahlil Okafor Being Slowly Incorporated By Nets

The Nets hope Jahlil Okafor can be a franchise player for them, but, of course, only when he’s ready.

Moke Hamilton

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It’s incredible that a player selected as highly in a draft and as recently as he could be considered damaged goods by his drafting team, but that’s what the Philadelphia 76ers thought of Jahlil Okafor, and the Brooklyn Nets were the beneficiaries.

Remarkably, behind the genius of general manager Sean Marks, the Nets, with Okafor, suddenly have a roster with two young building blocks in he and D’Angelo Russell. With Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll, Marks has done an incredible job of improving the talent base of the Nets despite having little assets to offer in terms of trade value.

Now, with Okafor in tow, the question everyone in Brooklyn wants to know the answer to is “When?”

After acquiring Okafor and shooting guard Nik Stauskas from the Sixers on December 7, neither of the two played in any of the club’s first three games following the trade.

The idea, said head coach Kenny Atkinson, is to bring both Okafor and Stauskas along slowly.

“I just think it’s going to take time,” Atkinson, according to New York Newsday, said Wednesday after practice.

“I can’t give you a timetable. I think we come to these decisions as a group. We’ll know when he’s ready and we’ll give you the word.”

Selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, Okafor averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a rookie. Since then, a combination of the rise of Joel Embiid, his lack of defensive presence and perceived inability to play in an NBA where traditional back-to-basket centers are considered obsolete dropped his stock dramatically, to the point where he played a total of 25 minutes this season for the Sixers.

Still, it hasn’t impacted the value that Atkinson or Marks sees in him.

“I think he’s been very serious, very focused, and that’s a great start because that’s where it starts,” Atkinson said on Wednesday.

“What’s your demeanor like? What’s your work? I’m looking to get to know him more.”

It’s not every day that a coach will acquire a new player who has impact potential and seat him on the bench, but that’s exactly what Atkinson has done. What it means, though, is probably more important.

When one considers what has transpired with the Nets since their move to Brooklyn, the franchise has been renowned for attempting to take shortcuts to the top. From Gerald Wallace to Joe Johnson to even Deron Williams, the moves made by the franchise were always designed with the thought of tomorrow, not the pragmatic patience and long-sighted view that, at least to this point, Atkinson and Marks seem to have.

In most situations, a franchise which knows that its first round pick is going elsewhere would feel at least some sort of pressure to win as much as possible in the short term, especially after having the first overall pick in the prior year’s draft snatched from their grasp. As a reminder, as a part of the 2013 trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, the Nets sent the Celtics their first round picks in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 drafts, as well as the right to swap picks with them in 2017.

As fate would have it, the Nets’ pick in 2017 ended up being first overall, but, obviously, the Celtics exercised their right to swap.

Since then, the Celtics dealt the Nets’ 2018 pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving, but to the front office’s credit, the knowledge of the sins of yesterday have no impact on the brick-by-brick approach that Marks has taken in attempting to rebuild the franchise.

Okafor, unlike his prior life in Philadelphia, isn’t coming to Brooklyn with the pressure of being any sort of franchise savior on his shoulders—he simply needs to fit in, on his own time.

“They know my weaknesses and strengths and I’m working with them every day to get better,” Okafor said on Wednesday.

“They already told me what they want me to work on and like I said, I’m all in.”

Obviously, Atkinson has a plan for Okafor, and with the Nets playing three games in four nights, having another big body to provide some minutes would do the team wonders. But, for a change, there’s no haste in Brooklyn.

“Right now, I’m just getting used to the pace,” Okafor said. “That’s the main thing. Especially with me really not having played at all this year,” he said, alluding to the fact that, despite weighing in about 20 pounds lighter than he was last season, his lack of action has cause him to lose a bit of his wind.

But while he may have lost his place in the rotation and his game readiness, in Brooklyn, Okafor has found something much more valuable—a sense of belonging.

“They’re just really invested in me and that just makes me feel wanted, it makes me feel a part of this team,” he said.

With the final debit of the ill-fated 2013 trade being paid this coming summer, the Nets will turn the page on a new era that they hope Okafor and D’Angelo Russell—two players selected one pick apart—can help to lead.

Behind the scenes, Marks will continue to work diligently to acquire undervalued pieces which can, for him, hopefully become a part of a sum that’s bigger than their individual pieces.

But, of course, like Okafor’s debut with Brooklyn, it’ll take some time.

That’s okay, though. Finally, at Barclays Center, for a change, there’s pragmatic patience. For sure, this time, there’s simply no need to rush.

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NBA DAILY: The Detroit Pistons Are In A Giving Mood

The Pistons were gifting opposing teams with wins during a seven-game losing streak, but Andre Drummond gifted his teammates with nine assists in a near triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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During a seven-game losing streak that ended with Thursday night’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta, the Detroit Pistons crisscrossed the country like Santa while giving away wins.

The team lost in D.C., Philadelphia, San Antonio and Milwaukee before returning home for a trio of losses to Golden State, Boston, and Denver. As the losing streak mercifully ended, Pistons center Andre Drummond turned his generosity toward his teammates, falling just one assist shy of a triple-double.

“Call me Santa Dre,” said Drummond after the Pistons dispatched Atlanta 105-91 ahead of Friday night’s visit to the Indiana Pacers.

“I’m handing out gifts. I’m just trying to move the ball around. I’m trying to get my teammates in the right position to score. When they do get cut off, they’re able to pass the ball back to me to finish the play. So it’s just fun the way we’re playing.”

It’s been a while since the Pistons could take a lighthearted approach during postgame interviews. Coach Stan Van Gundy called Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets, the last of the streak, one of the worst he’s coached in a career that has spanned better than 850 NBA games.

“It’s a win,” said Van Gundy, declining to take much away from a victory over the last-place team in the East.

“It certainly feels a little less burdensome now, so maybe we can just get back to playing basketball.”

Van Gundy had a lot to say about those burdens prior to the win in Atlanta. Asked if his team had fallen prey to any finger pointing during a poor stretch that has undone Detroit’s hot start, Van Gundy didn’t hold back.

“It does happen, but it’s generally because guys don’t want to hold themselves accountable,” said Van Gundy. “They want an excuse. It’s somebody else.”

Van Gundy further hinted that off-court issues may be contributing to his team’s poor play over the last two weeks.

“It’s hard to play when you have dilemmas, whatever they are. If your dilemma is an off-the-court thing, if your dilemma is I’m not getting enough shots, I’m not playing enough, this guy doesn’t pass to me … whatever your dilemma is, it’s tough to play,” said Van Gundy. “We do have some guys who just never seem to have — or at least they don’t bring it here — a dilemma.”

Rather than single out the offenders, Van Gundy pointed to reserve point guard Ish Smith, journeyman power forward Anthony Tolliver and backup center Boban Marjanovic as role models for consistent contribution, while also shouting out guard Langston Galloway and stretch four Henry Ellenson.

“To me, Ish, A.T., Boban, those guys are the same guys every day,” said Van Gundy. “How many times in two years have you sat there and said, ‘Wow, Ish’s energy is really down today?’ Or you see A.T. now going into his second year like, ‘Wow, A.T. just didn’t bring anything?’ You never say that because they just come and play. They don’t think about anything. They don’t think about, is practice too long? Is he wearing us [down]? They show up every day and whatever you tell them to do, they do. And Langston and Henry are the same, they just haven’t played quite as much.

“They don’t burden themselves down thinking about all these other things. Losing has guys down. Guys haven’t been shooting the ball well. That brings you down. All these things [are] weighing them down.”

While Van Gundy spoke of players holding themselves accountable, his actions suited his words following the Nuggets defeat as he took to the podium to point the finger directly at himself.

“I selected these players,” said Van Gundy. “I decide who plays. I decide what we run on offense. I decide how we play defense. That was embarrassing tonight. That’s on me.”

A single win against a struggling Atlanta Hawks team isn’t going to turn Detroit’s season around. The Pistons currently sit two games above .500 and only half a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, which are presently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. But Galloway, who led Detroit’s bench with 17 points in Atlanta, said the Pistons will take any win they can get, given the recent struggles.

“It’s definitely important to get off the schneid and continue to make an effort to get back on track and continue to keep this thing rolling tomorrow,” he said.

A win on Friday in Indiana would certainly help restore some holiday cheer to the Pistons. But the best gift of all would be to string wins together to put Detroit back in the heart of the playoff race.

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