Monty Williams appears to have young Detroit Pistons buying into a defensive mentality.
Why It Matters For Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons have opened their 2023-24 regular season playing with a new sense of energy we have not seen in many seasons. Restoring the struggling franchise has required clearing the team's salary cap, scouting for quality players, and adding necessary leadership. Tom Gores and Troy Weaver seem to have located the perfect leadership at head coach after hiring Monty Williams this past offseason.
Acquiring the former Phoenix Suns' head coach to Detroit took multiple efforts and looks to be paying off early. Coach Williams openly raved about his excitement to develop the young foundation of the Pistons and what it would take to help turn things around.
Defense has been the most important calling card for Williams since the beginning of his tenure as coach. The Pistons finished 27th in the NBA last season in defensive rating. Williams openly addressed the necessity of players to commit to defense on Detroit's Media Day.
If you’re a blow-by guy on defense, you’re going to have a tough time playing because we have to play great defense. For me, the best offense is a defensive stop. And the more stops we can get, we can get out and play free.”Monty Williams via Detroit Free Press addressing the Pistons' commitmment to defense
Williams' defensive philosophies have come with some surprising decisions that require sacrifice and understanding from the players. Rookie forward Ausar Thompson was tabbed as a starter out the gate to guard the opposing teams' best scorers. This came with a shocking move of bringing second-year guard Jaden Ivey off the bench with the second unit.
Detroit chose to stick with their defensive commitment with a starting lineup of Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Ausar Thompson, Isaiah Stewart, and Jalen Duren. A worry of this lineup to start the season was the offensive spacing and consistency. However, the improvements in defense have made the offensive worries appear minimal.
Even with the surprise of these decisions, Detroit has been off to an impressive start with defense as their identity. The Pistons are currently ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive rating through the first three games of the season. They also have held each opponent under 105 points on their way to their 2-1 record.
Detroit also has hammered on staying productive on the glass. The Pistons are currently ranked second among the NBA in rebounds per game with 54. Leading that charge on the glass has been held down by Jalen Duren who leads the league in rebounding with 15.3 per game, including 6 offensive boards a game. Thompson has also been a major help leading all rookies in rebounding with 10.7 as a rookie forward.
The young Pistons have shown their ability to grow through mistakes and adversity in their small three-game sample size so far. Detroit has battled through tough challenges like coming back from double-digit deficits against the Heat and surviving a 51-point eruption from Zach Lavine.
Another common struggle for young teams learning to improve on defense is foul trouble. The Pistons have dealt with Cade Cunningham fouling out and referees having a tight whistle on physical defenders like Thompson and Isaiah Stewart. Coach Williams spoke on the team's improvement of defending without fouling advising it's something they have worked on through practice.
The Pistons have some supreme athleticism with players on their roster like Duren, Ivey, and Thompson. Getting stops on defense and creating turnovers allows the Pistons to use their advantage of playing fast in transition. They are currently averaging just under 14 fast break points per game, but that number should increase as the Pistons improve defensively.
Troy Weaver declared at Media Day that Detroit “won't be the Pistons until they play defense”. Williams seems to have a defensive mindset installed within the team early. Young teams normally take some to play the game methodically. That growth naturally develops after defense is the main focus.
Coach Williams has continued to relay how he does not want the team to get too excited over their short success so far. Detroit does not want to fast-track the development and is aiming to develop “inch by inch” in the process. Even in the early steps of the season, it looks like the defensive commitment is the clear game plan for the success of Detroit.