My Detroit Sports: My Pistons Report #3

The third My Pistons Report finds Detroit fighting for their playoff lives. Basketball is a game of runs both in the standings and in the games themselves. That’s why teams are never as good, or bad, as any particular stretch might indicate. Having started 13-8 with 2 All-Star performers, the Pistons had an opportunity to secure just their second playoff appearance over the last decade. However, an injury to Ish Smith an a tough schedule led to a 7-17 swoon that lands them a game and a half behind the Charlotte Hornets.

Blake Griffin knocked off his former team this month in his return against the Clippers, but not without controversy in what appeared to be a slight to owner, Steve Balmer. Griffin confirmed later, that he doesn’t change his routine sprint to the locker room for anyone.

In assessing where things went wrong, it’s important to look at the home and road splits. The Pistons are a winning team at home (13-11) and a losing team on the road (7-14). Since the start of December they are 3-10 away from Little Caesars Arena. The road woes have shown some of the Pistons weaknesses. While Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond have put up All-Star caliber numbers, it hasn’t been enough. It’s understandable that adding a playmaker like Blake would impact Andre’s stats and role, and to date the pairing has worked well, but Andre’s assists have fallen from 3.0 to 1.2 and his effective field goal percentage is at a career low of .501. The rest of the Pistons have, save for Reggie Bullock and more recently Luke Kennard, been ineffective from the field as well. The inside/out game is generating a sufficient number of looks with the Pistons ranking 10th in 3 pointers attempted, but they’re only hitting at a 33.3% clip which is next to last in the league. It’s not much better within the arc with Detroit ranking 25th on two point attempts. The Pistons defensive efforts put them near the top third of the league and their offense is on par with franchises angling for a top lottery pick. That’s why a team with two All-Stars plays reasonably at home but falters on the road. As Charles Barkley famously said: role players play better at home. Beyond the dreadful offensive stats, the Pistons also have lost some heartbreaking games in the final minutes. Whether or not Buddy Hield double dribbled, his last second off balance shot undid a game the Pistons led most of the way. The Pistons have also lost in the final seconds to the Hornets, Bucks, and Magic. On a positive note, the other 2 games on their recent homestand were tightly contested in the final minutes with the Pistons coming out on top in overtime against the Magic and avoiding overtime on Dwyane Wade’s missed game tying 3 point attempt. The Pistons have also been suffering without the injured Ish Smith. In a way, the Pistons struggles parallel those of the New Orleans Pelicans. Both teams have winning records with Ish Smith and Elfrid Payton respectively. Injuries to both players have left on the outside edge of the playoff race. The Pistons are 15-10 with Ish Smith in the lineup, and 5-10 without. Admittedly playing under 2 minutes against the Heat last week did not likely sway the result, but there’s no question that he provides an offensive spark and steadies the second unit. He has a positive plus/minus (with one neutral) in 16 of 24 games.

Glenn Robinson III and co. said, “good-bye” to one of the game’s greats in Dwyane Wade on Friday at Little Caesars Arena against Miami Heat.

So where does that leave Detroit going forward? Luke Kennard scoring in double figures in 9 of the last 13 games is encouraging. Bruce Brown has definitely carved out a nice role and a lot of minutes. However, they need more shooting. That means that either Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson, or Langston Galloway have to provide more on the offensive end. There’s also the potential that Jon Leuer (still shaking off rust) or Glenn Robinson III (career .365 3 point shooter) earn more minutes. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching and it’s unclear if there are any difference makers, e.g. a Bradley Beal or Dennis Smith Jr., that will be both available on the market and available for the Pistons to acquire. Adding Isaiah Whitehead and former Spartan Kalin Lucas to two way spots is not the answer. Both play point guard and minutes at that position are sparse with Jose Calderon providing stability when Jackson and Smith are on the bench. Some of the improvement has to come from within.

Looking at the standings and upcoming games, things don’t get much easier. The Pistons play the league leading Bucks and have 5 games against Western Conference foes before getting a home and home set against the Knicks and a road game in Boston heading into the All-Star break. 4 and a half games separate the Nets in the 6th seed from the Magic in 11th. 38-40 wins may be all it takes to secure a playoff spot. That just requires a 21-15 finish, which is much easier than it sounds. Every game counts in a year where parity reigns and 25 of the 30 teams hold onto realistic playoff aspirations. Time to go on another run.

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