Category: NBA

My Detroit Sports: My Pistons Report #4

In this My Pistons Report, we learn that the Pistons players are in fact human. That’s not acommentary on their two road losses following their stint as the hottest team in basketball. It’s recognizing that the streak started right as the trade deadline ended. It’s one thing to be professional, which the entire roster was, but it’s quite another to be at your best and play with a clear mind when a such a stark before/after moment like the trade deadline is looming. Almost every Pistons player was included in trade rumors leading up to the deadline. If Detroit had been willing to send Luke Kennard to Memphis then Mike Conley Motor City jerseys would be for sale today. However, the Pistons instead executed a few smaller deals; sending Stanley Johnson to the Spurs and Reggie Bullock to the Lakers while picking up Thon Maker, Svi Mikhailuk, a 2nd round pick, and Wayne Ellington via signing.

The axiom is that the three ways to improve are via trades, free agency, and the draft. However, the unseen fourth way to improve a franchise is with internal improvement. That doesn’t just mean having younger players gain experience and add skills, although Luke Kennard has benefited from finding his rhythm and having his role increased as he stepped into Reggie Bullock’s role. It can also come from players having peace of mind and improved concentration. Reggie Jackson has been hurt the past few years and was featured prominently in trade discussions. Andre Drummond went from franchise fixture to near salary dump towards the trade deadline as well. Both have played All-Star caliber basketball over the past 6 weeks. It’s not a coincidence that the level of play and number of wins increased starting the evening of Feburary 4th.

The low point for the Pistons was losing at home to the Clippers 5 days before the deadline. They were outscored 35-14 in the 4th to turn a 11 point lead into a 10 point loss. This was after escaping with a 4 point win over a Dallas Mavericks team that didn’t have star rookie Luka Doncic or multiple starters in the wake of their trade with the Knicks which took place hours before the game started.

They entered the game against the Nuggets, who were at the top of the Western Conference, at 7 games under .500. The game started hours after the trade deadline passed. All-Star and triple double machine Nikola Jokic was held to 16 points on 7-17 shooting with 3 rebounds and 4 assists as the Pistons beat Denver by 26 points. A home and home match against the tanking Knicks yielded double digit victories, followed by a convincing win over the still not giving up Washington Wizards. A loss to the Celtics before the All-Star break didn’t stop the momentum. Although some of the wins were against lottery teams like the Hawks and Bulls, it is still important to win the games where you have the advantage. The Pistons also racked up quality home wins against the upper echelon of the East, Indiana then Toronto, and a team struggling to stay in contention for a playoff spot in the West, the Minnesota Timberwolves. At their peak they won 10 of 12 games and were the hottest team in the NBA.

Fueling these wins was a stretch of absolutely monstrous games from Andre Drummond. The rebound totals are gaudy and taken for granted, but when combined with offensive explosions it makes the Pistons front court incredibly dangerous. At the same time that Drummond was winning player of the week honors, Luke Kennard stepped up his game, and Reggie Jackson looked a lot more like the guy who helped the Pistons make their last playoff appearance. Langston Galloway found his outside stroke and Ish Smith reminded us why he’s so crucial to the team’s success.

However, all good things do come to an end. Although the Pistons climbed their way to the 10th and 20th spot in offensive and defensive rating respectively, they still sport a negative point differential and 13-20 road record. That’s why it’s not so surprising that the recent road trip against playoff hopefuls Brooklyn and Miami have ended in blowout losses. Basketball is a game of runs both within each game and over the course of the season. Understanding that, looking at the road record, and expecting some regression to the mean after such a hot stretch means that these losses were both somewhat anticipated and easily forgiven. Even though winning one or both would have solidified the Pistons as a playoff team, the playoff picture still looks rosy for Detroit.

Right now there are 5 teams at the top of the East: Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, and Indiana. Except for Indiana, these teams made moves at the deadline in anticipation of brutal 2nd and 3rd round series as they try to make their way to the finals. There are also 5 teams trying to secure the 6th-8th seeds: Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami, Orlando, and Charlotte. Even after losing the last 2 games, the Pistons are 34-33 and currently sit in the 7th spot. There’s a 2 game cushion over the 8th seeded Heat and 4 games ahead of the Magic and Hornets. However, that cushion is necessary with 9 of the final 15 games on the road. The Pistons have had just one season over .500 over the past decade. There’s a lot to fight for during the final stretch of the season. If you’ve been watching since February, you’d believe that they’re playing the type of basketball necessary to win this fight, and will play the type of meaningful late April basketball that Pistons fans crave.

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.