The Detroit Pistons have no championship ambitions. At least not realistic ones. There’s been great debate about the franchise’s best course of action this year. A large faction believes tanking and rebuilding through the draft would be better in the long term than fighting for the final playoff spot and a sure defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks.
If that’s the in-house plan, no one bothered to tell the players. The Pistons outlasted Toronto Sunday night to move to 31-31 and into possession of the No. 6 playoff seed in the East. They’v’e won 10 of the last 13 games and have acquitted themselves quite well against potential playoff opponents.
A closer look at the numbers yields some surprising results.
Over their last 13 games, the Pistons have the fourth-most efficient offense in the league and the fourth-best defense. Their net rating of plus-8.6 is second in the NBA during that stretch. Shorten that time frame down to their last 11 games and they jump to first in offense rating, scoring a Warriors-esque 118.1 points per 100 possessions. This kind of performance likely isn’t sustainable, but it has given the franchise hope—hope that its players are peaking at the right time and hope that this season won’t end up like the last two.
Blake Griffin is enjoying his best season as a pro, averaging 25.5 points and weaponizing a three-point shot. Andre Drummond is adding over 17 points and 15 boards a contest. Importantly, the big man has improved his free-throw shooting to the point he can be on the court during crunch time.
The Pistons’ roster building has been mysterious. The addition of Thon Maker midseason made it seem like Detroit was trying to collect ALL the big men in an area of position-less perimeter roaming.
There are obviously holes and deficiencies. Only one NBA team has a worse field goal percentage than the Pistons. The ceiling here doesn’t feel particulary high.
But imagine a first-round matchup with either Toronto or Indiana. Detroit has won both matchups with the Raptors and split with the Pacers. Neither seem like large mismatches. On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made that the Pistons are playing as well as they’re capable of now and still needed a lot of luck to beat a Kawhi Leonard-less team.
So are the Pistons good? The short answer seems to be: pretty good, in small doses. What’s clear is that if they keep playing like this, they won’t be a doormat come playoff time.