5 Reasons Why the Detroit Pistons Will Make Playoffs This Year
Pistons Are Young, Talented, and Eager to Compete
Last week, I explained a few of the reasons why Joe Dumars’ latest spending spree will not result in the Detroit Pistons finally making it back to the playoffs this year. While I think it is more likely that the Pistons will miss the playoffs yet again, I think they still have a pretty good shot at breaking through to the postseason.
However, the more digging I did to determine the reasons why Detroit will make the playoffs, the more skeptical I became. It couldn’t be any other way with Joe Dumars as GM. This man has built his front office career out of perplexing and interesting moves that have been met with extreme criticism before eventually painting Dumars as a genius mastermind (see: everything, sans Darko, through 2004) or failing miserably (see: everything after 2004.) So of course, after this offseason of more than $80 million worth of shiny new toys, Dumars has yet again put a team together that seems to have nothing but questions, criticisms, a fan base that seems completely divided on its favorite team’s future outlook and met with complete confusion by league observers as a whole in regards to how this whole experiment will work out.
With this being said, I had a hard time determining the exact reasons why this Pistons team will make the playoffs in Year 1. The interesting thing about this team is that it appears to be built for the future. But with Joe Dumars’ job seemingly on the line, it also has a win-now attitude that a large portion of its recently dormant fan base is gobbling up without a second thought. Looking at things objectively, the odds seem stacked against Detroit’s favor this season, but this is a team that has amazing potential, both to hit a high ceiling and smash through a deep floor.
While a lot of experts seem to think this is the league’s ultimate “boom or bust” team, as evidenced by predictions from experts and statisticians ranging anywhere from an 11th-place finish in the eastern conference to a 50-win season and home-court advantage through most of the playoffs, I think this team should finish somewhere right in the middle. If highly unlikely, perfect conditions occur, this team could drastically outperform or underperform my expectations, but there are scenarios that could play out for every team that would vastly alter their performance. So without being blinded by the dollar signs and bright considerations of how well this team could be in a few years, what is it about these young Pistons, at this very moment, that could have you reasonably believing they will end the franchise’s third longest playoff drought?
5. Pistons Should Own the Glass
The Pistons should be among the league leaders in rebounding this season. As a team, they ranked 13th in rebounds per game last season. Their numbers should only get better with the additions of Josh Smith and increased minutes for Andre Drummond.
Before adding Smith, a top-20 rebounder, the Pistons already had one top-20 rebounder in Greg Monroe and could have another in Drummond this season. Per-36 minutes, only two players logging more than 1000 minutes last season outperformed Drummond on the glass (Omer Asik and Reggie Evans.)
There will only be so many missed shots to snatch up, but having three guys on your team that have the ability to be one of the league’s top rebounders should bode well for success on the boards. If the Pistons can frequently force their opponents into some bad shots, they should be grabbing the rebound more often than not. Also, with Smith and Brandon Jennings on the floor, there should be plenty of opportunities for Drummond and Monroe (Drummroe, anyone?) to hit the offensive glass and tap in a few easy put backs.
In order to combat the probable spacing issues on the offensive side of the ball, Dumars has packed this team with athletes. He wants to see a quick team capable of scoring in transition and above the rim whenever necessary.
Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Jennings are all incredible athletes who could have this team moving quickly and high above the rim. If the team can develop chemistry, this should translate well on both offense and defense.
If the Pistons can’t get their shots to fall from outside, they will need to find a new way to open their scoring game up, and a quick, athletic pick-and-roll offense capable of lobs and alley-oops over slower, less athletically gifted opponents would be one way of doing so. They could also use their speed to create turnovers and push the ball in transition for some easy buckets. Not only would this help win a few ball games, but the entertainment value of this team could be incredibly high if they can develop a rhythm.
3. Rim Protection
The Josh Smith signing, while one of the biggest deals of the offseason, has been met with a lot of criticism. Many are quick to point out the offensive woes that come along with acquiring Smoove, but Smith’s biggest impact will not be felt on the offensive end of the floor. Josh Smith has the tools to be one of the league’s top impact defenders.
He has ranked near the top of the league in blocks each of the nine seasons he’s played in the NBA (11th, seventh, 15th, third, 13th, second, second, second and 11th). With Andre Drummond showing promise in the same area (he averaged 1.6 BPG in only 20.7 minutes and ranked behind only JaVale McGee, Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka, Tim Duncan and Roy Hibbert in blocks per 36 minutes last season), the Pistons should be among the league's elite when it comes to protecting the rim. For a team with several questions on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively, taking points off the board of their opponents with blocks will be critical to their success.
2. Chauncey Billups
How can one aging veteran, who likely will not be playing starter’s minutes and has missed the majority of the past two seasons due to injury, be a major reason why this team will make the playoffs? Simple answer: Chauncey Billups has proved to be one of the greatest leaders of his era. Since becoming a Detroit Piston in the early 2000’s, every team Billups has played for has seen immediate improvements in wins. Pistons fans surely remember Billups being named Finals-MVP and leading the team to an NBA championship in 2004, but the winning didn’t stop there.
Upon being traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2008, the team saw a four-win improvement upon the previous season, jumped from an eighth-place finish the year prior to a second-place finish in the western conference regular season standings, won their first playoff series in eight seasons and reached the conference finals for the first time in 14 seasons.
In early 2011, Billups was traded to the New York Knicks as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade, and the Knicks subsequently made the playoffs for the first time in seven years. His style of play didn’t quite fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, however, and Billups found himself in a Los Angeles Clippers jersey the following year. The Clippers made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons that year and won their first playoff series since the ’75-76 season (when they were the Buffalo Braves.)
The influence Chauncey Billups could have on this young team, especially young guards such as Brandon Jennings, is immeasurable. He was the locker room leader of the Pistons’ championship team, and the turmoil that was witnessed following his departure speaks volumes to the kind of presence his personality has on his teammates. If the younger players on this roster can capture some of that same attitude, this team will surely be a much more focused and disciplined group than the Pistons teams who have routinely tuned out coaches and lacked effort for long stretches of the past five seasons.
Some of the Pistons’ top competition for the final few playoff spots, such as the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, hinge on the health of their often injured stars. Betting your futures on the likes of guys such as Nene, who has played 60+ games in only seven of his 12 NBA seasons, and Andrew Bynum, who didn’t play in a single game last season (that sound you hear is of every Philadelphia 76ers fan simultaneously slapping their hands on their foreheads) and fragile younger players, John Wall and Kyrie Irving, who both have missed significant portions of each season they have been in the league, isn’t the safest of wagers.
The Pistons have arguably the best training staff in the league with Arnie Kander and Mike Abdenour on board. These guys are renowned league-wide and for good reason. Just look at the string of injury-plauged veterans the Pistons have taken in over the years and gotten better than expected results from (Antonio McDyess, Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber) as well as the impeccably good health of most of its players throughout the years (Iron-Man Tayshaun Prince, anyone?). The fact that these two guys are still around means good things for the health of the Detroit Pistons roster. Rarely have the Pistons had issues keeping their best players on the floor throughout Kander and Abdenour’s tenures. Other than the Phoenix Suns, it's hard to argue that anybody has a better training staff than Detroit does.
Furthermore, the key players on this Pistons team do not have a history of injury problems. Chauncey Billups has had a serious injury each of the past two seasons, but he was not brought in to carry the load as our starting point guard. If he goes down for the third straight year, the Pistons will take a hit in depth, but it shouldn’t be a major blow. Andre Drummond had a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of his rookie season last year, but one has to wonder how much of that can be chalked up to caution. The Pistons fell out of playoff contention after the All-Star break, and the front office may have had an eye on the big picture rather than winning a few more games in the short-term. If this was the case, not only will the front office’s careful handling of their potential future super-star pay big dividends down the road, but it also means we shouldn’t expect many problems this season. That means more Dre, and more Dre is a positive in just about every category (except free throw shooting.)