If the preseason is any indication, the Detroit Pistons will be a very average team this season. The Pistons capped off their preseason with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Josh Smith to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 99-98. The win improved the Pistons’ preseason mark to an even 4-4.
Much like last season, it appears that Detroit could be a struggling road team this season. The Pistons played four road games against some quality opponents (and the Orlando Magic). Despite winning their first road game against a good Brooklyn Nets team, the Pistons dropped their last three, including a blowout turned nail-biter against the lottery-bound Magic.
Last season, the Pistons won just over a quarter of their road games, posting an 11-30 record in their blue jerseys. It’s not easy to win on the road in the NBA regardless of how good your team is. However, posting a .275 win percentage away from home will not get you into the playoffs.
Though it’s a small sample size, the Pistons’ 1-3 preseason road record is not an encouraging sign. The Boston Celtics had the worst road record among all playoff teams last season at 14-27, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets each with a 16-25 record.
Detroit also posted one of the preseason’s worst points per game averages, with only nine teams scoring fewer points through eight games. The Pistons’ 93.3 points per game was over a point and a half worse than their regular season scoring average from a year ago.
While the team encountered several injuries this preseason, two of their acquisitions meant to be part of the offensive solution, Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, played in nearly every game. This makes scoring fewer points somewhat of a troubling sign. The return of Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Chauncey Billups should theoretically improve their offense though.
On the flip side, the Pistons appear to have a drastically improved defense. Detroit surrendered only 92.8 points per game this preseason – good for eighth in the entire league. While their offense left a bit to be desired, their defense looks like it will keep the Pistons in a lot of ball games this year.
It’s clear the Pistons will be following in the footsteps of their central division rivals, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, by priding themselves on defense and worrying about the offense later.
While the Pistons may not score many more points than their opponents this season, building a strong defensive base is a positive sign for the future. Both the Bulls and Pacers have seen success going down the same road and appear to be among the favorites to knock off the Miami Heat this season. Playing in the same division as these teams will make winning games a tough task, though.
If the Pistons can maintain a strong defensive identity while improving their offense over the next few seasons, they should see a gradual return to contention. In the meantime, however, don’t expect the Pistons to win too many more games than they’ll lose this season. While they appear to be much improved in a lot of areas, they simply aren’t ready to contend in the Eastern Conference.
There could plenty of “ugly wins” and close losses from Detroit this year, but being average with a very bright future is certainly going to be a welcome change in Motown.