Can the Pistons make the playoffs? And even if they can, will they? At least a few players will consider the season a failure if they do not. Playoffs or bust, then… or is it?
Last year at this time, Charlie Villanueva tweeted some things about insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is crazy. Turns out, he was right. Given the players on the roster, a below-freezing win forecast in the mid-twenties seemed likely. And in spite of finishing the season a whole lot better than they started, the Pistons completed the season at 25-41. By efficiency differential, from which Wins Produced is derived, the Pistons were actually a little bit worse and would have been expected to win only 22 games.
This year, the Pistons will return several of the same players, and many of those players are expected to play significant roles. However, this year there finally be some room for optimism – in the numbers of all places! And while the NBA Playoffs are probably still out of reach, that won’t necessarily make this season a bust. There is an intriguing young core of players emerging here that should give the Pistons some hope.
Let’s look at the numbers three ways:
First, an impossibly good, extremely unlikely best-case scenario. Second, the likeliest worst-case scenario possible. Third, somewhere in between, an optimistic but realistic scenario that shows improvement and room for some hope.
The impossibly good.
What if everything – against all odds – goes perfectly for Detroit this year? What if Andre Drummond plays like a superstar from game one and sees big minutes all season? After a spectacular preseason, maybe it can happen. What if Brandon Knight takes a big step, Rodney Stuckey plays with consistency and stays healthy, and veterans like Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette, and Will Bynum find productive roles while letting younger, more productive players play the bulk of the minutes (and what if Coach Lawrence Frank actually allows this to happen)? What if all of the rookies step up and make positive contributions, no one gets hurt, and Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva never see the floor at all?
The Pistons would be a playoff team, and they’d be fighting for home court advantage in the first round.
|The Best Case Scenario|
|Total Wins Produced||49.0|
As a screenshot with pretty colors:
But what if – against all odds – the opposite of that happens? What if aging veterans continue to decline and miss time to injury? What if Drummond struggles to grow into an NBA role and sees limited action? What if the crop of Pistons rookies doesn’t contribute, and potentially worse, what if Brandon Knight doesn’t take the next step toward becoming a starting NBA point guard?
Well, in that case, it could get ugly. Really, really ugly.
|The Worst Case Scenario|
|Total Wins Produced||24.2|
As happens so often, the most realistic situation lies somewhere between extremes. The Pistons won’t be fighting for homecourt advantage in the playoffs this season, but barring everything going wrong at once, the should be better than last year’s squad. Let’s break down why in (way too many) words, pictures, and numbers.
The backcourt: There is every reason to believe Brandon Knight should improve; the question will be to what degree. I don’t see future superstar, but I could see serviceable reliability if he can improve his shot selection and minimie turnovers. Rodney Stuckey the shooting guard has played well, when healthy, for two consecutive seasons and should provide better-than-average production for 30+ minutes per game. They should both play big minutes, and hopefully they can, because the second unit has a lot of question marks.
Hampered by various ankle injures, Will Bynum has struggled the past two seasons. Corey Maggette is coming off the worst season of his career, and injuries added insults to … injury. Kim English is a bit of a mystery – was his senior season of production a fluke or a legitimate improvement? Ideally, Bynum stays healthy and provides competent backup production, Kim English plays solid defense and knocks down open jumpshots, and Corey Maggette finds the fountain of youth that Tracy McGrady and Ben Wallace discovered, giving quality spot minutes at backup SG and SF.
The ridiculousness that is the overcrowded, underwhelming small forward rotation: It’s possible that all of these players see time at SF: Tayshuan Prince, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton, Rodney Stuckey.
Of the bunch, only Jonas Jerebko has posted above-average production at the position over the past two years. However, I will be shocked if Tayshaun Prince doesn’t start every game he’s suited up to play. NBA coaches love veteran glue guys like Prince, and even though age and injury are likely to take another bite out of Prince’s production, he’ll be the starter.
Jonas Jerebko’s production ought to merit consistent minutes at SF and PF, and should arguably have unseated Prince in the starting rotation. Regardless of position played or starter vs. bench role, I expect blue collar production off the bench at both forward spots. Hopefully, he doesn’t get lost in the SF shuffle.
Kyle Singler appears to be a bit of a coach’s pet, earning Coach Frank’s public praises, and potentially earning significant minutes at backup SF. I don’t expect him to have a significant impact on wins regardless of how much he plays, but I’ve been dead wrong about rookies before. Khris Middleton is likely the last on the depth chart and will probably get some chances, but like Singler, my hopes aren’t high.
The aforementioned Corey Maggette may see spot minutes at SF as well. And if last season is indication, Coach Frank has an occasional affinity for small ball, with Rodney Stuckey at SF. *Shudder*
Jerebko has provided above-average production at SF, Tayshaun provides backup production, and everyone else is a question mark.
The big man rotation, from whence hope springeth.
I was not high on Dumars’ decision to draft Andre Drummond. His college numbers were underwhelming, and it seemed very possible that the highly-touted high school prospect was destined to become the next Kwame Brown flop. But Dre had a spectacular preseason, and small sample size qualifiers out of the way, I’m as excited about this kid as I have been about any Pistons rookie since Grant Hill. Based on his preseason accomplishments, I’m hopeful for and projecting him as an above-average rookie. If his production holds up, the only limit to his success will be minutes (Frank seems to be committed to bringing him along slowly) and the handful of really bad games all rookies have during their transition to the NBA.
I was also not high on Dumars selecting Greg Monroe. That’s two strikes me, if you’re counting, and I’m as glad as anyone I was wrong. Even with incremental improvement, his hopefully expanded role and consistent double-double production should land Greg Monroe in the All Star conversation this year, and he’ll deserve it. He’s not flashy. He just gets it done, night in, night out.
It might be the biased Pistons fan in me, but I am very hopeful that these two big fellas have put the franchise on the path to success.
Jason Maxiell has been inconsistent throughout his career, but had a solid season in a consistent role last year. He’ll be a starter at the commencement of the season and should see consistent minutes even if he moves to the bench, splitting minutes between PF and C depending on the frontcourt pairing.
Jerebko should provide solid minutes backing up the PF spot, and Viacheslov Kravstov – or as I prefer “Ktrl-V” courtesy of Sean Corps at Detroit Bad Boys, rounds out the big man rotation. I have no idea what to expect from him but am hopeful for competency.
Oh yeah, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva are on the team. That’s all I’ve got for those two.
In numbers, my optimism looks like this:
|An Optimistic but Realistic Scenario|
|Total Wins Produced||35.9|
Optimistic numbers as a picture:
I said all of that to say this: the Playoffs seem like a longshot for this team, this year. But that doesn’t mean this season will be a bust; for the first time in several years, there are glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel. The Pistons employ a handful young, productive players, all of whom should improve. And while they still have some albatross contracts and a couple terrible players, the Pistons will be rid of most of that by season’s end and will finally have financial flexibility in the summer of 2013.
Playoffs? Not yet. There’s still a way to go until we get there – and teams like Washington and Cleveland are poised to get in the way in the immediate future. But I’m okay with that right now. I’m more than okay, actually. I’m actually excited about Pistons basketball – for this year and the future – and I think I have some good reasons for being so.