At long last, it begins. It feels like forever, not just since we had NBA basketball to enjoy, but also since Detroit Pistons fans had a real reason to be excited about Pistons basketball. This season, the Pistons should win more games than they lose. Making the playoffs is more likely than not. Home court advantage isn't out of reach if things go well and everyone stays relatively healthy. If they do, the Pistons could be the biggest surprise in the NBA.
The Pistons will be led by their frontcourt, particularly the under-appreciated Greg Monroe and full-of-potential Andre Drummond. Josh Smith's fit and production remain an open question, but if a change of scenery does him good, and players like Jonas Jerebko and Josh Harrellson play to their abilities, the Pistons will have one of the deepest, most versatile 3-4-5 rotations in the NBA.
Against the Washington Wizards, who will field a capable if not terribly exciting frontcourt, the Pistons have a definitive edge.
However, forty-one wins is never a given in the NBA and certainly isn't for this team. It's a long season, and an awful lot can happen between now and April.
Such as, very likely starting point guard Brandon Jennings missing at least the first week of the season, all-but-sure-thing rotation guard Rodney Stuckey missing at least the first game of the season and veteran/rookie, sweet-shooting, rotation hopeful Luigi Datome slowly inching his way back to health. As a result, the Pistons will be relying heavily on a backcourt rotation full of question marks, including rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, returning veteran Chauncey Billups, inconsistent Will Bynum and probably-not-ready-for-prime-time Peyton Siva. Kyle Singler is probably the surest thing of the bunch at the moment. Welcome to the job, Maurice Cheeks!
(In case you haven't caught the hint, today's a great day to catch up on our player previews, if you haven't yet)
To make things more interesting, Washington isn't a bad team, at least on paper. Not good, but arguably not bad, and they have at least one match-up nightmare for the depleted Pistons backcourt: John Wall. Bynum and Billups each have their strengths, but on-the-ball defense isn't one of them. Recently-acquired Marcin Gortat joins Nene Hilario in a formidable enough frontcourt, and several young players such as Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Glen Rice Jr., and Martell Webster make the Wizards a team you can't afford to look past.
If the Pistons are to become the team we all hope they are, though, these are the kinds of games they need to win consistently.
Keys to the game
Find the right mix: We can probably copy and paste this one for the next 30-40 games. Maurice Cheeks has a good problem; he has a lot of viable rotation options to experiment with, given Detroit's depth and versatility. He also has a terribly difficult challenge; it is completely unclear which of these rotation options will prove consistently effective, in spite of a depleted backcourt. Effectively managing the rotation is both Cheeks' biggest challenge and opportunity.
Take good shots: It's easy to read too much into preseason stats, but it's equally too easy to ignore them altogether. This preseason, the Pistons didn't shoot very well, and while it's true none of those shots technically counted, Wednesday's shots will. Avoid the long twos, take open threes, and get out in transition. To that last point...
Win the battle of possessions: The Pistons' offense isn't likely to be all that great. In order to reach their potential, they will need to win the battle of possessions by creating turnovers and controlling the glass on both ends. Steals lead to fast breaks, which lead to easy baskets. Defensive rebounds lead turn into transition opportunities, which can lead to high-percentage shots. Offensive rebounds lead to second-chance opportunities, often from right in front of the rim. Every NBA offense can score given enough opportunities. The Pistons need to give themselves plenty of opportunities.
Question(s) of the game
Who is this team, really? And on a scale of one to ten, how excited are you for the start of Pistons basketball?