With a major infusion of new talent this off-season, and the confident expectation that Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will continue to develop into All Stars, most Pistons’ fans are looking forward now to a winning season and a return to the playoffs. But how much will this team be able to improve on last season’s 29-53 record? Is it possible that we could win 48 or more games? If we do, we’ll better the 2001-02 squad, which went 50-32 – reversing their 32-50 record of the previous season. Before looking more closely into what’s possible for this year’s Pistons, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The 2000-01 team was coached by George Irvine (Fun Fact: I watched him play for the ABA’s Virginia Squires alongside Dr. J back in the early 1970s), and struggled to adjust to life without Grant Hill for the first time in 6 years. The team relied on Jerry Stackhouse to do most of its scoring, though Corliss Williamson helped after he was acquired in a February trade. New arrivals Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins anchored the defense and manned the point, respectively. This season was also Joe Dumars first as the team’s President. After the season was over, Dumars replaced Irvine with Rick Carlisle. He made two major additions to the roster – Cliff Robinson and John Barry – who helped the team present a more balanced scoring attack. Williamson won the 6th man award, and Wallace was DPOY and led the league in blocks and rebounds. The result was an 18-game turn-around – the third time this has happened in team history. The first one came in 1981-82, when the addition of rookies Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka improved a 21-61 team into a more respectable 39-43. The second one was in 1995-96, when new coach Doug Collins guided a team that had gone 28-54 in Grant Hill’s rookie year to a 46-36 record.
The recent projection by Wages of Wins that the Pistons could win as many as 57 games this year provoked a lively discussion here on DBB. (Their projections also allowed for the possibility that we might win only 39 games, which is obviously a much more reachable goal.) But even a 48-34 season would qualify as the greatest turn-around in Pistons’ history. Is this a result we can reasonably hope to achieve?
Let’s take a look now at our upcoming schedule month by month and project how we might do. In making these projections, I’m relying in part on my assessment of our schedule strength, based primarily on how our opponents performed last season. I’ll also be factoring in my personal judgments about whether these teams are likely to be stronger or weaker this year, as well as whether we are playing a team at home or on the road.
October-November: 16 games (9 at home and 7 away)
Last season kicked off with a road-heavy schedule with many of our games against quality teams. We went 0-8 out the gate and never fully recovered from that poor start. This year we’ll have more games at home, and several of our opponents (Bucks, Celtics, Lakers) look to be weaker this time around. On average, these teams finished 44-38 (equal to the Hawks’ record). Our most winnable contests are probably our home games against the Wizards (Oct. 30), Celtics (Nov. 3), Knicks (Nov. 19), Hawks (Nov. 22), Bucks (Nov. 25) and Lakers (Nov. 29), and on the road at the Trailblazers (Nov. 11) and Kings (Nov. 15). We’ve got tough home match-ups against the Bulls, Pacers and Thunder, and travel to play the Grizzlies, Nets and Warriors. I think an 8-8 beginning is possible, which would certainly be much better than last season’s 5-12.
December: 17 games (8 at home and 9 away)
Based on how they did last season, this will be the easiest part of our schedule, as these teams on average were 38-44 (the Bucks’ record). Our most beatable foes should be the 76ers (Dec. 1), Timberwolves (Dec. 10), Trailblazers (Dec. 15), Hornets (Dec. 20) and Wizards (Dec. 30) at home, and the Bucks (Dec. 4), Pelicans (Dec. 11), Celtics (Dec. 18) and Magic (Dec. 27) away. We’ve got challenging home games against the Heat, Nets and Rockets, and face the Heat, Bulls and Pacers on the road. I think we can go 9-8, which would give us a 17-16 record.
January: 13 games (6 at home and 7 away)
This month’s opposition will also be comparatively weak, having posed a 39-43 record in 2012-13. At home, our most winnable games should be versus the Suns (Jan. 11), Jazz (Jan. 17), Pelicans (Jan. 24) and Magic (Jan. 28). On the road, our easiest opponents look to be the Raptors (Jan. 8), 76ers (Jan. 10), Bucks (Jan. 22) and Mavericks (Jan. 26). Tough home games will be against the Grizzlies and Clippers, with our most difficult road matches versus the Knicks and Hawks. I think we can achieve an 8-5 record, which would lift us to 25-21.
February: 13 games (9 at home and 4 away)
Our schedule gets a little harder this month, as our foes went 42-40 last year (Boston’s 41-40 was the closest comparison). A major factor in our favor should be playing over 2/3 of our games at The Palace. Favorable matchups at home include the 76ers (Feb. 1), Cavs (Feb. 12), Hornets (Feb. 18), Hawks (Feb. 21), and Mavericks (Feb. 22), while on the road we should hold the edge over the Magic (Feb. 5) and Hornets (Feb. 19). Quality teams coming to Motown include the Nets, Nuggets, Spurs and Warriors, and we also travel to play the Heat and the Spurs. I believe we can win at least one of those contests at home against the playoff-caliber teams. So I think we can again go 8-5, bringing our record to 33-26.
March: 16 games (7 at home and 9 away)
Our March opposition also went 42-40 in 2012-13, but we’ll be spending more time on the road this month. We also have 3 back-to-backs. Last March’s record of 1-13 was the nail in the coffin of a dismal season. This year we’ve got to hope that the Pistons are running on all cylinders by now and will be up to the challenge of a stretch run to the playoffs. The most winnable games should be at home versus the Kings (Mar. 11), Cavs (Mar. 26) and Bucks (Mar. 31), and on the road against the Celtics (Mar. 9), Raptors (Mar. 12), Suns (Mar. 21) and 76ers (Mar. 29). More difficult foes coming to Detroit include the Knicks, Bulls, Pacers and Heat, and we travel to play the Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers and Jazz. I believe we can also triumph in one of those games. I think we’ll post an 8-8 record, which would put us at 41-34.
April: 7 games (2 at home and 5 away)
While last April was our easiest stretch of the 2012-13 season, the schedule maker hasn’t been so kind to us this year. We only have two home games, though fortunately they are against teams we should beat – the Celtics (Apr. 5) and Raptors (Apr. 13). On the road we face the Pacers, Nets, Cavs, Bulls and Thunder. I think we’ll take one of those games – even if it’s only because a top seed is resting its starters. This would give us a 3-4 finish, so that our final record would be 44-38.
If we do finish 44-38, that will be a 15-game improvement over last season. While it wouldn’t match our three top turn-arounds from the past, it would be a huge step in the right direction. Could we do even better? Yes, I certainly think this is possible. But it will depend on our key new players and our new coach quickly adapting to each other, and that’s a lot to expect at first. We could just as easily struggle to break .500 all year if the new players struggle to mesh with the returnees, or simply don’t fit together well enough to produce a smooth-running machine. So I think 44-38 is a reasonable expectation to have of our 2013-14 Pistons, and it should be good enough to get us back into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Feel free to vote, and share your own projections and thoughts in the comments.