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ESPN: Pistons could be 'serious contenders' for Eastern Conference Finals

Just how good are the Pistons really?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

People are starting to take the Detroit Pistons seriously, and now an ESPN writer says they could even contend for the conference finals. What started as a cute story about a team cutting their highest-paid player and going on a nice little winning streak has morphed into a serious examination of just how good these new-look Pistons are.

Detroit has won nine of its last 10 games, including wins against the Mavericks, Spurs and Raptors on the road. Their only loss since cutting Josh Smith has been to the red-hot Atlanta Hawks, who happen to be the best team in the East and one of the two or three best teams in the NBA.

In a piece comparing the Smith-less Pistons to Van Gundy's old Magic teams, ESPN writer Tom Haberstroh says:

If the Pistons keep playing like this, we'll have to consider them serious contenders for the conference finals even though they might not have a top-four seed. ... These Pistons are legit.

Haberstroh does a good dive into how the Pistons are using big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in a rotation with plenty of spacing and the stark contrast with how the team has performed with Smith and the stark similarity to Orlando '09 with Smith now gone.

As they say, a chart is worth a thousand words and Haberstroh has a doozy:

SVG Teams O Rating D Rating Net % 3-point FGA 3-point FG %
Detroit '15 Before 97.6 105.8 -8.2 27.3 33.0
Detroit '15 After 109.7 95.7 14 34.1 38.1
Orlando '09 107.2 98.9 8.3 33.5 38.1

Those numbers come from before Detroit's thrilling 114-111 victory against the Raptors.

In making his case to take the Pistons seriously, Haberstroh references former ESPN stat guru John Hollinger's metrics-based Power Rankings. Because it's objective and not subjective, those rankings live on even with Hollinger gone. In those rankings the Pistons were ranked 13th before the Toronto game and Haberstroh calls that about right. After beating the Raps, Detroit has climbed to the No. 11 overall spot and are ranked as the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference behind Atlanta, Toronto and Milwaukee. The rankings are weighted more toward recent success and the Pistons have been on a tear lately.

The Pistons also have a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Hollinger's Playoff Odds.

To think about a 14-24 team as one of the four best teams in the Eastern Conference is still a lot to take in. The team still has little margin for error in making the playoffs, much less coming close to finishing .500. That's how big of a hole they've dug for themselves. But if they get in, which looks more likely with each hard-fought victory, no team is going to look forward to facing them.

These Pistons are legit.