For the better part of a decade, Pistons fans have ended the preseason with hope. "This will be the year they turn things around. New coach. Better players. WE'RE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!" Ok, not everyone says those things ever year, but a lot have that feeling. Though the preseason means nothing in the end, and as Lions fans know, they can be misleading, let's take a look back at the how the Pistons went 3-5.
The Pistons were 0-4 when they scored less than 100 points. That means they were 3-1 when they scored 100 or more points. In their five losses, they averaged 95.6 points per game. In their three wins, 115.3 points per game, a difference of nearly 20 points. In their five losses, the Pistons gave up 100.8 points per game. In their three wins, 88.7 points per game, a difference of 12.1 points.
That means when they won, it was by an average of over 25 points per game, but when they lost it was only by just over five points. By comparison, last year the Pistons won their games by an average of 11.9 points per game and lost by an average of 9.3 points per game. So this preseason, the Pistons won big and were in the games that they lost. That could go a long way for how this regular season will go.
As for who the wins were against, that also matters. On the surface, the Pistons beat some good competition. They won against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks. And to win big against those teams, each by at least 21 points, is huge. The Bucks were at full strength, but did lose Khris Middleton after only 23 minutes to fouling out. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, which is always a possibility for the regular season. And while the Hawks were without Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford, the Pistons were also without Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ersan Ilyasova.
What is probably most disturbing is who the Pistons lost to. They lost a close one to the Indiana Pacers after Paul George torched the Pistons for 20 in the first quarter and finished with 32 points in less than 24 minutes. They lost the rematch to the Pacers just as narrowly, but allowed George to collect 13 points in only 12 minutes of play (the whole first quarter). They lost to the Brooklyn Nets, a team who was resting Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Andrea Bargnani, Sergey Karasev, and Thomas Robinson. The Pistons played their potential opening night starting lineup in Reggie Jackson, KCP, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, and Andre Drummond against the San Antonio Spurs and lost, which is probably not too upsetting. The only key player out for the Spurs was Tony Parker. And lastly the Pistons had the fourth quarter collapse rear its ugly head in their loss to the Charlotte Hornets (who only lost to Indiana in the preseason).
There was a common theme to the Pistons wins and losses as far as style of play. In the three wins, the Pistons had no fewer than 25 assists, averaging over 27 per contest. In each of the wins, the Pistons shot 50-percent or better from the field and 40-percent or better from distance. On the other hand, in their losses, they only averaged 20 assists per contest and only shot 41-percent or better twice.
The Pistons have also added another element to their game: free throw shooting. The Pistons had the fourth highest free throw percentage in the preseason (excluding non-NBA teams) at 78-percent. On the negative side, they averaged the fifth lowest rate of getting to the line at only 22.8 attempts per game. This is in contrast to last year when the Pistons averaged 70.3-percent from the line and were in the middle of the league at 22.4 attempts per game. More attempts and better at them.
In terms of per36 numbers, Drummond has upped his points while his rebounds have dropped just a tad. Last year he was averaging 16.3/15.9 on 51.4-percent shooting and a 38.9-percent free-throw shooting. This preseason, it was 19.4/15.0 on 53.2-percent shooting and 38.1-percent free-throw shooting. Unfortunately, his attempts are up from 13.8 to 17.1. He needs to shoot the ball better. DUNK IT!! #LetDreDunk
Reggie Jackson has taken a step back from his 27 games last year when he averaged 19.7 points, 10.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per36. This preseason he was at 18.6 points, 8.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per36. More troublesome is that Jackson was not great last year at 33.7-percent on threes at 3.4 attempts per game. This preseason was worse at 28.6-percent on 5.7 attempts per game. I think he knows he needs to hit them at a better clip and is trying to keep the defense honest, but that percentage brings back memories of the previous highest paid Piston in franchise history.
KCP's numbers have improved, but are inflated by two games. Jodie Meeks is the same as the Jodie Meeks from last year. Spencer Dinwiddie and Anthony Tolliver performed worse than they did last year. Joel Anthony even performed worse than he did last year.
As for the newcomers (Steve Blake notwithstanding as he only played one game), both Aron Baynes and Ersan Ilyasova played worse than either their career or last year per36 average. On the flip side, both Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock far exceeded their career or last year per36 averages. Morris and Bullock could be steals for a 2020 second rounder. Heck, I almost feel we owe the Phoenix Suns.
While Darrun Hilliard did get run in three preseason games, he is not likely to see much action during the regular season barring injuries. That fact could have also been cemented by the play of Bullock. Hilliard shot the ball well from distance, but was turnover prone and was not a great shooter inside the arc. He is likely to get a lot of run with the Grand Rapids Drive this year.
Stanley Johnson on the other hand may end up being a star player. After a breakout game to start the preseason against the Pacers, Johnson seemed to slowly decline in impact and efficiency. However, he finished his preseason with a pretty nice performance against the Hawks. His overall shooting will need work, and it is not because of his release point. He had a 40.2-percent field-goal percentage to go with a 36-percent three-point percentage. But he is only 19 and will have plenty of minutes this season to work on those areas.
In all, none of the players really played so well that we can say that they personally changed the Pistons. However, the complement of players fit better and therefore have provided better results. The preseason does not matter in the long run, but it can give us hope for a better regular season than we've had in quite some time.
Are you excited?