Okay, I have to admit… even I’m surprised.
Yes, I spent the entire summer selling optimism about the Detroit Pistons.
Yes, I predicted they’d win 42-50 games.
Yes, I thought they were going to be good.
Yes, I wagered hard-earned American dollars in Vegas that the Pistons would win at least 38 games.
While the season is incredibly young, what we’ve seen so far has actually increased my optimism. This team doesn’t need to play extremely well on offense in order to stay competitive. Against the very top teams in the Eastern Conference. They don’t need Brandon Jennings or even a very productive bench.
The Pistons shot .375/.214/.500 against the Bulls. And won.
So how did they do it? Roughly the same way they beat the Hawks and Jazz - rebounding, defense and hustle.
And that, my fellow Piston fans, is why we should all be feeling very good about this team. They’re 3-0 less because of things that vary from night to night (shooting percentages) and more because of the things a team can bring night in and night out (effort and energy).
They out-rebounded the Bulls 61-50, and even more importantly, 20-8 on the offensive glass.
They had 104 shot attempts to the Bulls’ 84.
They essentially flipped "efficiency" the bird and won in spite of it.
By the way, this is the very same Bulls team that beat the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night - on TNT - while the Pistons were clobbering the (regular season) Eastern Conference champion Hawks (on the road), and then crushed the Brooklyn Nets (on the road) the following night.
And the Pistons don't even have Brandon Jennings back yet.
If there’s one element I wasn’t counting on (at all) this season, it was the superb play of Marcus Morris. Truth be told, I’d never really seen the guy play before he joined the Pistons. His numbers looked OK but underwhelming. The response to that trade with the Suns (which cost the Pistons essentially nothing) was a collective "meh" by every sports journalist outside (and some inside) Detroit.
And while I KNOW IT’S EARLY (#samplesize, #calmdown), Morris is averaging 19.3 points and 7.6 rebounds through three games. Against playoff-caliber opponents. While knocking down huge shots. During crunch time.
Andre Drummond, meanwhile, in spite of still shooting below 50 percent from the floor, is putting up 18.6 points and 16.3 rebounds through three games. And while you might be tempted to argue those numbers will come down, they’re eerily similar to what he put up at the end of last season after Reggie Jackson came aboard.
Oh, and he had his fifth career 20-20 game tonight. There will be more.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a horrible shooting night, but also kept Jimmy Butler in check (in spite of the sexy 23/11 stat line, Butler shot 5-19 from the floor) and made yet another huge defensive play to push the game into overtime. His fist-pump reaction was almost the same he made after his block on Rodney Hood to close out the Jazz, and just might look awesome in a forthcoming highlight video made by yours truly.
Reggie Jackson still has a ton of work to do. He had five turnovers and took more than a couple ill-advised shots, and yet… still put up 22/7/7 and came up big down the stretch. The things he does well, he makes them look so easy that it’s easy to take them for granted. Don’t. He’s good. He’ll be a star in due time. He's a work-in-progress.
The sky is the limit for this team.
Their best players are ALL 26 years old and under. Three of them are 22 and under.
They’re still learning to play with each other. They’re still rough around the edges.
KCP is still inconsistent. Reggie is still erratic. Andre is still raw. Brandon Jennings is still in street clothes.
But they’re winning. Against good teams. Already.
If there's one thing I take from these first three games, it's that the Pistons' "floor" is pretty high. Can anyone honestly look at this team and think it will fail to break even?
They will continue to surprise, and win, and improve.
We may be the only ones who know it, but that won't last long.
Enjoy it, Pistons fans. This is just the beginning.