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Experts Agree: Pistons Lottery Bound

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Predictions for Stan Van Gundy's squad vary wildly between experts and hard-core fans.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Quick question: Am I nuts?

I've been wondering about that lately ... especially when reading all the projections for the upcoming NBA season.

This has obviously been on my mind all summer, as I've written post after post after post explaining why I'm so optimistic about the Pistons.

Why do I keep at it?

In part, I do this to prove to myself that I'm not crazy. You see, pretty much every article or blurb written about the Pistons for the past few months (outside of Keith Langlois and the Detroit press) has been extraordinarily negative about their prospects.

Most DBB readers know I've been selling Kool-Aid by the barrel this offseason, but the chasm between my (and other DBB writers and readers) expectations and those of sports writers around the country is greater than the distance between a last second shot by Josh Smith and, well ... the rim.

Although bits and pieces of negative forecasts (mainly by ESPN) have been discussed in previous articles on DBB, I decided to gather all the Haterade in one place, so we can ridicule the naysayers for years to come for posterity.

I thought it would be strangely appropriate for DBB's resident optimist to share all of the most pessimistic projections and opinions out there.

Pretty much every major sports website and blog out there thinks the Pistons will not only miss the playoffs, but finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. And as Detroit Bad Boy's own Sean Corp recently pointed out, Vegas agrees. I've seen a few optimistic blurbs by writers, but nothing approaching an analysis, let alone a full article.

Even the most optimistic appraisals state they'll barely make the No. 8 seed and will be fortunate to finish with a .500 record. Overall, the perception is absolutely horrendous.

Some analysts not only think Detroit will be bad this season, they also predict them to be among the worst NBA franchises for years to come. This is in stark contrast to the general perception of Pistons hopefuls who see a contender emerging within the next 3-5 years as Andre Drummond blossoms into a star.

So without further ado, here's what everyone is saying about the Pistons' chances this year. (Italics added by yours truly.)

[Please tell Stan Van Gundy that he's welcome to use the following as bulletin board material.]

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Ben Golliver at Sports Illustrated says Reggie Jackson is "a 25-year-old career backup with gaps throughout his game," and that "Van Gundy’s major frontcourt addition, the competitive but limited Aron Baynes, arrives on a generous 3-year, $20 million deal a few months after he was unable to stay on the court during the playoffs."

Overall, Golliver gives the Pistons a C- grade for their offseason moves.

Will Laws labels the Reggie Jackson signing among the "worst deals" of 2015 free agency, writing "Unless the 25-year-old has some unforeseen breakout in Motown, the Pistons will probably rue paying Jackson like a star."

Hmm ... Laws must've missed the part when Reggie put up a 23-20 game followed by two triple-doubles (and missed a third by one assist) during the next five games immediately following the Greg Monroe injury. He might want to look up the definition of "unforeseen."

CBS SPORTS

Matt Moore at CBS Sports put out offseason power rankings back in July. He ranks the Pistons 27th in the NBA, just below the Lakers, and three spots below the Denver Nuggets(!). He does say "This one makes me nervous, though."

Listen to your gut, Matt.

BLEACHER REPORT

Alec Nathan at Bleacher Report doesn't even bother to discuss the Pistons in his piece. He just lists them as 12th in the East with a projected record of 37-45.

Grant Hughes gave the Pistons a D+ grade for their offseason, calling Jackson "an inefficient scorer, an inaccurate shooter and an inattentive defender." He concludes that "Detroit will regret the Jackson deal."

ESPN

Not only does Justise Winslow rank 45 spots higher than Stanley Johnson, he's projected as the #5 ROY prospect in ESPN's Summer Forecast rankings, with 12 votes to Stanimal's 1 lousy vote. Amin Elhassan, however, calls that "ridiculous" and says Johnson has a better chance to be ROY.

Emmanuel Mudiay, who put up this line in summer league (12 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.5 RPG, 5 TO/G, 38.5 FG%, 14.3 3P%), is somehow ranked #123, which is 83 spots above the guy who put up this line in summer league (16.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 TO/G, 57.7 FG%, 41.7 3P%).

Yeah, yeah... "it's just summer league."

They, of course, have the Pistons ranking 11th in their Summer Forecast of the Eastern Conference standings.

ESPN's Future Power Rankings has an absolutely abysmal view of the Pistons, projecting them to be the 27th best team (or 4th worst) in the NBA during the next three seasons. Kevin Pelton says "we're skeptical that Detroit's talent is any better than average."

That essentially means that not only do they think they Pistons will stink this year, they also believe they'll stink for the next three seasons, including 2017-18, when Drummond, Reggie, KCP and Stanimal are all in or nearing their primes, and when Stan Van Gundy will be in his 5th season as head coach and GM.

Here's what they're saying to the Pistons: "You're terrible now, and you're going to be the fourth worst franchise for the next three years."

HOOPS HYPE

Hoops Hype has no more love for the Pistons, projecting them to be 5th in the Central and 12th in the East.

Here are some snippets from their "Weaknesses" blurb: "Flat out not enough talent … Drummond is the lone Top-50 player in the roster … Awful free-throw shooting … Basketball IQ of the team is not Spur-esque Losing culture."

Ouch.

HOOPS HABIT

Hoops Habit (Fansided) projects the Pistons to finish 10th in the East with a 36-46 record.

Only 10th? Bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers over there, it seems.

BASKETBALL INSIDERS

Basketball Insiders has five analysts provide projections for the Pistons. Four of the five pick the Pistons to finish last in the Central.

The lone "optimist" - Moke Hamilton - had this to say: "It’s tough taking the Pistons to best the Pacers in the Central Division, but I’ll take my chances there."

Gee, thanks.

Alex Kennedy says "The Pistons, much like the Orlando Magic, should show improvement and be a very good team down the road, but it’s just tough to imagine them making the playoffs this season in the improved Eastern Conference.

Wow, right up there with Orlando.

The other writers at Basketball Insiders basically echo the sentiment that the Pistons should be "better" but that it won't matter because the East is improved, and they're the worst team in the Central Division.

VEGAS ODDS

Vegas puts the over/under on wins for this year's Pistons team at 33.5.

As loyal DBBer "V." recently said, "Bet the over, early & often."

Also, their odds of winning the Central Division are listed at 100-1. Indy is listed at 20-1 odds to win the division... so they have no front court and a star player recovering from injury and playing out of position (and not happy about it), but are somehow five times more likely to win the division?

So get thee to Vegas and place your bets... before Vegas sobers up and changes its mind.

THE GUARDIAN

Yes, even The Guardian got in on the Piston bashing, calling them "losers" for their offseason moves.

Hunter Felt writes: "Speaking of 'doing anything stupid,' that brings us to the Pistons."

Oh, this is getting good...

"(T)he Pistons signed Jackson, a sixth-man caliber offensive contributor they acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to an inexplicably huge five-year, $80m contract.

"In a week where teams were happily handing out four or five year deals to every player with a pulse and half-decent employment history, the Pistons still somehow managed to come up with the worst free agent contract so far. Josh Smith is gone, but his legacy remains."

Good heavens... he conjures up Josh Smith. Even the British are piling on.

THEY'VE BEEN WRONG BEFORE

I'm reminded of the 2004 NBA Finals, when every analyst on the planet picked the Lakers to win Game One, Game Two, Game Three and then Game Four... each time for a different reason ("Tonight's a must-win game for the Lakers," etc.). It wasn't until Game Five (of the only 5-game sweep in NBA Finals history) that they basically shrugged their shoulders and said "Okay, maybe the Pistons will win."

[Before everyone freaks out, I'm not comparing this team to the champs.]

Seven games into last season, I wrote a piece questioning Stan Van Gundy's management of the situation (i.e. "Why hasn't he benched Smith yet?"). At the time, I wasn't alone in wondering if I was crazy. It seemed so obvious to many DBBers that removing Smith would instantly make the team better, yet the head coach and GM of the team took 28 games before coming to the same conclusion.

Before they subsequently went on that 12-3 run, many writers and fans thought Van Gundy was nuts for making that decision. The assumption was that Smith was the most talented player on the team, and that they would be even worse without him. That's why they were so surprised about that stretch of excellent Pistons basketball.

Many of us at DBB were surprised at how much better they were playing, but we weren't surprised that they were playing well. Why? Because we watched the games (and looked at the numbers).

I bring up these examples to give context. This wouldn't be the first time that 90% of the world was wrong about the Pistons. It also wouldn't be the first time that passionate fans (that's you) knew better than more casual fans... or even sports writers.

Sports writers don't watch every single game of every single team. Some analysts crunch numbers, but numbers don't tell the complete story.

As for Vegas, just last year they were very wrong about several teams. In fact, four teams - the Hawks (19), Celtics (13), Warriors (16) and Bucks (16) - won at least 13 more games than projected. In 2013-14, both the Blazers (15) and the Raptors (11) far outperformed Vegas odds, but it was the Suns (28!) who absolutely shocked the basketball world that year.

It wouldn't be unprecedented for Vegas to be that far off, or for the Pistons to win 45-50 games.

We're not crazy

So, one last time before the preseason, I'll offer my bullet points illustrating why the doomsayers are wrong, and the Kool-Aid drinkers are right. If you've read my previous posts, some of these may look familiar:

  • Last year's Pistons were 27-27 after releasing Josh Smith.
  • Josh Smith is still not a member of the Pistons.
  • Last year's Pistons were 24-14 when starting three quality shooters around Andre Drummond.
  • The Pistons will start three quality shooters every single game.
  • "The Pistons ran their opponents off the floor when Tolliver and Drummond played together, outscoring them by 7.3 points per 100 possessions." (CBS Sports)
  • Andre's PER-36 numbers with Tolliver: 18.9 PTS, 16.5 REB
  • Drummond will be playing with a "stretch 4" 100% of the time.
  • Reggie Jackson pre-Monroe injury (11 games): 37.1% FG, 27.0% 3PT, 4.3 REB, 6.6 AST, 14.3 PTS (43.7% TS)
  • Reggie Jackson post-Monroe injury (11 games): 49.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT, 5.7 REB, 10.8 AST, 20.9 PTS (57.7% TS)
I might very well be crazy, but I didn't hallucinate those numbers.

Compared to the very best version of last year's Pistons (the PSE team that went 17-10 before the Reggie Jackson trade), this year's team, on paper, is improved at every position except one. And to conclude that the difference in production between Greg Monroe and Ersan Ilyasova is significant enough to make them a lottery team strains credulity.


Ilyasova: 16.1 PTS, 53.3% TS, 9.1 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.1 STL, .6 BLK, .130 WS/48
Monroe: 16.5 PTS, 54.5% TS, 10.6 REB, 2.6 AST, 1.4 STL, .7 BLK, .131 WS/48

More realistically, especially given how the Pistons played when Dre and Tolliverse shared the floor, they'll be even better with Ilyasova than Monroe.

Using ESPN's (deeply flawed) player rankings ... this year, the Pistons will replace Kyle Singler (#193) with Marcus Morris (#191). They'll replace Caron Butler (#354) and Tayshaun Prince (#368) with Stanley Johnson (#206), and DJ Augustin (#225) with (eventually) Brandon Jennings (#121). They'll have a full season of Anthony Tolliver (#286) and no Josh Smith (#4,743,104).

The even shorter version of why the Pistons will be much better than people expect is that Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond are not only better than everyone thinks, but when paired together blow their reputations out of the water. When paired together and surrounded by the right pieces, they could be All-Stars. Reggie is a triple-double threat, and Andre is a double-double machine. They are both elite finishers in the paint. Both put up 20-20 games last year, which is both extremely difficult and rare.

Now notice how I haven't mentioned any "ifs."

None of this success depends on KCP becoming more efficient or better off the dribble, Dre improving his free-throw shooting or playing better defense, Jodie Meeks returning to form, Stanley Johnson being a star out of the gate, Reggie improving his 3-point shooting, or any single player doing anything they haven't already done.

This team will make the playoffs even if no one improves. And given the fact that most of their likely rotation players are very young, it's highly unlikely they'll experience a decline, and much more likely they will indeed improve.

If there's one thing that may temper my expectations, it's the recent news that Brandon Jennings won't be available until December or January. That means the Pistons will play the first third of the season with a worse backup PG than they started with last year. But keep in mind that DJ was only the backup for the first half of the season. After that, it was either John Lucas III or Spencer Dinwiddie. Blake should at least be able to replace that production.

If Ilyasova continues to have injury problems, Morris slides to power forward and Johnson gets more minutes at small forward.

For the record, I still see the range being 42-50 wins for this team. The above "ifs" will determine whether they finish at the high or low end of that estimate. If I had to pick a number and stick with it, I'd say 46 wins, which last year was good for the 5th seed in the East. 50 wins and a third- or fourth-seed only happens if everything goes right, everyone stays healthy and we see improvement across the board.

Shh ... don't tell anyone

It just wouldn't be as fun if the Pistons were expected to be good. For the moment, it's our little secret.

I've written so much this offseason about how and why the Pistons should outperform expectations, sometimes -- and especially when reading articles on ESPN and elsewhere -- I wonder if I've hypnotized myself into believing they'll finally have a good season.

But my logical brain reassures me that this isn't a fantasy. The evidence supports this view, and on this occasion, the majority opinion is uninformed, poorly-reasoned and dead wrong.

My guess is that those analysts have no idea about any of this, and are simply looking at the 32-50 record along with less-than-sexy offseason acquisitions. They may not understand just how much damage Josh Smith did to this team last year.

To call those 27-game, 38-game and 54-game samples mere aberrations would be pure denial. To ignore the enormous difference in Jackson's play with/without Monroe is inexcusable.

I don't think most writers or analysts have even looked at these facts, because frankly, analysts want to look smart. They want to be right. And so far, when it comes to the Pistons, they're not.

While it's fun to think they all "hate" Detroit, the truth is that they're just plain ignorant.

And unless I'm crazy, they're about to be enlightened.