The Detroit Pistons come into this early season divisional matchup with the Pacers as one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the league (along with Toronto, LA Clippers and Golden State), after both Oklahoma City and Minnesota were defeated last night. By contrast, the Pacers are one of a staggering seven teams who are at least 0-3 to start the season, along with Philadelphia, Orlando, Charlotte, LA Lakers, New Orleans, and Brooklyn, who are 0-4.
The Pistons are seeing major dividends in their offseason movements as of right now, with Marcus Morris leading the team in scoring and the larger amounts of space afforded to Andre Drummond allowing the big man to feast inside, leading to Dre being named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week for the first week of the season.
The Pacers lost a few important players from last season, namely their starting frontcourt of David West (San Antonio-FA) and Roy Hibbert (LA Lakers-trade). As a result, Paul George has been asked to play power forward, much to his disdain, and the defence has suffered, with Jordan Hill now being asked to man the middle after being signed away from Los Angeles in the offseason.
Where: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI
When: Tuesday 3 November, 2015, 7:30PM ET
Exceptionally Detailed Analysis
The Pistons come into the game 3-0 with wins against some of the better teams from last season behind them in the opening week. After downing the best team in the East last season regular-season-wise in the Hawks, they outlasted a tough defensive unit in Utah before overpowering the Bulls in overtime. As has been said by various outlets and sources, the Pistons' first-week opponents are a combined 8-0 in all other fixtures.
Even the most optimistic of Pistons fans likely didn't predict such a good start to the season. When the first three fixtures spell out Atlanta, Utah and Chicago, the likely consensus is that hopefully the team would be 1-2 and competitive against some Eastern Conference powers. However, the team has put the league on notice, with experts re-ranking the Pistons accordingly to reflect such a good first week, culminating in Andre Drummond winning his first ever Player of the Week award.
The Pistons wins have been built on defence to start the season, with their defensive rating of 92.8 ranking sixth in the league, behind only Utah, Golden State, San Antonio, Chicago and Cleveland. It's been just as well that the defence (ed. note: Australian author alert) has fortified, because the offense has been anything but smooth, with their 97.5 mark raking 18th, and their net rating of 4.6 12th in the league. The Pistons are allowing their opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field, a mark which falls about in the middle, but their perimeter defence has been outstanding, with the team only allowing 27.9 percent on opposition 3-pointers, a mark good for eighth in the league, and only allowing 5.7 made threes, 6th in the league. They have also fared well in basic defensive measurables, with Andre Drummond contributing to the best rebounding team, whilst ranking 4th in points allowed per game.
What has been really good is the play of the starting unit so far. In 62 minutes on court together thus far, they have an offensive rating of 103.8, while being stingy on the dirty side of the ball, with a defensive rating of 80.1. This is rather impressive given that three of the five starters are perhaps given reputations as average or worse defenders, like Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Ersan Ilyasova. But even all three of them have made key contributions in different aspects. Drummond looks to have positioned himself a lot better, and is grabbing endless rebounds on the defensive glass. Jackson is hustling to stay in front of his man and not allowing middle penetration, whilst Ersan Ilyasova has drawn so many charges already that I've lost count.
But perhaps the biggest contributor on the defensive end thus far has been Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Check out these statistics from NBA.com's player tracking for defence (ed note: Aussie alert). KCP is allowing opposing players to shoot a terrible 26.1 percent from the field when he's guarding them, which is 19.1 percent below their normal mark of 45.2 percent. For reference, Kawhi Leonard's difference is 19.2 percent.
The Pacers have been a hot mess this season so far. Paul George has looked a little off the pace thus far and their defence is suffering without the shot blocking presence of Roy Hibbert. They have a 26th ranked offense of 92.8, and a defensive rating of 103.7, good for 22nd in the league. Paul George is struggling, shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from downtown. As a result, the Pacers are 0-3 and the thing is that they haven't really looked like winning so far.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope vs. Monta Ellis
Sure, George and Drummond are the two stars in this game, but the most interesting match-up will be at the shooting guard position. Ellis is an elite scorer while KCP has been torching people on defence (ed note: it's everywhere) this year so far. You pretty much cut your losses with George with Ilyasova or Morris (or Johnson) guarding him, and trust Reggie to stay in front of George Hill, but if KCP can shut down Ellis, it will go a long way towards winning this one.
Last Time We Met
Pistons 103-107 Pacers - 4/10/2015
In an end-of-season matchup between two lottery teams, it was the Pacers who came out on top. C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey both had 24 points, while for the Pistons, Reggie Jackson had 21 and Greg Monroe finished with 17 and 12 boards. Also contributing were KCP with 16 and Jodie Meeks with 15 off the bench.
Pistons 105-89 Pacers
I think the Pistons have too much confidence right now after three strong wins. This game is the most winnable thus far this season.
Pistons: Jackson, Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Ilyasova, Drummond
Pacers: G. Hill, Ellis, Miles, George, Mahinmi
Pistons: Jennings (Achilles), Meeks (foot)