Okay, so I'm reading all the posts and tweets about all the wonderful players the Pistons have failed to sign... those they gave up on (Moose, Knight, Middleton, Spellcheck, Amir, Jonas, Kyle), those they thought they could get (Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll), and those they never had a chance at to begin with (Draymond).
Then, finally... there are the knee-jerk reactions about those players they actually acquired.
Look, I get it. Everyone else seems to be improving while the poor old Pistons are left on the sidelines (apologies to Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris). I see these comments about how the Pistons will be a "bottom three" team in the East, a 30-35 win team again, and so on.
Now, as a trained hypnotherapist and self-helpy, positive-thinking junkie, I can't help but see the silver linings here. I thought some of you would appreciate a different perspective.
So let's take a look at some reasons why Pistons fans should remain hopeful. Here are the bullet points:
- Last year's team, minus Josh Smith, was a playoff team.
- This year's team is better than last year's team.
I'm going to begin with last season to put things in context. (Be patient, there is gold at the end of this rainbow.)
Everyone keeps harping on how last year's team won 32 games. Yes, that's a fact. But for those of us who watched damn near every single game (and have the scars to show for it), there was much more to the story.
The Pistons began 2014-15 with the Notorious J-Smoove as the starting SF. [pause for laughter] Their "big FA signings" in the offseason were a mediocre SG, a backup PG, an over-the-hill SF, a never-was SF and a never-will-be backup C. The starting lineup consisted of exactly zero reliable 3PT shooters.
It was ugly.
They started the season 5-23 and dozens of DBB'ers lamented their NBA LP subscriptions while struggling to find reasons to go on living another day.
Then, magically, Stan Van Gundy finally did what we'd been screaming for him to do ever since he was announced as the new Head Coach and GM. (Do I even need to say it?)
Then, magically, through addition by subtraction (and the Tolliver Effect), these very same Pistons went on a 12-3 tear that included amazing wins on the road against NBA powerhouses, buzzer-beaters and the forming of a f#cking wall.
That beautiful stretch of Pistons basketball will forever be lovingly remembered thanks to this awesome video I made just for kicks.
We know what happened after that. Jennings got injured. SVG traded our best 3PT shooters for a PG who couldn't shoot and a SF who didn't want to be here. Greg Monroe got injured.
Sometimes, a crisis becomes an opportunity. Some good fortune came from the injuries to Swag and Moose.
- The injury to Swag led to the trade for Reggie Jackson, who showed All-Star potential after initially struggling to adapt to his new team.
- The injury to Moose allowed us to see how the Pistons would look without him, and with a "stretch 4" starting alongside Andre
Take a look at box scores during the 7-4 stretch when Moose was injured. This isn't a team with Ilyasova starting and Tolliver off the bench. It's a team with Tolliver starting and Shawne Freaking Williams off the bench!
Here's one box score from that stretch...
The Pistons scored a victory over the Raptors while starting Anthony Tolliver and Caron Butler, and giving solid minutes to a journeyman (Williams), a has-been (Tayshaun) and not-yet (Dinwiddie).
No Jennings. No Monroe. No Kyle. No Jonas. No Danny or Draymond Green.
What you have in that box score is Dre, Reggie, KCP and a bunch of interchangeable parts who would not otherwise be starters (or even rotation guys) on an NBA team.
Now I know the naysayers will point to the Raps' struggles and KCP's unusually strong shooting night, but the point is pretty clear. If THIS team can go 7-4, and if the PSE Swag-led squad can go 12-3, why is everyone so pessimistic about next season? Because DJ Augustin or Kyle Singler are irreplaceable?
Already, this year's group is better than last year's very best PSE team.
For starters, let's compare starters:
- Jennings, KCP, Kyle, Moose, Drummond
- Reggie, KCP, Morris, Ghostface Ilya, Drummond
Now let's compare benches:
- DJ, Meeks, Caron, Jonas, JorEl, rookie rehabbing Dinwiddie
- Jennings, Meeks, Stanley, Tolliver, Baynes, 2nd year healthy Dinwiddie
The starting lineup initially looks a bit worse due to the absence of 16-10 machine Moose. But SPACING! Now seriously, I think we can all agree that Morris is probably a minor upgrade over Singler, and Ilyasova is a better fit next to Andre. Also, Reggie has better chemistry with Dre than Swag ever did, is taller and more athletic, and also knocked down some threes once he got comfortable. So IMHE, especially when considering the expected improvement and growth of Dre/Reggie/KCP, this year's starting lineup is better.
When they go to the bench, rather than having the corpse of Caron Butler or Tayshaun Prince
, they'll have a (hopefully healthy) Brandon Jennings
with a chip on his shoulder, Stanley "I want to be Rookie of the Year" Johnson, Jodie "I'm due for a comeback year" Meeks, the Tolliver Effect and World Champion Aron Bynes.
Those guys are all on the right side of Father Time, they all play with energy, and most amazingly, all are capable of hitting a shot outside of 10 feet.
How could this team possibly be worse than the squad that went 12-3, or even the wild assortment of players who wound up going 27-27 in the PSE? How could a team with an improved core of young players and a supporting (while not sexy) cast composed of players specifically chosen by their coach to fit his system NOT fare significantly better than the team that played 1/3 of its season with J-Smoove and the Three Bigs (who cannot shoot), 1/3 of its season without Brandon Jennings, and gave serious run to JLIII and Shawne Williams
However, I was right about some things. First, that Stan had assembled some pieces that fit together. Second, that as a quality head coach, he would get maximum production out of his players. I was correct in predicting that the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts, and that good coaching doesn't show up in analytics.
Most importantly, the PSE team played even above my greatest expectations. Some of you will say that was an aberration, but I watched those games, and they weren't just playing well. THEY WERE BLOWING TEAMS OUT.
How many of you saw that coming after last year's crop of FA signings?
Here's the thing - Stan Van Gundy is an excellent coach.
You can look at all these big money FA signings and imagine how much better the Bucks
will be than last year (in spite of having roughly one serious 3PT threat in their starting lineup), etc., and how we lost Moose "for nothing, basically."
I look at this team and think the rest of the NBA is in for a big surprise... because here's what the Detroit Pistons' 2015-16 season is really all about - Andre Drummond
, Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The improvement of these three players will determine the franchise's fate. IF these three guys meet or surpass expectations, they will not only make the playoffs, they will make a statement. And if they do, they'll become a much more attractive FA destination in the years to come.
I'd also throw in another big IF, which is this... if Brandon Jennings is anywhere near the player he was before, the Pistons will have one hell of a bench, as well as one hell of a trade chip at the deadline.
Of course, I could very well be wrong once again. Maybe SVG will surprise me and play Drummond at SG for the first 3rd of the season. Maybe Swag will be a shell of his former self. But I have a good feeling about this team.
SVG now has a roster with only three players he inherited from the previous regime. He has ZERO bad contracts. He's converted DJ and Kyle into Reggie Jackson, what's-his-name into Anthony Tolliver, spare parts into Ilyasova, and a 2nd round pick who just graduated from middle school into Marcus Morris. That's pretty damn good work.
The pieces aren't all there yet, but it's time for Stan to show me the money.
I'm excited to see what happens.
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