As our friend Steve Hinson recently demonstrated, the Pistons have been atrocious on the road. We know they’ve also been wildly inconsistent. Aside from the obvious (and soon to be rectified) Reggie problem, what we don’t know for certain is why they’ve been so terrible at times.
A closer look at the schedule makes a bit more sense out of their struggles. We know it’s been brutal, but the closer you look, the uglier it gets.
Let’s first take a look at the Central Division to put things in focus.
[Note: When discussing teams that are “.500 or better,” that refers to teams’ records as of 11/28.]
Among Central Division teams, the Pistons have played:
- The most games overall (18)
- The most games against .500 or better teams (11)
- The most road games against .500 or better teams (6)
- The most back-to-back’s (4)
- The most road B2B’s (3)
- The most sets of 3-in-4 nights (4)
- The fewest games with more than one day of rest (two, including opening night)
- Milwaukee has played only five games against .500 or better teams
- The Bucks and Cavs have each played only one road game against a .500 or better team
- The Pacers have played 12 home games thus far
- The Cavs have played only two B2B’s (one on the road), and one set of 3-in-4 nights
- The Cavs have played six games with 2+ days of rest
So, the Pistons have played six times as many road games against winners as the Bucks and Cavs, and four times as many sets of 3-in-4 nights as the Cavs. The Bulls are the only team with a SOS even remotely close to the Pistons, having played 11 away games thus far, but they have played two fewer games overall.
The Pistons’ SOS (as of 11/28) sits at 10th in the NBA, but 3rd in the Eastern Conference. In the East, only Toronto and Boston have played tougher schedules according to these metrics. Chicago sits at 14th, and then Cleveland, Milwaukee and Indiana sit at 27th-29th (only Orlando has played a weaker schedule).
How does individual performance suffer on B2B’s? Well, Andre Drummond is averaging 12.5 points and 10.8 boards in their four games with no rest. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is shooting 29% FG and 19% on threes in those games.
As a team, they’re surrendering 101 points and scoring 96.75 in those games. In the 14 games with rest, they’ve scored 97.7 and surrendered 95.9 per game.
Aside from the opener, they’ve only played one game on more than a day of rest - beating the Nuggets 103-86 at The Palace.
I know, none of this is earth-shattering or ground breaking - most NBA players’ performance declines on the road, on the end of back-to-backs and as a result of playing without sufficient rest. Then add the strain of missing the one key player whose presence makes the game easier for all of his teammates, and the horrid shooting games and blowouts make a bit more sense.
Will Reggie remedy all of their ills? No. They still have to deal with problems related to focus, effort and teamwork. They still have to get better at hitting open shots.
But while no other Central team will be adding a leading scorer to boost their place in the standings, the Pistons should expect a big bump when Reggie Jackson returns. While they’ve suffered some huge blowouts on the road, their two home losses have come by a combined five points, and they clearly missed last year's most clutch 4th quarter scorer down the stretch of those games.
Add in that 3-point loss at New York to the Knicks, and that’s three games lost by a total of 8 points. By the way, the Pistons haven’t won a game by fewer than 11 points. The Pistons’ 8 wins have come by margins of 26, 15, 13, 17, 11, 16, 23 and 11 points.
Three of those wins (and those three close losses) were to .500 or better teams.
It’s pretty easy to imagine that Reggie would have been enough to earn the Pistons three more wins at this point, which would put them at 11-7 and 4th in the East. And that’s with the 3rd toughest schedule in the conference.
So what’s the point? Well, we all are excited to see what this team looks like when they’re at full strength. The stats and the eye test would seem to confirm that they’re a top four team in the East with Reggie on board, even when they’ve played a tough schedule.
Once the schedule tilts back in their favor and their East and Central foes start playing tougher competition and more games on the road, our boys should rise pretty swiftly in the standings.
Now let’s all just hope that Reggie gets back to full speed ASAP. Because once he’s playing at a high level, the Pistons will excel even when enduring a brutal schedule.