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Pistons projected as a playoff team(!) .... at six games under .500

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ESPN’s projections are not kind to the Eastern Conference

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Cue the 30 for 30 music. What if I told you, you were about to witness something that hadn’t happened in 50 years? Excited?

OK. What if I told you, what you were going to see was a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference that didn’t even win 50 games? What if I told you the Detroit Pistons would be a playoff team? What if I also told you they were actually projected to be worse than last season?

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ran the numbers and they report a lot of ugliness in the Eastern Conference, with the Pistons being a 35-win playoff team as a minor consolation prize.

Boston is the projected top dog in the East at 49.4 wins followed closely behind by Cleveland (49.2) and Washington (47.5).

Pelton, armed with his SCHOENE projection system, predicts Charlotte, Miami and Detroit all make the playoffs while Indiana, Chicago and Atlanta all fall out in the pitiful East.

Pelton’s reasoning for Detroit actually being worse than last year amounts to the same reasoning he provided for giving the Pistons a D grade for their offseason -- swapping out starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley is a net downgrade.

I’d say that overrates Marcus Morris’ contributions to the team last season. Morris was a great teammate and a capable defender who was always up to bail out the Pistons by taking a big shot within a dysfunctional offense.

But...

On a team full of inefficient players, Morris didn’t exactly help matters. If you a run a 20/20/20 test (20 games, 20 minutes per game, and usage rate of at least 20), Marcus Morris ranks in the bottom 10 in the NBA in true shooting percentage.

Joining him are, in order, Ish Smith (who is at least a point guard), Emmanuel Mudiay, Zach Randolph, Nikola Vucevic, Brandon Knight, Frank Kaminsky, Kent Bazemore, Jeff Green and Dion Waiters.

Not exactly a murderers’ row.

I’d also not that under those criteria, the Pistons had four players in the top 20, with Reggie Jackson ranking 13th and Andre Drummond ranking 17th. That tells you all you need to know about their pitiful offense last season.

And it likely goes a long way to explain ESPN’s expectation of them this season. But perhaps it’s time to put a little Pistons’ homer spit polish on this turd.

ESPN’s projection doesn’t account for:

  • Jackson’s return to health. Jackson’s horrendous season last year is viewed as a sign of permanent decline, while we are all hoping a return to health will give us something much closer to the 2015-16 Jackson that led Detroit to 44 wins.
  • Drummond’s change in usage. Obviously Stan Van Gundy read our article about stopping Drummond’s post-ups and will modify the offense accordingly.
  • A new small forward who doesn’t soak up possessions. While a move from Morris to Stanley Johnson is a clear downgrade, Johnson will also clearly be the fifth option on offense and not the second option in the starting lineup that Morris played. Johnson is also likely to be a ball mover and not a back-to-the-basket staple.
  • Tobias Harris gets more shots. If Johnson and Drummond get fewer shots that likely means more for Harris, Avery Bradley and a (hopefully) better Jackson. I’ll take that trade off.
  • Boban. Enough said.