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Pistons Kool-Aid-Free Season Preview

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Can the Pistons finally stay healthy enough to make noise in the East?

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game One Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I started writing a “Kool-Aid” post to round up the whole series of previews heading into the season. But I have to admit, I’m all out of sugar.

And I’m very, very tired of Reggie Jackson’s injuries sending this team into the abyss.

During the past two seasons, the chasm between the Detroit Pistons’ performance with and without a healthy starting PG was just far too wide to make any kind of sense. Maybe you can blame coach SVG for failing to adjust. Maybe you can blame President SVG for failing to plan for that contingency.

I blame the basketball gods.

Looking at the upcoming season, my gut feeling is that the Pistons will win between 45-50 games. However, I’ve made roughly the same prediction before the past two seasons as well.

The only time my crystal ball was “right” about the Pistons was before the 2015-16 season. That year, they were blessed with amazing health and played to their potential as a team.

This weekend, I’ll be making my yearly trip to Las Vegas for a weekend with the boys (MSU alumni who like to watch Sparty beat up on the Wolverines together). The past three seasons, I had a chance to bet on the Pistons’ total wins over/under, but I only took advantage once (in 2015), and won some fun cash. The past two years, knowing Reggie’s injury troubles, I held onto my wallet. And this year, I’m holding onto my wallet.

Overall, the Pistons’ record with a healthy Reggie Jackson during the past three seasons is 73-56, which is a 46-win pace. And yes, I’m cherry-picking, because that doesn’t include the entire 2016-17 season, during which I don’t think Reggie was healthy at all.

They’ve been 49-70 when Reggie’s been injured or less than 100%, good for a 34-win pace. And I have to consider myself a bit surprised that, after playing the last ten or so games of the previous season, Reggie still wasn’t healthy enough for basketball activity in the offseason. Big red flag.

So here we are, ready to start the 2018-19 season, with a brand new coach, an actual superstar player (yep) and a PG whose health is still a huge question mark.

In fact, I’m tempted to argue that health is the single most important factor in the upcoming season. More important that Andre’s 3PT shooting, Blake playing like a star, Stanley and Luke’s development, or anything else I can imagine.

Here’s my argument, first made via a comment during a post-season thread:

The Pistons had exactly one (1) player – Drummond – who started more than 52 games this year. That’s staggering. By comparison, in 2015-16, they had four players who started at least 76 games (five if you combine Ersan & Tobias).

East playoff teams:

  • The Pacers had 5 players who started at least 62 games, and three who started at least 75.
  • The Wizards had 4 players who started at least 73 games (the other was Wall with 44).
  • The Sixers had 5 guys who started at least 62, and that’s including Embiid. The other 4 guys started at least 70 games.
  • The Celtics, with all their injury woes, started 5 guys at least 60 games, with three above 70.
  • The Bucks had 5 with at least 59 (Snell), and 3 with 71 or more starts.
  • The Raps had their 4 top scorers all start 76 or more games.
  • The Heat had worse luck, but still had 2 guys with 70+ starts and another with 54.
  • The Cavs were a hot mess.

West playoff teams:

  • Utah (with more overall games missed to injury) still had 4 guys start at least 71 games.
  • The Spurs, even without Kawhi the whole season, still had 4 guys start at least 60 games.
  • The T-Wolves had 3 guys start 82 games(!) and another one start 70. The 5th was Jimmy Butler with 59 starts.
  • Houston had 4 guys with at least 58 starts, and 2 above 70.
  • New Orleans had 4 guys with at least 63 starts, and 3 with 75 starts or more.
  • The Warriors had three All-Stars start 68-73 games, and Steph showed up for 51.
  • The Blazers’ top 4 guys started between 67-81 games. Lillard, McCollum & Nurkic missed 12 total games.
  • The Thunder’s Big Three missed a combined 9 games. Adams missed 6 games.

These are your playoff teams, folks:

  • Six East teams had at least three guys start 70+ games.
  • Six West teams had at least three guys start 70+ games.
  • Of the other four playoff teams, one had LeBron James, one had James Harden, and the other two were eliminated 3-1 in the first round.

Soooo….. yeah, health matters. Continuity matters. Having a quality starting PG matters.

Ask yourself this question: how many NBA teams could have a PG duo of Ish Smith and Dwight Buycks for roughly 30 games and coast into the playoffs? Feel free to comment below.

Health and continuity matter so much that their importance dwarfs the things we get so caught up talking about - like how many threes they’ll shoot, how hard they’ll play on defense, will Blake return to dominance or regress, can Bullock and Kennard continue shooting well with greater volume, and so on.

It almost seems pointless to discuss these things, as they’re next to irrelevant if they can’t stay healthy.

But hey, I’ll give them a few words nonetheless.

First, the optimism:

  • The Pistons will likely improve as the season progresses and they get a better feel for each other and Dwane Casey’s system.
  • I love the shot spectrum. The offense should be more fun to watch.
  • I love the fact they’re launching more threes than any team outside of Houston.
  • I love what I’ve seen of Blake Griffin during the preseason. He looks like a star.
  • I like Andre’s energy, but he needs to be smarter with his shot selection.
  • I like a bench with Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Stanley Johnson (see what I did there?) and Jonza Pachleueria.
  • I love the idea of Reggie Bullock and GRIII launching threes while Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond draw defenders away.

The pessimism:

  • I’m not confident in Stanley Johnson’s ability to be competent on offense, but I’d be thrilled if that were to happen.
  • I’m not confident that Jon Leuer will be confident right away, but that’d be swell.
  • I’m definitely not confident in Jackson’s ability to stay on the court and perform at a high level throughout the season, but hey, I can hope.
  • And I’m absolutely not confident in Henry Ellenson’s ability to contribute consistently in a meaningful role off the bench, but Casey is the Youth Whisperer, right?

I do think this team (WHEN HEALTHY!!!) has more talent than the group that went to the playoffs in 2015-16. They are better at two starting positions (SG/PF), worse at one (SF) and another is a big question mark (PG). The current bench unit is considerably better and deeper (which admittedly isn’t saying much). Their starting center has fixed his free throw problem. Their shooting guards can actually shoot.

Other writers on DBB have shared more detailed and elaborate descriptions of individual players and what they might do this season, so I really don’t have much more to add... other than how much I wish we could’ve held onto Aron Baynes and Anthony Tolliver. I’d feel much better about our bench if those two were still wearing the red, white & blue.

Pistons fans have been through a lot these past few years. We got our hopes up when SVG came aboard and started signing guys who weren’t Josh Smith. We cursed the gods when he let Smith shoot the team out of the playoffs in 28 games. We had a ball with the Post-Smith Era run that Formed a F#cking Wall. We enjoyed the playoff run and Best Losing Performance in a First Round Sweep.

And then everything has gone pretty poorly ever since.

I think the Pistons are due for some good fortune. I’m sending good vibes to Arnie Kander in hopes he can keep our guys on the court. I think the Pistons could be as good as a 4th seed in the East, and a disastrous injury or two could result in the lottery and possibly hitting the reset button. So I actually wouldn’t be shocked if they won as many as 50+ games or as few as 35 games, based primarily on the health of Jackson and Griffin - their two primary playmakers.

Could this team remain relatively healthy (you know, with maybe 3-4 starters playing 70+ games) and still miss the playoffs? I’d be quite surprised.

Could they play really well and make a trade to land another star? That would appear to be the best-case scenario.

I’m cautiously optimistic, ready for anything, and very, very tired of wondering when the Pistons will finally make some damn noise in the playoffs.

Let the games begin.