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State of the 2018-19 Pistons: December

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It was a rough close to 2018 in Detroit

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Going 4-11 in December is a sour tone to close a sour year for the Detroit Pistons organization. It’s a long season, but watching the Pistons play ugly, losing basketball this month made the season feel interminable. Was there anything specifically in December that went wrong? Let’s dive in.

I use NBA.com numbers because they’re accessible to all, and garbage time matters to me, dammit.

November’s State of the Pistons is here.

Numbers

Record: 16-18. 11-8 at home, 5-10 on the road. 5-10 against teams above .500 (as of Dec. 30) (Wins: Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Golden State, and Houston).

ORTG: 105.8, 23rd (Down from November - 108.4, 14th)
DRTG: 107.5, 11th (Down from November - 106.6, 7th)
NetRTG: -1.6, 23rd (Down from November - 1.9, 11th)

The current starting lineup (Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond) has a not-bad NetRtg in a small but growing sample:

That 108.1 ORTG is by no means world-beating, but it’s still better than the team as a whole is putting up. And, obviously, a sub-100 DRTG is great no matter what five guys are together. This lineup, should Dwane Casey keep it together, warrants watching as the year goes along.

Individually, a bunch of Pistons had cold Decembers. The streaky Langston Galloway, who shot 41.1 percent from three on six attempts a game in November, shot 31.6 percent from three on five attempts a game in December. Andre, who had a +3.6 NetRTG this time last month, is down to a -1.0 NetRTG, a True Shooting percentage of 52 percent, but is still sporting the highest usage rate of his career (24.4 percent - lower than in November, but still too high). The much, much-maligned Reggie Jackson slashed a bile-inducing 39/32/87 in December.

Even Blake Griffin, the rock upon which the Detroit Pistons rest, “only” slashed 46/35/74, averaged almost as many turnovers per game (3.9) as assists per game (5.2), and is now sporting a slight negative NetRTG (-0.4) on the year.

Narrative

Oh man, Detroit started December off hopeful. It feels like an eternity ago, but a wire-to-wire win over the Golden State Warriors sure felt like the beginning of something positive.

Then, the losing started. Two straight blowouts against Oklahoma City (where Reggie Bullock tweaked an ankle) and Milwaukee left a bitter taste in fans mouths after the Warriors win, but was the harbinger of more losses to come.

To make matters worse, Ish Smith got hurt in the Milwaukee game, meaning the Pistons were compelled to rely on Jose Calderon. Calderon, as David Fernandez projected, has done a not-completely-awful job as the backup, but he has the same problem as the rest of the roster - he cannot make a shot.

Offense remained the issue, and continued to be the focus of most of DBB’s analysis. Steve Hinson pounded the True Shooting drum. Mike Snyder examined how to get the most out of Blake Griffin.

For his part, Luke Kennard scored 28 points against Philadelphia, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of Blake Griffin, who rested for the first (and hopefully not last) time this season. Glenn Robinson III and Henry Ellenson got hurt in this game, as well.

As if we hadn’t gotten enough of Philly, the Pistons were linked in trade discussions surrounding former first overall pick Markelle Fultz.

Blake missed two free throws late, and Jeremy Lamb (JEREMY LAMB) hit a game-winner as time expired to stretch the Pistons’ losing streak to six games - a season-long streak we hope the Pistons never replicate.

Reggie Bullock returned from his ankle injury, Dwane Casey altered the starting lineup in response, and Andre Drummond stuffed Jayson Tatum at the rim late to end the losing streak and get a win over the Boston Celtics.

However, Reggie Jackson appeared to lose the trust of the coaching staff, not playing down the stretch of the Boston win or the following loss against Milwaukee. I wrote about Reggie’s struggles and the Pistons’ unfortunate reliance on his play.

The Pistons won an exciting overtime game over the Minnesota Timberwolves thanks to a career night from Reggie Bullock, a “Don’t-Try-This-Ever-Again” step-back three pointer from Andre Drummond, and - of course - Reggie Jackson being clutch down the stretch. Nothing ever makes sense in Detroit.

Langston Galloway shoots 31 percent from three for December, but he looks DAMN good doing so.

After bad losses to Charlotte and Atlanta, Dwane Casey inserts Bruce Brown into the starting lineup against Washington (and Luke Kennard gets a DNP-CD). BB herds Bradley Beal into a 1-for-7 night from three and the Pistons manage not to choke away one against Washington. Bruce Brown remains a poor answer for the Pistons, but it’s the only one they’ve got.

After a 37-point whipping at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons hold their first team meeting of the season. Jamie Delaney says what we’re all thinking about that.

Finally, mercifully, 2018 ends for the Pistons in a perfectly fitting way - a loss thanks to an Evan Fournier buzzer-beater against the Orlando Magic.

Next Month:

The return of Glenn Robinson III and Ish Smith will hopefully help the Pistons navigate some of their offensive issues.

The schedule doesn’t let up, with two separate four-game road trips in store for Detroit in January.

I continue to predict the Pistons make a small trade, because Ed Stefanski doesn’t sound like the happiest camper.

Tell us what you think is going to happen in January in the comments below.