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State of the 2018-19 Pistons: January

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Detroit’s playoff aspirations hang by a thread

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A lot happened in January for the Pistons, both on and off the court. It sure doesn’t FEEL like the Pistons had a good close to the first month of 2019, but despite appearances, the Pistons are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Of course, that still makes them 6-10 in the month of January and on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and narratives that have made up this Pistons’ season this month. As always, I use NBA.com numbers because they’re accessible to all, and I haven’t gotten around to paying for a Cleaning the Glass subscription yet.

December’s State of the Pistons is here.

Numbers:

Record: 22-28. 14-12 at home, 8-16 on the road. 7-19 against teams above .500 as of February 1 (Wins: Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, Golden State, Houston, Los Angeles Clippers).

ORTG: 105.4, 25th (Down from December - 105.8, 23rd)
DRTG: 108.1, 12th (Down from December - 107.5, 11th)
NetRTG: -2.7, 23rd (Down numerically from December -1.6, 23rd)

The starting lineup (Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown Jr., Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond) is still a strong 5-man pairing:

The Pistons have no other five man grouping (with more than 100 minutes played) that sports an offensive rating above 110 and a defensive rating under 100. At the absolute least, they have found a starting lineup that works.

Blake Griffin had a monster month of January, single-handedly keeping the Pistons afloat by averaging 29.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. Despite his play (or, I suppose, IN spite of his play) the Pistons still had a negative NetRTG with Blake on the court in January:

Blake’s great, so you know if he’s got a negative NetRTG, it’s gonna be bad for the other guys on the roster. And you’re right! It’s not pretty.

Andre has a -4.0 NetRTG in January, Reggie Bullock had a -2.8 NetRTG, and Bruce Brown Jr. had a -1.1. NetRTG.

However...

Reggie Jackson was positive for the month, with a +0.2 NetRTG. Slashed 42/36/86 (after slashing 39/32/87 in December). Maybe there’s some “there” there - that’d be a positive sign for the Pistons.

Langston Galloway continued his on-again, off-again pattern from the perimeter this month, elevating his January three-point percentage to 34 percent after only shooting 31 percent in December. I would very much like to get off the Langston Galloway Roller Coaster:

Luke Kennard had a minor moment in the middle of the month, but still ended up with a -9.2 NetRTG for January, weighed down by a sub-100 ORTG for the month (97.6). There’s no universe in which Luke should be that bad offensively, but we have found the darkest timeline.

Lastly, and maybe leastly, Stanley Johnson sported a massive -16.3 NetRTG in January, with an offensive rating barely over 90.

Narrative:

The Pistons started off the month with their second road beatdown at the hands of Milwaukee. This was “The Khyri Thomas one”, not the one where Blake scored 30 in three quarters and it didn’t matter a lick.

The Pistons managed to squeak out a win over a team floundering almost as much as they were - the Memphis Grizzles. Luke had a few nice moments in this game after being called out by our own Mike Snyder. Losing to the Pistons apparently REALLY sent the Grizzlies over the edge.

Sean Corp wrote about how the Detroit Pistons had failed Blake Griffin, were failing Blake Griffin, and would fail Blake Griffin in the future. Steve Hinson followed up with a piece making the compelling argument that the Pistons would be better off without Andre Drummond. For their part, the Pistons lost their next four games, all against western conference teams over .500, making Steve and Sean look pretty prescient.

But then, the Pistons beat the Clippers in Los Angeles, as Blake Griffin had the revenge game he’d waited almost a year for. People forgive, but they don’t forget, Steve Ballmer:

Ish Smith returned in Utah against the Jazz, ending the Jose Calderon Experience, but that wasn’t enough for the Pistons to get the win.

The Pistons won two straight games against teams they are scrapping with in the middle of the Eastern Conference: An overtime win against Orlando, and a rock fight against the Miami Heat. The Heat win came at a cost, though - Andre Drummond was concussed by a James Johnson elbow, and Ish Smith re-tweaked his groin. The Jose Calderon Experience returned.

The Pistons ALMOST came out with a win over the Sacramento Kings despite no Ish and no Andre, but Buddy Hield was able to hit a miracle shot at the buzzer to give the Kings the win. A closer interpretation of the rules might’ve compelled the refs to call a double dribble on Hield’s shot, but the Pistons should’ve never let it got to that point anyway.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Pistons’ desire for more on-court success led to them getting involved in trade discussions. A LOT of trade discussions. Some of those trade discussions made sense. Others... did not. The Pistons aren’t looking to tank, so your fake trades should keep that in mind.

Without Ish and Andre, Blake Griffin scored 37 points to carry the Pistons over the finish line against the New Orleans Pelicans. Soon after, Pelicans star Anthony Davis informed the team he wouldn’t sign a max extension there, and that he would like to be traded. If you’re keeping track, that means in one month, the Pistons managed to knife both the Pelicans and Grizzles so badly the direction of the franchise changed.

Not bad.

One the one-year anniversary of the Blake Griffin trade, DBB reflected on if the Pistons are in a better place with Blake than they were without him.

The Pistons got swept in the season series with the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time in team history.

The Mavericks traded three of their starters the day they played the Pistons, and STILL managed to almost come out with a win.

Blake Griffin was deservedly named an All-Star, his first All-Star appearance since 2014-15. Now, Detroit Pistons not named Blake Griffin just need to find a way to put the ball in the basket at a higher rate than they do right now.

Next Month:

Will the Pistons make any sort of move, large or small, at the deadline?

Will Ish Smith ever return and end the Jose Calderon Experience?

Will the Pistons ever get around to playing the Cavaliers and the Bulls - teams in their division, that are tanking, that they should be able to get wins against?

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