When the NBA regular-season schedule dropped, I do what I always do - try to plot a realistic path for the Detroit Pistons to hit the win total I project them for.
Then, once I finish that, I try to get them to 50 wins, because nice round numbers are fun and having my team win 50 games would make me happy. I deserve nice things in August.
Now, full disclosure: I don’t think the Pistons will win 50 games. However, in the pre-season, it’s worth considering how they would, if they were to. As a thought exercise, if the Pistons were to win 50, it would mean a combination of all three of these factors came into play:
Blake and Reggie stay healthy
Can’t win 50 if you don’t win 40, and you can’t win 40 if Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson don’t play the combined 4900 minutes they played last season. Rest for Blake is key to the Pistons’ success, as always, but it’s also imperative the Pistons don’t put him in a scenario like they did in January of 2019, where Blake averaged 38 (THIRTY-EIGHT!??!?!?) minutes a night and the team went 6-10 for the month.
Blake shouldn’t average more than 34 minutes a night in any regular-season months, point-blank, period. If you’re not going to “load manage” him on individual nights, you definitely can’t overburden him with minutes when he plays.
Reggie Jackson, for his part, played in all 82 games last season (the only Piston to do so), and the Pistons had a positive NetRTG in his minutes. I wouldn’t dream of Reggie playing all 82 again, and the Pistons are better equipped to handle any injury that came his way than they have been in seasons past.
But (despite what Twitter tells you) Reggie Jackson is the best point guard on the roster, and if the Pistons want to win 50 games, they are going to need Reggie for the majority of the season.
Win 20 games on the road
There’s a mental shortcut I use on how a team can get to 50 or more wins: 30+ wins at home, 20+ wins on the road. Eight teams won 50 games last year, and the only team that DIDN’T win 30 games at home and 20 games on the road was the Utah Jazz, who won... 29 games at home.
Last year, Detroit had the home portion of that equation almost down, going 26-15 in games at Little Caesars Arena. However, since we know the Pistons only won 41 games last year, you can tell where I’m going with this.
Detroit was 15-26 on the road last year. The losses came in all varieties - The good (the almost-comeback in Denver, a two-point loss to the Rockets), the bad (those sequential, panic-attack-inducing March blowouts against Brooklyn and Miami) and the ugly (completely wasting an amazing Blake Griffin effort against the Thunder, completely wasting an amazing Blake Griffin effort against Milwaukee, losing on Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Dinwidde and Evan Fournier buzzer-beaters).
A little more buzzer-beater luck (again, Jeremy Lamb? Really?) would be a good first step on the path to 50. Winning games Blake drops nine threes in would be another good step. Maybe having a bench with veterans who can make it to March and April helps you win more of those games down the stretch. However you slice it, though, the Pistons would need to be a better road team to win 50 games.
Do better against the teams close to you in the standings
Taking care of business against bad teams is the shortest route to regular-season success (something Matt Moore of the Action Network has pointed out for years, with a lens on the San Antonio Spurs):
In the past 10 (TEN!) seasons, the Spurs against teams that finished under .500:— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) September 13, 2018
They win 86% of their games against teams that finish under .500. https://t.co/HgabbushGQ
Last season, the Pistons did a good job of beating the crap out of bad Eastern Conference teams. Detroit went 2-1 against the Hawks, 4-0 against the Bulls, 3-1 against the Cavaliers, and 4-0 against the Knicks. I don’t want to take those wins for granted - all wins count the same in the regular season, and prior to Blake Griffin’s arrival, the Pistons slept-walked through games against bad teams all the time (I still think about that five-game losing streak in March 2017 that was the first nail in Stan Van Gundy’s coffin).
However, to hit 50 wins, the Pistons are going to have to beat the non-terrible Eastern Conference teams - something they did NOT do a good job of last season.
Detroit was 1-3 against the fourth-seeded Celtics, 1-3 against the fifth-seeded Pacers, 1-2 against the sixth-seeded Nets 0-4, 3-1 against the seventh-seeded Orlando Magic, 2-2 against the Heat, and 0-4 against the Charlotte Hornets. That’s an 8-15 record against the teams buffering them in the standings, with a third of those wins coming against one team (Orlando).
(For hints about how the Pistons can beat said Eastern Conference contemporaries, go back and read Mike Snyder’s detailed, definitive Film Don’t Lie series from earlier this month.)
They were bad against their contemporaries in the Western Conference standings, as well. Detroit went 0-2 against the ninth-seeded Kings, 1-1 against the eight-seeded Clippers, 0-2 against the seventh-seeded Spurs, and 0-2 against the sixth-seeded Thunder.
Beating up on bad teams is damn near requisite for regular-season success. Now that Detroit appears to have that down, beating good teams is how you build on that success.
Again, I don’t think the Pistons win 50 games. However, we live in a world of infinite possibility. And it’s August. Let’s have some fun with things.