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Health is the big X-Factor for Detroit Pistons

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The Pistons’ fate is tied to the health of their oft-injured scorers

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Griffin.

Derrick Rose.

Reggie Jackson.

I’m sorry if your knees cracked or squealed as you read that, it was not my intention.

The injury history of the three players mentioned above have been well documented. Rose fell from his MVP peak due to knee injuries. Griffin’s time in Los Angeles was marred by a multitude of injuries, and he ended last year with a torn meniscus. Jackson missed 67 games combined between 2016-2018.

Those three players, though, are major parts of the Detroit Pistons’ foundation heading into next season.

Last year, Griffin was having a career season and the Pistons were in position to take have the sixth seed heading into the postseason. Then Griffin got hurt, and although he tried, valiantly, to play through the knee injury, the Pistons struggled for the rest of the year.

After Blake sat out against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 18th, the Pistons would go on to lose seven of their last 12 games, including a four-game losing streak. Griffin was very clearly hampered, and the injury ended up forcing him to miss the first two games of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks. Even when he returned for the final two games, the amount of protection he had on his knee looked like Rob Gronkowski’s elbow pad, and he was clearly not at full strength.

Rose, for his part, was in the midst of his best season in years, was leading the way in the Sixth Man of the Year race, and was seeing a career-altering change to his shooting stroke. In the first 32 games of the season, Rose was averaging 18.9 points per game while shooting an insane 46.2 percent from deep, by far a career-high.

He then suffered an ankle injury and an elbow injury, which was described as having bone chips floating around in his elbow. Rose only ended up playing 19 games the rest of the season and saw his three-point percentage plummet to 12.5 percent, and his points per game average fall to 16.9 points.

Coincidence? I think not!

In 2016, Reggie Jackson had just helped lead the Pistons to their first playoff berth of the decade, and the Pistons were thought to be on the come up. The next season, Jackson missed the first 21 games of the season due to tendinitis in his left knee, and wasn’t the same at any point during that season. The Pistons failed to make the playoffs and Jackson saw his points per game fall from 18.8 in 2015-16 to 14.5 in 2016-17.

Fast forward to the next year after that (2017-18). Jackson looked to be a bit more healthy and the Pistons were soaring. On December 26th 2017, the Pistons were 19-14, solidly in the playoff picture, and looked like the team many expected to see in the 2016-17 season.

On the same day, however, Jackson sprained his ankle severely, an injury that would then sideline him until March 30th. Largely because of that, the Pistons did not make the playoffs.

Last year, Jackson played all 82 games and had what was his best season since the playoff berth in 2015-16. He adjusted to playing with Griffin and shot a career-high 37 percent from beyond the arc.

The pattern is clear: When healthy, these players are really good. Griffin was playing like a MVP candidate before he was injured, Rose was the debatable Sixth Man of the Year, and Jackson was the leader of a playoff team.

When dealing with injury, as you might expect, they falter, and so do their respective teams.

With former strength/conditioning coach and now adviser Arnie Kander back around for a second straight year, the Pistons are putting their faith in him to work the same magic he did most of last season with Jackson and Griffin.

Griffin has played an average of 63 games over the past three NBA season. 63 games will not cut it for the Pistons this year, and it’s fair to point out he played 75 games last season in his first full season with Kander.

It’s also worth noting that the Pistons are set up better this year to handle a few missed games from Jackson or Rose due to the signing of Tim Frazier. Frazier is capable of handling minutes at the backup spot when you need him to, something you could not say about the skeleton of Jose Calderon. Frazier, 28, is almost a decade younger than Calderon. If asked upon to play, Frazier will do a much better job than the soon to be retired Spaniard.

However, these three players are the Pistons best scorers on the team. Any significant time missed, especially to Griffin, could sink the Pistons season. Outside the fact that Griffin is the Pistons’ best player, the drop-off from an All-NBA player to a barely NBA player in Thon Maker is drastic.

It’ll be hard to give these players games off too. I’m not so much worried about Jackson in the load management department, and Rose and Griffin would likely benefit from a few games off. But, with the improvements all over the Eastern Conference, the Pistons are going to need every win they can get. As we and the coaching staff learned from the loss to Cleveland late last year when Griffin rested, we shouldn’t trust this team to handle business without him or Rose.

Talent-wise, Detroit has some nice guys at the top of their roster. This team is the definition of high-risk, high-reward. If these players stay healthy all season, the Pistons could hit heights few expect.

The health of these three players will determine whether I’ll be at Little Caesars Arena in mid-April, or at home, playing NBA2K20.