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Tanking vs. Winning: Pistons struggling to keep pace in the tank battle with the likes of Thunder, Rockets, Magic

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When your goal is competitive losses sometimes it leads to surprise wins

Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Detroit Pistons fans are in an all-too familiar place. Staring at a team with a long way to go who could potentially draft in the 7-9 range of the NBA Draft. It’s the spot Detroit has found itself in most frequently in the last lost decade. It seems like the should purchase a time share in the 7-9 range.

That’s a position where the generational talent is scooped up and the most obvious difference makers are gone. That has meant trusting your GM’s scouting acumen to pick a diamond out of the rough. Let’s just say Joe Dumars and Stan Van Gundy did not prove up to that task.

Troy Weaver seems to have hit in his first draft. Isaiah Stewart was a surprise pick at No. 16 but has been one of the most impactful rookies this year. Saddiq Bey fell to No. 19 and the Pistons gladly took the two-way threat who is now among the most prolific 3-point shooting rookies ever. Even Killian Hayes, who has missed most of the season with an injury, is showing the signs of why he was taken at seven.

But that just means the Pistons fans want Weaver to draft as high as possible in order to get the player he most covets. Weaver scouted LaMelo Ball last season and targeted Patrick Williams but both were gone by the seventh pick.

The Pistons have spent the majority of the season at the bottom of the league standings despite playing somewhat surprisingly frisky basketball. Thanks to the aforementioned rookies and veteran signings like Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee blowouts are few and far between even as wins are scarce.

Detroit had a bottom-3 record even though it has had the seventh- or eighth-worst point differential this season. Until recently. Once the trade deadline it, some franchises have fired up their tank and hit the accelerator. Detroit has not been one of those teams.

The Orlando Magic traded their two best players, the Cleveland Cavaliers stopped trying to score the ball as far as I could tell, while the Oklahoma City Thunder shut down Al Horford and turned the franchise over to a bunch of G Leaguers.

That has created a glut of bad teams joining the Pistons, Rockets and Timberwolves. Since the All-Star break the Pistons are 7-12 with a net rating of -4.4. The Thunder, meanwhile, are 1-16 with a -18.8 mark, the Magic are 3-14 (-13.4), the Rockets are 3-15 (-8.8) and the Cavs are 4-13 (-5.1). Luckily, the Wolves are 8-10, but they had a long way to climb out of the cellar.

That has left the Pistons with the fourth-worst record in the NBA after a surprising blowout win against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. They currently have just a two-loss advantage over the Thunder, and OKC might not win another game this season.

Detroit’s floor seems to be the sixth-worst record if they get leap frogged by the Cavs, who are currently three games back in the loss column.

Sixth worst record in what might be a five-player draft for a franchise who has never gone up in the NBA Draft Lottery? It’s getting real.

Does that mean the Pistons are screwing up this whole rebuild thing? It’s obvious that the rookies Weaver targeted are excelling, and a lot of that can be attributed to having functional players around them that allows the team to play some semblance of NBA offense and defense while learning on the job.

And in the win over the Hawks, nine rotation players played between 20:55 and 27:36. Young guys like Bey, Stewart, Hayes, and even two-way player Frank Jackson, are getting plenty of run.

But you can’t win in the NBA with five Saddiq Beys and Isaiah Stewarts on the floor. You need that difference-maker. And the farther down the standings the Pistons go, the less likely that will be. Not impossible, but not likely.

For Detroit, that might come down to a little bit of lottery luck. If the Pistons find themselves in the dreaded sixth position in the NBA Draft Lottery, they will have a 45.8% chance of moving into the top four or staying put, and a 54.2% chance of moving down anywhere from 7-10 and back into the Pistons time share zone.

With 10 games remaining, the Pistons have a few winnable games left against the Wolves, Magic and Bulls. Then again, nobody would have said the Hawks would have been a prime target to steal a W.

While some fans will surely scream that it’s time to shut down any player on the team that isn’t 24 years old or younger, the Pistons are likely to keep on the same path they’ve been on all season.

Perhaps the lottery gods will reward them for it. Let’s hope so. Because it looks like the Pistons are in need of some divine intervention.