The playoffs are less than one month away and the NBA playoff picture is anything but clear for some teams. One of those teams unclearly depicted is the Eastern Conference’s Detroit Pistons. After years of disappointment, the 39-35 Pistons have experienced some changes that have them right in the thick of a fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The overhaul of the team may just be enough to have them headed in the right direction.
It’s been seven years since Detroit saw the light of the playoffs. In that time, five different coaches have had a chance to restore a sense of pride and excellence back into the team, but none have quite done it like Stan Van Gundy. In just two years Van Gundy took the Pistons from a .354 winning percentage to .527 and a possible playoff berth. Since his reign started, the Pistons have made eight trades and only kept Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from the original roster Van Gundy started with back in 2014.
One of the bigger moves that has paid dividends was the pick up of point guard Reggie Jackson. The Pistons have won 49 games with Jackson in the lineup and look to build around him and Drummond going forward. His scoring ability and underestimated athleticism has allowed him to average 18.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game this season. Jackson has a solid handle and can shoot the deep ball (35.4% three-point shooting). He can put points up in bunches (40-points is season high), but he still has areas to grow in decision-making on both ends.
Another recent change has been the addition of Tobias Harris from the Magic. Since joining the squad, the Pistons have gone 10-5 and made use of the big man’s versatile game. He’s a capable passer and solid ball-handler for his position, which allows him to participate in big to big pick-and-rolls on offense. Harris is averaging 16.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in 32.9 minutes of action. His addition takes a lot of weight off Drummond, which is big for the Pistons’ 16th ranked offense.
Drummond is the foundation of the Pistons’ future right now. He is still maturing as one of the better big men in the league, but he is only 22 years old. His 16.7 points and 14.9 rebounds are career-highs and his upside appears to have no ceiling, There is downside and it comes in the form of free throws. Drummond has been a career 38.3 percent free-throw shooter and this season has been awful at 36.1 percent. In one game against the Houston Rockets, Drummond went 13-36 from the free-throw line. He still ended up with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pistons won by nine.
With the pieces to the puzzle coming together for the Pistons, they have a shot to make something happen this season, but the last eight games will be an appropriate test for their youthful roster. They’ll face two powerhouses in the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with the fifth seeded Miami Heat twice. They’ll also have a chance to seal their fate against the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, who both trail them for the eighth seed.
The Pistons may have a chance to steal a few games from those teams whose playoffs seeds are already locked and will most likely be resting players. Per fivethirtyeight.com, Detroit has a 72 percent chance to make the playoffs and is projected to finish the season 42-40. Whether the Pistons can find their way back to the postseason or not, they appear to be on the right road to basketball the city of Detroit can take pride in once again.