For the first 24 games, the Pistons looked awful, winning a pitiful four games and getting blown out more than anyone would have imagined.
But then something positive happened. The Pistons started playing good defense, sound offense, and started getting out on the breaks and getting fast break points.
They went on to win the next seven out of nine games before losing two close games to lackluster teams before the break.
Stuck in the Middle
There is a real schism among Pistons fans.
One side wants the team to lose in order to ensure a top-three lottery pick, while the other side wants the team to win and make a push for the playoffs. According to my own unscientific research, the former group outweighs the latter by a sizable gap.
The worst place for a team to be in today's NBA is in the middle. If you are really bad, you have a shot at a transformative talent in the draft. If you are really good, you obviously can challenge for a title.
The Pistons are far closer to the former than they are to the latter. So the common thought among the fans is that they might as well just blow it all up.
There is a danger in that, however. First off, there is a chance that you will blow the pick. Anthony Davis from Kentucky and some of the other top talents seem like sure things, but they could always implode. Second, you risk fostering a culture of losing, which could affect your roster.
The Road Ahead
The Pistons are doing a great job right now. But before you jump down my throat and point out their myriad of flaws, think about the state of the franchise.
The last two years, the Pistons have done a tremendous job with their draft picks. Greg Monroe looks to be on the cusp of stardom at the ripe old age of 21, and Brandon Knight is showing glimpses of real promise. Jonas Jerebko is a nice glue player off the bench, and Kyle Singler and Vernon Macklin are sure to provide some depth.
More than anything, these players are providing leadership and are really taking to coach Lawrence Frank's direction. His mandate to allow the players to run after getting defensive stops has inspired them, and made defense cool again.
As you look at the rest of the roster, that is where the key lies for this team.
Rodney Stuckey appears to be growing up as a player, and has paired very well with Knight. Jason Maxiell has rediscovered his promise, and is a nice complement to Monroe.
But what exactly can you make of the rest of the roster?
Separate the Core from the Pieces
The core is basically the players above, as well as whoever the Pistons can get in this year's draft.
In the next week or two, the Pistons will need to start making some decisions that will carry on through the offseason and shape the future of the franchise. Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Austin Daye likely will not be a part of this team in a year. However, they are all under contract.
Prince and Gordon have been receiving steady playing time, so potential trading partners know what they are looking at. Prince is a very good team defender, and a nice third or fourth option on offense. For a contending team, he might be a difference maker.
Gordon is instant offense, and even though he hasn't shown enough of that in Detroit, teams have long memories, and it is not outside of the realm of possibilities for a desperate contender to take a look at him. However, his huge salary is a problem, and more than anything he could be an Amnesty Clause or Stretch Clause casualty.
The real wild cards are Daye and Villanueva.
This is a difficult situation for Frank. He has built a system that rewards hard work and defense with minutes, and Daye and Villanueva are terrible defenders. But team president Joe Dumars needs those two to get some playing time if he can get anything for them.
Villanueva, if he plays as well as he has in spurts as a Piston, could generate some interest. Daye's value lies in his youth and the intrigue that lies in a seven-footer who can shoot from long range. But he doesn't seem to fit with the Pistons' long-term plans.
The Pistons are not a playoff team, but they also aren't as bad as they were through 24 games. They are in the middle of the lower tier of teams.
If you were to do a power ranking, they would probably fall in around 23 or 24. I would expect that depending on who gets traded, they will probably have a lottery pick that falls somewhere between five and eight.
There are two real goals for this team. They need to continue to grow their young players, and they need to secure more draft picks and trim future salaries.
Villanueva, Daye, Gordon and Prince likely will not all be dealt, but at least two of them must be.