Last season the Detroit Pistons won 25 games. That might not seem like a lot, but in a lockout-shortened year, that was good enough to give them their highest winning percentage in three years.
Needless to say, the Pistons have improved and expectations are high for 2013.
The fact that the Pistons are now competitive enough for people to even have expectations is saying something about how far this franchise has come. The team that once went to the Eastern Conference finals for six years straight in the 2000's had an abrupt fall from grace.
The last four years were dismal and wins have been hard to come by.
That could all change this year. Last season the Pistons finished strong, and they have a handful of young and exciting players to watch.
How good can they be? That remains to be seen. 2013 will likely be a year of continued growth as young players mature and team cohesiveness develops.
They're clearly not ready for the NBA Finals, but here are some realistic expectations for the upcoming season.
If the expectation was only for the Pistons to have more wins than last year, it wouldn't mean as much. They only won 25 games.
With a full 82-game season in front of them, they better be able to win more than 25 games. It's the winning percentage that is more telling.
Last season they finished with a .379 winning percentage. That translates to approximately 31 wins next season. It's well within their reach to exceed that total.
Their key players, Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, are another year wiser and should continue to get better. They've also jettisoned Ben Gordon, who did nothing for them, and added players who can contribute immediately.
They'll also have the benefit of an entire offseason under Lawrence Frank. For a young team, that is key.
If the Pistons took a step back, it would be disastrous. It would likely mean that one of their star players suffered a major injury. Other than that, with the additions they made there would be no excuse for a season of regression.
With a higher winning percentage comes more wins, and that means moving up in the Eastern Conference's Central Division.
In 2013 the Pistons will maintain their superiority over the Cleveland Cavaliers and stay out of the division cellar. Cleveland has a good core of young players—Kyrie Irving, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters—but they don't have the supporting cast to take any great leaps in the standings.
It's realistic to think the Pistons will challenge the Milwaukee Bucks for third place in the division. Milwaukee is an interesting team. They have a potentially dominating guard tandem in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. However, it remains to be seen if these two can play at a high level together.
Then again, according to this story, Ellis might not be around too long.
Regardless of the guard situation, the rest of their team doesn't scare anyone. When they traded Andrew Bogut, they traded away their best player. They'll try to replace him with two one-dimensional players in Drew Gooden and Samuel Dalembert.
The Pistons have the talent and the depth to overtake the Bucks. They're not ready to seriously challenge the Indiana Pacers in the standings, but they're not far off.
The important thing is to define the phrase "return to form." It doesn't mean that Charlie Villanueva will dominate on a nightly basis on his way to an All-Star Game selection.
It does mean that he will provide solid rebounding and scoring off the bench. That's it. Anyone who is expecting more is destined to be disappointed.
Twelve-13 points per game, 5-6 rebounds per game and a .350 three point percentage is a stat line that is realistic for him.
If he brings those numbers on a nightly basis, he will be a big asset for Detroit. He's been maligned for his contract and his lack of production. However, with Ben Gordon gone, the Pistons have obviously moved on from the Gordon/Villanueva era.
Villanueva is still here, but the pressure will not be as intense. It's a different team now. The Pistons' young stars will determine the team's success.
They still need a veteran like Villanueva, though. He will find his niche and his production will improve.
Simply said, the Detroit Pistons were a terrible rebounding team last season. According to ESPN's stat department, they ranked 26th in the league in rebounds per game with 40.3.
Even if the Pistons had done nothing this offseason, it would've been difficult for them to get any worse.
Fortunately, they decided to address the problem. They added several players with the size and skills to significantly improve their rebounding numbers.
Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov are two seven-footers with NBA-ready bodies who can bang down low and pull down double-digit boards on any given night. The addition of Kyle Singler and a healthy Charlie Villanueva should should also have a positive impact.
The Pistons's biggest problem was size. Greg Monroe had been their lone "big," and he is an undersized center. He's a good rebounder but can't do it all himself.
With the addition of more big bodies who can rebound the basketball, the Pistons' ability to control the glass will be much improved. Because of that, they should also see an increase in their opportunities for second-chance shots.
Rodney Stuckey's career with the Detroit Pistons hasn't exactly been an easy road. He's been criticized by the team's fanbase for not exceeding the expectations given to him as a rookie by an overzealous general manager (Joe Dumars).
He's also been the unfortunate victim of a terrible coaching carousel that made its way through Detroit. In his five years with the Pistons, he's had four different coaches.
Two of them were Michael Curry and John Kuester. 'Nuff said.
The Pistons also attempted to insert the square-peg Stuckey into the round-hole point guard position. The experiment didn't work. He is not the point guard of the Pistons' future, as originally thought.
However, he might be the shooting guard of the Pistons' future. He's much more suited to that position, and for the first year in his career he will be asked to do what he does best: Score.
He might not be able to hit a three pointer with consistency, but Stuckey can take it to the rack and draw fouls better than anyone on the team. Yes, even better than Brandon Knight at this point.
He's in a perfect position to succeed, and Lawrence Frank is the best coach he's had since his rookie year with Flip Saunders.
Stuckey will take advantage of this new-found coaching consistency, and a breakout year is a realistic expectation for him. His first All-Star Game selection would not be a reach.
Much like their rebounding, the Detroit Pistons ranked near the bottom of the NBA in blocks last season.
According to ESPN, they ranked 26th with 4.2 blocks per game.
This one is pretty simple. They added two seven-footers, Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov, who are skilled in the art of blocking shots. They will be better.
How better remains to be seen. Drummond is a project and Kravtsov is an unknown. Both will undoubtedly have their struggles.
Regardless of that, they will provide a stronger defensive presence around the rim than the Pistons had last year.
Andre Drummond might have all the hype and the potential for greater things, but Kim English has the ability to have a better rookie season.
Drummond will certainly help Detroit with his defense around the rim and rebounding. He'll see his share of minutes, but he will be a project. His offensive game is very raw and he will struggle some nights.
English is more a more polished basketball player.
The Pistons also have a desperate need for what he does best. He's a marksman from outside. His stats from his senior year at Missouri illustrate what kind of impact he can have.
For that reason English will see a lot of court time and could be the primary back up for Rodney Stuckey. He's technically the only shooting guard on Detroit's roster, so that's not so hard to imagine.
His fellow rookies recognize his potential as well. According the MLive.com's Brandan Savage, the NBA surveyed 39 incoming rookies and asked them to rate their peers in several categories.
English did quite well. He ranked in the top five in the following categories: most overlooked, best shooter and best defender.
Overall, he ranked higher than his teammates who were drafted ahead of him—Drummond and Khris Middleton.
It would be no surprise if English is selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team.
Brandon Knight is the Pistons' point guard of the future. He only averaged 3.8 assists in his rookie year and anyone will tell you, including Knight, that wasn't good enough.
A starting point guard needs to distribute the ball better than that.
While that is true, growing pains with Knight should have been expected. Particularly with regards to distributing the basketball. Knight is a slasher and a scorer. Learning to run an NBA offense and create shots for his teammates is a process.
Keep in mind that he also had a shortened preseason and regular season because of the lockout. That means less time to practice and learn from game-time experiences.
This season he'll have the benefit of a full offseason with the Pistons and his development as a point guard will be evident.
He's not going to be Isiah Thomas his second year, but there's no reason he can't improve his assist numbers. In 2011 Ty Lawson squeaked into the top 10 with an average of 6.6 assists per game (ESPN). If Knight averages three more assists per game, he'd be right there.
With his rookie year behind him and a full offseason of work, that's a realistic target for Knight.
If you ask any Pistons fan, they'd likely tell you Greg Monroe should have been an All-Star in 2011.
One would be hard pressed to prove them wrong. His numbers are hard to argue with.
He was the fourth best rebounding center in the Eastern Conference, ahead of Roy Hibbert, who made the All-Star team.
Monroe was also the second highest scoring center in the East, trailing only Dwight Howard. Again, he finished ahead of Hibbert.
So why did voters select Hibbert? Perhaps because he was on a team that was relevant and playoff bound. The Pistons were not.
Unfortunately, he was a victim of a lack of public awareness. This season that will change. Even if Monroe has a similar season, the Pistons will be a better team and he will get noticed.
He's not going to stand pat, though. He was snubbed from the All-Star team and he was snubbed from the USA select team. Those slights will serve as motivation and Monroe will raise his game to another level in 2013.
Count forward Jonas Jerebko a true believer in the Pistons' playoff chances this season.
While in Germany playing for Team Sweden in the Eurobasketball Tournament, Jerebko was asked about the Pistons chances this year. Here is his response, courtesy of freep.com:
We got a deep team. Our goal was the playoffs last year. We played playoff basketball, but we started off the season horrible. We're going to get better. We got a young team, and we're going to make the playoffs.
Is this typical pro athlete jargon, or is Jerebko on to something? I suppose if he said the Pistons wouldn't make the playoffs they might cancel his flight back to the states.
However, he is right about last season. They got off to a horrid start but played playoff-caliber basketball the second half of the year, going 21-21 after February 3rd.
It's realistic to believe they will continue that pace in 2013. If so they'll have a great chance of making the playoffs and making Jerebko look like the Swedish Nostradamus in the process.
A first-round bid is optimistic, but that doesn't mean it isn't realistic. Anything beyond that is pushing it.