Since the Detroit Pistons went to six straight conference finals in the 2000s, they haven’t had much playoff success: their last playoff appearance was in 2009, and they have had four straight seasons of 30 victories or fewer.
However, I believe this is the year that Detroit breaks through and plays in the Second Season. Here are five reasons why.
Most stats courtesy of Basketball-reference.com, except where listed.
Sure, Billups offers veteran leadership and is a fan favorite—and he plugs the hole left by the departure of Jose Calderon. He posted per-36 minutes numbers of 15.8 points and 4.2 assists in his most recent campaign.
He’s also nearly 37 years old and has only played in 42 games in the last two campaigns.
Let me first say that Lawrence Frank was a passable coach. Let me also say that I am not a huge Mo Cheeks fan, and I expected Phil Jackson to advise the Pistons to go in a completely different direction than Cheeks.
However, there was one move Frank made during his tenure that had me scratching my head, and that was benching Corey Maggette for Kyle Singler. This not only because Maggette is getting paid far too much to warm the bench. It's also because Maggette bested Singler in per-48 numbers in points and assists.
Hopefully, Cheeks can use his forwards to greater effect than Frank did.
Both the Hawks (white) and Bucks (red) will be lottery players after next season.
The top eight teams in the Eastern Conference will make the playoffs. Five of them will almost certainly be the top five teams from last year: the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls.
The defending champs are returning essentially the same roster, while New York and Brooklyn have added talent, and Indiana (Danny Granger) and Chicago (Derrick Rose) will have stars returning from injury.
However, it seems likely that the remaining three playoff teams from 2013 will be in the lottery for 2014: the Boston Celtics jettisoned Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for practically nothing, while the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks lost key players (Josh Smith and Monta Ellis, respectively) to free agency.
I think it’s a near guarantee that the three aforementioned teams will have fewer than 100 wins among them. Furthermore, the Philadelphia 76ers are also likely out of the picture after trading Jrue Holiday and letting Andrew Bynum and Nick Young walk.
Could the Pistons grab one of the open playoff spots? I think so.
The Detroit Pistons had the No. 8 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and used it on SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Look for Caldwell-Pope to share minutes with the underwhelming Rodney Stuckey.
In 2013, Stuckey shot just 40 percent from the field and and averaged just 11.5 points and a 13.0 PER. In his final season at Georgia, Caldwell-Pope shot better than 37 percent from three and averaged an SEC-best 27.7 PER.
Caldwell-Pope is also an improvement over Stuckey on the defensive side of things.
The other Pistons draft pick I’m jazzed about is Peyton Siva. Yeah, I know the Pistons already have three competent guys at the point in Billups, Brandon Knight and Will Bynum. Even though Siva doesn’t have earth-shattering stats, I like his savvy and knowledge of the game.
The Detroit Pistons have two of the most underrated big men in the league. One of them is Greg Monroe, who had averaged 9.6 rebounds per game last season. Look for Monroe to bounce back this season after a career-worst 48.6 percent shooting from the field in the 2012-13 campaign.
The other big man is Andre Drummond. Drummond made the All-Rookie Second Team despite only playing in 60 games for the Pistons after being sidelined with back and ankle injuries.
Drummond had great per-36 minutes numbers last season, including 12.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and .172 win shares, per Basketball-reference.com. That’s one of the 25 best marks in the league—a number even more amazing considering the Pistons record. Drummond also shot almost 61 percent from the field.
More time with Andre Drummond in the lineup means more wins for Detroit.
Over the last few years, Josh Smith has unquestionably been one of the best all-around forwards in the game.
He has finished in the top 12 in defensive win shares (per Basketball-reference.com) in each of the last four seasons, while averaging 15 or more points a contest. Last season, J-Smoove was one of 23 players (only nine of them forwards) with a points-rebounds-assists average of more than 30 a game. He was also ninth in the NBA in blocks per game last season.
And now he’s with the Pistons. And having one of the best multi-tooled players in the game will push the Pistons into the playoffs.