Is This 2018 NBA Team Any Good?: Detroit Pistons

by Fox Doucette

Ladies and jelly spoons, I come before you to stand behind you and inform you of something I know nothing about.

Because hot damn, is there a team in the entire NBA that has more of a who-the-hell-are-they problem than the Pistons? Stan Van Gundy’s outfit is known as the team with Andre Drummond, but their Twitter is seemingly openly opposed to #BreakfastSpecial highlight reels, directing you to the un-embed-able world of NBA.com’s game highlights (even WordPress doesn’t like the embed code, so you better hope like hell someone put it on YouTube), Stan Van Gundy’s four-out approach lends itself to cookie-cutter outside play, and the team is neither good enough to attract attention when talking about the playoffs nor bad enough to attract it when talking about teams gunning for draft picks.

Under Van Gundy, they’ve gone 32-50, 44-38, and 37-45. They’re great on defense (eighth in Defensive Rating in 2017) but can’t score (24th on offense.)

But they do have one secret weapon…

Stats via Basketball Reference, over/under via Sports Insights, let the mid-first-round-hell mediocrity begin!

2016-17 record: 37-45
2018 over/under: 38.5

HERO! OF! SERBIA!

Take a guy who, in 500 minutes in his rookie season, had a better WS/48 (.325) than MVP and 400-three-pointers-made guy Steph Curry (.318). Then, in his sophomore season, give him 293 minutes to put up a better WS/48 (.280) than rate-stat-qualified league leader Kevin Durant (.278).

I mean, at what point do you just realize Boban Marjanovic is actually good at basketball? He’s a positive VORP guy (0.9 in those 800 minutes overall, which stretched out to starter minutes puts him around 3 VORP, better than Klay Thompson and everyone on the Spurs not named Kawhi Leonard.) He’s got a fantastic nose for the basket in close (76.4 percent from inside three feet, better than DeAndre Jordan…and better than Wilt Chamberlain, for that matter.)

No, he’s not Wilt. But you cannot tell me that Boban Marjanovic isn’t an honest-to-gods NBA rotation player. Or did Detroit just pay him $7 million a year so they could post his smiling mug on Twitter in garbage time?

The fact that they’re burying the guy is a point against them.

Don’t Call Him Ishmael

Ish Smith…the guy who won Philly seven of their ten games in 2016. Seriously, they were 1-30 when he came over from Orlando. They went 7-13 in their next 20. And, well, OK, they went 2-29 after that, losing to the Bulls to have a perfect mirror flip of Chicago’s season 20 years before.

But really, have you looked at Smith’s stats? A career .411/.290/.660 slash line, anemic 97 Offensive Rating, .033 WS/48, minus-0.8 VORP…how has this guy not just been punted down to the Letter League and left to rot?

And yet the Detroit press, eager to play eye test to convince themselves their sad sack squad is actually going to escape Mediocrity Hell, goes so far as to say he should start.

News flash, guys, Chauncey Billups ain’t walkin’ through that door.

But Then Again…

It’s not like Reggie Jackson is a whole hell of a lot better. Three seasons in Detroit have left him with a .430/.353/.852 slash line, but at least he’s a nearly four-VORP player and above the sort of Metric Mendoza Line of .100 WS/48, but that comes at the price of genuinely terrible defense (or mediocre defense, depending on if you place more weight on Defensive Box Plus/Minus or Defensive Rating. In either case it’s nobody’s idea of good.)

The Draft Pick Didn’t Work, Guys…

Stanley Johnson…well…he sucks.

When you’re playing your minutes on the wing and putting up a .353/.292/.679 slash line while seeing all three of those base rate stats drop from your rookie season, you suck.

Oh, and the 88 Offensive Rating? In almost 1400 minutes? Are you kidding me?

.012 WS/48, dead level zero level-with-a-Letter-Leaguer VORP, all while taking 42.2 percent of shots from beyond the arc. Yeah.

Bright side, he finishes well at the rim, at 64.4 percent. Then again, his percentage of shots taken from there is about one-in-eight, creating the impression that most of those shots are fastbreak dunks, not shots taken over a defense.

But Hey, They’ve Got Andre Drummond

If your team can’t shoot, it never hurts to have a transcendent rebounder, and Drummond is that. Look upon his 25.2 total rebounding percentage, 36.2 on the defensive end, and 20.8 career defensive win shares in five years, and despair.

Then again, if he wants to be anything other than the homeless man’s DeAndre Jordan, he’ll have to convert more than 68.4 percent of his shots inside three feet. When you’re scoring on putbacks and lobs, you’ve gotta make 70 percent of those. Boban can do it.

Oh, and did we mention that Dre had a minus-12.0 Net Rating split on/off last year? Aron Baynes and HERO OF SERBIA were the guys in the middle when Detroit actually extended a lead or closed a gap.

THE VERDICT!

Maybe Stan Van Gundy should be Coach of the Year just for managing to preside over a Letter League squad that managed a playoff appearance in 2016 and 37 wins last year. These guys, on paper, are epic awful. They lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, their legit second-best player. Avery Bradley’s not saving their ass, not with his inability to stay healthy.

Detroit is going to play good enough defense to make some real noise, but not for nothing were these guys 24th on offense. In a Central Division that features LeBron James coming at them from one angle, Giannis Antetokounmpo from another, and Myles Turner from a third, only the wretched Bulls will be an easy out for the Pistons in their own neighborhood this year.

This just doesn’t look like even a 38-win team. They look worse than the 37-win team from last year. Detroit brass needs to fill the new Little Caesars Arena, so tanking is probably off the table, but this team ain’t good, folks. I’m calling them Busted and projecting them at 34-48.

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