After a down 37-45 year last season, the Pistons suddenly find themselves off to a hot 7-3 start – good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference – this season.
Detroit didn’t blow up their team, but it did look as though they would regress even from an already mediocre 37 win season. Two of the team’s few bright spots last season were Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris. They contributed 27.8 points per game and 8.4 win shares in 2017, but left or were gotten rid of. Key back-up center Aron Baynes also left for Boston.
The Pistons’ big acquisition was Avery Bradley. Bradley is a great player and perimeter defender, but he was an unproven perimeter shooter joining a Pistons team that finished just 28th out of 30th in three point shooting percentage, and 27th out of 30th in three pointers made.
Replacing Morris at the starting three would be Stanley Johnson. Johnson was dubbed as a high potential player out of high school and college, but struggled as a sophomore for Detroit with just 4.4 points per game on 35.3% shooting and 29.2% from three.
The biggest problem of all, however, was the limited growth ceiling Detroit seems to face. It was believed that Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, and everyone in the core group of contributive players had all peaked. Jackson and Drummond especially had been a great pairing in 2015-16, but the Drummond-Jackson tandem had gone from outscoring opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions in 2016 to getting outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions last season.
Reggie Jackson was coming off of an injury that caused him to miss 30 games in the beginning of 2016-17, but with the Pistons finding more success with back-ups Ish Smith and Aron Baynes in line-ups over Jackson and Drummond, there were definitely questions about the core’s long term future.
So far in 2017-18, none of these issues have been present. The Pistons have a top ten offense, a bench that is playing very well, and Jackson, Drummond, and Harris have all been playing well above average. Here are the numbers for Drummond, Jackson, and Harris in 2016-17:
Now compare those with 2017-18:
Stats are up across the board. In addition to the good production from those three players, Avery Bradley ‘s shooting has been terrific as well: 16.3 points per game on 42.2% from three.
Detroit has accomplished a lot of their success, however, by means of its bench. This is uncommon in recent years for the Pistons, but when Anthony Tolliver and Langston Galloway come in for the Pistons, the team is extremely dangerous.
For reference, Detroit on average has been outscoring opponents by 3.8 points per 100 possessions this season. The Pistons with Galloway and Tolliver on the court outscore 16.6 and 19.1 points per 100 posessions, respectively.
While this is encouraging for Detroit’s current state, whether or not Tolliver and Galloway can keep up their effectiveness when they enter games is highly questionable. I expect their play to regress towards their career average on/offs of +2.2 and +2.7.
More sustainability questions come from Tobias Harris’ 45.9% shooting from three (career 33.9% from three), Andre Drummond’s 75% from the free throw line (career 38.9% on free throws), and Ish Smith’s 51.9% field goal shooting (career 41.4% from the field).
I expect none of those efficiency marks to remain this high, and the Pistons will regress. Just how far they will decline is highly variable, but expect a 41-47 win season from Detroit rather than the current 57.4 wins they are on pace to win with their win percentage.