By Trent Balley
Whether or not you had high expectations for the new-look Detroit Pistons coming into this season, it’s time to raise the bar.
The Pistons defeated the Brooklyn Nets at home to start the season Wednesday night, followed by a second victory over the division rival Chicago Bulls on Saturday. While the victory margin for both games combined was five points, there’s plenty to celebrate for the 2-0 Motor City ball club.
With former New Orleans Pelicans duo Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins splitting up last July, many NBA fans and analysts turned their heads to Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin as the best frontcourt pair in the league. So far, so good.
Drummond turned in a signature 20-20 game against the Nets, dropping 24 points and pulling down 20 rebounds. After a mediocre (by his standards) 10-point, 13-rebound double-double against the Bulls, his per-game averages for the season sit at 17 points and a league-leading 16.5 rebounds. The two-time rebounding champion has his sights set on another great year on the glass.
Griffin has led the scoring way for the Pistons in both contests so far, and currently averages 29.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while shooting an even 50 percent from the field.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Pistons coach Dwane Casey will undoubtedly continue to run the offense through this front court, particularly Griffin. This formula has been highly anticipated by Pistons fans since the team acquired the star by trade last season. It looks as though those fans are finally getting what they’ve hoped for.
Return of Action Jackson
Pistons starting point guard Reggie Jackson was plagued with lower body injuries for the last two seasons. During the preseason, Casey was on record saying that he feared Jackson possibly came back from his most recent ankle injury too early, as a result of his sloppy play in the early going. However, this trend seems to have since turned around.
Jackson has shouldered 31.5 minutes per game, averaging a solid 18.5 points and 5 assists per game. In his most polished season of 2015-16, in which the Pistons made the playoffs, Jackson averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game. A return to this form appears to be in order, which will help the Pistons continue to push for wins. Expect Casey to keep the ball in his point guard’s hands.
New Coach, New System
Common knowledge would have it that the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year is now pacing courtside for the Pistons. Dwane Casey has already overhauled ex-coach Stan Van Gundy’s playbook, and the early results have shown.
The Pistons’ 110.5 points per game this season is nearly seven points higher than last year’s campaign under Van Gundy. Such success can be credited to the new run-and-gun system that Casey has brought to Detroit. With the Toronto Raptors, Casey loved to push the ball and score on the break, averaging 13.2 fast break points per game. Adding athletic wings like Glenn Robinson III via free agency, and Bruce Brown via the 2018 NBA Draft, has only boosted the tempo.
“We’re doing great,” Drummond said of the new playing style. “We’re really starting to come together. All the practice and hard work that we put in is really starting to show. We’re starting to move the ball a lot better, and running a lot quicker on the break. It’s just a lot of fun right now.”
It is also important to point out that the three-point shooting presence that Casey excelled with in Toronto is present in Detroit as well. Eight different Pistons, including Drummond, have connected from distance at least once in the first two games. Griffin leads the team with six made three-pointers, five coming in the victory over the Bulls.
In each of the first two victories, Casey has gone ten players deep in his rotation. Only one such player has seen less than thirteen minutes of playing time, rookie Zach Lofton. Backup point guard Ish Smith believes that depth is perhaps the best asset that the Pistons possess.
“When we have our full team, we’re pretty freaking good,” Smith said. “I pray for health throughout the whole year, and if we have that, we’re really good.”
The combination of stars, a fast pace of play, and a deep rotation will continue to benefit the Pistons moving forward. Taking a look at the upcoming schedule, the Pistons host three 2017-18 playoff teams in a row in the Philadelphia 76ers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Boston Celtics.
Only six undefeated teams remain in the NBA this season, and the Pistons are one of them. Look for Casey to continue using this formula to string together more wins.