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Wait, Are the Pistons Good Now?

The Pistons are not supposed to be good at basketball, but suddenly, they are. We try to make sense of this development.
Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Stan Van Gundy is a mad genius coaching scientist, Brandon Jennings snapped a 1-for-20 clutch-shot skid with a blessedly-banked game-winner for the first six-game winning streak of his career, and Detroit came back from 18-down in San Antonio to knock off the World Champs, 105-104, stockpiling more wins in 10 days than in the nearly eight weeks prior.

Note to commissioner Silver: BREAK UP THE PISTONS. And to ownership: get the legendary 2014 Josh Smith banner ready for the Palace rafters, asap.


Pistons lead the Spurs by 10. Prepare the banner.
- netw3rk (@netw3rk) January 7, 2015

Because SVG's gang of misfits, less than a month removed from their 13-game skid, are suddenly resurgent, thanks to Jennings and Andre Drummond (turning into Dwight Howard 1.0 before our eyes), sure, but also a bizarre "bench-mob" led by DJ Augustin's 19 points and five assists in 22 minutes Tuesday.

Not to mention, the undefeated Mr. Mojo himself, Anthony Tolliver, the 6'8'' uber-journeyman quietly acquired from the Suns on December 24, who played big fourth quarter minutes last night, including the steal-and-score stunner in the final seconds, and has yet to lose in Motor City blue-and-red. Tolliver may be 29 going on 49 in NBA-years with his now-seventh team in seven seasons, but the Creighton alum is a walking, "good mojo" talking cliche come-to-life; his game grows on you with every watch, a career 11.1 PER withstanding. Take his crucial 23-minute contribution Tuesday: three points, 0-of-4 from 3, five rebounds, two turnovers, four fouls, and still a +6 differential. And, oh yes, one win-over his first employer, the Spurs, no less.

Tolliver's acquisition is just one master-stroke of many from the self-effacing Van Gundy, like his decision with 3:14 left to yank Augustin's hot hand, in favor of Jennings, who finished 5-of-18, but repaid his coach's loyalty with a lefty-hook beaut over Big Poppa Diaw. Van Gundy, per the Detroit Free-Press:


"Again, up until 00.1 to go, it didn't look like a very good move, but at .1, I look like a genius."

Obviously, none of the coaching-wizard's conjury is seemingly as magical as the December 22 release of Josh Smith, whose anti-bandwagon is currently standing-room only, what with the Rockets off to a 3-4 start with Smith and Kevin McHale reneging on his starting five promise after five games.

Indeed, the Pistons' surreal statistical transformation in the wake of J-Smoove's subtraction is astounding: second in defensive efficiency, third in offensive efficiency, and a 14 PPG increase. In San Antonio, six players scored in double-digits, the third such occurrence during the winning streak, or as many times (3) as the team had accomplished that balance during the entire season prior. With the triumph, Detroit became just the second team ever at 10 games below .500 to rattle off a five-game streak of 10+ point victories.

The real culprit? Smith's absence, to be sure, though a proper eulogy to commemorate the end of his amazing Motown run-marked by spiritually-defeated bench supporters who assumed he would miss game-winners, incredulous and induced Van Gundy faces, and vague threats against Kenneth Faried and anyone, anyone at all, with dreadlocks.

In fairness, Smith has immediately become 2015's resistance leader of the Antoine Walker Underrated-Overrated Club (players so reflexively reviled, they are underappreciated).


And more importantly, the Pistons (11-23) streak has now been so collectively fawned over (despite coming against four sub-.500 teams and a LeBron-less Cavs) it almost flies in the face of reason. Beyond that, a likely regression looms weeks or months from now, even if they are currently only 3.5 games behind No. 8 Miami (15-20), with the Pacers, Celtics, and Magic above them in the standings. And even if they sneak in the postseason, a team starting a raw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler will be hard-pressed to win two games against the likes of Atlanta, Chicago, or Washington.


Unless, a now "liberated" Jennings really is the sub-6-foot leader he declares he is, or may one day (or never) become. In fact, the early returns from his absurdly small, but sizzling six-game sample-a 44 percent clip on his 40 three-ball attempts, 51 percent from the field, with three games of 25-plus points or more, compared to only two such scoring outbursts the 28 prior, are enough to make one ponder, if the Compton-to-Roma boy-wonder is ready to bring his seasonal Drew League dominance to Detroit.

Unless, the 21-year-old Drummond-with four 20-plus rebound outings in nine games, an ever delicate but developing post-game and 60 percent-and-climbing recent FG percentage-evolves into the Howard-ian force-of-nature he appears predestined to become, by April. (For reference, Dwight was a 23-year-old, one-man defensive army when he lugged three-ball obsessed 2008-09 Orlando into the Finals.)


But those Magic trotted out a collection of gunners-a near-mint condition Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Redick-that turns any crazed ruminations into crashing dreams.

Detroit does have Jodie Meeks, and his 19.3 PER in 11 games so far (with a 14 PPG, 1.5 APG, and 1.8 RPG line, good for a fast track into the now-crowded Jeff McInnis All-Star game) though not much else: Caldwell-Pope, Singler, and Jonas Jerebko are all between 35-40 percent shooters from deep, and maybe Caron Butler has one more big game long-distance call in him come playoff time.

In the end, those calls and comparisons are both better left to-be-answered later.

Because, if only for a day, America might as well bask in the WWE-quality of nightly NBA entertainment, and the presently delightful Pistons-experience turned roller-coaster. Hopefully, it doesn't turn into a Six Flags smoldering inferno by January 19, with two tilts with Atlanta, and another at Toronto between now and then, likely to reveal plenty about Detroit's true prospects.

Instead, tune in to tonight's game at Dallas, a showcase of two teams' riding six-game win streaks, ignoring any chances of a fun-dampening plunge back into reality for Van Gundy and Co.

For today, let us celebrate J-Smoove's missives, Jennings' leading-man potential, SVG's Custer's Last Stand-loyal, effective, tinkering madness-and for a moment, just think of the delicious Drummond-PPG possibilities if Rick Barry is enlisted to drive up his free-throw percentage.

Maybe don't break up the Pistons just yet, Mr. Silver.

Until then: dream big, Motown. Dream real big.