Mystery Pistons Beating Contenders Amidst The Tank


The Detroit Pistons came into the beginning of Week 6 with the NBA’s worst record at 3-13. After a 2-2 week, they now sit above the struggling 4-12 Washington Wizards for 14th in the Eastern Conference.

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This week perfectly depicts how a tank should go: always hang around in every game, lose most of them, but beat contending teams. When the Pistons play those top teams, they’ve risen to the occasion.

On Monday, Detroit faced off against the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers. Led by Jerami Grant‘s 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Delon Wright‘s near-28-point triple-double, they earned a victory against one of the best teams the East has to offer. It was a dogfight for much of the game until the fourth quarter, where clutch shooting from a scorching-hot Wayne Ellington closed out the bout.

Pistons Upset Lakers, Too

After a defeat at the hands of the young-and-exciting Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, Detroit bounced back quickly on Thursday against LeBron James and the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers, who were resting Anthony Davis.

Regardless, the Lakers are a much better team than the Pistons in every respect, but something incredible happened.

Blake Griffin returned from the dead!

After a dismal performance for the majority of the season’s first quarter, Griffin finally contributed offensively. He had 23 points on 50% shooting from the field and from three-point range.

Along with the throwback-Griffin performance, the rest of the team performed as well. Grant had an off-night offensively, but he did a fantastic job guarding LeBron, causing him to have a forgettable second half.

Meanwhile, Isaiah Stewart showed exactly why he was drafted with the Pistons’ second first-round pick. He was a menace defensively, constantly getting in the face of Montrezl Harrell and other Lakers. It appeared as if his goal, above all else, was to cause mayhem in the middle, and that is exactly what the Pistons want from him.

Finally, Ellington continued his hot shooting, going for 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from deep. The vet has been a surprise for this team, and his value on the trade market is high.

Pistons Fall Flat Against Warriors

Aside from some not-so-friendly roasting of Rodney McGruder, nothing very eventful occurred in Saturday night’s lone late game between Detroit and Golden State. The Pistons were down by double digits early in the first quarter, and the Warriors did not relinquish that lead for the rest of the game.

Grant finished with 18 points, while Ellington was held scoreless and Blake mustered only five. The largest takeaway from this game is the blowout allowed Dwane Casey to empty the bench a little bit in the second half. On the other side, Stephen Curry finished with 28 points, while Andrew Wiggins contributed 20 of his own.

Perhaps it is because the Pistons played four games this week, but the team looked flat and tired in this game. They did just travel to the West Coast after a long time in the Midwest, so jet lag could have been a factor in their sluggishness.

Tanking Can Be Fun

Every Detroit sports fan has become uncomfortably intimate with the idea of tanking. Every single big-four team in the city is currently in some sort of rebuild mode, and that can lead to some terrible records and teams at the bottom of the standings.

But the Pistons are doing it better than anyone could have hoped. Sure, they lose the vast majority of the games they are in. Sure, they may have the roster with the least overall talent in the NBA. The Pistons can, however, guarantee its most loyal fans that if you indulge their losses, you’ll occasionally be treated to victories over very good teams, and that’s really all we can ask for.

Looking back on all the wins the Pistons have this year, it is almost humorous the teams they have defeated. The Celtics, Suns, Heat, 76ers and Lakers not only boast winning records and playoff aspirations, but a few of them are also considered heavy title contenders.

So let’s cherish the victories when we get them. They mean literally nothing in the grand scheme of the NBA, but let’s celebrate when they come because they are few and far between.

Time to Cash in on Ellington?

As mentioned above, Ellington has been shooting the ball insanely well this season. It is unlikely that he keeps up this pace, so the Pistons should capitalize on his value. After being waived by the Knicks last year, the 12-year pro signed a one-year, veteran minimum contract with Detroit.

The 33-year-old has been known as a sharpshooter for years now, but his statistical brilliance this year has been something to behold. He is shooting 53.2% on 6.7 three-point attempts this season, averaging a career-high 13.4 points per game so far this season.

This unrivaled accuracy makes a weapon for the Pistons, and he can bring value to contending teams as a deadeye shooter. His real plus-minus (RPM) is 3.47, meaning he is contributing to +3.47 points per 100 possessions. Due to his crazy efficiency, his barely-net-negative defensive plus-minus of -0.63 is not a true concern. His RPM is good for fourth-best among shooting guards in the whole league, only behind Paul George, Jaylen Brown, and James Harden.

Ellington’s success is fantastic for the Pistons. The more players who are valuable on the market at and before the trade deadline, the better the team will fare. By the deadline, I’d expect Ellington and Derrick Rose to be on other teams. Hopefully, the team will receive some solid draft capital in return for the veterans. It may not be the most exciting thing to cheer for, but The Pistons’ future will depend on how well the Pistons can capitalize on their players’ success on the trade market.

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Week seven sees the Pistons face off against a myriad of Western Conference teams, all of whom are solidly in the playoff picture. They kick off February with a back-to-back against the Nuggets and Jazz– and hope to continue their occasional, surprise success.

Follow us on Twitter @PistonsLead for the latest Pistons news and insight. 

About Tommy Van Pelt

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