Could the Detroit Pistons Pull a First Round Playoff Upset?
While you weren’t looking the Detroit Pistons have won nine of their last eleven games, which has seen them rise to 6th in the East ahead of this evening’s game against the Timberwolves.
In their last 13 games, the Pistons have the fourth-most efficient offense and the fourth-best defense in the NBA, with their plus 8.6 net rating is second-best in the league over that span (according to Paulo Uggetti of The Ringer. And narrowing to their last 11, they are first in offensive rating (118.1 points per 100 possessions).
The Pistons have beaten the Toronto Raptors in both matchups this season. If the playoffs started today they’d play the Indiana Pacers, who they’ve split with to this point in the season.
Even as the Boston Celtics are faltering, they are six games clear of the Pistons in fifth place in the East. So Detroit is almost surely looking at the six, seven or eight seed come playoff time.
But could they pull a first round playoff upset?
Blake Griffin is having the all-around best season of his career, averaging 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He has also added a three-point shot to his arsenal, averaging a career-high 6.8 attempts per game while converting at a 36.6 percent clip.
Andre Drummond is averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds per game. He won’t ever be a prolific free throw shooter, but he has at least become functional enough to not be a complete liability at the end of games. After making 60.5 percent of his foul shots last year, he’s making 57.3 percent so far this year. Prior to 2017-18, he had never even made 42 percent of his free throws in a season.
Detroit has a top-10 scoring defense right now (107.8 points allowed per game; eighth-best in the league), and they are atop the league in opponent’s three-point percentage (33.8 percent). That defense will play well in the playoffs, regardless of opponent.
The Pistons are not without flaw though. They are in the bottom half of the league in scoring (107.4 points per game; 23rd in the league). They also have the second-worst field goal percentage in the league (44 percent), and are only marginally better from beyond the arc (34.7 percent; 24th in the league).
But head coach Dwane Casey has found something that works, and his own experience in the playoffs as the Raptors’ coach will help his team down the stretch and into the playoffs.
The Pistons have questions about the sustainability of their current run, with the larger sample of the entire season working against their résumé as a top-level team. But if they do make the playoffs, their first round opponent is sure to be pushed to the brink right out of the gate.