Before I begin, thanks in advance to my awesome wife, who gave me the opportunity to watch the Detroit Pistons in a live game at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Before I headed out to MSG, I had to go uptown to get another look at the famed Holcombe Rucker Park, in an attempt to absorb some of the energy from all the great players who stepped foot on that court. In addition, hopefully this would bestow that energy to the Pistons. Only time would tell if it actually worked.
This would be the fourth time I have seen my favorite team play at MSG, but the first time since the Pistons lost Ben Wallace in 2006. Needless to say, things have changed drastically in Detroit from then to now.
Detroit entered the game in seventh place in the Eastern Conference; right in the thick of the playoff chase. The team had won 4 of their past 5 games and were facing a Knicks squad who was in terrible shape. To add insult to injury, New York was playing the game without star center Kristaps Porzingis. This late in the season, these are the types of games that playoffs teams should win. So to call it a must win for Detroit would be an understatement.
The Pistons came into the game with confidence, swagger, and an opportunity to keep pace. But left with an uninspiring loss to a bottom dweller. I asked myself, how could I travel all the way to NYC, wear my old school Dennis Rodman Pistons jersey, and watch my team perform the way they did. My initial reaction was anger, but after taking some time to “cool off”, I think that there is reason for optimism in Detroit.
Reggie Jackson, who had a terrible game against New York, looked like he has the tools to become a really good, consistent point guard. Watching him live, I was able to appreciate the way he handles the ball, his dexterity, and his natural confidence. I think he will become a team leader and that aura that he carries himself with will rub off on the team. Tobias Harris, the huge trade deadline acquisition, can play. He got into the lane against the Knicks at will. He was very unselfish with the basketball and he also isn’t a “ball stopper.” If he can improve on his three-point shooting, I think he will become unguardable in the near future.
Andre Drummond didn’t look like himself that night. He was sluggish, lacked effort and was being punished on defense by Robin Lopez, who filled it up with 21 points, 16 rebounds (4 offensive), and a steal. Those numbers are pretty darn good for a guy who plays 25 minutes per game. Still, Drummond displayed excellent footwork when he was out there and seems to have developed an over the shoulder hook shot going right or left. At 7’0”, 280 pounds, that’s a difficult move to defend. He is only 22 years old and I think he has what it takes to mature and become more consistent with his game. If he can do that, he can be unstoppable.
I really enjoyed watching Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. However, I’m not so sure he is an NBA starter on a playoff contending team. His numbers don’t add up to anything special (PER of 12.38, which is below average) and the eye test reaffirmed to me that he is in fact an average NBA player. He seems like the type of guy that would be more valuable coming off the bench and would get better if he played less. He is sort of “forced” into the starting two guard spot because that position is probably the weakest on the team. Reggie Bullock looked like he will have a role on the team going forward. Bullock looked quick, played solid defense and shot the ball well. In fact, he is shooting 45% from three-point land on the season. If not in Detroit, there should be a role for him on some NBA team.
Overall, I was really impressed with the potential that I saw from this current version of the Pistons. They are a young team that should only get better. I’m not sure if they will make the playoffs this year and it has more to do with the fact that Detroit is really banged up right now with injuries to Stanley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, and Anthony Tolliver. Also, they don’t seem to have enough depth to deal with those losses. Of course, they could get hot and sneak into the playoffs, which would definitely make up for the uninspired performance I witnessed in New York City.