NBA / Oct 10, 2008 / 2:58 pm

Highs and Lows: Detroit Pistons

Chauncey BillupsChauncey Billups (photo. adidas)

The NBA preseason is underway. While we wait for the real games to start, we’re going team-by-team, from 1 to 30, exploring where each team’s ceiling is for the upcoming season and where their basement is. In other words, what are the realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios for each squad?

Additions: PF/C Kwame Brown, PG Will Bynum, PF Walter Sharpe.

Losses: C Theo Ratliff, SF Jarvis Hayes, SG Juan Dixon.

Ceiling: NBA championship
After six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances yielded “only” one championship (2004), why should anyone believe the Pistons will make it to the mountaintop this time? Depth, defense and desire. Joe Dumars has quietly compiled a core of young players who are ready to contribute major minutes in ’08-09, which will give Detroit’s veteran core a chance to pace themselves for a long playoff run, and ultimately gives the team more weapons in the postseason. Rodney Stuckey — who’s good enough to start on a few teams around the League — headlines that young, athletic group, along with Arron Afflalo, starting PF Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown, who could be decent if he only has to focus on defense and rebounding for a team where he’s got plenty of available veteran mentors and a coach who’s got his back. As far as the vets, you know what you’re getting: 17 points, seven dimes, a few game-winners and consistently lights-out crunch time free throw shooting from Chauncey Billups; 17-20 points a night from Rip Hamilton; 82 games, 14 points and All-Defensive lock-down ability from Tayshaun Prince; regular double-doubles from Antonio McDyess; more Good ‘Sheed than Bad ‘Sheed from Rasheed Wallace; and the best team defense this side of Boston and San Antonio, one that will get key stops when it matters. Finally, after being accused in the past of a premature arrogance that led to some of their postseason disappointments, the Pistons have been (or at least should’ve been) humbled by now. They know they can’t just hit the “Win” switch whenever they want, they know they’re no longer THE team to beat in the East, and they know time is running out for them as a title contender. A renewed focus could be the difference between another conference finals exit and an NBA championship.

Basement: Eastern Conference Finals
Youth is good and youth is something every team wants, but youth doesn’t win championships. Aside from Stuckey and Maxiell, who among Detroit’s 26-and-under set has proven anything on the big stage? As you read above, there are too many “ifs” with Kwame, and Johnson hasn’t actually done anything on the court to deserve the starting four spot. Other red flags? Michael Curry is a rookie coach trying to put his stamp on a team full of confident vets set in their ways. Prince is coming off a long summer playing with Team USA, and with five straight 100-game seasons under his belt, he’s like a 31-year-old in a 28-year-old’s body. The East is more talented and deeper this year than in any of the previous six years. And as far as knowing what you’ll get from the veterans, there is one more remaining certainty: At some point, Rasheed will absolutely let the Pistons down in a big game. Will the rest of the team be able to cover for him?

’08-09 NBA preview archives
10/9 — San Antonio Spurs
10/8 — Chicago Bulls
10/6 — Oklahoma City Thunder
10/3 — Washington Wizards
10/2 — Utah Jazz
10/1 — Charlotte Bobcats
9/30 — Memphis Grizzlies
9/26 — Toronto Raptors
9/25 — New Orleans Hornets
9/24 — Atlanta Hawks

9/23 — Sacramento Kings
9/22 — Miami Heat
9/19 — Portland Trail Blazers
9/18 — New Jersey Nets
9/17 — Minnesota Timberwolves
9/16 — Cleveland Cavaliers
9/15 — Phoenix Suns
9/12 — Milwaukee Bucks
9/11 — L.A. Clippers
9/10 — Orlando Magic

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  • Hayesfan

    “the best team defense this side of Boston and San Antonio”

    As a Rockets fan I have to protest this statement.

  • Zach

    I think this sounds about right, but ya’ll dont consider Max to have done anything? I think he has proved that he is a baller and fits perfectly in the Ben Wallace role, but he is getting a shot and imporving his ft%. That’s my only argument

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Zach — You’re right, I overlooked Maxiell.

  • kermit the washington

    Ok FINE Hayesfan…the Rockets have the best team defense on the OTHER side of Boston and SanAntonio. Better?

    As a Pistons fan, I was glad to hear the praise. But keep in mind, this is the SAME stuff we’ve been saying for the past 3 years. They have youth now. They should be humbled by now considering they’re no longer the team to beat. Everyone’s healthy. I won’t believe it till I see it.

  • http://www.geocities.com/dagomardeg Dagomar

    This team is past its prime, and I don’t agree with the assessment.

    So you’re saying the worst this team can do is the third round? That would mean they are 100% certain to get by the Cavs – let alone the Raptors, Magic and 76ers. All that provided they don’t land the Celtics earlier in the playoffs. With a core that is now officially old and has consistently choked in the playoffs, your prediction is pretty damn ballsy. Not to mention the fact that Curry is, as you put it, a rookie coach who isn’t exactly an upgrade over Saunders. If Sheed didn’t respect Saunders, why would he do anything for Curry? As for Stuckey and the young core – okay, the upside is miles high, but let’s hold off on the grandiose predictions until they actually accomplish something in the league.

    Honestly I think the basement is the 1st round of the playoffs. The 76ers damn near knocked them out without Brand last year.

  • dagwaller

    Dagomar, at first I thought that ECF was a little too high of a basement, but think about it. If you assume (and I think that it’s safe to do so) that Boston wins the Atlantic, and probably has the best record in the East, they’ll have the 1 seed.

    The Pistons have less competition in their own division than they have in the last few years (with the Cavs staying stagnant and the Bulls/Pacers taking steps backwards), so they’ll probably win the Central.

    And as much as I love the improving Southeast division, I don’t see any of those teams ending up with a better record than the Pistons.

    So unless you think that Philly or Toronto is going to end up with a better record, I’m ok with the Pistons getting the 2 seed in the East.

    Even though I don’t really like them.

  • yallallreadyknow

    this team has peaked already. 2nd round knockout coming up for them. they will be eliminated in the 2nd round. they are going from veteran team to old team (like the spurs).
    they need to inject new life into the roster. make another big trade. like trading rip and tayshaun for mcgrady and battier. or trading rip and rasheed to charlotte for jason richardson and emeka okafur. or billups straight up for raymond felton. it wouldnt hurt the pistons to get younger.

    they gonna win 50+ games again….but you could see the drop off in this team over the last 3yrs. they need new life

  • Sam I Am

    Yeah I would go with 2nd Round as their basement and ceiling would be ECF

  • aj

    Their basement is too high. They could very well get beat in the 1st or 2nd round.

    They could win the championship if things fall in place for them like they did a few years back when they won. Let’s say a fluky thing like the Mavs or Suns come out of the West. Pistons could beat those guys if they were to come out of the East.

    It’d take some serious luck and some better teams to fall or get distracted like the Lakers did a few years back for the Pistons to win.

  • http://www.geocities.com/dagomardeg Dagomar

    dagwaller, the second seed does not automatically make it to the ECF. The ECF is the third round of the playoffs, and the team that gets there does not automatically have the highest seeding. I can see the Pistons finishing with the second seed – maybe. But getting to the ECF with this team will be a whole lot harder. And all that aside, would you really say that the Pistons’ basement during the regular season is the second seed?

  • Hayesfan

    Actually Detroit is my second fave team, so I wasn’t maligning them, I just wanted to point out that Houston’s defense was better than both the Spurs and Detroit ;)

    Maxiell and Amir Johnson are the two players that I am most interested to see this season. I think they, as well as the obvious Stuckey, are ready to take the next step.

    I think that they may have more competition this season, since the East has gotten better, but I still believe that they will be in the conference finals. Philly and Orlando will have to show me a lot before I believe either one can knock off Detroit. The only possible way I see them taking an early exit is if it’s Cleveland or Boston they have to face in the first couple of rounds (which isn’t very likely)

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Dagomar — Are we even certain the Celtics will be there for the Pistons to play? They were taken to 7 games by two clearly inferior teams in last year’s playoffs, and now they could go into this year less hungry and without a key role player in Posey. The Pistons should get the 2-3 seed in the East, and they can win in the first round on auto-pilot. I don’t see a team in the East outside of Boston or Cleveland who would even “more than likely” beat Detroit in a 2nd-round series.

  • Diego

    Too high.

    I like Rip and Prince. At this current stage, I award Sheed and Chauncy award for most overrated duo in the league (with Sheed getting the solo award also). Maxiell is solid. Don’t know much about Stuckey or Amir. Don’t think too highly of any of the Bruins (Afflalo) whom the Gators bitch-slapped 2 years running in the NCAAs.

    Philly, Toronto, the Bulls (still thinking they are underrated), and the Hawks could give Detroit a tough time. (I’m not sold on the Wiz or Heat.)

  • Ian

    basement ecf??? thats the ceiling

  • Tim

    hahaha you people sound kind of ridiculous with some of these comments…there is no way they lose 1st or 2nd round unless they get Boston in the 2nd round.

    Its pretty obvious that they respect Curry a lot more than Flip…Just listen to the comments they’ve said…Rip totally bashed him, as did Billups and some others…Curry played in the league and all that, many of them played with him late in his career…

    And if anyone thinks that Philly, Toronto, the Bulls or anyone else outside of Cleveland and Boston can beat them is crazy.

    Sure, Philly took them to 6 games…but then they lost that 6th game…so it doesn’t matter what they almost did….Detroit took Boston to 6 games too…noone is saying they almost won that series right?

    And to whoever didn’t know much about Stuckey, did you watch the Eastern Finals last year, cause he’s gonna be a monster this year? Second string guards won’t be able to keep up with him. He was tearing up that amazing Boston defense and was the best Pistons player on the floor for stretches in the ECF.

    One more thing to throw out, Flips super awesome isolation offense that he would run is gone…In is a more motion oriented scheme similiar to what the ran with Larry Brown…at least i think so…and with Brown they got to a Title and within 4 minutes of one…

    Yes i know, I’m a homer Pistons fan, so i might be sipping too much Kool Aid- bust 1st or 2nd round exit is a ridiculous idea.

  • http://www.geocities.com/dagomardeg Dagomar

    Yeah Austin, they were taken to seven games by two clearly inferior teams. So what does that say about the Pistons players, whom they creamed in six games?

    By the way, one of those “clearly inferior teams” beat the Pistons in six the year before.

    Ian’s right on this one: if anything, ECF is the ceiling.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Dagomar — My point is that it’s no certainty Boston will be the team Detroit has to get past in the ECF. They’re vulnerable, as we saw thanks to Atlanta and Cleveland.

  • johnny

    I agree with the ceiling of a championship. But, as AJ said, their basement could even be a 1st round exit, even tho it is unlikely. This is from a hard-core Pistons fanatic.

    There are too many question marks on the Pistons and in the East. The West has a lot of question marks too. It should be an interesting year. I think Philly and Portland should have their ceiling as a championship too. And Portland might not even make the playoffs.

  • ZACH

    No one seems to remember that Billups was playing on a bum hamstring during this years playoffs. Everyone says that he is old, but he was hurt, its a fact. The only team in the East that scares the Pistons is the Cleveland Lebrons. I think they would much rather see the Celts than the Cavs, give us a HEALTHY Billups and I like their chances against the Celts any time. Think about how Garnet has to cuss at himself to get motivated to play, now that he has that ring I don’t think we will see the same intensity. Like it or not Haters this preview is basically dead on

  • Tim

    I really expect them to get back to the NBA Finals this year…plain and simple…Not that Flip was terrible or anything…but the players just didn’t listen…

    Can opening night get here already…

  • Markail

    It’s obvious that you all have not been paying attention to the Pistons.

    How can you not see that Stuckey is a superstar in the making. The players already know and respect Michael Curry.

    I went to the Pistons open practice both this year and last year. Last year they barely heard a word Flip was saying. This year, Sheed was on the court asking Curry’s opinion of something.

    Pay attention folks, we’re gonna surprise you this year.

    P.S. What the #^$%@ has anyone but San Antonio and Boston proved? F*ck Philly, F*ck Cleveland and F*ck Orlando!

  • http://www.kikaayacollegeschool.net smity far away

    “At some point, Rasheed will absolutely let the Pistons down in a big game. Will the rest of the team be able to cover for him?”

    @ Austin

    I knew it was coming. lol. If you were about to jump from the top of a building to your death and the cops brought in a negotiator…and it was Rasheed, it would push you over the edge. lol. However, if somebody told you vince was downstairs in the lobby, well, you just might be ok. : )

    but yo, it is conceivable that a piston other than Rahseed will let the team down. (Rather than one player, it might be all of them-as we have seen in the past)

    Overall, nice assessment

  • http://www.geocities.com/dagomardeg Dagomar


    Hard to say how vulnerable Boston is, considering they demolished the Lakers and got by the Pistons pretty handily. Perhaps the first two rounds were warmup rounds? Perhaps Lebron was just that good? Perhaps the Atlanta crowd was just that loud?

    Either way, if you say the Celtics are vulnerable you have to admit the Pistons are even more vulnerable. And a vulnerable teams have “basements” that go a lot lower than the ECF.

    Either way, I respect your opinions but I really don’t feel the Pistons this year. They’re the biggest playoff chokers this side of Dallas and I don’t expect it’ll get any better with an older core and a greener coach. Stuckey will PROBABLY be great, but is he ready to become a superstar this year? If not don’t expect too much, Pistons fans. And don’t tell me I’m wrong until they win the chip, because after all those great regular seasons (and playoff collapses) I won’t be convinced until that happens.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Dagomar — I respect that. And for what it’s worth, I was VERY close to putting “2nd round exit” as Detroit’s basement, and even briefly considered putting “1st round exit.” But when I really thought about it, I just don’t see them losing that early, especially not in the first round.

  • Tim

    I have not seen one thing this year that scares me about the Pistons chances of winning a championship…if anything i get more and more encouraged each game…

  • ZACH

    @Dagomar- Dude how the hell are they choke artists? THEY’VE BEEN TO THE ECF 6 STRAIGHT TIMES and the finals twice. Just cause you don’t win a chip doesn’t mean you choke, come on man thats garbage. Even including this past season ask the Celtics if they would switch the last 6 years of acomplishments with the Pistons, I bet they would. With the exception of maybe San Antonio (and maybe, maybe LA) I bet any team in the L would wish to have what we’ve had the last 6 years.

  • Tim

    I second that ZACH….

    Choking is more what Dallas did against Golden State…

  • dagwaller

    Dagomar, sorry for being late to this party with Austin, but I have to respond.

    I realize that the second seed doesn’t automatically make it to the 3rd round. My point was that, among the best teams in the East, Detroit has yet to be unseated as the 2nd best team in the Conference. As I pointed out, no other team can touch them in that spot. The Sixers got close for one series, but I see that as a fluke, and even with Elton Brand, I don’t see them getting past the Pistons. It’d be close though.

  • Ian

    zach MAYBE san antonio no its for sure san antonio