The Detroit Pistons have mired in relative obscurity for a while now, with most casual fans not interested in the fortunes of the storied franchise. Coming into this season, expectations weren't running especially high and most pundits wrote them off as just another inconsequential eastern conference team who would, at best sneak into the playoffs as maybe the 7th or 8th seed.
The major story-lines related to the Eastern Conference, dominating the headlines, were that of the rivalry between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics and it was expected that they would ease through the relatively weaker Eastern Conference, with their vastly superior roster right from the get-go.
However fortunes in the NBA are always in a constant state of flux, and there's no telling which team is going to end up making a dramatic turnaround relative to their performance in the preceding season. This year in the Eastern Conference, early indications after a month or so of basketball is that the Pistons are cementing their position as that miraculous turnaround story.
The Detroit Pistons haven't fared well in recent memory. After the immensely successful stretch from 2003-08 where they reached the Eastern Conference finals for 6 straight years, with a championship in 2004, they have toiled in the NBA abyss, reaching the postseason only twice since. The reigns of the franchise were handed over to head coach Stan Van Gundy in 2014 with the hopes that the famously outspoken coach would be able to recreate his success in Orlando.
Prior to this season though, things haven't exactly worked out as planned and the Pistons, after making the playoffs in 2015-16, once again failed to make the cut the next season. The players weren't developing as hoped with talented big man Andre Drummond not playing to his substantial potential and struggling to improve his performance from the free throw line. Other talented players like Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris also showed moments of brilliance at times but were never quite able to sustain their performances with any semblance of consistency.
Thus, expectations weren't through the roof for this season and they were written off by most. Some changes were made in the offseason with Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Marcus Morris and some other lesser known players leaving to make way for the tenacious defensive specialist in Avery Bradley and a competent offensive talent off the bench in Langston Galloway.
However, the performance of the Motor City team has taken most analysts and fans by surprise as they sit on a 13-6 record, good for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference behind the Celtics (another surprise gave the horrific Gordon Hayward injury). Along the way, they have defeated top contenders like the Golden State Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road confirming that their position isn't just by fluke or a reflection of favorable early-season scheduling.
What explains this remarkable turnaround? One of them has to be the addition of Avery Bradley, who came from Boston, to immediately bring veteran leadership, and impact the team both on the defensive and the Offensive end. The 27-year-old guard is averaging 16.6 points and 1.4 steals per game.
Another great area of improvement has been their 3-pt shooting. Last year they were disastrous beyond the 3-point arc and ranked 28th out of 30, shooting a paltry 33% as a team. This year, in a dramatic reversal they are shooting at a 38.7% clip, good for 3rd best in the league, with Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Langston Galloway all shooting above 40%.
The league has evolved a lot over the years and success from the 3-pt line is now almost mandatory to enjoy success in the league. Another positive change this season has been the performance of Drummond from the charity stripe. He's shooting a career-high 60.5% which has resulted in teams not intentionally fouling to send him to the line and eventually to the bench. Thus he has been able to have a much greater impact on the floor.
Credit has to be given to Stan Van Gundy also for fuelling the team with passion and extracting the very best out of them as he has done so many times in the past with other teams as well.
It's still early days and in all probability the Pistons won't be able to retain their current position in the standing when the regular season comes to an end, but there can be no denying the fact that they are a vastly improved team this season capable of challenging and winning against the best teams the league has to offer. Pistons fans can finally afford to celebrate a bit as their side looks poised to continue with their current level of play and enter the postseason as one of the higher seeded teams from the Eastern Conference.