Extra Pass: Are the Detroit Pistons putting a new twist on tanking or being lousy?

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BOSTON – There can be a fine line between unintentionally losing and tanking.

Tanking is encouraging, on some level, your own team to lose in order to gain better position for the draft. That can mean assembling a weak roster, increasing playing time for young and unready players, sitting good players longer due to injury and/or not playing with maximum effort.

Of course, some teams do none of those things and still lose. See the Knicks, New York.

So, how can we tell when a losing teams are tanking and when they’re not?

I’d argue the most sure-fire clue is how much playing time they give their best players. The fewer the minutes, the more likely teams are to be tanking and vice versa.

But the Detroit Pistons are turning that theory on its head.

The Pistons use Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond more than 18 minutes per game, a solid chunk of playing time for arguably the team’s top three players.

“We want to get our best players on the floor together, and that’s just the way we do it,” Pistons coach John Loyer said.

Makes sense.

Except Detroit has been terrible in the 1,140 minutes the trio has shared the court. The offense lacks spacing, and the defense is even worse.

With those three, Detroit’s net rating is -7.5. Of the 43 threesomes to play together so much this season, only one has been worse and just two others are even in the range.

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The only worse trio played for the lowly Philadelphia 76ers – Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. But Hawes plays for the Cavaliers now, and Turner is with the Pacers. Soon, Smith-Monroe-Drummond will pass that Philadelphia unit in minutes.

The other two similar lineups belong to the Pistons, but they’re really the result of Smith-Monroe-Drummond bringing down everything. One features Jennings rather than Monroe, and the other includes Jennings instead of Drummond. Considering the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio has played more than 90 percent of its minutes with Jennings, I wouldn’t read too much into Jennings’ inclusion. He’s just being swept along with the current.

Otherwise, every trio to play this much is near neutral at worst or ranges into the very elite on NBA lineups.

Smith-Monroe-Drummond isn’t the worst trio in the NBA. What’s really amazing is how much the unit has played.

Teams typically don’t stick with something that isn’t working this long – at least when they’re trying to win.

Are the Pistons that blind to their weak spot?

Or do they have something else in mind?

When teams tank by playing their young players, they’re also getting the implicit benefit of developing their young players. It’s effectively doubling down on potential.

Well, Detroit’s potential lies with Smith, Monroe and Drummond. No matter how unlikely they are to click on the court together, the three somehow figuring out how to complement each other would give the Pistons their best chance of maximizing this roster.

And if it doesn’t work, well, a few extra losses could help the Pistons keep their draft pick. As a result of the Ben Gordon trade, they owe Charlotte their pick this year unless it falls in the top eight. The Pistons currently have the NBA’s 10th-worst record.

The Pistons might be the first team ever to tank by playing their best players more minutes together.

Honestly, though, if I had to guess from the outside, I don’t believe the Pistons are tanking. They’ve spent too much time, from ownership down, making the playoffs the clear goal. Trailing Atlanta for eighth in the East by three games, the Pistons at least have a shot at the postseason.

Especially if they stagger minutes between Smith, Monroe and Drummond.

When the Pistons have used exactly two of those players – whether it’s Smith-Drummond, Monroe-Drummond or Smith-Monroe – they’ve outscored opponents. That the Pistons have shown such a strong alternative to lumping all three together and still keeps starting all three game after game does leave me unable to completely shake the tanking theory, though.

I asked Monroe about the possibility of shifting rotations to accommodate more two-big and fewer three-big lineups.

“Us splitting up time with just two of us on the court,” Monroe said, “that would defeat the purpose of us being on the team together

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.