51Q: How big a next step forward can the Detroit Pistons take?

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
3 Comments

We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off).

How to rebuild without trying in six simple steps: Lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.

That was the dirty secret to Detroit’s breakthrough last season. Though the Pistons never set out to tank, they built a solid young core by drafting in the top 10 five of the previous six years. The only year Detroit didn’t pick in the top 10 was because it traded the No. 8 pick in a disastrous salary dump that led to signing Josh Smith – whom the Pistons expected to jumpstart their rise.

But it still happened eventually. Lose enough in the NBA, and it’s hard to remain bad – especially when you draft well (which Joe Dumars did in this era) and trade well (which Stan Van Gundy has done). In the last six years, the Pistons have drafted:

Suddenly, Detroit had a bright future. Its first playoff appearance in seven years, even if it ended in a first-round sweep to the Cavaliers, was exceedingly welcomed.

What now?

The Pistons should be done with top-10 picks for a while, so they can no longer back their way up the standings. They’ll have to earn the rest of their ascension.

That starts with internal growth. Not only were the Pistons’ the youngest team in last year’s playoffs (weighted by minutes played), they were the seventh-youngest all-time:

image

Drummond (23), Caldwell-Pope (23), Harris (24), Jackson (26) and Johnson (20) will continue developing, and that alone will make Detroit better.

But Van Gundy didn’t stop there.

The Pistons signed Ish Smith and Jon Leuer to relatively hefty contracts, hoping to address holes in the bench.

After trading Jennings at mid-season, Detroit was left with Steve Blake as backup point guard. The 36-year-old was a liability on both ends of the floor. For $18 million over three years, Smith provides an upgrade.

The Pistons had a couple burlier centers in Drummond and Aron Baynes. Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and the since-departed Anthony Tolliver could play stretch four against other combo forwards. But against a legitimately sized power forward with 3-point range, Detroit was in trouble. Enter Leuer, who at 6-foot-10, will play both big-man positions and receive $41 million over the next four years.

The Pistons built their young core. They signed veteran reinforcements. They even added Henry Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic with an eye toward the future.

But they’re unlikely to draft high again anytime soon. They’re capped out and will be limited in free agency.

Forming this team came at a cost.

Detroit should take a step forward – but far enough to justify the years of losing and pricey backups? Van Gundy is just trying to win as much as he can, but that question looms over the Pistons’ accomplishments.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

0 Comments

Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.