The season is 2007-2008.
The last time the Detroit Pistons were seen as relevant in the NBA for championship contention. A decade later after making the Eastern Conference Finals for the sixth time in as many years, the Pistons now have surprisingly put themselves in the forefront of NBA relevancy once again in the early part of the season.
Since 2008, the Pistons have made the playoffs only twice, both times losing in the first round. They only sported a winning record once in that same span back in the 2015-16 season where they went 44-38 and squeezed into the playoff picture before getting swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
After 15 games into this season, the Pistons sport the second-best record in the East at 10-4 while beating quality teams in the process. They are one of three teams to beat Golden State this year (on the road nonetheless) as well as defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks. Even though the season isn’t even a quarter way through, the Pistons definitely caught the eyes of other teams in the league.
Now the biggest question that underlies this team is what has caused this recent success?
There are many factors that attribute to this and all of it has meshed together at the right time to put the Pistons near the top in the East:
1. Andre Drummond’s free throw shooting: For years Drummond had been the laughing stock of the league when it came to making free throws at the line where he’s shooting an abysmal 38.6 percent for his career. At the end of last season he finally came to terms with his free throws woes and called up his old trainer Idan Ravin to help him go back to the basics and the results are paying off. He’s now shooting 63.2 percent from the line which keeps him on the floor at the end of games and gives Detroit their best rebounder and rim runner to close it out.
“It’s like night and day,” Drummond told ESPN.com. “It’s been an exciting process for me to see the progress that I’ve put in over the years, the time that I’ve spent, countless hours in the gym shooting free throws. Working on mechanics, working on the mental aspect, so to see the work that I’ve put in come out to light is exciting that it’s finally here.
2. Tobias Harris’ emergence: 48/50/90 are the shooting splits for the small forward which contribute to his career-high 20.1 points per game early on. He looks more calm and has assertive himself more on offense as he’s averaging 16 shots a game which is also a career-high. Harris has been a steady presence for the Pistons and emerged as a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.
3. Deeper bench: The Pistons bench looks revitalized this year and is giving major contributions to the starters holding leads and often extending them against other second units. Langston Galloway, Ish Smith, Anthony Tolliver and Boban Marjanovic all have helped with quality minutes and no over reliance on any one of them is needed as a different player can be the high scoring guy in any game.
4. Commitment to defense: While no one is going to mix up the Pistons’ defense with the Rudy Gobert-led Jazz anytime soon, it goes to show they have improved on that side of the court this season tremendously. They currently rank tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for sixth in opponents’ points per game at 101.1 and only the Washington Wizards scored more than 110 points against them. This renewed dedication to defend for a full game may be attributed to the newly acquired defensive minded ace Avery Bradley and his toughness that he brought with him from Boston.
Even though it’s still way too early in the season to make any bold claims about how it will end (I mean the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently ninth in the standings), the Pistons have all the ingredients to keep themselves relevant throughout the season.