The Detroit Pistons have spent the better part of the last decade mired in the bottom half of the league’s standings. Never good enough to avoid becoming first-round cannon fodder and never bad enough to earn a significant lottery pick, the Pistons have come to inhabit the dreaded No Man’s Land of NBA team-building; having no cap-space, no top-line prospects, and worst of all, no reason for fans to tune in on a nightly basis.
However, after a season in which the bottom truly has fallen out on the organization, the Pistons will enter their match against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, needing to do only one thing to escape the nightmare that they’ve come to trap themselves in: lose and lose big.
Current NBA Draft Odds
While Tuesday night’s game between the Timberwolves and Pistons may be slightly less than the slugfest the league office generally likes to focus on, the match in downtown Detroit will likely end up being one of the most impactful games of the regular season, in determining the immediate future of both organizations.
Stuck in a four-way tie for fourth place in the upcoming Draft Lottery, the Timberwolves recent string of success–winners in six of their last 10 matches–means that the team not only holds less than a 10% chance of securing the first pick in the amateur selection but that they are increasingly likely to fall to the back half of the top ten. With interim head coach Chris Finch looking firmly established as the lead man in Minneapolis, the Wolves could very well decide Tuesday night is the time to roll out the reserves in a bid to secure their future.
Considering the fact that the Pistons are only one game ahead in the loss column of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit cannot afford to let the Timberwolves steal a loss on their home court.
Though the Pistons 20-49 record is four games better than the Houston Rockets abysmal 16-53 mark, the two squads own identical 14% odds of securing the top overall pick. However, should the Pistons win Tuesday night, not only would that push the Wolves back up towards the top three–breaking the four-way tie–but serve to push Detroit’s odds back down, increasing the potential likelihood that they drop out of the top four altogether.
As things currently stand, the Pistons’ average selection in simulations of the Draft Lottery is fourth, according to tankathon.com, showcasing just how thin the team’s margin of error is already in looking to earn a top pick before even considering a victory over Minnesota.
Detroit Needs a Change in Fortune
The Pistons’ current lottery prospects are eerily familiar to the one Detroit faced last season in the lead-up to the draft. Despite finishing the shortened 2019/2020 campaign with a bottom-five mark of 20-46, the basketball gods saw fit to spite the club leading to the Pistons drawing the seventh-overall selection and, subsequently, picking guard Killian Hayes out of France.
While the 6’5 guard has shown flashes of brilliance this season–averaging 10 assists per 36 minutes on the court–the 19-year old is still too raw to single-handedly change the franchise’s fortunes. Left with little cap space to draw in another top free agent–the team is currently projected to be nearly $6 million over the cap–Detroit’s front office has few avenues to drastically improve the club outside of the upcoming draft. Given a lack of alternative options, the Pistons will need to maximize their lottery odds by intentionally losing games, regardless of the outside criticism that doing so may draw.
In the NBA, tanking is a frowned upon but unavoidable reality for those teams who aren’t considered free-agent destinations. For the Detroit Pistons, the sooner they accept that fact, the quicker they’ll get the kind of talent they need to compete.