Pistons Lead

Hard Truths Ahead with an Achy Blakey Heart

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Nothing gets a fan base excited for a season opener like the announcement that the franchise player will be out for at least the first week of the season.  When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Blake Griffin would not be making the trip to Indiana for the season opener and will be reevaluated in the first week of November, Pistons’ fans everywhere jumped to their worst fears.

The biggest factor most pundits had to determine a win-total for Detroit this season was the health of Griffin and Reggie Jackson.  Hard truths the Pistons’ front office may have to accept:  Griffin and Jackson are already injured.  To start the season off this way is less than ideal.  The Pistons started on a back to back which magnified these issues.  So what does this mean for the first few weeks of season and beyond?  Is it time for the coaching staff to face some hard truths?

MVP Drummond

The obvious candidate to step up in Griffin’s absence has done an admirable job so far.  Andre Drummond, entering a possible contract year, has faced questions about his effort in the past.  Anyone who watched his dominance against Indiana on Opening Night found those questions answered.  Drummond played 41 minutes and posted a monster stat line: 32 points, 23 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals and 2 assists.  Somehow, it was even more impressive than that.  Drummond was active on defense, disrupting even more than his steals indicate.  He had multiple coast-to-coast ventures that looked like he has finally taken a step forward in that regard.

The former All Star came back to earth a little bit on the second night of a back to back to start the season.  His line was still impressive: 21 points, 12 rebounds, a block, 4 steals and 2 assists in 37 minutes.  However, Atlanta had their way with the Pistons as a whole and Drummond was not enough to overcome it.  That being said, Drummond is the anchor of the team with Griffin out and will be what determine if they are still in playoff contention when Griffin returns.  With a murky timeline in that regard, Drummond may have to continue earning that max contract he has been hinting at.

Bench Guards

While he has not yet started a game this season, Luke Kennard did start in Griffin’s stead in the post season and could move into that role again before long.  Markieff Morris has been doing that so far but that has not been pretty.  In the first game of the season, Kennard took over in the fourth quarter and poured in a career-high 30 points to pace the team to a win.  New addition Derrick Rose was a play making force off the bench in the opener, albeit a little turnover prone.

While Kennard stalled somewhat against Atlanta, Rose excelled.  He posted an efficient 27 points and is shooting an impressive 63 eFG% thus far.  Frankly, Rose has looked like the best guard on the team and the only thing holding him back other than turnovers is the minutes restriction he is playing under.  Given this factor, Kennard and other players will have to step to fill the massive offensive void left in Griffin’s absence.

Looking at the Hard Truths

On the less optimistic side of the coin, various Pistons have not lived up to their billing so far.  The hard truths are pilling up for usual targets for Piston fans.  Reggie Jackson is dealing with back soreness and has not looked good in either game.  If Rose was not on a minutes restriction, Jackson would have to worry about losing his starting spot.  Also in a career year and coming off a healthy season, Jackson will need to get on track fast to stabilize the Pistons starting unit that is current averaging 53 points per game, exactly half of which belongs to Andre Drummond.

Morris is tough to criticize since he has been thrust into a larger role than expected while still recovering from a back injury as well.  He has not been great but should improve.  Tony Snell is in a similar position, but his shooting helps space the floor for an otherwise clogged starting unit.  The same cannot be said for Bruce Brown.  Brown is great defensively and a smart passer, but he is not on the floor for his scoring.

Thon Mistake Maker

The elephant in the room was also the story of the preseason and one of the hard truths Coach Casey is not ready to accept.  Thon Maker has been objectively terrible.  Avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach because his averages for the season thus far are as follows:

2.5 ppg / 3.4 rpg / 0.5 apg / 20 eFG%

He has gotten destroyed on defense so far and is playing 17.5 minutes per game. Preseason darling Christian Wood is firmly locked down in Coach Dwane Casey’s doghouse.  He was lost in four minutes of torture performed by Domantas Sabonis, but most young bigs would be.  He has not played since, getting a DNP-CD in the blowout loss to the Hawks.  It is hard for many fans to understand what the coaching staff is seeing that is separating Maker from Wood.  Wood has shown the ability to contribute on the both ends of the floor in the preseason and last season in New Orleans and the Pistons are in dire need of a backup big man to give Drummond some amount of rest.  If Maker is going to be sieve as well, giving Wood a chance may be the only option remaining.

Road to Recovery

Despite how bleak some of the roster has looked so far, all is not lost. Detroit has played two potential playoff teams on a back to back.  Any middle of the back team expects mixed results with that scenario.  Staying in the race without Griffin is the goal and the Pistons look to get back on track.  Saturday against Philadelphia will be a tough test followed up by a quick rematch against the Pacers.  By this time next week there should be an update on Griffin’s condition.  The update will yield one of two results.  If positive, renewed optimism reigns supreme.  Should Blake be out longer the front office will need to look at even more hard truths.  Only time will tell, but until then continue to trust in Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Derrick Rose.

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