Record: 7-23 | Streak: Won two | Off. Eff.: 101.8 (26th ▲)| Def. Eff.: 107.0 (20th ▲)
The Pistons enter the final week of 2014 and the first week of 2015 on what is, surprisingly, their third two-game winning streak of the season. They're also the team's two most impressive wins of the year, having thoroughly beaten the Pacers and crushed the Cavaliers. For the first time of the year, in my opinion, there is actually a positive vibe around the team. It's certainly no guarantee that the good feelings are going to last, but it looks like the removal of Josh Smith from the roster has pointed the team in the right direction for the time being. The offense is moving much more effectively, having scored 119 points against the league's 6th-ranked defense and broken the franchise record for made three-pointers in the win over Cleveland.
Jodie Meeks is a big part of that offensive improvement, having scored in double figures in three consecutive games now. Meeks has a 16.9 PER and 57.0 TS% through his 8 games (small sample, no doubt), offering stability at the SG position. Meeks' return also appears to have had a positive effect on the play of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who no longer is forced to log obscene minutes as the only true SG on the roster. Since Meeks' return, KCP has only played more than 30 minutes in one game, a noticeable feature for a player who had topped 35 minutes eight times in Detroit's first 22 games. Playing reduced minutes, KCP is averaging 13 PPG on 44% shooting, including 43% shooting from behind the arc. While KCP's raw production of 13 PPG isn't much of an increase on his 12.6 PPG for the season, when you consider his reduced minutes, it's much more evident that the return of Meeks has been good for the sophomore SG. Sustaining the improved efficiency is now the key, both to Caldwell-Pope's development and the Pistons' success.
Click "Read More" for a preview of Detroit's games this week...
Tuesday, December 30, 7:00 p.m. | Detroit Pistons @ Orlando Magic (12-21) | FSD
The second stop on the Pistons' three game road trip takes them to the Sunshine State for a battle with an improved Orlando Magic squad. Orlando is already past the halfway mark to how many wins they had last season, with 8 games to play before the halfway mark of the season. The improved play of the Magic can be attributed, at least in part, to F Tobias Harris, who is having an outstanding season in a contract year. The 22 year old is averaging 18.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG on 47% shooting. He's having his best season by far from behind the arc, shooting 39.4% on three-point attempts, an impressive mark for a career 31.1% shooter. Harris is Orlando's highest-usage player, and for good reason. If the Pistons are going to keep the Orlando offense quiet, it starts with making sure Harris doesn't get easy looks.
Despite Harris' success scoring the ball this season, the Magic have struggled as a collective unit. Orlando's offense ranks 29th in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency at 101.1 points per 100 possessions. Their problems stem from three areas: turnovers, offensive rebounding and inability to get to the FT line. Orlando ranks 24th in the NBA in TOV%, a mark that shouldn't surprise anybody considering the young Magic backcourt. Elfrid Payton, 10th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft is the main culprit, with a 22.3 TOV%. Of the 280 NBA players who have played in more than 15 games and played a total of 350 minutes or more, Payton ranks better than only five players in TOV%. Of the five (K. Perkins, S. Napier, R. Rondo, A. Miller, A. Bogut) only Rondo has a higher USG% than Payton. Orlando has put the ball in the hands of a young PG, and while he will make some plays (team-leading 31.3 AST%), he's extremely turnover prone. Detroit should focus on putting the rookie in decision-making spots and be ready to get out in transition when he coughs the ball up.
Their struggles on the offensive glass aren't so easily attributed to one player. Orlando's post players aren't overly long or athletic, especially with Aaron Gordon sidelined with a foot injury, traits that generally translate into solid offensive rebounding. The Pistons have merely been average on the defensive glass this year, so making sure a poor rebounding team doesn't get an gifts will be key. Guarding without fouling, something that the Pistons succeed at, will also be important. Orlando truly only has one high-usage player who can get to the FT line with regularity, and that's Payton. Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo do their share as well, but the team as a whole doesn't generate many FT opportunities. Andre Drummond's matchup especially should be kind to his fouling ways. Magic C Nikola Vucevic, a solid offensive player, has a measly .192 FTr. If Drummond finds himself in foul trouble tomorrow night, the wings aren't staying in front of their men.
Orlando's defense is much more respectable, ranking 15th and allowing only 106.5 points per 100 possessions. The Magic stand out with their ability to rebound on the defensive end (6th, 76.7 DReb%), and guard without fouling (12th, .202 opp. FTr). Orlando also does a solid job of defending the perimeter, ranking 10th in the NBA in opponent 3PAr. In line with expectations, Orlando's opponent 3P% ranks 11th in the NBA. Opposing units only shoot 34.3% from deep against the Magic, so the Pistons' recent hot streak will be tested at the Amway Center. Orlando plays at a pace similar to Detroit's, ranking 23rd in the NBA at 92.7 possessions per game. Tuesday night's game will likely be played at a brisk pace.
Detroit lost to the Magic by in a matchup at The Palace back in November, as they were unable to contain Tobias Harris and Nik Vucevic and the Magic hit 50% of their threes. Detroit's only standout that night was Caron Butler, which is a formula for failure in 2014. The Pistons will need more from Andre Drummond on Tuesday night to avenge that loss. Orlando is using Payton more than they were early in the season and likely won't shoot 50% from three again. If Detroit can capitalize on turnovers and convert in transition, they'll have a great shot at a 3rd straight win. With Orlando coming off of a game against Miami on Monday night, Detroit should also have the energy advantage.
Prediction: Pistons 97 Magic 91
Friday, January 2, 7:30 p.m. | Detroit Pistons @ New York Knicks (5-28) | FSD
The Knicks are in a sad state of affairs in 2014, but all you need to see to know that is their 5-28 record. New York's roster and rotation are filled with fringe NBA players, who offer a declining Carmelo Anthony little help on the offensive end of the floor. The Knicks do very little well, and are in the midst of a season that can be described as "biding time until a top five pick and cap space". The 2014-15 season will simply serve as a farewell tour for beloved Knicks such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Samuel Dalembert. In terms of relevant basketball, the Knicks have played even less than the Pistons and maybe barely more than the Sixers. If Detroit can pull out a win in Orlando on Tuesday night, they should have excellent chances at a four game winning streak.
New York's offense is better than its defense, which is something kind to say about it. New York scores 104.4 points per 100 possessions, ranking 22nd in the league. The Knicks' best offensive feature is their ability to hit the offensive glass, ranking 11th in the league with a 26.7 OReb%. Cole Aldrich, Samuel Dalembert and Amar'e Stoudemire are the team's best at crashing the glass, so Drummond, Monroe and Jerebko figure to have their hands full. There's plenty of missed shots to rebound; the Knicks rank 20th in the NBA in FG%, shooting 44.8% on the year. Carmelo Anthony is still the team's go-to player, leading the team and ranking 7th in the NBA with a 31.5 USG%. While Melo isn't having the worst season of his career by any means, he's far from the player he used to be. That being said, stopping Melo is a great first step to stopping the Knicks.
The Knicks allow 112 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 28th in the NBA. New York doesn't do anything particularly well on defense. For all of their success on the offensive glass, the Knicks are the worst defensive-rebounding team in the league. That should allow Detroit, the NBA's 10th-ranked offensive rebounding outfit plenty of chances to convert on each and every possession. Andre Drummond should romp against this frontcourt. Samuel Dalembert and Cole Aldrich are solid shot blocking presences, but both are fairly foul happy. Got one or both in trouble and the Pistons should be able to convert inside with ease.
Getting the job done against New York should be an expectation for a Pistons team that is hoping to find themselves on the rise. Simply put, the Knicks don't have much talent on the roster, and what they do have doesn't fit well together. The Knicks play at a sloth-like pace, setting the Pistons up for yet another slow battle. This may be one game where the Pistons will want to try and speed up the pace, allowing for more possessions to demonstrate their superior talent. The Pistons beat the Knicks, 98-95, in a showdown at The Palace, but nearly blew a big lead. That nearly wasn't the Pistons first win of the season, after the Pistons almost blew a 16-point lead through three quarters. Detroit overcame a 2-17 shooting performance from Josh Smith to gain the victory, bolstered by 20 point showings from KCP and Greg Monroe. The Pistons should have similar success in this one, or they will come back down to Earth from the Josh Smith waiver high.
Prediction: Pistons 103 Knicks 92