ESPN's Bill Simmons has stated on several occasions that the worst place for an NBA team to be is right around .500. The logic is that you aren't good enough to make a sustained playoff run and you aren't bad enough to secure an elite draft pick.
If the Detroit Pistons continue their current losing trend, they won't have to worry about being counted among the slightly mediocre.
This Pistons team is bad. We aren't talking about a team that loses games yet seems on the verge of getting better. We are talking about a team that has shown only some signs of life during an admittedly early season.
A glimpse at the carnage
Pistons fans entered this season with a renewed sense of optimism. This team, though still considered to be a long-shot for the playoffs, finished last season trending in the right direction. They started 4-20 but were a .500 ball club over the final 42 games of the season.
They entered the season with basically the same roster, except with the addition of talented young players Kyle Singler, Kim English, Slava Kravtsov, Khris Middleton and Andre Drummond.
Furthermore, Brandon Knight looked to be a promising young player and Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey seemed to be on the verge of stardom.
The logic was that with another full season of tutelage under promising second year coach Lawrence Frank, this team was sure to pick up where they ended last year and perhaps even surprise some folks.
So far, however, this team has looked anything but promising.
To be fair, it is tough for any team to start the season out strong when they immediately go out on a six game road trip after playing one game at home to begin the year.
But the schedule makers bear only some of the blame. This Pistons team looks listless, lethargic and downright foolish at times.
It's hard to weed out any particular thing that this team is doing well. Defensively they are putrid, allowing the fifth-worst amount of points per contest (nearly 103). Offensively they are even worse, scoring a pathetic 91.4 points per game which is seven-worst in the league.
The guards are allowing anyone to get past them, feeding opponents into a soft interior.
The team really only has one shot-blocking presence, Drummond, and he only plays about 20 minutes per game. Steals are nearly non-existent (third worst in the league with 6.4 per game), and they are the worst rebounding team in the league (a sad 37.4 per game).
Knight has regressed offensively, turning the ball over at a high clip and not really understanding when he needs to score and when he needs to set up others.
Sure, his assist totals are up (about six per game) but his scoring is down and no other part of his game seems to be developing.
Monroe is quickly becoming one of the worst interior defenders in the league, routinely giving up easy buckets and offering basically no help-side defense. Offensively, he started out very slow but has come on as of late and is now his stats are back to where they were last year.
Tayshaun Prince continues to put up dwindling numbers and only three guys on the team are averaging five rebounds per game or more.
But perhaps the biggest problem so far has been the weak play of Stuckey.
Stuckey is averaging a career low 7.9 points per game to go along with a shooting percentage of 23.6. A player almost has to try to shoot that badly.
To be fair, Stuckey has been battling migraine headaches. But his woes are such that this team might have to bench him if things don't go better soon.
It gets worse
Most Pistons fans would probably accept a bad season if at least the young players were being developed. They would gladly trade one terrible season for the chance to see the young guys get better and lay the foundation for a future winner.
But with the exception of Singler, none of the rookies are averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Middleton has only played in one game, English is averaging 13 minutes per game and Kravtsov has yet to play.
Drummond has shown glimpses of real potential, but is playing inconsistent minutes.
Furthermore, once injured small forward Corey Maggette returns, even Singler's numbers figure to diminish.
Now it is understandable to make the rookies earn their minutes, but if this team's veterans are playing this poorly why not give the kids a shot?
What makes them the worst
Sure, the Pistons aren't the only bad team out there. The Washington Wizards are also win-less, the Toronto Raptors aren't much better with only one win and the Orlando Magic are worse than their 2-4 record suggests.
But the Wizards have been playing without their starting point guard and power forward, the talented John Wall and Nene. They are quickly seeing the fast development of rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, and Earl Barron is becoming a beast down low.
The Raptors also have been dealing with a significant injury as the recently acquired Kyle Lowry has been shelved due to an ankle injury. Before he went down this team was starting to play with purpose.
And Orlando, considering all of their flaws, is playing solid defense and Nikola Vucevic is playing great basketball, getting double-doubles in three of his last six games. They too have been playing largely without their point guard Jameer Nelson.
The Pistons don't have significant injuries that they can point to, and they aren't doing anything very well. They aren't quickly developing the bulk of their young guys and they haven't shown improvement in any tangible way.
They truly stand alone as the worst team in the league.
A slight glimmer of hope
Recently during a game against Oklahoma City, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank finally broke down and played Drummond and Monroe together. Fans had been calling for this pairing since Drummond was drafted in June, but Frank seemed apprehensive to have his best big men play together.
Monroe and Drummond looked very good together, leading the Pistons on a 9-0 run against arguably the league's most talented team.
However, the next game Frank tried to do the same thing but to no avail.
Overall, the only real bright spots so far have been the rookies. Drummond is developing much quicker than anticipated, averaging nearly seven points per game along with five rebounds. Singler is averaging close to eight points per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. English, in limited minutes, is also shooting well (46 percent from deep), although his mid-range game still needs work.
The path forward
This team has no excuse now but to commit to the youth movement.
Prince is quickly becoming obsolete and Jason Maxiell, while certainly is having a good season by his standards, needs to be replaced in the starting lineup with Drummond.
Kravtsov also needs to get into the action. At the very least they need to get him suited up and gaining some experience.
Team president Joe Dumars needs to step in and take these decisions away from the coach. He needs to deal Prince in order to clear the logjam at the three spot.
Maggette probably also needs to be dealt eventually, but he provides good mentoring to the young guys right now.
Furthermore, the Pistons need to figure out what is going on with Stuckey. If he is still being effected by migraines, they need to sit him down and get him on the right medication. If he is just struggling, then they need to ease back on his minutes until he snaps out of this funk.
Either way, English needs to get more minutes. The guy is hitting nearly half of his attempts from three-point range, what else does he have to do?
At small forward, a Prince deal would certainly free up minutes for Middleton but that probably won't happen. But at the bare minimum the Pistons need to cut down Prince's minutes and replace him more often with Singler and even Jonas Jerebko. The Pistons can even go small with English and Stuckey both on the wings.
Frank also needs to figure out a way to get Knight going. Having Drummond in the starting lineup will help as it gives him another option down low for easy buckets after penetration, as well as a bigger body to set picks. Knight needs to start calling his own number more often while continuing his development as a passer.
If he needs a role model, he only needs to look at fellow draft-mate Kemba Walker in Charlotte. Walker is averaging about the same amount of assists while adding nearly 19 points per game and a lot fewer turnovers. Knight even has a weapon that Walker doesn't have at his disposal: a three-point shot. There is no reason for Knight to be putting up weak scoring numbers on a team this devoid of offensive talent.
Overall, this season will perhaps get worse before it gets better. Detroit fans need to realize that this season is likely going to be a very long one. This team just doesn't have enough talent to win in this league.
But that doesn't mean that this has to be a wasted year. By committing to the young guys, the fans will have a chance for hope and some intriguing storylines to follow.
Make no mistake about it, however, this team is likely the worst squad in the league.
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