Again in early January together with his workforce within the midst of a stretch of 15 losses in 19 video games, Pistons coach Dwane Casey stated one thing that stood out as odd.
“You possibly can overlook the place we’re and need to be prepared for Golden State within the Finals,” Casey stated. “However that’s not the place we’re proper now.”
It will not have been a shock at that time if a large hook had appeared and yanked Casey off the stage. The Pistons had been unraveling for a lot of December and January, but Casey stored speaking concerning the playoffs, even speaking a few Finals journey. He gave the impression to be off his rocker.
Right here we’re, although, just a little greater than two months later, and Casey has turned the tide with this workforce, even after it shipped off two rotation gamers — Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock — on the commerce deadline for long-term initiatives Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk.
The Pistons bottomed out at seven video games under .500 in early February, however even then, there have been indicators that the workforce’s offense was shifting in the appropriate path. They’ve gone 14-5 since, their final loss coming with star Blake Griffin resting in preparation for the playoffs.
Yep, the playoffs. As soon as left for useless, the Pistons are two video games over .500 now and in possession of the East’s No. 6 seed. They’re 3.5 video games forward of the ninth-place Magic, just about assuring Detroit can be within the postseason for simply the second time previously 10 seasons.
Credit score Casey with staying the course this season regardless of a roster that was dinged by accidents and quick on depth. He was the Coach of the Yr final season whereas with Toronto, however he was fired after the Raptors flopped within the convention semifinals in opposition to Cleveland. His Pistons went 3-Zero in opposition to his outdated workforce this 12 months and will face them within the opening spherical of the playoffs.
He received’t win Coach of the Yr this season, however a case might be made that he’s finished a greater teaching job by way of this tumultuous 12 months in Detroit than he did final season with a gifted and deep Raptors workforce.
Casey’s first problem was dealing with level guard Reggie Jackson, who rushed again from a proper ankle damage final season and by no means absolutely recovered. He had a process on the ankle this offseason, however he was tentative within the early a part of his return.
That’s shifted, and Jackson has been rather more aggressive going to the ring these days. In his first 50 video games, he shot 2.5 photographs per sport within the paint and made 43.5 p.c of them. In his final 20, he’s taking 3.2 photographs within the paint and making 49.2 p.c.
It helps, too, that the Pistons’ 3-point shooters have come alive, together with Jackson. Usually a below-average 3-point shooter, Jackson is making 37.2 p.c of his 3s this season and 44.Four p.c over his final 20 video games. Streaky shooter Langston Galloway is making 46.Zero p.c of his 3s within the final 20 video games (up from 33.6 p.c within the first 50), and Luke Kennard is making 41.2 p.c (up from 36.2 p.c to begin the 12 months).
The workforce has not missed a beat with out Bullock, its prime 3-point shooter, as a result of free-agent signee Wayne Ellington has been beginning and is averaging 10.6 factors whereas taking pictures 39.5 p.c from the 3-point line as a Piston. (Bullock went to the Lakers and has slumped at 32.5 p.c from the arc.)
In all, the Pistons shot 33.1 p.c from the 3-point line of their first 50 video games, final within the NBA. They’ve shot 39.2 p.c of their final 20 video games, first within the league.
Simply the most important criticism of Casey’s offense within the early going was that it was too reliant on Griffin taking the ball within the excessive publish and dribbling into oblivion. However with the shooters not carrying their weight and with Jackson not fairly enjoying like himself, Casey discovered that slowing the sport down by way of Griffin was considered one of his few choices.
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However that, too, has modified. Griffin is likely one of the heaviest dribblers amongst non-guards within the league, and over the primary 50 video games, 48.7 p.c of his possessions had been three dribbles or extra, leading to 9.1 field-goal makes an attempt. During the last 20, that’s right down to 43.7 p.c of his possessions and 6.9 field-goal makes an attempt.
The Pistons aren’t leaning so closely on Griffin lately. In actual fact, they’re sharing the ball much more — their help proportion has gone from 57.6 within the first 50 video games to 59.2 p.c within the final 20.
There’s been one different key turnaround for the Pistons — the bench. To start out the 12 months, it was among the many least productive group of reserves within the league, however that’s modified.
Galloway’s sizzling stretch has helped, however having veteran backup level guard Ish Smith return to full well being — he missed 26 video games, largely with a torn abductor muscle — has been a giant issue. Kennard, too, had an early-season damage and solely now appears extra comfy in his function.
The distinction amongst reserves over the primary 50 video games and the final 20 video games has been stark:
|2018-19 Pistons||Plus/Minus||Rank||Factors per sport||Rank||FG %||Rank||3PT %||Rank|
|First 50 video games||-1.2||19||33.3||24||41.1||29||30.9||28|
|Final 20 video games||0.7||12||40.6||7||43.4||20||39.0||1|
Casey has been versatile all year long, far much less inflexible than his predecessor, Stan Van Gundy. He’s been keen to lean on sizzling bench gamers, extra keen to tinker together with his rotation to seek out bench items he can use.
It’s lastly working. Griffin and middle Andre Drummond have been mainstays all season, however Casey’s positivity has been there all through, too.
After the strikes that despatched away Bullock and Johnson gave the looks of the Pistons giving up on the season, Casey instructed reporters, “That imaginative and prescient doesn’t change, and so long as I’m right here, that imaginative and prescient will keep the identical so far as attempting to be within the playoffs, moving into the playoffs, in the end to get individuals speaking concerning the Detroit Pistons competing for a championship.”
OK, a championship continues to be a bit far-fetched. However Casey has introduced this bunch again into the thick of the playoff image.
That may have been a more durable factor to tug off than final 12 months’s accomplishments in Toronto.