Pistons rookie guard Luke Kennard met with reporters Sunday and touched on a number of topics. Rod Beard, Detroit News
Auburn Hills — It’s a little bit up and then a little down. There have been some surprises and then some disappointments. It’s the plight of the Pistons, who are nearing the halfway point of the season with a 20-15 record.
There have been wins over some of the top teams in the league, including an impressive one Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs, plus surprises over the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. Then, there were the head-scratching losses to the dregs of the league, the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic, in the past couple weeks.
Entering Sunday, the Pistons were one of 10 teams with at least 20 wins and were fourth in the Eastern Conference. Only 10 teams in the NBA had reached the 20-victory mark — and the Pistons are 6-6 against that group.
Expectations at the start of the season were just to make the playoffs. So far, the Pistons are exceeding that and trending toward being a top-four seed that hosts a first-round series. It’s weird to think that they could be the only major Detroit sports pro team to make the postseason, after disappointing seasons by the Lions, Tigers and Red Wings.
Even in the past week, with the solid home win over the Spurs and baffling loss to the injury-depleted Magic, they’ve shown how up and down they can be.
The Pistons have had their own injury issues, with Reggie Jackson slated to be out until at least mid-February because of the grade-3 sprain in his right ankle. Avery Bradley has had nagging issues with his hip and groin and Stanley Johnson with his back and hip.
Through the first 35 games, their greatest strength has been their depth and versatility, with Reggie Bullock excelling since he entered the starting lineup nine games ago and putting up impressive numbers. Anthony Tolliver has played well beyond his expectations — he looked to be an addition for 3-point shooting, but his defensive ability has far outweighed what he’s brought on offense.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy met with reporters Sunday and touched on a number of issues. Rod Beard, Detroit News
It feels almost as if the Pistons haven’t hit a good stride yet, though they have bounced back nicely from a seven-game skid with six wins in the last eight games. They’re not completely reliant on their stars, as they’ve been able to excel despite injuries to four key players in their initial 10-man rotation.
How they manage with Ish Smith as a starter and Dwight Buycks as the primary backup will determine whether they potentially will be in the trade market for a point guard or if they can tough it out with the current roster. If they stumble in the next few weeks, they could be players to look to upgrade at the position.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other issues impacting the Pistons as they head toward the midpoint of the season.
■ Bradley’s situation: The TMZ report that Bradley paid a woman to keep quiet about an alleged sexual assault from May when he was with the Celtics is disturbing, but it’s, unfortunately, part of the sports landscape. The details of the alleged incident are sketchy — and in a situation with a supposed confidentiality agreement and lawyers from both sides involved, there likely aren’t very many details forthcoming. Bradley declined comment Saturday to The Detroit News and his attorneys haven’t returned phone calls.
■ Holding back: It’s a popular thought that coach Stan Van Gundy is holding back his young players by not giving them the freedom and playing time that many of the veterans get. Henry Ellenson is the best example, as he got some minutes early but was surpassed by Tolliver — and Ellenson hasn’t gotten a consistent look since. Tolliver is key to winning and no one should question whether Bullock should be playing ahead of rookie Luke Kennard right now. Kennard has gotten some starts and has started to show his value.
■ Getting the point: Smith has posted season highs of 18 points in each of his first two starts in place of Jackson. He’s going to need some time to get in sync with the starting unit, but so far, he’s helping them increase their pace and there isn’t much production drop-off from Jackson. It’s still early, though, and if we’re still at the same point in mid-February, the Pistons should be fine for the remainder of the year without having to make a big deal. There were flashes of this early last season when Jackson was out for 21 games.
■ Free agents: With so much emphasis on free agency, the Pistons have found success with two under-the-radar signings: bringing back Tolliver and Bullock to bolster their 3-point shooting. Sometimes, it’s not about making a big splash with big names; it’s players who have minimal salaries who end up contributing on a major level. Those are two of the bigger values in the league so far.