Sports Illustrated gives Pistons B-plus for first half

The Detroit News

Coach Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, thanks in part to the 1-2 punch of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

That’s enough to earn high marks from Sports Illustrated, which gave the Pistons a B-plus in its midseason grades released Tuesday.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the Pistons (22-19) occupy the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, just 21/2 games out of the third spot, but just a half-game ahead of the Boston Celtics at No. 8.

Of the eight teams clustered within four games of each other in the East’s middle, Detroit has every right to be the proudest of its standing,” Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver wrote. “Stan Van Gundy’s squad lost Greg Monroe over the summer, didn’t have Brandon Jennings for months, and added two ‘meh’ pieces to its starting lineup in Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova.

“Throw in a long track record of losing, the inherent uncertainty of putting your team’s fate in Reggie Jackson’s hands, and a very, very, very shallow bench and there were good reasons to doubt the Pistons’ blueprint.”

But Jackson (19.4 points, 6.6 assists) and Drummond (17.6 points, NBA-best 15.5 rebounds) have been strong combo, and Van Gundy has gotten plenty out of his starting lineup to compensate for a short bench.

“... Jackson has responded well in his new role, ranking among the league leaders in touches and drives as he acclimates to life as a full-time starter,” Golliver wrote. “Drummond, who looks like a strong candidate to be a first-time All-Star, has been a workhorse and a rebounding machine down low as expected. The other starters — wing stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Morris and Ilyasova — have all enjoyed pristine health and found strong fits in Van Gundy’s preferred five-man lineup, which enjoys a strong +5 net rating. If anyone goes down, the Pistons’ ship will take on water quickly. If the good luck continues, Van Gundy should continue to receive respectable results from his familiar formula.”

The Pistons are at the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.