Beard: Pistons’ problems might take a while to iron out

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Marcus Morris

Auburn Hills — Stan Van Gundy said that NBA coaches usually need about a quarter of the season to adequately assess their teams.

A sample size of about 20 games or so gives an opportunity to find strengths and weaknesses and plot out practices for the second quarter of the season and start to get in position to make a push after the All-Star break.

In the Detroit Pistons’ case, it’s going to take longer — maybe much longer.

Reggie Jackson’s tendinitis issues delayed his season debut for 22 games, and even in the five games since, trying to gauge where the Pistons are is an exercise in futility.

Sure, it’ll take some time for Jackson to reacquaint himself to the lineup and get back to playing shape and regular stamina. More than that, though, it’ll take time for Jackson’s teammates to get used to having him back. It’s not going to be an immediate fix to what ails them offensively or defensively, but righting the ship and getting Jackson back to even last season’s level will be a priority.

The Pistons are 2-3 since Jackson’s return but that’s more of a reflection of their season, with a 13-13 start. That includes some nice wins over the Thunder and Clippers and the three-game road sweep of the Hornets, Celtics and Hawks. But balance those with head-scratching losses to the Nets, Magic and Sixers.

They’re in a stretch where they have an opportunity to feast on teams at or below .500: Friday’s win over the Timberwolves and Sunday’s loss against the Sixers. The next three — at Dallas on Wednesday, at Washington on Friday and home against Indiana on Saturday — all are winnable games. But the Pistons too often seem to play to the level of competition.

After Sunday’s loss to the Sixers, Marcus Morris tried to explain the Pistons’ up-and-down play, especially in an 18-point blowout loss to the Sixers (6-18), who entered with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Slow start dooms Pistons in 'embarrassing' loss

“I don’t know what the reason was,” Morris said. “That was embarrassing to our fans, the organization, how we came out and basically laid down.”

The schedule is less forgiving during Christmas week, with home games against the Grizzlies, Warriors and Cavaliers.

There’s still plenty of time to make a move up the standings in the East, but there’s no time like the present.

The Monday Drive takes a deeper look at other hot topics:

Energy boost: Andre Drummond was having a nice streak of energetic, All-Star level games, with back-to-back 20-20 performances against the Hornets and Timberwolves. That’s the $130-million Drummond. The key to his success is energy and effort — when it’s high, he’s the best center in the league; when it’s not, the Pistons are going to struggle to even be a playoff team. His free throws are improving (.455 this season, .385 career), but his all-around game, and more particularly on the defensive end, is what the Pistons need to succeed. Even when he wasn’t at his best, he had 14 points, 14 rebounds and six steals against the Sixers.

Trade chatter: Of course, the trade talk about the Pistons acquiring Paul George wasn’t real. There usually is no leak of a deal of that magnitude until the final stages of negotiations. But would the Pistons be willing to do that type of deal if a player of George’s status became available? They’d probably make an offer if they thought the player could change their playoff trajectory.

Missing KCP: For those fans who don’t think Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an integral part of the Pistons’ future plans, consider what they did without him in the loss to the Sixers. He’s shooting a career-best 37 percent on 3-pointers and he’s their best perimeter defender, hounding point guards and shooting guards. In a vacuum, Caldwell-Pope might not seem like a $20-million player, but his value to the Pistons — at least in their current configuration — really is hard to measure.

Getting the swag back: Stanley Johnson’s one-game assignment in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive wasn’t some kind of punishment; rather, it was a chance to just get out and play. In 37 minutes, Johnson had 26 points, five rebounds and four assists — and much like Maverick in “Top Gun,” he just needed to re-engage on offense and recapture his mojo. He followed with six points, four assists and five steals in Sunday’s loss to the Sixers.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter @detnewsRodBeard