It wasn’t too long ago that the mailbag had questions about whether the Pistons should tank and get the best draft pick ahead of next season. They’ve made a big push, getting over .500 and moving into the sixth spot in the East, winning 12 of their last 17 games.
While it’s a surprising turnaround, the Pistons still have plenty of work to do to secure their playoff spot and to see if they can get their first postseason win in more than a decade.
This week’s Pistons mailbag looks at Andre Drummond, the potential playoff matchups, Khyri Thomas and the bench’s increased production.
► Question: Will Drummond grab a NBA 1st, 2nd, 3rd team this year? — @The_Don347
► Answer: It’s not a far-fetched thought, and it could happen if Drummond continues putting up 30-point, 15-rebound games like he did Wednesday. He’s becoming more efficient on the offensive end and more effective on the defensive end, with steals and blocks.
One would think that Joel Embiid would be the first-team center with maybe Rudy Gobert as the second-team option. Drummond is right there for a third-team selection but with Blake Griffin’s ascendance, Drummond sometimes is forgotten. His numbers are impressive (17.6 points and 15.1 rebounds, along with a career-best 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks.
Consistency has been his biggest bugaboo but with his improved free-throw shooting (58 percent) he’s striking off many of the weaknesses he’s had in his career.
► Question: Let’s dive into postseason scenarios (because of course we’re gonna make it). For the first round, give me your 1) ideal matchup, 2) realistic matchup, 3) nightmare matchup — @D_Schandy24
► Answer: Before Friday’s game, the Pistons were in sixth place, just percentage points ahead of the Nets. Those teams likely will jockey for position over the next couple of weeks, but the Nets have the NBA’s most difficult schedule in their final 15 games. The Pistons and Nets have their final head-to-head matchup Monday in Brooklyn.
The ideal matchup likely would be a shorthanded Pacers squad that’s without Victor Oladipo. The Pistons had a good win on Feb. 25 and have two remaining head-to-head games, April 1 (road) and April 3 (home). The Pacers (42-24) still are formidable, but with only a half-game lead over the 76ers, there still is some work to do.
The realistic matchup is the 76ers or Pacers, given that there’s some distance between the Nets and Pistons and the Heat for the No. 8 spot. That makes third and fourth place and sixth and seventh the most closely contested.
► Question: I can't help but notice the bench’s recent surge in productivity aligning with the trade of Stanley Johnson. Coincidence? — @HoelottaBilotta
► Answer: I wouldn’t call it coinciding, but it’s happened after, definitely. Both the starters and reserves are playing more cohesively and figuring out ways to win. The thing to look at is Blake Griffin’s production since the All-Star break. Whether he’s wearing down is a legitimate question but with less from Blake, others have had to contribute more. It’s a welcome addition of getting Reggie Jackson, Drummond and Luke Kennard to take bigger scoring loads.
Stanley Johnson has struggled in his time with the Pelicans, but he was struggling with the Pistons as well. Thon Maker doesn’t have the same role in having to create offense and he’s a good defensive addition and rim protector off the bench. Johnson isn’t a bad player but needs to find the right fit with the right team. That might not be the Pelicans but the in offseason it will be interesting to see where he goes.
► Question: Are the Pistons grooming Khyri Thomas to be a PG? During the broadcast they mentioned how he is aware of what every position is doing during a play. — @bigkev_58
► Answer: Coach Dwane Casey has commented on how intelligent Thomas is, understanding not only his position but the others on the floor. Thomas might not be the best fit at point guard — maybe Bruce Brown is — but Thomas is impressing Casey in the short stints he’s getting on the court. Casey has said it’s more of Thomas' shot-making and defense than facilitating.
It will be something to watch because they will look to have some other ball-handlers off the bench. With Thomas being assigned to play with the Grand Rapids Drive on Friday, that could be part of the objective also. It will be a summer to-do item but for right now, I don’t picture Thomas playing much at the point.
The nightmare matchup might be the Bucks, if the Pistons fall to eighth. The Bucks have been dominant in sweeping all four meetings this season. They give the Pistons problems at almost every position and they’re primed for a good playoff run. They also have the league’s best home record, which wouldn’t bode well for the start to a playoff series.