Denver — The way some Pistons fans are following the team in the final weeks of the season seems almost counterintuitive.
At 19-41, the Pistons are 7½ games behind the Orlando Magic for the final playoff spot in the East. That’s not the barometer, though. More fans are following how far the Pistons are from having one of the three worst records in the league — which would give them the best odds at a top-four pick (52.1 percent) or the No. 1 overall pick (14 percent).
That involves looking at the league standings in reverse. Through Tuesday’s games, the Pistons are sixth-worst, 1½ games behind the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers for that coveted third spot.
The Pistons are also within a game of passing the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves, and it’s a game-by-game standings watch to see where the worst teams rank.
At this point, it’s all about the Pistons’ draft pick, which should be their highest pick since — gulp — Darko Milicic at No. 2 in 2003.
This week’s mail satchel looks at what the rest of the season could hold, including the draft and potential holdovers for next season’s roster.
►Question: Where do you think we’ll be finishing at? I don’t think we’ll crack top 4 but I think we’ll end up around 5/6. – @SeanCarmody81
►Answer: Given their seven-game losing streak and remaining strength of schedule (fifth-hardest), the Pistons probably won’t get many wins in the final 22 games. On the other hand, they have two games against the Knicks (both on the road) and one each against the Warriors, who have the worst record, the Timberwolves and Suns (both on the road), and this could get really ugly before it gets any better.
Luke Kennard’s looming return could give them the scoring they desperately need and could contribute to an additional win or two, but not much more than that. I can see the Pistons getting into the bottom three and awaiting their luck in the draft lottery.
►Q: In your opinion, is there anything to the idea that "tanking" and endless losing builds a losing culture and mindset that's hard for young players to shake? I'm thinking of the Suns, Kings, Cavs, etc. – @LarryOpalewski
►A: I’m a firm believer in that. In a rebuild, there’s no switch to just flip and automatically expect a team that’s been losing for years to just start winning. Coach Dwane Casey has said repeatedly he’s trying to root out the vestiges of complacency and entitlement, where he’s just rolling the ball out on the court and giving young players unwarranted playing time.
If the moves around the trade deadline were about rooting out some of the old culture and trying to start fresh, there’s something to having a firm foundation of hard-nosed effort — even in double-digit deficits. Bruce Brown embodies that level of play. For most of the others, it’s a night-by-night guessing game.
►Q: Who’s your dream draft prospect as of today? – @ruiz_armaan
►A: Full disclosure: I’ve done very little research about the potential draft picks. I’ve seen that James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards are at the top of many draft lists, but if the Pistons aren’t in the top three, they likely would target a point guard if they’re picking fourth through eighth.
From the little I’ve seen, I like Edwards’ game, but it’s a position where the Pistons have a glut of their young players already, including Kennard, Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas. Not that they wouldn’t take Edwards over any of those options, but point guard is a bigger need right now, because Derrick Rose is their only one under contract for next season.
►Q: John Henson: Do you love him or love him a lot? – @JohnHensonFan
►A: I actually like him. In six games with the Pistons, he’s averaging 6.2 points and 5 rebounds in about 17 minutes and shoots 68 percent from the field. That’s not hefty production, but just watching his game, he has an outstanding recognition of who he is and what his skill set is — and he doesn’t try to do much more than that.
That’s an underrated trait from an eight-year veteran. He could be a consideration to keep on the roster for a veteran-minimum deal moving forward. He seems to be a good presence in the locker room and the Pistons might have a need at the position, with Christian Wood becoming an unrestricted free agent — though the Pistons could re-sign him — and Thon Maker likely becoming unrestricted, as well, if the Pistons don’t pick up his qualifying offer.
►Q: Given the league wide trend of going small, do you see Blake getting time at the 5 next year? Seems like it would open up the offense and create more opportunities for Sekou and Wood at their more natural positions. – @MatthewCrowe313
►A: I highly doubt that Griffin becomes an every-night center. The Pistons will want to do anything to reduce the wear-and-tear on his ailing knees and defending centers doesn’t seem to be the path there.
I’d think the Pistons venture out and get a bulkier center than Wood, Maker or Henson to guard the bigger centers around the league. That’s not the highest priority, but it’s something to consider.