Small sample size theatre: Detroit Pistons’ five game checkup

The Detroit Pistons have changed perceptions around the NBA thanks to a scorching five-game stretch. Let’s take a look at what’s changed.

The Detroit Pistons have taken a turn for the better thanks to an absurdly successful road trip, followed by the return of starting point guard Reggie Jackson.

The Pistons departed for North Carolina to play the Charlotte Hornets last week, carrying with them a 1-8 road record in which even keeping a game close was a rarity. Considering the road woes and the fact that the Detroit Pistons were about to face three likely playoff teams in the Hornets, the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks, it seemed probable that they would go 0-3 and go into Reggie Jackson’s return with a disappointing 8-13 record.

It turned out quite the opposite. The Pistons shot the cover off the ball, setting a season high in points in back-to-back nights against the Hornets with a 112-89 win and the Celtics with a 121-114 win, and equaling that season high with a remarkable 121-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Perceptions changed quickly. After being projected by FiveThirtyEight to finish with between 39 and 41 wins since the initial projections came out in September, the projections factored the Pistons huge leap forward in point differential, strength of schedule and (presumably) the return of one of their two best players, and projected them for 45 wins.

That projection has been as high as 48, right before the Pistons fell to the Orlando Magic in Reggie Jackson’s debut on Sunday, and in the wee hours of the morning following the Pistons’ victory over the Chicago Bulls has settled in at 47 wins.

So let’s take a look at the numbers the Pistons have put up over the course of the past five games, over which time they’ve gone 4-1.

Over that span, the Pistons have the sixth-best offensive rating in the NBA, scoring 113.1 points per 100 possession. They have the fifth-best defensive rating at 100.2, and their net rating of +13 is the fourth-best in the NBA.

The Pistons’ starting lineup (over the first three games, and frequent lineup since Reggie Jackson’s return) of Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond has the second-best net rating of all lineups to play 40 minutes or more. They’re outscoring their opponents 129.1 to 102.3 points per 100 possessions, yielding a +26.7 net rating.

Of note, that lineup seems to have cured its early rebounding ills as they’re pulling in 54.5 percent of all rebounds.

The Pistons are rebounding significantly better as a team as well, leading the league in rebounding percentage over the last five games, pulling in 55.7 percent of all rebounds.

No Piston other than Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson has a negative net rating over that span, and as you might imagine, a couple of them have astronomical net ratings. Ish Smith has a +19.6 net rating and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a +22.8 net rating

The Pistons have also been the fourth-best shooting team from the field, hitting 49.5 percent of their field goals, and the third-best shooting team from long-range, hitting 44.8 percent of their threes.

In the light of all of this offensive explosion, the Pistons haven’t stopped taking care of the ball. They have turned the ball over just 12.4 times per 100 possessions, placing them in sixth league-wide.

While some aspects of the Pistons early season have reflected worst-case scenarios, the past five games have demonstrated the best case. While the Pistons certainly do not have the sixth-best offense or the fourth-best overall team in the NBA, we’re soon to get a clearer picture of just what this team might yet be this season.

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