By: Mike Feld
One thing I’ve learned from sports fandom is never, ever put too much stock into what you see in the preseason.
After spending the past week reporting on the Pistons final two tune-up contests for 97.1 The Ticket, I’m officially breaking one of my own cardinal rules.
I’m jumping on the Pistons bandwagon.
I’ve been waiting for this day since the “Going to Work” era unofficially ended with the now infamous Chauncey Billups trade in 2008.
Call me a fair weather fan if you will. Accuse me of showing up to the party late. Those accusations are all fair game. But I’ve found the past four years of Detroit basketball almost completely unwatchable.
Entering last season, I told colleagues I had one specific request from this team: give me a reason to watch. I was OK with a 50-loss season as long as the team showed the ability to progress and compete. I didn’t care if the Pistons didn’t win every night; I just needed to know that they had a chance to win.
Last season, I was sorely disappointed.
This fall, I had the same expectations. Put a product on the court that makes a Tuesday night at The Palace a better watch than “Mad Men” reruns. Like a lot of fans, the offseason gave me optimism for my wish to come true.
After Thursday night, I became a full-fledged believer.
Obviously, this sounds a bit ridiculous. Why should anyone care about meaningless games that don’t count in the standings?
It’s simple, really. It’s because the players cared.
There was something different at The Palace this week. Both nights, the bench was completely engaged in the action on the floor. Guys stretched out for loose balls and put backs. The team showed emotion when a call did – or didn’t – go in their favor.
Thursday night, center Andre Drummond logged nearly 38 minutes – and grabbed 20 rebounds. Basketball is a much different sport, but the thought of Matthew Stafford playing all but the final drive and throwing four touchdowns in a fourth preseason game isn’t exactly commonplace. This is essentially the apples-to-oranges equivalent, and they’re both fruit.
And then there’s the games themselves. Both times, Detroit overcame adverse situations to pull out wins.
In Tuesday’s tilt with Washington, the Red, Blue and White blew a 24-point lead and still managed to win.
On Thursday, newcomer Josh Smith drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to ice the Timberwolves – despite shooting just 55 percent from the free throw line.
These are irrelevant numbers mainly because they don’t count. However, it does show that the team was engaged – and found a way to win. That’s what good teams do.
It will be interesting to see what the Pistons will be at full health. New point guard Brandon Jennings will miss the first four games, meaning more time for Billups – and opportunities for mainstay Will Bynum and rookie Peyton Siva.
First-round draft pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is trying to crack the backcourt rotation. Italian sniper Gigi Datome has been sidelined with an injury issue, but he could be a valuable asset coming off the bench as well.
Forwards Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko are still looking to prove they have value, with both showing spurts of heroics during the exhibitions.
Let’s make one thing clear: this isn’t a championship-caliber team – yet. This is however, a team that should make the playoffs and at least threaten Indiana and Chicago in the Central. It’s very reminiscent of the 2002 team that won 50 games and got excited about a division title.
One year later, the Pistons won 50 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The next year, the Pistons won 50 games and won an NBA Championship.
It’s just the preseason and there’s no telling what could happen. But if I were an investor, I would suggest it’s time to buy low on this squad before Wednesday night’s opener.
It’s only a matter a time before the bandwagon gets crowded again.