Why are the Detroit Pistons serving as this year’s NBA giant-killers?

| Senior Sports Editor

The Detroit Pistons are not good. Quite the opposite. Really, they’re quite bad. They’re playing in the Eastern Conference, the easier of the two NBA conferences, yet they’ve stumbled to the second-worst record in the NBA so far. At the time of this article’s writing, they are 6-18. Two of their best players, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, were once athletic, exciting young players. Now, both have been robbed of their burst by injury and age (and Rose has been traded to the New York Knicks). Their promising rookie point guard Killian Hayes has looked decent on defense but lost on offense. Jerami Grant has made the leap from high quality role player and starter to star but his breakout has been a hint of cinnamon in a dumpster fire potpourri. 

Scattered through the rest of their roster are a few curious nuggets. Josh Jackson, a former University of Kansas Jayhawk and top five pick, is contributing after falling into the G-league a season ago. Svi Mykhailiuk, another Jayhawk, has been getting some minutes. Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor are both on the team, filling out the Island of Misfit Bigs in the front court.

The Pistons roster is truly terrible. For a long time, the Phoenix Suns were terrible, but they were undeniably talented. Cleveland sucked, but there was a pulse on that team. I look at the Pistons and think, “In what world does this team pick outside the top five?”

Via Creative Commons / Zach Frailey

Pistons guard Reggie Jackson drives past defenders in a 2016 game. The Pistons are just 6-18 this year, but they have beaten NBA leaders like the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.

But if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I wouldn’t say anything at all. Everything I said about the Pistons is 100% true, and I’m probably understating how piss poor they are. But why do they keep beating really good teams? This season, the Pistons have beat the Boston Celtics, the overly-stacked Brooklyn Nets, the bright-future Suns, the defending Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ersthe team with the best record in the Eastand the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

That’s it.

This team got walloped by Golden State with no Draymond Green. They opened their season getting kicked across the floor by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the second worst team in the league. They have consistently been beat down by bad to okay teams.

But they’re beating the best teams in the league? How?

[Also from Dorian DeBose: I thought LeBron was lame for going bald until it happened to me]

How is Mason Plumlee putting up Dennis Rodman rebounding numbers against the Celtics?

How is Blake Griffin with no knee cartilage out-rebounding young bigs like DeAndre Ayton?

How do these fools outscore Miami 38-19 in a quarter?

How is Delon Wright outplaying Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons?

How does the prohibitive favorite get knocked off by the dregs of the league?

What is going on in Detroit? It would be one thing if these games were anomalies, random nights where they somehow became greater than the sum of their parts. But they keep doing this! They took the Lakers to double overtime this week! In their second match-up with Boston, they fell by a single score. They are Giant Killers. But they’re only Giant Killers. This team would beat the 1996 Chicago Bulls but lose to the 2013 Charlotte Hornets. I would have bet on them beating the Warriors’ Death Lineup, but I think they’d lose a scrimmage to Gonzaga. 

I think what’s going on is that Detroit has mastered basketball. They are so good at basketball they no longer find most competitions worth it. They feel no shame in allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to receive an emotional boost by beating them. But against truly worthy opponents, the master unveils their true skill and humbles the powerful opponent.

Or maybe they’re just lucky.

Who’s to say?

Other analysis from Dorian DeBose:

Same as it ever was: Chiefs rekindle annual tradition of disappointing me

Grit and Grind rides again: How the Memphis Grizzlies provide hope for brighter days to come

What could have been: The banging sports weekend that never was


Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.