Pistons could become 2014's youngest playoff team

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

the Pistons are on pace to hold an annual distinction: the youngest playoff team.

If the season ended right now, the Pistons would hold the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their average age, weighted by playing time, is 24.7, third-youngest in the NBA. (The 76ers and Pelicans are not on pace to make the playoffs.)

So how much does being the youngest playoff team matter?

Since the NBA expanded to 25 teams in the 1989 season, a composite view of the youngest playoff team each year yields a more accurate expectation. (If you want to explore further, all 25 such teams are listed below.)

Here’s the average result for…

  • One season after being the youngest playoff team: lose first round
  • Two seasons after being the youngest playoff team: lose first round
  • Three seasons after being the youngest playoff team: lose first round
  • Four seasons after being the youngest playoff team: lose first round
  • Five seasons after being the youngest playoff team: lose first round

Yeah, this is not a surefire route to becoming a good team, but the potential exists.

Let’s look at it a different way. In the year each team was the youngest to make the playoffs and the five years after, their peak result was:

  • Championship: 1
  • Lose NBA Finals: 4
  • Lose conference finals: 8
  • Lose second round: 6
  • Lose first round: 6

There’s a belief in some circles that a playoff appearance, no matter how it goes, will prep a young and talented team such as Detroit for inevitable success. I don’t think it works that way, but how close it comes to the truth will be pivotal for this team.

The Pistons owe the Charlotte Bobcats a first-round pick, drastically limiting their ability to upgrade through the draft. Detroit could have about $10 million in salary cap roomthis summer, even while keeping Greg Monroe, but I doubt they use all that on a long-term contract, so as to leave room for Andre Drummond’s inevitable extension.

That means the Pistons are banking on internal improvement. As potentially the youngest playoff team, they seem well-positioned to get those upgrades from within, but history shows it’s no guarantee.

Here’s the average age of every playoff team since 1989, using the current standings to project the 2014 playoffs:

Sheet 1

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