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4-on-3: Sniffing for success


Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1. After a rather depressing stretch of losses, the Pistons seemed to have found their way a bit in their last two games against Orlando and Philadelphia. Did they do anything particularly special?

Dan Feldman: They played two teams worse than them. If anything, these games showed how difficult tanking into a top-eight pick will be. The Pistons have talent — plenty more than Philadelphia and Orlando. But Detroit didn’t do anything special to convince me a playoff berth was any more likely than I believed before these two games.

Brady Fredericksen: They played some defense. Philly and Orlando aren’t anything special (they’re actually the opposite of special), but they both shot under 43 percent from the field. The Pistons aren’t pretty in any way, but they score enough points to win games, and as long as they find a way to play some defense, that should be a decent formula for success.

Patrick Hayes: The combination of playing poor teams along with the fact that Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond figured heavily into the offense was really about it. I’d love to see the Monroe-Drummond frontline continue to blossom, but until they perform like they did vs. Philly against better teams, I’m pretty skeptical the team has figured out anything substantial just yet. It was definitely more fun to watch though.

Tim Thielke: Just as fans of the Heat, Pacers, Thunder or Spurs shouldn’t get worried if their team drops back-to-back games, we have no reason to get excited about back-to-back wins. That will happen sometimes, especially against two of the worst teams in the league. If the Pistons can win seven of ten against a range of opponents, we can discuss whether they’re doing anything special.

2. Yeah, yeah, the Magic and 76ers aren’t wins to brag about, but when things are going as bad as they were prior to those wins, do you think any sustained success is welcomed from a struggling team?

Dan Feldman: Sure. It’s a long season, and not long ago, everything was getting extremely ugly. The players aren’t robots, and I’m sure two straight wins — no matter the opponents — were welcome. Will that be a turning point or just a brief reprieve? I’d guess the latter is more likely, but there’s nothing wrong with hoping for the former.

Brady Fredericksen: Of course they’re welcomed. Believe it or not, the opinion that the team should just tank and be bad is probably not shared by the guys on the court. Who knows what these wins mean — my guess is nothing — but there’s never a bad win for a team/franchise that desperately wants to be good.

Patrick Hayes: Absolutely. We all know the team’s flaws. No win is an easy win for the Pistons based on their body of work this season. They’ve blown leads against bad teams before, so seeing them build and hold leads against Orlando and Philly is still progress, even if it is only minimal progress.

Tim Thielke: Yes, but this isn’t yet sustained success. I mean, I’m sure the wins are welcome to the players. But to the fans? They’re only worthwhile if the Pistons can get all the way up to the sixth seed. Then they’ll have a realistic shot at the second round. Otherwise, they might as well pile on the losses. I find the prospect of a 7-10 seed most unwelcoming.

3. With Miami, San Antonio, Denver and Brooklyn on the docket in the next week and a half, the Pistons are going to have a chance to try to carry that success into games with playoff-caliber teams. What’s the key?

Dan Feldman: Keep motivating and involving Drummond. Drummond is the Pistons’ best player right now, and he probably still has more room to grow than anyone on the team besides Tony Mitchell. Since Maurice Cheeks benched him twice against the Mavericks, Drummond has dominated. Against Orlando: 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 17 rebounds, two blocks. Against Philadelphia: 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting, 14 rebounds, five blocks. Alone, Drummond has the ability to lift the Pistons into another level as a team.

Brady Fredericksen: Defend and you’ve got a chance. The Pistons’ scored 20-plus points via fastbreak baskets in those two wins. You don’t get easy, fastbreak baskets without playing defense. This team is a stick in the mud when they’re forced to play slowly. The more defense they play — or simply, the more turnovers they can force — they more fastbreak chances they’ll get. If the Pistons run-run-run, and they’re a good team on the break per Team Rankings, we’ll see less jumper-jumper-jumper (and clank-clank-clank) from Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

Patrick Hayes: More dominant efforts from Monroe and Drummond would be a start. And supplementing that, Smith and Jennings slinking out of primary roles and playing within themselves would help too. The Pistons offense seems to be bouncing back from more than a month of terribleness. If they’re going to play well against better teams coming up on the schedule, they’ll need some defensive progress, too.

Tim Thielke: Fully leverage their talent. The Pistons actually have quite a lot on the roster. I am still fully convinced that this roster, if well-coached, could be at least an above average team. But the players have to be put in a position to have their strengths emphasized rather than their weaknesses. And they really need to defend the arc.