Pistons Fans: Are you infected with the plus-minus virus?

Feb 22, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) looks on before the game against the Washington Wizards at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) looks on before the game against the Washington Wizards at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

A sad truth exists for all of us. We’ve all been infected with the plus-minus virus. Your significant other, friends and relatives have probably seen your steady decline. It didn’t happen over night. The slow and constant drip of a leaky data-driven faucet has taken hold. Symptoms include irrational outbursts, quoting statistics in the grocery store and road rage. Some report mindless viewing of stat-driven podcasts from prognosticators who’ve never sniffed hardwood albeit from the local lumber yard while others engage in trivial Twitter wars steeped in plus-minus debates.

We are in the midst of an epidemic.

What happened to the days of the good ol’ eyeball test? Remember when we would pick up the sports section or watch a highlight as an honest-to-goodness fan and determine the merits of a given basketball player? Now we are inundated with plus-minus stats of how valuable or disastrous a single player or combination of players are at any given time. Maybe fantasy leagues are to blame? Or the plague? I’m beginning to think that my 3 year-old will require statistics classes before driveway games of H.O.R.S.E to understand today’s NBA.

The silver lining, said with slight hesitation, could be the year-round coverage we all consume and produce (guilty as charged). The offseason has almost as much excitement as the NBA playoffs. Twitter has exploded with emoji battles, breaking news and snippets that keep the dedicated fan on the edge of their seat.

For Pistons fans, with ‘Bad Boy’ blood running through their veins, we suffer or cringe each time Van Gundy and Bower make a move or we see “Detroit Pistons trade…” from insiders on various Twitter streams. Not because we might not like it, but because those who know Detroit Piston culture, only anecdotally, carry pitchforks with their tablets and microphones (notice to Chad Ford).

“Remember when the Rockets took Marcus Morris one spot before (Kawhi) Leonard in 2011? I think that happened again when the Pistons took Stanley Johnson ahead of Winslow.” – Chad Ford

Those most infected with plus-minus virus have looked at an empty Palace, a combination of “…I want to prove myself” and previously B-rated players deeming that the Pistons have misused their chess pieces this offseason.

To the world, the Detroit Pistons are synonymous with mediocrity. The Motor City could only, in the eyes of many, muster but a few pittance from the NBA scrap-heap. Ilyasova a man of mystery, Morris the “other” brother with anger issues and Bullock a draft bust that once had prognosticators singing the Clippers praises. Toss in a ‘Big’ from ‘Down Under’ that sat the bench behind Timmy and a draft pick named after the coach with Justise in-waiting.

Then there’s the loss of Monroe and by the time one could digest the Jackson signing many were left wondering if this was the new reality for a team and sports town once flush in envy and success many moons ago.

The message was loud and clear. The Pistons whiffed on Green and Carroll, couldn’t keep Monroe in the mix and desperately took scraps from the Suns while overpaying for Jackson when a market supposedly didn’t even exist for him.

The stats had been tabulated and the dollars adjusted and we were left with a less than appealing grade by many. The plus-minus virus had taken hold. Context thrown to the wind by pundits.

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Gores, Van Gundy and Bower have been working to change the context of what it means to play for Deeetroit Basketball. Monroe was not right for this new beginning. As hard as believing that may be for some fans infected with the plus-minus virus, being enamored with a big whose shot was blocked more often than not inside five feet even if he averaged 16 and 10 is fools gold when trying to restructure team culture.

Sure maybe joining the ranks of basketball royalty where he was just asked to play, say the Spurs for instance, would have been ideal for Monroe. As the captain on a team with no voice on the floor—disaster. The ‘Deer’ have been put on notice.

The Pistons scream of a team in desperate need of grit. Of players who can scratch and claw through adversity. People the city can be proud of. That’s what we are talking about right? People not players. Attitude and hustle not plus-minus.

The debate raged on this summer as the 8th pick loomed. Who could have imagined that the ‘perfect’ plus-minus fit would land at the feet of Pistons’ brass?

Stats project Justise Winslow slightly ahead of Stanley Johnson. We all know what followed and the backlash that mounted. But if we push plus-minus aside and look at building from grit, passion and undeniable confidence we might have seen signs of who fans should have been behind before Adam Silver took to the podium.

Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

Just look at the pre-draft interviews between Justise and Johnson.

One stands out head and shoulders above the other as determined and personable with a gigantic chip. I shudder to think of a Pistons squad with Monroe and Justise on it.

Add in a 6-foot-10 Australian who was asked to tone it down because he was too physical with Timmy, a Morris brother who proclaimed his desire to become his own man, and a point guard who is proud to play and fight for the city and team.

Toss in Johnson’s fearless attitude, even putting LeBron in his crosshairs, and you have a much stronger team that says, “The h%$# with plus-minus.” Diehard Pistons fans will take moxy, something to prove and vocal players who believe in Detroit any day.

Take Reggie Jackson for instance. Jackson’s $80 million dollars may sound steep but not only is Jackson the point guard of today and tomorrow, he’s the recruiter and symbol showing that Gores and his team are building something long-term. Plus-or-minus a few hiccups along the way in Auburn Hills.

So why is it easy to say the Pistons lost this offseason? Maybe it’s just in vogue to knock down anything Detroit these days. The national media commits to the numbers. To plus-minus. Yet, when other franchises go against the current fad and stick with a healthy diet of culture and fit we often hear very little. Numbers say Ginobili is done yet the Spurs understand context, transition to the future and cultural fit while building in the midst of a title run and thus he’s back in the fold.

Crickets from the national media.

Hopefully results on the hardwood at 6 Championship Drive will silence the critics. The chirps of crickets will be replaced by raucous cheering from Pistons fans and the antidote for the plus-minus virus will be discovered.

So, the next time you have to view a Pistons box score horizontally on your smart phone to view every statistical crumb remember there is only one question to ask yourself…

Has your fandom been infected?

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