Could this be the year the Pistons defense takes a leap?

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 28: Andre Drummond
AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 28: Andre Drummond /

The Detroit Pistons and head coach Stan Van Gundy showed exactly the type of team they want to be this year in their win over the Charlotte Hornets. But can fans expect them to keep it up for a full 82 games?

The Detroit Pistons showed the type of focus and defensive ability in their home opener that they lacked for much of last season. While Detroit finished a respectable 11th in team defensive rating in 2016-17, they were still a solidly below average defensive squad.

The primary reason the Pistons managed to stay ahead of the median was their ability to limit possessions by avoiding turnovers, slowing down the pace of games and stifling opponents second chance opportunities. Had Detroit merely slipped from first the league in limiting opponents points off turnovers and second chance opportunities to third, they would have been the 20th ranked defense in the league, right ahead of the woeful Portland Trailblazers.

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This illustrates just how important Andre Drummond‘s absolute domination of the defensive glass is to Detroit’s gameplan, and how little room for error the Pistons have. Lose Drummond for an extended amount of time, or start getting careless with the ball, and things have the potential to get ugly, fast. But based off their complete control over the Hornets on Wednesday, there are several reasons to believe the Detroit defense can actually take a step forward in 2017, despite losing their three best individual defensive players from last season.

First, the Pistons stuck to their guns. It’s only one game, but the Pistons defense currently leads the league in fast break points, points off of turnovers and second chance points, in addition to an astounding 92.7 defensive rebounding percentage. That’s a good sign, especially in a game where Drummond was in foul trouble, leaving the duo of Eric Moreland and Jon Leuer to contend with Dwight Howard.

Where the Detroit Pistons showed tremendous improvement was in their ability to throw the Hornets offense into disarray. Detroit was one of the weakest teams in the league last season in “hustle stats,” meaning that while they limited opportunities for their opponents to take advantage of, the Pistons conversely failed to create any sort of defensive disruption of their own.

Detroit’s finished as one of the bottom ten teams in the league for fast break points, points off of turnovers, steals and deflections. This meant that as long as their opposition didn’t kill themselves with unforced errors, both teams could reasonably be expected to run their offense through relatively straightforward half court sets.

Detroit didn’t allow Charlotte to do any of that on Wednesday however, racking up 19 deflections, 14 steals and 25 points off of turnovers. Stanley Johnson in particular was a force during several key moments, including forcing a turnover during an inbounds pass, and tapping the game sealing offensive rebound out to Tobias Harris in the closing minutes of the contest. Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson provided pleasant surprises, and Reggie Jackson managed to avoid looking like the abject disaster he was last season on defense.

This is a crucial development for the Pistons if they want to not only qualify for the playoffs, but actually win games when they get there. Their offense once again projects to be somewhere around league average, but if they can sustainably create scoring chances through their defense like they did against Charlotte, Detroit can improve themselves significantly at both ends of the floor. Think of it like this, if the Pistons had scored one more point per game last year, and given up one less, they would have finished with the 11th best point differential in the NBA, instead of the 20th. Even a slight upwards tick in their forced turnovers and scoring off of turnovers could prove to be a massive boon for the Pistons.

Next: Previewing the Pistons matchup with the Wizards

This Detroit Pistons team will likely never be a powerhouse when matched up man to man. They probably dont have the length or versatility to stifle a team when playing them straight up for a full 48 minutes. But when given the chance to play aggressively on the perimeter while also limiting their own mistakes, the Pistons have shown that they can take their defense to another level. Now, it’s just about consistency.