Detroit Pistons worst-case scenario playing out before their eyes

Injuries have spoiled a season where optimism was high with the Detroit Pistons, and there are no signs of things getting any better.

The Detroit Pistons improved their roster and appeared to be healthy entering training camp only to lose two starters in the first week of the season.

Reggie Jackson, who would likely start, having started all 82 games last season, has missed 29 games this year after giving it a go in the first two.

The Detroit Pistons have used 13 starting lineups through their first 31 games and the main starting lineup has only started seven games together. Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are 4-3 when starting.

For a team that had the potential to win 50 games, at least in an optimist’s eyes, and should have surpassed the over/under of 37.5 in objective eyes has met its worst-case scenario. Injuries have played a factor in the Pistons starting 11-20.

Detroit has lost five in a row after a potential-showing, 115-107 win at the Houston Rockets on Dec. 14. That win was a mere 10 days ago but feels so distant as the Pistons have fallen 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic.

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But this Pistons team was supposed to contest for a higher seed than their previous two playoff appearances. This Pistons team was supposed to be the group that won the franchise’s first playoff game since 2008, ending meddling mediocrity.

Adding Derrick Rose was an upgrade over Ish Smith, and Markieff Morris an upgrade over Jon Leuer. Detroit found a gem in Christian Wood, who continues to develop, and Tony Snell is an upgrade over not having a legitimate small forward to close the 2018-19 season.

As was a possibility with injury-ridden players such as Rose, Griffin and Jackson, the Pistons are meeting their fate. But it’s gone to an extreme level. Even Kennard is missing games, ironman Drummond missed time with a food allergy in Mexico City. All the injuries are wearing on a thin Pistons roster.

“I’m not myself at the moment,” Kennard said after the Pistons’ loss to the Bulls on Saturday. “I’m not the same as I was at the beginning of the season.”

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In fact, only Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway have played in all 31 games to date, and both are having strong seasons. Brown has improved on the fly as a point guard and is shooting a higher percentage, an encouraging sign for the future, and Galloway is a consistent 3-point shooter, converting 41.4% of his attempts.

Griffin has played in 16 games this season and is shooting 35.9% from the field on 223 attempts and  25.3% from 3-point range on 95 attempts. His season averages are 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. That’s a far cry from last season’s All-NBA averages of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

It seems as if the Pistons have no answers for Griffin’s struggles. He’s battled knee injuries throughout his career, including a meniscus tear to close last season and a separate injury that’s bothered him this season. Lately he’s been on the injury report due to illness.

He’s clearly been bothered all year. Particularly over his last five games, Griffin is 12 for 59 (20.3%) and scoring 8 points per game. The answer, for now, is for Griffin to continue to play through it and try to find his rhythm.

“That’s the hope. I’m not a doctor … that’s our hope … the idea you just take off and rest isn’t good either,” coach Dwane Casey said after Monday’s loss.

But resting is a good idea, even if it’s strategically so he is better when he does play. If the season gets too far away from Detroit, it may even extend to resting Griffin for extended periods of time, similar to what the Cleveland Cavaliers did with Kevin Love last season and he’s come back to increase his shooting percentage by 5.7%.

Detroit isn’t at rock bottom yet but a six-game road trip with meetings against the Jazz (18-12), Clippers (22-10) and Lakers (24-6) on tap. The season is hanging in the balance.

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Unfortunately for Pistons fans, it’s another year where mediocrity would be welcomed as opposed to watching an injury-ridden team.

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