Can the Detroit Pistons really make the playoffs?

Detroit Pistons Derrick Rose. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Derrick Rose. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Detroit Pistons management has assured fans they will field a competitive team and try to win as much as possible, despite being in a rebuild. All rah-rah stuff aside, do the Pistons have  a realistic chance at the playoffs?

When the Detroit Pistons take the court at the Target Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, they will start with the same record as every other NBA team: 0-0.

How large the number goes up on the left (wins column) compared to the right (losses), is up to their performance over the course of 72 games like every team.

Entering the season, the outside world is none too high on the Pistons.

Here is a roundup of some of the predictions various outlets have made on Detroit:

NBC Sports: 13th in Eastern Conference

Hoops Hype: 13th in Eastern Conference

Yahoo! Sports: 13th in Eastern Conference

The Sporting News: 13th in Eastern Conference

Do you see a pattern here?

Every outlet has Detroit finishing ahead of the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers (which will upset Andre Drummond) , but no other team.

Actually, there is one media representative who is quite high on Detroit, though he might be a tad prejudiced:

If Detroit makes the NBA finals, Jalen Rose will be hailed as a genius.

Now, when we ask if the Detroit Pistons can make the playoffs, the next question has to be: What exactly is making the playoffs this year? The format has changed.

2020-21 NBA playoff setup

Remember those play-in games the Western Conference had over the summer for the 8th playoff berth? Well, the league liked it so much, they expanded it and made it mandatory.

In the bubble, if the eighth-place teams was a certain amount of games ahead of ninth place, there was no game. That part is out the window.

Why? Because the NBA lost a ton of money last year. Commissioner Adam Silver hopes this will bring some added excitement to the end of the season for teams in the middle of the pack. It also gives the TV networks some added playoff games, which will help the league out financially as well.

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Now, the top 10 teams in each conference make the post-season. The top six are exempt from the Play-In tournament.

The way it works (follow with me as it gets complicated): The 7th place team plays the 8th place team, with the winner of that game becoming the No. 7 seed for the first round of the playoffs.

The loser of that game, then faces the winner of the 9th place vs. 10th place game. The winner of that contest becomes the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

So, Detroit has to place no worse than 10th among the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs.  Most likely, they will have to finish ahead of the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic, in addition to the Knicks and Cavaliers.

Is that doable? There are some factors going in Detroit’s favor, but also some against them.

5 Factors against Pistons making playoffs

  • Roster turnover – Only four players are back from last year’s team
  • Youth – Detroit has five rookies and a second-year player who played a lot in the G-League last year.
  • Only one player (Derrick Rose) can create his own shot. Offense could stall.
  • In a three-point happy league, have only two pure shooters (Svi Mykhailiuk, Wayne Ellington).
  • Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose could be traded during season.

5 Factors for the Pistons making playoffs

  • Lock-down defense – Detroit was the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA preseason.
  • Blake Griffin is healthy. If he gets back to his past form, the NBA is in for a world of problems.
  • Derrick Rose is still Derrick Rose – He is 32-years-old and has a long injury history, but Rose looked sharp in preseason. That is also a big problem for the opposition.
  • Veteran help – Yes, the Pistons are young, but outside of point guard Killian Hayes, none of the other youngsters are being counted upon to produce immediately. There are veterans on the roster to take up the slack.
  • They will try to win – GM Troy Weaver has stated that the day he does not try to field a competitive team, is the day he quits. Before the opener, coach Dwane Casey said they were not doing “That Process” where you lose intentionally. He would like to make the playoffs, if they can.

There are some intangibles that will come into play. First, unfortunately, is the COVID-19  virus still raging around the country. The NBA is no longer in a bubble. Who the Pistons, and their opponents have available, could be affected on a weekly basis.

There are always injuries (particularly if they occur to Rose or Griffin) that could ruin things, and chemistry issues may crop up with so many new players. Of course, general manager Troy Weaver could always swing a trade which scrambles the lineup.

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So can the Detroit Pistons make the NBA playoffs after a one-year absence? Yes.

Remember, we are talking about finishing 10th out of 15 teams to qualify. If things go right, particularly with Griffin, that is not an unattainable goal.