Should Detroit Pistons be ‘Pushing for the Play-in’ now?

Josh Jackson #20 of the Detroit Pistons l(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Josh Jackson #20 of the Detroit Pistons l(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons have a winning record in 2022, which is a lot different than 2021. Even though it is a long shot, while they still have the chance, should the club make a push to qualify for the NBA play-in tournament, or simply work on development and evaluate players?

When you are a professional athlete, you usually (unless named Ben Simmons) possess a strong, competitive streak that is part of why they are a success. Players want to win, and they do not really worry how it affects the team. After all, playing poorly could be a one-way ticket out of the league.

For example, the Detroit Lions would have been better off losing at the end of the season to secure the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Instead, they went 3-3 in their final six games and will now pick second.

Did the Lions players care they cost the team the first pick by winning? No, not their job. And if coach Dan Campbell had wanted to lose and played inferior players, he would have lost all credibility within the locker room (See Doug Pederson, Eagles 2021)

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Same rules apply in the NBA. Do not expect cach Dwane Casey to bench Cade Cunningham and Hamidou Diallo and play Derrick Walton Jr. and Cassius Stanley for 48 minutes (although both looked pretty good during emergency action). He would lose the respect of the team, which a coach can never do.

Playing bad players is something the Pistons know all about, but playing bad over the few good ones would be problematic. At the end of last season, after being eliminated from playoff contention, Detroit got around it by assigning all kinds of ‘injuries’ or ‘rest’ to key veterans for games and just played the youngsters for ‘experience’,

The important phrase in tanking, is ‘after being eliminated from playoff contention’.

As of today, Detroit has the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. To make the Play-in tournament, the lowest rung in the playoffs, they would have to finish in the top 10 of the conference. They have a lot of ground to make up:

10. (tie) Boston Celtics, New York: 21-21

14. Detroit Pistons 9-31: 11.5 games behind with 42 to play

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Now, making up 11.5 games with half the season over is a tall task, but it has been done before. The 2016-17 Miami Heat were 11-26 on January 13, but they went 30-10 the rest of the season to finish at .500 with a 41-41 record. The Heat finished ninth in the conference that year, which, under the current format, would get them in the Play-in tournament.

Now, do I think Detroit will win three-quarters of its games the rest of the season? Um, did you see that Chicago game? No, but the point is, should the Pistons still shoot for making the playoffs and play to win, until the math says they are eliminated from playoff possibilities.

After they are officially eliminated, no one will have a problem if Luka Garza becomes the starting center, Chris Smith is the ‘2’ guard and Isaiah Livers is playing small forward. But what about until that point?

Now, we are not saying do something rash, like trade Saddiq Bey for a couple of middling veterans to win a few more games this year. It is simply about what approach the team should take.

Go to win every game until there is no reason to, or work on development for the future?

Three reasons Detroit Pistons should play for the play-in tournament

3. That is why you lace on the sneakers. You play to win and make the playoffs, As long as there is a sliver of hope, go for it.

2. Gives the young players a great reason to work on game and improve. Yes, development is important but, development for development sake is boring. Saying we are trying to make the play-in gives them incentive to work on their game now.

  1. Creates a competitive atmosphere. You want the players to learn to do what it takes to win, so you need to give them a goal in pursuit of winning. Only good can come of it.

Three reasons Detroit Pistons should not push to make play-in tournament

3. Why bother. Do not give young players a goal you know they will fail at. Hurt their confidence.

2. Need to evaluate players. Going all out to win means limiting the rotation. Every game is a chance to see how players do.

  1. C’mon, you’re not serious, are you? Major waste of time and effort that will only lead to disappointment.

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Until the Pistons are mathematically eliminated from finishing as high as 10th place, how hard they should push to win if a subject that will be much debated.