There are a lot of “ifs” in the NBA, especially when it comes to the Detroit Pistons.
If the Detroit Pistons were healthy, they would’ve defeated Miami, Portland, and New Orleans. The issue isn’t only that they’re missing the offense provided by Bojan Bogdanovic, Monte Morris, and, recently, Alec Burks. That’s true, but they’re also missing the leadership and calming influence of those veterans.
The Detroit Pistons are playing young
In the absence of Alec Burks, Joe Harris has received minutes even when he hasn’t been scoring or has been a step slow when facing opponents who aren’t great defenders but are younger and quicker. He’s getting those minutes because he’s focused on the details and understands positioning.
The younger players have more talent, and they’ll have better and longer careers. With so many veterans out, however, someone who can read the defense is more valuable than a player who can get a step on the defense. Specifically, it’s more valuable for the growth of the team.
The ability to read the game won’t win a game. The quick step that allows a player to take advantage of what they see, that wins games.
If nobody models the intellectual, disciplined aspect of the game during the game, the young players won’t make those adjustments. That’s why Joe Harris plays thirteen minutes against Phoenix when he’s scoreless and a -5 in the +/-.
It’s also why Marcus Sasser, despite being a rookie, has seen his minutes increase. He gets it.
Bojan Bogdanovic’s return couldn’t come soon enough. Not only does he bring offense and floor spacing, but he exemplifies an intelligent game. As an NBA player, he’s not that athletic, but he makes the extra pass, understands spacing, and will help the team execute on both ends of the floor.
The Detroit Pistons young core is competing at a higher level than in years past. Sure, they make plenty of mistakes and their discipline wavers, but the team’s push in the third quarter against New Orleans showed their grit and improved drive to compete. When the veterans return, we’ll see a new team, one that plays with more focus and intelligence.