Today at 5:00pm EST the Pistons will be hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder at Little Caesars Arena. The Pistons are on two days of rest after losing the Jazz, while the Thunder are on one day of rest after beating the Wizards.
Most of the fussing at the start of the season was silly and misplaced. This team is very good and was always going to be, even when their record was not great they had one of the better net ratings in the NBA while three guys who are likely hall of famers simultaneously were in big slumps while adjusting to their new surroundings. The Thunder currently sport the 11th best offensive efficiency in the NBA at 106.7 points scored per 100 possessions, along with the 5th defense at 102.9 points allowed per 100 possessions which is good for the 5th best net rating at +3.7 points per 100 possessions.
They are lead by the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, who is incredible even with some of his very noticeable warts. He is not a good three point shooter but will chuck away regardless and he doesn't play hard on defense much of the time, but he is a demon going to the hoop. He can also post up smaller point guards and is a much smarter passer than most people give him credit for. After him is Paul George, who is still adjusting a bit but has fully found his three point shot by shooting 41% from deep. The best news for the Thunder is that George has clearly taken the energy he saves by not being the #1 option on offense and channelling it into his defense as he has legitimately probably been the best defender in the NBA so far this year. After that is the now often forgotten Carmelo Anthony, who has come out of his early season slump. Melo has pulled his long ball up to 36.2%, is a much tougher rebounder than anyone seems to give him credit for, ad he is trying hard on defense. Oh yeah he is also still one of the best in the business at just going and getting buckets.
After their big three they start Steven Adams at the center spot, he is very much a role player in all of this but he is a good one. He has the luxury of running pick and rolls with Westbrook, but he is is very good at exploiting the holes Westbrook opens up and is also a monstrous offensive rebounder and a good rim protector and defender. He is in the perfect role where he can focus on the things he does well while not having to stretch himself beyond that. Andre Roberson is one of the worst offensive wing players in the entire NBA, but he is also one of the best defenders and when he and George are totally locked in it is terrifying. Jerami Grant is big and athletic, Raymond Felton is fat and does basic point guard things, Alex Abrines is still pretty young and can shoot threes although it isn't clear if he can do much else yet. Patrick Patterson is big and can really shoot threes although he has had an off year so far in most other areas, Terrance Ferguson is really athletic, and Josh Huestis is a power forward who is just kind of there for a few minutes per game.
This team has a top 3 that can beat any other in the NBA, even the Warriors on the right night, and enough role players to compliment them that they will be dangerous come playoff time. They are forever in search of that 5th starter who is a two way player but for now they will lean heavily on their top three.
Matchups to watch:
Drummond vs. Adams: Drummond has done a good job against these guys this year, but it remains something that can give him trouble. Adams is big, strong, and sound enough to contend with Drummond while not having near the responsibilities as Drummond does which means Drummond will need to bring extra effort to get his job done. Also, Adams is legitimately incredible on the offensive glass so Drummond will not be able to get lackadaisical while cleaning the defensive glass.
Pistons vs. Westbrook: I don't know who the Pistons will have defend him, but it will be a team effort regardless. On the perimter guys will have to fight through everything to keep him from getting totally clear lanes in the paint, and Drummond will have to keep him from the hoop while keeping an eye on Adams. It's a tough ask, thats why he's the MVP.
Pistons vs. Crisp offense: Even if their offense is bad, the Pistons cannot get lazy with their passes and shots. George and Roberson are always watching and the one thing Westbrook can kill you with defensively is by jumping passing lanes. If the Pistons come out throwing lazy passes the Thunder are likely to blow them out, its that simple.
Melo vs. Diet Melo: Tobias Harris will have his work cut out for him on defense by guarding Melo, and he will have to try and get some work done on the other end as well if the Pistons want to win. They can't really win with Harris playing as poorly as he has lately.
SVG vs. Sticking to the plan: The coaching staff had correctly diagnoses Ish Smith and his inability to score as a big problem with the starting lineup, but SVG could not stray from his comfort zone late in the game against the Jazz. Stay the course Stan.
Stanley Johnson vs. Keeping it up: This dude has balled lately. He breaks down defenses and has finally realized that he can bull his way into the paint whenever he wants against anyone he wants. Keep it up young fella.
Luke Kennard vs. 1st bench option: The numbers have been alright, but he has shown signs of his youth for the first time all season in the last couple of games as SVG has given him more responsibility with bench units. Cut down on the dumb passes, pull the trigger when you're open instead of dribbling into a crowd. These are problems that all young guys have and he's done fine, but the Pistons are trying to save their season right now so he will have to grow up fast.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Diet Melo is doing work.
Andre Drummond is still feeling that sting and is dominating all comers.
The Pistons are forcing Westbrook into jump shots and out of control layups.
Run for the hills if:
Westbrook starts getting to the rim.
Melo starts hitting shots.
George starts hitting shots.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre is still angry and puts up another monster stat-line.
Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard continue to be awesome.
SVG keeps the course this time after a hard earned lesson.
The Pistons bench destroys their counter-parts and the starters play even. Thunder have no answer for Drummond as the Pistons win a close game.
Pistons 97 – Thunder 93.
What do you think? Can the Pistons break out of their rut? Will they be able to contain the big three?