Tonight at 8:00pm EST the Pistons will be in New Orleans to play against the Pelicans. The Pistons will be on one day of rest after beating the Rockets on Saturday. The Pelicans are also on one day of rest after losing to the Timberwolves.
Have you ever wondered: “What if you took a team of borderline NBA players but put them with a pair of All-NBA players and one other good one could they make the playoffs?” Well if you have ever wondered that then this is your lucky year because the Pelicans are going to find out.
The Pelicans come in sporting the NBA's 7th best offense at 108.3 points scored per 100 possessions, and the 25th defense at 107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions which combines for the 14th best net rating at +.5.
It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that the Pelicans are a bunch of G-Leaguers being dragged by Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and to a smaller extent Jrue Holiday, but it is not too much of a stretch. Cousins has been an absolute monster by scoring and rebounding in bunches, shooting 35.7% from deep on an almost absurd 6.2 attempts per game, and being tied for 2nd on the team in assists at 5.1 per game (with 4.9 turnovers because some things never change) and generally being absurdly good much like he has in the past but now the team he plays on isn't total garbage. Anthony Davis has been seemingly less appreciated this year but he has been every bit as good and probably better when you consider his defensive contributions, he joins Cousins in scoring just over 25 points per game but he shoots less threes and has fewer assists, but he is a more efficient scorer (63.4% TS%!!!!!!) and a great defender most of the time. Those two score 51 points, dish almost 8 assists, and grab 23 rebounds per game, they are almost comically good.
Beyond their top two guys, Jrue Holiday is the only other guy on the team who is really good, Holiday has found a real comfort zone after a couple of years being hampered by injuries. He is scoring just over 18 points per game with 5 assists and with the help of playing off the best front-court duo in years he is able to do that at very good efficiency. He also is a speedy and effective defender when he is fully engaged. E'Twaun Moore is overpaid but he has settled fairly nicely into the role of being a hyper efficient role player who plays off the other stars, he scores his 12.9 points per game on a TS% of 62.9% and is shooting 45.9% from deep. Rajon Rondo remains polarizing, he remains an incredible passer and floor general, and he also still clogs spacing with his lack of shooting, doesn't try on defense a lot, and generally struggles to get the ball in the hoop. Depending on who you ask he is somewhere between “Overall he doesn't help you but he isn't terrible” and “He has his flaws but you are a better team with him on the floor.”
After that it gets ugly. Darius Miller has been shooting absurdly well but it isn't clear if he can keep that up all season (though with every game it becomes more likely) and even with that, he doesn't do a whole lot else. Dante Cunningham can sort of do the three and D thing, except that he only shoots 33.3% from deep and isn't really all that remarkable on defense, old man Jameer Nelson is playing here and he can still shoot and do some old man point guard things but not much else, Ian Clark is realizing how much easier it was to play in Golden State, and Cheick Diallo is a basketball player.
As long as those top three guys (especially Davis and Cousins) stay healthy for most of the year this team will probably stick around in the playoff race and be a royal pain to beat in the playoffs. Regardless of how bad the rest of the roster may be, when you have two of the best insert arbitrary cutoff point here players in the NBA on your team and another borderline (and former) all-star there is only so far you can get dragged down. This team may not be great every night, but the cliché of being able to beat anyone on any given night is absolutely true with this team.
Matchups to watch:
Drummond vs. Being healthy: Even if he does play, he will have to be alright and not hobbled. The Pistons are going to have a huge problem guarding the Pelicans huge front-court even with Drummond, if he doesn't play I have no clue what they will do other than pray.
Pistons vs. Anthony Davis: Assuming Drummond plays, I would guess that he will mostly guard the bigger and more physical Cousins, but if Drummond takes Davis more then swap this still applies to Cousins. As long as Drummond avoids foul trouble he can go toe to toe with either of these guys, but a combination of Tobias Harris, Anthony Tolliver, and possibly Bullock/Johnson are going to have to handle whoever Drummond doesn't guard and that will be very hard. Tolly has shown well against elite power forwards but Davis is different.
Ish Smith vs. Rajon Rondo: Smith has a tendency to struggle with bigger players, which is understandable given Ish's lack of size. Rondo isn't a scorer so that makes this less worrying, but there is a decent chance that Rondo is able to really have his way. Smith will have to really work to keep Rondo out of the paint and try and run him tired on the other end since Rondo is notorious for not always being up for playing high effort defense.
Avery Bradley vs. Jrue Holiday: This is twofold. First off, Bradley has been awful offensively since coming back from injury. It was nice to see him get back on track defensively against the Rockets but a good offensive game would go a long ways. Beyond that, Holiday may be a clear step down from Davis and Cousins but he is a clear 3rd in the pecking order. If Bradley can outplay him, especially by providing his signature excellent defense then it will put huge strain on the Pelican's superstar big men.
Bullock/Kennard vs. Keeping it up: I've said it before, but a big reason that the Pistons have survived this spat of bad injury problems (going back to when Avery Bradley initially went down) is that Kennard and Bullock have been putting in truly great minutes on the wing with consistency. It is super important that it continues.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Drummond plays and avoids foul trouble.
Cousins gets upset about something or another.
Jrue Holiday looks totally overmatched by Avery Bradley's defense.
Run for the hills if:
Anthony Tolliver looks to have PTSD.
Drummond doesn't play or is clearly not all the way well.
Any of the Pelican's lesser players has a really good game.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Avery Bradley is a huge problem for Holiday, and finally puts together a good offensive game.
Anthony Davis has a huge game.
Both Cousins and SVG get techs.
Cousins is frustrated and ineffective, Davis has a big game but everyone else is held in check as the Pistons ride their defense to another solid victory.
Pistons 103 – Pelicans 96.
What do you think? Will Drummond play? Can the Pistons keep Davis in check?