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Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable: Are Pistons Legit?

Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are 5-1 after completing a stunning comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night. With the Pistons facing the league-best Golden State Warriors on Monday night, Today’s Fastbreak Managing Editor Jason Patt and Assistant Editor Kelly Scaletta got together to talk about the Pistons’ fast start.

Jason: The Pistons are 5-1 after their fourth-quarter comeback against the Blazers in which they outscored Portland 41-11. Andre Drummond had 29 points and 27 rebounds in the win, and he’s looking like a bona fide star this season. He should definitely be the Eastern Conference All-Star starter at center, yes?

Kelly: Absolutely, and if it’s not too early, the discussion for MVP!!! Of course it’s early in the season, but we can only talk about what has been played, and based on that, who, other than Stephen Curry, has actually played better?

The dude is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds a game. I think the technical term for that is a LOT. That’s 122 points and boards through six games. Since at least 1985, no one has done that. In fact, only Shaquille O’Neal (1992-93) and Roy Tarpley (1989-90) have even had 100 of each.

I believe the technical term for Drummond is doing right now is “balling.”

Jason: Balling, indeed. Those numbers he’s putting up are otherworldly. And just imagine if he could shoot free throws!

To your MVP point, I took a peek at the Pistons’ on/off numbers, via NBA.com, and they paint a picture of an early-season MVP candidate.

Drummond on: 107.2 ORtg, 91.9 DRtg
Drummond off: 74.8 ORtg, 103.9 DRtg

That’s INSANE. Obviously some of this is due to the horrific bench that employs Steve Blake as its point guard and Aron Baynes as the backup center, but Drummond has the largest net rating differential on the roster and it’s not all that close. That’s basically the definition of an MVP right there.

Kelly: That’s more like OVP…ONLY valuable player.

Jason: Well, to be fair, the other starters have some pretty large net differentials as well, and this is a perfect time to transition the discussion to Reggie Jackson. Many questioned Stan Van Gundy giving Jackson that five-year, $80 million extension this summer, but he and Drummond have great chemistry together running the pick-and-roll.

We saw it last night when the Pistons ruined the Blazers and Jackson scored 26 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter. The Blazers were so worried about Drummond that Jackson got some great looks, and he knocked them down. He’s now averaging 23/6/5 while shooting 45.5 percent both overall and from three. The Pistons are outscoring teams by 18.8 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor together, and the top three lineups have basically been Warriors dominant.

You buying in to Reggie Jackson?

March 27, 2015 - Orlando, FL, USA - The Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton, middle, tries to get past the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond, left, and Reggie Jackson (1) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, March 27, 2015

Orlando Sentinel/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire

Kelly: I’m buying into Stan Van Gundy being smarter than me. Haha.

I was one of those who didn’t like the move when he made it, but it’s hard to argue with the results, isn’t it?

And it goes back to last season when he arrived in Detroit too, so it’s getting harder to talk about regression to the mean and all that.

SVG knows what he’s doing. He’s put a team on the court that fits his vision. My proverbial hat is tipped.

Jason: Yep. And even outside of Jackson and Drummond, when you’re running PnRs with guys like Marcus Morris (who SVG stole in a salary dump), Ersan Ilyasova and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope spreading the floor, it all comes together nicely. SVG has built this roster in the mold of his Dwight Howard/Magic teams, and it’s working very nicely right now.

As mentioned, one of the major concerns is that bench. I’m not sure how Steve Blake is playing over Spencer Dinwiddie, Jodie Meeks got hurt early in the year and rookie Stanley Johnson is struggling. Are you worried about the starters running down? Will Brandon Jennings provide a spark whenever he returns from his Achilles injury? There’s been a lot of talk about trading Jennings, but it seems like he could be the perfect spark for a struggling bench unit, even if he’s not the most efficient player.

Kelly: A lot of times, those inefficient players move into the sixth-man role very well, and I could see Jennings being one of them. Think Jamal Crawford before he started getting old.

I think you make a fair point about the bench, and that might ultimately be the Pistons’ undoing. But Stanley Johnson is going to get better (though right about now, more than a few Pistons fans are probably thinking they would’ve rather had Justise Winslow). SVG will work those things out. And, if worse comes to worse, he’s not above making a trade.

But if things don’t end up getting better, it’s tough for a team — even a young team — to carry the whole load all the way through the regular season and still have something left in the playoffs. But even if the Pistons lose in the first round of playoffs, that’s a good year for them this season.

But that gets me to thinking about something else. Do you think the entire Central Division could be in the playoffs?

Jason: To the point about just getting into the playoffs, I’d definitely say even losing in a first-round sweep would be a highly successful season for Detroit. The Pistons haven’t been in the playoffs since 2008-09. That’s crazy! We’re talking about one of the East’s premier teams throughout the 2000s. In fact, last year’s 32-50 record was the best since that 08-09 season. So many bad personnel decisions (thanks, Joe Dumars) drove that franchise into the ground, and now SVG is in the process of building it back up.

Nov. 1, 2014 - Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA - Detroit Pistons' head coach Stan Van Gundy, yells at his players after a foul being called during the first half of the home opener, Saturday, November 1, 2014, at the Palace of Auburn Hills, in Auburn Hills, Mich. Detroit lost 102-90.

Junfu Han/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

As for the whole Central Division making it, I’m skeptical. The Cavaliers and Bulls (as shaky as they look) are basically locks. The Pistons are looking like a playoff team. But I’m not sure about the Bucks and Pacers. Milwaukee has turned things around since its poor start, but the wins have come against the Nets (x2), the Sixers and Knicks. Not exactly a murderer’s row. I had questions about them before the season and still wonder about them.

For the Pacers, Paul George is coming around and looks like a star again, but I’m not sure that’ll be enough as they adjust to their new philosophy. That’s a team that could be right on the outside looking in at season’s end. Just looking at the Eastern Conference playoff picture, who’s getting left out if all five of these teams are in? If all five Central teams made it, we’re looking at a group of Hawks, Wizards, Raptors, Heat and Celtics in which two of these teams wouldn’t get in. And then there are the dark-horse teams like the Magic and Knicks. I won’t say it can’t happen, but I doubt it.

Kelly: That’s fair. Maybe it’s more of an “any of them” could get in than “all of them.” I do think it will take a winning record to get into the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. It’s kind of sad that’s a bit of a bold prediction.

Jason: I could buy that argument. They all have the ceiling of a playoff team, but it’s hard to see all of them getting in given the other quality teams in the conference.

But right now, I have to buy in on the Pistons, even with some of their issues. I know you said you picked them to win 50 games before the year. After seeing what they’re capable of thus far, what number would you put them at right now?

Kelly: Somewhere in that 50-55 range. Not that it makes me happy to say this, but I wouldn’t be stunned if it was them and not Chicago playing Cleveland in the ECF. I think much depends on how much time it takes for the Bulls to get comfortable in Fred Hoiberg’s new offense.

Not that any of this matters, though. Golden State is going to go 82-0 and they’re going fo’ fo’ fo’ fo’.

Jason: After watching the Pistons yesterday, I too thought about them possibly being better than the Bulls by the end of the year. I’m not so sure about that yet, but at this point it wouldn’t be a surprise. Right now, I’d peg Detroit for high 40s in wins. Still not totally convinced they’re 50-win good yet, but they could make me change my mind. Beating those Warriors would be a good start.

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