Nine straight wins have now brought the Detroit Pistons to a 24-7 record, the second best in the NBA. They've played the most impressive basketball I've ever seen from them. Defense, offense, penetration: they're just doing the definition of good basketball. Flip Saunders has been coaching at his best this season and has been handling this team with dignity. Many believed that his job was on the line this year, but the team is playing well enough for him to give people the impression that his job is safe.
Last year, the Pistons were a great team, but they weren't a championship caliber team. They didn't handle the center position well, with the rotation between Rasheed Wallace, Nazr Mohammed and Chris Webber. Sure, they were getting good guard play from Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, which is basic for a team’s success, but the Pistons just didn't have the depth to win a championship. Unlike recent years, this season, the Pistons don't have any players ranked in the top 50 in minutes. With their solid bench contributions and string of winning games long before the late moments of the fourth quarter, Pistons coach Flip Saunders has been able to cut his starters minutes back to the low 30’s.
However, that's not the only thing that they didn't have. They didn't have the same mentality last year, as they do now. Detroit comes out the gates, firing shots from all over and sinking them. They are no longer filled with the cockiness that they were full of last year. They used to come out into the game with the thoughts of them already being the best, when they really weren't. Laziness was their strength. Letting teams come into the game and quickly jump out to a ten point lead was a habit for them. Yes, they'd eventually come back to win the game, but the ten point deficit wasn't necessary in the first place. Winning 53 games last season didn't mean anything to them, if they were going to get beat by a one man team (LeBron James and the Cavs) in the Eastern Conference Finals. All the silly little mistakes that they used to make are no longer present, and now Detroit has the mentality of a championship.
It is never too early in the season to look at a team and tell if they're ready for a championship. I look at the Pistons differently this year than I did last year, or the year before. The Pistons are playing so crisp, so on point, it's almost reminiscent of their 2004 championship run, when everyone from the starters to the 12th man had an impact. They've made so many changes to their mental state, and it has been paying of so far this season.
Last season, some of the players tried to do too much, instead of just doing their part. For instance, Rip Hamilton is one of the NBA’s best jump shooters. That is his role on this team; to come off pick and rolls, and screens to pull up for that dangerous jump shot. He always tried to do too much by disrupting the whole play and driving to the basket, but it sometimes wouldn’t work. This year, Rip’s learned to stop doing that and just do what he does best. That’s the reason why Hamilton is shooting 50% from the floor and averaging 18.1 a game. All he needs to do is play his part, and he’ll get the ball where he’s comfortable at. Forward Tayshaun Prince said the Pistons have been riding a wave of confidence and consistency. Prince also said that at some point this season it won't be this easy; lulls are almost inevitable over 82 games.
But here is what the Pistons AREN'T doing this year. The Pistons AREN'T doing the same things they did last year. No more selfish basketball. They are working as a team, and everything is just clicking for them. It’s no wonder why they have the second best record in the league. So much is falling in place for this team. Everybody is stepping up and doing their part, and that is what keeps this team together. Flip Saunders is running the team well, and he’s told them what they need to do to have a better year.
The Pistons AREN’T playing sloppy basketball like they used to. Unnecessary turnovers are no longer in their blood. They know how to run the ball up-and-down the floor and they are making better rotations. This is one of the reasons why they are ranked third in the league in assists, with 23.6. “Team basketball.” A term used to describe the success of a teams game. That is a word that the Pistons can be described with.
They AREN’T allowing other teams to take that from them. Still, with one of the best starting fives in basketball, nobody is a star. To this team, points per game don’t matter. As long as everybody plays their part, winning won’t be hard. You see teams like Boston dominate other teams. That’s because they play team ball. During this nine game win-streak, the Pistons AREN’T letting it get to their head, which was something they did a lot last season. The same Detroit team from last season would think that they were the kings of the world if they had a nine game win streak. This year’s team feels that they need to improve themselves in order to extend the streak to ten. The mental aspect of the game is so important, but that is what Detroit has changed from last season. Where has Rasheed Wallace’s technical fouls been at this year? His attitude has been completely adjusted. He might not be putting up the same numbers as he did the last several years, but who needs it if you’re one of the best teams in the league?
Detroit has impressed me so far this season, not just because of their team play, their contributions from the bench, or their state of mind, but because they AREN’T playing like they did last season.