Perception lags reality, but here’s reality: These Pistons are a pretty good NBA team

Reggie Jackson has been cleared to being light running as the next step in his recovery from a grade 3 ankle sprain.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The Pistons’ current reality is that they’re a pretty good NBA team, but since perception always lags reality it’s not a commonly held truth among the majority of basketball fans. Even among the majority of Pistons fans.

The operative word in that position is “current,” since only the Tim Duncan-era Spurs seemed to defy the gravitational pulls of the NBA calendar with ups, downs and in betweens the norm.

So from a purely basketball perspective, Monday’s laid egg against Cleveland was a lost opportunity only in the sense that the Pistons missed a chance to stick another win in the bank for when the downs and in betweens afflict them.

The greater lost opportunity was to bend the perception of their fans, many of whom almost certainly have missed most of the moments that surely would have shaped a more fond perception of the first 20 percent of their season.

Their most impressive win of their season came on a Sunday night 2,000 miles away when the Pistons rallied from 14 down in the third quarter to beat Golden State amid a game when all three of its All-Star shooters had dazzling nights. In addition to the challenges of time zones and Sunday night audiences, the Pistons also were up against the Lions in a nationally televised game.

If a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound?

The night before, they came from 13 down to knock off the NBA’s last remaining unbeaten team, the Clippers. When they beat Miami a week ago in perhaps their season’s best-played game considering both sides, it came in the middle of another NFL Sunday. Their comeback from 11 down in the fourth quarter two days ago at Minnesota, when Reggie Jackson was dead-solid perfect down the stretch, came on another Sunday night in the middle of the NFL season.

It’s a fair guess to say more people paid attention to the Pistons game with Cleveland on Monday simply because it was Cleveland and LeBron James, it was an Eastern time zone tipoff and the competition for eyeballs was a Monday night football game of middling interest to Midwesterners.

So if Pistons fans remotely aware the Pistons won at Golden State and vaguely familiar with their standing in the Eastern Conference made a point to check out Monday’s game against the Cavaliers, well, chances are they shut the TV off, shook their head and went back to whatever else they were doing.

So, missed opportunity.

But the NBA merry-go-round keeps spinning. The Pistons have 65 games left, the NFL season is hitting the three-quarter pole and there is the feel of authenticity to what Stan Van Gundy has wrought.

What many would characterize as a fatal flaw in the Pistons – their lack of a bona fide superstar – also insulates them from prolonged misery should an injury befall any single player. Oh, they’d miss Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson or Avery Bradley or Tobias Harris if they were out for any significant length of time, but they wouldn’t fall off a cliff the way San Antonio disappeared without Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs last spring or Indiana collapsed minus Paul George a few years ago.

Van Gundy teams always get better defensively – as his Pistons teams have year over year since his arrival – and they always gravitate toward the upper third in housekeeping things like turnovers and rebounding and taking the most desirable and allowing the least desirable shot attempts.

The first 17 games have shown the camaraderie Pistons players professed in training camp to have started building in August appears a real thing. The impact of Bradley’s defensive demeanor is evident. The purported maturity of Drummond and Jackson – translation: winning games is all that matters – has been put into evidence. The work Tobias Harris logged to become an elite offensive player, ditto. The mission of Van Gundy’s off-season – a roster full of players worthy of crunch-time minutes, diversifying the offense with more shooting and playmakers, injecting toughness – has been fulfilled.

That’s the current reality. With a little luck in injury prevention, perception will catch up, sooner or later.