2012: A Look Back

Pistons progress over 12 months masked by similar record

If the first day of the new year is a time for resolutions of intent for the 365 days to come, then the last day of the old year is a time to reflect on events leading to the transition.

Because the lockout skewed the 2011-12 season, a year-over-year comparison is less relevant than a season-over-season look. At 11-22, the Pistons have the same record after 33 games as they did in 2011-12.

But that doesn’t tell nearly enough of the story. The average margin of defeat in the 22 losses a year ago was 14.7; this year, it’s 9.4. Only seven of the 22 losses a season ago weren’t by double digits; this year, 11 of them have been under 10 points and six have been under five, double last year’s total.

Overall, the Pistons were a minus-10.0 points through 33 games a season ago, but a mere minus 1.7 this season.

“When people say, ‘Have you gotten better? You’ve got identical records, so you really haven’t gotten better,’ look, I’m not going to get on a soapbox, but we have gotten better,” Lawrence Frank said. “Are we where we want to be? Of course not. We’re disappointed with where we’re at, but that point differential league-wide is usually a very good barometer for where we’re at.

“It shows we’re more competitive. Even though (the differential is) a little less than two points, it means more than just a bucket. It could be a stop, a rebound that leads to that extra two-point advantage.”

The Pistons lost more than their share of coin-flip games in the season’s first few months, but end 2012 on a bounce – back-to-back wins produced in taut fourth quarters against two of the East’s biggest winners so far, Miami and Milwaukee.

Want more than a few close wins on the heels of too many close losses as tangible evidence of a year’s progress? Here’s an end-of-the-year checklist:

  1. Andre Drummond’s early returns – Only the mostly wildly optimistic could have foreseen Drummond not merely forcing his way into the rotation but having the consistency of impact he’s had over his first two NBA months. It goes way beyond Drummond’s stats – though his 7.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in nearly 20 minutes a game are pretty loud – to the obvious effect he has as the defensive anchor of a second unit that’s emerging as a net positive for the Pistons. But it’s what Drummond’s start says about his future that is the single biggest development of the past year. Around the NBA, Drummond is raising eyebrows and being talked about as a potentially dominant big man.

  2. Restoring organizational values – Lawrence Frank was the right coach at the right time. Coming in on the heels of disarray compounded by the transition of ownership and the effects of the lockout, Frank’s acute attention to detail and unerring adherence to daily tenets was the tonic Joe Dumars sought in a head coach. His unwavering insistence on honoring the intent of the slogans plastered on the practice facility’s walls have taken root with a roster that has turned over dramatically and will continue to churn given the looming cap space ahead.

  3. Greg Monroe’s continued progress – The third-year center’s statistics haven’t moved all that much over a year ago, but his responsibilities within Frank’s offense have been expanded considerably. The Pistons frequently funnel their offense through Monroe, whose offensive repertoire is leaps and bounds above where it was when he entered the league. As the roster settles around him, Monroe’s rounded skills will translate into steadily improved efficiency. The next step: integrating his game with Drummond’s.

  4. A full calendar year under Brandon Knight’s belt – Knight is still in the early stages of his evolution as an NBA player, which is sometimes hard to keep in mind because of the prominence of his role and the uncommon maturity with which Knight carries himself. It’s easy to forget he’s barely 21, spent only one year in college and had no rookie off-season before being thrust into the quarterback role with a franchise looking to establish its identity. The growing pains others experience in the shadows have been on full public display with Knight. It’s just as easy to forget how much room for growth he still has.

  5. Finding an NBA-quality player in Kyle Singler – The Pistons knew Singler would be more NBA ready than most rookies, of course, after playing 148 games at Duke and soaking up invaluable pro experience and continuing to show his adaptability by succeeding in Europe’s toughest league, Spain. But they weren’t counting on Singler forcing his way into the rotation, much less the starting lineup, quite so soon. Mining a player of Singler’s versatility with a second-round pick is the type of value pick that allows a front office to invest resources more heavily in other areas. The Pistons have reasonable optimism that Khris Middleton, Kim English and Slava Kravtsov – their three other rookies – will provide similar value down the road.

All in all, that’s a pretty good year. If they take as many strides in 2013, we won’t be talking about 11-22 as 2014 dawns.