The Detroit Pistons are not yet mathematically out of the playoff race, but they are on life support and I, for one, am hoping the plug gets pulled soon.
There’s no point in trotting out a clearly hampered Reggie Jackson with teammates that don’t like him just to get blasted by the Celtics or Cavaliers in four or five games. It was exciting to make the playoffs last year, but that’s because for the first time in almost a decade the team showed some real promise. Maybe last year was a fluke, and this year is a real product of a team just not gelling, and not really wanting to. Maybe this year is the fluke, and last year is a better representation of where the team is headed. None of that matters in this moment.
We need to consider what is best for the future and tank. Tank hard. Tank aggressively. Give Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson (the team’s last two first-round picks) 30 minutes a night over the course of the next six games and accept that you’re not going to make up the two and a half game ground on the Indiana Pacers for the eighth seed in the East.
See what you have with the young guys and go from there. We haven’t seen much of Henry Ellenson this year, and it’s probably because he’s not very good, but again, at this point it doesn’t matter. If you have the car, might as well drive it. He may shoot 20%, or he may surprise us in the same way Jordan Crawford is doing for the Pelicans, or Yogi Ferrell did for the Mavericks.
Either way it is a win-win. If the young guys play poorly, you lose games, improve your draft position, and identify them as expendable pieces moving forward.
If they play well, you lose games (because Johnson and Ellenson aren’t nearly good enough to win you games in the NBA right now), improve your draft position, and identify them as part of the rebuild process.
But just how much could the Pistons improve their draft stock? Top 10? Top 5? Top 3? Number one overall? The answer to all of those questions is yes. In a lottery system like the NBA has, the Pistons could get the number one pick overall. In order to better understand how, we must first know how the lottery actually works.
  • 1. All teams missing the playoffs are in the Lottery
  • 2. Teams with worse records get more chances at winning a top three pick (more ping pong ball combos)
  • 3. The 1st overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls
  • 4. The 2nd overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls
  • 5. The 3rd overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls
  • 6. Remaining lottery teams, sorted by record, fill out picks 4-14
  • 7. Playoff teams, sorted by record, are assigned picks 15-30 – playoff seeds and outcomes have no impact
  • 8. Coin flip decides who picks first between teams with same record
  • 9. Tied lottery teams split their ping pong balls evenly, and any odd remainder and the better draft order position are given to the coin flip winner

How could this benefit the Pistons?

The Pistons right now sit at 35-41 (12th worst in the league), which would mean their maximum amount of losses is 47, which right now would have them tied for the fifth-worst record in the league with New York and Philadelphia. Realistically, both of those teams are going to lose more than 47 games, and the only teams the Pistons could really pass in futility are Mavericks (43 losses), Pelicans (43 losses), and Hornets (41 losses). That would put Detroit ninth in terms of worst record, and would up their chance of a top three pick from 2.5% to 6.1%, and would up there chance of getting the top pick overall from 0.7% to 1.7%, which is the percentage the Chicago Bulls had in 2008 when they landed the No. 1 pick and drafted Derrick Rose.

It’s still a definite long shot, but obviously not impossible. A top three player in this draft would do huge things for the Pistons future. So we have to lose. Even if the Pistons can only manage to climb into the top ten, that could be the difference between landing De’Aaron Fox and Lauri Markkanen.

The Million dollar question is, if the ping pong balls were to fall in our favor, who would YOU take with the first overall pick?