Every year there’s an NBA team that flies under the radar in the offseason and makes all of us pundits look silly by becoming an instant contender. Last season it was the Atlanta Hawks who came out of nowhere to win 60 games just a year after a 38–44 season.
This year it looks like Detroit—which won just 32 games last year—could be the team to surprise the league.
Don’t look now but, after coming back from 13 down entering the fourth quarter Sunday night at Portland to win by 17 points, the Stan Van Gundy-coached Pistons are now 5–1 with four of those wins coming against teams with winning records.
Now any team can have a decent six-game stretch where they win five games. But the Pistons have a pair of breakout stars with center Andre Drummond and guard Reggie Jackson that makes it seem that they’re for real.
In the fourth quarter alone of the Portland victory, Jackson scored an unheard-of 26 points and finished with 40 on the night.
The fifth-year player, who was acquired from Oklahoma City in a three-team deal last February for D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, and a pair of second-round picks, has been a big addition for the Pistons. After seeing him average 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per contest as a starter the final 27 games of last season, Detroit signed him to a mammoth 5-year, $80 million contract this summer that surprised many around the league.
The deal is clearly working out. After the 40-point outing on Nov. 8, Jackson is now averaging 23.2 points per game to go along with 5.7 assists a game.
Meanwhile, Drummond was a leftover from the Joe Dumars era. Dumars—who infamously drafted Darko Milic over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2003—snagged Drummond with the ninth pick in the 2012 draft and he’s blossomed since. The 6-foot-11 big man has improved each year—much the way DeAndre Jordan did—finally averaging 13.8 points and 13.5 rebounds a game last year.
But through six games this year, Drummond has set himself apart. The former UConn star is averaging just over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. With his 29-point, 27-rebound effort at Portland, he became just the third player in NBA history—along with Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain—to put up three 20–20 games through his team’s first six games of the year.
As long as these two stars are performing for Van Gundy, the Pistons should be contenders.