One of the quietly awesome turnarounds of the 2011-12 season happened in Detroit, where the Pistons began the season 4-20 but went 21-21 to finish the campaign. Had the Pistons not started out in such rough fashion, they would have been in the race for the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed in April.
Are those major losing spells over? Have the Pistons turned the corner?
FEATS OF STRENGTH
It's hard to describe just how good Greg Monroe has been in his two years in the league. At just age 21, he led the Pistons in scoring, rebounding, steals and shooting percentage, and finished just a touch behind Jason Maxiell in blocks. He remains neck-and-neck with DeMarcus Cousins as the best player from the 2010 NBA Draft -- reminder: Monroe was pick No. 7, behind guys like Wesley Johnson and Ekpe Udoh -- and is a chief rival to Roy Hibbert as the No. 2 young center in the East (behind Andrew Bynum). Centers who can score efficiently are game-changers in the NBA. Those who can do that and rebound, defend and handle the ball a little literally change teams. Monroe's defense is still coming around, but he's smart as spit and improving. (Having a young mammoth in Andre Drummond next to him should help relieve pressure, too.) As is the case with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Monroe gives Detroit an incredible piece to build around.
I count one more legitimately good player on the roster right now: Rodney Stuckey. I'm not sure the viewing public has caught up to the latest turn of Stuckey's career -- we were all there when he came blasting out of the gates to (in theory) make Chauncey Billups expendable, then when he regressed hard and struggled in his second and third seasons. But he's been quite good over the past two seasons and is one of the most affordable plus starters not on a rookie deal. He's still absolutely not anything like a pure point guard, but he's darned efficient (when you account for low turnovers) and has the right size to be a strong defender.
Drummond is going to be raw as a rookie, I imagine, but I'm bullish on his future. If he hits 40 percent from the line this season, we can call it a success.
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
There are some nasty pieces on this team. I mean, Charlie Villanueva is still on the club (even though he didn't play much at all under Lawrence Frank). The team got out from under Ben Gordon's deal by taking on Corey Maggette, who shot so poorly with Charlotte last season -- 37 percent! -- that his trademark high free throw rate couldn't save his scoring efficiency. And if Maggette isn't scoring efficiently, there is no reason for him to be on the floor.
Tayshaun Prince led the Pistons in field goal attempts last season. That's a problem. But Frank has few other options at small forward -- Austin Daye has been an abject disappointment and Jonas Jerebko has been needed at power forward because Maxiell is a limited player and because Villanueva is an awful player (relatively speaking). Now, Maggette is tossed into the mix. Prince looks like LeBron James compared to the other options, so he'll get a lot of minutes again (unless Drummond plays heavy, bumping Jerebko back to small forward). And if you give Tayshaun Prince a lot of minutes, he's going to want a lot of shots ...
Brandon Knight is the mystery du jour. He was not good as a rookie. But he was a rookie, the youngest player in the league, playing the most difficult position in the league, for a team with few options and for a coach with a lot of ideas. I'm not sure anyone in the NBA had a more difficult on-court job than did Knight last year. But don't get me wrong: he was bad last year. The Pistons need him to be much better to get better, and I guess that's where I think Detroit needs some more time. Knight has a difficult job, and it's going to take more time.
It will be miraculous if ...
"Charlie Villanueva, Eastern Conference Player of the Week."
Greg Monroe gives a damn what y'all say.
Anyone says, "Thank God they locked up Tayshaun Prince!"
Joe Dumars isn't exposed as a Jekyll and Hyde case at some point in the future.
Jason Maxiell fails to mentally destroy someone with a baby-eating dunk.
Lawrence Frank gets rave reviews for his Balbo.
"I wish Corey Maggette would just take the shot."
THE HUMAN FUND
Let's get sincere.
Team MVP: Greg Monroe
Team X-Factor: Brandon Knight
Team Finish: 4th in Central | 11th in East
Best Championship Hopes: All Beard Team
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.