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The Pistons Set the Record for Consecutive Losses. Here’s Why That’s Good News.

The Pistons Set the Record for Consecutive Losses. Here’s Why That’s Good News. article feature image

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Cade Cunningham during a recent Detroit Pistons game.

The start to this season has been really, really terrible for the Detroit Pistons.

Despite coming in with a healthy Cade Cunningham, trading for Joe Harris and Monte Morris, and hiring a coach with a proven track record of success, they are currently 2-28 as on Tuesday night, the Pistons set the record for most consecutive losses in NBA history.


The Pistons have set an NBA record for most consecutive losses in a single season 😬

— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 27, 2023

(Editor's note: Ahead of Tuesday's now historic game and loss against the Nets, we broke down just how bad Detroit has been and took a look at the Pistons' current standing in the betting markets. The good news? As bad as things are for Detroit right now — and they are, historically so — things could be looking up for Cade & Co. sooner than later. It would be hard for things to get any worse, anyway. Here's how we analyzed the Pistons' struggles before Tuesday's record setting loss.)

Some books have current win total lines up for the Pistons (whose preseason over/under was 27.5), and they are rough:

DraftKings: Over 9.5 wins -350, under 9.5 wins +260. Fair value for over: -300
Caesars: Over 9.5 wins -323, under 9.5 wins +210. Fair value for over: -260
FanDuel: Over 11.5 wins -115, under 11.5 wins -105. Fair value for over: -109
Bet365: Over 12.5 wins +100, under 12.5 wins -120. Fair value for over: +109

Each one of these books is estimating that on average, the Pistons have between a 17.5% and 20% chance to win each remaining game. According to tankathon, the Pistons also have the hardest remaining strength of schedule. So the question becomes: Can the Pistons turn this around, even in the slightest? And is there value in any of these lines?

Wait: so how bad are the Pistons really?

At 2-27 with a net rating of -13.5, the Pistons were clearly the worst team in the NBA even before their record-setting loss on Tuesday. So far this season, Cade and Isaiah Stewart have probably been their best two players; even with them out there, the Pistons are being outscored by 6.2 points per 100 possessions. They have the worst offense in the NBA and the fourth-worst defense in the NBA.

Their shot profile hasn't been terrible. While they are a low volume 3-point shooting team, they are taking the third most shots at the rim (but converting them at 63%, bottom 10 in the NBA). uses a stat called location-based effective field goal percentage, which is an estimate of how the team would shoot if they shot league average from each location. By that stat, Detroit is seventh in the NBA. They have also shot atrociously from 3.

On defense, they are 11th in effective field goal percentage, allowing very few 3s (though teams are shooting very well on those). Unlike Washington, which has no rim protection, teams are shooting only 63.6% at the rim, seventh in the NBA. They are draining 51% of their long midrange shots against the Pistons, likely because their strategy is to limit 3-point shots and protect the paint and just leave the midrange area open.

Last season, the Pistons had the worst record in the NBA, but Cade was immediately hurt and the assumption was they'd be better. This year, they started the season without their two best veterans (Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris), though Bojan has played the last 10 games while Morris has yet to suit up (but should hopefully in the next few weeks).

The biggest reason to be optimistic about them for the rest of the season: Monte Morris. If he comes back in January, he will slot in at point guard and put someone out there who has real experience running an offense. It'll give Cade more of an opportunity to play off ball and will hopefully get it in the hands of their players better. The Pistons saw this last year with Alec Burks, with whom they had a positive net rating with when he was on the floor. Morris is even better and should make a big difference.

Historical Comparisons

There have been 14 teams in NBA history that won three or fewer games in their first 30 games. On average, those teams won 14.5 games in an 82-game season. Thirteen of them won 10 or more games, 10 of them won 12 or more games, and nine of them won 13 or more games. The Pistons will be the 15th team in NBA history to win 10 or fewer games at this point.

Including the Pistons, there have been nine teams with a losing streak of at least 20 games in a single regular season. Those teams' track records are a little worse: six of the eight won 10 or more games, and five of them won 12 or more.

Four of those instances occurred over the last 11 seasons:

2020-21 Rockets: The Rockets had traded away James Harden and were 11-10 before a 20-game losing streak. They went 6-25 after the losing streak, with a net rating of -10.3 after.

2013-14 76ers: The 76ers were 15-31 before a 26-game losing streak. They finished the season 4-6 with a -3.2 net rating after.

2011-12 Bobcats: The Bobcats were 7-36 when they waived Boris Diaw (who joined the Spurs and looked rejuvenated). They didn't win a game the rest of the season, finishing with 23 straight losses.

2010-11 Cavaliers: It was LeBron's first season not in Cleveland. The Cavs were 8-19 before a 26-game losing streak. They finished 11-18 with a net rating of -5.4.

I also took a look at teams over the last 11 seasons that had a net rating of -10 or worse through Christmas. There are 10 such teams over the last 11 years (almost one per season). Every single one had a better net rating over the last 50 or so games than they did during the beginning 30, and on average, they won 14 games the remainder of the season, with nine of the 10 winning at least 11 games. The best-case scenario would be the 2021-22 Pistons (started 5-23) and the 2018-19 Hawks (started 9-24), who won 18 and 20 games, respectively, over their final 50+ games.

It's fair to wonder why these teams don't get worse over the course of the season; usually, teams that are bad stay bad, tank at the end of the season to get a better pick, and play teams that are trying. But here is the interesting thing about being this terrible: As the season winds down, they have less incentive to tank, because they are more locked into their position.

If you look at preseason expectations, of the teams that won 13 or fewer games since 1998, the preseason win totals were: 24, 20.5, 21.5, 27.5, and 27.5. The teams with the higher win totals were coming off of seasons where they won 30+ games, while the teams were the lower win totals were coming off seasons where they won 21 or fewer. The Pistons had a low win total last year but a higher over/under this year, a clear sign that the books believed significant improvement was coming.

The biggest thing to take away from all of the above examples is that this is the worst period of Pistons basketball we are very likely to see this season. They won't be good the rest of the way, but at some point this losing streak will end, and they will look better.

The Pistons have been terrible so far this season. But all of the evidence seems to suggest they will start to look better and will eventually get out of this losing streak. No team has ever lost more than 28 straight games, and when it's over, they will start to win more.

I believe in Monty Williams turning the ship around, pressure from management (whose job is in serious jeopardy), and internal improvement from Cade, Duren, Stewart, as well as the return of Morris. As the season goes along, they may also move Killian permanently to the bench or start to throw in the towel on guys like Wiseman (who is terrible). There are a lot of ways to improve, and not many ways to continue being this bad, which is probably necessary to finish with 11 or fewer wins.

I keep coming back to the 2015-16 76ers, who finished 10-72 after starting the season 1-29. That team had no veterans who were playing, no young players with upside who could handle the ball, and not particularly good coaching. They were trying to tank hard after winning too many games the previous two seasons and not getting a high enough pick. They tanked hard to get to 10 wins, and they were terrible. They came into the season with an over/under of 20.5 wins and were expected to be atrocious. This Pistons team, with guys like Bogdanovic, Morris, Harris, and Burks, and young players like Cade, Stewart and Duren, as well as Monty Williams, just isn't the same. The preseason win total reflects this.

My favorite line of the ones above is on CZR -323 for over 9.5 wins, but I think that's too much juice on a future. Instead, I'm betting:

.4u on Pistons over 11.5 wins at -115 on FD (would bet to -125) and .2u on over 12.5 wins at +100 on bet365.

If you don't have bet365, I'd just put the whole .6u on FanDuel. Be sure and check your local books as well.

I know it seems crazy, but I do think the Pistons have a chance to get to 20 wins. Momentum can start, and they would push well past this. I'm sprinkling .15u on Pistons 20+ wins at +760 on FD (would bet down to +700). I think there is about a 15% chance they get there, which makes this line definitely worth a sprinkle for me.

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Nick Sterling
Feb 22, 2024 UTC