2013-2014 Pistons win production through 26 games

Preface:

Hello! How’s it going? Better than the Pistons’ season so far, I hope.

This blog has been about as efficient as a Josh Smith three point attempt over the past year (I’m full of them today). There are two main reasons for this. First, Wins Produced numbers are easily accessible via Box Score Geeks, and one of my primary reasons for starting this blog was to get WP numbers out there for interested Pistons fans. There’s less need for that now that Wins Produced has been automated and new data is available daily. Second, I’m doing a lot of game-by-game stuff over at Detroit Bad Boys, which usually includes a good bit of Wages of Wins inspired statistical analysis if not wins produced numbers directly.

That said, my plan is to write a handful of posts here each season that are specifically related to Wins Produced and its derivative metrics, in addition to to writing for DBB on a weekly basis. My goal is to identify trends and to speculate on some of the how? and why? questions that Wins Produced doesn’t claim to or try to answer.

End Preface.

After 26 games, the Pistons are not where they thought they’d be, not where the numbers suggested they might be, and certainly not where fans hoped they’d be. In spite of this, given how terrible the Eastern Conference has been thus far (only Indiana and Miami have winning records), the Pistons find themselves tied for fourth place with the Boston Celtics in the Playoff hunt, meaning that yes, if the Playoffs started today, Boston and Detroit would battle it out in the first round of the Playoffs.

However, that’s little solace for fans who enjoy good basketball, and a losing record hasn’t been enough to dramatically improve attendance, and thus substantially increase revenue for new owner Tom Gores. Presumably, no one is all that happy so far.

So, what gives? First of all, the numbers (as always, provided by Box Score Geeks):

Player Position Minutes Wins Produced per 48 Wins Produced
Andre Drummond C 855 0.329 5.85
Greg Monroe C 884 0.101 1.87
Kyle Singler SF 582 0.131 1.59
Brandon Jennings PG 890 0.060 1.11
Josh Smith SF 935 0.039 0.76
Rodney Stuckey SG 637 0.049 0.65
Josh Harrellson FC 156 0.148 0.48
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope SG 568 0.025 0.29
Tony Mitchell F 34 0.409 0.29
Charlie Villanueva PF 61 0.134 0.17
Chauncey Billups G 203 0.038 0.16
Jonas Jerebko PF 149 0.012 0.04
Will Bynum PG 199 -0.011 -0.04
Peyton Siva PG 76 -0.232 -0.37
Luigi Datome GF 86 -0.264 -0.47

The Good:

Andre Drummond is incredible. If you have thirty free minutes, go search YouTube for Andre Drummond highlights, and prepare to be amazed. Not a game goes by without opportunity to to be amazed. Fortunately, his highlights aren’t just empty hype. Andre Drummond is fourth in the NBA in total Wins Produced, trailing Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

As to the why of those numbers, it’s relatively simple: Andre takes and makes a lot of very high percentage shots – which include a developing back to the basket hook shot, as well as more alley oops than I can count – and is a black hole when it comes to rebounds. He’s also one of the best big men I’ve ever seen in terms of playing the passing lane and forcing turnovers. Andre Drummond converts nearly 62% of his shots, snags almost 28% of all available defensive rebounds when on the floor, and just over 16% of all available offensive rebounds.

As to the how, it’s also relatively simple: Andre Drummond is one of the most athletically gifted human beings on the planet. His game is raw and unpolished. He’s shooting under 40% from the free throw line. He frequently misses rotations on defense. But none of that matters, because his natural talents and instincts more than make up for all of that. Simply, he’s an incredible talent.

The next most productive Piston is surprisingly Kyle Singler. Arguably, Kyle should be starting over Josh Smith at small forward. Kyle’s productivity is being driven by an incredible true shooting percentage; at just over 60%, Kyle actually leads the Pistons, which is all the more remarkable given Dre’s 62% shooting from the field. Other than making his shots, Kyle isn’t doing anything remarkably well, but that shooting is enough for the moment.

Greg Monroe’s numbers in the table above may seems surprisingly low, and frankly, I’m a little surprised by them. Note, however, that Box Score Geeks classifies him as a Center, but in reality, he’s playing much more Power Forward, where his numbers compare more favorably (and more accurately): .141 WP48, 2.5 Wins Produced.

Last season, Greg Monroe struggled early in the year adjusting to his new role as the Pistons’ go-to scorer. This year, his role has changed again. Most nights, he’s the fourth option, behind Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Rodney Stuckey. It’s hard to believe, but Greg Monroe is averaging fewer shots per game than any other season as a pro, except his rookie year.

For reasons I cannot understand or explain, the Pistons seem committed to making Greg Monroe a complementary player volume scorers who are significantly less effective than he is. Joe Dumars at his finest.

Josh Harrellson is also playing well in limited minutes, but his role is increasing as the season progresses.

Charlie Villanueva has only played 61 minutes, and that is fantastic.

The Bad:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is not putting up good numbers, and it has everything to do with shooting and shot selection. It’s clear that he hasn’t yet developed NBA range or consistency, and it’s clear that he hasn’t figured out what’s a good shot and a bad shot commensurate to his role. He’s improving as the season progresses, and there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about his long-term future – including his fantastic on-the-ball defense – but he’s not there yet.

Rodney Stuckey is getting a lot of praise in his role off the bench. Early, it was warranted. However, as has always been the case with Stuckey, his production is quickly regressing to the mean. Stuckey has been consistently inconsistent throughout his career, and that hasn’t changed this season.

Brandon Jennings is torture to watch if you enjoy teamwork, good shot selection, and ball handling. He’s a definite upgrade over Brandon Knight, but an apt comparison is that he’s simply an improved version of Brandon Knight. He calls his own number far too often, he dribbles out the shot clock and forces his offense into bad shots as a result, and is one of the worst on-the-ball defenders I’ve seen at PG. Jose Calderon, we hardly knew you.

The Ugly:

Josh Smith has been an offensive disaster for the Pistons. It only takes watching on broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit to see how hard the franchise is trying to sell its fanbase on Josh Smith. Commercial after highlight reel after interview dominates the airwaves during game breaks. He is the highest paid player in franchise history, so it makes sense in that regard.

In terms of production, however, Josh Smith is almost exactly the same player for the Pistons as he was in Atlanta last season. If you have a weak stomach and an appreciation for basketball, I would not encourage you to click through to his shot chart. It is a disgrace to basketball.

The table above presents Josh Smith as a Small Forwards, which he is, some of the time. Compared to other Small Forwards, he’s below average. Compared to Power Forwards, however, where Smith does spend a large chunk of his playing time, he’s producing negative wins.

Yes, the richest Piston on franchise history is actively taking wins off the board.

When it comes to things not related to shooting and scoring, Josh Smith is pretty good. He’s a good rebounder. He’s a good passer. He blocks shots and gets steals. He’s not great at any of those things, but he’s good at all of them, and in that sense, he’s a very well rounded player.

Unfortunately, all of that is rendered irrelevant by Josh Smith’s terrible shot selection, atrocious shooting, and propensity to shoot the ball constantly in spite of being terrible at it.

Here, the analysis doesn’t need to go deeper. Josh Smith is a terrible offensive player who chooses to be terrible at offense as often as the opportunity presents itself.

Jonas Jerebko is mostly out of the rotation thanks to the Josh Smith acquisition. Naturally, Jonas Jerebko has been more productive over the course of his career, so it makes sense the Pistons would bury him on the bench to make room for a toxic player like Josh Smith.

As someone who enjoys good basketball and as a fan of Jonas Jerebko’s style of play, I sincerely feel badly for Jonas. He’s not and never will be a great player, but he’s a useful player in the right role, and ironically, the Pistons could really use a player like him to play the role he’s best at.

Luigi Datome was a great player in Italy. He’s been a terrible NBA player so far. Limited minutes likely have a lot to do with this, but it’s hard to see him getting an increased role given the way Maurice Cheeks has handled the rotation thus far.

Will Bynum continues to be terrible. He’s a bad shooter, turnover prone and ball hoggy. He really has no business in the rotation.

Summing Up:

The Pistons are 12-14, and they’ve earned it. At the franchise level, they have committed significant money and roles to players – Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith – who can’t carry a team to anything better without overhauling their entire approach to the game.

As a fanalyst, this is made all the more infuriating by the fact that these decisions have been made at the expense of players who could make the team better, and at a significantly better price. Players like Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson, and Kyle Singler aren’t glamorous, but they’re all the type of hard-working, blue-collar players that would be expected to thrive in Detroit – a city whose basketball franchise prides itself in its underdog reputation.

From the long-term perspective, this season has the potential to be much more damaging. Greg Monroe is the best offensive player in the Pistons’ employ. During his first two seasons, it was obvious to everyone but the Pistons’ coaching staff that he deserved to be the first option on merit. Last season, he settled into that role nicely in the second half of the season, and particularly well with Andre Drummond and a pass-first facilitator like Jose Calderon.

Unfortunately, the franchise appears to have given up on what appeared to be that sure bet, and has done so to its detriment. Instead of betting big on big-time players like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Joe Dumars opted for more of the same in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings – who fit the mold of Allen Iverson, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva all to snugly.

At 12 wins and 14 losses, the Pistons are better than last season, yes, but they are worse than they could be and are in danger of betting the franchise’s future – which is tied directly to Greg Monroe’s willingness to remain a Piston in free agency – on today’s mediocrity.

Fortunately, there is still a lot of NBA season left to turn this around, and the fixes aren’t that difficult, at least in theory. Here’s hoping against hope they happen.

Does John Hollinger trust PER? Should we?

John Hollinger created Player Efficiency Rating (details about its calculation here). As John himself puts it,

The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.

 

After a successful writing career for ESPN.com, the Memphis Grizzlies hired Hollinger as their VP of Basketball Operations. In his first season as VP of Basketball Operations, Hollinger’s most significant move was trading Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and Ed Davis.

From a Wins Produced perspective, that’s a heck of a deal. Rudy Gay is unremarkable; Prince is solid; Daye seems to be productive when he’s played on the perimeter; and, Ed Davis is among the most underrated young big men in the league.

But what about from the perspective of PER?

Prior to the trade, Rudy Gay’s PER was 14.1, just below Hollinger’s average of 15. Prince’s? 12.7. Daye’s was also 12.7 in a weird coincidence, and like WP, PER says Davis is the best player of the bunch at 18.2.

Interesting, right?

When we look at minute distribution since the trade, it’s stranger still. For all intents and purposes, Tayshaun Prince is playing Rudy Gay’s minutes. And even though Daye and Davis have had some good moments, they’re not playing enough to matter.

Practically speaking, this trade was Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince.

From the perspective of PER, we’d expect the Grizzlies to be a little bit worse, at least so long as we look at it from a Prince-for-Gay standpoint, which is what it is in practice. Not a lot worse, but a little. But the Grizzlies are not worse. In fact, they’ve been quite a bit better since the trade (obligatory small sample size qualifier . That good play hasn’t been because TAyshaun Prince is playing like an All Star. He hasn’t been. But, Tayshaun Prince is quite a bit more productive all things considered, and that is certainly helping.

The question that then begs to be asked is, “Does Hollinger trust his own metric?”

There are a couple obvious counterpoints to my implicit point in that question. I’d like to quickly respond to some of them.

First, for those who followed the trade as it happened, it was obvious there was a financial reason to do this deal (and the one that immediately preceded it). Fair enough. But Hollinger flat out says that he believed Tayshaun would be able to replace Gay’s production, and that there were plenty of “basketball reasons” for the trade. So it wasn’t just a financial decision; it was also a basketball one. Reading between the lines, at worst it’s a lateral move that saves money. At least this year anyway, as Prince is already beginning his post-30 decent.

Second, Hollinger’s own trade machine predicted the Grizzlies would be better after the trade, but that prediction is heavily influenced Ed Davis’ PER, and as I mentioned, Ed Davis has hardly seen the floor. If this trade were about Ed Davis, this is an awfully strange way of showing it.

Third, you could also say that Davis is a big part of Hollinger’s plans, but from a long-term rather than short-term perspective. We’ll see how they cross that bridge when they get there, I guess, but color me skeptical. It’s hard to see them committing long-term, significant money to Davis after making all these money-saving cuts, and young big men like Davis tend to get MLE deals or better off rookie scale contracts. In a league where Darko makes millions, Ed Davis probably will too. That whole short supply of tall people and all.

To be fair to Hollinger, Rudy Gay isn’t a superstar by PER. He’s had some good, but not great, seasons. Even if Gay is as good as his best PER season, it’s reasonable for Hollinger not to want to pay him max money.

But my critical question is still worth asking, because it highlights the critical flaw in PER: players like Rudy Gay – who score lots of points by taking lots of shots – get significantly overrated by it, and players like Tayshaun Prince – who don’t score tons of points but are competent players overall – get underrated by it.

And maybe Hollinger knows this.

I am certainly anxious to see more of what he does so we can find out.

What if Andre Drummond played more?

When the Pistons drafted Andre Drummond, I was skeptical and with good reason. In spite of being one of the most athletic big men in the entire NCAA, he had avery mediocre freshman season, which raised questions for statheads and traditional scouts alike.

At the conclusion of the preseason, I was optimistic about Andre Drummond and again, with good reason. Dre had a brilliant season, at times looking and producing like the most dominant player on the floor.

And after 30 games, Andre Drummond looks like the real deal, putting up per minute numbers that in some key areas that outshine Dwight Howard’s rookie season. Yep, so far, he’s been that good.

However, Detroit remains committed to its preseason plan for Drummond: bring the kid along slowly. At one point, that plan made a lot of sense. Drummond wasn’t great as a freshman. He’s young. He’s still growing into his body. For the first time in his life, he’ll be playing against men his own size. Those are all good reasons to take the long view and develop Drummond slowly.

But at every opportunity, Drummond has demonstrated that none of these concerns are justified. His performance up to this point indicates that he’s more than ready. In fact, in spite of being a little rough around certain edges, he has been Detroit’s most impactful player, and it’s not all that close.

Drummond’s play demands that the Pistons reevaluate their plans. Continue reading

2012-2013 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Can the Pistons make the playoffs? And even if they can, will they? At least a few players will consider the season a failure if they do not. Playoffs or bust, then… or is it?

Last year at this time, Charlie Villanueva tweeted some things about insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is crazy. Turns out, he was right. Given the players on the roster, a below-freezing win forecast in the mid-twenties seemed likely. And in spite of finishing the season a whole lot better than they started, the Pistons completed the season at 25-41. By efficiency differential, from which Wins Produced is derived, the Pistons were actually a little bit worse and would have been expected to win only 22 games.

This year, the Pistons will return several of the same players, and many of those players are expected to play significant roles. However, this year there finally be some room for optimism  – in the numbers of all places! And while the NBA Playoffs are probably still out of reach, that won’t necessarily make this season a bust. There is an intriguing young core of players emerging here that should give the Pistons some hope.

Continue reading

Talking advanced stats and playing days with @BallinMichigan

Patrick Hayes is a writer every Piston fan should know about. He’s doing great work all over the place these days, and he recently started up a new blog, BallinMichigan, which as the title suggests, is focused on covering basketball in Michigan.

This week, Patrick explored connections between Michiganders and advanced stats in basketball, and he invited me to a Q&A about my experience as a former collegiate player who now embraced advanced statistical analysis of the game. Or as he puts it better,

But the reason I asked Ben to participate in this series goes deeper than just the fact that I admire his writing. He’s also a former college basketball player, as he’ll describe below, so I wanted to get his take on the perception that advanced stats are just for the numbers nerds with no athletic ability.

 

One of the things I hope these conversations this week help illuminate is that advanced stats are not scary or threatening or nerdy. They’re simply another way to continuously look at and evaluate the game we all love to come up with the best possible methods for evaluating and explaining what actually happens on a basketball court. Ben has a lot of interesting insight worth reading below and you’ll also get to find out which NBA All-Star he once hit a floater over.

Check it out here.

For Andre Drummond and the Pistons, the numbers have to lie

Thanks to James Brocato, I have access to a really cool data set – complete box score and win score statistics for the Draft Express Top 100.

And because of that data set, I approached the NBA Draft with one thought running through my mind, “Anyone but Drummond.”*

Among Pistons fans, my perspective is among the minority. That’s not all that surprising, and honestly, it’s understandable. Drummond was a household name for NCAA and NBA fans before he even committed to Connecticut, he was ranked #2 overall ranking on Draft Express, and he is an exceptional athlete. He has all the things you can’t teach, as many coaches and scouts are fond of saying.

Here’s the problem – he is totally and completely unproven on the basketball court. In the NCAA at least, he didn’t produce anything close to what you’d expect out of the #2 overall prospect.

Normally, I would turn to Win Score to illustrate the point; however, in this case, the raw box score stats tell the story much, much better.

Because he is expected to play Center in the NBA, I’ll focus on the stats where you might expect a Center to contribute: Rebounds, Shooting Percentage, Blocks, Fouls, and Points (all stats per 40 minutes). And because I have complete data for the DX 100, I’ll compare Drummond to his peers in that group.

Here we go.

Let’s start with his main strength, blocks. Among the DX100, only three players averaged more blocks: Anthony Davis, Fab Melo, and John Henson. What’s more, Drummond doesn’t get himself in foul trouble when blocking all those shots; he averaged only 3.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Drummond excelled at blocking shots, and it didn’t take him off the court.

He’s also been good on the offensive glass – only Zeller and Plumlee were better.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends from a statistical perspective.

In terms of scoring, Andre Drummond ranks 78th in Points per 40 (and a meager 33rd out of 35 among Power Forwards and Centers).

In terms of total rebounding, Drummond ranks 42nd overall and right in the middle of the pack at 18 among PFs and Cs.

In terms of defensive rebounding, Drummond is 41st overall and among his peers at PF and C, he ranks 30th.

In terms of shooting percentage, we can look at it two ways, eFG% and TS%. In terms of eFG%, Drummond ranks 39th overall. In terms of TS%, Drummond ranks 76th (thanks in large part to a dismal FT%, which will keep him off the floor in crunch time if it doesn’t get much, much, much better).

Admittedly, college performance is not a completely accurate predictor of professional performance – especially for players as young as Drummond. We all know this, especially as Pistons fans. We have witnessed this with our beloved Greg Monroe, who has played much better in the NBA than he did at Georgetown.

But unlike Monroe, Drummond didn’t put up numbers that were anywhere close to good (Monroe’s NCAA Win Score averages were right around average, which projected slightly below average pro).

Quite the opposite, Drummond’s numbers are downright terrible, indicating that it is very unlikely that he will contribute anything to winning anytime soon.

Here’s hoping lightning strikes, and Andre Drummond makes a liar out of the numbers.

———————————————–

* Okay, I didn’t want any part of Barnes or Jones III either, but mainly, Drummond because the others weren’t high on the Pistons draft board.

Pistons acquire Corey Maggette, has nothing to do with Corey Maggette

Today, Joe Dumars made progress.

And that progress has nothing to do with what Corey Maggette may or may not bring to the Detroit Pistons in the 2012-2013 NBA season.

There was a time when Corey Maggette was an intriguing and productive NBA player who demonstrated a remarkable ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. But age and injury raise serious questions about his ability to do that while wearing Red, White, and Piston Blue. A quick look at his stats illustrate the point.

Stats courtesy of The NBA Geek

Yes, it’s possible (if very unlikely) that being traded to Detroit could rejuvenate Corey Maggette’s career. Antonio McDyess and Tracy McGrady both know a little bit about how injured veterans can rediscover their productivity under the careful watch of Arnie Kander.

But even if he doesn’t return to his pre-thirty-year-old form, acquiring Corey Maggette is an important step for the Detroit Pistons – if for no other reason than it demonstrates that the franchise is finally moving forward from its dismal failures of the summer of 2009.

Ben Gordon, signed in the summer of 2009 along with Charlie Villanueva, has been an enigma. By Wins Produced, Ben Gordon was never a star player, but since coming to Detroit, he hasn’t even played at a rotation-caliber level. A quick look at his numbers illustrate the point.

Whatever Ben Gordon’s problems have been, I sincerely hope he figures them out in Charlotte and realizes his full potential. He’s been an active member of Detroit’s community and seems like a genuinely good person.

From a basketball perspective, Maggette’s best has been better than Gordon’s, but that simply cannot be Dumars’ motivation. Likely, Maggette’s career is nearing its end, and he doesn’t fit any need the Pistons currently have.

This trade wasn’t about a talent upgrade, filling a roster need, or making an immediate improvement in the Win-Loss department. Corey Maggette the player doesn’t make the Pistons better.

But the financial flexibility that his expiring contract may provide might.

If Jason Maxiell picks up his player option, the Pistons suddenly have two expiring contracts that may be enticing to teams who will be scrambling to avoid the increasingly punitive luxury tax of the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement by the summer of 2013.

But even if Maggette and Maxiel remain Pistons for the duration of the 2012-2013 season, this trade – I hope – was about cutting ties with a failed “retooling” strategy and starting a true rebuild around one of the game’s most promising young big men, Greg Monroe.

Here’s hoping that on draft night, Joe Dumars takes the next step in that reinvention.