Thought Experiment: Could a starting five of former Pistons make the Playoffs in the East?

Patrick Hayes of PistonPowered offered an interesting thought today. In short, he wonders if several former Piston players could be assembled into a starting five that could make the Playoffs out East.

His five players:

  • Chauncey Billups
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Carlos Delfino
  • Amir Johnson
  • Darko Milicic

His conclusion, based on Win Shares:

That lineup has produced 4.2 total Win Shares. League average for most common starting fives used by each NBA team is 5.9 Win Shares, so this hypothetical group of starters currently would be 23rd in the league in that department. Not good, although they are better than the Pistons most common starting five, which has 3.1 combined Win Shares.

Not surprisingly, I thought it would be interesting to put this starting five to the test via WP48 and Wins Produced. The following tables illustrate what each player produced in 2009-2010 and what each has produced thus far in 2010-2011:

Microsoft Excel - Thought Experiment 2

Microsoft Excel - Thought Experiment 1

So to sum up, in 09-10, this collection of players combined to produce 28 wins. In case you forgot, the Pistons won 27 games collectively last season.

However, it’s still very early in the 10-11 season, and it wouldn’t be wise to project an entire season on these numbers (Although Arturo Galletti might have something to say about that).

So, I attempted to project what these players might be expected to produce over 82 games based on age and recent performance. In short, I examined the past several years of WP48 and Wins Produced data and attempted to project what these five players might produce over 82 games. In short, I used their current minutes per game as a baseline for minutes played, assumed health for 82 games, and projected a slight decline for older players and a slight improvement for Afflalo.

The following table reflects that projection, along with each player’s salary, to throw fuel on the fire:

Microsoft Excel - Thought Experiment 3

Interesting. For just shy of $28 million, the Pistons could employ a starting five that projects to win more games than the entire team produced last season.

But, that quintuplet includes the notoriously unproductive Darko Milicic. Fortunately, we need not include him, because the San Antonio Spurs employ another former Piston who remains productive even in old age – I like to refer to him as San Antonio, or Saint Antonio.

He just looks better in Piston red, white, and blue, doesn’t he?

If we swap Dyess for Darko, what might we get?

Microsoft Excel - Thought Experiment 5

Wow. These five former Pistons who will make shy of $28.5 million as a group project to win roughly the same amount of games that I (somewhat optimistically) predicted the 2010-2011 Pistons would win as a whole. For context, Rip and Ben Gordon will make somewhere around $22 million combined, depending on which numbers one uses. Wow, just … wow. And it’s not as if these players departures were beyond Joe’s control – all of these players could have been retained relatively easily (perhaps not Delfino, I suppose).

This didn’t start off as a “Fire Dumars!!1111” post, and I don’t intend it to be that… then again, maybe I do. I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, it does sort of raise the question, doesn’t it?

Or, perhaps this is merely hindsight bias from a disgruntled fan. Either way, I found it extremely interesting – hopefully, it is for other Pistons fans as well.

A familiar story unfolding in Motown

One of the findings of The Wages of Wins is that minutes played, player salaries, and points per game are correlated with one another. Put simply, players that score a lot of points tend to play a lot and make lots of money. What Dr. Berri and his colleagues discovered, however, is that winning games doesn’t necessarily correlate with the factors above. Or put simply, employing and paying players who score lots of points a lot of money and playing them big minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that your team will win lots of games.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is precisely what’s happening in Motown. The table below attempts to illustrate that the Pistons employ several players that manage to score points without helping the team win many games – and they pay many of these unproductive scorers plenty of money to do so.

2010-11-18 Points Minutes WP48

As we can see quite clearly, of the top 5 Pistons scorers, only one is above average for his position relative to WP48 (the per minute derivative of Wins Produced. Yet, all 5 are among the leaders in minutes played, and with the exception of Stuckey who is on the last year of his rookie deal, they lead the team in terms of salary.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, after 12 games their top scorers are not performing particularly well relative to any of the other important aspects of the game (i.e., rebounding, steals, blocks). Stuckey’s shooting has cooled off, Charlie V either won’t or can’t grab enough rebounds, and Tay and Rip can’t throw the ball in the ocean. To his credit, BG continues to play relatively well, although he still isn’t playing up to his contract.

It’s precisely because our management has opted to employ too many relatively unproductive scorers and not enough productive scorers and non-scorers (i.e., Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko, Tracy McGrady) that we find ourselves where we are – right where we were last year, on the outside of the Playoffs looking in and hoping for a lottery pick that can help turn the team around.

(Salaries taken from here and here)

Maggette for Prince?

Ty, of Courtside Analyst, writes,

The Bucks should offer the Pistons a solution to their festering problem in the form of a trade of SFs — Corey Maggette for Tayshaun Prince.  It might be a win-win for both teams.  And as far as CBA Salary Cap considerations, I tested the trade on the RealGM trade checker, and it worked (Trade ID #5737973).

The reason I suggest that the Bucks offer up Maggette so soon after acquiring him is because he is off to a very slow start in Milwaukee and it looks a little bit like he does not fit the system.  He doesn’t look comfortable at all, and his production reflects that.  Plus, he’s not the kind of aggressive defender that Scott Skiles favors anyway, and it shows in his allotted minutes.  Many projected him as a starter, but he’s getting second string minutes.

From the Pistons perspective, they can end an embarrassing situation and pick up a nice talent that fits their roster and style.  Corey was a very prolific scorer the past few seasons in Golden State and those talents probably have not diminished a whole lot.  Plus his basket attacking style would provide a needed counterpart to Detroit’s long range shooters.

From Milwaukee’s perspective, Prince would be a great addition.  Prince is not nearly the scorer Maggette is, but he is a proven defender, he is versatile, he is a reliable long-range shooter, and he is a guy who will move the basketball around.  Those are all qualities Skiles favors.

At first, I thought this was a great idea. Maggette is a to-the-basket SF that scores efficiently and gets to the FT line. This is a combination of skills we haven’t had in Detroit for some time. And I agree with Ty that Prince’s days in Detroit are numbered, and given what Joe’s done with cap space lately, a player of Maggette’s category might be the best we could hope to get out of Prince’s expiring deal.

From a Wins Produced perspective, it’s mostly a wash. Automated Wins Produced lists Maggette as a PF, so the WP48 numbers don’t compare correctly; however, the Adj.P48 numbers are comparable for both players.

The obvious concern – that I completely overlooked at first – is the salary commitment Detroit would have to make to yet another perimeter player. And as much as I like Maggette’s skillset, I’m not sure I could support committing to a perimeter player of his caliber without some significant house-cleaning first.

Is Austin Daye Turning the Corner?

Commenter and fellow Pistons and Wins Produced aficionado Gabe recently pointed out that Austin Daye has been playing well recently (even if out of position). Gabe says,

It looks to me like Daye might be turning a corner. His non-scoring stats are holding steady, and his scoring efficiency is trending way up because of a hot streak from 3. Daye’s 3 point shooting % will go down, but there’s still some unrealized potential as he’s barely gotten to the line at all, if he can improve even a little bit at drawing free throws, his scoring efficiency should stay pretty good. He’s definitely not a PF, but paradoxically (to go back to a debate we had about a week ago), because of the crap-ness of the Pistons other candidates for minutes at PF, I think there is a chance that Daye is Q’s best option at PF on the roster.

I decided to take a quick look at some numbers, and Gabe’s absolutely right that Daye’s recent performance has been good. Because the season is so young, even a handful of games of good play can cause a large jump in WP48, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

After 3 games, Daye was producing in the negative range (-.174 WP48). After 10 games, Daye had moved into the positive range, but barely (.014 WP48). Now, only 3 games later, Daye has jumped to .068 WP48. Gabe is right to observe that this is largely due to a hot streak in shooting which will level off over time, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

And for Pistons fans, at least there’s something to be interested in and excited about – a young player playing well isn’t something we’ve seen much of in recent years, and it certainly bears watching over the next several games.

Can Daye can continue to rebound well, keep blocking shots, keep knocking down open jumpers, and improve relative to getting to the FT line? I’m obviously biased as a Pistons fan, but I remain optimistic that Daye can do at least some of these things consistently, and if he can, I think we’ve found a very nice player who can be part of a core moving forward.

Last Night’s Numbers

Want to make you all aware of a cool series happening at Hickory High entitled Last Night’s Numbers. Modeled after Dwyer’s “Behind the Box Score,” “Last Night’s Numbers” provides interesting statistical observations relevant to the various statistical elements that inform Win Score and Wins Produced.

It’s become a daily read for me, especially on days like today in which I wasn’t able to catch all of last night’s Pistons game.

L.A. Lakers 103 – Detroit 90

  • Detroit, remarkably, had only 5 turnovers on the night. Unfortunately, they struggled to make shots, shooting only 39.4% from the field and 4 of 25 on three pointers.
  • The Lakers controlled the glass, grabbing 57.3% of available rebounds. The Lakers’ starters had 39 rebounds, only 2 less than the entire Pistons’ team.

Joe Dumars disagrees with me

Joe Dumars had a Q&A session with Chris Iott of Mlive.com, which has been posted in pieces over the past few days. Apparently, he and I are seeing very different things with respect to certain Pistons players.

Regarding Monroe, Dumars says:

When he’s on the court, you don’t ever feel like he’s a lost rookie. He has an extremely high basketball IQ, he has a great feel for the game and he’s an exceptional passer. […] So, that’s what you’re seeing with him. I think that as he goes through this first cycle, he’s been good for us so far. I think he’ll be even better during the second cycle, meaning the second half of the year after he’s seen these guys for the first time, and now you play them again and again, he’ll have an idea of who these guys are.

Well, he really hasn’t been very good, Joe, respectfully. As I mentioned yesterday, he’s rebounded well – but he’s shooting sub 40% from the field! And then there’s the turnovers – which seem to get glossed over every time his passing skills are mentioned – and the fact that he doesn’t offer all that much on defense.

Regarding Daye, Dumars says:

I really like what Austin has done so far. Austin got moved to the four kind of in the middle of the preseason. He just kind of got moved to the four and we’ve asked him to go out there and battle guys where he’s giving up 40, 50 pounds. He’s never blinked an eye. Really liked him in the summer. Really liked him in training camp. Really liked him during the preseason. He’s been good during the start of the regular season, but we still are very encouraged by this young player. This is a skilled 6-11 guy who’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. Even if he gets knocked down, he kind of sticks his nose in there and keeps fighting. We like Austin. We like what he’s doing.

While I remain optimistic about Daye’s future at the 2 and 3, he has simply not been good at all at the 4. Not at all. He did have a very nice preseason, but he played major minutes at 2 and 3 during the preseason, but that hasn’t carried over into the regular, at least not yet.

Regarding our fallen Swede, Jonas Jerebko:

What Jonas provides for us doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score like you think. But that’s part of the continuity I was talking about. He’s one of those glue type of guys. The plays he makes, the diving on the floor, the taking the charge, the getting the extra rebound, man, we definitely miss that. Like I said, it’s probably one of those situations where it doesn’t show up in the box score, but it would really help if we had someone like him out there helping us right now.

I don’t want to be overly critical for the sake of being critical here, because Joe’s right (at least partially) that not all of what Jonas does makes the box score. And clearly, Joe values Jonas, as do I. But rebounds and steals – two things we aren’t very good at overall – do show up in the box score, both impact wins, and Jonas produces both. For whatever reason, these types of plays seem to get relegated to “hustle plays,” as if any player who hustles hard enough can produce them. While I’d agree that effort matters, rebounding and stealing the ball is as much talent as anything else – something Ben Wallace still demonstrates every night the Pistons take the floor. Unfortunately, when Joe inks contracts – at least of late – he seems to forget that.

Regarding not making trades this summer:

I would just say that I would assume for those who want trades that they would want good trades. The question for me is not, “Why no trades?” The question for me is, “If there’s not a good trade, why would I do it?” There was never a trade that made sense for us. It made no sense for us to make a trade if it was not going to be beneficial for us.

It seems to me, based on last season and the beginning of this season, that there shouldn’t be any “sacred cows” on this roster. Any trade that gets us out of the several bad contracts we have would benefit us, and there’s no one on the team that’s good enough to be untouchable (although I’m not sure I could live with Dumars if he traded Ben Wallace). To be fair, though, if I were a GM in the NBA, I’m not sure I’m buying what the Pistons are selling. So depending on what he means here, maybe we actually agree.

Lastly, Dumars on TMac:

I think so far, for about half of the eight games we’ve played, he’s looked good enough to help us on the court. There have been other games where he’s even kind of pulled himself and said, “I just don’t feel it tonight.” […] I’m very happy with how he’s kind of embraced the leadership role here. I’ve heard him speak up. I’ve heard him say the right stuff. I’ve seen him bring composure to the court when we’ve needed it. I’ve seen him play with a very high basketball IQ. So, those things have been all positives with Tracy

I’d be remiss to not give Joe credit where it’s due – he recognized talent where many other teams didn’t. But beyond that, it’s difficult for me to see what Dumars does.

Ten Games In: About where I thought we’d be, sort of

One week into the young season, this team looked like it could lose all 82; in the midst of that dismal beginning, I offered some analysis that suggested the Pistons might win 34 games (or be a .415 ball club). After 10 games, the Detroit Pistons are 4-6 (or a .400 ball club). Yes, the sample is small, but our record thus far corresponds with what I anticipated in terms of winning percentage and record. However, the performances of individual players doesn’t, at least not in every case.  Here’s what the Automated Wins Produced Numbers tell us about the players’ performance through 10 games.

2010-11-15 Wins Produced

I thought an interesting approach to reviewing the team after 10 games would be to revisit some of my thoughts about individual players to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Complete box score stats here, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Rodney Stuckey: Will the real Rodney Stuckey please stand up? Or thinking pessimistically, is he already standing? After a blistering start, Stuckey has regressed significantly. While what we’ve seen on the whole is better than what we’ve seen historically (at least a little bit anyway), the past several games have been relatively poor – and that up and down play is something that’s plagued Rodney his entire career. Three games of brilliant play followed by seven of mediocre or worse.

Austin Daye is not a PF. He’s playing most of his minutes out of position (in spite of the automated numbers having him at SF 49% of the time), and he’s struggling mightily. It would be nice to see him get minutes at SF and SG, but that seems unlikely to happen barring a major roster overhaul. I’m still optimistic about his future, and he has dug himself out of the negative range of late. Still, it’s not what I expected.

Ben Gordon is playing some of the best ball of his career and certainly the best we’ve seen from him as a Piston (barring the start of last season pre-injury). My only concern with Gordon is that his spike in productivity has been tied to almost superhuman shooting percentages for a guard whose game is predicated on jump shooting. Can he keep burning up the nets, or will he eventually cool off?

Charlie Villanueva: in spite of shooting the ball and scoring very well, Charlie’s not having the career year I’d hoped for, at least not yet. This is largely due to the fact that he appears to have an aversion for rebounding the basketball, and rebounding – especially from your big men – matters.

Tracy McGrady has made me enjoy eating crow so far. He’s looked much better than I thought he could, and that’s been reflected in the numbers. Per minute, he’s been the second-best player on the team; unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to play big minutes, and it’s not clear if he will. In any case, I had him completely wrong.

Greg Monroe: after a miserable start, Monroe continues to play … well, not that good. However, he has been a much better rebounder than I anticipated, which is an excellent sign. He’s struggled to finish around the rim (and, well, from everywhere else, too), and he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a shot-blocker. But he’s showed that he can and appears to have a desire to rebound the basketball, and that’s a good place to start.

Rip and Tayshaun: Ugh. I’m not sure what else to say. They look miserable on the court, both in terms of demeanor and performance, and the numbers don’t provide any consolation. As much as I’ve pulled for these players for the better part of a decade, it appears their time in Detroit is coming to an end quickly.

Ben Wallace: The Benaissance continues! That is all.

To conclude this rather lengthy post I’ll revisit the three questions that I think are key for the Pistons this season:

  • Can our productive veterans (Big Ben and Tay) stay healthy and productive? Yes (!!) and no respectively.
  • Can some of our new pieces (McGrady, Gordon, Charlie V) return to form? More than yes, more than yes, and not even close.
  • Can even even one of our young players (Daye, Stuckey, and I’m adding Monroe) take a significant step forward? Not yet.

Better late than never: 2010-2011 Projection

In early October, Dr. Berri ran the numbers and projected that the Pistons might be able to reach 40 wins – if everything goes perfectly. His analysis was grounded in the possibility that players who underperformed in 09-10 might see a return to 08-09 form in 10-11 (got it?).

I’ve decided to run the numbers myself and try to project improvements, declines, and minutes played. Here’s my best-case scenario based on that analysis.

In an (almost) perfect world...

Given the current roster and injury situation, the best-case scenario I can realistically create places us below .500. While this might prove to be good enough for a Playoff berth out East (unlikely, but possible), this roster appears to be bumping its head on a 40-win season. While that’s not as good as I’d hope for, at least we’re not the Wizards.

I recognize that some of my minute allocations are arbitrary; however, I can’t see any way around that. For example, Will Bynum will probably play a bit more than I project here, but whose minutes will he take, and who will play out of position as a result? I’m not sure I know the answer to those questions. I also realize that our coaching staff appears to have an unexplainable affinity for small ball, which places players out of position and ultimately costs the team wins (Tayshaun at PF anyone?). But again, it’s difficult to predict when and how often that will happen. So instead, I’ve opted for more traditional lineups with corresponding minute allocations.

Minute distribution aside, there are a few caveats worth exploring.

Rodney Stuckey: The table above assumes that what we’ve seen from Stuckey in the preseason and the first 3 regular season games is an actual, permanent improvement. This might be wishful thinking on my part, but subjectively speaking, Rodney has looked better this year than he has at any other point in his career thus far. If he’s turned the proverbial corner, he may yet become an above-average win producer for the Pistons.

Austin Daye: In limited minutes last season and big minutes this pre-season, Daye showed promise at both SG and SF. This year, however, he has been named the starter at PF. And unfortunately for both his development and Pistons fans, Austin doesn’t appear to be cutout for that position. He’s simply not strong enough to be a good rebounder at PF despite his height, and as a result, he fares poorly at that position. I still like his game and think he has a chance to become a quality player, assuming the Pistons find minutes for him in the right place.

Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva: Last season’s debut for these two new acquisitions couldn’t have been much worse. Both battled injuries, both saw inconsistent minutes, and both produced some of the worst numbers in their respective careers. While I don’t anticipate that either will become stellar win producers for the Pistons this season, I think it’s likely that they both improve over last year – and just maybe both are primed for career seasons.

Jonas Jerebko: Jonas was a wonderful surprise last season; however, he tore his Achilles tendon in the first pre-season game and is likely to be at least 6 months away from returning. While it’s possible he may return this season, I opted to leave him out of the rotation for the sake of simplicity – because even if he does return, his overall impact on team wins will be negligible given the small number of available minutes he could play.

Injuries: Last season, injuries hurt the Pistons. In August, Dr. Berri and I argued that the Pistons weren’t necessarily decimated by injuries, but there was no doubt a healthy team would have been better than last year’s 27 wins suggested. The table above assumes very good health, something the Pistons enjoyed for the better part of the last decade.

But what if everything doesn’t go perfectly? What if the injury bug bites again? What if the Benaissance begins to wane? What if Stuckey has already reached his ceiling? What if Ben and Charlie aren’t good fits for Detroit?

If the glass is half empty...

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer. The Pistons returned essentially the same roster from last season. If no one improves dramatically, and if injuries strike again, a repeat performance seems likely.

However, there are three caveats worth exploring on the pessimistic side of things.

Austin Daye: If Prince and McGrady are both injured simultaneously, Austin Daye might see minutes at SF and PF, which may serve to boost his overall production, albeit minimally.

Tracy McGrady: I fear that his impact will be minimal. He looks out of shape, and he’s shooting a miserable percentage thus far. It wasn’t a bad gamble by Dumars – there really wasn’t anything to lose – but I don’t expect big dividends.

Greg Monroe: Monroe has been touted as a player who was drafted because of his ability to make an immediate impact. However, that certainly wasn’t the case this preseason; his numbers were awful. Unfortunately, his college numbers weren’t that much better. I defer to Gabe, fellow Wins Produced and Pistons fan, who wrote an excellent post on Greg Monroe at Detroit Bad Boys before the Pistons even drafted him. In short, I expect Monroe to get minutes, but I don’t expect much impact – at least not this season.

Final Projection: As with every season, there are plenty of unknowns that make forecasting difficult. I think the Pistons face three in particular.

  • Can our productive veterans (Big Ben and Tay) stay healthy and productive?
  • Can some of our new pieces (McGrady, Gordon, Charlie V) return to form?
  • Can even even one of our young players (Daye and Stuckey) take a significant step forward?

I hope the answer to all three questions is, “Yes.” If it is, then we can at least expect to compete game in and game out – and that will be a significant improvement. But I’m not sure how likely all three of those things are, and even if they are, the Pistons still aren’t very good. Realistically, I think we can expect some degree of “yes” and some degree of “no” for all three questions, and as a result, I think we can expect a season somewhere between my two projections, approaching as many (or as few, depending on how look at it) 34 wins.