John Hollinger criticizes Ben Gordon, confuses me

John Hollinger recently released his mid-season All-Disappointment team, and Pistons shooting guard Ben Gordon finds himself 10th on the list.

Hollinger says,

Ben Gordon, Detroit — Last year was easy to blame on a bad ankle that Gordon gamely fought through for much of the season. This season? I’m at a loss. Gordon can still stroke the 3 (39.5 percent from the distance) but doesn’t do anything else well enough to justify his $10.8 million salary unless he’s setting the nets ablaze. His rather tepid production thus far — 17.3 points per 40 minutes at a league-average TS% — won’t cut the mustard, and it’s even more puzzling because the Pistons’ lack of scoring options should allow him to put up big numbers. It’s hard to believe Detroit talked itself out of Carlos Boozer and plunked down its cash on Gordon and Charlie V instead, and it largely explains why the once-mighty Pistons are headed back to the lottery.

Now, I actually don’t disagree with anything Hollinger says here. I, too, am puzzled by Gordon’s inability to embrace a larger scoring role in Detroit, and to this day I struggle to believe that Dumars passed on potential targets like David Lee, Paul Milsap, and Carlos Boozer in favor of the Gordon / Villanueva combo.

So if I agree with Hollinger, why am I confused? I’m confused because during the 08-09 season, Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating rated all 3 players similarly. In fact, according to PER, Villanueva was the best player of the three!

Boozer Villanueva Gordon PER

PER’s problems are numerous and well-documented, so I can’t say I’m surprised to see that PER gets these players so completely wrong for 08-09, and it should be noted that Boozer has posted higher PER’s in seasons prior to this.

Still, I am surprised to see Hollinger criticizing Dumars openly for passing on the obviously superior Boozer when his own player evaluation metric would have suggested that Dumars was actually signing two quality players in Gordon and Villanueva – who together should be significantly more effective than Boozer by himself.

Which leads me to ask the obvious question, if Hollinger doesn’t trust his own metric, the should anyone else?

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10 thoughts on “John Hollinger criticizes Ben Gordon, confuses me

  1. Ben,
    Nice read. Ben Wallace was really the Pistons star in the Dumars days and really he was a concession prize for Grant Hill. I don’t think Dumars actually knew as much as it would seem. . .

    • Thanks, Dre! I would loved to have been a fly on the wall when the Wallace – Hill swap was discussed. I suspect you’re right … Stumbling onto wins, as it were :)

    • @nerdnumbers:
      I’m as hard on Dumars as it gets, but I don’t think it’s far to take away from the man’s genius in those early strokes of the proverbial paintbrush. Adopting a bad team and making it better is a lot easier than maintaining a great team as players decline. I think a lot of us could look at the Pistons situation and say, “I could make this so much better”– and we likely could. But when you take a GM like Dumars, who doesn’t operate with objective measures, maintenance is the hardest part when hearts and egos get in the way.

      My point is that Joe’s recent (abysmal) failures don’t suggest that he lucked into his successes early on. Ben Wallace was one of the most brilliant pick-ups in recent basketball history. So was Chauncey. On their respective ends of the court, they are some of the most productive players in modern NBA history, once-in-a-generation talents. If lightning strikes twice, and the result is a championship, it cannot be a mistake. That starting lineup, from 1-5, was Dumars doing, and as much as its fair for us all to criticize Dumars now, credit is absolutely, positively, 1000% due to him for his early accomplishments.

  2. Hey Ben,
    Totally spot on. Hollinger, like other sports writers and analysts, are often free from their own history. The wider, more focused (and in this case, more talented) the blogosphere gets, the more accountability these personalities will face. How can Hollinger not take the due diligence to look back at the history of his own metric when writing these pieces?

  3. Hmm, maybe its b/c Boozer’s 17.2 PER was during an injury-plagued 37 game season, and his PER was 24 and 22 during the 2 full prior seasons (also Charlie V’s 09 PER was easily the highest of his career to that point). Why do you vaguely allude to that instead of showing prior 3 season PER’s for all 3 players, which is probably what a rational analysis would have done (if not throw out Boozer’s 37 game ’09 entirely). Why go out of your way to try and make him look foolish by distorting the facts? Bush league stuff.

    • Reading comprehension much?

      it should be noted that Boozer has posted higher PER’s in seasons prior to this.

      I have no problem being criticized for what I say. I don’t have much patience for being called “bush league” when someone doesn’t take the time to read what I write.

  4. I did read what you wrote, hence

    “Why do you vaguely allude to that”

    Reading comprehension much?

    It’s intellectually dishonest to throw in that sentence in the midst of paragraphs criticizing Hollinger, when if you had fleshed it out that one sentence it would almost completely negate your criticism. How about mentioning the PER you were showing for Boozer was from less than a half season’s work? Or that his stats (including PER) that year were greatly diminished by his play after coming back from injury late in the year? Maybe because that doesn’t fit into your pre-determined narrative about what a terrible stat PER is?

    • How is it a vague allusion? I admit freely that Boozer posted higher PER’s in past seasons, and I link directly to the site where anyone and everyone can find PER for any player for any season as far back as 2002. Full transparency.

      Further, I don’t think you’re fairly summarizing my point here. So, here it is:

      I am surprised to see Hollinger criticizing Dumars openly for passing on the obviously superior Boozer when his own player evaluation metric would have suggested that Dumars was actually signing two quality players in Gordon and Villanueva – who together should be significantly more effective than Boozer by himself.

      If you’d like to challenge that, by all means feel free. But I don’t think you can. PER suggests that Gordon and Charlie were above average performers prior to Dumars signing them, and that together, they should produce more than Boozer by himself.

      What, exactly, is intellectually dishonest about that?

  5. Ok, i will try to challenge your main argument. Anyone who would use PER as the basis for comparing those players at the conclusion of the ’09 season would look at their PER over the past 3-4 years. That would show that Boozer is a consistent all-star performer at minimum assuming the ’09 injury did not cause him permanent damage. He ranked #15 in the entire NBA in ’08 and #10 in ’07 in PER. The same view would also show that PER thinks both Gordon and Charlie V were above average performers in ’09, but far from all-stars. Charlie was #46 in the league that year and Ben was #75. It would also show that was Charlie’s best year by a wide margin (he was #123 the prior year), so perhaps it was an aberration (or perhaps he really took a giant step forward). So the PER-centric view would say you could have one all-star/elite player who has some injury risk, or 2 solid players who might have the potential to continue improving but who could also slide back to irrelevance. Which option is better? I don’t think that PER attempts to answer this. Obviously having 2 players with 15 PER is not better than having 1 at 25, so i’m not sure why you think having 2 at 17 is necessarily better than having 1 at 22.5 (lets say Boozer’s non-injury PER). PER does not translate linearly to wins and does not attempt to. So you’re basically saying that PER is directing us towards a conclusion that it clearly wasn’t. Unless you’re fool enough to look only at a single season’s PER and assume that tells us how a player will perform in future years, regardless of whether that single season was a complete outlier in their career. In which case, you’ll make a number of foolish decisions regardless of which statistic you look at.

    • Jon,

      Two points of response.

      First, I think you’re underselling the significance of Boozer’s injury, as is Hollinger, due to hindsight bias. At the time, it was not clear at all that the 07-08 Boozer would be the player a team would receive if he were signed in the summer of 09. For that reason, I think it’s fair to use his 08-09 numbers in isolation, because it was the 08-09 Boozer that was a potential FA target, not the 07-08 Boozer (if you don’t believe this was the Pistons line of thought, I’d encourage you to scan the Pistons.com archives for that summer. That’s clearly the story they were selling to the fans at the time).

      Second, this post isn’t really about Boozer and how to fairly evluate him. This post is an attempt to evaluate this comment from Hollinger by his own player evaluation metric:

      It’s hard to believe Detroit talked itself out of Carlos Boozer and plunked down its cash on Gordon and Charlie V instead, and it largely explains why the once-mighty Pistons are headed back to the lottery.

      First, there’s Carlos Boozer — who in addition to opting into his player option and not even being available to sign, was coming off a significant injury. Hollinger is clearly blinded by hindsight bias here, IMO. But second, and more significantly, Hollinger is suggesting that the Pistons signing BG and CV is the most significant explanation of why the Pistons are lottery bound (something I completely agree with, mind you).

      However, when we look at history and employ PER, this isn’t what we should have expected. BG and CV — while not All Stars, as you’re correct to point out — were rated as above average, or in other words, capable role players for a winning team at worst and useful starters at best. Given that Hollinger predicted the Pistons to make the Playoffs in 09-10 (http://es.pn/h2sSVq), it’s fair to assume Hollinger thought these players would fulfill those functions in Detroit.

      And this is precisely where I’m holding Hollinger’s feet to the fire. His player evaluation metric suggested that the players Detroit was employing after the summer of 09 was good enough to fight for a Playoff berth — a conclusion he argued via the link above. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, he’s arguing those same players are the reason the Pistons are in the lottery, and he’s implying this should have been obvious in the summer of 09 (which is, ironically, a point I argued throughout the summer of 09 over in the comments of Detroit Bad Boys, which are also publicly available).

      I think my argument holds in this specific context.

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