Last month I suggested that it didn’t really matter who started at SG, because ultimately, the difference between Gordon starting and Hamilton coming off the bench isn’t that significant. That argument, however, was built on the assumption that both players would remain integral parts of the Pistons rotation.
Since then, however, that assumption has been rendered invalid. Richard Hamilton has been benched, and the Pistons have won 3 out of 4 – and just missed making it 4 for 4 in the last seconds against the Celtics at the Garden.
On the face of it, it appears John Kuester has found a rotation that works. Do the Wins Produced numbers agree?
Over the last four games, John Kuester has employed this nine-man rotation – notably excluding Maxiel and Hamilton completely:
|McGrady (.193 WP48)||Bynum (-.035 WP48)|
|Stuckey (.093 WP48)||Gordon (.023 WP48)|
|Prince (.121 WP48)||Daye (.068 WP48)|
|Wilcox (.105 WP48)||Villanueva (.032 WP48)|
|Monroe (.111 WP48)|
Additionally, Ben Wallace is currently listed as day-to-day, meaning he could return to the rotation as early as Friday against New Jersey.
The short answer appears to be, “Yes.” The Pistons appear to have found a rotation that could compete for a .500 record over the course of a season.
Before I get too excited, the Wins Produced number suggest that this rotation wouldn’t be likely to make any noise in the Playoffs – at best, this team is sneaking into the Playoffs for a match up against a powerhouse. However, this rotation – including a healthy Ben Wallace – might be good enough to make a playoff push, and however unlikely an a first-round upset would be, there are plenty of Pistons fans who would welcome some consistent winning.
With Kuester’s new rotation in hand, I decided to play with some numbers to try to project what the second half of the Pistons season might look like if Kuester utilizes a rotation similar to the last 4 games over the remaining 42 (including a healthy Wallace). The following table assumes good health and consistent performance relative to what we’ve seen thus far from each Piston player. It also assumes that a healthy Wallace would move Daye into the backup SF position, where his WP numbers are more favorable.
From a long-term perspective, the Pistons are still a long way from contention. Several key rotation pieces will be free agents this summer and difficult to retain (such as Prince and McGrady), and we’re still in a very difficult financial situation as long as Rip’s contract is on the books.
Furthermore, there are some significant question marks with this projection. McGrady’s health is first and foremost among them. Is he durable enough to complete the season? It has been the defining question of his career, but for Pistons fans, thankfully, Arnie Kander is working hard to make that happen. Time will tell.
Wilcox and Monroe are two more significant unknowns. Wilcox is a an enigma. Apart from two good seasons in Seattle in 06-08, he’s been relatively unproductive. He was a dud for the Pistons last year, and in spite of his recent performance, I’m not convinced we can count on him for the second half of the season.
Monroe’s progression has been a joy to watch. Coming out of college, he was well-known for his playmaking ability, particularly as a passer from the high post. His question marks were on the glass and on defense. Ironically, he’s been very effective on the glass and the defensive end, and of late, he’s been finishing very well around the rim, but we’ve seen very little of his playmaking ability. In any case, he’s been very effective for a rookie — but, he’s still a rookie, and rookies are unpredictable. I certainly hope his recent progression is here to stay, but it’s a little too soon to say it is with much confidence.
In spite of those question marks, though, productive performances from McGrady, Wilcox, and Monroe in conjunction with the rest of the Pistons roster – which on the whole is performing up to expectations – could be enough to propel this team to a win total in the 30′s (the upper end of where I thought they might land going into the season). And in the East, 35 wins might just get you games 83, 84, 85, and 86 of the season versus Boston, Miami, or Orlando. Although the prospect of a first-round match up against any of these teams isn’t all that appealing, the journey getting there certainly would be. And at least at the moment, it seems attainable.
I was going to end this post there, but as a fan of Richard Hamilton, I am going to add this final thought.
It would be easy to conclude that removing Rip from the rotation has caused the recent surge in performance, especially in the context of the post I just offered. However, I think the numbers suggest this is only a small piece of the puzzle. In the first place, Hamilton has been replaced in the rotation by Bynum, and in spite of playing fewer minutes on average than Hamilton, Bynum has not been any better than Rip.
In the second place and more importantly, the Pistons play of late has been driven largely by McGrady, Monroe, Prince, Wilcox, and Stuckey – and none of those players has directly supplanted Hamilton in the rotation. Obviously, Hamilton’s absence allows McGrady and Stuckey to play more minutes at positions that best suit their skillsets, but the quality play of Monroe and Wilcox inside is equally important. Yes, removing Rip has helped, but it’s certainly not the only or even most significant reason why the Pistons have found their recent success.