Last night, The Denver Nuggets visited The Palace and handed the Pistons a very disappointing loss. To add insult to injury, Chauncey Billups and Aaron Afflalo – two former Pistons traded by Joe Dumars – combined for 43 points on 27 shots. What’s more, Denver was also missing its most productive overall player, Nene, as well as Chris Anderson.
Detroit, by contrast, was mostly at full strength, with the exception of Stuckey being injured in the first half. Will Bynum filled in admirably, however, and more than plugged the hole created by Stuckey’s absence.
All Pistons fans know this story. It’s one we re-live each time Denver comes to town – early in the 08-09 season, Dumars traded Chauncey Billups (the team’s most productive player in 07-08 by a very wide margin) for Allen Iverson and his expiring contract. After Iverson (and Sheed) expired, Dumars invested the available financial resources created into Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva – neither of whom has performed well in Detroit. We all know this hasn’t worked out, and most wish it had happened differently.
What often flies under the radar, however, is that Dumars also dumped Amir Johnson and Aaron Afflalo – two young, promising players – for nothing but a little bit of cap space. While I was not writing about the Pistons at the time, I was flabbergasted by both decisions; you’ll have to take my word for it, I suppose, and I hope that you’ll not assume that what follows is little more than hindsight bias.
To be fair to Dumars, Amir never quite realized the expectations the organization had for him (which always seemed unfairly high to me), but he was and is a productive, rotation-caliber big man – something any NBA team, and certainly the Pistons, can use. Trading Afflalo was a little bit less confusing at the time, considering a backcourt of Stuckey, Hamilton, Gordon, Bynum, and Afflalo would have been quite crowded. The contracts suggested Afflalo was the odd man out, and Dumars agreed. However, Afflalo played well in Detroit when given opportunities, and it wasn’t clear to me at the time which of Stuckey or Afflalo would become the more valuable guard from the 2007 Pistons Draft Class.
Last night’s game, though, underscores just how poorly Joe Dumars evaluated the guards who now play for Denver and Detroit. Obviously, I can’t know with certainty what Dumars envisioned when he signed Gordon, but the size of his contract at least suggests that a large role was the plan. Stuckey’s role, however, has been spelled out much more clearly by Dumars in a variety of public settings, and all signs point to Detroit bringing him back next year. Some might think, though, that trading Billups and moving Stuckey into a starting role speaks loudly enough by itself.
A couple qualifiers to what follows. Obviously, the Pistons have received significant contributions from McGrady at a very low cost – hat tip to Joe Dumars. But that he’s on a veteran’s minimum contract, given that it’s hard to make the case anyone envisioned him performing this well, and given the uncertainty of his future with the Pistons, I’ll leave him out of the following analysis of the two backcourts. I’ll be doing the same for for the apparently banished Richard Hamilton, because DJ has already offered a thorough analysis of that situation.
The point of this post, then, is to compare the two former Pistons that Joe Dumars traded away – Billups and Afflalo – with the two players that Dumars envisioned playing the same positions for Detroit in the future – Stuckey and Gordon. Obviously, I’ll be comparing the players through the lens of Wins Produced (powered by Nerd Numbers, as always).
Certainly, Billups is declining as he ages, but in spite of a very slow start this season, he appears to be rounding into form. He’s not the player he was for the Pistons during the “Going to Work” era, but he remains a highly effective point guard. Afflalo is thriving. He has proven to be a very efficient shooter (posting significantly better numbers than Ben Gordon is, I nfact), and is earning a reputation as a very good individual defender – something that isn’t captured completely in the box score statistics.
By contrast, Rodney Stuckey has struggled to become the player the Pistons hoped he would, and while he is having a career season, his performance doesn’t approach that of the aging Mr. Big Shot. Yes, he plays hard, he says all the right things, and he represents the franchise well. But, he doesn’t finish around the rim or shoot well, and he’s not great at creating shots for teammates. Ben Gordon? Well, we’ve covered that before.
Had Joe Dumars opted to retain Billups, the Pistons would likely have a backcourt rotation of: Billups, Stuckey, Afflalo, Hamilton, and possibly Bynum. Hamilton’s contract and performance would remain a significant problem in any scenario, but that hypothetical rotation is certainly more appealing, both in terms of wins and finances, than the one currently employed by the Pistons.
I can’t think of a better or more accurate way to say it: trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson was a colossal mistake. Using the money freed by doing to sign Ben Gordon was just as bad. Only in hindsight does trading Afflalo look as bad as it does at the moment, but that point is quickly balanced by the fact that he was traded for essentially nothing.
In an attempt to rebuild his own team, Dumars managed to create a starting backcourt for someone else’s Playoff team and all but destined his own team to mediocrity for years to come. This tale, at least for a Pistons fan, is a very sad one indeed.