The Pistons are a bad team. Can we finally just say that?

Preface: I wrote this last night prior to the trade deadline… and of course, no trades were made, so no significant edits are necessary.

The Pistons are on their way to their third consecutive losing season. Last night, they lost to the Indiana Pacers (again) who are currently clinging to the final Playoff spot in the East. While not mathematically eliminated from the Playoffs yet, it has finally become apparent to everyone (including some of the players, it seems) that the Pistons are headed to the lottery, not the Playoffs.

Can we just say it? This is a bad team. And it’s been a bad team for several years now. No excuses. It’s not the fault of injury. It’s not the fault of underperformance. Ultimately, it’s not the fault of the coach (although I’m not sure he’s helping either).

This is on Dumars. Dumars has assembled a collection of overpaid, unproductive players. For many of them, their only skill is scoring points if they get lots of shots. And after the trade deadline passed today, it’s pretty clear the rest of the league understands that. No opposing GMs covet these players, and who can blame them?

2011-02-24

If you are familiar with Wins Produced and WP48, this table speaks for itself. We have three – count them, three – players producing at above average rates at their positions. Two of them are over 30 and are unlikely to be impact players for the Pistons in the future. The rest of the “core” – players like Gordon, Villanueva, Daye, Bynum, and last but not least Stuckey – simply have not impressed.

Literally, the only bright spot (for the future at least, as Wallace and McGrady have been fun to watch) is Greg Monroe, who looks like he could become one of the top players from last year’s draft.

It’s still a little early to close the book on Austin Daye, and here’s hoping Jerebko comes back and provides what he did last year for several years to come.

But beyond that, can we Piston fans put the excuses to rest for good and finally agree that this is just a bad team?

Dumars likes Stuckey more than the numbers do

Last week I wrote that the Pistons might be better off parting ways with Rodney Stuckey. My conclusion was based by a variety of things, but one of them was an unstated assumption that it will be hard to move either Hamilton or Gordon – both of whom are relatively unproductive, highly paid shooting guards. Because of this, it doesn’t make much sense to me to bring back another relatively unproductive shooting guard who will probably command a salary above the Mid Level Exception, and perhaps significantly more.

Joe Dumars doesn’t seem to agree.

KL: With Rodney, as I said, a restricted free agent at the end of the season. As we know, the history of restricted free agency is it’s been pretty restrictive. There hasn’t been a lot of movement there, but we don’t know what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like. The CBA aside, do you go into this off-season still intent of bringing Rodney back?

JD: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. There’s no question about that. Rodney is maybe 24 now and he’s a good, young player. We like him. He’ll be a part of our core going forward and we have every intention of re-signing him and going forward with him. […] This kid is a good young player, we really like him and we have every intention of re-signing him. Position wise, we’ll figure that out. Right now, you don’t even know what your roster will look like. It’s way premature right now.

Well, at least he’s high on Jonas, too:

JD: … We absolutely love Jonas and we look forward to him playing here for a lot of years.

KL: I know the better scenario would have been watching him develop as a second-year player. Is there anything positive that can come out of him having to go through this?

JD: I think this kid had his head on straight from the beginning, but usually when you go through something like this you come to appreciate it even more. Not that he didn’t before, but this can only help him appreciate and embrace the game even more. I think he’s going to come back and you’re going to see him play with the same passion and fire that he played with before.

Via.

HT to Steve Kays for alerting me of this… somehow, I’d missed this interview in the midst of a hectic week!

What to do with Rodney Stuckey

This summer, Rodney Stuckey will be a restricted free agent, which means Joe Dumars will likely have an important decision to make. So far, all signs point to Dumars retaining Stuckey. Fortunately, he didn’t start a bidding war with himself and didn’t offer a contract extension to Stuckey; it seems as if the market will determine Stuckey’s price.

On the one hand, this is good news for Pistons fans. Joe Dumars has a questionable track record as it relates to extending contracts. One need look no further than the contracts of Jason Maxiel and Richard Hamilton for evidence. At least for now, Dumars has avoided overpaying Stuckey the way he overpaid Max and Rip.

On the other hand, the market tends to overvalue and overpay players like Rodney Stuckey, prioritizing points per game over other, more important statistical measures. Or at least that’s the story Wins Produced tells. Regardless of one’s opinion about Wins Produced, though, it is clear that points per game drives player salaries.

Obviously, the  labor negotiations on the horizon render the following discussion somewhat tentative. But for the sake of converastion, I will assume a few things. First, a new CBA will resemble the current CBA as it relates to player compensation. Second, player evaluation won’t change dramatically due to a new labor agreement.  Those two assumptions made, I think it’s fair to assume that Stuckey will receive an offer sheet that promises to pay him well through the prime of his career.

What is Stuckey’s “value”?

But just how well? That is the critical question for the Pistons and the franchise’s fans.  Justin Rogers, of mlive.com, offered the following discussion last November:

Still, the question remains: How much is Stuckey worth? A number of point guards have recently signed contracts in the past several months:

Raymond Felton – 2 years, $15.8 million
Kyle Lowry – 4 years, $24 million
Mike Conley – 5 years, $45 million
Tony Parker – 6 years, $66 million

[…]

Depending on how much changes when a new labor agreement is reached, you can expect Stuckey to get a contract similar to what Conley go from the Grizzlies.

I think Justin has this exactly right. As I discuss below, all four of these players are more productive than Rodney, but the NBA market is likely to compensate these players at similar levels.

What has Stuckey produced?

At the time Justin wrote the article, Rodney was playing relatively well, and he appeared to have made significant improvements to his game. But as I argued in early December, that strong play began to fizzle rather quickly (and eager fans should note this decline began before Stuckey’s recent shoulder injury), and Stuckey appears to have regressed to career averages relative to Wins Produced. The following tables illustrate Stuckey’s career numbers, as well as this season’s numbers for his comparables (as always, powered by NerdNumbers):

Rodney Stuckey Career

Stuckey comparables

It’s certainly true that Stuckey has produced for the Pistons this season, especially compared to the rest of the Pistons guards not named Tracy McGrady. Compared to Gordon, Hamilton, and Bynum, Stuckey is the superior player and belongs in the Pistons rotation. Further, he would have a strong case to belong in many rotations throughout the league.

That said, however, in relation to the comparables listed above, Stuckey simply doesn’t measure up. In spite of sharing some statistical similarities, particularly points per game which drives compensation, Stuckey is outproduced in most every key statistical category. As it relates to shooting and generating plays for teammates, Stuckey is simply sub-par. As it relates to possession retention and creation, Stuckey does a fine job, but he’s not in any way outstanding.

What should the Pistons do?

In short, Stuckey has not proven himself to be a worthy starter. Instead, he’s proven himself to be an adequate reserve. He’s the type of player most teams would like to have as a third or fourth guard, especially given that he’s 24 years old. The team who employs him next will have him throughout the prime of his career, and there remains the outside chance that Stuckey could make lasting improvements to his game, however small those might be.

As a restricted free agent, I suspect Stuckey will receive at least one offer comparable Lowry’s or Conley’s, somewhere between $6 – $9 million per season for at least four years.

Should the Pistons match such an offer? Obviously, the answer isn’t a binary yes or no. Sign and trades do happen. New contracts are signed, and players are traded in the first year of a new contract. Sometimes teams simply let players walk.

From the perspective of Wins Produced, any of these options would be more beneficial than retaining Stuckey for the long-term. The Pistons are already overpaying several unproductive players for the next several years – players like Villanueva, Gordon, Hamilton, and Maxiel. What is also obvious in the context of Wins Produced is that Stuckey hasn’t proven himself to be a starting-caliber player, and thus, he’s not worth starter’s money.

There are plenty of “ifs” between here and there, but if the scenario plays out as I suspect it might, it is time for the Pistons to part ways with Rodney Stuckey.