A Wins Produced perspective on Lawrence Frank

It appears as though Joe Dumars and Tom Gores have found the next coach of the Detroit Pistons – Lawrence Frank.

Most recently, Frank is known for leading the New Jersey Nets to the worst start in NBA history. But before falling to such record-breaking lows, Lawrence Frank found significant success in New Jersey.

In what follows, I will briefly examine Frank’s five full seasons with the New Jersey Nets (leaving out the partial seasons of 03-04 and 09-10) through the lens of Wins Produced in hopes of revealing what he might accomplish in Detroit.

For those new to Wins Produced, feel free to check out the Required Reading page for an introduction. As always, we’re powered by Nerd Numbers.

First, some spreadsheets (also available via Google Docs here), then some commentary.

Frank 04-05

Frank 05-06

Frank 06-07

Frank 07-08

Frank 08-09

First, it’s pretty obvious that like all winning coaches, Frank’s success in New Jersey was driven by quality players. When Jefferson, Vinsanity, and Kidd were young, healthy, and productive, Frank looked like a pretty good coach. But when injuries and age started catching up with that core trio, New Jersey struggled to win basketball games.

The clearest example of quality players driving wins in New Jersey is the mid-season trade of Devin Harris for Jason Kidd. Subtract a productive veteran and replace with a middling upstart, and what do you get? Unfortunately for Lawrence Frank, you eventually get to start looking for a new job.

Frank’s story in New Jersey once again demonstrates that first and foremost, winning coaches are a product of winning players, not the other way around.

The obvious implication for Pistons fans is that we don’t have any true star power like Kidd or Carter (yet), so we shouldn’t expect Frank’s coaching prowess to propel us from cellar dweller status.

I make this second comment hesitantly, because work done by Dr. David Berri suggests that very few coach coaches are able to impact the statistical performance of their players significantly. With that necessary qualifier out of the way, Brook Lopez had his most productive season as a rookie under the tutelage of Lawrence Frank. He was a much better rebounder and much more efficient offensive player while being coached by Frank than he has been since.

I’ll be watching Greg Monroe’s stats closely from start to finish next season for this reason.

Finally, and most importantly, Frank has done a pretty good job of playing his most  productive players. Yes, there are some exceptions – Boone and Diop probably deserved more minutes from Frank, and Jianlian’s minutes scare me a bit given that Charlie Villanueva is on the roster – but overall, Frank let his best players carry the bulk of the weight.

Finding a way to accomplish the same thing in Detroit while juggling personalities (and bloated contracts) would be a significant accomplishment in year one of his tenure.

This quick look at Frank’s tenure in Jersey doesn’t reveal anything new or groundbreaking. Coaches that have and play good players tend to win, and as a result, they tend to look like good coaches. Unfortunately, the Pistons aren’t stacked with talent right now, so we shouldn’t expect an immediate run at the playoffs.

However, Frank seems to have an eye for productive talent, and establishing a consistent rotation made up of its best players is something the fans and the franchise sorely need.

Here’s hoping our new coach can make that happen.

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17 thoughts on “A Wins Produced perspective on Lawrence Frank

  1. Pingback: Wages of Wins Network Bullets « Wages of Wins Journal

  2. Ben,

    re: “Frank’s story in New Jersey once again demonstrates that first and foremost, winning coaches are a product of winning players, not the other way around.”

    IYO, who was responsible for the development of those “winning players” before they got to that team?

    A. The players themselves;
    B. The players’ former coaches who happen to fit into the good-to-very-good category [because not all of their former coaches fit into that specific category];
    C. Some combination of the players themselves and their former coaches who happen to fit into the good-to-very-good category [because not all of their former coaches fit into that specific category].
    D. Someone or something else.

    IMO, the most correct answer is C.

    Average coaches, like average players are found in abundance. This is part of the reason that MOST coaching hires turn out poorly.

    OTOH … One of the keys to the proper development of an elite level performer, in any specific field of activity in life – not just athletics – is the relatively rare “good-to-very-good coaching” that a select few performers are fortunate enough to get in their lifetime which happens to fit harmoniously with their own personal strengths and weaknesses.

    —————————————

    re: “However, Frank seems to have an eye for productive talent, and establishing a consistent rotation made up of its best players is something the fans and the franchise sorely need.”

    In general, good-to-very-good coaches have a keen “eye for productive talent” that the average person/appraiser simply does not have.

    • Coaches play an assisting, teaching role in player development. Yes, coaches can point out areas of weaknesses and strength. Yes, and especially at early stages of development, coaches can help players develop skills.

      So yes, I would agree that to a certain extent, C is the correct answer.

      But ultimately, players are either talented and skilled or not. Phil Jackson could not turn me into an NBA player, for example, because I simply lack the athletic skills to be a professional athlete.

      Furthermore, some players become “elite” without much coaching at all, because they are students of the games themselves and/or incredibly talented.

      But the point is about NBA coaches. When players reach the NBA, they are very far along in their development process (for the most part). They’ve learned habits, refined skills, and failed to develop other skills.

      Behavioral science teaches us that it’s very difficult for adults to form new habits, and this translates into NBA basketball. For this reason, we should expect that a player like Charlie Villanueva or Ben Gordon or Jason Maxiel is who he is at this point. No coach, no matter how great or how awful, is going to propel any of them to All Star status or damage them to the point of busting out of the NBA.

      Also note above that I’m hopful that Frank will aid in Monroe’s development, as a very young player with plenty of time to improve.

  3. re: “But ultimately, players are either talented and skilled or not. Phil Jackson could not turn me into an NBA player, for example, because I simply lack the athletic skills to be a professional athlete.

    Furthermore, some players become “elite” without much coaching at all, because they are students of the games themselves and/or incredibly talented.

    But the point is about NBA coaches. When players reach the NBA, they are very far along in their development process (for the most part). They’ve learned habits, refined skills, and failed to develop other skills.

    Behavioral science teaches us that it’s very difficult for adults to form new habits, and this translates into NBA basketball. For this reason, we should expect that a player like Charlie Villanueva or Ben Gordon or Jason Maxiel is who he is at this point. No coach, no matter how great or how awful, is going to propel any of them to All Star status or damage them to the point of busting out of the NBA.

    Also note above that I’m hopful that Frank will aid in Monroe’s development, as a very young player with plenty of time to improve.”

    Now it’s you who is shifting the goalposts, so-to-speak. :-)

    1. The point isn’t whether or not Phil Jackson can turn YOU into a NBA player.
    2. The point is whether or not Phil Jackson has a better chance to turn a player like Andrew Bynum into a NBA player than someone like John Kuester; or, perhaps, someone like John Paxson into a NBA player than someone like John Kuester; or, perhaps, someone like Rodney Stuckey into a NBA player than someone like John Kuester; etc.
    3. If you can, please name a basketball player who, IYO, became legitimate “great” without getting at least some form of top notch coaching along the way, at some level of the game or another? [Which is not to say that the same great players who became great with the help of terrific coaching along the way were also not terrific students of the game, in their own rights, as well.]
    4. When some players reach the NBA they are far along their individual development paths. However, this does not hold true for the truly great players who … for the most part, come into the NBA well ahead of the peers, and then … proceed to develop EVEN FURTHER as they grow and mature with the assistance, again, of some fairly rare elite level coaching in the best league in the world.
    5. It is my contention, as well, that the continued development of these great players is not reflected in their “individual performance stats”, as recorded by the NBA, or the likes of David Berri, et al., as they continue to mature into their late 20 and then early 30s, since by that time they have learned one of the most important lessens which the game has to teach us, in the first … i.e. that the only stat which really counts is Team Championships accrued and Team wins in the post season. [Which is not to say that nothing else in the game actually matters - for example, How you play? or, What degree of effort you put forth? or, How much your level of understanding improved?, etc. - but simply that the only "stat" which really matters is the one I mentioned above.]
    6. Because behavioural science teaches us that “it is difficult for an old dog to learn new tricks” this does not mean that certain “elite level” dog trainers cannot, in fact, have a fundamental impact in teaching some new tricks – or even, some old tricks that have never been used by that old dog before – to an old dog, if that specific trainer is indeed an elite level practicioner AND that old dog is an adequately gifted, and willing, pupil.
    7. Although Villanueva, Gordon or Maxiell may well be beyond future development into a NBA all-star; it is also the case that the final book has not yet been written on them, if they were to fall under the tutelage of a coach like [for example] Phil Jackson, or Gregg Popovich, or Pat Riley, or Doc Rivers … if the goal is to make them into a VERY SERVICEABLE ROLE PLAYER on a championship-winning NBA team with the right collection of teammates, ownership, support staff, etc.
    8. It is also my opinion that Villanueva, Gordon or Maxiell are each capable of being “damaged” to a significant degree by the WRONG type of coaching where they could be busted out of the NBA, if it was to occur over an extended number of seasons.
    9. What you have said, thus far, about Greg Monroe, I happen to agree with, :-) … although it is also the case that I do not see evidence so far that his actual ceiling is quite as high as some other Pistons observers seem to think it is.

    • Well, I’m not sure what you think others think of Greg Monroe, but so far, he’s proven that he’s capable of putting up double doubles any given night. That’s a rare commodity, even if it doesn’t make him a superstar.

      He could be a 14 and 9-10 guy this season, and if his passing skills develop as expected, he could be a nice distributor as well. He could approximate Chris Webber, which won’t make him an all time great or anything, but it will certainly give us something to be excited about in Detroit.

      You missed the point of using myself in the analogy. The point was simply to say that some players have the talent to be great, and they’re going to be great because of that talent. Others do not.

      E.g., the difference between LBJ under Woodson vs. Spo is… what exactly? To me, he looks like mostly the same player. (After struggling early) LBJ still played like a dominant player in Miami. And he’s going to be a dominant player no matter who’s coaching him, because he’s arguably the most gifted basketball player in the world.

      The point of my article was to say something similar. Jason Kidd is a fantastic PG. When he left, and VC started to age and get injured, the Nets started losing — and there was nothing Frank could do about that. As a coach, when you lose your best players, you’re going to lose games – no matter your game plan or rotation.

      I really don’t understand why you keep denying that. Seems like a pretty clear fact.

  4. Ben,

    re: “You missed the point of using myself in the analogy. The point was simply to say that some players have the talent to be great, and they’re going to be great because of that talent. Others do not.

    E.g., the difference between LBJ under Woodson vs. Spo is… what exactly? To me, he looks like mostly the same player. (After struggling early) LBJ still played like a dominant player in Miami. And he’s going to be a dominant player no matter who’s coaching him, because he’s arguably the most gifted basketball player in the world.

    The point of my article was to say something similar. Jason Kidd is a fantastic PG. When he left, and VC started to age and get injured, the Nets started losing — and there was nothing Frank could do about that. As a coach, when you lose your best players, you’re going to lose games – no matter your game plan or rotation.

    I really don’t understand why you keep denying that. Seems like a pretty clear fact.”

    1. Actually … I don’t think I missed your point at all. What I did, instead, is illustrate how the point you tried to raise is really illegitimate, especially, considering how you feel about alleged attempts to “shift around the goalposts”.
    2. A great player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Walton, or Bill Russell, or Michael Jordon [for example] would be the first to tell you that each of them would not necessarily have developed into the great player he eventually became if not for the outstanding type of coaching he was fortunate enough to receive at different stages in their respective careers as elite level basketball players … whether that was at Grade School, High School, University, and/or in the NBA.
    3. There are all sorts of examples of terrifically “talented” basketball players who, unfortunately, were never able to find themselves in such circumstances through the course of their careers and were never able to realize the gifts which they were blessed with to develop into an outstanding player … and it simply isn’t accurate information for anyone to assert that “… some players have the talent to be great, and they’re going to be great because of that talent.” Great talent does not become great performance without some combination of “great drive” from the talented individual and “great coaching” from others around that player at different stages along the way. To fail to recognize THIS is to simply deny The Truth of every great player’s own life experience.
    4. Forget about comparing LBJ’s performance under Woodson vs his performance under Spo. Instead, try comparing LBJ’s performance under authentic elite level coaches like Auerbach, Sharman, Holtzman, Riley, Daly, Jackson, Popovich and Rivers [for example] to the way he actually performed under an inexperienced and not-yet-ready-to-be-categorized-as-elite-level head coach in the form of Spo. If you’re asking me to explain just how LBJ’s performance this past season MAY HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT if he [and the other members of the Heat team] had been working under the guidance of an authentic elite level head coach then I would need a great deal more bytes than what I’m prepared to use at this time. :-) Suffice to say, however, that, IMO, this year’s Miami Heat Team would have been able to win the 20010-2011 NBA Championship because that coach would have been better prepared to cope with the in-game adjustments that were necessary for Miami to win their series against Dallas and the circus-like atmosphere which existed around their team for the preceding 14 month period and the ego-handling that was required when LBJ first began to pout following Wade’s re-ascension to the throne in Game 3 and then, subsequently, lost his shooting rhythm due to his lack of touches in late clock situations. Stats junkies are way too caught up in what the “numbers say” over an extended number of games, and fail to realize that winning playoff games and series is in fact determined by “specific individual and collective match-ups” which are both “fluid in nature” and unique and occur in-game in too-small-to-be-considered-as-adequate-sample-size increments.
    5. LBJ may be the most gifted physical specimen in the world today … but, unfortunately, for both Cleveland and Miami, thus far, he is still far from being “the most gifted basketball player in the world”, which is a designation that still belongs to Kobe Bean Bryant, IMO.
    6. What actually happened in New Jersey was a whole lot more complicated that just: i. Kidd Left; ii. Carter got hurt; and, ii. Frank could do nothing about it. The fact is … that SIMPLISTIC VERSION OF REALITY is in no way an accurate representation of what REALLY happened to the New Jersey Nets in the last season of Lawrence Frank’s tenure as their head coach which, if you really want to dissect, I would be happy to do with you at a different on-line location, time and place, etc. IMO, it is short-hand explanations like THAT which distort all kinds of otherwise worthwhile things in this world for the purpose of brevity and straight-forwardness. IMO, complex situations need complex answers and it is a disservice to the individuals involved in those circumstances to act otherwise.
    7. When Yao Ming and T-Mac were injured a couple of years ago and Rick Adelman … a top notch head coach, in his own right … was able to construct a rotation and a system of play and an overall culture of performance on his team, etc., that was able to produce 22 consecutive victories for the Rockets, would you say that: “As a coach, when you lose your best players, you’re going to lose games – no matter your game plan or rotation.” is, in fact, something which holds true [in every instance, regardless of the quality of work done by a top notch head coach and the other members of his team, in fairly unique circumstance]? Or, would you then say that there are, in fact, exceptions to this general rule?
    8. I do not deny things that are, in fact, true.
    9. What I do do, on occasion, however, is simply point out that somethings are not really as they seem when they are only looked in a cursory way by others.
    10. Good-to-great talent in conjunction with good-to-great coaching is what generates high level performance on the basketball court, as opposed to just having very talent players in and of themselves. The people denying reality in this instance are those who fail to understand properly the VALUE of a top notch coach.

    [PS. Part of the reason for this may well be that so few people are actually able to experience the difference between playing for a truly top notch coach and one of the many average practicioners that they really have very little personal experience about what this actually feels like. e.g. If you do not come from a family with at least one terrific parent then you have no first-hand experience at what it feels like to grow up under the guidance of a parent like that, in comparison to what you've actually experienced with your own family. If this is the case, then, the only way this person can incorporate these attributes into their own life, on a practical level, at least, is if they are then fortunate enough to be mentored by someone else who takes on a quasi-parenting role towards them.]

  5. One thing that sticks out is the disparity between the WP and the actual wins. I’m not sure if this is in some way a product of Frank’s coaching ability. Over the course of those seasons Frank won 17.9 more games than WP projected. Also another thing that sticks out is the complete lack of production from the front court’s Frank was ‘gifted’ with. Jason Kidd was/is a phenomenal player, something the Pistons are not going to be able to recreate. What’s interesting is that Jerebko/Monroe/Wallace/CV will be the best front court Frank has ever had as a head coach. Those 4 are capable of 24 wins or more.

    • Those are both excellent points.

      I’m reluctant to read too much into the WP vs. actual wins disparity because I didn’t watch New Jersey play that much (and sometimes there’s simply randomness that doesn’t demand an explanation). But, I had the same thought, and you could be right.

      We see a similar thing when we look at Flip Saunders’ tenure in Detroit, interestingly enough.

      It will be interesting to see how Frank handles the guard play. We don’t have a pure PG, and we don’t have any very productive guards, which Frank has had historically. I’m curious to see what type of offensive schemes he employs and how that does or doesn’t impact the productivity of the backcourt.

      • It’s true that Frank’s past teams have been perimeter oriented. Just looking at those front courts I can’t imagine you’d even want to try to integrate some of those players into your offense. It will definitely be interesting to see what type of scheme Frank decides to go with on offense for the Pistons. For all the heat Kuester got his offense really wasn’t all that bad given the tempo. He had clear offensive sets you could watch and see develop. His play calling out of time-outs and breaks was good. The defense was horrendous however and Frank has had success implementing decent defenses with bad front courts. It might be a give and take in terms of these coaches. We could end up slightly worse on offense while improving on defense relegating the team to the same overall differential.

  6. fricktho,

    If:
    i. Jerebko returns to good health, and
    ii. Monroe continues to improve steadily, and
    iii. CV is used strictly as a limited minutes scorer off the bench, and
    iv. Ben Wallace decides to finally retire, then

    the Pistons will be in the hunt for the final couple of playoff spots in Lawrence Frank’s first season. The major thing which held the Pistons back from being more solidly in the middle of the pack the last 2 seasons was the inept coaching of John Kuester. Although it’s a given that Detroit does not have the horses to compete with the upper echelon in the East those who think a collection of players which looks like this:

    1st Unit: PG – Stuckey, OG – Gordon, SF – Prince [or Daye], PF – Jerebko, C – Monroe
    2nd Unit: PG – Knight, OG – Hamilton, SF – Daye [or another UFA], PF – Maxiell, C – UFA?
    3rd Unit: PG – Bynum, OG – White, SF – Singler, PF – Villanueva, PF – Macklin

    is somehow void of some legit NBA “talent” … when directed by a competent head coach … are sorely mistaken.

    • Key subtractions: McGrady, Prince, and possibly Ben Wallace.

      Key additions: Knight, if you can call him that.

      Maybe the return of Jerebko and the ongoing development of Monroe and Daye fills the gap of departed talent, and maybe Knight is better as a rookie than as a college player.

      Those are big ifs, but even if they all come to fruition, we’re probably staring another losing season squarely in the face. Yes, a losing season could still make the 8th or even 7th seed out East. But who cares?

      All that means is we get swept by Miami, Boston, or Orlando, we don’t get a lottery pick, and we’re still stuck in salary cap purgatory. A team that squeaks into the playoffs with thirty something wins and has zero financial flexibility is not a desirable outcome.

      I’d much rather admit that we’re mediocre at best, part ways with middling talent and bad contracts, and have a losing season while the young players develop.

      • Ben,

        1. If Dumars can resign Prince, then, that is one less key loss.
        2. If Frank makes the personnel decisions I outlined above and then Dumars trades Hamilton, Bynum and Villanueva at the trade deadline to 2 or 3 contending teams then there is at least a decent possibility for Detroit to land a Lottery Pick in next year’s Draft, while upgrading its young talent base at the same time … regardless of whether or not they finish No. 7, 8, 9 or 10. The key to this next season will be the specific rotation which Lawrence Frank decides to go with and how the minutes are eventually allocated to Rip [solid back-up minutes to Gordon?], Knight [solid back-up minutes to Stuckey?], Daye [solid back-up minutes to Prince?], Jerebko [if he is healthy enough to start everyday at the PF/4] and Monroe [solid starting minutes] with few, if any minutes going to Will Bynum [who has already shown that he can play in the league and should be used for trade bait, along with Rip and CV.]
        3. One thing that a variety of GMs in the NBA have shown over and over again is that any player in the league can indeed be moved, even if they happen to have a “bad” contract.

    • I fail to see how Ben Wallace retiring is a prerequisite to making the playoffs when you replaced him with a UFA? that the Piston have zero dollars to sign. You don’t seem to understand how WP works or comment within the realm of it’s existence. Just vague imageries of what you visualise being successful. Ben Wallace retiring would certainly not help the Pistons causes of reaching the playoffs given the team’s current roster and lack of financial flexibility.

      Jerebko coming back and Monroe improving would help the chances. Stuckey having a meeting with his peak self would help. Rip shooting his career average of 45% would help. Gordon and CV seeing limited minutes would help. Daye not getting completely destroyed on defense would help. Ben Wallace simply being subracted from the roster would not help.

      • fricktho,

        I beg to differ. Subtracting Ben Wallace from the roster would indeed help the Pistons a great deal … if it means more minutes for Greg Monroe, a better UFA than Wallace (at his advanced age next season), Jerebko/PF, Maxiell/PF and Macklin [PF/C] and developing a new/better/improved “Team Culture of Excellence” for Detroit. At one time, Wallace was a solid NBA player with a good deal of value across the league. This is no longer the case, however, for Mr. Wallace … unlike Detroit’s other vets who still have a decent market value like Prince and Hamilton. One of the great myths of “The Cult of Individual Player Production” is that the numbers somehow do not tell far less than the whole truth when it comes to explaining thoroughly:

        i. Which teams actually advance to the playoffs and which ones don’t;
        ii. Which teams actually advance in the playoffs and which ones don’t;
        iii. Which teams actually win conference championships and which ones don’t; and,
        iv. Which ones actually win the NBA championship and which ones don’t.

        • I’ll agree that advanced stats don’t tell you which teams actually succeed in the playoffs and which ones don’t to an extent, but they do explain it. And they do in a way project the regular season so they do in fact help to tell you which teams make the playoffs, and the Pistons, unless they see some serious improvement from players currently on their roster – Stuckey, Jerebko, Daye, or Monroe – are not projected to be a playoff team. Growth has to come from those players because you can’t count on 6+ year NBA vets to suddenly become better. They are what they are.

          As far as Ben Wallace – Monroe is going to play whether Wallace is on the team or not. He’s going to get 30+ minutes a night. Why do you want your backup to offer less? You aren’t going to find an unrestricted free agent for the minimum that offers more than Wallace that is a fact. If Ben Wallace retired it would make the team worse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at this point. Wallace is better than both Maxiell or CV even at an advanced age, and what makes it even better for your case is that his body won’t let him play that much, so Monroe and Jerebko will still get minutes, plenty of them.

  7. fricktho [and Ben],

    If I may …

    re: “You don’t seem to understand how WP works or comment within the realm of it’s existence. Just vague imageries of what you visualise being successful.”

    Please answer the following question, from a WP perspective.

    If you are the GM for the Minnesota Timberwolves and I am the GM for the Toronto Raptors and I offer to trade you Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson in exchange for Darko Milicic, Martel Webster, Nikola Pekovic and the No. 2 Selection in the 2011 NBA Draft [i.e. Derrick Williams], would you make this trade, or not?

    Your answer to this question … concerning real life NBA players and teams … will say a great deal concerning how you actually think about the game within the parameters of WP.

    • Probably not. Even as much as I like Derozan, Bayless, and Johnson there is simply no way I could take on Bargnani with his current contract. He’s signed through 2015 at $10+ million per season. It’s a very tough trade, but the best player in the deal is most likely the one taken with the draft pick (Derrick Williams) so even though there’s a chance, as bad as Bargnani is, that I upgrade the overall talent of my roster, I’d rather have the best player. Even if I could turn Bargnani around immediately thereafter I don’t think I do it, because the only player in this trade with all-star potential is Williams.

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