What if Andre Drummond played more?

When the Pistons drafted Andre Drummond, I was skeptical and with good reason. In spite of being one of the most athletic big men in the entire NCAA, he had avery mediocre freshman season, which raised questions for statheads and traditional scouts alike.

At the conclusion of the preseason, I was optimistic about Andre Drummond and again, with good reason. Dre had a brilliant season, at times looking and producing like the most dominant player on the floor.

And after 30 games, Andre Drummond looks like the real deal, putting up per minute numbers that in some key areas that outshine Dwight Howard’s rookie season. Yep, so far, he’s been that good.

However, Detroit remains committed to its preseason plan for Drummond: bring the kid along slowly. At one point, that plan made a lot of sense. Drummond wasn’t great as a freshman. He’s young. He’s still growing into his body. For the first time in his life, he’ll be playing against men his own size. Those are all good reasons to take the long view and develop Drummond slowly.

But at every opportunity, Drummond has demonstrated that none of these concerns are justified. His performance up to this point indicates that he’s more than ready. In fact, in spite of being a little rough around certain edges, he has been Detroit’s most impactful player, and it’s not all that close.

Drummond’s play demands that the Pistons reevaluate their plans. Continue reading

2012-2013 Detroit Pistons Season Preview

Can the Pistons make the playoffs? And even if they can, will they? At least a few players will consider the season a failure if they do not. Playoffs or bust, then… or is it?

Last year at this time, Charlie Villanueva tweeted some things about insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is crazy. Turns out, he was right. Given the players on the roster, a below-freezing win forecast in the mid-twenties seemed likely. And in spite of finishing the season a whole lot better than they started, the Pistons completed the season at 25-41. By efficiency differential, from which Wins Produced is derived, the Pistons were actually a little bit worse and would have been expected to win only 22 games.

This year, the Pistons will return several of the same players, and many of those players are expected to play significant roles. However, this year there finally be some room for optimism  - in the numbers of all places! And while the NBA Playoffs are probably still out of reach, that won’t necessarily make this season a bust. There is an intriguing young core of players emerging here that should give the Pistons some hope.

Continue reading

For Andre Drummond and the Pistons, the numbers have to lie

Thanks to James Brocato, I have access to a really cool data set – complete box score and win score statistics for the Draft Express Top 100.

And because of that data set, I approached the NBA Draft with one thought running through my mind, “Anyone but Drummond.”*

Among Pistons fans, my perspective is among the minority. That’s not all that surprising, and honestly, it’s understandable. Drummond was a household name for NCAA and NBA fans before he even committed to Connecticut, he was ranked #2 overall ranking on Draft Express, and he is an exceptional athlete. He has all the things you can’t teach, as many coaches and scouts are fond of saying.

Here’s the problem – he is totally and completely unproven on the basketball court. In the NCAA at least, he didn’t produce anything close to what you’d expect out of the #2 overall prospect.

Normally, I would turn to Win Score to illustrate the point; however, in this case, the raw box score stats tell the story much, much better.

Because he is expected to play Center in the NBA, I’ll focus on the stats where you might expect a Center to contribute: Rebounds, Shooting Percentage, Blocks, Fouls, and Points (all stats per 40 minutes). And because I have complete data for the DX 100, I’ll compare Drummond to his peers in that group.

Here we go.

Let’s start with his main strength, blocks. Among the DX100, only three players averaged more blocks: Anthony Davis, Fab Melo, and John Henson. What’s more, Drummond doesn’t get himself in foul trouble when blocking all those shots; he averaged only 3.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Drummond excelled at blocking shots, and it didn’t take him off the court.

He’s also been good on the offensive glass - only Zeller and Plumlee were better.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends from a statistical perspective.

In terms of scoring, Andre Drummond ranks 78th in Points per 40 (and a meager 33rd out of 35 among Power Forwards and Centers).

In terms of total rebounding, Drummond ranks 42nd overall and right in the middle of the pack at 18 among PFs and Cs.

In terms of defensive rebounding, Drummond is 41st overall and among his peers at PF and C, he ranks 30th.

In terms of shooting percentage, we can look at it two ways, eFG% and TS%. In terms of eFG%, Drummond ranks 39th overall. In terms of TS%, Drummond ranks 76th (thanks in large part to a dismal FT%, which will keep him off the floor in crunch time if it doesn’t get much, much, much better).

Admittedly, college performance is not a completely accurate predictor of professional performance – especially for players as young as Drummond. We all know this, especially as Pistons fans. We have witnessed this with our beloved Greg Monroe, who has played much better in the NBA than he did at Georgetown.

But unlike Monroe, Drummond didn’t put up numbers that were anywhere close to good (Monroe’s NCAA Win Score averages were right around average, which projected slightly below average pro).

Quite the opposite, Drummond’s numbers are downright terrible, indicating that it is very unlikely that he will contribute anything to winning anytime soon.

Here’s hoping lightning strikes, and Andre Drummond makes a liar out of the numbers.

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* Okay, I didn’t want any part of Barnes or Jones III either, but mainly, Drummond because the others weren’t high on the Pistons draft board.

Did Charlie Villanueva get it right? An early look at the Detroit Pistons.

Player

Position

Minutes

WP48

Wins Produced

WS48

Win Shares

PER

Value Added

Estimated Wins Added

Greg Monroe

5

2112

.200

8.8

.143

6.3

18.07

235.5

7.8

Jonas Jerebko

3.5

1848

.150

5.8

.095

3.7

13.99

82.5

2.7

Rodney Stuckey

1.5

1914

.100

4.0

.111

4.4

18.46

221.7

7.4

Tayshaun Prince

3

1680

.060

2.1

.062

2.2

15.13

116.1

3.9

Ben Wallace

5

784

.120

2.0

.072

1.2

12.29

19.8

0.7

Austin Daye

2.5

1200

.075

1.9

.070

1.8

13.02

45.1

1.5

Ben Gordon

2

1716

.050

1.8

.070

2.5

14.00

89.6

3.0

Jason Maxiell

4.5

1070

.050

1.1

.050

1.1

13.00

24.0

.08

Charlie Villanueva

4

1408

.050

1.5

.090

2.6

16.00

94.6

3.2

Brandon Knight

1

1254

.000

0.0

.000

0.0

14.00

56.1

1.9

Damien Wilkins

3

218.25

.100

0.5

.075

0.3

11.45

3.1

0.1

Will Bynum

1

555.75

.020

0.2

.050

0.6

15.28

35.5

1.2

Vernon Macklin

5

80

.000

0

.000

0

9

-3.0

-0.1

Totals

WP

29.6

WS

26.6

EWA

34.0

In January, Charlie Villanueva said (via retweeting a fan) that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result to change.”

After three consecutive losing seasons, the Detroit Pistons will return essentially the same group of players, a new coaching staff, and presumably, expect better results.

Is this insanity – extreme foolishness, folly, senselessness?**

As the table above reports, expecting anything but more of the same in Motown would seem to qualify.

The Detroit Pistons have not been a good basketball team. I have argued this is due to employing players who don’t do enough of what it takes to win basketball games. A quick look at the returning players, new additions, and departing players unfortunately will reveal that little is likely to change in the upcoming season.

Returning Players

There really isn’t much to say here. Of the players who were under contract coming into this season, most are known quantities.

Greg Monroe had a fantastic rookie season (primarily during the 2011 calendar year), and Piston fans should expect good production and hopefully, significant improvement. I don’t think Monroe is a legitimate star yet, but he possesses that potential.

Ben Wallace is a year older, likely to decline, and play fewer minutes.

Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva have played their worst basketball in Detroit. I am hopeful to see some improvement from both (as reflected in the projection above), but I don’t expect them to be anything other than the players they are. Here’s hoping one of them convinces Detroit management that they are deserving of the amnesty provision this season.

Will Bynum is a player I love to root for. And who wouldn’t? Anytime a sub six foot player can make plays like this– to say nothing of his persevering optimism – it’s hard not to. But Bynumite is the player he is, and I don’t expect much more than serviceable backup play that’s likely to be pushed out of the rotation by Knight and Stuckey.

Jason Maxiell will probably play more minutes than he should, due to our short supply of tall people and a hectic NBA schedule that will limit Ben Wallace’s minutes. Perhaps he will discover his inner Chris Wilcox and surprise everyone during a contract year.

Austin Daye may be the only exception to this rule. Daye had a promising rookie season, but followed that up with a disappointing sophomore campaign. Hopefully, Coach Frank’s commitment to play Austin Daye more on the perimeter will foster Daye’s development.

Three Pistons are returning this season after being inked to new contracts.

Rodney Stuckey is returning for three more years. Joe Dumars seems to be banking on Stuckey making more than the incremental progress he’s made thus far. I’m not holding my breath. Stuckey’s a fine player and would make a serviceable backup on a Playoff team. But he hasn’t demonstrated that he’s worth the money he’ll be making in his new contract, and it would take significant improvement in order to do so.

Tayshaun Prince is returning for four more years, and Dumars seems to be banking on Prince discovering the fountain of youth. Prince will be grandfather age in NBA years in the final year of his contract. A slow but consistent decline seems inevitable.

Jonas Jerebko’s new four-year contract is the only off-season acquisition I’m excited about. He’s a useful rotation player at both forward positions, he’s locked up for most of his prime years, he plays like a Piston, and he will be paid fairly for what he produces.

Departing Players

The Pistons lost two useful players in Chris Wilcox and Tracy McGrady. I do not anticipate any Piston guard replacing what was lost in McGrady’s departure, but Jerebko’s return from injury should mitigate the loss of Wilcox.

The key addition by subtraction is Richard Hamilton being bought out of his contract. Rip was one of my favorite players during the last decade of Pistons basketball, but his production and attitude fell of a cliff during the past two seasons. The Pistons are better off with Rip in a Bulls’ uniform (the Bulls might not be, interestingly enough).

New Additions

I would love for Brandon Knight to mimic Greg Monroe as a rookie by producing more as a pro than he did as a collegiate. But while Monroe was an “average” college player, Knight was not a productive player in college, posting numbers below average for his position in several key categories.

Undoubtedly, Knight is talented, he certainly passes the eyeball test, and he could  be a productive point guard eventually. It is likely that PER and EWA will like him a lot more than WP48/WS48 and WP/WS will, though, because he will score his fair share of points (by taking plenty of shots). Knight has a long way to go, and I don’t expect a significant contribution to wins this season.

I don’t expect much, if anything, from Vernon Macklin.

Damien Wilkins was a puzzling addition, given the plethora of perimeter players already employed, but he has posted respectable numbers over the past two seasons. Still, it’s hard to imagine him playing significant minutes, and even if he did, his contribution would be minimal.

Projecting the 2011-2012 Season

By necessity, I’ve done a little bit of educated guessing here with regards to minutes. With a new coach and a 66 game schedule, this obviously won’t be perfect. This year, I decided to branch out and include Win Shares and Estimated Wins Added in my projection.

With regards to production, I’ve allowed for improvement from young players (Monroe, Daye, Stuckey, Jerebko), declines for aging vets (Prince and Wallace), and returns to form for the younger veterans, Gordon and Villanueva across all three metrics.

Brandon Knight is a little harder to get right because he is so young, but based on his college performance, it would take drastic improvement for him to make a significant impact this season.

Unsurprisingly, the metrics disagree about which players will be responsible for the Pistons’ wins. Estimated Wins Added likes points, Wins Produced likes efficient scoring and possession creation, and Win Shares lands somewhere in between.

But they agree that the Pistons won’t be winning a whole lot. We are likely to be cheering this team on to a win total in the mid twenties.

And ultimately, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. A team doesn’t emerge from the lottery to playoff contention by doing the same thing over and over again, year after year.

That’s just crazy.

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**Hopefully, the hyperbole is obvious. I don’t think that anyone in Pistons management is literally insane!

Explaining the Pistons’ recent “success”

Since January 12 (the first game Richard Hamilton was removed from the rotation), the Detroit Pistons have gone 5-4. I recently pointed out that the Wins Produced numbers suggest that the rotation John Kuester is currently employing may give the Pistons a shot at finishing the remainder of the season’s games around a .500 and thus may have a chance at the Playoffs.

Thanks to Dre’s hard work over at NerdNumbers, we now have splits for Wins Produced numbers! In my previous post about the Pistons rotation, I did my best to credit individual players for recent wins based on the data I had. I now have better data and thus a more complete picture of who has impacted the Pistons’ recent success.

Microsoft Excel - 10-11 Recent Pistons Success

The most significant change between this data set and the one posted earlier is the performance of Chris Wilcox. Early this season, Wilcox was very productive in limited minutes, productive enough that Kuester promoted him to starting PF. In a larger role over the past 9 games, though, Wilcox hasn’t been helpful.

Time will tell, of course, if Monroe’s great play and Daye’s recent uptick are sustainable for the remainder of the season, and if McGrady and Wallace can stay healthy in big minutes. The recent success is certainly tenuous and fragile. If it does, though, the numbers suggest – at least to this Pistons fan searching for a glimmer of hope – that the Pistons do have just enough players performing well enough to make a Playoff push out East.

As to whether or not Pistons fans should be hoping for a Playoff berth instead of more lottery balls is an entirely different question. Maybe someone should write a good post about that Smile

Have the Pistons found a winning rotation?

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:

Starters Bench
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.