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

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.

——————————————————

**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

Will Shuffling the Pieces Solve the Puzzle?

If you haven’t heard yet, Pistons Coach John Kuester plans to shake One of my all-time favorite Rip picsup the starting lineup beginning tonight at Toronto. The Pistons have deployed multiple starting lineups this season, so why is this newsworthy? This time, Kuester is benching Richard Hamilton, who has been the “masked man” of the franchise for the better part of a decade, in favor of Ben Gordon.

I have a special affection for Rip Hamilton. Some of you may know that I was fortunate enough to play college basketball at a small liberal arts school, and as a freshman, I was struggling to figure out how I could improve my game so that I could contribute to my team. Over a holiday break, I asked my high school coach what he thought – and he told me to watch the way Rip Hamilton used screens to create space, both for himself but also for his teammates. And watch him intently I did, for hour after hour after hour. I modeled the way I tried to play on the court – using screens, moving without the ball, etc. – after the way he did. Naturally through this process, I became a Rip fan.

ben-gordon-detroit-pistons-d5c694c30a5efa37_largeSo like many Pistons fans, this news is bitter sweet. On the one hand, it’s another door closing on the old era that we cherish so dearly. On the other hand, this appears to be the right move for the present and the future. Put simply, at this point in their respective careers, Ben Gordon is the better player and appears to be the best option for the Pistons at starting SG.

This appears to be the consensus of conventional wisdom, and in the case of Hamilton vs. Gordon, the Wins Produced numbers agree. Here are the numbers through 28 games:

2010-12-22 Automated Wins Produced

With Gordon now the starter, what can Pistons fans expect?

Keith Langlois, editor of Pistons.com, offers the following comments:

If Gordon as a starter can provide 18 or 20 points consistently and efficiently, the Pistons will be better than a 9-19 team. Maybe good enough to chip away at .500 and put themselves back in the playoff chase. But if Hamilton is true to his word and embraces his new role, then perhaps the Pistons can be significantly better than that. […]

Twenty points isn’t a magical barometer, I suppose, but both Hamilton and Gordon are primarily scorers. That’s their best asset. If they can figure a way to get each of them to score 15 a game, at least, the Pistons probably could mount a playoff push. […] With neither playing performing at close to capacity, why not reverse their roles?

Best case, both of them start scoring consistently and efficiently. But if it even jolts one of them back on course, the Pistons will be ahead of where they’ve been.

To sum up, there are three things Keith is arguing here. First, both Gordon and Hamilton are underperforming (at least that’s how I read them being “off course” at least). Second, if either one of them is “jolted back on course” by this change, the Pistons will be better moving forward than they’ve been. Third, if this change causes them both to play the way they did on October 28, 2009 on a consistent basis, the Pistons could complete the season at a better than .500 clip.

Wow! The Pistons, who have won just 9 of 28 thus far, might be able to anticipate finishing the season by winning more than 26 of their remaining 54 games simply by swapping the roles of two shooting guards. That is truly remarkable. But do any of the arguments hold up to scrutiny?

Are Gordon and Hamilton underperforming?

Rip’s performance this season hasn’t been good, and there’s no question about that. However, what may be surprising to some Pistons fans is that Rip has never been very productive relative to Wins Produced. In fact, his career season with the Pistons was 2003-2004 (at age 25) when he produced 4.7 wins with a WP48 of .081 (average is .100). Yes, in his best season with the Pistons, Rip was “below average.” Furthermore, Rip is getting old, and in spite of working tirelessly on his conditioning, Rip can’t defy age indefinitely. So while his performance is declining, it’s not clear to me whether this is the natural result of age or the result of being assigned the wrong role in the rotation.

What about the newly-signed, highly-paid Ben Gordon? His minutes, shot attempts, and points per game have all dropped since joining the Pistons. That must be a result of having two good scorers at the same position, right? Well, not necessarily, according to the numbers. Ben Gordon’s career season came in 2008-2009 with the Chicago Bulls (at age 25) where he produced 5.6 wins with a WP40 of .090 – remarkably similar to Rip’s career season, isn’t it? And while he has produced better numbers in other seasons prior to that one as well, this season is not a dramatic departure from what Gordon has offered in the past. Yes, he’s not performing optimally, but it’s not as bad as many people suggest.

So, while it’s true that both players aren’t performing optimally, it’s not clear that the roles of the perspective players are to blame.

Will the Pistons be better if either one thrives in a new role?

This one’s easy. If either player improves, and if the other’s production doesn’t fall of a cliff completely, yes, the Pistons will better. That’s obvious. If your individual players play better, of course the team is better. The question is, how much better? Langlois is clearly thinking playoffs – finishing the season 26-26 for a total of 37 wins is likely to put the team in the Playoff hunt. All due respect to Keith, I don’t think this is very likely.

As a thought experiment, let’s imagine that moving Ben Gordon into the starting lineup does propel him back to his peak performance (.090 WP48). Let’s also imagine that Ben Gordon averages 36 minutes per game at SG (ignoring for the moment how that impacts Rip’s minutes and position). With 54 games left to be played, the Pistons could expect approximately 3.6 wins from Ben Gordon. Given the relatively unproductive cast of players the Pistons employ, I struggle to see how an additional 3-4 wins matters much. Instead of winning 26-27 games as the current numbers project, the Pistons could win 29-31. To my eye, that amounts to fewer lottery balls, not a playoff berth.

A Case Study: October 28, 2009

I recently argued that the Pistons aren’t very good because the Pistons aren’t very good. Yes, I think it’s that simple. We don’t have many productive players; therefore, we don’t win much.

It is true, however, that this collection of players has played very well together at times – and one need look no farther than the first game this team every played together as a group on October 28, 2009. That night, Hamilton scored 25 points on 53% shooting, and Ben Gordon scored 22 points on 58% shooting – a remarkable shooting performance from both, to be sure. Langlois seems to suggest that this should be the case study – both for the fans and perhaps also for the coaching staff as well – that models what Dumars envisioned for this team when he put it together. If Kuester can find a way to replicate this performance, the Pistons problems will all be solved, right?

Alas, replicating that performance has been difficult. As Keith observes,

Remarkably, there has been only one other game since the two became teammates that both scored over 20 points. The other came last Feb. 21 when the Pistons beat San Antonio in overtime.

The good news is the Pistons are undefeated when Hamilton and Gordon score 20-plus. The bad news is it’s happened twice in 62 games when they’ve both been available. The worse news is they’ve had four games already this season in the 25 they’ve both played when each one finished in single digits. Last year, there was only one such game in the 37 when both played.

To put this as simply as possible – Gordon and Hamilton are not going to shoot over 50% on a regular basis, let alone on the same night. And as a result, history will keep repeating itself – the nights that both players score a lot and efficiently will continue to be rare, regardless of who’s starting and who’s coming off the bench.

How do I know this? Because of the statistics that the NBA tracks, I can view their career shooting percentages and see with absolute clarity that they’ve never shot above 50% consistently (and most SGs in the NBA don’t either, not even the best ones). So as fun as that game was to watch back on October 28, 2009 – and yes, I did watch and enjoy it – I think it’s unlikely to expect many games like that in 2010-2011.

In other words, juggling the rotation in hopes of achieving, “If we could just play like we did that one night last season, we could turn this thing around!” doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.

Same Pieces, Same Puzzle

Unfortunately for the Pistons and their fans, I don’t think changing the starting Shooting Guard will have a dramatic impact. I do agree that it’s the right move, and it seems to be the natural next step in the transition from the old guard to the new, but ultimately, not that much is changing. One unproductive SG is being replaced by a slightly less unproductive SG, and the rest of the Pistons problems – specifically, poor shooting, poor defense, and poor rebounding – remain.

Kuester can arrange the pieces however he wants – and I don’t fault him for trying – but the puzzle when completed is going to look very much the same.

Better late than never: 2010-2011 Projection

In early October, Dr. Berri ran the numbers and projected that the Pistons might be able to reach 40 wins – if everything goes perfectly. His analysis was grounded in the possibility that players who underperformed in 09-10 might see a return to 08-09 form in 10-11 (got it?).

I’ve decided to run the numbers myself and try to project improvements, declines, and minutes played. Here’s my best-case scenario based on that analysis.

In an (almost) perfect world...

Given the current roster and injury situation, the best-case scenario I can realistically create places us below .500. While this might prove to be good enough for a Playoff berth out East (unlikely, but possible), this roster appears to be bumping its head on a 40-win season. While that’s not as good as I’d hope for, at least we’re not the Wizards.

I recognize that some of my minute allocations are arbitrary; however, I can’t see any way around that. For example, Will Bynum will probably play a bit more than I project here, but whose minutes will he take, and who will play out of position as a result? I’m not sure I know the answer to those questions. I also realize that our coaching staff appears to have an unexplainable affinity for small ball, which places players out of position and ultimately costs the team wins (Tayshaun at PF anyone?). But again, it’s difficult to predict when and how often that will happen. So instead, I’ve opted for more traditional lineups with corresponding minute allocations.

Minute distribution aside, there are a few caveats worth exploring.

Rodney Stuckey: The table above assumes that what we’ve seen from Stuckey in the preseason and the first 3 regular season games is an actual, permanent improvement. This might be wishful thinking on my part, but subjectively speaking, Rodney has looked better this year than he has at any other point in his career thus far. If he’s turned the proverbial corner, he may yet become an above-average win producer for the Pistons.

Austin Daye: In limited minutes last season and big minutes this pre-season, Daye showed promise at both SG and SF. This year, however, he has been named the starter at PF. And unfortunately for both his development and Pistons fans, Austin doesn’t appear to be cutout for that position. He’s simply not strong enough to be a good rebounder at PF despite his height, and as a result, he fares poorly at that position. I still like his game and think he has a chance to become a quality player, assuming the Pistons find minutes for him in the right place.

Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva: Last season’s debut for these two new acquisitions couldn’t have been much worse. Both battled injuries, both saw inconsistent minutes, and both produced some of the worst numbers in their respective careers. While I don’t anticipate that either will become stellar win producers for the Pistons this season, I think it’s likely that they both improve over last year – and just maybe both are primed for career seasons.

Jonas Jerebko: Jonas was a wonderful surprise last season; however, he tore his Achilles tendon in the first pre-season game and is likely to be at least 6 months away from returning. While it’s possible he may return this season, I opted to leave him out of the rotation for the sake of simplicity – because even if he does return, his overall impact on team wins will be negligible given the small number of available minutes he could play.

Injuries: Last season, injuries hurt the Pistons. In August, Dr. Berri and I argued that the Pistons weren’t necessarily decimated by injuries, but there was no doubt a healthy team would have been better than last year’s 27 wins suggested. The table above assumes very good health, something the Pistons enjoyed for the better part of the last decade.

But what if everything doesn’t go perfectly? What if the injury bug bites again? What if the Benaissance begins to wane? What if Stuckey has already reached his ceiling? What if Ben and Charlie aren’t good fits for Detroit?

If the glass is half empty...

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer. The Pistons returned essentially the same roster from last season. If no one improves dramatically, and if injuries strike again, a repeat performance seems likely.

However, there are three caveats worth exploring on the pessimistic side of things.

Austin Daye: If Prince and McGrady are both injured simultaneously, Austin Daye might see minutes at SF and PF, which may serve to boost his overall production, albeit minimally.

Tracy McGrady: I fear that his impact will be minimal. He looks out of shape, and he’s shooting a miserable percentage thus far. It wasn’t a bad gamble by Dumars – there really wasn’t anything to lose – but I don’t expect big dividends.

Greg Monroe: Monroe has been touted as a player who was drafted because of his ability to make an immediate impact. However, that certainly wasn’t the case this preseason; his numbers were awful. Unfortunately, his college numbers weren’t that much better. I defer to Gabe, fellow Wins Produced and Pistons fan, who wrote an excellent post on Greg Monroe at Detroit Bad Boys before the Pistons even drafted him. In short, I expect Monroe to get minutes, but I don’t expect much impact – at least not this season.

Final Projection: As with every season, there are plenty of unknowns that make forecasting difficult. I think the Pistons face three in particular.

  • Can our productive veterans (Big Ben and Tay) stay healthy and productive?
  • Can some of our new pieces (McGrady, Gordon, Charlie V) return to form?
  • Can even even one of our young players (Daye and Stuckey) take a significant step forward?

I hope the answer to all three questions is, “Yes.” If it is, then we can at least expect to compete game in and game out – and that will be a significant improvement. But I’m not sure how likely all three of those things are, and even if they are, the Pistons still aren’t very good. Realistically, I think we can expect some degree of “yes” and some degree of “no” for all three questions, and as a result, I think we can expect a season somewhere between my two projections, approaching as many (or as few, depending on how look at it) 34 wins.