The Dallas Mavericks’ Championship Deserves an Asterisk, or John Hollinger Says Stupid Things

John Hollinger receives as much criticism from the WoW Network as just about anyone else. Deservedly so, as has been shown time and again, PER fails to do anything useful.

This post, however, has nothing at all to do with PER. It has everything to do with one of John’s recent tweets:

Okay, I guess it does have something to do with PER, but only in passing. PER struggles to explain why the Pistons of the Going to Work era were so effective. By PER, the Pistons were a pretty unremarkable group while they were dominating the Eastern Conference and very nearly winning back-to-back championships. Perhaps that’s why Hollinger is looking for all the excuses he can find to explain why a team like the 2003-2004 Pistons won an NBA championship instead of a team like the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers.

If your metric doesn’t work, mislead.

But I digress.

The point of this post is to apply the logic of Bill Simmons and John Hollinger to the reigning NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, and their trip to the Finals through the Portland Trailblazers.

In Round One of the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs, the Mavs defeated the Portland Trailblazers 4 games to 2, en route to the NBA Championship, as we all know.

But wouldn’t you know it, that Portland team was heavily depleted by injuries.

Brandon Roy, one-time NBA superstar, contributed almost nothing in Portland’s losses, due to devastating knee injuries that eventually ended his career. (As an aside, the games where he did manage to contribute were awe-inspiring and incredibly courageous. I’ll never forget those games as an NBA fan.)

But Roy wasn’t the only important Blazer to miss time. Former number one pick of the NBA Draft, Greg Oden, has been a very productive player when he was healthy, and he didn’t play a single minute in this series due to his own career-threatening knee injuries.

Therefore, Dallas’ NBA championship should be taken with a large grain of salt and probably deserves an asterisk.

Wait, what?

Of course it doesn’t. That’s absurd, and frankly, willfully ignorant stupidity.

It isn’t Dallas’ fault that Brandon Roy and Greg Oden got injured, is it? What would you have had them do, John and Bill, bench Nowitzki and Kidd to even the playing field?

Of course note. That’s a patently ludicrous idea that would get rightfully laughed out of every locker room in the NBA, and heck, every place where basketball fans gather to cheer on their teams.

Even Portland fans would read this and laugh mockingly.

Toning down the sarcasm, the obvious point here is obvious:

Teams can only compete against their opposition.

It’s not Dallas’ fault that Oden and Roy were injured, there’s nothing Dallas should have done differently as a result, and Dallas’ amazing accomplishment should not be jaded or tarnished because of Roy’s and Oden’s bad knees.

Dallas beat the teams they faced, and as a result, Dallas won the NBA Championship.

Full stop. Period. End of conversation.

This is no less true for the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons – whose opponents’ injuries were arguably less significant than the injuries to Roy and Oden.

And lest we forget, Detroit didn’t just beat the Lakers; they pummeled the Lakers, a team that contrary to Hollinger’s revisionist history was mostly at full strength; they pummeled the Lakers so badly that the NBA changed its rules about how defense could be played legally.

Everything I have written here is publicly available fact that seems so obvious to me that I can hardly believe I’m taking the time to write it.

But thanks to the incompetence of professional sports writers like Hollinger and Simmons, guys like me have content long after our favorite teams season ends.

Kudos, gentlemen.

Charlie Villanueva played, but let’s not pretend he played well

I support Lawrence Frank’s decision to play Charlie Villanueva yesterday against the Chicago Bulls. Villanueva is one of the most obvious amnesty candidates in the league, and as frustrating a player as he’s been, the Pistons exercising the amnesty clause on him would be a humiliating acknowledgement of failure to perform up to expectations – and for all his faults as a player, I don’t wish that on anyone.

Plus, if he plays like he’s played as a Piston to date, more minutes for Villanueva means better odds at winning the lottery, as well as the potential to move up a position if we don’t. So there’s nothing lost at all by playing him.

But did he play well yesterday in his return to the Pistons’ rotation? That seems to be the consensus from Mlive.com and the Detroit News.

In a shocking turn of events, I don’t agree with the consensus.

Let’s dig into the numbers for the positives and negatives of Villanueva’s return to the Pistons’ rotation.

On the upside, Charlie scored 13 points, committed only 2 fouls, and only turned it over once. His shot selection was also not horrible (although he was a little shot happy). He converted 4 of his 5 shots at the rim, didn’t take any long two’s, and took the rest of his shots from deep.

And even though he’s not a defensive powerhouse, my eyeballs said he played competent defense by Charlie standards, and he had one steal. Patrick Hayes at PistonPowered agrees. I trust Patrick’s read on this sort of thing, so let’s say that Charlie V played decent defense.

Beyond that, though, things start to get ugly. (Hat Tip to www.hoopdata.com for their excellent advanced box scores and http://www.nerdnumbers.com for the WP splits that follow)

The most productive scorers in the NBA tend to score a lot at the rim, at the free throw line (because they’re attacking the rim), and from behind the arc. Charlie did only one of those things yesterday, and failed completely at the other two.

 Charlie was very good at the rim, converting 4 of 5; however, all of his makes at the rim (and in total, actually) were assisted, indicating that Charlie wasn’t attacking the basket himself. As a result, Charlie didn’t get fouled while shooting and didn’t get to the free throw line.

Charlie took 6 shots from three, meaning 11 of his shot 15 shot attempts came from the best places on the floor for him to shoot. Unfortunately, he only converted 1 three-point shot. So in spite of taking 11 shots right where you’d want him to shoot, he only managed 13 points on 15 total shots. That’s bad for every position, but especially power forward.

To make matters worse, Charlie just kept shooting. He was a black hole on offense, using 36.3% of the Pistons’ possessions while he was on the floor. That number beats everyone else on the team by a wide margin, with the exception of Stuckey (35%), who carried the Pistons’ offense on his back; no one else on the team besides Knight surpassed using 20% of the team’s possessions while on the floor.

The net result of all this shooting and missing is 0.64 points scored per possession used. Only Maxiell and Prince posted worse.

Then, there’s the lack of rebounding in a game where the Pistons were handled on the glass. I can understand the lack of offensive rebounding to a point, given how much Charlie plays on the perimeter. Not that I like or prefer it, just understand it. (Actually, if Frank decides to continue playing Charlie at the 4, Jonas Jerebko makes a much better pairing at the 3 than Prince or Wilkins because of his superior offensive rebounding ability).

But the failure to contribute more to the team’s defensive rebounding is inexcusable. Only Damien Wilkins (18 minutes, SF) and Ben Wallace (11 minutes, C) grabbed fewer defensive boards than Villanueva.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to perceive any improvement to team offense, which is Frank’s explicit reasoning for playing Villanueva – to improve the team’s offense by stretching the floor. The Pistons managed only 94 points through four quarters and over time, and their offensive efficiency was a paltry 89.5

And while we’re at it, let’s talk defense. Thanks to NerdNumbers, we have Wins Produced game splits, and while this isn’t a direct measure of Charlie’s defense, the Pistons allowed solid production from the Bulls’ power forwards, who produced at a rate of 0.253 wins per 48 minutes.

From the perspective of my favorite all-in-one box score derived metric, Charlie Villanueva produced -0.274 wins per 48 minutes, or -0.11 wins.

Yikes.

To reiterate, I support Coach Frank’s decision to give Villanueva an extended look. It’s the best thing for everyone, and frankly, Lawrence is absolutely right – the Pistons need to be evaluating what they have, and it’s hard to evaluate a player when he’s glued to the bench. 

But let’s not pretend that the performance from Charlie Villanueva was anything different than what we’ve seen time and again in his tenure as a Piston. It wasn’t. 

Wins Produced Splits Visualized

UPDATE: Post is up on Detroit Bad Boys. Link here.

A full post with comments will be posted to www.detroitbadboys.com. Please feel free to join the conversation there when it’s live. I will link the post here as soon as it’s live.

The splits presented here are from the beginning of the season to the end of March. I will create updated charts at the end of the season.

ADWP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

ADWP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BG WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BG WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BK WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BK WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BW WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

BW WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

CV WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

CV WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

DW WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

DW WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

GM WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

GM WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

JJ WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

JJ WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

JM WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

JM WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

RS WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

RS WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

TP WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

TP WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

VM WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

WM WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

WB WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

WB WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

WR WP48 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

WR WP Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

Season totals below.

Season Totals through April 4 Microsoft Excel - Wins Produced Splits TEST

Props to The NBA Geek and Nerd Numbers for the data. Note that I’ve adjusted Austin Daye’s numbers in the season totals to reflect him playing at SF, while the NBA Geek has him slated at PF.

Quick Hitter: Maybe Your Problem Isn’t with Wins Produced

Yesterday, Tom Liston, of Raptors Republic, said a lot of things about Wins Produced, most of them critical. You can find his full comments here.

Most of his criticisms have been addressed repeteadly throughout the Wages of Wins Network. What follows isn’t necessarily a direct critique of Tom’s post, but that post was the provocation.

When people present counterarguments to Wins Produced like Tom does here, it makes me think that their problem isn’t with Wins Produced, but rather, with the way the game of basketball itself is actually designed.

It’s not that Wins Produced overvalues rebounds and/or efficient scoring and/or etc., etc. Wins Produced simply observes something that is true about the game of basketball: getting rebounds, making shots, stealing possession from the other team, all of those actions produce wins.

In other words, people who present these arguments don’t actually have a problem with Wins Produced; instead, they have a fundamental misunderstanding about what constitutes winning basketball. Instead of addressing that misunderstanding, they attack the metric that simply observes what’s true about the nature of the game.

Lawrence Frank is not the Answer

Back in June, I argued that John Kuester was not problem with the Detroit Pistons. Despite the fact that he handled plenty of things poorly, the roster that he inherited simply wasn’t strong enough to compete.

Nevertheless, Kuester was fired, a new coaching staff was hired, but little else changed. 

Unfortunately, Lawrence Frank has not been the answer Pistons fans have hoped for.

After losing to Boston tonight, the Pistons have lost three consecutive games by a combined total of 39 (!!) points. And frankly, that understates how poorly the team has performed. 

From here, things don’t get any easier. Of the Pistons next 19 games (through January, 2012), the Pistons are likely to be significant underdogs in all but 4 – Charlotte, Minnesota, and Milwaukee (twice) – and they will likely be slight underdogs in those games as well. 

It is very possible that the 2011-2012 could threaten Lawrence Frank’s own New Jersey Nets for the worst start in NBA history. 

There is little Lawrence Frank can do to avoid that. 

No discredit to Frank intended, however. He seems like a fine head coach who manages his players and himself very well. The problem with the Pistons is not that Frank and/or the rest of the coaching staff is insufficient.

The problem is that this collection of players simply doesn’t have what it takes to be a winning basketball team.

And nothing short of a wholesale roster overhaul is going to fix that. 

No hard feelings, Larry. I don’t think this is your fault at all.

 

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!