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.

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.