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. 

Are there any Free Agent Bigs to be had?

In today’s Pistons Mailbag, Keith Langlois observes:

It won’t be a very robust class of free agents in general, Isaac. Samuel Dalembert, Carl Landry, Kris Humphries and Tyson Chandler are among the headliners, but there’s a reasonable chance they all wind up staying with their current teams. The Pistons would have to get creative to land one of them in a sign-and-trade type of deal. Two others who would be attractive have early termination options, David West and Nene. West might not exercise his since teams would be less likely to give him a long-term deal while he rehabs from a torn ACL. Nene probably isn’t going anywhere, either. Yao Ming will be a free agent, but it’s anybody’s guess how that ends – he might not play again. Two restricted free agents, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan, also are unlikely to switch teams.

Admittedly, I don’t know exactly what Keith means by “robust.” On the one hand, I agree with him in that I think it’s unlikely that a lot of big men will change teams this summer, so perhaps what he’s saying is there won’t be that many big men available for the Pistons. In this case, then I agree it won’t be robust.

But, perhaps he’s insinuating that the big men he goes on to list aren’t that valuable, and thus, the free agent class isn’t that robust. If that’s the case, then I disagree. As the numbers will demonstrate, there are several productive big men on the market, and while none of them will blow you away by scoring the basketball, that doesn’t mean their contribution isn’t critically important.

As always, to the numbers, and again as always, powered by NerdNumbers. (I’m excluding David West due to his serious injury)

2011-04-21 FA Big Men

Obviously, this short list doesn’t compare to the bonanza of 2010, and by contrast, it’s not nearly as robust. However, there are several useful big men on the market this summer, and while none of them offers points in bunches, several of them are more than capable of helping their teams win in other ways. And frankly, those are precisely the types of players the Detroit Pistons ought to be targeting.

Hopefully, Pistons management feels the same.