A familiar story unfolding in Motown

One of the findings of The Wages of Wins is that minutes played, player salaries, and points per game are correlated with one another. Put simply, players that score a lot of points tend to play a lot and make lots of money. What Dr. Berri and his colleagues discovered, however, is that winning games doesn’t necessarily correlate with the factors above. Or put simply, employing and paying players who score lots of points a lot of money and playing them big minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that your team will win lots of games.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is precisely what’s happening in Motown. The table below attempts to illustrate that the Pistons employ several players that manage to score points without helping the team win many games – and they pay many of these unproductive scorers plenty of money to do so.

2010-11-18 Points Minutes WP48

As we can see quite clearly, of the top 5 Pistons scorers, only one is above average for his position relative to WP48 (the per minute derivative of Wins Produced. Yet, all 5 are among the leaders in minutes played, and with the exception of Stuckey who is on the last year of his rookie deal, they lead the team in terms of salary.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, after 12 games their top scorers are not performing particularly well relative to any of the other important aspects of the game (i.e., rebounding, steals, blocks). Stuckey’s shooting has cooled off, Charlie V either won’t or can’t grab enough rebounds, and Tay and Rip can’t throw the ball in the ocean. To his credit, BG continues to play relatively well, although he still isn’t playing up to his contract.

It’s precisely because our management has opted to employ too many relatively unproductive scorers and not enough productive scorers and non-scorers (i.e., Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko, Tracy McGrady) that we find ourselves where we are – right where we were last year, on the outside of the Playoffs looking in and hoping for a lottery pick that can help turn the team around.

(Salaries taken from here and here)

11 thoughts on “A familiar story unfolding in Motown

  1. Ben,

    The Pistons’ so-called non-productive players would be performing in a different way, collectively, if they had the opportunity to play in a different work environment for a better coach than John Kuester. Unfortunately for Detroit, since Larry Brown left town, they have been coached by a series of less-than elite practicioners. This is where Joe Dumars has made his biggest personnel blunders. Until he fixes this correctly, things will not improve appreciably for the Pistons.

    • In my opinion, Flip Saunders was a very good coach. He seemed to lose control of the teams in the Playoffs and tightened the rotation a little too much in the Playoffs. But beyond that, he did lead them to several ECF’s. In other words, he’s no slouch.

      Regarding Kuester, I can argue both sides. He’s made some very good moves as it relates to rotations and personnel (e.g., last season, starting Ben Wallace over Wilcox and Brown). But he’s also made some very strange decisions that have hurt the team.

      You and I will probably agree to disagree about the ultimate cause of the Pistons struggles. I think this current team’s ceiling is 35-40 wins, regardless of who’s coaching, because I think our players are mostly average or a little below.

      You seem to think they could achieve slightly better with a top class coach. While I wouldn’t disagree that Phil Jackson is better than Kuester, I don’t agree that the difference between the Playoffs and the Lottery is coaching — I think that rests with the current cast of players Dumars has assembled.

  2. BTW … the Pistons are not alone, in this regard, as there are numerous teams across the league today with a slew of talented “individual” players on their rosters but, in fact, no elite level head coach with the actual know-how of what it takes to bring it all together, in a major way, which goes WAY BEYOND simplistic X’s and O’s.

    • khandor,

      Two quick points of response.

      First, I think this is largely a chicken vs. egg question, and as a result, I’m not sure you and I will ever convince the other – not that persuasion has to be the goal of conversation, though. While I would agree with you that Kuester isn’t one of the best coaches in the NBA, where I don’t think I’d agree with you is that a Phil Jackson or a Greg Pop could turn this current roster into a Playoff team. I simply don’t think we have enough defensive or rebounding talent on this roster to get that far.

      Second, who would replace Kuester? By that I mean, who is the elite coach that’s actually available? Some might say JVG, but I’m not convinced. His commentary is mostly unintelligible, and I’m not that impressed by his recrd.

      Third, (I know I only said two points…) we can’t fire Q right now, if only for financial reasons. Remember, we’re still paying Michael Curry, too.

  3. Ben,

    Let’s take last year’s Pistons and Bobcats, as a point of comparison, if you don’t use a stats-based reference like “Wins Produced” as a barometer for what a specific player’s actual level of basketball skill is in “real life”:

    Charlotte – Detroit

    Felton – Stuckey
    Jackson – Hamilton
    Wallace – Prince
    Diaw – Maxiell
    Chandler – Wallace
    Augustin – Gordon
    Graham – Daye
    Brown – Jerebko
    Thomas – Villanueva
    Mohammed – Brown
    John Kuester – Larry Brown

    and, please tell me … Who it is that you think would have actually qualified for the 8th playoff spot in the East last season, if their head coaches had the opportunity to exchange places with one another?

    The work environment which a head coach creates for his players is WAY MORE important than “statisticians” realize … in large part, due to the simple fact that SO MANY of the average-to-inept coaches in this world coach a similar way … and, therefore, make the exact same mistakes as one another when it comes to being unable to put their individual players in the best possible position to succeed within the environment of The Team.

    [btw … we are not talking about a Dr. Phil, or a Pop taking the 2009-2010 Pistons to the NBA Title; we are talking about whether, or not, a coach of THAT particular ilk, in fact, has what it takes to have allowed that specific collection of players to have qualified as the No. 8 Playoff Team in the East, ahead of other “dynamos” like Charlotte (sans LB), Toronto, Indiana, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey.]

    IMO, LB has shown throughout his career, as a high end basketball coach, that he would have been more than capable of turning that specific trick with the 2009-2010 Detroit Pistons.

    • I think the argument against this is that the statistical production of players is largely consistent, even when switching teams. There are exceptions, of course, and there are some changes but not to a great degree. Statisticians being concerned only with statistics, there is little room in the model for coaching. Berri has done some research on the statistical impact of coaching and generally determined that it had little statistical impact. Again, this is statistical impact, not any other impact that may also be important. The only stat we seem to keep for coaches is win/loss and that is a terribly tangled stat.

      Also, I love Brown and wish he wasn’t so nutty that he constantly has to switch jobs. He did have some bad years in New York, though. Perhaps that was just an anomaly and not his fault, but it did happen.

      • Berri’s actual research shows that only a few coaches have a positive effect on the production/efficiency levels of their players … not that zero coaches have this type of effect.

        What has been inappropriately mis-construed from Berri’s research is the perception that because so few coaches have this type of positive effect, it can therefore be acknowledged that coaches, in general, do not have a positive effect on the performance of their players when it comes to improving/increasing their levels of effectiveness and efficiency.

        The fact is …

        Any such belief is 100% false, when it comes to the game of basketball.

        The very best coaches in the business ARE precisely the ones who DO actually improve the levels of effectiveness/efficiency of the players in their charge … irrespective of those players’ age and/or years of experience.

        This is part of the reason why isolated individual coaches like Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Larry Brown, Red Holtzman, John Wooden, Dean Smith, Al McGuire, Bob Knight, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, Morgan Wooten, Bob Hurley Sr., etc., are properly considered to have been amongst the elite group of coaches in the history of basketball.

    • khandor,

      Again, I don’t disagree with you that Larry Brown is an excellent coach, and I don’t disagree that Brown > Kuester.

      Last season, the Pistons might have had a chance at the Playoffs, although I think I’d still rather have Charlotte’s roster than ours.

      I’m not sure how often you watch the Pistons play, but I think you’d be surprised to see how far certain veterans have declined since the glory days. Rip and Tay — in the literal sense — are shells of who they used to be. They simply don’t produce what they used to, and I think that has everything to do with age and a decline and skills, not coaching.

      Perhaps a change in scenery and coaching would help, but I am skeptical the effect would be dramatic.

      • Ben,

        I completely agree with the notion that the Pistons vets [i.e. Hamilton, Prince and Wallace] have declined with age. This is actually one of the reasons a better coach … rather than one who is simply run of the mill … is needed to get the most out of them, in the first place.

        From what I can see, however, the entire system of play – encompassing offense, defense, rebounding, substitution patterns, etc. – the team once used under Larry Brown has been replaced/revamped by the series of coaches that have followed him in Motown.

        Unless the system which is used actually fits the assorted skill sets of the players on the team – i.e. accounting for their individual and collective strengths and weaknesses – there is very little chance that veteran players are going to be capable of maintaining anything close to their former levels of on-court production. However, this does not mean that such players are no longer capable of succeeding in a similar – although not the exact same – way, as they did before, if the new systems of play they are asked to perform under are also a good fit for their individual talents.

        Since his arrival in Detroit, what Kuester has shown is that he is a very poor fit with the players on the Pistons’ current roster.

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