Do the Detroits Pistons Have a Shot at the Playoffs?

| by David Berri

Originally this post was going to be all about the loss of Jonas Jerebko. But as you will see, it has morphed into a post on how we can play with numbers to create a little bit of hope for fans of the Pistons (the team I follow).

Last year the Pistons only won 27 games. Obviously, the level of success led Joe Dumars (the Pistons GM) to conclude that one shouldn’t “mess with success” (that was sarcasm). Specifically, Dumars decided – despite such a miserable season – to bring back almost everyone from the 2009-10 season.  

Back in August it was argued that this was probably not the best move the Pistons could have made. As the following table illustrates, of the team’s 27 wins, 16 could be traced to the production of Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace. And that means the rest of this roster was worth only about 11 victories.

This past summer the Pistons added Tracy McGrady in free agency and Greg Monroe in the draft lottery (yes, that was about all they did). With respect to the latter, Monroe’s numbers last season at Georgetown were essentially average for a player selected in the draft out of college. So it doesn’t seem likely that Monroe will help much as a rookie (although since college numbers don’t forecast perfectly, we can still hope Monroe will contribute).  

What about McGrady? T-Mac can play shooting guard or small forward. But since the Pistons already have Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon at shooting guard, one can expect T-Mac to play most of his minutes at small forward. As the next table illustrates, T-Mac last posted a level of production (at small forward) that would push his WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] above 0.150 in 2006-07. And the last time his production eclipsed the 0.200 mark was in 2004-05. 

In sum, it seems unlikely the Pistons are going to be helped much by their two summer acquisitions.

So Detroit is going to rely on the players who are returning. And one of these – Jonas Jerebko – just went down with a serious injury. So is everything lost?

As a Pistons fan, I have some hope. And here is how this hope was constructed.

If we focus strictly on last year, it looks somewhat bleak. But Richard Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, and T-Mac all played better in 2008-09. If we assume (economists get to make assumptions) that this quartet will return to what we saw in 2008-09, then here is what we might see in 2010-11.


Rodney Stuckey: 28 minutes per game, 0.030 WP48, 1.4 Wins Produced

Richard Hamilton: 26 minutes per game, 0.071 WP48, 3.2 Wins Produced

Tayshaun Prince: 28 minutes per game, 0.151 WP48, 7.2 Wins Produced

Charlie Villanueva: 24 minutes per game, 0.104 WP48, 4.3 Wins Produced

Ben Wallace: 28 minutes per game, 0.241 WP48, 11.5 Wins Produced


Will Bynum: 20 minutes per game, 0.052 WP48, 1.8 Wins Produced

Ben Gordon: 22 minutes per game, 0.091 WP48, 3.7 Wins Produced

Tracy McGrady: 20 minutes per game, 0.111 WP48, 3.8 Wins Produced

Jason Maxiell: 24 minutes per game, 0.110 WP48, 4.5 Wins Produced

Greg Monroe: 20 minutes per game, 0.050 WP48, 1.7 Wins Produced

Add up the Wins Produced and we see a team winning 43 games.  Wow.  A 16 game improvement!!!

Before anyone gets too excited (and I can already see people saying “Economist (or stat-head, or something more derogatory) says Pistons will win 43 games!!”), let’s note a few dark clouds:

  •  This is a forecast that assumes four players return to what we saw in 2008-09.  Seems unlikely that all four come back.
  • This forecast ignores injuries. One suspects Jerebko is not the last injury.
  • Of the Pistons 43 wins, 11.5 are tied to the play of Ben Wallace. Can Ben Wallace really keep producing? And can he play 2,000 plus minutes? That also seems unlikely.  And the drop-off after Big Ben in the frontcourt is huge.
  • This forecast is also constructed by assuming DeJuan Blair and Chris Wilcox — two players who posted negative WP48 numbers last year — never play. With Jerebko out, the odds of these players getting minutes just went up. And Blair and Wilcox probably won’t help much (although Wilcox has produced some in the past, so maybe we can hope he can help).

So where will the Pistons finish? I think what was said last August still holds. Without Jerebko I still think this team can surpass the 30 win mark. But a post-season berth seems unlikely. 

But if everything goes right… well, maybe the Pistons can get to 40 wins. 

So there is some hope. But I think about 40 wins is all we can hope for.

In other words, what Rodney Stuckey told Dime Magazine is quite unbelievable. In case you missed it, here is what Stuckey said a few weeks ago:

We all just have to stay healthy and the sky is the limit for us. On paper, we are the best team in the League. We are deep and athletic. All we have to do is play to our abilities. We don’t have the biggest roster, but if we share the ball, we’ll be alright.

Not sure what paper he is talking about. But I would love to see a few sheets of it sometime.

- DJ