Pistons

NBA Analysis: Chance of Detroit Pistons Being a Playoff Team in 2012

| by David Berri

As I noted at the onset of the Conference Finals, I am now rooting for the Chicago Bulls.  This is a temporary condition, imposed by my desire to win the TrueHoop contest.   And as a fan of the Pistons, I am not entirely happy about this situation.

In the future I hope to be rooting for the Pistons in the post-season.  Of course for that to happen, Detroit has to get back to the playoffs.  From 1996 to 2009, the Pistons only missed the playoffs twice and never missed the post-season two years in a row. 

But since the Pistons spent millions to bring Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to Detroit in 2009 (moves made possible by the ill-fated acquisition of Allen Iverson) the Pistons only won 27 games (in 2009-10) and 30 games (in 2010-11).  Both marks left the Pistons well out of post-season contention.

The Pistons in 2010-11

And these marks – given the roster the Pistons had assembled – were expected.  When we look at the what the Pistons did last year, and compare this performance to what we would have expected given the veteran player’s performance the previous season, the Pistons problems in 2010-11 were simply not surprising (a similar story can be told about 2009-10).

The above table indicates that Pistons could have expected to win about 31 or 32 games in 2010-11.  The team’s efficiency differential – and Wins Produced – was consistent with a team that conformed to this expectation. 

When we look at the individual players, we see a team that was led by Greg Monroe (the team’s lottery pick in 2010), Tracy McGrady (an injured star that few thought could still contribute), and the aging Ben Wallace.  This trio produced 60% of Detroit’s wins. 

Going forward, only one of these players – Greg Monroe – can be counted on to produce wins in large quantities for the Pistons.  In other words, if McGrady departs (he is a free agent and probably would like to play for a better team) and Wallace continues to age (yes, that has to happen), the Pistons are likely to get worse.  So playoff basketball will be less likely to occur in Detroit.

So is there any hope?  The obvious argument advanced by the Wages of Wins and Stumbling on Wins is that teams do better when teams employ better players and avoid playing really bad players.  This is why Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and Oklahoma City are all doing better this season.  All four teams went out and got more productive players.

Can the Pistons do the same thing? Well, of course.  The purpose of this post is to show one particular path back to the playoffs.

The Approach Taken in this Post

Before we get started, though, let me note that

  • I do not know what moves the Pistons will make before the start of the next season (whenever that is).
  • the moves I am suggesting are not the only moves the Pistons could make
  • the purpose of this path is simply to demonstrate that the Pistons could be a playoff team next season.  
  • And finally, one should look at this post as me doing what many fans of losing teams do (i.e. play around with their team’s roster and hope for better days) 

Okay, with all that said, let me also repeat something I said some time ago about George Costanza (from Seinfeld):

For those who are not fans of Seinfeld (all two of you)… in 1996 Seinfeld had an episode where George Costanza is considered a candidate for the job of assistant general manager with the New York Yankees.  Such a job would give George input into possible trades. As George thinks about this job he imagines some trade scenarios.  Here is an example of George’s thinking:

I think I got it. How ’bout this? How ’bout this? We trade Jim Leyritz and Bernie Williams, for Barry Bonds, huh? Whadda ya think? That way you have Griffey and Bonds, in the same outfield! Now you got a team! Ha ha ha.

Essentially, George – as a Yankee employee and fan – supports trades where the Yankees clearly get the better end of the deal.  Certainly one can imagine the Yankees easily acquiring Bonds and Ken Griffey in the past few years (both have left the game recently). But in 1996, it’s hard to see how the trades Costanza envisions happening (and that’s why this is funny).

If we were to follow the lead of George Costanza, we would suggest the Pistons acquire Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.  And these moves would make the Pistons instant title contenders.  But suggesting the Pistons acqurie Superman and CP3 is not “reasonable” (i.e. not possible).  What I would like to do is lay out a path back to respectability that requires moves that I think are “possible or “reasonable”.

What to Do With the 2010-11 Roster?

Let’s start with the players who are signed for next season that the Pistons should keep (at least, for now):

  • Greg Monroe: 0.177 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] at center in 2010-11
  • Ben Wallace: 0.165 WP48 at center in 2010-11
  • Austin Daye: 0.110 WP48 at small forward in 2010-11
  • Will Bynum: 0.014 WP48 at point guard in 2010-11
  • Jason Maxiell: -0.051 WP48 at power forward in 2010-11

 

Now “keep” doesn’t mean “play”.  This I will discuss in more detail in a moment.  For now, let’s keep making roster moves.

Here are players who are under contract that the Pistons should try and locate in a new home:

  • Charlie Villanueva: 0.014 WP48 at power forward in 2010-11
  • Richard Hamilton: 0.039 WP48 at shooting guard in 2010-11  OR
  • Ben Gordon: 0.019 WP48 at shooting guard in 2010-11

 

Yes, I think the Pistons should try and get rid of Villanueva (and no, I am not sure how to do that).  He has never been very productive and he is too expensive to keep on the bench.  The Pistons should also try and get rid of Rip Hamilton or Ben Gordon.  Either guard would be okay off the bench.  Having both, though, makes coaching difficult; since both are too expensive to keep on the bench game after game (as the Pistons discovered this past season).

The Pistons also have a few players from 2010-11 who are not under contract for next season.  These players can be brought back:

  • Jonas Jerebko: 0.128 WP48 at power forward/small forward in 2009-10 (Jerebko missed all of last year because of injury)
  • Chris Wilcox: 0.171 WP48 at center in 2010-11
  • Rodney Stuckey: 0.089 WP48 at point guard in 2010-11

 

As noted, Jerebko was injured all of last year. But he is supposed to be recovered for next season.  Wilcox did produce in very limited minutes, and he might be able to do the same again next year. 

As for Stuckey, he did average 15.5 points per game last year and expects a significant raise.  I do not think his overall production, though, is worth the amount of money I hear people suggesting.  So what I suggest is that Pistons sign Stuckey to a one-year qualifying offer and let him walk after next season.   At this point, I do not see a better option than Stuckey in the draft or the free agent market.  But I can’t imagine that will always be the case.

We have now commented on almost every player the Pistons employed last year.  The exceptions are McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, and DaJuan Summers.  All three are free agents.  And I think all three are either leaving or should be allowed to depart.  McGrady is productive, but old.  If he wants to return, the Pistons should bring him back.  I am guessing, though, that he doesn’t want to come back (and I could be wrong about this).  Prince led the Pistons in points scored last year, but his overall production was below average.  And I think Daye – who is much younger and cheaper – can take Prince’s place.  And Summers… I am still not happy the Pistons drafted the wrong DaJuan (or DeJuan) two years ago.  Detroit could have had DeJuan Blair, one of the most productive players from the 2009 draft. Instead they took Summers, one of the least productive players from 2009 (and the college numbers suggested this outcome).

Okay, that is everyone the Pistons had last year.  And as I have noted in the past, just bringing back the same players will probably lead to the same outcomes.  So who should the Pistons add to the collection I have suggested should be retained?

The Draft and Free Agent Market

There are two places the Pistons can acquire new players: the draft and the free agent market

Let’s start in the draft.  After the lottery on Tuesday night the Pistons have the 8th choice in the first round, the third choice in the second round, and the 23rd choice in the second round.   Looking at the mock draft at Draft Express – and the Win Score data that is also provided by Draft Express – the Pistons should be able to select Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried in the lottery.  Both put up impressive numbers last year.  And although college numbers cannot forecast NBA production perfectly, the numbers posted by Leonard and Faried suggest each could contribute next year.  Chad Ford – at ESPN.com – thinks Leonard will be gone by the time the Pistons make the 8th choice in the draft.  But Faried should be available (again, Draft Express thinks both will be available).  And since rebounding is one factor that does translate from college to the pros – and Faried is amazing on the boards – I am going to suggest the Pistons take Faried (again, I am focusing on moves that are at least possible — although in this case, people might think I am departing from what is “reasonable”). 

In the second round, I am going to suggest the Pistons select point guard Norris Cole in the second round (another player who put up very good numbers last year in college).  And with the other second round pick… well, I am not sure that player will even make the roster.  So let’s just save that for the more extensive draft coverage we are going to offer in the future (and we have some very extensive coverage planned).

Now for the last move.  The Pistons have to go into the free agent market.  As I noted, I don’t think McGrady re-signs with the Pistons.  But there is another player I think the Pistons could sign that could help next season. 

When people think of the Indiana Pacers, they tend to think of Danny Granger.  After all, Granger averaged 20.5 points per game last year and is the only “star” on the roster.  When we look at Wins Produced, though, the player who led the Pacers was Mike Dunleavy. 

Back in 2002, Dunleavy was the 3rd player taken in the draft.  When healthy, he has shown he can produce.  Last year he posted a 0.231 WP48 at shooting guard (0.188 WP48 mark at small forward).  But he also missed 21 games.  And he will also be 31 years old when the next season starts (assuming it does start).  So Dunleavy has problems.  And that is why I think the Pistons have a chance to sign him to a reasonable contract.  

 

A Possible Roster and Rotation for the Pistons in 2011-12

 

With Dunleavy on board, this is how I see the Pistons next season (per-minute productivity numbers from the veteran player’s most recent season, minutes are my guess).

 

Center

Greg Monroe: 34 minutes per game, 0.177 WP48, 10.3 Wins Produced

Ben Wallace: 14 minutes per game, 0.165 WP48, 4.0 Wins Produced

Power Forward

Kenneth Faried: 24 minutes per game, 0.100 WP48, 4.1 Wins Produced (I am guessing Faried can be at least average next year)

Jonas Jerebko: 16 minutes per game, 0.076 WP48, 2.1 Wins Produced

Chris Wilcox: 8 minutes per game, 0.171 WP48, 2.3 Wins Produced

Small Forward

Austin Daye: 28 minutes per game, 0.110 WP48, 5.3 Wins Produced

Jonas Jerebko: 16 minutes per game, 0.181 WP48, 5.0 Wins Produced

Mike Dunleavy: 4 minutes per game, 0.188 WP48, 1.3 Wins Produced

Shooting Guard

Ben Gordon: 24 minutes per game, 0.019 WP48, 0.8 Wins Produced

Mike Dunleavy: 24 minutes per game, 0.231 WP48, 9.5 Wins Produced

Point Guard

Rodney Stuckey: 34 minutes per game, 0.089 WP48, 5.2 Wins Produced

Will Bynum: 14 minutes per game, 0.014 WP48, 0.3 Wins Produced

TOTAL WINS: 50.0

Wow, that’s quite an improvement.  Of course, one should note that I have the Pistons playing only ten players.  So the 50.0 wins mark is similar to what we see when we look at playoff rosters (see the posts on the playoffs for examples).   Many of the playoff teams have a post-season roster that would be expected to win more than 60 games over a complete regular season.  Yet, only the Bulls and Spurs managed to win more than 60 games in the regular season.  What explains the difference?  Well, teams are not just the ten players or so who appear in the post-season.  On average, teams use 15 players in the regular season. 

Looking back at the Pistons, I am getting to 50 wins by leaving Jason Maxiell and the two second round picks on the bench (or if Cole does more than Bynum, leaving Bynum on the bench).  And I am assuming Dunleavy can play an entire season (which doesn’t often happen). 

So I really don’t think this roster would win 50 games.  But I do think more than 40 wins is possible, and that might begood enough to get Detroit back into the post-season in the Eastern Conference (and a probable first round exit).

Summary and Final Notes

Let’s summarize my suggested moves:

Keep (players under contract): Greg Monroe, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon (or Richard Hamilton), Will Bynum, and Jason Maxiell (but don’t play Maxiell if he is going to be as unproductive as he was last year)

Lose (players under contract): Charlie Villanueva and Richard Hamilton (or Ben Gordon)

Re-sign: Jonas Jerebko, Chris Wilcox, Rodney Stuckey (to a one-year contract, if possible)

Do not re-sign: Tracy McGrady (probably doesn’t want to come back), Tayshaun Prince, DaJuan Summers

Draft: Kenneth Faried, Norris Cole, and someone else towards the end of the second round

Sign: Mike Dunleavy

Starting Line-Up: Greg Monroe, Kenneth Faried (or Jonas Jerebko), Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey

Bench: Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox, Jonas Jerebko (or Kenneth Faried), Mike Dunleavy, Will Bynum (or Norris Cole)

Cheerleaders on Bench (i.e. shouldn’t play much): Jason Maxiell, Norris Cole (or Will Bynum), second second-round draft choice (and two other players)

The philosophy behind these moves is as follows:  Teams win because they have productive players (like Monroe, Jerebko, Faried, and Dunleavy) and they don’t play unproductive players (like Villanueva, Hamilton, and Maxiell).  When the Pistons followed this philosophy in the past, they were regular participants in the playoffs.  In the last two seasons they departed from this philosophy and gave minutes and money to players who do not produce wins. 

Once again, the path I outlined is not the only path the Pistons could follow.  But I was hoping to show in this poast that a path back to the playoffs does exist.  Now fans of this team just have to wait to see if Detroit can follow such a path and give us something else to watch next spring.

- DJ