Ben Gulker is a Program Director for a statewide AmeriCorps program in his home state of Michigan, where he was born and raised. He’s a lifelong Pistons fan that grew up during the Bad Boy era, suffered through the “Teal” era, and spends his current fan time reading up on top 10 draft picks, thanks to the recent demise of his beloved team. If you ever want to talk Pistons, you can find him among other Piston die-hards over at Detroit Bad Boys.
For a large portion of the last decade, the Detroit Pistons were consistently among the Eastern Conference elite. The “Going to Work” Pistons, as they were known among Pistons faithful, were defined by lock-down defense, tenacious rebounding, and slow-paced but efficient offense. As fans, we took pride in this approach to the game; the blue-collar ethos of the Pistons resonated with the Michigan populous.
However, the current Pistons squad consists of a markedly different pool of talent that has produced markedly different results. Regular readers of this forum will know that a great deal of prior Piston success can be linked directly to three players: Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, and Antonio McDyess. Although Ben Wallace returned to Detroit and led the team in Wins Produced in 2009-2010 (something some of us Pistons fans like to call the “Benaissance”), the holes left by McDyess, Billups and others have not been filled by equally productive players.
As a result, the once mighty Pistons won only 27 games this past season and currently hold the #7 pick as a result of the Draft Lottery.
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To make matters worse, there does not appear to be an immediate solution to the team’s problems. Joe Dumars signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to large, lengthy contracts last summer, investing approximately $95 million in these two players combined through 2013-2014. Both players have been average at best to this point in their careers, and both made unimpressive debuts in Detroit. Additionally, Richard Hamilton – whose best basketball appears to be behind him — is owed approximately $25 million over the next two seasons ($12.5 million more is partially guaranteed in 2012-2013).
In the summer of 2011, the Pistons will need to make a decision on another of their “important” players – Rodney Stuckey. It has become clear that Joe Dumars and the Pistons think highly of Stuckey. In November of 2008, Chauncey Billups was traded, and Rodney Stuckey was handed the reigns of the franchise. This trade was made for a variety of reasons, but Dumars’ high opinion of Stuckey and his talents is indisputably one of them. In fact, Keith Langlois, editor of www.Pistons.com, has intimated that Stuckey is actually “at the center of the next phase in Pistons history.”
More recently, Langlois compared Stuckey to the remarkably productive Rajon Rondo, arguing that Stuckey’s 2009-2010 performance “isn’t much behind where Rondo was a year ago (2008-2009).” Presumably on the cusp of a breakout season, Dumars has a “tough call” to make concerning Stuckey: give him a Rondo-like extension now (5 years, $55 million)? Or, wait and let Stuckey become a free agent in 2011 and be forced to match a potentially larger offer sheet then?
In my opinion, if Stuckey is on the brink of becoming as productive as Rondo, the ink on that extension can’t dry fast enough. Point guards as productive as Rondo are rare and can alter the course of a struggling franchise for years to come. However, the story told by Wins Produced — told the two tables below — suggests that Stuckey simply isn’t as productive as Rondo and is very unlikely to ever become so. Therefore, signing Stuckey to a similar contract would be a significant mistake.
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In 2008-2009, Rondo was a phenomenally productive player on one of the top-performing teams in the NBA, producing 17.8 wins out of team’s 60.9 Wins Produced. Again in 2009-2010, Rondo was exceptional, producing 17.9 out of 50.5 total Wins Produced. Although many perceive this season as a “breakout” season for Rondo – especially in light of his recent heroics in the playoffs – his performance is remarkably similar to what we saw in 2008-09. In short, Rondo has been consistently exceptional.
So, how does Stuckey measure up?
In 2009-10, Stuckey logged 2,499 minutes – and according to the Wins Produced numbers provided by Andres Alvarez – produced 2.6 wins. The position algorithm Alvarez employs, though, allocates Stuckey (one of the bigger guards on Detroit’s roster) to shooting guard. Stuckey, though, is primarily a point guard. And when he is compared to point guards he only produced about 1.6 wins. Either way you look at it, what Stuckey did this past season is a far cry from what Rondo did each of the past two seasons. Furthermore, this level of production should not have been surprising given Stuckey’s previous performance. Last season, for example, Stuckey produced merely 4.0 wins for the Pistons while posting .077 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. In short, Stuckey has been consistently below average (an average player posts a WP48 of 0.100).
Pistons fans — such as myself — are left asking the question, “What is it that Dumars sees in Rodney Stuckey?” Unfortunately, I suspect the answer is all too familiar. If we compare the box score statistics that each of these players has generated throughout their careers, we can see that Rondo grabs more rebounds, dishes out more assists, gets more steals, and scores more efficiently than Stuckey. But, Stuckey scores more points; and this season, Stuckey averaged over 16 points per game. As a result, it would appear that Stuckey can anticipate a hefty payday.
If that payday comes from the Pistons, and if it is similar to what Boston offered Rondo, Pistons fans are likely to be disappointed. The reason? Detroit would have just over $40 million per season committed to Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Richard Hamilton, and Rodney Stuckey. This quartet combined to produce fewer than five wins this past season.
Stuckey is still young, and it’s still possible that he could improve. But he isn’t that young, and he has quite a way to go before he achieves average production. It also seems likely that at least one of those other players will be traded in the near feature, freeing resources for more productive players. So maybe we won’t be lottery-bound for too much longer.
But regardless of what other moves the Pistons do make, the “tough call,” as Langlois describes it, isn’t that tough at all. Stuckey simply isn’t worth a Rondo-like contract because Stuckey simply can’t do what Rondo does.
Ironically, in June of 2009 Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Boston offered Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen to Detroit for Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Rodney Stuckey – a deal that Detroit “immediately rejected.” Apparently, Danny Ainge came to his senses and made the right decision. As a Pistons fan, I can only hope Dumars can do the same.
- Ben Gulker