Judging by the reaction to my last post, if you tell fans of a team that there is little hope more than three months before the season even starts, those fans are going to become unhappy. Unfortunately, the story I told about the Raptors is not unique. And to illustrate this point I thought I would talk briefly about the team that I have followed all my life, the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons Today
John Kuester has become the 6th head coach hired by Joe Dumars. As Kuester makes his move to the Motor City he faces a choice: Should he rent or buy?
For a number of reasons, renting seems like the way to go. First of all, the housing market in Detroit is lousy. But beyond that issue is the past history of Dumars. Dumars has fired successful coaches. He has been even quicker to fire unsuccessful coaches. This suggests that Kuester is not going to last in Detroit.
Beyond what Dumars had done to coaches in the past, though, is the roster Dumars has assembled. Here is the team’s current first and second units, with 2008-09 Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] reported for each veteran player.
PG: Rodney Stuckey [4.0 Wins Produced, 0.077 WP48]
SG: Richard Hamilton [1.9 Wins Produced, 0.040 WP48]
SF: Tayshaun Prince [7.3 Wins Produced, 0.114 WP48]
PF: Charlie Villanueva [3.6 Wins Produced, 0.082 WP48]
C: Kwame Brown [2.4 Wins Produced, 0.117 WP48]
PG: Will Bynum [1.2 Wins Produced, 0.071 WP48]
SG: Ben Gordon [4.9 Wins Produced, 0.078 WP48]
SF: Austin Daye [Rookie]
PF: Jason Maxiell [2.9 Wins Produced, 0.098 WP48]
When we look over this roster we see that the player with the highest WP48 from last year was Kwame Brown. And he was only slightly above average (average WP48 is 0.100). Overall, six of the eight veterans on this team were actually below average last year.
Coveting Big Baby?
The early sense I get is that the Mavericks have little interest in using their midlevel exception — which is back in their possession after Orlando confirmed its intention to match a five-year, $34 million offer to Gortat — to play the restricted free-agent game again with Boston’s Glen Davis.
Detroit, by contrast, really covets Big Baby, whose modest $711,517 salary last season didn’t stop him from stepping in admirably for the injured Kevin Garnett in the playoffs. The Pistons’ problem is that their offer can start in only the $3 million range compared with $5.9 million in Dallas’ case, raising the obvious fear that the rival Celtics could tie up the Pistons’ money for seven days and then match.
Last year Glen Davis produced -2.0 wins and posted a -0.058 WP48. So Davis – if he came to Detroit – could actually be the least productive player on a team of (mostly) below average performers.
Stein argues, though, that although the Pistons “really covet” Davis, they are not likely to get him. So Dumars might be forced to look elsewhere. One possibility – suggested by A. Sherrod Blakely of MLive.com – is that Dumars will bring back Ben Wallace. Big Ben produced 5.4 wins last season with a 0.198 WP48. But he will also be 35 years of age before the season starts and unlikely to play more than 20 minutes a night. Consequently, Wallace probably can’t help much.
If we put the whole picture together, it becomes clear that whether the team has Davis or Wallace, this is simply not a very good team (and that’s also true if they sign Drew Gooden, although a trade for Carlos Boozer would really help). At least, that’s the picture painted by Wins Produced.
If we focus on scoring, though, another story is told. Stuckey, Hamilton, Villanueva, Bynum, and Gordon are all above average scorers. Such a collection of scorers suggests that Dumars might now be channeling his inner-Isiah. Back in 2004 the Pistons won an NBA title with a leading scorer (Richard Hamilton) only averaging 17.6 points per game. Meanwhile, Isiah was building a team of scorers in New York that kept missing the playoffs.
When we look at the team Dumars is currently assembling, one suspects that Isiah called his former back-court mate and said: “you know, a team of scorers really should win in the NBA. In New York we didn’t have the right chemistry. But I know you can create the right atmosphere in Detroit for this idea to work. Really.”
Unfortunately for fans of the Pistons (and I am one of these), the Isiah model really doesn’t work. So the team Dumars has assembled is probably going struggle next year. The veterans currently on the roster only produced 28.2 wins last season. So even if Austin Daye is amazing and the team signs Wallace (and he is still productive), this team is still going to struggle to reach 40 wins (again, trading for Boozer might change this forecast some).
That means the Pistons probably miss the playoffs. And when that happens, Kuester will probably go back to being an assistant for another head coach in another city.
So it looks like Kuester needs to rent. And given this roster, Dumars might start hoping the housing market in Detroit starts to improve; because if the Pistons don’t get back to the playoffs soon, Dumars might also follow Kuester out of town.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.