Where Would the Pistons Be Without Big Ben?

Two years ago the Pistons won 59 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.  At the start of last year, though, Detroit sent Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.  Although the Pistons claimed this was done to enhance the team’s chances in 2008-09, it was suspected the acquisition of Iverson was all about salary space.

When the 2008-09 season ended it was clear that Iverson hadn’t helped much. But the salary cap space promised hope.  Such hope, though, was dashed when the Pistons took this space and invested in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.  When those acquisitions were announced it seemed clear the Pistons would struggle in 2009-10. 

Soon after the season started, the grim expectations were realized.  And now after 59 games – and after the Pistons politely declined a gift wrapped victory from the Golden State Warriors —  it seems like a good time to check in on the depths the new Pistons have reached.

Table One: The Detroit Pistons after 59 games in 2009-10

Table One reports both what the Pistons have done so far and what we could have expected given the performance of the veterans last year.  Looking at these numbers one can see…

  • the Pistons have only won 21 games this season.  Had these veterans maintained what we saw last year, the Pistons would have only won 26 games.  In other words, the Pistons are supposed to be bad (although not quite this bad).
  • much of this small decline can be tied to declines seen in the play of Gordon and Villanueva.  Had these players maintained what they did last year the Pistons would have still been below average.  But with these players offering even less, the Pistons are now awful.
  • it would be much worse (much worse than awful?) if Ben Wallace hadn’t signed for $1.3 million.  Wallac has already produced 9.0 wins.   The other Pistons have only produced 11.7 wins.  In other words, without Wallace the Pistons would be only on pace to win 16 games.
  • given the age of Wallace, the Pistons are in trouble going forward.  After Big Ben the Pistons have only two above average players (Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince).  And neither player is well above average. Given what the Pistons have committed in salaries next season, it looks like help is only going to come in the draft. 
  • the draft has been somewhat mixed.  Rodney Stuckey is still a below average player.  And passing on DeJuan Blair for DaJuan Summers is still hard to believe.  But the choice of Jerebko gives Pistons fans (of which I am one) some hope.

So in two years the Pistons have gone from title contenders to lottery hopefuls.  And given that so much of this team’s meager success is linked to Big Ben, the future looks bleak. Maybe, though, the draft will go well and Joe Dumars can make some trades this summer.  In other words, maybe some different decisions can be made and different – and more productive – players can come to Detroit. 

– DJ
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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