Shouldn’t the Pistons Be Better?

Once upon a time the Detroit Pistons were title contenders.  In fact, this team did more than contend.  The Pistons – unlike a significant number of NBA franchises – have actually won NBA titles.

In recent years, though, the Pistons have struggled.  The Pistons have not had a winning record since the 2007-08 season and haven’t appeared in the playoffs since 2009.

This year, though, the Pistons were supposed to finally be back in the playoffs.  But nine games into the 2013-14 season the Pistons are 3-6.  Given the weakness of the Eastern Conference (where only four teams have a winning record as of yesterday), the Pistons could  make the playoffs in 2014 with a losing record.   But it doesn’t look like this team has really improved much over last year.

If you followed this team in the off-season, a different story was told.  The Pistons added Josh Smith, at a cost of $54 million across four seasons (he is now the team’s highest paid player).  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was added in the lottery. And the team changed its head coach.

All these moves led fans of the Pistons (and I am one) to think that the playoff might be possible.  No, we didn’t think a title was coming. But we thought the word “better” might apply.

So why aren’t we seeing “better”?

If this were football, the answer to why a team is or is not better would be hard to answer.  Sure there are numbers. But assigning specific numbers to specific players is hard.  Are the numbers for a quarterback about the quarterback, or the receivers (or offensive line, running game, play calling, etc…)?

In basketball – where performance is much more consistent over time (suggesting the interaction effects are much smaller) – we can assign responsibility to outcomes.  In other words, we can name names!

Of course, after just nine games we want to be sure to note that small samples are not always that informative.  So the changes we see right now may not be seen when the season is over.  But we go with the sample we have, not the sample we hope to have (or will have in a few months).

So let’s start naming some names.

The following table reports what the Pistons have done this far (these numbers are taken from boxscoregeeks.com).  These numbers are compared to what these players did last season (these numbers are my own calculation) in the NBA (so obviously we are talking just about veterans).

Pistons

GP

MIN

WP48 12-13

WINS

12-13

WP48

WINS

Difference**

across 82 games

Andre Drummond

9

316

0.309

2.03

0.314

2.07

0.3

Greg Monroe

9

328

0.137

0.94

0.091

0.62

-2.9

Josh Smith

9

327

0.118

0.81

0.070

0.48

-3.0

Rodney Stuckey

8

212

0.024

0.11

0.066

0.29

1.7

Brandon Jennings

7

240

0.073

0.36

0.047

0.24

-1.1

Will Bynum

8

161

0.002

0.01

0.063

0.21

1.9

Chauncey Billups

7

155

0.099

0.32

0.031

0.10

-2.0

Tony Mitchell*

3

14

0.230

0.07

0.230

0.07

0.0

Peyton Siva*

2

1

-0.007

0.00

-0.007

0.00

0.0

Kyle Singler

9

201

0.088

0.37

-0.004

-0.02

-3.6

Josh Harrellson

1

1

0.171

0.00

-1.913

-0.04

-0.4

Charlie Villanueva

1

5

0.007

0.00

-0.527

-0.05

-0.5

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope*

7

127

-0.028

-0.07

-0.028

-0.07

0.0

Jonas Jerebko

7

49

0.075

0.08

-0.098

-0.10

-1.6

Luigi Datome*

6

49

-0.194

-0.20

-0.194

-0.20

0.0

Summation

4.82

3.60

Summation per 82 games

43.9

32.8

-11.1

*- Mitchell, Siva, Caldwell-Pope, and Datome are rookies so their numbers are the same in 12-13 and 13-14; **- Difference across 82 games is simply [WINS – WINS 12-13] * 82/9.  WP48 12-13 numbers are my own calculation.  WP48 13-14 come from boxscoregeeks.com

This comparison reveals three story lines.

1.  If the veterans were performing as they did last year, the Pistons could expect to be on pace for a winning record.  And in the East, that probably means playoffs.

2.  Andre Drummond performing as he did last year (and he is amazing).  Of the players who have logged at least 100 minutes, Drummond ranks 10th in the NBA in Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48].  And his WP48 is virtually the same as it was last year.  So one concern we had before the season started  (i.e can Drummond be productive in more minutes)  so far hasn’t been a problem.

Unfortunately, except for Tony Mitchell (who has only played 14 minutes), Drummond is the only above average player on the team so far (average WP48 is 0.100).  And that means a few other players are under-performing.

3. Three players top the list of “underperformers”.   Kyle Singler, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe are on pace to produce more than nine wins fewer than their 2012-13 performance would suggest.  So almost the entire decline we see in Detroit is linked to these players.   In other words, the names we were looking for are Singler, Smith, and Monroe.

Now comes the hard question: Why are these players “under-performing”?  Well, it could be something about those players (i.e . injury).  It could be coaching.  It could be who the Pistons are playing. It could be they hate Detroit or their wife/girlfriend is mad at them.   Or it could be our sample is too small to say anything.

I am partial to the last answer.   At this point I think the numbers can point to which players are struggling (or not).  But why that is happening… I don’t think we should try and answer that question.  Performance from season-to-season tends to be fairly consistent (again, relative to what we see in football).  But from game-to-game or week-to-week that is not the same story.

To illustrate this point… I started writing this post on the Pistons after just seven games (I am clearly not as good at writing these as I used to be).  At that point, Monroe was at least as good as he was last year.  But then he had two bad games (on the road and on the West Coast) and the story has changed.  Perhaps in two more games Monroe will return to what we have seen before (or maybe not).

So despite what we have seen so far, Pistons fans shouldn’t lose hope.  Drummond is going to need help. But we can’t say for certain that this help isn’t already on the roster.

- DJ

 

Comments are closed.