Analyzing the slow start of the Detroit Pistons

Before the All-Star break I’d like to calculate the Marginal Win Score and the consequent wins and losses produced by each player on every NBA team.   When I am finished with every team I will produce a page that will provide access to continuously updated NBA Win Charts.

This morning’s post is the first in that series, and it features an analysis of the Detroit Pistons.

Detroit Pistons (11-25)

In deference to BGulker, a friend of this blog, the rest of the Badboys, and all the others from PistonNation who have been kind enough to follow this blog, I begin the project with the Detroit Pistons Win Chart, which I just finished.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW DETROIT PISTONS WIN CHART(36 games)

Who’s dragging down the Pistons?

I don’t know what the expectations were in Detroit, but I certainly thought the Pistons would get off to a better start than they have.  What is going on?

If we compare the above listed Win Chart to the Pistons Win Chart from last season (click here), we can identify those that are not producing up to last season’s standards, and those who are no longer around and whose absence is felt the most.

At this point the two key columns on the Win Charts that will be most helpful in our analysis are “Win Contribution”, that means the respective player’s relative “win impact” he is providing the team over a given period of time, and “Player Win Average”, which is the percentage of wins the player is producing for every 240 minutes of action.  Those two columns are fully comparable. (Win Credits are not because they are a function of absolute minutes played).  The former is a measure of player value, the latter a measure of player performance.

The Returning Pistons

If we concentrate on those categories we see that almost every significant contributor to last season’s Piston team is well off last season’s pace.  Its actually a little bizarre.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where a whole group of players productivity took roughly the same simultaneous decline.

Its almost as though someone deemed that every returning Piston take a 200 point haircut on his Player Win Average.  Really strange.  Jason Maxiell (.483% to .209%), Rodney Stuckey (.452% to .279%), Kwame Brown (.428% to .197%), Tayshaun Prince (.519%  to .275%) all have declined by roughly the same amount.

And if you notice, the group’s common decline just about mirrors the overall team decline (from an overall winning percentage last season of .475% to an overall winning percentage this season of .305%).  But the aforementioned players don’t deserve all of the blame.

Richard Hamilton = Michael Redd

A big disappointment for Detroit has been stalwart swingman Richard Hamilton, who is basically the Michael Redd of the Pistons.  Like Redd, Hamilton was and has been an significant win contributor to his team, but also like Redd the “Marginal Win Score” system has never believed he was quite as significant a win contributor as popularly assumed.  Both players are volume scorers and not much else.  When they are hitting a high percentage of shots, or converting a high percentage of possessions into points, they are valuable players.  When they aren’t they are usually costly players.

This season both have been exceptionally costly.  Of course Redd’s season is over now, but in a lot of ways it never began.  He was basically a loss producer for the Bucks, and may have been the team’s worst player.  At the moment, Richard Hamilton is demonstrably the Pistons worst player (if you consider MWS48 a legitimate measurement).

Hamilton’s Player Win Average is currently -.114%, way down from last season’s .442%.  A negative Player Win Average is horrible.  It means the player is not only producing losses, he is also producing “negative wins”.  Negative wins means the player’s marginal production has been so bad it has forced the others who are on the court with him to outproduce their counterparts by a larger amount than they normally would have to do just to produce the same amount of wins.

To conceptualize “negative wins”, think of the fat guy on that Real World/Road Rules Challenge a few seasons back who cost his team the grand prize because in the final race he not only ran slow, he repeatedly collapsed and thereby prevented his teammates from running and forced them to exert extra energy dragging him along the course… like Joker had to drag Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.  That’s basically a negative win.

Newcomers/Outgoers

So that’s a quick overview of the returning Pistons.  By and large they have been a disappointment.

Now lets examine the  players the team added in the offseason and compare them to the players the team lost.

The one departing player whose absence is most costly is PF/C Antonio McDyess.  He had a tremendous season last year, a very underappreciated tremendous season.  Its very hard to replace a player who makes a > +0.200 Win Contribution to his team, and none of the newcomers have.  But this is not really an indictment on Pistons management because, like Kurt Thomas of the Bucks, McDyess appears out of gas.  He has not contributed much to his new team the Spurs.  Nevertheless the missing wins are a fact.

The other player who made a decent contribution last season but is no longer in Detroit this season is PF Amir Johnson.  Unlike McDyess, Johnson has most certainly not run out of gas.  In fact he is producing nearly identical numbers in Toronto.  The Pistons and after them the Bucks were fools to kick Johnson down the road.  Yes his offensive game is rudimentary and yes he fouls too much, but when he’s on the court he produces wins.  Plain and simple.  Its funny how fans sometimes view player value.  It seems that if a player can score basketball fans will overlook almost any glaring fault, but if he cannot score, fans consider any fault at all to be fatal.

The Frustrators

Now lets look at the new Pistons.  Here I have to eat a little crow.  Charlie Villanueva is actually producing decent numbers.  But, I caution Pistons fans.  He’s played this shell game before.  No other player in living memory has ever been such a cocktease in a Bucks uniform as Villanueva was.  This guy burned me with his up-and-down play at least five times.  And I note that his play has declined over the last month, so I am not yet a believer in Charlie fever.  But at just below average production, I must admit he is so far doing better than I imagined he would.

The other frustration for Pistons fans is the similarly inconsistent Ben Gordon.  His numbers are down from last season with the Bulls.  They may bounce right back.  But then I my experience with him has been that they go back down again (two seasons ago he was awful).  Others disagree.  (See footnote).

Honestly, I have never liked Gordon.  Why?  Because in my mind he’s the basketball version of fool’s gold.  He goes on incredible scoring runs and your mind tends to overvalue those.  Thus you think he’s adding great value when a lot of the time he is not.  Coaches will remember his incredible scoring binges and decide to leave him on the court when he’s doing nothing but taking awful shots.

That’s what killed the Bulls in Game Seven last season against the Celtics.  Remember that hideous airball he had when the game was basically in the balance?  Gordon just wouldn’t stop wasting possessions with bad shots, and Bulls Coach Del Negro wouldn’t sit him down.  And there went the series.   Binge scorers like Gordon will do that to you.

I don’t know if that’s what’s happening in Detroit this season, but by my calculation Gordon has not been up to par.  At the moment he is producing the same value for Detroit that Allen Iverson produced for them last season.  And I think that got Iverson run out of town.

The other veteran newcomer is C Ben Wallace.  For a guy who was supposedly washed up, he’s done alright.  Just don’t ask him to be last season’s Antonio McDyess.  Or last decade’s Ben Wallace.

Promising Rookies

Let me close on an optimistic note for Pistons fans.  Their two rookies, Jerebko and Austin Daye have promise.  I’m somewhat impressed with Austin Daye.  Others such as BasketballValue rate him poorly, but I don’t.  He’s relatively efficient and productive, and that’s what you want a basketball player to be.  It tends to result in wins.

I don’t put much stock in BasketballValue anway, though I certainly find it interesting and I know others believe in it a lot, and that’s fine.  I just think the “+/-” system relies too much on circumstance.  Yes, perhaps my reliance on tangible box score production does omit the value of a pick set, or a “pass before an assist” but I can live with that because I really don’t think those intangibles are worth a whole lot.  They may be, but I’m just not convinced.

I prefer instead to rely on direct evidence.  Its more consistent.  I don’t want to end up proclaiming Sebastian Telfair an “underrated gem” only to find the very next season that gem looks a little like cubic Z.  (Boy how does a guy go from positive one year to -16.00 the next?).

FOOTNOTE:  There are others who disagree with my positive analysis of  Daye, so I shouldn’t take after BasketballValue so harshly.  I could be wrong.  Basketball-Reference.com’s Win Share system allocates wins in a very similar manner to my “Win_Loss Credits’ except they give 0.2 less to Daye and 0.7 more to Ben Gordon.   My system downgrades Gordon’s win production because his scoring surplus is outweighed by his deficits in every other statistical category.

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11 Responses to “Analyzing the slow start of the Detroit Pistons”

  1. brgulker Says:

    Am I reading this right? Ben Wallace is the only Piston with a positive MWS48 this season?

    I like Daye and Jerebko quite a bit. They do a lot of things well. They both have holes in their offensive games, which I suspect keeps them from getting more minutes. It’s unfortunate. We’re a losing team, and regardless of who we play right now, we’re going to lose quite a bit. Let’s at least develop the promising talent of the young guys.

    I also liked your “fools gold” and “binge scorer” comments. Those are pretty good analogies. Ben Gordon in particular was very vocal that when given the opportunity, he could do a lot more than score points. So far, he hasn’t done any of it (injuries haven’t helped).

    I also left a comment on your “How to read…” page.

    At Bucks Diary, you had an example of how you calculate your numbers, using Chris Paul I believe. Do you still have that posted somewhere?

    I haven’t reviewed your win charts for a while, and I’m having a tough time remember which metrics say what.

    Thanks, Ty!

  2. Gabe Says:

    Very, very cool. Tons of really interesting stuff.

    The first thing that caught my eye from the win chart was how awful Stuckey is currently rating at PG (and SF, but hopefully everyone already knows how dumb it is to play him at SF), and how much better he is rating at SG.

    Your point about how fans (and bad GM’s) are willing to excuse scorers, even if they have large holes in their games, but aren’t willing to do the same for non-scorers who are otherwise broadly effective, is exactly on the money.

    Subjectively, I’d say your ratings for the rookies look about right. They’ve been good for rookies, and generally, have been better than the veterans who they’re sharing minutes with.

    And yeah, I put roughly zero stock in basketballvalue’s +/- based metric.

    This is simply out of curiosity, but I wonder if you remove Ben Wallace would we currently have the worst roster, by win production, in the league?

    Thanks again for doing this!

    • tywill33 Says:

      No, no, New Jersey has to be worse. The Timberwolves would be worse except Kevin Love is putting up Laimbeer numbers this season. I’d love to have him on the Bucks.

      The thing is, the Pistons shouldn’t be the worst… they should be around Bucks bad. I’m a little baffled. Maxiell, I don’t know what’s going on with that guy. And I like Bynum, and Prince has always been reliable, and Gordon can produce good numbers.

  3. tywill33 Says:

    Yes… and I never noticed that.

    The odd thing is, Prince and especially Maxiell are NOT below average players. And I thought, and you’re going to laugh at this, but I really thought Kwame Brown had improved. And all of them sink?

    What’s the new coach like? Do you suspect he is having any sort of negative influence? I mean, all these guys at once.

    It “looks” like Villanueva may have turned a page. But with him you never know. It sounds like I don’t like the guy, but just the opposite. I was a big fan and every time I proclaimed a New Charlie he clowned me… I guess that means I do have something against him.

    I actually have an entire stepbystep breakdown using Kenyon Martin’s career as the example. I’ll post it right now.

  4. brgulker Says:

    Thanks, Ty. An example will help, I’m sure.

    Kwame: Pistons Nation thought he had improved, too (that stats from last season bore that out). FWIW, it’s my personal opinion that confidence is a crucial factor in Kwame’s play. Right now, it’s gotta be close to zero … after being completely yanked from the rotation.

    Meanwhile, our interior defense is zilch … That’s probably the one rotation move Q’s made that I don’t get.

    Kuester: It’s so hard to say. He was supposed to be an offensive genius, but it’s hard to really assess that, given all the injuries. IIRC, our entire rotation hasn’t played together yet. Even at full strength, we’re a middling team for sure, but it’s hard to evaluate a coach when he doesn’t have a healthy squad to put out there.

    Personally, I LOVE that he chose to start Ben Wallace early in the year, and I love that he’s played Jonas Jerebko — both of those guys are blue collar, team-oriented, and good defenders. To me, that demonstrates that Q understands what types of players and effort it takes to be a successful franchise.

    I think it’s obvious that he’s not in over his head, which is already a step up from last season.

    Charlie V: IIRC, Dave Berri’s WP48 had CV at .098 about 30 games in … It looks like your metrics have him basically the same, which demonstrates that he hasn’t been as bad on D as we thought — correct me if I’m wrong.

    • tywill33 Says:

      He hasn’t been as bad… not at all!

      Every season he was consistently way below average. No one could motivate him. Until Detroit.

      Must be the water.

  5. brgulker Says:

    Good Gawd Antonio McDyess was good for us last year. He was .200+ according to Berri’s metric, but your MWS48 points out just how fabulous he was: http://docs.google.com/View?id=dd4nrbjq_908cqgxbshp

    No matter how much Charlie improves, I have a really hard time seeing him even approach that level of productivity.

    And we wonder why we’re struggling …

    • tywill33 Says:

      You know what, I kind of gave you a misleading answer a minute ago.

      Yes, the Pistons have only one player with a positive MWS, but that’s not that bad, nor unusual for a team that’s playing .300 ball.

      Remember, a negative MWS doesn’t necessarily mean “he sucks” it just means “he’s producing below .500%”.

      I did an analysis of the “average” at each position last season and every position’s “average” is negative (because of LeBron being so much better, blah, blah). Because of that skew a team of “average” players would be about a 34 win team, I think.

      So a lot of negatives are not surprising. The thing that’s surprising is how many -1.00 players the Pistons have who really shouldn’t be -1.00. Once you hit -1.00 you’re in Charlie Bell territory.

  6. Detroit4Ever Says:

    I may be looking at this the wrong way, but it seems to me that the win score is, in part, a function of how the team is doing as a whole. i.e. A lot of losses, means there isn’t much win score to go around. Wouldn’t these numbers, then, be affected by the large number of injuries which the Piston’s have suffered? Even those who are completely healthy have been playing with teamates lower down on the rotation or teamates who are injured, which often results in a loss. Wouldn’t that loss negatively affect the healthy players win score, even if that player might actually be playing better this year than last? I guess what I am wondering is if it is possible that the individual players, when healthy, are actually playing at the same level as last year, but the injury depleted team has been playing so horribly that there just isn’t much a couple healthy players can do to get a win?

  7. tywill33 Says:

    People like to say that certain players “make other players better”. But there is no evidence to suggest that is true.

    Mark Cuban argues, or did argue, that “Chris Paul can go from a superstar to ordinary depending on who you put around him.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Which statistic will suffer? Will his teammates cause him to shoot less efficiently? To turn the ball over more? To rebound less?

    The one area where there might be an impact is assists, depending on how bad the players are around him. But that’s an add-on statistic.

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