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Archive → October, 2010

Ben Gordon and the Diawara Line

After I wrote Ben Gordon compared favorably to Vinnie Johnson, a friend of mine GChatted me with gripes. He said I was overreacting to one game (fair), the Pistons overpaid for Gordon (maybe) and Gordon is too inconsistent (let’s see).

The argument boils down to this: Although his season numbers are impressive, Gordon has too many games where he shoots poorly. Because he doesn’t do much more than score, winning those games is extremely difficult.

My friend set the cutoff at 35-percent shooting. But I didn’t think that was fair. Gordon makes his 3-pointers and free throws. Going straight my field-goal percentage sells Gordon short. So I wanted to see what an equivalent true-shooting percentage is to a field-goal percentage of 35.

It didn’t take long. The year before, Yakhouba Diawara shot exactly 35 percent from the field. Thankfully for my research, he shot some 3-pointers, too. His true-shooting percentage was .473.

In what I’ve dubbed the Diawara Line (modeled after baseball’s Mendoza Line), I’ve created a cutoff for individual-game game performance. After rounding, I set the The Diawara Line at .470.

Sample

In the last two seasons, there have been 46 individual 20-points-per-game seasons, including Gordon in 2008-09. As someone who believes Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers, I’m considering 20-point-per-game scorers Gordon’s peers.

Diawara Line percentage

Let’s start with my friends first assertion: Gordon has too many poor shooting nights.

Of those 46 players in this sample, they surpassed the Diawara Line in 76.9 percent of their games.

In 2008-09, Gordon surpassed the Diawara line in 73.2 percent of his games, which ranks 30th.

(Click to see full size)

That’s certainly not great, but about a third of the sample did worse. As I wrote in Gordon’s The Big Question, I’d like to see him above the Diawara Line in 79 percent of his game, which would have ranked him 20th.

Gordon is streakier than the average 20-point-per-game scorer in the last two years, but he’s far from the most inconsistent.

Diawara Line effect

Now, let’s look at my friend’s second assertion: Gordon doesn’t do enough to help his team win when he doesn’t shoot well.

When those 46 players shot above the Diawara Line, their teams won 57.4 of their games.

When they shot below the Diawara line, their teams won 37.1 percent of their games – a drop of of 20.3 percentage points.

The Bulls won 53.3 percent of their games when Gordon surpassed the Diawara Line.

They won 40.9 percent of their games when he shot below the Diawara Line – a drop of 12.4 percentage points.

That’s the 19th-smallest dip among the sample, better than average.

(Click to see full size)

So, the Bulls handled Gordon’s poor-shooting games better than would be expected.

Does Gordon get shortchanged for his contributions besides scoring? Maybe. I think he’s a better defender than he’s credited for, but his passing and rebounding are probably accurately rated.

So, I don’t think that’s it (although, I’ll certainly be watching closer to see if Gordon does, in fact, do more than score). I think the real answer is offensive rebounding.

The Bulls ranked sixth in offensive rounding in 2008-09. So, Gordon’s misses weren’t as crippling. There was a well-above-average chance the Bulls would get a second shot when Gordon missed.

Outlook for this year

This is why the loss of Jonas Jerebko is so huge. Aided by his 2.4 offensive rebounds per game last year, the Pistons ranked second in offensive-rebounding percentage.

Without Jerebko, Gordon’s misses will be costlier this year. I don’t expect Austin Daye to crash the offensive glass as effectively.

The simple answer is Gordon needs to play better than he did in his final season with the Bulls. He needs to shoot a little better. He needs to focus every night. He can’t allow a poor start to rattle him. (The flip side of that might mean not allowing a strong start to energize him too much, but I can handle that if it goes both ways.)

I still think Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers. Proving he can surpass the Diawara Line in a higher percentage of his games would be a key way to do it.

The Big Question: Ben Gordon

With a cloud uncertainty thunder-storming, snowing and hailing on the Detroit Pistons, we wanted our Pistons preview series to capture that. So for each Piston, Patrick Hayes and I will identify and explain what we each see as the biggest question surrounding him entering the season.

DF: Can he eclipse the Diawara Line in 79 percent of his games?

This coincides with a lengthier post I had planned for last year and can’t be fully explained in this spirit of this series. So, check shortly for a full post explaining the Diawara Line.

PH: Is he a starter?

Ben Gordon is not going to win the starting shooting guard job with Richard Hamilton present. Gordon’s explosiveness is just much better suited as a super-sub type player. But Gordon does not view himself as a sixth man, nor does his salary suggest he is one.

The Pistons need to find out if they have a young veteran who will develop a more all-around approach if he’s given an expanded role, or if they have a one-dimensional scorer who’s locked into an above-market-rate long-term deal.

MLive.com has a roundup of Detroit Pistons predictions

Chris Iott at MLive.com (my old stomping grounds) has a nice roundup of Pistons predictions from various media covering the team, and was kind enough to let PistonPowered participate. Although some (Laser) will most assuredly laugh at my 40-42 prediction, I can say with confidence that there is one person who will look worse than me. Take it away, Bill Simonson:

The pressure is on for this team to make the playoffs. The seventh or eighth spot should be easy to secure.

Wow. In fairness to Simonson, though, no one really expects his opinions to be grounded in reason. Or based on strong analytical evidence. Or even vaguely coherent. There are about 37 teams in play for those 7th/8th spots in the East, all of them very evenly matched (read: not very good), so it will be no “easy” task for any team to attain those last spots, including the Pistons.

Have the Pistons been too patient with Rodney Stuckey?

This passage about Rodney Stuckey in Vincent Goodwill’s one-on-one interview with Joe Dumars drew my attention:

The only difference now is that we’re asking him to take on more of a leadership role, to take on more responsibility as the starting point guard.

Stuckey was the Pistons’ clear starting point guard for 95 percent of the 2008-09 season. He was the Pistons’ clear starting point guard all of last season. Why weren’t the Pistons asking him to take the responsibility of being a starting point guard until now?

I thought I might be ready too much into that, but when I kept reading, Dumars said:

We’re patient with him and, at the same time, pushing him.

I’m still not sure what to make of this. What do you guys think?

If the Detroit Pistons peformance against Memphis was not enough to make you tune in this season, I don’t know what will be

Like Weezy said, I’m goin’ in.

And although I respect people who aren’t, Friday’s preseason finale against the Memphis Grizzlies, even in a loss that they should’ve won, proved one thing beyond a doubt to me: the Detroit Pistons are worth watching this season, are worth investing time in if you love basketball.

They are far from a perfect team, and my hope that they are reasonably successful and fun to watch won’t prevent me from writing about what I see as problems as the season goes along. As fans, we only saw two preseason games, the first and the last. Both were against good teams, albeit Miami in the season opener is several notches above Memphis. Anyone who watched those two games and didn’t come away thinking that the team didn’t make significant progress from the start of camp to now isn’t really giving an honest assessment. The Pistons have talent, the on-court chemistry is much better than last season and, mismatched or not, they have lineups that are interesting to watch.

The Memphis game was well-played on both sides, played at the intensity level any coach would be happy with in the game before the regular season starts, and the Pistons had many bright spots while also getting exposed on some things that need to be shored up. Below I’ll break down, based on the Memphis game, some things both pluses and minuses that I’ll be watching for this season.

Daye is worth going out to watch

+ Watch the team because of Austin Daye. Daye scored 22 points against Memphis, led the Pistons in scoring this preseason and has an array of skills that allow him to score from essentially any spot on the floor. Last season, I (like many fans probably) admittedly questioned the Daye pick. My thinking, at the time, was that the Pistons could’ve come out of the draft with Ty Lawson, Dejuan Blair and Jonas Jerebko rather than Daye, DaJuan Summers and Jerebko. And although I’ll forever rue not taking Blair and his lottery pick-worthy talent when he was still on the board in the second round, I fully believe that by season’s end no one who watches the Pistons will complain about the Pistons taking Daye over Lawson. He’s teeming with potential offensively. I’m no longer skeptical of that aspect of his game. Daye will score in this league for a long time.

Daye will have defensive struggles no matter what position

- We have to be realistic about the fact that Daye will struggle defensively, and I don’t mean because he’ll be playing some power forward. Daye started off the game covering Zach Randolph. For real.

Just the thought of it is enough to make people laugh. Daye was noticeably overmatched strength-wise against Z-Bo. But his length allowed him to battle — Randolph shot only 2-for-6, Daye had a hand up every time Randolph shot, Daye was able to knock away a couple passes by fronting the post and he got a hand on a Randolph pass as he tried to kick the ball out and re-post for better position. The fronting strategy didn’t always work, as Daye was in terrible position to give up offensive rebounds if Ben Wallace was pulled away from the paint, but overall, he’s smart enough and competitive enough to use his long arms down low to at least be bothersome, even if he is going to give up some points.

Where he’ll struggle is on the perimeter defense against strong wings who can put it on the floor. Against post players, Daye can use all of his weight, plant himself and hold on for dear life. Against wings who are athletic enough to get a running/dribbling start, Daye will get off balance as he has to move his feet, and as we saw on Sam Young’s driving layup to put Memphis up two in the final minute, once Daye is moving and off balance some, the offensive player can use contact to simply bump Daye out of the play. Young drove into Daye, created contact, Daye bounced off and Young had a wide open shot in the paint.

I certainly don’t want to see Daye get beat up by playing the four, but don’t assume that the four is the only place where he’s going to face physicality. He lacks strength, something he’s working on, but that can be exposed by perimeter guys just as easily as we assume it will be exposed by fours.

Making up for poor defense with activity

+ Teams that aren’t great defensively can still make plays. The Pistons have too many guys who are porous defenders to ever be considered good defensively as a team. Wallace won’t be on the floor enough and is not the feared rim-protector he once was, so the solution isn’t going to be simply funneling everyone inside to him when they beat their guy on the perimeter.

Against Memphis, the Pistons made plays defensively that helped their offense. Both centers, Greg Monroe and Wallace, had active hands (busy hands?) all night. Monroe isn’t an elite shot-blocker by any stretch and although Wallace can still block the occasional shot, he’s not exactly Dwight Howard hanging out inside. Bigs who don’t block many shots can make up for it by having quick hands down low. Wallace and Monroe both exhibited this, each coming away with two steals. Monroe has actually averaged nearly two steals per game for the preseason.

And the team is not devoid of shot-blocking either. Both Tayshaun Prince and Daye not only had blocked shots, but blocked shots that led directly to run-outs and buckets. The Pistons might give up some high percentage shooting nights to opponents, but if they can come up with ways to use their quickness to force turnovers or their length on the perimeter to block shots and get quick scores, they’ll remain close enough to have a chance to win in many games.

Too many transition hoops

- With the positives of the defense came ample negatives. The second unit did a pretty terrible job against the Memphis second unit. In the second quarter, after the Pistons starters held Memphis to just 40 percent shooting in the first quarter, the Memphis bench came in against the Pistons bench and immediately went on a run. For the game, Tony Allen, Sam Young and Darrell Arthur shot 19-for-27 and scored 42 points.

The major problem was transition. Memphis got a lot of uncontested run-outs on defensive rebounds and executed several medium breaks after missed and made shots that really helped those active bench guys get easy shots. One factor was the fact that Rodney Stuckey was the only healthy point guard on the roster. With Stuckey resting in the second quarter, Prince ran the point (kind of) by bringing the ball up. But after he got the offense started, he did what a natural wing does — clears out and moves either to a corner or closer to the basket. On many plays, there didn’t seem to be anyone taking on the usual point guard role of being the last line of defense to prevent leak-outs. Everyone seemed to be caught underneath the free throw line or trying to crash the offensive glass.

Charlie V looks more disciplined

+ Charlie Villanueva‘s shot selection is going to be much better. Twice in the first half, Villanueva had OK looks at three-pointers. Both times, he passed them up and ended up with better shots for himself. It seems like a relatively minor point — NBA players pass up shots to try and get better ones all the time. But not Villanueva.

Throughout his career, the biggest reason he’s been a streaky player is because he always plays in a hurry. He gets a semi-decent look, and he’s shooting it. On nights when his shot is falling, that’s great. He can score points in bunches when he’s feeling it. But there were many more nights when he wasn’t in a rhythm, and the more he missed, the more he’d seem to hurry shots. Against Memphis, he was under control, he shot it well and he didn’t take any shots that I considered poor shots all night.

Villanueva has to get active on the boards

- Villanueva’s rebounding was a problem. The main problem was he didn’t do any. He finished with one in 27 minutes. I think in the role it appears he’ll be playing — scoring big man off the bench — it’s not vital that he be the best rebounder on the team. It’s unrealistic to expect he’ll morph into that. But you can’t be nearly seven feet tall and get one board in a game.

Better shooters on the court will make Stuckey a better PG

+ Rodney Stuckey is going to play really well if he’s on the floor with good shooters. No one can say that Stuckey didn’t play an efficient game. He had seven assists to two turnovers, the offense ran smoothly with him in the game, he shot well (would’ve been at 50 percent if not for a three-point attempt with the shot clock running down and a halfcourt heave at the end of the game). He even played pretty good defense against Mike Conley, who had a poor shooting first half before hitting a couple shots late to get up to 4 -for-9.

The difference with Stuckey is simply being on the court with people who can shoot. Having Daye’s three-point stroke in the starting lineup will help Stuckey more than anyone. Daye drew Randolph out of the paint, taking one big man away from the rim and giving Stuckey less traffic to finish in.

When Stuckey played with Daye, Villanueva and Ben Gordon on the court at once in the second quarter, the driving lanes really opened up. Stuckey (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) has been labeled as a poor passer because of his low assist total and the fact that he gets hung up in the lane and can’t get the ball back out when he should pass. Playing with shooters will change that. Spacing is so key in the NBA, and the Pistons had terrible spacing all season a year ago. This isn’t an argument for or against Stuckey as the long-term answer at point guard, but if Daye plays as much as he should and if Gordon and Villanueva shoot it better, Stuckey will have more opportunities to finish and passing lanes to kick it out will be bigger. On top of that, passing to better shooters will make his assist total go up if they are converting a higher percentage of their jumpers.

Decision on final shot was a poor one

- Stuckey’s decision when the Pistons had the ball, down two, with :22 seconds left was pretty terrible. It was hard to tell if it was a designed play or a play that Stuckey took upon himself to try and make, but as soon as the ball was in-bounded, Stuckey immediately drove it inside and had his shot blocked by Allen. Greg Kelser seemed to think it was Stuckey calling his own number. I hope that’s what it was, because I can’t say it would be a good coaching decision to not run a play that will give your team the final shot in that instance. After all, it’s the preseason. No reason to try and extend the game out. Hopefully the real play called for the Pistons to try and win or lose on a final shot.

I admire Stuckey wanting the ball in that instance and trying to make a play. But it wasn’t a good decision, even if the shot went in.

Pistons have intangibles to be a pesky team

+ We’ll close on a positive. Memphis came into the game trying to get to 8-0 in the preseason, so they played with more intensity than perhaps many teams would in that instance. Detroit was short-handed as Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell joined Tracy McGrady on the sidelines nursing minor injuries. Gordon played 11 minutes, but banged his shoulder against Marc Gasol in the first half. He came back into the game, but didn’t play much as a precaution.

So basically, the Pistons played a good NBA team extremely tough with only eight guys at their disposal. Teams that have lacked elite talent or had roster deficiencies have made up for those things with smart play, toughness, being opportunistic and playing with great chemistry in the past. The Pistons have those qualities. There are still tough decisions that need to be made with the rotation when everyone is back healthy, but there is also plenty of reason to think that the Pistons can be highly competitive on a nightly basis and be worth watching this season, whether that results in a decent win total or not.

The Big Question: Charlie Villanueva

With a cloud uncertainty thunder-storming, snowing and hailing on the Detroit Pistons, we wanted our Pistons preview series to capture that. So for each Piston, Patrick Hayes and I will identify and explain what we each see as the biggest question surrounding him entering the season.

DF: How good will he be in 2011-12?

I have no doubt Charlie Villanueva will succeed this season. Am I crazy? (After reading that first sentence, I won’t disagree with anyone who says yes.)

I believe Villanueva is in better shape. I believe Villanueva is focused and motivated. I believe he’s talented, just like he’s always been.

That’s a lethal combination, and in the rare times Villanueva has put together all those elements in the past, he’s succeeded.

Villanueva’s motivations aren’t complex. He signed a sizable contract last summer, didn’t live up to it and feels embarrassed. Let’s credit the guy for responding appropriately so far .

But once he surpasses this year’s extremely low expectations, what will motivate him next summer? Is his only goal not to be so bad he sticks out as a scapegoat? Does he have the passion to stand out for positive reasons, not just the desire not to stand out for negative ones?

For those of you expect nothing or next to nothing from Villanueva this season, I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise. But when stakes are raised a year from now, I’m not sure Villanueva will deliver.

PH: Is this year make or break?

No player had a more bi-polar season a year ago than Charlie V. For stretches in December/January, he was putting up huge scoring numbers, carrying the team some nights, and he looked like he was legitimately going to have a breakout season. By the end of the year, he was out of the rotation.

Villanueva has a big contract, but it’s not completely unreasonable by NBA standards. He’s also young, can score and is nearly 7-foot.

If Villanueva’s talking points about being committed to defense, committed to being in better shape and committed to being a viable cornerstone don’t materialize, it’s a good bet he could be a trade candidate.

Preseason minutes don’t mean much, but John Kuester has done a nice job with the Detroit Pistons rotation so far

Chip Crain from the great Memphis Grizzlies blog 3 Shades of Blue sent me an e-mail Wednesday asking about Rodney Stuckey’s 37 minutes of action in the Pistons last preseason game against the Wizards.

The number seemed high to Crain, who pointed out that no Grizzlies other than Marc Gasol had hit the 30-minute mark this preseason, and he only did so because of foul trouble to Hasheem Thabeet.

The e-mail had me panicking a little bit. Obviously, with only one Pistons game televised so far this preseason, I haven’t been able to watch. And with camp invitees Ike Diogu and Vernon Hamilton getting cut after barely touching the court, I started thinking about a repeat of last year, when there was never a clear rotation (some due to injuries, some due to inexplicably playing Chris Wilcox). I was hoping the preseason wasn’t going to be an indication of more of the same — too many minutes for some players, not nearly enough for others.

But after gleaning back at the box scores, my fears are alleviated. Kuester has actually done a really good job with preseason minutes. Here are some positives so far:

Will Bynum is leading the team in minutes per game

Will Bynum (and his snappy shoes) is the only Piston getting 30 minutes per night. I don’t know that this is going to carry over into the regular season, but it certainly can’t be a bad sign. Bynum had a great preseason a year ago, and did so while getting limited minutes and facing the reality that he probably wouldn’t play much once the regular season started.

This year, he might be in similar circumstances, but it at least appears with both his heavy preseason workload and Kuester at least toying with the idea of Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench that Bynum is going to figure into the Pistons’ plans much more heavily to start this season.

Ultimately, starting Bynum is not going to be the difference between the Pistons being a good or bad team. But Bynum has clearly worked exceptionally hard at his game the last three years, so it would be nice to see that rewarded, not to mention he’s arguably the most exciting player the Pistons have, so getting him on the court as much as possible could do wonders for the team’s watchability.

Every player is getting rest

The Pistons have five players coming off of injuries — Bynum, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon — and a sixth in Ben Wallace who plays a physically demanding position, has an injury history and is getting older. So far, Kuester has done a really good job of getting all of them minutes and also resting them.

Bynum, Hamilton, Wallace, Prince and Villanueva have all had a game off during the preseason. Gordon hasn’t had a game off, but he also seems to be in really good shape, and he’s only playing 27.4 minutes per game (although his 39 minutes in the second preseason game might have been excessive).

Wallace, who wore down after a heavy workload last year, is playing only 17 minutes per game in the six he’s played in. Prince, who has played really well, hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in a preseason game, and he didn’t do so for the first time until after he’d had a game off to rest.

The young guys are actually playing

Austin Daye (26.7) and Greg Monroe (26.2) are fourth and fifth on the team in minutes played this preseason, respectively.

It’s unreasonable to expect that either will play more minutes than Hamilton (21.0), Prince (25.0) or even Wallace (17.8) during the season, but it does represent progress for a team that has developed a reputation for not trusting its young guys much over the last 10 years or so.

They have undoubtedly played so much out of necessity with Jonas Jerebko hurt, further diluting the frontcourt depth. But the fact is both have had good moments (particularly Daye) this preseason, and both have done enough to reasonably expect to be solidly in the rotation once the regular season starts.

Does it mean anything for the regular season rotation?

How minutes will be distributed has obviously been an ongoing point of heated debate among Pistons fans. And the absences of Jerebko and Tracy McGrady have helped Kuester in the preseason avoide some tough decisions.

Currently, the projected top nine in the Detroit rotation (Stuckey, Bynum, Gordon, Hamilton, Prince, Daye, Wallace, Villanueva, Monroe) are averaging about 223 of a possible 240 minutes. Wallace and Hamilton, and possibly Villanueva, are sure to see their numbers go up some, Monroe and Daye will probably see slight decreases. McGrady, after missing most of the preseason, probably won’t be ready for a big workload immediately to start the season as the likely 10th man in the rotation.

And Jason Maxiell figures to be in line for at least spot minutes, or perhaps bigger minutes on some nights because of Monroe’s bouts with foul trouble.

There are plenty of questions the Pistons still have to answer position-wise, but credit where it’s due, Kuester has done a pretty solid job with the rotation to this point. It will be interesting to see if he can strike the same harmonious balance once the regular season starts.

Austin Daye can score from anywhere on the court

Want to know the secret of Austin Daye’s offensive prowess? Hickory High may have discovered it.

Last season, Daye scored more efficiently than the league average from every distance, except 3-pointers. With his improved shooting from beyond the arc in the preseason, Daye could join a select group of players who shoot above average from all distances.

I think that makes Daye pretty tough to guard, especially for power forwards. Now, whether Daye can handle opposing power forwards in another story.

Speaking of, Hickory High also analyzes, with great depth, Daye’s impact at power forward compared to small forward. An excerpt:

The most important areas for me are rebounding and net possessions. Daye is a very strong rebounder at the small forward position, but his numbers are way below average when compared to other power forwards.

Ben Wallace: ‘You can get some STDs to go away, but babies stay around forever’

Via ESPN.com NBA editor Justin Verrier. Verrier also provided a little more context:

@stackmack Last page in the new Mag issue has eight players rating how big of a concern STDs are in the NBA. Ben was at an eight.

Pistons’ blight in comic form

ESPN teamed with Marvel Entertainment to produce this gem:

This is probably our best hope. But if the NBA won’t allow these shoes, not sure what it will think of Robo-Rodman. (And Robo-Laimbeer probably can’t survive the new technical rules.)