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Archive → January, 2011

How the Detroit Pistons overestimated Charlie Villanueva’s rebounding ability

When the Pistons signed Charlie Villanueva, I think they believed they were getting three things:

  • A player who could score outside and inside
  • A player who could rebound effectively
  • A player who, hopefully, could continue to progress defensively

The first two looked like safe bets. In his his final season with the Bucks, Villanueva averaged 21.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes – better than Amar’e Stoudemire’s numbers that season. Plus, Villanueva had shown defensive improvement under Scott Skiles. The Pistons clearly liked Villanueva’s scoring and rebounding enough to chance he’d continue to get better defensively.

The Pistons haven’t exactly gotten what they bargained for.

Villanueva has been an explosive, although streaky, outside-inside scorer. That basically went according to plan. Just 11 players have made more 3-pointers and more shots inside 10 feet than Villanueva has this season – Deron Williams, Eric Gordon, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Danny Granger, Stephen Jackson, Ray Allen, Wesley Mathews, Raymond Felton, Dorell Wright and Richard Jefferson – but they’ve all played at least 300 more minutes than Villanueva (data through Wednesday, via HoopData).

His defense has improved a bit this season, now that he’s in better shape. He still has a long way to go on that end of the floor, but his defense was so much of an wildcard when the Pistons signed him, they certainly can’t complain.

But Villanueva’s rebounding has totally tanked.

In his final two years with the Bucks, Villanueva grabbed 15 and 14.7 percent of available rebounds. Last season with the Pistons, he snared 12 percent of available rebounds. This season, that number has fallen to 11.2.

Why have Charlie Villanueva’s rebounding numbers slipped?

Rebounding can be strange, because players benefit when their teammates are worse rebounders.

When a player’s teammates shoot better, his shooting percentage and passing numbers should increase. When a player’s teammates defend better, his steals and blocks numbers should increase.

But rebounding is different. When a player goes for a board, he rarely assesses who would get the ball if he doesn’t. For the most part, if he can grab a rebound, he does.

So, when a player grabs a rebound that would have gone to a teammate had he let it go, that doesn’t help his team. But it indicates the rebounder is more likely to take rebounds from the other team. Taking a rebound from any player on the court, teammate or opponent, showcases the same skill.

Villanueva’s floormates with the Pistons are much better rebounders than his floormates with the Bucks.

Rebounding ability of Charlie Villanueva’s teammates

In 32 percent of his minutes with the Bucks, Villanueva was Milwaukee’s best rebounder (in terms of career rebounding percentage) on the floor. In five percent of his minutes with the Pistons, Villanueva has been Detroit’s best rebounder on the floor.


  • Green: No better rebounders, when it was clear for Villanueva to grab rebounds
  • Yellow: One better rebounder, when it was partially clear for Villanueva to grab rebounds
  • Red: Two better rebounders, when it was most difficult for Villanueva to grab rebounds

To get a closer look, let’s look at Villanueva’s floormates each of the last four seasons. If you freeze Villanueva at power forward and construct each lineup around him, here’s how the other positions rebounded. “Projected” is the the average career rebounding percentage of the players who played that position while Villanueva was on the court (weighted by playing time with Villanueva). “Average” is the season average rebounding rate (via HoopData).

2007-08 with Milwaukee Bucks:

Position Projected Average Difference
PG 5.8 5.7 0.1
SG 6.6 7.1 -0.5
SF 8.7 10.0 -1.3
C 16.2 14.8 1.4
Total 37.3 37.6 -0.3

2008-09 with Milwaukee Bucks:

Position Projected Average Difference
PG 6.0 5.8 0.2
SG 6.5 6.7 -0.2
SF 9.3 9.0 0.3
C 14.3 16.4 -2.1
Total 36.0 37.9 -1.9

2009-10 with Detroit Pistons:

Position Projected Average Difference
PG 5.4 5.3 0.1
SG 6.5 7.0 -0.5
SF 10.0 9.3 0.7
C 16.0 14.8 1.2
Total 37.9 36.4 1.5

2010-11 with Detroit Pistons

Position Projected Average Difference
PG 6.8 5.7 1.1
SG 5.6 6.9 -1.3
SF 9.1 9.1 0.0
C 15.9 14.9 1.0
Total 37.4 36.6 0.8

In both his seasons with the Bucks, Villanueva typically played with a below-average group of rebounders. In both his seasons with the Pistons, Villanueva has typically played with an above-average group of rebounders.

When you consider the diminishing returns of adding more good rebounders to a lineup, blaming Villanueva’s rebounding-percentage decline makes even more sense. Increasing the rebounding ability of a lineup doesn’t change the number of rebounds a team could theoretically grab (meaning rebounds that don’t go straight to the opponent) at nearly the same rate. Conversely, decreasing the rebounding ability of a lineup gives a good rebounder plenty of opportunities to grab rebounds.

Charlie Villanueva’s actual rebounding ability

Here’s the good news: I don’t think Charlie Villanueva has regressed as a rebounder. It appears he has about the same ability to grab boards as he had with the Bucks, even though his numbers have declined.

Unfortunately, his numbers were inflated in Milwaukee due to his teammates’ rebounding deficiencies. Judging by Villanueva’s contract, I don’t think the Pistons discounted his rebounding ability because of his teammates’ influence. If they did, they really got fleeced.

Villanueva is a fine rebounder, but he isn’t a game-changing rebounder. When Ben Wallace retires and Chris Wilcox moves on, Villanueva could probably help more on the glass. But by that point the Pistons’ future core – Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye – will ideally be ready to assume a larger role.

Monroe is definitely a better rebounder than Villanueva. Jerebko and Daye are probably better rebounders than Villanueva, too. Villanueva could again find  himself surrounded by teammates who don’t benefit all that much from his rebounding ability.

Villanueva could provide a huge boost to a team that doesn’t rebound particularly well and is looking for another scorer. The Pistons are neither right now, and they’re poised to remain neither in future seasons.

When considering whether to shop a player, the Pistons should ask themselves, “Would he help other teams more than he helps us?” With Villanueva, I think the answer is yes.

I don’t know what type of offers the Pistons would get, but I think they should explore trading Villanueva.

Detroit Pistons fall a few weapons short in defenseless struggle against the New York Knicks

The Pistons certainly have players who like to play offense, so through three quarters against the offensive-minded Knicks, Detroit hung tight.

But playing with a short bench and having one of their scorers, Tayshaun Prince, struggling with his shot, the Pistons ran out of steam in the fourth quarter and lost 124-106 Sunday.

The Pistons, who shot better than 50 percent the entire game, were just 4-for-13 in the fourth quarter with only two shot attempts coming within 12 feet of the basket, and the Knicks kept up their offensive pace, opening the fourth on a 12-2 run to pull away in what had been a tie game through three. But although the poor fourth quarter shooting was the clincher, the real telling stat from the game was this: three New York frontcourt players scored 85 points on 46 shots.

Now, it’s not that surprising that Amar’e Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari had fantastic games against the Pistons. Both have done it before. But throw in 23 points and 15 rebounds from Timofey Mozgov? Who can normally be seen with things like this happening to him? Well, it’s hard to top that kind of production, even if Ben Gordon did show flashes of why the Pistons signed him.

Gordon had his second best game as a Piston, scoring 35 points. He was 7-for-11 from 3-point range, and although Pistons fans are all too familiar with the holes in Gordon’s game, it’s nice to see him show the elite scoring ability and his ability is still present when his shot is falling. Unfortunately, no other Piston managed more than 16 points, which came from Prince, and it took him 17 shots to do that.

The Pistons simply had no one in their frontcourt who could provide much resistance to the Knicks’ barrage. Hurry back Ben Wallace.

The worst case of the flu in history

When word came that Rip Hamilton would indeed miss another game with a case of the flu that has kept him out of the lineup for five days, Twitter began to run amok. Obviously, the disclaimer is hopefully Hamilton is not ill. Because if he is, it sounds serious. Five days of flu would lead most people to possibly think about heading to the hospital for treatment.

The reality is, it’s probably about the clumsiest possible way to continue not playing him. The poor broadcasters have to discuss his malady in earnest, as if they themselves don’t really know what’s going on. Reporters have to add it to their injury reports. Pistons team officials have to legitimately discuss it as the reason Hamilton isn’t playing.

But the saddest part? The Pistons could’ve actually used Hamilton in this game. They are short on capable players right now with Rodney Stuckey out. Two of their scorers, Prince and Austin Daye, did not shoot the ball well. And in the fourth quarter, they clearly needed an additional player to put next to Gordon who could make shots. Having Hamilton available could’ve easily kept the Pistons competitive in this game down the stretch. Hopefully the Pistons are able to trade him, because allowing him to sit out games he is actually needed in is not a good message to send the rest of the team. The relationship appears irreparable right now, but a common sense question that’s going unanswered: what do they do with him if no other team wants him?

Monroe owns the boards

He didn’t have much company from the Pistons on the glass, but Greg Monroe established a new career high in rebounds with 17.

It’s weird not getting to that until the third topic in the recap, but it also shows how commonplace very good performances from Monroe are becoming. It was even better because his production had tailed off just a tad since his four straight double-doubles in early January. He hadn’t had one in the nine games since that streak ended until his 15 points and 17 boards against NY.

Although I certainly can’t complain about him hitting 6-of-8 from the field, four of those six made shots were either the result of tip-ins or dump-off assists. Again, nothing wrong with that. But at some point, I’d like to see Monroe in the post a little more just to see if he has the ability to create his shot a little more often. With the craftiness he has displayed around the basket, I suspect he can once in a while, but maybe there’s a reason the Pistons haven’t used him in that capacity yet.

Villanueva doesn’t get much time

High scoring game, neither team playing defense, Charlie Villanueva’s shot falling, short bench. Those sound like the perfect storm of events to get Villanueva some significant minutes, right? Well, not so much.

Villanueva only played 20 minutes against the Knicks, making 4-of-6 shots and scoring 11 points. His defense certainly was as non-existent as everyone else’s in this game, but hey, at some point, John Kuester had to know that defense was a lost cause in this one right?

Because the Knicks pulled away so fast in the fourth (it seemed like a matter of seconds and they were suddenly up double figures), it was understandably hard to make many adjustments in the fourth quarter that would’ve changed things significantly. But this was certainly a chance to see Villanueva get a little bigger role. Chris Wilcox played 31 minutes and wasn’t terrible on offense, but Villanueva gives the Pistons more dimensions offensively than Wilcox does.

The Pistons missed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and might get to miss Amar’e Stoudemire in New York

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks

Date: Jan. 30, 2011

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 17-30

Knicks: 24-22

Probable starters

Pistons:

Knicks:

  • Raymond Felton
  • Landry Fields
  • Wilson Chandler
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Amar’e Stoudemire or Ronny Turiaf

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +7

Over/under: 203

Score: Knicks win, 105-98

Three things to watch

1. Any healthy bodies out there?

The Knicks aren’t that deep a team in the first place, so if Amar’e Stoudemire can’t go (he’s listed as a game-time decision), someone unaccustomed to playing big minutes will have to replace a large chunk of Stoudemire’s 37ish minutes per game. And I like Ronny Turiaf, but if he gets the bulk of those minutes, well, I think the production from that spot might just fall off a tad. Wilson Chandler is also questionable.

As for the Pistons, Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace are all likely to be unavailable again. On the plus side, with the funky lineups that forces the Pistons to use, along with the Knicks’ always-crazy lineup, this should be an interesting game to watch.

2. Watch the 3-point shooting this time.

In a double overtime loss to the Knicks in November, the Pistons fell asleep guarding the 3-point line and predictably, New York torched them. The Knicks are perimeter-oriented anyway, but with Stoudemire possibly out, look for them to shoot it even more from distance. If they choose to go small, Mike D’Antoni can put a lineup of five guys — Felton, Fields, Toney Douglas, Chandler (if he plays) and Gallinari — who are all pretty good 3-point shooters on the floor. The Pistons will be able to counter some with the length of Prince, Daye and McGrady, so hopefully they’ll be able to close out on shooters more effectively than in the previous game.

3. If Hamilton is ever going to get off the bench again, this would be the game.

The Pistons are coming off a game where they played really short-handed, stretched out minutes for guys like McGrady and Ben Gordon, and lost in heart-breaking fashion. Hamilton has had the flu for about a week or so. If ever John Kuester were going to be tempted to play Hamilton, this would be the game.

Pregame Reading

Explanation for Pistons’ improvement sans Richard Hamilton absolutely needed

Chris Iott of MLive wrote a column on Richard Hamilton today, and it began:

Don’t try to figure out why.

If you’ve been reading this site, you already know I won’t listen to that advice, so let’s get into it.

Iott’s conclusion – the Pistons are better without Hamilton than with him –  is based on two main points: the Pistons win more without Hamilton than they do with him, and they perform better without Hamilton than they do with him. Both points are correct. Both points are too irrelevant.

The Pistons win more and perform better when any one of most their players misses a game. The Pistons are too deep for their own good in the short term.* Nobody can get into a rhythm or establish chemistry with their teammates. Because so many players produce at a high enough level to warrant playing time, John Kuester continuously shuffles the rotation.

*The Pistons’ depth could help them in the long term. Tracy McGrady would probably help them more next year than Will Bynum, but how would the Pistons know that unless they signed both? The Pistons wouldn’t contend this year anyway, so this short-term hit to competitiveness isn’t debilitating. They are better prepared for the future because they’re too deep now.

Iott examined winning percentage and point difference for this season and the last two seasons combined, both with and without Hamilton, so I’ll do the same for each category.

Winning percentage

Let’s start with each player’s affect on the Pistons’ 2011 winning percentage. The three players – Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady and Ben Gordon –  who have played all Detroit’s games this season aren’t included.

Player With Without Difference
Greg Monroe 17-29 (.378) 0-2 (.000) 0.378
Will Bynum 14-22 (.389) 3-9 (.273) 0.116
Chris Wilcox 9-15 (.375) 8-15 (.348) 0.027
Ben Wallace 14-25 (.359) 3-5 (.375) -0.016
Austin Daye 13-25 (.342) 4-5 (.444) -0.102
Richard Hamilton 11-23 (.324) 6-7 (.462) -0.138
DaJuan Summers 2-9 (.182) 15-21 (.417) -0.235
Jason Maxiell 10-24 (.294) 7-6 (.538) -0.244
Rodney Stuckey 14-28 (.333) 3-2 (.600) -0.267
Charlie Villanueva 15-29 (.341) 2-1 (.667) -0.326

Here’s another view.  The blue bars represent the Pistons’ winning percentage in games with that player this year. The red bars represent the Pistons’ winning percentage in games without that player this year.


Yes, the Pistons’ winning percentage dropped when Hamilton has played this season. But it has also dropped for six other players, including four for whom it has dropped more.

Let’s look at the two-year totals to see whether that trend holds. Again, I didn’t include McGrady, who hasn’t missed a game since joining the Pistons, and I didn’t included Jonas Jerebko, who won’t be available to play anytime soon.

Player With Without Difference 
Greg Monroe 17-28 (.378) 0-2 (.000) 0.378
Tracy McGrady 17-30 (.362) 0-0 (.000) 0.362
Charlie Villanueva 42-70 (.375) 2-15 (.118) 0.257
Ben Wallace 39-69 (.361) 5-16 (.238) 0.123
Will Bynum 35-64 (.354) 9-21 (.300) 0.054
Chris Wilcox 18-40 (.310) 26-45 (.366) -0.056
Richard Hamilton 25-55 (.313) 19-30 (.388) -0.075
Austin Daye 35-72 (.327) 9-13 (.409) -0.082
DaJuan Summers 15-40 (.273) 29-45 (.392) -0.119
Ben Gordon 35-74 (.321) 9-11 (.450) -0.129
Tayshaun Prince 29-67 (.302) 15-18 (.455) -0.152
Rodney Stuckey 37-78 (.322) 7-7 (.500) -0.178
Jason Maxiell 34-76 (.309) 10-9 (.526) -0.217

And the bar graph, where the blue bars represent with and red bars represent without:


Again, the Pistons’ winning percentage dropped when Hamilton has played the last two seasons. But it has also dropped for seven other players, including six for whom it has dropped more.

Point difference

Here are the plus-minuses per 48 minutes for each Piston this year:

Player With Without Difference
Chris Wilcox 5.36 -4.99 10.35
DaJuan Summers -2.73 -3.96 1.23
Ben Gordon -0.79 -3.61 2.82
Charlie Villanueva -1.20 -3.46 2.26
Tracy McGrady -2.61 -2.85 0.24
Will Bynum -4.77 -2.79 -1.98
Jason Maxiell -6.03 -2.54 -3.49
Rodney Stuckey -3.61 -2.03 -1.58
Austin Daye -7.82 -1.78 -6.04
Greg Monroe -5.26 -1.64 -3.62
Tayshaun Prince -3.64 -1.55 -2.08
Ben Wallace -8.06 -0.82 -7.24
Richard Hamilton -9.62 -0.36 -9.26

And the bar graph, where the blue bars represent with and red bars represent without:


Eight players hurt the Pistons’ plus-minus – none more so than Hamilton. But does that trend hold true over the last two seasons? Not exactly.

Player With Without Difference
Rodney Stuckey -2.48 -8.06 5.58
Ben Wallace -2.86 -6.28 3.42
Tracy McGrady -2.61 -5.26 2.66
Ben Gordon -3.41 -5.88 2.47
Tayshaun Prince -3.69 -5.78 2.09
Charlie Villanueva -5.11 -4.34 -0.77
Chris Wilcox -5.69 -4.55 -1.14
Greg Monroe -5.26 -3.02 -2.23
Jason Maxiell -6.23 -3.93 -2.30
Richard Hamilton -6.16 -3.78 -2.39
Austin Daye -6.57 -4.08 -2.49
Will Bynum -7.51 -3.15 -4.36
DaJuan Summers -11.54 -4.15 -7.39

And the bar graph, where the blue bars represent with and red bars represent without:


During the last two years, eight players hurt the Pistons’ plus-minus, including three who did so more than Hamilton.

Conclusion

The data shows the Pistons were wise to cut someone from their rotation. But that’s all this data shows. It doesn’t show whom the Pistons should have removed. If they simply stopped using players whose presence lowered the team’s winning percentage or plus-minus, the Pistons wouldn’t have enough players left to fill a rotation.

I think the Pistons would have improved had they removed Ben Gordon from the rotation instead of Richard Hamilton. But I don’t think that’s the key question. The key question is whether they would have improved more by removing Hamilton or Gordon.

To answer that, it’s important to examine all the factors Iott says to ignore – “Richard Hamilton, John Kuester, player combinations or offensive systems.” I think a review of those considerations – not just record and plus-minus – shows Hamilton deserved to leave the rotation, as I’ve written many times before.

So, Iott and I reached the same conclusion. We just took very different paths to it.

Tracy McGrady, stop jinxing yourself

The older, wiser Tracy McGrady still hasn’t learned.

Eight years ago, his Orlando Magic led the No. 1-seeded Detroit Pistons, 3-1, in a seven-game, first-round series. McGrady hadn’t advanced in the playoffs in any of his previous five seasons. Apparently overwhelmed with joy and a lack of knowledge of the NBA switching from a five-game first-round format, McGrady said, “’It feels good to get in the second round.”

The Pistons won the next three games by 31, 15 and 15 points. McGrady still hasn’t won a playoff series.

In a 2005 interview with Megan Manfull of the Houston Chronicle, McGrady claimed he had grown from his gaffe:

I learned my lesson. … That mistake will never happen again."

I guess that mistake hasn’t happened again. But McGrady still told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

"The next off-season will actually be my first off-season in three years where I can do basic training without me experiencing pain," said McGrady, who will be an unrestricted free agent. "I’m not going to training camp trying to get healthy, rehabbing still. I’ve been trying to do that for the last three years. Now I will be completely healthy and be able to do my normal regimen."

After that quote, I’ll be shocked if McGrady doesn’t suffer a catastrophic injury before the end of the season.

PistonPowered 2.0

Well, PistonPowered has finally gotten a long-overdue update. We’ve made some obvious aesthetic changes that, frankly, make me slightly embarrassed to be the person mostly responsible for the look of the previous version. And we’ve fixed a few bugs behind the scenes that should make life for Dan and Patrick a bit easier. Here are some of the things you, dear reader, will probably notice almost immediately:

Social Media and Feeds

They’re the wave of the future (or in 2011, maybe the present), so we’ve more prominently featured buttons for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our RSS Feed in the upper right corner of the page. In addition, each post now has its own comments RSS feed that you can use to easily keep up with the comments for any article you want to discuss further.

Menu Bar

Most of the features in the menu bar haven’t gone anywhere, but because I hate floating menus, we completely changed the way they’re displayed. Instead of hovering over an expandable menu item (now marked with a pair of "↓" characters), you can now click it once to display its contents, and again to hide them. This should make these features actually usable on a touch screen, and you won’t have to worry about accidentally moving your mouse the wrong way and having them disappear.

A couple things have moved around though. The “Archives” section now has a list of all post categories, as well as links to the last six monthly archive pages. Our search fields also live there, as well as links to RSS feeds for entries and comments.

Finally, the explanations that used to reside under “More PistonPowered” are now included in the “About” section, and you can still go there if you ever need a refresher on all the different ways you can ingest our content.

Commenting

The new design has resolved our longstanding issue with threaded comments. Not only have they been re-enabled, but they should actually be legible this time around, and you can reply up to five levels deep.

Feedback

We always love to hear any of your questions, concerns, or feedback, so send us an email (pistonpowered [at] gmail [dot] com) if you have any to offer. Of course, we love hearing how great we are too, and compliments are especially welcome.

Daye-ng: Austin Daye shows promise, but can’t deliver victory over Heat

Austin Daye is growing up in front of our eyes. Unfortunately, the progress didn’t come quickly enough tonight.

By making the Pistons’ biggest basket and missing the Pistons’ biggest shot against the Heat, in a matter of minutes, Daye showed us how far he has come and how far he has to go.

With the Pistons trailing by one with 2.7 seconds left, John Kuester designed a beautiful play. Tayshaun Prince threw a beautiful inbound pass to a cutting Daye. The rest was anything but beautiful for the Pistons.

Daye missed the dunk, and the Heat escaped with an 88-87 victory. James Jones challenged the shot, and he fouled Daye at least once by pushing Daye’s the gut in the air, and maybe a second time by pushing Daye’s shooting hand. But Daye must get a little stronger, and when he does, he’ll make shots like that, anyway.

The Pistons didn’t play amazingly tonight, but they showed more positive than negative. That would have been easier to stomach if Daye made the final shot, though.

Daye’s disappointing miss came 1:06 after Daye made one of the biggest shots of his career – and he’s already compiled an impressive lists of big shots. The Pistons had finally relented the lead to the charging Heat late in the fourth quarter when Daye received a kick-out pass. He was open, but he stood well behind the 3-point line and Jones was speeding toward him.

Daye paused.

All night, the Heat’s swarming defense and physical play bothered him. He flashed brilliance throughout the game, but his erratic tendencies showed why he’s not ready to shoulder a bigger load yet. Daye turned the ball over three times with sloppy decisions, committed five fouls and missed nine of his first 14 shots.

But by the end of the game, Daye began to play within himself. He minimized his mistakes and stopped letting the Heat bother him. Games like this will aid his growth on a macro level, but it already began to show on a micro level.

So, as Jones flew toward him, Daye took a dribble forward and ducked slightly. Jones sailed right past, and Daye pulled up for what looked like it could have been the game-winning 3-pointer.

Daye will make plenty more plays like that in his career. His future is bright.

But his present is still partially cloudy, even if plenty of sunlight pokes through – a harsh reality for the Pistons tonight.

Ben Gordon was best defensive option on Eddie House

Austin Daye had a chance to be the hero, but the hero was actually Eddie House, who made a pair of free throws with six seconds left for the game’s final points.

House got to the line by putting the ball on the floor and drawing a Ben Gordon foul. House isn’t the most adept at scoring off the dribble, and Gordon bailed him out by fouling. Gordon wasn’t in the best position, and that’s why he fouled. My thought process developed thusly:

  1. Why on earth was Gordon in the game for defense?
  2. Well, I guess you want good free-throw shooters in the game in case you get the rebound.
  3. But making the stop should come first.

At this point, I was pretty upset with John Kuester for letting the game slip away by playing Gordon. But after reflecting, Gordon was the best man to guard House. Who would have been better?

Tracy McGrady? That would have left Gordon on Mike Miller, an even more unfavorable scenario.

Daye? Daye’s best defensive attribute, his length, would barely bother House’s high-arcing shot. Plus, that would have left Gordon on the much-taller James Jones.

Tayshaun Prince? He had to guard LeBron.

Will Bynum? He’s awful at following his man around off-ball screens, which is House’s specialty.

Gordon is far from great defensively, but putting him on House was sadly the Pistons’ best chance of stopping the Heat. Detroit really missed the injured Rodney Stuckey on that play.

Tracy McGrady falls two rebounds short of triple-double

Tracy McGrady played a fantastic all-around game, finishing with 14 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

This was the second time McGrady flirted with a triple-double this season. He had 11 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds against the Jazz earlier this month.

He’s forcing his shot more often, and that’s why he made just 6-of-17 attempts tonight. But when he has double-digit assists, I can live with that. The question becomes how he can handle games like this.

With the Pistons’ rotation shortened to eight, McGrady played a season-high 38 minutes. Are his legs ready for that increased load?

Inflated rebounding

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team as reluctant to try for offensive rebounds as the Heat were tonight. I certainly have never noticed it before.

Teams must balance crashing the offensive glass and getting back on defense, and every coach handles that tradeoff differently. But the Heat took it to an extreme tonight.

On the Heat’s third possession, they had three offensive rebounds. After that, the Heat grabbed 19.4 percent of available offensive rebounds. For context, no team has ever had a season with an offensive-rebounding percentage so low.

In fact, all nine of the Heat’s offensive rebounds came on plays where trying to crash the offensive glass wouldn’t have made securing the offensive rebound any more likely – seven after missed 3-pointers and two after blocked shots.

The two biggest benefactors of the Miami’s strategy were Austin Daye (nine defensive rebounds, two offensive rebounds) and Tracy McGrady (eight defensive rebounds, one offensive rebound).*

*A player whose rebounding wasn’t inflated was Chris Wilcox, who played with tremendous energy in his first game off the bench in 11 contests. Wilcox grabbed 10 rebounds, eight offensive. If John Kuester was considering starting Austin Daye regularly, not just because of this matchup, Wilcox will certainly make him think twice.

The Heat’s strategy was probably sound, and it appeared to work.

They’re not a good offensive-rebounding team, ranking 22nd in the NBA in offensive-rebounding percentage. Plus, they were missing their two leaders in total offensive rebounds – Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So, a high effort to get offensive rebounds might not have paid dividends.

Focusing on getting back on defense worked. Miami held the Pistons to 38-percent shooting.

Erick Spoelstra is a heck of a coach. In the unlikely even Pat Riley returns to the bench, Spoelstra would become my top choice for the Pistons’ coach next year.

Ben Gordon excels as offensive centerpiece

It’s no coincidence Ben Gordon had his best true-shooting percentage (.622) in 16 days during the same game he got the most shots (16) in 32 days.

Gordon needs touches to get into a rhythm, and when in the flow of the game, can take a lot of difficult shots for the Pistons, like he did tonight. When he does that, everyone else becomes more efficient.

No doubt boosted by the absence of Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton, Gordon led the Pistons with 21 points. He had a pep in his step that I haven’t seen from him in a little while. There have been recent games when Gordon has been the primary scoring option, but it’s been quite some time since he knew ahead of time he’d fill that role.

Going forward, the Pistons will need a (read: one) capable scorer with the ball in his hands to complement a frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko. Gordon, Stuckey, Hamilton, Prince, Villanueva and Bynum are all candidates to fill that role.

Gordon made a strong case tonight for it be him.

Shorthanded Pistons will start Austin Daye against Juwan Howard’s Heat

Essentials

Teams: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat

Date: Jan. 28, 2011

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

Pistons: 17-29

Heat: 31-14

Probable starters

Pistons:

Heat:

  • Mario Chalmers
  • Dwyane Wade
  • James Jones
  • LeBron James
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +10.5

Over/under: 191

Score: Heat win, 100.75-90.25

Three things to watch

1. Depleted Pistons

Rodney Stuckey (shoulder), Ben Wallace (family matter) and Richard Hamilton (flu) will miss the game tonight, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News. Probably not the best night to play shorthanded.

2. Austin Daye starting

With Chris Bosh out for Miami, LeBron James will start at power forward, according Bill Reiter of FOXSports.com. The Pistons will counter by throwing Tayshaun Prince on LeBron and starting Austin Daye against James Jones, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

Tonight could preview a future of Daye playing power forward on offense and small forward on defense with Jonas Jerebko taking the other spot, depending on matchups.

3. Juwan Howard!!!!!

I don’t care about the Big 3. Juwan Howard really keys the Heat’s success. They’re 4-0 when he plays at least 17:43, and that’s totally the cause and effect. The 17-year pro obviously will decide whether Miami wins a championship. He’s still one of the NBA’s most dominant big men, and the Pistons will have their hands full with him.

Plus, I heard he went to a great college.

(I promise I’ll stop rubbing that in soon.)

Pregame Reading

Bill Walton describes the Bad Boys as only Bill Walton can

Bill Walton’s over-the-top analysis has been sorely missed as he’s dealt with chronic back injuries the last few years. But now that he’s back calling games, he’s making up for lost time. Among the many, many great quotes from last night, transcribed by WEEI, was this one referencing a few former Pistons:

On former Pistons Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman:

They just made those decisions. That they were going to break all the rules of human decency.

Scheduled Saturday site maintenance for redesign

Though the Pistons have a rare Saturday break this week, there’s always work to be done here at PistonPowered. We’ve had a complete site overhaul in the works for a couple of months, and I’ll be taking advantage of Detroit’s night off this weekend to finally make the switch.

Without getting into any of the gory details, here’s what you can expect: I’ll be bringing the blog down Saturday at noon, and it won’t be operational for a while. Any news that happens to break during the blackout will be covered on Twitter by @PistonPowered (which you should already be following…go do it now), and you can expect a full write-up here on the site after we come back.

In total, the process could take up to 24 hours to complete, so please bear with us. You can expect a comprehensive run-down of the changes on Sunday after everything’s back up and running. See you on the other side!

(Ed: We’ll still be covering the Heat game tonight, and you can read our recap until noon tomorrow.)