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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.


  • Jan 31, 201112:02 pm
    by Adam F


    Excellent work. One of the best basketball blog posts I’ve seen on any site this year.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zach Lowe and Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered Feed. PistonPowered Feed said: How the Detroit Pistons overestimated Charlie Villanueva’s rebounding ability: When the Pistons signed Charlie V… http://bit.ly/eMarKj [...]

  • Jan 31, 201112:35 pm
    by Blue Herron


    QED!  Excellently made point.  I hope many others read this as well.  I do like Villanueva, but the point is clearly correct.

  • Jan 31, 201112:44 pm
    by Fafnir


    I think you should look at the split between offensive and defensive rebounding. Offensive rebounds generally don’t have much diminishing returns, you can see that in the study you link. Its on the offensive glass that Charlie V has truly fallen short in Detroit.

    His Offensive Rebound Rates the last four years: 8.9, 8.3, 5.2, 3.4
    His Defensive Rebound Rates the last four years: 21.5, 21.6, 19.6, 19.7

    He’s experience a decline on the defensive glass, that’s probably due to being next to better rebounders. The much larger decline on the offensive glass is probably due to something else.

    Now look at his per/36 three point shot attempts: 3.6, 4.4, 5.5, 6.6

    Charlie V has taken his game farther and farther from the rim, you don’t get many offensive boards 24 feet away from the hoop.

  • Jan 31, 20111:37 pm
    by Dan Feldman


    Adam and Blue Herron, thanks!

  • Jan 31, 20111:50 pm
    by Dan Feldman


    Fafnir, fantastic, fantastic, fantastic point. As the study noted, there are some diminishing returns when it comes to offensive rebounds, and I think that’s part of it. But I still think Villanueva’s teammates play a large part in his offensive-rebounding numbers.

    In his last two years in Milwaukee, Villanueva ranked seventh and 11th in 3-point percentage. In Detroit, he’s ranked third and sixth. The Pistons need his ability to spread the floor more than the Bucks needed it. Combined with the Pistons’ better ability to make up for the loss in offensive rebounding, they want him to shoot 3-pointers more than the Bucks did.

    Your comment certainly enhanced my opinion, but I think the conclusion remains the same: Villanueva is just as adept at rebounding (both offensively and defensively) as he was in Milwaukee, but he’s not a good enough rebounder to help the Pistons much in that area.

    • Jan 31, 20112:10 pm
      by Fafnir


      That makes sense, though I wonder if the two coaches he’s played for set out to do that with Charlie V offensively. Its rare that you’ll have a coach set up his offense to use a three point threat at the 4. Especially given that the Pistons don’t many post up players.

      Great article, and thanks for taking the time to respond.

      • Jan 31, 20112:41 pm
        by Jason


        Definitely a good point – it makes me wonder if Charlie V would be better suited at the SF spot? Imagine having a legitimate defensive minded PF/C to compliment Monroe, and move Charlie to the wing.
        In this situation, his length would actually be a large benefit to the lineup, guarding smaller players would allow him to rebound that much more effectively, IMO. Plus, his strengths are stretching the floor, which would allow him to be utilized that much more effectively. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of that next year, once Tay is no longer on the roster.

        • Feb 1, 201112:33 am
          by Dan Feldman


          Jason, that’s an interesting possibility. My biggest question is how he’d guard opposing small forwards. But if last summer’s commitment to conditioning continues, and wasn’t just a response to a poor season, maybe he could pull it off.

      • Feb 1, 201112:30 am
        by Dan Feldman


        Fafnir, I’m not sure exactly what his Milwaukee coaches desired (he played for three there), but it seems pretty clear Kuester has made Villanueva’s 3-point shooting part of the team’s offense. The Pistons don’t have many post threats, but too often, they don’t have reliable 3-point threats on the floor, either. (That last sentence makes me cringe.)

  • Jan 31, 20112:47 pm
    by Quick Darshan


    I’ve given up on the idea that Charlie V can be a starter on a Championship level team.  I agree that he’s a good and versatile scorer and that he’s at least an average rebounder.  But, he makes way too many bone-headed defensive breakdowns.

    Luckily, I think Monroe is the kind of player that can win you a Championship (as a role player).  He reminds me a lot of Udonis Haslem and that’s kind of who I see him as going forward.

    Charlie V.  looks like he’s never going to be more than an offensive big off the bench.

    Not sure yet about Daye.  Right now, he’s a young Peja Stoyakovich.  Great shooter.  Terrible perimeter defender.  He just doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be quick enough to stay in front of people on the wing (at least, not without a game-changing shot blocker behind him).  He looks more comfortable guarding in the post (technique-wise, not strength-wise).  I think on the defensive end, it might be his natural position.

  • Jan 31, 20115:16 pm
    by steve


    i like the idea of developing younger players like monroe and daye.  i really like the idea of trading cv, for anything or nothing.  also why does everyone want to get rid of tayshan?  i always thought of him as a guy who plays hard the whole game and plays hard on defense.  cv seems quite the opposite, which is why we need to get rid of him.  if the pistons are never going to have a superstar, they need everyone to play tough defense and hustle for rebounds.

    • Jan 31, 20115:41 pm
      by Jason


      It’s not that everyone WANTS to trade Tayshaun, it’s that we all realize he gives us the best option at landing a need position in return.
      He will be forever loved by the Pistons, but the fact is – he is getting 10 million this year, and will want something similar in the years ahead. We have capable wing players, so to commit that much money to keeping him around isn’t that good of an idea.
      We need a PG, and a defensive minded BIG man. That’s where our money should be spent.. Though something tells me Dumars has his eyes on a premiere Shooting Guard this offseason..

  • Jan 31, 20116:39 pm
    by Dave Hogg


    Good points, but I agree with the commenter above – you missed a key ingredient. Charlie’s defensive rebounding numbers haven’t barely changed. The difference is, with Ben Wallace as one of the NBA’s best offensive rebounders and Charlie on the perimeter, he’s getting no offensive boards at all.

    • Feb 1, 201112:10 am
      by Dan Feldman


      Dave, I consider dropping two percentage points on the defensive glass a big change. That alone would account for dropping 10-15 spots in team rebounding ranking (if a player’s teammates aren’t making up for some of the drop).

      Like I said, I consider Villanueva’s 3-point attempts a key part of his offensive-rebounding decline, but what is the cause and what is the effect? Is Villanueva not offensively rebounding as well because he’s taking so many 3s, or is he taking so many 3s because he’s not offensively rebounding as well (because of his teammates)?

      I charted every player the last four years 6-foot-9 or taller who qualified for the scoring title by their 3-point attempts per 36 minutes and their offensive-rebounding percentage. That trend line is statistically significant. The red dots represent Villanueva.

      In Milwaukee, Villanueva grabbed many more offensive rebounds than would be expected based on his 3-point attempts. In Detroit, he’s near or below the expected number. What accounts for the drop? I’d say it’s his teammates’ being better offensive rebounders.

  • Jan 31, 20118:53 pm
    by bg8


    @ quick

    come on man, you could never say that any player could never be a starter on a championship caliber team. for example, if you trade cv for bosh, the heats is still a championship caliber team, if you trade cv for bass, magic is still a championship caliber team, and so on. anybody can be a starter on any championship caliber team, its all about the player around you.

    now if you say you could never imagine cv being the focal point of a team and them being a championship caliber team, than thats fine. that would be a vailid opinion of yours

  • Jan 31, 201111:02 pm
    by Laser


    boy is my interest in this team dwindling. if we don’t make any legitimate changes next month, taking an extended hiatus from them is going to be a lot easier than i thought.
    i mean, rip is on the outs, even though he looks to be entirely untradeable. meanwhile, it looks like the team wants t-mac to be a big part of the team going forward, even though he’s just a year younger than rip (give or take, given the injuries and the time he missed) and had decent chemistry with the guy.
    i’m not sure about you guys, but as someone who’s been screaming from the rooftops how bad this roster looked a looooong time ago, none of this sits well with me.

  • Feb 1, 20111:37 am
    by Dan Feldman


    I just came across this post on stealing rebounds from teammates. It’s a great read on this same topic.

  • Feb 1, 20119:15 am
    by Andrew


    Charlie is one of my favorite pistons, and i take him for what he is. I know he can’t defend as well as others, but he has a lot of great strengths. I do not want to see Charlie go, but this article really made a lot of sense. I still don’t want a trade to occur, but I now feel a bit different about possible post-charlie life.

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