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Richard Hamilton-John Kuester blame game attracting attention from another dismal season by Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva

While everyone is busy deciding who deserves more blame between Rip Hamilton and John Kuester, the attention caused by that rift has taken the focus off two other players who deserve their fair share as well: Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Both Gordon and Villanueva seem like pleasant enough guys. Both could have legitimate beefs about how they’ve been used at times with this team, and they’ve largely kept quiet in the media about it, remained positive and seem like good teammates.

Unfortunately, both are paid like cornerstones of a franchise, and clearly, neither guy is. Ultimately the blame for signing them to long-term deals for the amount of money they’re making lies with Joe Dumars.

But I’m all about nuance. Dumars is left to deal with the financial implications of signing players who have underperformed to long-term deals, but let’s remember the basis of why both guys were signed: they were young players, both of whom pined for increased roles on their former teams, both of whom felt disrespected by how things played out with said former teams (the Bulls letting Gordon walk as a free agent, the Bucks opting not to give Villanueva a qualifying offer). Both have fallen well short in Detroit, and both deserve a share of the blame for failing to meet expectations.

Can Ben Gordon be a primary option?

This was the question when Gordon signed in 2009, and it still lingers today. Now, defenders of Gordon will quickly point to his scoring averages in Chicago as justification for the signing. It’s true, Gordon was an explosive, elite scorer in limited minutes. But let’s look at each of his seasons a bit closer:

  • 2004-05 season: Gordon was third on the team in scoring as a rookie at 15.1 per game, one of four Bulls to average double figures. Contract-year Eddy Curry (don’t laugh … before he was destroying exercise balls, he had a couple pretty good offensive seasons) led the team in scoring at 16.1 per game. Kirk Hinrich averaged 15.7, and Luol Deng, also a rookie, averaged 11.7. The Bulls were a balanced team on offense that overachieved based on their strong defense and control of the tempo. Gordon had a great rookie season, but he obviously didn’t shoulder the offensive load himself.
  • 2005-06 season: Gordon upped his average to 16.9 per game and led the team in scoring, but once again, four Bulls averaged in double figures. Hinrich (15.9), Deng (14.3) and Andres Nocioni (13.0) provided plenty of balance to the Chicago offense.
  • 2006-07 season: Gordon averaged a career-best 21.4 points per game and once again led the Bulls in scoring, but Deng (18.8), Hinrich (16.6) and Nocioni (14.1) all improved their scoring averages as well. Once again, the Bulls’ top four was a pretty balanced group.
  • 2007-08 season: The Bulls dipped significantly this season, missed the playoffs and they made their big Ben Wallace trade midseason to clear salary. Gordon led the team in scoring this season, but his average fell back to 18.6 per game. He didn’t have a significant dropoff in minutes, either. He went from 33 a game the previous season to 32 a game this season. Deng (17.0), Hinrich (11.5), Nocioni (13.2) and Joe Smith (11.2) were all in double figures that season. Once again, the Bulls had balanced offense, even if their on-court results this season weren’t good.
  • 2008-09 season: Gordon led Chicago in scoring for the fourth straight season in his final year with the Bulls. Derrick Rose (16.8), Deng (14.1), Tyrus Thomas (10.8), Nocioni (10.4) and midseason acquisitions John Salmons (18.3) and Brad Miller (11.8) also provided significant offense for Chicago.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that although Gordon scored a lot of points in Chicago, he did so with several other players capable of being potent offensive threats around him. I would argue the Bulls never ran their offense solely through Gordon. Maybe they did for portions of games, but for whatever reason, in five seasons, the Bulls never viewed Gordon as a guy they could exclusively depend on as their primary offensive option.

Gordon, as the dynamic scorer he was (and hopefully still is), obviously disagreed. He started more than 41 games in a season only two of his five seasons with the Bulls. Guys who are capable of playing offense like Gordon does obviously want to start. Starting is important to players, and I think everyone understands why. So it made sense that if Chicago didn’t view him as that player, he would look elsewhere.

Enter Detroit. Theoretically, Gordon would sign there looking for an opportunity to start (I know he said the right things when he signed, that he’d be OK coming off the bench, etc. But read between the lines … he constantly hinted in Chicago he wanted to be a starter.).

Theoretically, Detroit would sign him to a large contract believing if they increased those situations in which Chicago ran its offense through him, Gordon’s production would naturally increase with the expanded role.

And on the intangible side, Dumars has always picked out players like Gordon, who felt under-appreciated or felt they could do more if given an opportunity.

Without looking at the rest of the Pistons roster, those three points meant signing Gordon made a lot of sense. Theoretically.

We’ve found Gordon has actually been used in an even more reduced role than in Chicago (he hadn’t played below 30 minutes a game since his rookie season, but he has played 27.9 and 27.2 respectively in Detroit). The Pistons have found, without being surrounded by other players who can help create shots for him, Gordon’s 3-point shooting touch has declined significantly since leaving Chicago, as have his offensive rating and true-shooting percentage.

The reality of Gordon’s situation was a tough one. He had to come in and deal with trying to beat out an incumbent shooting guard in Hamilton who had no interest in giving up his prominent spot on the team. But that gets to that intangible “chip on his shoulder” quality that possibly made Gordon a target by Dumars in the first place: we haven’t really seen Gordon rise to the occasion in the competition. Let’s face it: Hamilton’s performance over the last two years has declined. There are a few staunch Hamilton defenders in the comments here who will probably object, but there is no data any of them can provide to suggest that Hamilton has been an asset on the court this season or last.

The problem, however, is that Gordon hasn’t been much better. Offensively, he’s slightly more of a threat than Hamilton. Defensively, he’s been worse than Hamilton. There is not a legitimate case to be made that either guy makes the team better. And ultimately, Gordon has to accept blame for that. He supposedly wanted the pressure of being a cornerstone player when he signed that contract, and he’s done nothing but regress during the last two seasons.

Can Charlie Villanueva play like a big man?

Villanueva provides some limited value to the team. He’s been a decent offensive player off the bench this season. As I said above, he’s been a positive teammate, he worked hard in the offseason, and even if his contract is expensive, I don’t think his price is that outrageous when compared to some stretch fours around the league with similar skill-sets.

The problem? The Pistons have never been a team that has had much use for highly paid specialists. When Villanueva was signed, an oft-cited stat was his per-minute production in Milwaukee. “After all, this guy averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds in only 26 minutes a game last year,” the thinking went. Just give him more minutes in Detroit, and he’s a sure double-double guy. Clearly, the Pistons wanted him to become a more traditional power forward who scores and rebounds.

Villanueva, undoubtedly, wanted more than 26 minutes per game in Milwaukee. He undoubtedly signed in Detroit for the opportunity to become that double-double guy Dumars was confident he would be.

Instead, the opposite has happened. He’s become even more of a “specialist” type player. Villanueva has become a worse rebounder in Detroit. He’d never averaged fewer than 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career prior to Detroit. In two seasons here, he’s averaged 7.1 and 6.8.

His rebound rate was never lower than 13.5 percent before Detroit. The last two years, it has been 12.0 and 11.5.

Villanueva was not signed to be an All-Star here. But even if he didn’t become a double-double guy, I don’t think Dumars anticipated he’d actually become a significantly worse rebounder than he had been in his pre-Detroit career.

He’s settled into his role as offensive firepower off the bench, and been pretty reliable in that respect this season. But that still falls short of what he was supposed to become in Detroit.

What do the Pistons do?

This isn’t so much an indictment on Gordon and Villanueva as a way to try and balance the ridiculous amount of Hamilton coverage. The situation with Hamilton is far from the most pressing issue with the team. The most pressing issue is the fact that two players signed long-term to be key pieces of the team’s future have thus far failed to live up to expectations. Hamilton wants to be traded, the team wants to trade him. That will work itself out even if he and the coach hate each other in the interim.

But what do the Pistons do with Gordon and Villanueva? Neither guy is a useless player, but both are paid enough that adding players as well as giving eventual raises to young players like Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey means many of the team’s resources would be tied up in players who haven’t proven they can be key components of a winning team.

It’s not Gordon’s or Villanueva’s fault that the Pistons offered them the deals they did. I respect that both players seemingly wanted to be in Detroit and made the commitment. But the Pistons rightfully expected more out of them, and whether or not the Pistons would be better off cutting their losses and looking for trades for both of their high profile signings of 2009 is now a legitimate question the team will have to answer.

19 Comments

  • Jan 25, 201111:12 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    I’ve been on here too often complaining about this situation. 70% of the team’s salary is locked into unproductive players. What they heck is going on here? Rip, Gordon, Max, CV what? They have to start shipping all of them out for expirings if possible. All of them. It’s not fair we have to watch our productive players leave because of the mistakes Dumars made paying these guys. He needs to correct this situation before somebody corrects the his situation. He’s running out of time imo.

  • Jan 25, 201111:26 am
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @nuetes:

    With Gordon and Villanueva, it’s not so much that they’ve just been unproductive. I didn’t like the signings much at the time, but if they both produced at the levels they did with previous teams, fine.

    Both, however, are significantly worse than they were in Chicago/Milwaukee. It’s maddening.

    I get that Dumars made a mistake by signing them. But man, who could’ve predicted that those two, along with Rip and Maxiell, who have both fallen off a cliff production-wise as well, would spend two seasons murdering their value?

  • Jan 25, 201111:48 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    Yeah it’s pretty depressing. I don’t know that either has an excuse, but it’s also not like they were setting the world on fire prior to coming to Detroit. People loved CV’s per 36 numbers. Omg just think if you gave CV 36 minutes he would average 20/10! Gordon and CV were never ‘good’ players in an advanced metric sense. Win shares and Wins produced had them as basically average players and now they are significantly below average. So they’ve definitely gotten worse as Pistons, but even if we were paying average players that kind of money it’s not a wise investment.
     
    CV is jacking up more 3′s and grabbing fewer rebounds. The only redeeming factor is CV is a significantly better 3 point shooter today than he used to be. But, again, he’s supposed to be a big man. And he never draws fouls. This ‘stretch 4′ position kills me. Rashard Lewis, Jamison, Green, Bargnani, etc. These guys don’t help teams win that’s a fact. These aren’t skills PF’s should be learning, or teams should be coveting from their PF/C’s. Maybe from a SF, but not from a supposed big man.
     
    Gordon I just don’t know. His peripheral numbers look almost identical across his career he’s just flat out not shooting the ball as good as he used to. He never had a sub 40% 3 point shooting season until he came to Detroit. Shooting efficiency I would argue is the one thing you can’t control across seasons, especially for a jump shooter, and because he offers very little else his value has plummeted.

  • Jan 25, 201112:10 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    I detested these signings when they happened, not because of the guys as people, but because of how little they’ve contributed to winning throughout their careers.
     
    Of  course, I’m also a stats guy, and apart from PER, no reliable advanced metric would have suggested these players were worth even a fraction of what Dumars decided to pay them.
     
    I hoped that Charlie V’s numbers were suggesting an improvement — his contract year in Milwaukee may have suggested that Charlie V could become a poor man’s Sheed without the defense, or in other words, a rotation-caliber big man off  the bench, capable of 20-25 minutes a night. Sadly, he’s demonstrated he’s not even capable of that.
     
    I never had hope for Ben Gordon, apart from the first two weeks of each season in the D. In both years, he’s come out of the gate shooting a blistering percentage but quickly cooled off. Further, he’s failed to become anything more than a one-dimensional jump shooter — and frankly, those are a dime a dozen. Give me any other number of guys at their price points — Reddick, Korver, heck even Von Wafer — before Ben Gordon. He just can’t carry the weight of his contract and what it implies about his value.
     
    Both guys are nothing more and will never become more than niche role players. Hopefully, there’s a GM as stupid as Joe Dumars who’s willing to deal them for an expiring. Otherwise, we’re screwed for years to come.
     
    Lastly (and I’m just venting at this point), I can’t believe people aren’t calling for Dumars’ head. He has built a capped out team with almost zero trade assets that might be just good enough in the East to miss the Lottery. And there’s no hope on the horizon. Mediocre is our very clear ceiling, and it was all completely avoidable.
     
    Here’s hoping the new owner sees the light of day and cleans house completely.

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  • Jan 25, 201112:46 pm
    by jgk281

    Reply

    I absolutely hated these signings a week before they even happened. Mainly the Gordon signing, but was 50-50 on CV. $7 mil/yr was reasonable for a 6-11 big man coming off a 16pts, 7 rebs/gm season, and I thought he had potential to be a starter and replace the void left by Sheed, as Dumars was probably thinking as well.

    Gordon, however, was a one-dimensional undersized SG that had been a career bench player, with no evidence, imo, that he was capable of being a full-time starter. He deserved no more than $5 mil/yr, and even that would a little pricey for basically a 3 pt shooter off your bench. 

    Its not even the amount they paid him though, as much as the fact that I never really liked his game, and dont think you can win with a player like this. Watching him on the Bulls, I blame him for them not winning more. I’ve never seen a player take more bad shots than this guy. Its like he has no clue whatsoever how to play the game of basketball, and he thinks its just a shooting contest or something. Whats even more disturbing is that no coach ever seems upset with his horrid shot-selection. At least, you never see him discliplined for it. I know if LB were the coach, he would get one warning, then be moved to the bench, and then maybe out of the rotation for good. With Kuester, he seems to have the green light to take any shot he wants. He completely defies Kuester system, and nobody says anything to him.

    I could go on and on about my frustration with this player. Bottom line, they both need to be moved, because CV isn’t that much better. Maxiell and Rip as well.

  • Jan 25, 20111:05 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    Thinking down the road, though… two things come to mind:
     
    First, who wants any of those players? CV is probably the easiest to move. Gordon might be in the right situation. But what do you get back? For Rip, the expiring contract is the best-case scenario, which leads to…
     
    Second, does anyone trust Joe D with the cap space that Tay’s expiring plus the traded Rip’s expiring would create? I don’t, which is why I’m hoping he gets canned.

  • Jan 25, 20112:16 pm
    by Jeremy

    Reply

    Ben Gordon is not producing at a level that is appropriate for his contract. Charlie is kind of in the same boat, in that we want more and can reasonably expect more. At the same time, there are plenty of worse value contracts out there than his. (Data? Comparisons?)
     
    Meanwhile BG has shown flashes and Charlie has actually been one of the better and more dependable Pistons this year. Sure, they’re not producing as they should be, but they’ve shown they can produce, which is about as much as any Piston has done this year.
     
    I think most criticism of players on this team comes with an asterisk right now, as it’s difficult to produce on a totally imbalanced team with no chemistry. Granted this doesn’t account for something like Charlie’s rebounding, and yes, I’d like to see them put everything they have into every minute they play, but these guys don’t have the motivation of an energy player who’s trying to stay in the rotation. Not many players who make it on their talent do.
     
    And let’s not forget they’re both considered pretty high character guys. I never had a problem with the contracts, just the fit. We’ve been waiting for a roster overhaul ever since the signings. I think they’ll be fine once the team gets ironed out, if they’re still on it. It’s just gone on too long…
     

  • Jan 25, 20112:17 pm
    by nuetes

    Reply

    I’m not hoping Dumars gets canned, I’m hoping he redeems himself! This is frustrating. We’re going to lose Mcgrady, Prince, Wilcox, and even possibly Stuckey and be stuck with these overpaid scrubs while we lose our key contributers. The Playoffs are a real possibility now, but all the main components are free agents! What’s left to expand or grow on for next season? Where’s the momentum? Just do something Dumars so I don’t have to see you get fired. If nothing happens he’s just gotta go.

  • Jan 25, 20112:33 pm
    by bg8

    Reply

    if they are given more and consistent minutes, more shots, allowed to actually get into a rhythm throughout the whole season, they’ll easily produced at the numbers they had before the signing. problem is, they may get huge minutes one game, then get barely 20min the next game cause they had like a bad 5 minute stretch. they just aren’t given any leeway for a bad stretch, they are like expected to play perfect and never have any bad stretches at all, which is pretty ridiculous. they were just never given a chance to succeed in the pistons. even when gordon was starting, he was given less minute than when he came off the bench, how fair is that?

    is cv a 10reb guy, hell no, but he could easily get 7-8reb a game if given more minutes. bg is easily a 20pt/gm guy if given his usual minutes.

  • Jan 25, 20113:19 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Jeremy:
    I don’t have a problem with either guy personally. They both seem like great teammates. I just don’t think the Pistons can improve with both of them occupying a significant chunk of their cap space and young players due for raises that will further limit financial flexibility.

  • Jan 25, 20113:24 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @brgulker:
    I don’t hope Dumars gets fired. I hope he takes an honest look at the guys he’s invested in, realizes they won’t win with this group and makes good trades, as he has in the past (Nazr Mohammed, Mateen Cleaves, Rodney White, Corliss, etc.) that yield either expiring contracts or picks.
    Dumars has had gambles pay off before. I mean, Billups was a pretty unrpoven player when he signed as was Ben Wallace. Dumars suspected they were hungry to improve, and he was right. I think he suspected Gordon and CV were hungry to improve, and they proved him wrong.
    I know you’re an advanced stats guy, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that Dumars (or most GMs) use them all that much. I think per-minute stats are about as advanced as Joe D gets, and he clearly signed those two based on per-minute projections.
    He’s found good values in free agency before — Billups, Wallace, McDyess, McGrady, hell even Bynum.
    Look around at NBA GMs. They get rid of Dumars, is there any guarantee that who they hire will actually be an upgrade?

  • Jan 25, 20113:26 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @nuetes:
    “If nothing happens he’s just gotta go.”
    There’s still a good bet nothing happens. I mean, the team has still not been sold, and they’re running out of time before the trade deadline.

  • Jan 25, 20113:34 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @bg8:
    I don’t buy it. It’s not a matter of opportunity. These guys are not rookie players. They are established veterans. The reason their minutes fluctuate is because their production fluctuates wildly.
    Gordon, over his 107 games in Detroit, is shooting 8 percent worse from 3-point range than he did in Chicago. That’s significant decline, it’s not just a matter of, “Well, he just needs more shots.” He’s a flawed player who struggles to create his own shot. In Chicago, that worked b/c they had guys who helped get him the ball in good position to score. He was great in that role for the Bulls.
    But Detroit paid him to be a guy who not only can get his own offense, but who scores consistently and efficiently. I don’t see how anyone can argue he’s held up his end of the bargain. The bottom line is he hasn’t improved the way the Pistons hoped he would.
    As for Villanueva, I didn’t expect him to be a double-double guy necessarily. But I also didn’t expect his rebound rate to decline by like five percent. That’s a significant dropoff for a guy who was a below average rebounder for a big guy in the first place.
    Villanueva has been pretty consistent on offense this season, but he has simply not improved overall in Detroit.
    Both guys have been starters this year. Both guys have repeatedly insinuated they want to start. Both guys have performed poorly as starters. There’s just only so much “the coach doesn’t use them right” defenses I can take. Obviously Kuester is a flawed coach, obviously this is a flawed rotation. But Gordon and Villanueva have far underperformed here.

  • Jan 25, 20117:09 pm
    by Satchel Page

    Reply

    Begs an article:
    Since there is little-to-no market for Rip, what’s the trade market for BG, CV (and Max)? How close could we get to moving them for expiring contracts and a Petro or two? Or could we even get a non-redundant player in return? Wouldn’t that be a big hit with management regardless of whether Gores makes the buy?
     

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  • Jan 25, 20118:54 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Ben Gordon is never going to be a teram’s primary option. He is too small and has too much trouble getting his shot.

    Austins daye is a far better player to slot in as a primary scoring option next season when (if) tay leaves the team as a free agent.

    Cv is not being paid like a franchise player – he is being paid like a sixth man and while i too would like to see more rebounds from him, as a scoring specialist off the bench he is worth the value. Meanwhile Ben Gordon is grossly overpaid and needs to be traded as soon as possible or he is going to be another Rip – the contract that you cannot get rid of.

  • Jan 25, 20119:05 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    @Patrick

    I cannot imagine that Joe will not make a move at the deadline. I mean, he said he was fielding calls on BG & CV. He had a trade worked out for Rip. The best player on the team is a trade chip with an expiring contract. He has two veterns on minimums that any playoff team could use (Wallace & T-Mac). He has Stuckey and the decision to resign him or not must also be made by the trade deadline although nothing concrete will happen until the new CBA is worked out.

    I will bet you my last dollar that Joe makes a move at the deadline. I mean, there are only two players on that team that should be untouchable and that is Daye & Monroe.

  • Jan 25, 20119:53 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @PCB:
    I’m not debating whether or not Villanueva is a specialist. It’s very clear that he is, and like I said, his contract is not bad comparatively speaking. My point is that he was not signed to be a specialist. The team very clearly thought he’d be their starting PF and thought he’d be an 18 and 8 or 9ish type player.
    Gordon, no disagreements. He just flat out got more open looks in Chicago because he played with guards better at penetrating and kicking.
    Daye certainly looks like he’s a potential go-to player next season. Like I’ve said with him in the past, though, I want to see this over an extended stretch before I’m ready to view him as an elite scorer-type player.
    And I don’t doubt that Dumars is getting calls. I also don’t doubt he’s had deals that he’d like to do. I just don’t know that he can get ownership approval if there’s no sale.
    Think about it from this perspective: The Pistons have to be getting something that is an asset (player, expiring deal or pick). The other team has to feel like they are getting something useful in return and be willing to take on long-term contracts, since most of the Pistons I think the team would want to part with are their long-term signed guys. And on top of those two things, Karen Davidson would have to sign off an not be spending a dime extra this season.
    Trades are incredibly hard to pull off and those are a lot of variables in the case of the Pistons. I hope they can do something, but I just don’t think anyone should be shocked if they don’t.

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