For most of the season, it has been a foregone conclusion that pending free agents Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox will most likely be playing elsewhere next season. McGrady and Prince mostly because both should be in demand among contending teams and Wilcox because he never really seemed to find a niche with the Pistons.
But here’s the thing: Wilcox is playing kinda good right now. Unlike McGrady and Prince, who play positions where the Pistons have an abundance of guys in need of minutes, Wilcox plays a position where the Pistons need help. And since the team has little money to spend, signing an impact free agent big would be impossible, unless the Pistons miraculously shed a few contracts right after the season ends. Wilcox, because he’s been injured and inconsistent the last two years, isn’t likely to be a prime target of many teams in free agency, but he’s still an active big whose best skills — athleticism, running the floor, cutting in the pick and roll and finishing — mix well with up-tempo guards like Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. And at just 28-years-old, bringing Wilcox back on a deal similar to the two year/$6 million contract he’s played on the last two seasons isn’t a gamble.
Dan Feldman loves to point out that Wilcox has had a pattern of tantalizing his teams with his potential only to disappear for long stretches during his career. I don’t think he’s done enough over the second half of this season to disprove that evidence. But he has improved drastically in a couple of key areas.
Last season, Wilcox turned it over on a ridiculous 21 percent of possessions he touched the ball. This year, he’s posting a career-low 10 percent turnover percentage. He’s only finished below 12 percent once in his eight previous seasons in the league, so that’s a major turnaround and the biggest reason he can be trusted with more minutes this season.
The other statistical area where he’s made a major jump is in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). Last season, he finished with a 96 o-rating, not good for a guy who is considered primarily an offensive player. This season, he’s all the way up to a 114. The jump can be attributed to the fact that he’s always shot a high percentage (this season is no different, he’s at 55 percent) and now that he’s cut his turnovers way down, he’s able to score more efficiently on a points-per-possession basis.
Because Wilcox was out of the rotation much of the early season as he recovered from injuries, this season is a relatively small sample size to say that he’s finally figured some things out. But it’s hard not to think it represents some progress. When you combine his improved ability to hold onto the ball with the immense physical tools that he’s always had and the fact that he’s still relatively young and never played huge minutes in his career for any team, Wilcox could be a bargain next season. If he’s not re-signed, the alternatives likely include finding another veteran’s minimum-level big man to replace him. If that’s the case, why not just try and keep a guy who has already developed some chemistry with the young lineup identified as building blocks?
Re-signing Wilcox certainly won’t propel the Pistons into contention, but of their pending unrestricted free agents, bringing him back makes much more sense than bringing back Prince or McGrady.
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