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Archive → December, 2011

Charlie Villanueva’s suspension reduced

Marc Stein of ESPN:

NBA announces suspensions for Andrew Bynum and Charlie Villanueva reduced from five games to FOUR because season only 66 games instead of 82

The NBA suspended Charlie Villanueva five games last season for fighting Cleveland’s Ryan Hollins. Villanueva served one game last year, so he must sit out the first three games of this season.

24 wins for the Pistons this season?

Talking Pistons and NBA this morning on “Game Related with Adam Biggers”

I’ll be talking Pistons and NBA on “Game Related with Adam Biggers” today. The show starts at 11 a.m., and I’ll be on shortly after for about half an hour. If you want to listen later (mom, dad), the shows are archived and I’ll add a link when it’s up.

Under New Management: Redesigning The Palace’s image

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan – When he purchased the Detroit Pistons back in June, we knew that new owner Tom Gores would be unlike any owner the franchise — or city — had seen before. He’s young, flashy, and by all indications has a serious affectation for Deep Vs. Fundamentally, the organization didn’t match his style or personality. And bringing the Pistons – and all of Palace Sports and Entertainment – in line with that now seems to be a top priority.

A new look

That was immediately obvious when I wandered into The Palace’s west atrium for yesterday’s media event and was greeted by what Pistons President Dennis Mannion called a “brand test.”

BrandTest

The new west atrium.

This design, empty space and a sleek metallic finish accented with blue neon lights, is just one of the updates Gores has brought to The Palace, an arena some find lacking an identity. It seems that management shares that opinion, and revamping the image of The Palace was the first thing Mannion mentioned.

After a brief introduction we were led downstairs into one of the newly renovated performer locker rooms, another example of the facelift-in-progress. The team intends to have more performances during games – before, during quarter-breaks, and sometimes even after – and they are investing accordingly. Ensuring that The Palace is an elite entertainment venue is a high priority for Gores, and the early returns are good: when visiting for their recent concert both Kanye West and Jay-Z reportedly “loved it.”

We viewed a short presentation, then headed to the players’ locker room. In the way stood the largest door I’ve ever seen, surrounded by that same blue light and metallic finish, in stark contrast to the rest of the hallway.

LockerRoomDoor
What’s Behind the Blue Door?

I never had an opportunity to see the old player facilities, but I can’t imagine them being on par with what awaited us behind that door. There’s no doubt that Gores is serious about keeping his players happy.

Lockers1 PlayerLounge
Those chairs are seven feet tall. Tempting.

The U-shaped room has that familiar blue glow (which can be switched off, of course), and each locker (including one each for Damien Wilkins and Vernon Macklin) is equipped with an iPad station for players to review plays, stats and other multimedia. The lockers open to a huge flat screen TV, where coach Lawrence Frank can show film and diagram plays. And the adjacent player lounge looks more like a penthouse suite than what you’d find in a basketball arena. I imagine changes like these might make players want to stick around a little longer, which can’t be a bad thing.

Improving the fan experience

In addition to the facilities, the Pistons want to bring the fans into the 21st century with a digital makeover. An email newsletter is in the works, and there are plans to eventually produce 24 short videos per week, each catering to multiple fan groups. New projectors and lasers have been installed above the court for more elaborate light shows, which we were assured are to be controlled by very complex software. Mannion also told us about big plans for social media integration, including live-updating Twitter boards coming in February. I wondered to myself whether Charlie Villanueva would be participating (gosh, I hope so).

The team has even made reducing traffic congestion a goal, potentially using electronic signage and even smartphone apps – a plan that is somewhere in the “observe and act” phase. It seems that nearly every facet of attending a Palace event is up for review and improvement.

The bottom line

With the focus today so heavily on expanded entertainment and the improved facilities, one might wonder how much attention is actually being paid to basketball. By the end of the day, however, it was apparent that the Pistons organization hasn’t lost sight of why people come to Auburn Hills. “The best way to thrill the fans is to win,” Mannion admitted. “We need great play on the court – number one, by far.” And with that attitude in mind, it’s easy to see what all these changes are really about – getting the Pistons back into championship form.

Detroit Pistons ’11-’12 Promotional Video

In an effort to show off some of the organizational changes new owner Tom Gores has in store, the Detroit Pistons unveiled the following video at today’s media event:

There are a few interesting things to note:

  • As previously speculated, Detroit is serious about using advanced statistics. The word “analytics” appears under the Team Operations section at around the 0:12 mark.
  • The team is looking toward expanding its web presence as well. There are 21(!) separate channels on the “Programming” slide.
  • Lots of focus on entertainment. The Flight crew makes an appearance, and it looks like the Pistons are adding a Cheer Team, as well as a youth hip-hop dance group called the Mob Squad.

I also got a peek at what looked to be the new pre-game intro video that sets the bar pretty high. The new ownership seems to be making some very visible modifications to the franchise right from the start, and I would bet they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Dumars not pressured to hire Catanella

When the Pistons announced that Joe Dumars had hired Ken Catanella as the team’s Director of Basketball Operations, the news was met with guarded optimism. Catanella has a great track record in basketball analytics, but based on Detroit’s history with statistics, or lack thereof, it wasn’t clear whether or not the organization intended to take full advantage of his expertise.

Pistons President Dennis Mannion gave fans of analytics a reason to get their hopes up at today’s Palace media event. While discussing his belief in the importance of advanced statistics, Mannion noted that when Dumars hired Catanella for his new role, “there was no gun to his head.”

Mannion is no stranger to advanced stats himself, as he indicated that the Los Angeles Dodgers took advantage of similar analysis when he served as President of that organization. If his implication is correct and Dumars is also a believer, Pistons fans have another big reason to get excited about the future of the franchise.

ESPN writers predict postseason awards for Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight

ESPN’s Keith Lipscomb and Dave McMenamin predicted Greg Monroe will win Most Improved Player. Lipscomb also named Brandon Knight his Rookie of the Year.

Kyrylo Fesenko interests Pistons

Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune:

Ex-#UtahJazz center Kyrylo Fesenko drawing interest from Heat, Warriors, Pistons, Clippers, source says.

Yes, please. The Pistons need another big man, and Fesenko would be a great low-priced addition. Fesenko, who will turn 25 in two days, won’t solve all the Pistons’ problems, but he’s the best free-agent option available.

John Hollinger of ESPN:

The best-kept secret in the NBA right now is Fesenko’s monstrous defensive stats. It’s not that one or two metrics point out his defensive value; it’s that all of them do, without any pointing to the contrary.

Last season the Jazz were an eye-popping 11.91 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Fesenko on the floor, and this is not a new trend. The season before it was 8.67; in limited minutes his first two seasons he also had a strong differential.

Synergy Stats, meanwhile, rated Fesenko as the second-best defender in the entire league among players who faced at least 150 opponent plays; the season before he was first. And according to 82games.com, opposing centers had a PER of just 10.4 against him; the season before it was 12.9.

Fesenko still needs defensive polish. He averages 7.3 fouls per 36 minutes. But at 7-foot-1 and 280 pounds with good mobility for his size, Fesenko could help the Pistons’ defense today.

The other end of the court is much more troubling. Fesenko possess little offensive skill.

The Pistons were interested in drafting Fesenko in 2006, and now they have another chance to acquire him. I sure hope they do.

Ben Gordon returning to form would be nearly unprecedented

Growing up, Ben Gordon showed a natural gift for basketball and played as much as he could. But his grandmother scolded him for waking their neighbors by bouncing the ball in the middle of the night.  So, he woke up at 5 a.m. to work out before high school classes.

That allowed Gordon to keep going, but plenty of talented young players work hard.

Gordon earned  a scholarship to Connecticut, one of the nation’s top basketball programs. But early in his career, he earned the less-than-affectionate nickname “Gentle Ben.” So, he toughened up and led Connecticut to a national championship.

That allowed Gordon to keep going, but plenty of college players win national titles.

In 2004, the Bulls drafted him No. 3 overall and made him a starter. But in his first three games, all losses, Gordon scored just 26 points on 9-of-29 shooting. So, Gordon went to the bench, won Sixth Man of the Year,  and helped the Bulls win 47 games for their best record since they had Michael Jordan.

That allowed Gordon to keep going, but plenty of NBA players thrive off the bench.

By the time Gordon signed a five-year, $58 million contract with the Pistons in 2009, he was a basketball success, though not a superstar. His path to the top wasn’t astonishing, but he simply overcame the fairly moderate challenges in front of him, time after to time.

Now, after the worst two seasons of his NBA career, Gordon faces his supreme on-court challenge: becoming a 20-point-per-game scorer again. After scoring 20.7 points per game in his final season with the Bulls, his average has dropped to 13.8 and 11.2 with the Pistons.

In NBA history, a player has averaged at least 20 points per game in a season only to have his scoring average drop by at least six the next season 116 times. Just five returned to their pre-drop scoring average: Pete Maravich, Bernard King, Kelly Tripucka, Antawn Jamison, and Kobe Bryant.

This is not something plenty of players have done.

Overcoming the decline

Gordon’s challenge is even more daunting, considering his scoring average dropped again between 2009-10 and 2010-11. That puts him in line with a majority of the players who never returned to form.

Only one in the sample of 116, Tripucka, returned to his original average without an immediate bump the year after his drop. Tripucka’s two down years came during a nightmarish stint with the Utah Jazz, and he scored more only after joining the expansion Charlotte Hornets, who allowed him to post a career-high usage.

Other than Tripucka, only one other player returned to even 80 percent of his pre-drop scoring average without improving it the year immediately after the drop – George Gervin, whose second drop was a mere 0.3 points and barely returned to 80 percent of his original scoring.

Excuses

Gordon’s struggles with the Pistons have largely been pinned on three excuses:

I believed Gordon’s ankle injury, apparently the first serious injury of his career, destroyed his 2009-10 season. When he played even worse last season, that theory became mostly unbelievable. If the injury is still affecting Gordon – either physically or mentally (more likely the latter at this point, if it still still has an effect at all) – that’s a serious problem and one that won’t necessarily be resolved this season if it hasn’t been already.

The theory with Hamilton is having another similarly abled shooting guard on the roster hindered Gordon by preventing him from receiving consistent minutes or getting into a rhythm. In Detroit, Gordon has played 92 games with Hamilton and 52 without him.

  • With: 9.8 points per game, 14.7 points per 36 minutes, 52.6 true shooting percentage
  • Without: 16.8 points per game, 19.2 points per 36 minutes, 55.8 true shooting percentage

That certainly indicates the Hamilton theory might be true. But Gordon’s without-Hamilton points per game and points per 36 minutes are both lower than his Chicago averages, and remove Gordon’s inefficient rookie year, it’s also true of true shooting percentage.

As far as John Kuester, many claim he managed every player wrong, including Gordon. That doesn’t really jive with the Pistons’ above-average offensive rating last year and Sebastian Pruiti’s frequent praise of Kuester’s plays, though.

Maybe these excuses are valid. We’ll have a much better idea this season.

But remember, the other 111 players who never returned to their original level of scoring all had excuses, too.

Signs of permanent disrepair

As John Hollinger pointed out, Gordon is playing like he’s lost a step. A lack of explosiveness is evident in three stats:

  • The percentage of his total field-goal attempts coming at the rim has dropped from 21 to 18 to 16 the last three years.
  • His turnover percentage was a career-high 14.4 last season.
  • His 2.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes last year were, by far, a career low.

The eye test would peg Gordon in his mid-30s. But Gordon is much younger, which makes his decline all the more confusing.

The average age of the players who returned to form was 24.8 in their pre-drop season. The average age of the players who didn’t was 28.1.

Gordon was 25.

Betting on the fluke

Gordon, at his best, is one-dimensional. He doesn’t rebound, pass or defend exceptionally well. He scores a lot, pretty efficiently, and limits his mistakes.

There’s value in a player like that, but when Gordon isn’t scoring, he’s a liability on the court. Set to make $37.2 million the next three year, he’s a liability on the salary cap, too.

It’s now-or-never time for Gordon, if that line hasn’t already been crossed. The Pistons bought out Hamilton and fired Kuester.

They appear willing to bet on Gordon. It’s not’s not a wager I would make, but they might not have another option at this point.

Thankfully, they can hedge. If Gordon doesn’t make they type of turnaround that occurs less than once in a generation, the Pistons have an out: amnesty.

That, I’d bet on.

What is with the Pistons’ love of wing players?

Zach Harper of Hoop Speak looks at the Pistons roster and is confused:

I look at this team and try to make sense of it, but in reality it’s just a collection of lesser clones. They’re all cut from the same cloth that just isn’t good enough for what you need in rebuilding. It’s possible Stuckey and Knight turn into a dynamic backcourt. It’s possible Jerebko and Daye are the wings of the future for this team. It’s possible Charlie Villanueva… well, nobody expects anything relevant from him.

However, you have a bottleneck effect throughout this entire depth chart, only you don’t want anybody to actually come out of it ahead of the traffic.

Harper’s post is an interesting read, and it comes complete with a Michael Keaton GIF.