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Joe Dumars shifted to offensive focus – but why?

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The common thinking in the Pistons’ fall from contender to bottom feeder in the last few years has been that Joe Dumars has ‘lost his touch’ or that he’s had no vision. In fact, the opposite is true. The current version of the Pistons exists precisely because Dumars had a vision.

After the Pistons lost to Boston in the 2008 Conference Finals, Dumars gave in to increasing pressure to shake up the old core and traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson shortly after the 2008-09 season started. But today’s post isn’t going to once again delve into whether or not that was a smart move. I’m going to look at the new era of rhetoric that was ushered in starting with that trade. The Pistons won a title and became one of the steadiest teams in the league for nearly a decade based on, first and foremost, physical defense. Starting with the Billups trade, Dumars began to target players that didn’t fit a specific traditional position and who didn’t necessarily have strong defensive reputations, and that was no accident.

Iverson was the world’s smallest shooting guard (or was until Nate Robinson showed up). Charlie Villanueva wants desperately to be the world’s tallest shooting guard. Rodney Stuckey, at best a combo guard and more likely a shooting guard in college and as a rookie, became a full-time point guard. Ben Gordon was primarily a bench player in Chicago because he was too small to be a starting shooting guard and didn’t have the skillset to be a passable point guard. DaJuan Summers was a hybrid forward at Georgetown with the build of a prototypical SF and the skillset of a low-skilled PF. Austin Daye was a lifetime post player with no chance in hell at playing in the post full-time in the NBA (just don’t tell John Kuester that). Jonas Jerebko, although a good player, isn’t perfectly suited to either of the forward positions. Kyle Singler is yet to play a game for the Pistons, but he’s probably not strong enough to play his natural power forward position in the NBA, and he might not be skilled enough to be a full-time small forward. Brandon Knight is technically a point guard, but he plays more like a shooting guard right now. Will Bynum is the size of a point guard, but he’s a scorer in every sense of the word.

I could ask readers what the best position for most of those players is and it would start heated debates in the comments. And in fact, that was by design. Dumars began talking a lot about his belief that traditional positions were becoming obsolete. He wanted to put a team of five versatile guys who could score on the floor at all times. Below are some examples.

Dumars in a 2010 interview:

Dumars later says he doesn’t look at backcourts in terms of having a point guard and a shooting guard. He looks for two players who can play well together. So, if he used that line to dodge the question, ask, “For a player who you think would be ideal next to Stuckey, would other teams consider him a point guard or a shooting guard?”

Dumars in a 2010 interview:

Asked if the Pistons need a “pure point guard,” he said, “When people say that now, I think we still hold on to what a true point guard was 20, 25 years ago. A lot of the young point guards you see now that are having success are also combo guards. I saw some during the playoffs, kids who barely played point guard in college, played two-guard all of college, and now they’re running teams.”

Dumars in 2009:

If you don’t have the strong, low-post, traditional four man that can score, if you don’t have one of those top guys, you certainly better have one of those guys we call a stretch four – that can stretch the defense, that’s versatile, that’s inside-out. You have to get one or the other. If you’re not going to get a traditional four guy, then today’s game requires you to have more versatile four men.

Dumars also clearly believed that the NBA had changed into a less physical league where having an abundance of offensive-minded players was more vital than it had been in the past. From an interview with Keith Langlois in 2009:

We also recognize that we have to be able to score the ball more. I think our acquisitions reflect that. Kuester will decide at what pace we pay, but what I wanted to do was give him weapons to put us in a position to be able to score the ball more. How he chooses to do that will be up to him, but I did not want to put him in position where we didn’t have enough weapons to step on the floor and score like you need to be able to score now to have success in this league.

It’s not that Dumars ever publicly said defense wasn’t important. His comments just started to treat defense as kind of an afterthought, something that could be picked up later. Here’s an example:

I don’t think you can ever lose the mentality that for us to win, you have to stop people. You have to play good defense. You can’t be a poor defensive team and expect to win. So the fact that we’ve acquired more guys who can score the basketball doesn’t change the mind-set that you have to stop people. All we’re doing is saying we recognize that we have to score more. To recognize that doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning the mind-set that we have to stop people. You don’t have to choose, either-or. Lest people forget, Chauncey and Rip didn’t come here as these great defenders. They came here as offensive players. Chauncey was talented offensively, Rip was a scorer. They won a championship because they made a commitment to try to defend people. Just because you address the need to score more, doesn’t change your mind-set to have to stop people.

Dumars, in fact, had a pretty clearly articulated plan. It just wasn’t a good one. Now, I obviously cherry-picked some comments from the past to highlight that point, but these are some common themes that I think it’s fair to take away from Dumars’ change in philosophy: 1. He didn’t believe his veteran core of physical, halfcourt veteran players could continue competing at a high level in a league seeing more wide open offenses and stricter officiating; 2. He feared that his core would age overnight, similar to what he experienced as a player when the key players on the Bad Boys pretty rapidly declined; 3. He believed that he needed both more offensive firepower and players who could create for themselves and score in iso situations; 4. He believed defense was important, but that talented players who were poor defenders elsewhere could be taught to be good defenders.

As for that last point about defense, I’ll let Ben Wallace handle the refutation. From Terry Foster of The Detroit News:

Wallace said it’s possible that the Pistons can become a good defensive team and that some of these players can become good defenders. But it’s doubtful they will turn into all-NBA defenders.

“You are born with it; you can’t teach that,” Wallace said. “It’s tough to get to the league and not be a great defender and turn into one. You can be a great team defender. But as far as taking control of the game, it’s one of those things where you are born with that intensity or with what we call that ‘dog’ in you.”

Thanks Ben. As for the rest of the points, I don’t think Dumars’ philosophy has been entirely wrong — traditional positions have become somewhat obsolete, pure point guards are a rarity nowadays and, since he clearly believed a player with Stuckey’s skillset could be an offensive centerpiece, he was right to think surrounding Stuckey with perimeter threats like Gordon, Villanueva and, to a lesser extent, Daye, should’ve helped Stuckey excel. I think he certainly miscalculated on the players he chose to fill those roles and I think he clearly paid way too much for them while casting aside cheaper, more talented options. But again, that’s not the debate here today. My question is simply, why the drastic change in philosophy? Why reinvent the wheel?

Although it’s true the game has changed some over the last four or five seasons, it hasn’t been some sort of seismic shift. The Spurs, Celtics, Lakers and Mavs all won titles over the last five years by being really good defensive teams. The Bulls became an elite team last year built around a smothering defense, and for all of the hand-wringing about the Heat, they’re actually one of the better defensive teams in recent NBA history. Defense hasn’t changed that much, even if officiating does disallow some of the more physical stuff the 2004 Pistons did. That team wasn’t some relic of a lost era. The Pistons of the last decade were talented enough that they would’ve adjusted to today’s tighter officiating (although it probably would’ve taken about 1,000 Rasheed Wallace technicals to make that adjustment).

There is certainly more positional ambiguity today than there was 20 or so years ago, but Chris Paul would like to tell you that pure point guards still exist. Heck, Walker Russell is proof that even traditional point guards with limited talent can make valuable contributions in today’s NBA. Things have evolved, as they always do in sports, but Dumars seemed to be preparing for an offensive revolution that he perceived to be much greater than what was actually happening.

He clearly changed philosophies. This is the first year that the organization has uttered the phrase ‘rebuilding.’ There’s a reason they’ve been hesitant to do that — ‘rebuilding’ suggests that what you’ve been doing has been a failure. But they’re now at the point where it’s impossible to classify the last three seasons as anything but failure. Via Justin Rogers at MLive, here are some comments from Dumars after this year’s draft:

“When we’ve been at our best, it’s because we knew we were putting guys on the floor who would give there (sic) all and do things the right way. We all know we had some slippage in that department over the last year or two. This is a direct effort to reaffirm who we’ve been and why we have these banners in this building.”

‘Reaffirming who we’ve been’ suggests that decisions that preceded this year’s draft were not ‘who the Pistons have been.’ It’s an indirect admission that mistakes were made, that the drastic philosophical shift towards offensive players wasn’t necessary and that the old way was better.

Why did Dumars change? Unless one of the handful of interviews he gives out each year is to the guy who once built a game recap around around what Austin Daye ate for dinner, I will probably never get an answer for that question. As a fan though, it still haunts me. It’s just so strange.

Dumars became a prodigy among GMs. The ‘genius’ tag was tossed around pretty frequently at one time. Other than Jerry West, at one time, you could’ve made a case that Dumars was the most successful star-player-turned-executive ever. Most people who have that kind of success become so married to their philosophy that they never change, occasionally to their detriment. Dumars was the opposite. He stubbornly and rapidly changed course, as if he’d become convinced that the philosophies that delivered his great successes – fiscal responsibility, identifying under-valued talent, toughness, work ethic and defense as core organizational values, etc. – were untenable, and he couldn’t be convinced otherwise. There have certainly been several forces at work that have made the Pistons what they are today, but chief among them was a mysterious, largely unexplained change in how Dumars believed he needed to go about building a successful basketball team. There isn’t a rational explanation for why that happened.

#JoeDumarsWeek

Monday:

34 Comments

  • Feb 7, 201211:20 am
    by apa8ren9

    Reply

    Very good article.  If I may give my opinion I believe he changed his philosophy because the stars that were running the league were aging.  Rasheed, Iverson, Duncan, Kobe, Shaq.  These players were centerpieces for championship teams or teams that played for championships and a new wave of undefined talent was starting to take over the league.  Durant, D Howard, Lebron, Wade, B. Roy and Aldridge before that fell apart.  There is a certain rhythm to the NBA and the superstar way wins way more often than the “team” concept that the Pistons had always subscribed to.   He was trying to get in on making a team that he thought would be competitive since he did not have one of the younger stars.  Obviously it was the wrong tactic as we see. But with the inevitable turnover coming and the type of players that were going to be available to the Pistons, perhaps that is why he thought a change ( Along with Mr. D passing away) was necessary.

    • Feb 7, 201211:45 am
      by neutes

      Reply

      or it was that one time when Lebron scored 1000 straight points in game 5 and the light bulb burnt out in Dumars’ head and all he could see was iso’s from that day forward.

  • Feb 7, 201211:52 am
    by brgulker

    Reply

    This was an awesome post, PH.

    The thing I will add is this: If Dumars wanted to build around offense, he should have found players who were actually better than the average at offense. If you’re going to get guys who are really good on offense but not so good on D, I can live with that. But to snag up players who are marginally efficient on the offensive side of the ball at best (and are basically just shooters) and do absolutely nothing else is disastrous. 

  • Feb 7, 201211:59 am
    by IsraeliPiston

    Reply

    Probably the best post about Pistons decline I have read anywhere. Pistons lost their identity. Dumars flip flopped and Pistons are suffering. Larry Brown said it best: “you win games with Defense and Free Throws.” You should also add that after Orlando signed Lewis – “stretch 4s” became the rage and Dumars fell in love with Charlie V.

  • Feb 7, 201212:13 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    His mistakes are numeruos, but when it comes to philosophy I’d say he had two clear misconceptions: 1. you can’t turn players into good defenders. they either are or they aren’t. 2. there’s a difference between scoring and scoring efficiently.

    So with that knowledge I can now question even more whether he has any clue at all. I mean, could he really have gotten THAT lucky the first time? I’d like to think there was some skill involved but man, it’s getting tough to evaluate whether that was the case.

    I’d almost rather be under the impression he was throwing darts at a wall blindfolded than try to understand that he simply doesn’t understand the game of basketball after only being involved in it his entire life.

    • Feb 7, 201212:24 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Your first point, that you can’t turn players into good defenders, is right on, but for some reason, it also doesn’t seem to be commonly held thinking in the NBA.

      For whatever reason, defense is often viewed simply as a matter of effort. The reality is it takes specific skills and intelligence to be a good defensive player, but great defenders are usually not credited with being super skilled — they always get the ‘blue collar’ and ‘hustle player’ type of tags that imply they try really hard but aren’t that talented. It’s why guys like Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman are historically underrated and it’s why people don’t give Dwight Howard enough credit for his dominance and instead say, “OMGZ Dwight sucks because he needs to learn how to do a hook shot DERP”

      I think Dumars’ comments that have glossed over defense in recent years are the wrong approach, but unfortunately, they’re not an uncommon way of looking at D.

      • Feb 7, 201210:01 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        No one ever seems to mention team defense and it’s much more important.  Billups and Hamilton were immeasurably helped by having the Wallaces and Prince behind them and most starting guards would have been helped as well.  A lot of people say Stuck has been living on defensive potential and hasn’t put it together but I would say that he hasn’t had anything behind him and there are a handful, maybe less than five in the whole league, of lockdown defenders if you are just going to define whether someone plays good defense by that.  I do think Stuck could be an all nba or 2nd nba defender if he had the team had some decent shot blocking and he didn’t have to worry about teammates who are clueless.

        • Feb 8, 20123:50 pm
          by Dan Feldman

          Reply

          Team defense is important. The Pistons have too few player capable of playing it well.

  • Feb 7, 201212:13 pm
    by swish22

    Reply

    Very well written Patrick and spot on!     Still hard to believe that one of the greatest defensive guards ever who also had great success as a gm with lock down physical defenses has lost his way!!   

    • Feb 7, 201212:28 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Yeah, that’s what is confusing to me too. As a player, Dumars was such an intelligent and crafty defensive player. His ability to defend wasn’t simply a matter of effort. He had legit skills at that end of the court that few others possessed. Not sure why he doesn’t seem to have views on defense more in line with how Wallace views it in his comment that I excerpted.

      • Feb 7, 20126:19 pm
        by ryan

        Reply

        I read a KC Jones interview in Slam magazine years ago where he talked about all the effort and study that went into being a defensive monster. That along with various comments from Gary Payton about being fearless really made me think about the attitude needed to be a good defender. It has to be about effort and studying your craft and about being totally unafraid to get beat. I think that the third factor is where most guys get caught. They know that they could give a great effort and still get beat and they prefer not to try rather than trying and failing. It is pathetic but it is also human.

        As for Joe Dumars’ change of gear it is baffling and it’s something I’ve been complaining about for years. Thanks very much for this article which nails this frustrating and confusing point.

  • Feb 7, 201212:42 pm
    by tarsier

    Reply

    The shift from a defensive focus to an offensive focus never bothered me. Although the thinking behind it that any set of guys can play good defense really does. But in building a championship team, Dumars took chances on guys who could’ve disappointed but could also significantly outperform their contracts. But in recent years, the contracts he has given out have had virtually no room at all for the player to outperform. As terrible as CV has been, at least he was an exception to that. And since Cleveland wanted him on the MLE, giving him that deal at least made sense if Dumars wanted him. But Gordon, Rip, and Prince are unforgivable deals because none of them had upside and they were not based on what the market would have forced him to pay.

  • Feb 7, 20121:40 pm
    by inigo montoya

    Reply

    i think it is instructive to look at the 76er’s to examine the importance of defense, whether team defense can significantly improve, and the importance of PG play and passing vs. team passing (as measured by PG assists vs. team assists)

    2010-2011 76er’s gave up 97.5 ppg, league average 99.6 ppg

    2011-2012 76er’s giving up 86.6 ppg, league average 94.6 ppg

    With virtually the same players, the 76er’s dramatically improved team defense.  This tells me that team defense can get dramatically better with the same personnel.  

    Note this example does not contradict with the Ben Wallace quote in which he stated that it is possible to become a good defensive team, but you have to be “born” to be a all NBA defensive player that impacts the game (and in reality, there just are only at most 10-20 out of 400 players that impact the game defensively)

    Another aspect of the current 76er’s is worth noting.  Jrue Holiday’s assist rate is significantly down from last year, yet the 76er’s assist per game as a team is virtually the same as last year (with a lower scoring average this year)  And the 76er’s frontcourt leads the league frontcourt’s in assists by a significant amount.   This tells me that spreading assists among more players, at the expense of the PG’s assists, can make for some very good team basketball.

    Final note:  it was just 27 games ago that a Piston team beat the 76er’s at Phil. (last game of last season) 

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/201104130PHI.html

    • Feb 7, 20122:05 pm
      by neutes

      Reply

      The Sixers are also very young, and young players can get better. Two years with the same young athletic players in the same system is probably going to produce some type of results. They’re a deep team too. Evan Turner is a lot more comfortable. Meeks kills it from three. And Hawes has come on big time.

      What’s a bit interesting when you examine the numbers is how much better Louis Williams is than Holiday, yet Holiday plays more. If they flip flopped the playing time the Sixers could be even better.

      • Feb 7, 20122:27 pm
        by frankie d

        Reply

        holliday is a much better defender than williams. williams hustles on “d” and has great hands, for steals, but he’s a little guy who gets abused by bigger physical guards. holliday’s size and strength, at the point guard spot, help philly immensely. hollida

        • Feb 7, 20123:25 pm
          by frankie d

          Reply

          for some reason, the last part of my post above did not publish.
          what i wrote was this:
          holliday is the kind of player that the pistons have been hoping stuckey would develop into.
          holliday is a big scoring point guard who is a matchup nightmare.  he’s slowly but surely becoming a better “point” guard, but doug collins’ system is allowing him to slowly mature into that role.

  • Feb 7, 20121:45 pm
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    The bottom line is everytime the Pistons win the championship, David Stern changes the rules. So I think the change in philosophy was predicated on the fact that, unless you have that superstar player who gets whistles, you’re not going to win. Now maybe it would have been smarter to wait out David Stern as his freakouts do seem to have a half life (after a while things revert back to the way they were before). But that’s my explanation and I haven’t seen any evidence to convince me otherwise. The other issue is that people are still mad that Dumars traded Billups basically for Gordon and CV and then both of those players went into the toilet soon after they got here. And as a result Pistons went from being top five to bottom five (which might have happened anyway, Billups and Hamilton are shadows of themselves, Sheed and McDyess are OB, etc). The point is that Dumars was lucky with the core that won (they enjoyed remarkable health) and unlucky lately as neither Gordon nor CV have been healthy since they got here (and had no significant health issues prior). However, the point of starting Knight has been two fold, one give him lots of burn and two accumulate lottery balls. As far as I can tell that plan is working perfectly and the team has also preserved its amnesty clause. What would letting Prince walk have accomplished that’s not happening now (a few extra dollars over and above amnesty to maybe or maybe not find an experienced big for next year?) So what’s the problem precisely?

  • Feb 7, 20121:48 pm
    by D_S_V

    Reply

    Great read, PH. These views have come out in different pieces in various comments of yours, but good job putting it all together. With all of the examples of specific players who dominate the league today, yet would be considered a combo player rather than a true position, it does seem clear that Joe D recognized this and moved in that direction. But yeah, he just seemed to fail at putting together the right pieces. This brings to mind all of the Stuckey debates that have gone on recently. I have a lot of respect for his playing abilities and I think Joe’s mistakes came in the decisions he made with the players around him. Put Stuckey in a situation like Philadelphia, Denver, Memphis, etc. and I think his skills would shine. However, because Stuckey isn’t a talent that can overcome the mismanagement of the rest of this Pistons roster, his value is greatly diminished. This same unfortunate circumstance has come with, to a lesser extent, Tayshaun, and an even lesser, lesser, extent, in BG and CV. I think all of those players could bring value to a team, but Joe D not only failed in his expectations for their sum to create a formidable team, but he also over paid all of them. Now… we’re just inflexible and in a position of waiting for contracts to run out because these players can’t produce for us and have no trade value.

  • Feb 7, 20121:54 pm
    by Zeiram

    Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree and disagree with this article.
    Yes it is absolutely stirring to see Dumars changing his vision and the principles his first teams stood for. But on the other hand I believe that we may oversell a new vision because of the product we see.
    Putting more emphasize on offense isn´t entirely wrong and falls more under tweaks than paradigm shift. For years after the Pistons won that title I thought they needed another dynamic scorer someone who could get them through the droughts when the team offense could not produce anything. I even clamored for an Iverson trade (albeit for Hamilton).
    So the increased focus on offense is nothing new and not necessarily a bad thing. It´s just that the players Dumars brought in for that job were bad.
    Thinking that a good defense can be installed isn´t entirely wrong either. Remember neither Rip nor Chauncey were really above average defenders before they came here. A good defensive system and increased effort can install a very good defense everywhere. Of course the really elite defenses have at least one talented defender at their disposal (Think Chandler, Noah, Bogut, Howard, Bogut, etc.) but once upon a time Dumars could have thought that Tayshaun was still that player.
    What really did us in wasn´t the new direction but how it was implemented. In that vein I agree with all the talk about bad contracts, bad talent evaluation and most importantely the stuborness with which Dumars seemed to cling to this direction.
    However I argue had he chosen the talents for his slightly new direction more wisely (and in fairness had it been avaible, remember the year of our big FA money we pretty much were left with CV and Gordon anyway) we could now be the 76ers. An exciting, good team founded on positional versatility and scoring based on a solid team defense.
    But alas instead of Iggy, Young, Turner, Holiday, Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes we have Tayshaun, Stuckey, CV, Knight, Ben Gordon and Greg Monroe….

  • Feb 7, 20122:26 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    You spelled “WEAK” wrong in that hashtag.

  • Feb 7, 20123:06 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    Great post Patrick. I have been asking myself this same question the last few years. I’ve tossed around a lot of ideas but I think the most substantiated one that I’ve thought of has to do with the teams the Pistons lost to in the conference finals 2006-08.
     
    2006 – Miami. I think they were an above average defensive team, but were predicated on having one star that could absolutely take over a game in D-Wade. They also teamed him up with an aging but still effective Shaq. The Pistons were a far superior “team” but got beat by this formula: 1 superstar + 1 former superstar + dependable cast. The Pistons didn’t have a superstar or even former superstar at the time. That had to be in Dumars’ mind.
     
    2007 – Cleveland. LeBron. An average defensive team at best but LeBron single handedly beat the Pistons in game 5 – the swing game. Although a guy named Boobie put game 6 away that series was lost to this formula: 1 once in a lifetime superstar + average cast. Again, no superstar on the Pistons. That had to grate on Joe D’s mind.
     
    2008 – Boston. The Big 3. A good defensive team yes, but that fact is often overlooked by Garnett and Allen teaming up with Pierce via trades. Pistons lost to this formula: 1 former superstar in Garnett + 1 borderline superstar in Pierce + 1 star in Allen. Great team defense, but again that was overlooked at the time. So for the third consecutive year Dumars saw his team beat by star players while the Pistons still did not have 1 singular game changing superstar.
     
    So what does he do? Trades for Iverson 2 games into the next season. A superstar at the time who looked to have some good years left. If it didn’t work out, his deal was expiring and more stars could be had in free agency. I really think that Joe D had in his mind that the Pistons needed 1 game changing superstar to get over the hump. Obviously it didn’t work out as it was the beginning of the end for both Iverson and the Pistons. The money from the expiring deal was used to get Gordon and Villanueva – 2 guys I guess Dumars thought could be stars. Let’s not forget this was fresh off Ben Gordon’s stellar 1st round series vs. Boston. So maybe Joe D thought he was a star in the making – I don’t know.
     
    Anyway, all this to say I think that maybe Dumars shifted his philosophy from well balanced, defensive minded team to a team with a star who could single handedly change a game with his offense along with a pretty good supporting cast. The formula that beat the Pistons in 3 straight conference finals was desperately sought after but obviously not found.

    • Feb 7, 20124:15 pm
      by apa8ren9

      Reply

      I agree with you Jacob and good post. The superstar philosophy has just been the overwhelming factor in the history of the NBA and you are right since we fell victim to it so many times.(Remember the Bad boys fell victim on the phantom call for Kareem) along with the changes that Stern made, along with Ben wanting to cash in, he thought he could change this and not miss a beat. But alas, Iverson was a selfish bum with waning skills and Hamilton was a spoiled child that didnt want to share, Dumars couldnt get a coach that could make it work and it all fell apart because the ownership wasnt stable enough to pull it together.

    • Feb 7, 201210:09 pm
      by Max

      Reply

      Great post Jacob.   And I would add regarding Boston that the most effective thing the Pistons did in that series against Bos was allow Stuckey to isolate on one side of the floor and even Paul Pierce admitted that the really gave them problems.
      Ben Gordon’s twenty points a game at Reggie Miller level efficiency got lost in transit after the signing but his total failure to replicate the great consistency he enjoyed in Chicago obviously screwed all of Dumars plans up.

  • Feb 7, 20123:19 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    excellent post.
    let me offer a slightly contrarian view.
    i think that joe may have completely valued and understood how important players like ben wallace had been.  in fact, he valued ben w. so much that he may have believed that it was much more difficult to find another ben wallace than to find the kind of offensive players he started to acquire, the kind that could produce an effective offensive team.
    remember flip saunders’ first year.  there was real tension with ben wallace about the direction of the team.  ben was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that saunders was emphasizing offense at the expense of the team’s defensive focus.  
    with flip saunders’ hiring and by allowing ben to leave, dumars seemed to come down on flip’s side of the argument.  
    and then after unsuccessfully looking around for someone to replace ben, he may have decided that it was a heck of a lot easier to find shooters to fit into flips’ system than another freak like ben wallace, a guy who combined incredible quickness, speed and strength with exceptional basketball IQ.  and a rare willingness to do nothing but stick his nose in on the defensive end.  in lots of ways, he’s about the closest thing to dennis rodman that the league has seen, since rodman, and if guys like rodman and wallace only come along once every decade, your odds of finding someone like that is pretty low.
    one of the things that has been maddening, but perhaps telling about joe’s personnel moves is that he hasn’t even tried to replace ben.  yes, he’s brought in a bunch of stiffs who filled space in the center, but he hasn’t gone after a guy like deandre jordan when he had a chance to draft him.  
    is it possible that he just doesn’t think that there are any guys worthy of building a stifling defense around?
    so, just in terms of being able to find players to build around, you’d be much better off going with the flip saunders view and leading with your offense, while hopefully building a competent defense. 
    not sure if i completely agree with my own theory, but it is something that comes to mind.
    btw. i don’t undervalue what howard does.  i just think that while he is a great defensive player, he is an average  offensive player.  and i don’t think that he is as good a defender as wallace was, in ben’s prime, because, imho, wallace is a much smarter defender than howard and that matters a lot, in terms of wins and losses.
    what howard does may look a bit more spectacular than the things that wallace did – even though ben was often spectacular – but ben did so many little things throughout the course of a game that helped a team win, while howard still hasn’t figured out a lot of that stuff.    he is just not as engaged.  while howard has the mobility to defend far away from the lane, he’s nowhere near as active as ben was.  he would never pressure a guard the length of the court, as i’ve seen ben do.  he wouldn’t trap a guard in the backcourt,  as ben would sometimes do.   he’s certainly physically capable of doing those things, but he is not as engaged in the entire game, as ben was.  and because he’s only an average offensive player, i don’t view him as the once in a lifetime center that others seem to describe him as. 
    imho, he’s a bigger, slightly more athletic version of clifford ray, but a version who gets more shots.  that is not a knock on howard, as ray was an extremely effective defensive center who was incredibly underrated.

    • Feb 7, 201210:11 pm
      by Max

      Reply

      Right as in Dumars said you get a stretch four if you can’t get the traditional big; he didn’t say it was ideal.

  • Feb 7, 20124:42 pm
    by apa8ren9

    Reply

    Let me agree with you Frankie on one point.  I do believe he valued Ben because it was Ben that did the heavy lifting for the team.  All the defensive shortcomings of Rip, Chauncey and Tayshaun were covered by Ben, not to mention Ben was underpaid by big man standards.  In order to make this work you have to find that big early, identify his talent right away and lock him up.  Plus its always been the Pistons MO to not pay the max on a contract.  So when it was time to replenish the stock he was looking for that guy, I believe to the detriment of keeping his eyes open and couldnt find him.  So he decided that since that guy didnt exist anymore, (and Stern changing the rules) then he was going to go with the offensive philosophy since there seemed to be more players with that skill set that were accessible to him.

  • Feb 7, 20127:53 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    that’s really sad… the game doesn’t change.

  • Feb 7, 20128:04 pm
    by Steve K

    Reply

    Awesome, awesome stuff, PH. Best yet.

  • Feb 8, 20124:07 am
    by Jakob Eich

    Reply

    Great read! I believe what Dumars missed out on in his philosophy change is that a team needs a defensive anchor, someone who leads by example (i. e. toughness). The ’04 Pistons had the Wallace’s, you can say what you want, but Sheed and Ben are to me the best defensive frontcourt of the past decade; the Spurs have Timmy D; the Celtics had KG and Perkins (to me the second best defensive frontcourt); the Bulls have Joakim Noah; and the Lakers have Kobe Bryant whose relentness gives a team so much. Why do you think Tyson Chandler is a game-changer? You have to have one outstanding defender on your squad, and, as Dumars noted, if the lesser defenders make a commitment to defense you will have a great defensive team. A few years back, who would have though Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would be part of a great defense. I don’t believe Ginobili and Parker were known as prime defenders. All of the mentioned teams have a bunch of average defenders who excel within the team concept, because they have this presence on the inside that allows them to gamble and motivates them throughout the game and in practices. I truly believe Joe D undervalued that!

  • Feb 8, 201212:39 pm
    by Pistons87

    Reply

    Great article Patrick. It’s something that bothered me for a number of years and he actually began shifting this way with the hiring of Saunders specifically for the offense. He has seriously devalued all around players and good defenders for offense.

    I don’t think he agrees with Ben Wallace and thinks that guys can become excellent defenders on their own. This devalues his own accomplishments as a player because Joe never thought he was a special player or athlete, he believed his defensive success was all about hard work and effort. Not realizing that the mentality and instincts on defense are determined and developed long before a player reaches the NBA.

    The pistons should always have defensive identity and should draft and sign players accordingly (like the Steelers or Ravens). Its our tradition, it works and the fans here appreciate it. I really don’t know if joe has turned back to this philosophy, hiring Frank gives me hope because he is a defensive coach. Ben, Charlie. Will, Daye are not Pistons in my eyes. They are defensively deficient players that are a testament to joes philosophical shift. When all of them are gone I will enjoy the team much more.

  • Feb 8, 20122:19 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    @Pistons87……..I’m like you in that I kind of don’t accept non defensive players as Pistons although for whatever reason, I’ve always accepted Will.

    • Feb 8, 20124:26 pm
      by Jakob Eich

      Reply

      Because Will plays hard and doesnt float through the game like other Pistons

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