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Archive → April, 2012

Tayshaun Prince and the corner three

When the Pistons re-signed Tayshaun Prince in the offseason, Lawrence Frank was reportedly one of the biggest proponents in bringing Prince back. It didn’t make total sense to me at the time. Not that Prince is a bad or ineffective player, per se, it’s just that Frank was presented as an advanced stats friendly guy, I’ve yet to come across an advanced stat that pegs Prince as having some sort of secret production that doesn’t show up in his rather pedestrian counting stats and, on top of that, Prince is aging and also publicly called his previous coach a buffoon. I’m not surprised that Frank, as most coaches do, wanted a veteran player at small forward, I was just a little surprised he seemed to lobby so hard for it.

But, thanks to SI’s Zack Lowe, there is now a statistical reason to explain why Frank may have been so high on Prince. First, last week, Lowe explained that Frank is one of a few coaches who understands the importance of both making and defending the corner three. Then, yesterday, Lowe posted this:

Via NBA.com’s stats database, here’s a list of all players who have taken at least half their three-point attempts from the corners this season, with some slight fudging to include a couple of Rockets who miss the 50 percent barrier by a hair. (Note: We’re only looking at guys who have taken at least 50 threes this season.)

Prince is eighth on that list. Now, I’m not saying that Frank necessarily knew Prince could hit corner threes when he advocated his re-signing, but as one of the more intelligent players in the league, perhaps Frank was convinced that Prince would be receptive to stat-based philosophies, like why the corner three is actually a pretty high percentage shot, for example.

Did the Pistons tank last night?

In my review of the Pistons’ 3932-point loss to the Hawks last night, I accused Detroit of tanking.

There’s dissent to that opinion. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Three games in three nights? Giving some guys the night off? No, that’s not tanking #Pistons

Even without playing tonight, guys are playing three games in 5 nights, especially the older players…not tanking #Pistons

@Stareagle disagree because you wouldn’t win in Atl anyways. Trying it against Cleveland would’ve been more apt, esp since closer records

Defining tanking

I define tanking as: a team intentionally attempting to lower its chances of on-court success during the current season in order to achieve other gains.

Gregg Popovich resting his stars? Not tanking. He thinks that will make his team more effective, overall, throughout the season.

A playoff team purposefully losing to set up a favorable first-round playoff matchup? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

A playoff team with its seed already determined resting its starters? Not tanking. The team is trying to increase its on-court success in the more-significant playoffs.

Applying to the Pistons against the Hawks

As defined above, motive is a big part of tanking, so I can’t prove that the Pistons tanked last night.

Lawrence Frank knows his goals for the game, and perhaps a few others do, too. I have no firsthand knowledge.

But sitting a couple of the team’s better players – Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace – during a back-to-back-to-back in order to maximize total wins does not seem like a move Frank would make. He sat Wallace in the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back earlier in the season, but Frank hasn’t made similar moves often this year. If Frank were really concerned about resting Prince, maybe Frank could have sat Prince sooner during a 39-point win over Cleveland.

And even if Prince needed rest last night and not Tuesday, why start Austin Daye – who’s played terribly this season – rather than Damien Wilkins or Jonas Jerebko.

As far as it being an unwinnable game? No way. In three matchups entering Wednesday, the Pistons had played the Hawks to overtime at home, won at home and lost by five in Atlanta. Just a few days ago, Goodwill wrote that the Pistons were on their way to challenging Chicago (47-15). But they can’t beat Atlanta (37-25)?

Here’s my guess – and it’s nothing more than that: Frank thought he could implement the coaching part of tanking (using suboptimal lineups) without the players exercising their part of tanking (not playing hard).

It didn’t work.

The players quit, and that’s why Frank was so terse after the game. Frank stuck his toes in the tanking pool against a playoff opponent rather than jumping in against another tanking team, Cleveland, the previous night. I don’t think he has the stomach for it, and I think the Pistons’ regular rotation players – plus Vernon Macklin – will play bigger minutes against the Timberwolves tonight.

The Pistons didn’t tank before last night, and I don’t expect them to tank (beyond some very minor steps, like playing Macklin) the rest of the season. But, barring any new evidence, I’m convinced they tanked last night.

Update: In response who still don’t think the Pistons tanked , here’s the one question to ask: If the Pistons were in a playoff race, would Frank have coached the same way last night? If the answer is no, they tanked.

Vernon Macklin makes rotational debut for apparently tanking Pistons

Vernon Macklin was scheduled to join the rotation of an NBA team for the first time tonight.

He’ll have to wait.

Macklin played plenty – 23 minutes, more than double his previous season high – but it would be too generous to call the Pistons an NBA team. To the delight of some and chagrin of others, they’ve taken up tanking.

Lawrence Frank can call it “experimenting” or whatever he wants, but the Pistons never looked like they were attempting to change the course of the Hawks’ 116-84 victory. I suspect Frank will deny it on some level, but clear as day, Detroit tanked tonight.

  • If the Pistons weren’t tanking, Macklin – and Daye and Villanueva – wouldn’t have played so much.
  • If the Pistons weren’t tanking, Walker Russell wouldn’t have scored a career-high 15 points.
  • If the Pistons weren’t tanking, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace wouldn’t have had the night off.

But the Pistons are tanking. We can discuss whether it’s more satisfying to watch Prince help Detroit run up a 50-point lead over Cleveland or to watch Daye brick jumpers until Atlanta’s lead reached 41. There are pros and cons to both.

But, tonight, tanking had one huge negative side effect for fans: It robbed us of our chance to evaluate Macklin in meaningful minutes.

The Pistons trailed by 12 when Macklin entered the game in the first quarter and, minutes later, by 23. Macklin’s play improved as the game progressed, but it’s impossible to tell whether that was due to him getting more comfortable or the Hawks relaxing as their lead became insurmountable. In essence, Macklin was limited to garbage time once again.

His numbers – eight points (3-of-7 shooting), nine rebounds, two assists, a block, a turnover and three fouls – indicate at least decent play, but I think they overrate his actual impact. Most of his his offensive rebounds came on a single possession in the fourth quarter and were each followed by a missed tip. His assists came on a long two-point jumper by Villanueva and Damien Wilkins’ rushed jumper to end the first half. He ran the floor well and was quick to move on defense, though I think that partially stemmed from not always being in the right spot and trying to correct it. I’m not saying he played poorly, but there were no signs he deserves to make the rotation.

Really, I don’t know much more about Macklin’s game than I did coming in. Unfortunately, with the Pistons’ new tanking strategy, that’s just the cost of doing business.

Most Valuable Player

Tracy McGrady. Nearly every Hawk played well, but McGrady mixed flash and effectiveness perfectly in the blowout. The former Piston finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Least Valuable Player

Austin Daye. Daye – inserted into the lineup for apparent tanking purposes (or in Lawrence Frank’s parlance, “experimenting”) – shot 1-of-11 and, other than grab a few uncontested rebounds, didn’t do much else in 30 minutes.

X-Factor

Greg Monroe (17 points and five rebounds) legitimately played well. It’s really pretty incredible that his teammates could play so poorly that Detroit lost by 32.

Vernon Macklin replaces Ben Wallace on active roster, Tayshaun Prince out

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks
  • Date: April 18, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Detroit

Records

  • Pistons: 23-38
  • Hawks: 36-25

Probable starters

Pistons:

Hawks:

  • Jeff Teague
  • Kirk Hinrich
  • Joe Johnson
  • Josh Smith
  • Jason Collins

Las Vegas projection

Spread: Pistons +9

Over/under: 190.5

Score: Hawks win, 99.75-90.75

Read about the Hawks

Hoopinion

Vernon Macklin activated

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

No surprise. Vernon Macklin active and Ben Wallace inactive for tonight’s #Pistons game at ATL

Jonas Jerebko has been asking to play small forward

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Jerebko, who played at the three spot before arriving in the NBA in 2009, has been asking Frank to use him there as opposed to going against bigger players every night. He feels like he’s quick enough on the perimeter defensively and that it would give the Pistons an advantage on the glass. Jerebko also likes to remind folks he played every perimeter position during his international days, which he did quite well, according to evaluators.

"I think I’m better suited at the three," Jerebko said. "I’ve asked for it, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter. It’s what I’ve done my whole career, where I feel comfortable."

Jonas Jerebko and I agree. To restate my position: Jerebko’s best long-term position is small forward, but on this particular team that lacks quality big men, power forward might be his best position.

Isiah Thomas deserves credit for boosting academics on Florida International team

Isiah Thomas, when he played for the Pistons, was equal parts charming and vicious in way that made him extremely well-liked in and around Detroit. Since he retired, liking him hasn’t been quite so easy. I won’t rehash all his mistakes and perceived mistakes here, but to anyone who’s paid any attention to the NBA in the last several years, they’ve been difficult to avoid. Making fun of Isiah has become ritual for many.

The latest round of Isiah bashing came when Florida International fired him, and to be fair, his 26-65 record and clear desire to find another NBA job makes some of it warranted. But as detailed in a fantastic column by ESPN’s Ric Bucher – that’s well worth reading in its entirety – there’s more than meets the eye:

"He could’ve brought in a lot of people to talk to us about basketball," said senior guard DeJuan Wright, who is on track to raise that record to 12-2 this spring. "But he was bringing in professors and counselors to talk to us about life and how to be successful off the court. He did so much for us off the court. We grew as men."

Teams in this year’s NCAA Division I men’s tournament were on track to graduate 67 percent of their players, according to a report by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF. The percentage of graduating African-American players: 60 percent. The percentage of African-American players graduating from all Division I basketball programs is only slightly better: 62.49. To be clear, the study does not pertain to the current student-athletes but to the success rate of the schools in this year’s tournament based on four entering classes over a period of six years. So the comparison is not perfect. But, considering that all 14 Panthers who finished under Thomas’ watch were minorities, and all but one was African-American, Thomas had FIU defying expectations in at least one respect.

I attended a Sunday brunch with professors from the University of California-Berkeley, Panthers players and several other teachers and educators, including Thomas’ sister, who has been a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system for more than 25 years. The conversation was not about the exhibition or the lockout or the Panthers’ upcoming prospects. It was about educating minorities; specifically, finding a way to overcome the many inherent hurdles to do so.

On Monday during that same visit, I visited Thomas’ painted cinder-block office as he sat behind his desk for five hours attending classes, via Skype, being taught by the same brunch-attending Cal-Berkeley professors now back in the Bay Area. Thomas has a degree in criminal justice from Indiana University, but his appetite for learning never has been sated. He didn’t merely tell his players to make the most of their educational opportunities, he showed them how.

As Bucher says in the column, perhaps Florida International was right to fire Thomas. The school’s administrators are certainly privy to more information than we are. But it’s at least comforting, as a Pistons fan and an Isiah fan, to read an article that highlight’s Thomas’ successes rather than his failures.

Brandon Knight was fastest college player last season, according to Pistons scouts

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Pistons scouts thought Knight was college basketball’s fastest player a season ago.

Brandon Knight’s speed is certainly one of his best attributes, but at first blush and without being able to immediately name a faster play, he didn’t strike me as quick enough to be the fastest player in the country. Patrick suggested Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker were slightly faster.

For what it’s worth – there’s a difference between in-game speed and a pure running test – Knight tied for the fourth-fastest sprint time in DraftExpress’ database for 2011 players.

You might have heard of one of the players ahead of Knight: Vernon Macklin.

Lawrence Frank: Vernon Macklin was most committed Piston in only practice since return from D-League

David Mayo of MLive on Vernon Macklin:

He rejoined the Pistons early last week and has participated in one practice, last Tuesday in Orlando.

“You could make a fairly convincing argument he was the best player at practice, as far as his what he put into it, and his commitment to it,” Frank recalled.

I was more excited before I read past the first comma in Lawrence Frank’s quote. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite saying Macklin was the best player at practice. But the most committed? Hey, I’ll take it, and I’m really looking forward to Macklin getting meaningful minutes tonight.

Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams: Jeremy Lamb

Discuss Draft Dreams on Twitter using the #DraftDreams hashtag

Info

  • Measurables: 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, sophomore guard from UConn
  • Key Stats: 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals per game, 48 percent shooting, 34 percent 3-point shooting
  • Projected: Lottery
  • Hickory High Similarity Score

Why I like this guy

Big, defensive minded two guards who can shoot and don’t need to dominate the ball to be effective are a commodity in the NBA these days — think Arron Afflalo or Eric Gordon. I don’t know that he’ll get to their level, but Lamb is in their mold. He’s a lanky 6-foot-5, athletic, has range on his jumper and he’s a potential defensive stopper. In other words, he’s a prototypical new breed NBA shooting guard.

Pros for the Pistons

I don’t mean this as an affront to Brandon Knight necessarily, but Rodney Stuckey is still the best point guard on the Pistons roster. I’m a believer in Knight’s work ethic, I think he has upside, but the Pistons aren’t in a position to draft for need. Their need is exceptional players. If the Pistons end up picking near the bottom of the lottery, there’s a chance that Lamb could be a better option than reaching for a limited big man. Knight has yet to establish himself as even an average starting PG production-wise, Stuckey is at the very least average (and perhaps more dynamic in Lawrence Frank’s offense) as a full-time PG and Lamb could be the best available when the Pistons pick, depending on who goes where before. So, if a such a far-fetched scenario plays out, would the Pistons take a guard in the lottery?

A Lamb-Stuckey backcourt would be intriguing simply because of the size they’d have and matchup problems they’d create. As an effective player off the ball, Lamb could help both Stuckey and Greg Monroe by either stretching the floor with his spot-up shooting or by making sharp cuts to the basket and using his strong finishing ability. And as a team that is supposedly recommitting to a defensive philosophy under Lawrence Frank, a Stuckey-Lamb combo has the potential to be lockdown defensively if both guys commit to that end of the floor.

I hope the Pistons aren’t in a scenario where the best player available when they pick happens to be a guard, but it’s still a scenario fans should think about just in case it happens. And if it did happen, Lamb is the type of player I wouldn’t mind the Pistons adding, even if it did require some other roster shuffling.

Cons for the Pistons

There are definite problems to the scenario above. Namely, what to do with Knight? Opinions on him and his actual ceiling vary more widely than any young player I can remember recently. He has definite positive qualities that he brings, along with some weaknesses — despite technically being the ‘shooting’ guard, Stuckey still handles the ball and initiates the offense more than Knight and turns it over far less.

The question really boils down to whether Lamb at shooting guard is an upgrade over Knight at point guard? I don’t have a good answer to that question. If the Pistons believe Lamb is better and take him, that will be two straight lotteries where they’ve ignored a glaring need up front and drafted a player at a position where they have some roster depth. I’m not sure Detroit is willing to do that.

As for Lamb’s weaknesses, the one thing I’d be concerned about is the fact that his 3-point shooting declined from a good 37 percent mark last year to a more pedestrian 34 percent this year.

I think Lamb’s defensive capability makes him a fit with the Pistons and what they’re trying to build. Whether they’d consider him depends on how much faith they have that Knight-Stuckey is the long-term solution as the starting backcourt.

What others are saying

Chad Ford:

The Good: Lamb is a super lanky wing player who can score from just about anywhere on the floor. He’s mastered the art of the midrange game and is equally adept at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

The Bad: He’s struggled with the role of alpha dog in the absence of Kemba Walker. Occasionally he shows the ability to take over games, but he can also just disappear. He too could use a few more pounds on that frame.

The Upside: Lamb’s draft stock got a huge bump in the NCAA tournament last year. He’s struggled — a little — to live up to the hype his freshman performance created, but he’s still a very good NBA prospect.

DraftExpress:

Defensively, Lamb has the physical tools to excel, as he has good lateral quickness and instincts and is able to utilize his tremendous wingspan to cause havoc on the ball and in the passing lanes. His energy on this end looked very inconsistent this season, however, not displaying the competitiveness, fundamentals and attention to detail that will likely be demanded from him at the NBA level, particularly off the ball.

NBADraft.net:

Lamb’s ability to make plays off the dribble, his late blooming status, physical and athletic tools, potential on D, and versatility has made him a hot name in scouting circles and among NBA execs…There will be a lot of eyes on him this upcoming season to see how he performs in a completely different role and with all-everything G Kemba Walker off to the NBA … Despite not coming home with gold, his play in the U19 World Championships in Riga, Latvia was extremely encouraging.

UConn By The Numbers:

Unlike last season where UConn’s most prolific scorer (Kemba Walker) started possessions with the ball in his hand, Jeremy Lamb requires a functioning offense to get his points. Where Walker could create his own shots and shots for others, Lamb gets his shots in the flow of the offense. I think this, as much as anything, has contributed to the awkward offensive interaction between Lamb, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the team. Lamb should be the team’s go-to-guy, but struggles to create for himself and needs a competent team offense to score.

What is the best thing Jeremy Lamb does for his team?

Matt McDonough (follow him on Twitter) is the UConn basketball beat writer for The Daily Campus, UConn’s student newspaper:

Jeremy Lamb will be in the NBA for a long time to come. Although he would most likely be best suited as a role player on a contender, Lamb is a valuable scoring option to have on any team. His incredible length and work ethic makes his potential very attractive. After two years at UConn, he was more than ready to make the jump to the NBA. As a freshman, he progressed into arguably the second-best player on the team behind Kemba Walker. At times during the Huskies’ postseason run to a Big East and NCAA national championship, Walker deferred to Lamb on offense, even during clutch moments. Lamb is a cool character who shows little emotion and keeps his game-face on and off the court. As exhibited at times during his sophomore campaign, Lamb is not a vocal leader who will take charge of a locker room. Home-schooled during his youth, Lamb is a quiet, reserved player that lets his game speak for itself.

Previously

By the way, the Pistons possibly did something no NBA team ever has last night

OK, I know I was a little perplexed by the lack of playing time for a couple of guys in last night’s blowout of Cleveland, but this is pretty cool, via Dan Devine at Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie:

It’s not just that the Cavaliers were awful, though; the Pistons turned in a performance for the ages, seen through one lens. Basketball-Reference.com’s game logs, which go back to the 1985-86 season, show no record of a single regular-season or postseason game where a team shot 60 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better from 3-point land and 90 percent or better from the free-throw line. The Pistons did all of those things on Tuesday night.

That definitely changes my tune some. Historically good performances are always welcome. Best not to risk Austin Daye‘s 30 percent shooting messing that up.