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Play-it-safe Lawrence Frank faces risky – and appealing – starting lineup options

 Me at the Detroit Free Press:

Last season, the Pistons ranked 22nd in the NBA in steal percentage — simply an estimate of the percentage of opponents’ possessions that end in steals. With a fairly similar roster, the Pistons ranked 11th and ninth the previous two years.

The difference: coach Lawrence Frank, whose teams have a history of not getting many steals.

When Frank took over the New Jersey Nets midway through the 2003-04 season, they had a steal percentage that would have ended the year second in the league. Instead, New Jersey finished fifth overall.

Though they featured the NBA’s active steals leader, Jason Kidd, the Nets’ steal-percentage ranking dropped each year until they finished last in 2006-07. Frank’s teams have finished in the bottom half of the league since.

That said, Frank deservedly has a reputation as a good defensive coach. It’s just that his game plan is based more on forcing misses, grabbing defensive rebounds and taking charges than stealing balls.

So why make a big deal out of Frank’s defensive preferences, especially when I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence that going for more steals would be better? Because I believe it’s only part of Frank’s tendency to play it safe.

Frank faces no decision more important to both the Pistons’ long-term and short-term prospects than choosing the team’s primary lineup, which, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the starters.

20 Comments

  • Oct 26, 20122:28 pm
    by theCouncilofNine

    Reply

    L Franks stratagy on focusing on defensive rebouding and positional defense is a sound one, and all to often ignored in todays game. Forcing turnovers/steals often requires that you have the speed players to do so. The Pistons dont have the speedy fast players like Miami and Ok.

    So I believe Frank is structuring his defensive game plan on what players he has.    

      

    • Oct 26, 20122:44 pm
      by Mark

      Reply

      Thats not really the point Feldman was making though. His point is that Frank’s tendency to avoid risk on defense only adds to the growing perception that he’s too conservative all around. There’s a saying in gambling that scared money never wins. In basketball, yes you want to be fundamentally sound, but you also have to take some risks too in order to reap rewards. Otherwise its like betting on both red/black at the roullette wheel, and just being content going home even every night. You didn’t win, but hey you didn’t lose either!

      Ironically, .500 seems to be Frank’s goal for the year, lol. Maxiell got him a .500 record last year, so Frank is content with that again, which is why Maxiell is starting over Drummond. 

      Starting Drummond may actually result in a winning record. But it may also result in a losing record. Thats just too risky for Frank.

      After starting his last 2 seasons 0-16 and 4-20, he’s content just being .500. That is a problem for the Pistons, as it appears to me that their coach is just trying to play it safe to keep his own job. He doesn’t have the Pistons best interests in mind, which is developing Drummond for the future. 

       

      • Oct 28, 20122:11 pm
        by T Casey

        Reply

        That’s an interesting take. I’m def no fan of Lawrence Franks. I don’t hate him. His philosophy is sound, but I just don’t think he’s got that fire, intensity, or even fine coaching skills to get it done as a head coach. Anyway, I think you hit the nail on the head. You can’t be afraid to put your best players out there. I think, at some, level you’ve got to trust that your young guys will figure it out themselves and with the help of their team instead of being afraid that thay’ll have some traumatic experience ont he court and begin to wilt. Especially if the guy(s) is already playing like a starter.

  • Oct 26, 20122:34 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    So when the speedy fast long and athletic players that the NBA is full of come at your offense with speedy and fast defense, your team doesn’t know what hit it, because they are used to competing against “play it safe” defense in team practices. 
    Hence, Miami Heat destroy you. Minnesota Timberwolves (Kirilenko and Budinger) destroy you. 
    Hmmm maybe time to change strategies. 

  • Oct 26, 20122:36 pm
    by theCouncilofNine

    Reply

    okay lets trade Daye and Charlie V to the Heat for Lebron and Wade, problem solved.

  • Oct 26, 20122:50 pm
    by Al

    Reply

    It seems that the Pistons are the only team that draft palyers to not play them smh. How can you possibly rebuild and only play your vets?? I really hope he makes adjustments to playing time and lineups because this “bringing them alone slowly” in favor of playing vets that dont offer much outside playoffs will only continue the downward trend of the pistons and their fans! Playing Jonas and Drummond now helps us later. And if they make the playoffs thats where a guy like Prince brings tremedus value in his position and maybe a gritty player down low like Max prove their worth. But to play them now and have them with the bulk of minutes and possibly not even make the playoffs henders growth of otherwise young individuals going forward… AGAIN!

    • Oct 26, 20123:27 pm
      by Mark

      Reply

      Its so annoying because you look around at the other lotto picks, and Drummond has played as good or better than all of them so far. Yet they are all starting and playing big minutes, and for some reason the Pistons goal is to hold Drummond back as long as possible. Its just stupid. No other way to put it.

      • Oct 28, 20121:39 pm
        by T Casey

        Reply

        That strategy has killed me for so long. Let them get out there and flourish. I’m of the mindset that if a player is going to be great, he will be. So why bring him along on the slow track to protect his confidence or ego? lol If a players is that fickle mentally, he’s not meant to be great anyway so why coddle these grown men? If they’re playing well. Play them and they’ll figure it out. If not, they weren’t likely going to be impact players anyway.

  • Oct 26, 20123:29 pm
    by assistman

    Reply

    Start Maxiell and get in the Shabazz Mohammed sweepstakes… everyone else will be looking for bigmen in the early draft.

  • Oct 26, 20124:04 pm
    by jerrific

    Reply

    Interesting article. I’d like to see if it can be applied to other areas of Franks coaching, or if it’s just his teams steals statistics.

    As for the lineup, it’s really only a matter of time before Drummond starts games, if he keeps producing like he did through most of the preseason. Just because he’s starting Maxiell doesn’t mean he’s adverse to playing young players. After Brandon Knight proved he could play starters minutes, with at least some success, he kept the starting job last season. The fact is, Drummond still hasn’t proved anything. He’s had a handful of solid preseason games. Once he proves he can play at a high level consistently he will get the minutes many fans are clamoring for him to receive.

    However, I think a very solid argument can be made for Jerebko starting over Prince. With the way Prince’s game is declining, and the way Jerebko seems to be improving his perimeter skills, he seems to be our best option. Jonas fits in better with our starting lineup than Prince does as well. Where Jonas scores off of garbage points and basket cuts, Prince is yet another isolation player that slows our offense down. He would be much better suited for a sixth man role, in which he would legitimately be our best offensive option and could take advantage of other teams bench players. As it stands now he seems to think he’s our number one option, but, in reality, he’s our third option at best. 

  • Oct 26, 20124:36 pm
    by Otis

    Reply

    I’m confused. I know talking about the Pistons is supposed to be boring because it’s a boring, predictable team, but honestly what are the odds that our starting lineup isn’t the same “meh” one we’ve been watching forever? Tayshaun is going to start. Maxiell is going to start, at least for a while. The team’s going to lose a ton, and maybe at some point Jonas or Drummond will take Max’s place if there’s a God.

  • Oct 26, 20124:51 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    I’ve always said that steals could indicate bad defense as often as good defense because people will often say a bad defensive player is good when they average lots of steals.  Averaging lots of steals means taking lots of chances and no one counts missed steals which result in mismatches, open shots and layups.  In my opinion, great defensive players and teams are more likely to focus on forcing poor percentage shots than the stats of steals and blocks.  

    • Oct 26, 20125:00 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      That’s true, but the value of steals is the fact that they often lead to good offense — transition opportunities and open looks. So more steals/risk-taking for the Pistons, a team that sometimes really struggles to get quality shots in the halfcourt and has players who are pretty good in transition, does make some sense, especially if Drummond plays a lot early and is the rim-protector everyone hopes he is.

    • Oct 26, 201210:13 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Gambling for steals is smart… sometimes. Both too often and too seldom are negatives. And better defensive players will succeed a higher percentage of the time on their gambles for steals. That is why SPG will correlate with strong defense. Obviously, it is not a hard and fast relationship though.

  • Oct 26, 20125:20 pm
    by Al

    Reply

    Its to bad we really didnt have a better look at Drummond during the preseason (even tho thats when we should have, go figure) to see how much of a rim protector difference make we have. 10 minutes here and there showed us flashes… I still believe frank will do what needs to be done… I think..

  • Oct 26, 20125:46 pm
    by Mark

    Reply

    Franks so conservative its as if he spent all summer devising this plan with Maxiell starting and Drummond coming the bench, but did not plan for Drummond emerging as a better player so soon. And now his extreme conservativeness is preventing him from adjusting and being fluid, like he keeps saying. If he were really fluid, he would recognzie Drummond is the better player AND better fit, and just put his plan aside and go with the flow. He’s proving incapable of doing that. And its likely signs of whats to come, if we ever get in the playoffs, where you need a fluid coach that can make adjustments game by game. If we go in the playoffs with Frank he will probably decide a gameplan, and even if we get blown out the first 2 games he will just stay with it until we get swept, before even considering changing it.

  • Oct 26, 20127:18 pm
    by Corey

    Reply

    Frank did make the nba finals coaching the nets, didn’t he? I keep clinging to that, and the fact the team did improve during the season last year, to give me hope he’s a good coach. i just hope he tires of Tayshaun and his buffoonery.  Maxy can start for a while, as long as Dre gets 20 mpg. Tayshaun I’d love to see taken out of the starting lineup, have him blow up, and then told to stay home until they can trade him.
     

    • Oct 27, 201212:28 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      No he didn’t, Byron Scott coached both Nets finals teams. Best Frank did was second round. And Jason Kidd’s not walking through that door here. I don’t think he’s an irredeemably bad coach, but I’ve been unimpressed so far.

      • Oct 27, 20126:28 pm
        by jerrific

        Reply

        whether or not he’s a good coach or not is debatable. But he’s definitely an upgrade over our last couple coaches. 

        • Oct 28, 20121:32 pm
          by T Casey

          Reply

          Yeah, he is. But that isn’t saying much with the coaching we’ve had over the past few years.

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