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Pistons have NBA’s second-best frontcourt

Bradford Doolittle of ESPN rated every NBA frontcourt, and the Pistons ranked second behind only the Heat.

First, the methodology:

The list is based on 2013-14 projected WARP as forecast by ATH, my system for generating performance predictions based on trait matching, athletic indicators and aging curves. At the bottom line, WARP is a function of both the quality and quantity of a player’s production, so these rankings take into account not just how well ATH thinks a player will play, but how often.

The combined unit WARP for the frontcourts is based on the projections for each team’s probable starters at center, power forward and small forward, plus the projected top reserve for the unit.

And the Pistons’ summary:

2. Detroit Pistons | Combined WARP: 33.0

Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Josh Harrellson

The NBA is constantly in flux, which is something I think we can all agree on. Nevertheless, when we use analysis to point out a trend that is already well underway, there is an element of the sports community that just isn’t going to believe you until the movement is fully manifested. That being the case, many were taken aback by our (well, my) ranking of Houston’s backcourt the other day as the league’s best projected group. And I suspect that many will also doubt this ranking of the Pistons. But I’m telling you, folks, the Detroit front line is flat-out loaded when it comes to pure talent.

That said, there are legit basketball reasons to doubt this lofty forecast. Drummond, Monroe and Smith — individually — can all play, and I’ve gone on record about buying into Drummond as this season’s breakout star. But how does it all fit? There were plenty of questions about how Drummond and Monroe fit last season, but it was unclear how much of that was due to any lack of complementary skills, and how much was due to a lack of faith in the pairing by former coach Lawrence Frank.

Now that Smith is in the mix, the talent level is off the charts. But for this to work at an optimum level, someone is going to have to knock down some jump shots. Among the others, Harrellson isn’t much above replacement level, but simply pops up as the top projection among an uncertain mix of talent that includes Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko,Charlie Villanueva, Tony Mitchell and Gigi Datome.

I’m starting to sense WARP-based projections really like the Pistons.

WARP stands for Wins Above Replacement Player. A team full of replacement players will win 10 games, according to the formula, so the Pistons’ frontcourt having a WARP of 33.0 means the Pistons would win 43 games if the rest of the team plays at a replacement level.

Brandon Jennings alone had a WARP of 7.0 last season. We’ll see when Pelton’s full projections are released, but it seems the Pistons will be pegged for about 50 wins

As I relayed earlier today, two of the biggest blind spots for this system are coaching and player fit, two areas where the Pistons face real question marks. So, this projection might skew positive, but even if the Pistons fall a little short of their WARP baseline, that’s still better than most pundits believe they’ll do.

Also, it’s interesting Josh Harrellson rated as the fourth-best frontcourt player. I’m not sure the season will play out that way, but among the listed group, no single player stands out.


  • Sep 28, 20134:05 pm
    by dvs33


    * Frontcourt

  • Sep 28, 20135:22 pm
    by Javell


    I thought we were number 1

    • Sep 29, 20138:53 am
      by tarsier


      Nope. Pretty hard to beat out James, Bosh, and Anderson.

      • Sep 29, 20132:20 pm
        by Max


        As in the worst rebounding team in the league last season.  Not arguing that Miami isn’t better but it’s sure not a traditional way of being better. 

        • Sep 29, 20136:33 pm
          by tarsier


          I agree with you. But being unorthodox is not a bad thing if you are that dominant.

          • Sep 30, 20131:51 am
            by Max

            I agree but also think the point I made is Miami’s Achilles heal because I can see scenarios where a less talented team could just bludgeon the Heat inside like the Pacers and Bulls almost did last season.  Therefore, it’s ironic to me that the Heat have the best frontline even though the frontline contains their biggest weakness.   

          • Oct 1, 20137:55 pm
            by Huddy

            @max Miami’s biggest weakness could be rebounding, but they are so much better all around it outshines that.  Your Pacers/Bulls example…key word is almost.  On multiple occasions the Heat continue to show that the lack of rebounding can be overcome and their opponents continue to proves that no, a less talented team does not bludgeon the Heat because of rebounding.
            Its not Ironic at all that the Heat’s front line is top in the league…it contains the best player in basketball and two of the best players on the team that has won the last two championships.  In theory I actually see how when you list the members of the Pacer’s front court or Bulls they seem comparable to the Heat (mostly because besides Bosh and James the third Heat member is always really just  a role player) but in practice the past two seasons those front courts didn’t make it happen.  There are scenarios where the Heat could be Bludgeoned, but when ranking future possibilities those scenarios are less likely because of recent history.

  • Sep 28, 20139:56 pm
    by mike


    Thanks for posting. Its funny how a lot of advanced-stat reliant fans seemed to hate the Smith/Jennings additions at the time because they didn’t jive with their mathematical calculations telling them what is a good player (lol), but in actuality the real advanced stat guru’s like Doolittle rate them high because of advanced stats. I guess those fans got their math wrong lol

    • Sep 29, 20139:06 am
      by tarsier


      Or you got your fans wrong.

      People are wary of Josh Smith because he has the potential to do really good things for a team but also to really mess things up by playing outside of his skill set.

      So if a team was able to put him into an ideal situation to max out his  skill set’s usage while minimizing the need for him to do things he really shouldn’t be doing, they should be thrilled to have him. I’m still happy to have him, but thrilled would be stretching it because that scenario most definitely doesn’t fit the Pistons.

      Heck, just work on your memory, When Smith was signed, nobody was complaining that he was a bad player based on advanced stats or anything else. We were worried about fit and still are. And this ranking clearly states that it doesn’t take fit into consideration.

      Also, work on your reading comprehension. Since when do advanced stats pump Jennings up? I’d say I rate Jennings lower than most Pistons fans (although that wasn’t the case until he signed with Detroit, I just didn’t boost my opinion of his game when he did; FYI people, a player signing with your team doesn’t make him suddenly better). And I still think advanced stats underrate him. Did you know that by PER, Jennings was the 26th best PG in the league last season? 

    • Sep 29, 201310:30 am
      by Vic


      Right isn’t that funny… Wages of Wins put them at potentially 2nd in the East overall

      • Sep 30, 20139:15 am
        by tarsier


        It might be funny if it were true. But allow me to ask you to point out a few comments where people were claiming that Smith was a bad signing based on advanced stats (once again, the argument was based on fit). It’s easy to discredit another’s argument when you inaccurately reference it.

  • Sep 29, 20138:53 am
    by Derek AKA Redeemed


    Flat out loaded!


  • Sep 29, 20139:07 am
    by tarsier


    So how does WARP work? My understanding of it (that you would more or less add up all the WARPs + 10 to get a win projection) makes it sound far more flawed than most advanced stats. Because it is a lot easier to go from 20 wins to 25 wins than to go from 50 wins to 55 wins.

    • Sep 29, 201311:59 am
      by Keith


      None of the things you’ve said are wrong. It’s just in understanding how to get there that explains the difference. A 20 win team doesn’t have a lot of talent. Get enough guys with even 1 WARP (a relatively poor number individually), and you can add up a 20 win team. Because they are all so bad, it’s not difficult to replace one or two of them with 3-5 WAR players (solid but not great by any means) and jump up to 25 wins.

      On the other side, if you have a 50 win team, it means you have either a bunch of quality players already, or a couple superstars. At that point it’s harder to get more wins because you would either need to upgrade a solid player/all star with a superstar (pretty darn hard to do), or you have to significantly upgrade the lower end of your roster. That or get significant improvement from already established players. Upgrading the lower end of your roster is difficult for two reasons. One, low minute or usage players have to be a lot better in their minutes to produce higher WARP figures. Two, teams with strong starting casts/star players are often capped out and have limited opportunities for improvement.

      WARP doesn’t really care about how hard it is for teams to get better, they just project how the team IS. Getting better being easier or harder has everything to do with each team’s individual cap, market, and management. It may be harder for Charlotte to improve from 20 to 25 wins than it was for OKC to improve from 50 to 55 wins. That’s because Charlotte is terribly run and no one wants to play there, while OKC previously hit on 4 great picks in 3 years. But again, that’s not what WARP is measuring.

      • Sep 29, 20137:26 pm
        by tarsier


        Allow me to explain what I mean by “harder”. If you replace Ariza with Carmelo on the Rockets after they signed him, they get a lot of games better. If you replace Ariza with Carmelo on the Lakers right before the Rockets signed him, they only get a few games better. It’s the exact same player replacement. But the difference in talent required to make a couple win jump when you are winning well under .500 is much smaller than when you are winning well over .500.

        It’s not because the player you are potentially replacing is better. It’s because the team is already winning most of its games so there is very little remaining “low-hanging fruit” as it were.

        Based on WARP, if you have enough good players, you could win 90 out of 82 games. Surely you can understand how that is a problem with the model. 

  • Sep 30, 20139:39 am
    by Ryank


    I don’t agree with this because Monroe is a one way players.  Until Monroe plays some defense, he cannot be considered more than an average player…he’s extremely weak at 50% of the game.

    Drummond would be considered one way also, but he did prove he can rise above everyone and throw it down last year.  He doesn’t have much polish…depending on his superior size and athletic ability, not fundamentals or shooting ability.  He can score and seems to be a good passer, so he has a two way game. 

    • Sep 30, 201310:16 am
      by oats


      Your assessment of Monroe seems way off to me. He is not extremely weak at 50% of the game. You are not taking into account the value of rebounding. There are two ways to look at it. Either defensive rebounding is an important part of defense, and if you look at it that way then he is not nearly as weak of a defender as you are implying because he is quite good on the boards and also gets some steals to help make up for his other deficiencies. Some people prefer to look at it as rebounding is a separate thing unto itself, and if you look at it that way then defense is less than 50% of the game. I personally find that method a little difficult because you are then left with questions about how much of the game is rebounding, not to mention that some players are really good on the offensive or defensive boards but not at both. Either way of looking at it should lead to the conclusion that he is not extremely weak at half of the game, and therefore he is much better than an average player.

      • Sep 30, 20131:00 pm
        by tarsier


        Well-stated, oats.

        But I’d like to add an additional argument to the “defense is half of the game” crowd. Defense is not as important as offense. There is a reason players who are mediocre on O and very good on D consistently get paid less than guys who are very good on O and mediocre on D.

        Yes, defense is technically half of the game. But the variance of skill on defense is much less than that on offense. The best guys on O can score on anyone. The best guys on D can’t stop just anyone. The worst guys on O actually contribute almost nothing more on that end than if their teams were playing 4-on-5. The worst guys on D, much as they may be referred to as turnstiles, actually make a huge difference when compared to playing 4-on-5.

        Part of that is simply because you can majorly reduce the effectiveness of a floor-spacing shooter just by having a guy stand near him and try to follow him around. An offensive 0, on the other hand is much more limited in how he can help. He can set screens, which are of value, but unless well-executed, they’re easy to nullify. And he can hang out under the basket which forces someone to be near him. But there should almost always be a defender near the basket anyway.

        Put another way, if Ben Wallace were playing 1-on-1 with Al Jefferson, who would you expect to score more? Or Carmelo Anthony vs Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? Or Kyrie Irving vs Rajon Rondo?

        On the individual level, great offense beats great defense more often than not. 

      • Sep 30, 20133:04 pm
        by Ryank


        I’m not considering rebounding when I say he’s a weak defender.  He’s a weak defender because his feet are glued to the court and he puts in a half ass effort on that end of the floor.  
        I don’t consider offensive rebounding part of a players offensive ability either.  Drummond would be a good offensive player if that were included…Drummond’s ability in the pick and roll offense is why I say he has offensive abilities…not his offensive rebounding.

        Everyone knows he’s a terrible defender…even Joe D has made comments about it.   A couple guys posting that they disagree doesn’t carry much weight.

        • Sep 30, 20134:43 pm
          by Jon


          well then, as mentioned above, defense can’t be considered half the game if rebounding isn’t factored into it. so he is very good at more than half the game.

          • Sep 30, 20135:16 pm
            by tarsier


  • Sep 30, 20134:37 pm
    by JOB


    we went from one top 100 player to 4. whatever analytics run… they’ll show us as better than last season

    • Sep 30, 20135:09 pm
      by tarsier


      Ummm, one would certainly hope so.

  • Sep 30, 20135:13 pm
    by Einstein


    On talent alone, its hard to disagree with the WARP assessment. I think Cheeks and Dumars understand that a Monroe/Smith/Drummond front line is very talented but makes for a crowded front court. I hope that they also understand that taking Drummond out early as the first sub allows him to catch his breath (he’s 280+ lbs despite what anyone says) b/c he will fatigue sooner than the other starters. This will allow Detroit to bring in a bench player to space the floor at SF as Smith moves to PF and Monroe to C, and also allows them to bring Drummond back in when Will Bynum is inserted into the game causing the defenses to pick and choose how they defend the pick and roll and their patented lob. If they trap Will, he can pass to a wing player who can then find either Drummond or the PF open. If they don’t trap, Will can penetrate with his defending PG on his back and cause the hedging big man to either defend him or Drummond. If the opponent brings help defense, a floor spacing PF, SF, and/or SG Piston will be left open for a 3-pointer. I’d recommend Chauncey and Charlie V on the floor with Bynum and Drummond and its the coaches decision for the SF. If this style of play is used, it will minimize the limited perimeter shooting Detroit will have when Monroe/Smith/Drummond are on the floor at the same time.

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