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Why do people believe the Pistons don’t make decisions based on statistics?

Imagine an NBA team that:

  • Hired a Director of Basketball Operations who’d gotten an MBA from Duke and risen through the league thanks to his focus on analytics
  • Drafted a player in the first round who was rated so highly by a statistical formula, not even the formula’s creator believed the player should have been selected there
  • Received a projection of 49-33 and fifth in its conference from one statistical formula and was expected to finish 46-36 and fourth in the conference by another, independent statistical formula

However, this team fell nine games below .500 early in the season.

The head coach had repeated run-ins with the team’s highest-paid player. The first-round pick showed solid potential, but he struggled after the team vaulted him into the starting lining up because it failed to acquire viable alternatives at his position. The top three players had no chemistry together.

Wouldn’t that seem like a team too reliant on analytics?

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I’m talking about the Pistons.

For a team that supposedly pays minimal attention to analytics, the Pistons sure put together a team that just happened to rate well in preseason statistical prognostications.

ESPN’s SCHOENE projection predicted 49 wins, and a projection based on Wins Produced yielded 46.4 victories. Kevin Pelton’s WARP projections placed Caldwell-Pope No. 4 overall, but Pelton ranked Caldwell-Pope behind Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum in his own subjective rankings.

And the Pistons hired Ken Catanella three years ago as their Director of Basketball Operations – a move The Palace president Dennis Mannion said was not forced on Joe Dumars.

Yet, David Mayo of MLive recently wrote:

This is largely a top-down approach and the Pistons have a couple of old-school guards in the top chairs. I’ve never heard Joe Dumars utter the word “analytics,” much less apply one. Maurice Cheeks, asked about advanced statistics earlier this year, responded with something about 3-point percentage. They govern by eyeballs.

Lawrence Frank was attuned to analytics and who/what succeeded/failed under specific conditions or stimuli. He had a coaching staff that was attuned to it, too. Cheeks’ coaches are, too. Cheeks has admitted his coaches would inundate him with such statistical analysis if he showed interest in it, which he admits he generally doesn’t. Cheeks’ stated approach is that he’ll listen to anything interesting that’s brought to him. If you bring him good information, he’s more likely to listen. That’s the analytics department here.

Perhaps, Mayo knows enough about how the Pistons truly run to make that assessment despite the circumstantial evidence to the contrary I presented above. But, if he does, he doesn’t credibly make his case here.

Dumars has never applied an analytic? NBA teams are especially secretive about their use of advanced stats, and the Pistons are secretive about everything, anyway. I don’t expect Dumars to run around talking about his use of analytics.

He doesn’t need to use the word “analytics” to apply one, anyway.

When Dumars says of Brandon Jennings, “We like his ability to score off the bounce,” that might have been determined through analytics. Maybe Dumars just watched game film without taking any notes, but I’d say it’s more likely he at least complemented that method with Jennings shooting-off-the-dribble statistics. You don’t have to talk in numbers to have numbers influence what you say.

As far as Maurice Cheeks, I’ve never seen him as a beacon of statistical understanding, but I don’t know how bringing up 3-point percentage disparages him – as if 3-point percentage is unworthy of the higher minds of basketball analytics. Perhaps, Cheeks embarrassed himself with his answer on the topic – it wouldn’t be the first time – but there’s nothing inherently wrong with mentioning 3-point percentage. If Cheeks’ answer lacked insight, it needs to be explained more thoroughly than Mayo did.

Regardless, this goes back to the first point. If another member of the staff crunches numbers and determines something about a player and then tells Cheeks in plain English, the analytics are working. There’s a value in translating numbers to digestible form.

On a related note, from the outside, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much the Pistons – from Dumars down – use the information Catanella and other statistically inclined members of the organization give them.

But it sure seems Catanella is the type of statistical analyst Dumars would listen to.

Catanella, who used to work on Wall Street, spoke at the 2009 New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports. He called communicating with co-workers who aren’t necessarily statistically inclined “by far, the most important part of the job.”

Catanella, years before the Pistons hired him, essentially described how he’d make an impact on a team run by Tom Gores and Joe Dumars:

Implementing that in the sports world is even more important, especially if this a new position to the team you’re joining, which it was when I was in New Jersey. … You’re developing a trust level with the organization, with the coaches, with the GM.

And that takes time, but if you’re open to telling them when you don’t know the answer and telling them why, I think they’ll trust you more. As opposed to, ‘I know the answer every time, and this is right, and this is what you have to do.’

Also, choosing your battles wisely. When it’s a really important decision in your mind, it might not be a really important decision to the general manager or to the coach. Be sure to make that clear.

And then, at the end of the day, if you actually are getting those things implemented, then you know you’re being successful. You could be the best statistical analyst in the world, and you know you’re right 100 percent of the time, and you knock the ball out of the park every time you do an analysis. But it only gets implemented one time out of 10, the guy’s who’s a little bit, not less aggressive, but not as accurate, but gets things implemented five times as often is probably the better analyst, in my mind.

It is trending more and more towards an analytical approach, partially due to the changes in ownership that have occurred in our teams. So, a lot of times, the owners of today are coming from backgrounds where they own businesses or they ran hedge-fund companies, and they’re used to seeing in-depth analytical studies on every major decision that their companies make. And they want to see the same type of work at their sports organizations.

I supposed it’s possible, despite his preparation for and focus on having influence, Catanella hasn’t achieved meaningful results in Detroit. But he spoke about that very subject during last year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Here are a few things he said:

I found the most benefit from having divergent backgrounds, especially in the front office, because each person lends a completely valuable different and valuable perspective that, at the end of the day, it probably comes down somewhat of a wisdom-of-the-crowds philosophy, right? And a lot of the times, we’ve seen more literature, that the best decisions are often made from completely different opinions.

In our organization, it’s exactly that way, and I think it’s structured beautifully to have someone that’s focused purely on, perhaps, the background element of a player or someone that’s focused purely on the coaching elements. We have former coaches that are scouts. We have former players that are scouts that get into the personal side of people. The analytical piece. And perhaps somebody that’s more experienced. And at the end of the day, the chief decision maker has much more information to make that final decision.

I think it gets back to the human element, because, if you think about somebody coming into your office and grandstanding and putting on a show and saying, “I’m 100 percent right, there’s no way that you could possibly be right, there’s no way you could possibly have something to add to this discussion” or that it couldn’t get better – doesn’t that make it eminently hard for you to accept the idea and then not only internalize it, but then make it an actionable item? That’s what we’re really trying to do. That’s what analysts are trying to do. They’re trying to make an impact on an organization by transferring their knowledge to somebody that will actually make use of it.

Whether it’s trying to get information to a player who’s about to guard somebody that has to be able to internalize it to the point where he doesn’t even have to think about it. He knows exactly the way he wants to guard that individual so that it’s reflex. To the GM that gets faith in the information and the decision that he’s ultimately making from that discussion, and he actually, potentially, partakes in the ultimate conclusion by adding to the discussion and tinkering with the idea, like you said.

A lot of times, our ideas are not entirely fully formed, even. Sometimes, I come into someone’s office looking for guidance. So, I think that just allows other people to gain greater acceptance and embrace your ideas when you have that type of approach.

That was a very challenging one, because you think about, I had played some professional basketball in Europe and worked in the front office over there. But here, there’s a program and a coach that had credentials, infinite credentials and a prestigious program. And how could I add value walking in as a graduate assistant at that time?

I noticed a few things in terms of their pregame prep, and I was doing some video logging of opponent games. And I automated a process that created what now is commonplace, but over a decade ago was a rarity, is a shot-zone chart that had visuals and colors. At that point, I gave it to the coaching staff and thought nothing of it. And the next thing I knew, at the practice later that day, in preparation for the next day’s game, Coach had blown it up to an infinite size, brought it over to the bench where the guys were sitting. Of course, it was a proud moment for a geek like me, but he showed it to the guys and said, ‘This is what we have to do to stop this team if we play this player this way.’

And at that moment, I realized, if you can just find that niche of something that is missing or that you can add an element that can make them better at their job, they’re going to really appreciate you and trust that you have their best interests at heart, like you were saying Alec. And if you can show that you have a passion for the game too and winning and that you’re a person that has a similar mindset and similar goals, those things also have a powerful impact.

Data really has a hard time with context. I can have as much information as I want, but if I don’t – I’ve explained this to you.

A term we use a lot is, ‘Smell the gym.’ Just get in there and feel the game again and feel what the player is seeing and what his interactions are like with his teammates and his coaches. Those are data points.

We just have to think about data in a different way and try to develop as much information around the core base of information that we use to evaluate a player. It might be on the periphery. It might be weighted heavily. It might be weighted lightly. But we definitely want to consider it.

Doesn’t that sound like the exact type of analytical specialist who can persuade Dumars?

Again, it’s still possible Dumars has ignored Catanella.

But would Catanella really choose to sit on a panel about having influence within an organization if that were the case? It’s possible, but that seems unlikely.

Would Gores compliment Catanella by name before while praising Dumars before the season for meshing with Catanella? Gores, via Dave Pemberton of The Oakland Press:

“Early on I said to Joe, ‘We got to make changes.’ I think the thing Joe has done is he’s adjusted along the way,” Gores said. “Just like in my own business, I have to grow, I have to adjust, it’s all about getting better and not getting stuck in the old way. Joe has shown every sign of a person who can grow.

“He’s done amazing things with his own basketball operations. Ken (Catanella) and George (David) and that group, those are great young men that are smart. They compliment Joe’s talents. We had success in the offseason.

I still can’t say with total certainty the Pistons don’t “govern by eyeballs,” but the circumstantial evidence is piling up that they don’t.

Analytics are not a magic bullet that solves every problem. A team can apply analytics and still make bad decisions. After all, the Pistons are competing with other teams that definitely use analytics.

We can have another discussion about whether the Pistons use analytics effectively. That’s not the question I’m addressing.

Do the Pistons use statistics in their decision-making? I definitely believe the answer is much more likely yes than no.


  • Jan 31, 201411:58 am
    by MIKEYDE248


    I know Dumars has taken a lot of heat over the last several years, and rightfully so, but it’s hard to blame all of the woes of the Pistons on him.  We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors and which decisions he is willingly making himself and which ones are being forced on him, due to ownership or lack of ownership.
    We blame Joe for the last several bad coaches, but who is to say that he didn’t interview or at least ask any of the better ones about the position and was turned down, leaving only the bad ones as his only choices.  Maybe Gores and Phil Jackson convinced (or told) Joe that Mo is the guys they want.
    As for the new signings in Smith & Jennings, both bring more talent to the team than what they had last year, but both are struggling this year, maybe due to bad coaching.
    All I keep hearing from everyone on this site is that they need a winger who can shoot 3 pointers to spread the floor.  Well, Joe knew this too and his first round draft choice was someone that was known for that in college, bypassing the player everyone wished (or thought) he would choose in Burke.  He also signed Gigi to help out in this area too, but as we’ve all seen, neither are working up to this point.

    • Jan 31, 201412:03 pm
      by Birdman84


      Why would good coaches turn down the Detroit job? That falls on Dumars, too, because of his track record of scapegoating coaches and doing a poor job on managing the roster.

  • Jan 31, 201411:59 am
    by Birdman84


    Why do people believe the Pistons don’t make decisions based on statistics?
    That’s easy.
    I’m glad the team has someone with a statistical background. But someone of those statistical projections didn’t do a good job of estimating team fit. Yes, Josh Smith has been worse than expected. But he was overrated to begin with. Smith’s failures on Detroit were predictable. 

    • Jan 31, 20142:30 pm
      by Tim Thielke


      All of those were written after Smith signed in Detroit. Yes, Smith has always been a bad shooter prone to taking too many bad shots. But he has always also been a major plus for his team on both ends of the court as borne out by just about any advanced metric you could lay your hands on.

      Smith is having far and away the worst season of his career both defensively and in terms of shooting.

      Problems with fit were predictable. Smith being this bad and this stupid with his shot selection (remember, way worse than he has ever been before) could not exactly have been foretold by an analytic approach.

      • Jan 31, 20145:30 pm
        by oats


        I read an awful lot of stuff about how making Josh Smith into a SF would be giving him a green light to take bad shots, especially since the team was already lacking in floor spacing. Not only that, but there were a lot of people who pointed out that Smith’s offense was problematic even last year when he posted negative offensive win shares despite playing PF more than not. There have also been a lot of work that said that teams tend to struggle when their lineups don’t feature at least 3 guys with a solid jump shot. There’s also a lot of statistical evidence about how important 3 point shooting is and that the Pistons were seriously lacking in it, and there was a ton of evidence that playing Josh Smith at SF is likely to hurt the team’s 3 point shooting. There was an awful lot of analytical evidence that this wouldn’t work out. I guess this could be an example of looking at the wrong the things statistically, but the argument that it was Dumars falling for a guy that the eye test says is a talented player seems at least as likely.

      • Jan 31, 201410:28 pm
        by Birdman84


        Tim, Josh is certainly worse than he’s ever been. But he’s still the same basic player. The article I linked to at the end of my original post predicted bad things for Josh Smith before the season started, using an analytical approach that was informed by how he’d fit on the team.

      • Feb 2, 20141:37 am
        by kevin s.


        “But he has always also been a major plus for his team on both ends of the court as borne out by just about any advanced metric you could lay your hands on.”
        Josh Smith posted a .053 WP/48 last year. Good for 68th at his position, and essentially tied with Jason Maxiell. He was below average the season prior, part of four year decline which has only continued. Based on his trajectory, and his minutes logged, I would have put him somewhere around .040 WP/48. It was .042 before tonight’s game, in which he sucked. 
        His ws/48 last year was .072, which is well below average. The prior years were a bit rosier, and his career mark was about the league average. Given his mileage and his trajectory, I would have predicted something around .050. It was .042 before tonight’s game. 
        The problems with fit were predictable, but his struggles when he pivots to the PF slot are also predictable, because he sucked at PF last year. 

  • Jan 31, 201412:16 pm
    by bonerici


    why the apologistas for dumars. 
    Let’s think for a second what he has done, he grabbed Ben Gordon and Charlie V at unholy contracts, dumped a first round mistake undo that mistake then grabbed Josh Smith who is a nightmare statistically, yes he fills up the stat sheet but at the expense of making everyone else on the team terrible.  
    I have heard so far that this is Gores’ fault.  Which is ridiculous.  That guy barely knows the difference between a basketball and a watermelon.   I have also heard that this is Karen’s fault because she tied his hands.  And now we hear that it’s all Catanella’s fault?
    Look.  It is very very simple.  Joe Dumars loses his mind when he has money.   Statistics, defense, team need defense, nothing matters he has to spend that money like a sailor on leave in the red light district.
    No advice can stop him from using up all that free agency money as soon as he has it.  You can not stop a Josh Smith jump shot.  And you can not stop Joe Dumars when he has a bit of money losing his mind during free agency.
    Once the money is gone, he becomes a lot more reasonable, he is able to sit back think about which draft pick is the best, weigh his options on trades he might do.   Now sure he might make a mistake but by and large he behaves responsibly.
    But give him some money and he goes blind with the need to spend it all.
    He should not be a GM period.  He would do fine as an adviser but he can’t be controlling the future of this franchise.

    • Jan 31, 201412:43 pm
      by Patrick Hayes


      are you addressing this comment to the post Dan wrote? I don’t really see how it is apologizing for Dumars. It’s just saying that he very likely does use advanced stats as a means of evaluation. It doesn’t say he uses them well, just that it’s likely he’s using them in some capacity contrary to what was written by the MLive beat writer.

      • Jan 31, 20141:07 pm
        by Birdman84


        You can read it as a defense of Dumars in this way: Dumars relies on someone else for statistical analysis (Catanella), some analysis projected a good season, Catanella used the wrong stats, Dumars listened to and believed him since Joe isn’t an analytical expert, therefore it’s Catanella’s fault and not Joe’s.
        I’m not saying that is accurate at all, but it is one way to read it. I tend to think Dumars doesn’t use statistics all that much, despite having an analytics consultant.

        • Jan 31, 20141:26 pm
          by Patrick Hayes


          Yeah, I don’t know if he uses them. I think Dan was just addressing Mayo’s assertion that they basically had no analytics built into their basketball operations to speak of. They clearly do have people doing that work in the organization. Dumars (that I know of) has never really spoke about how much it informs his decisions, but Mayo’s response to that question he received should’ve noted that such a thing exists in the organization and, according to things Catanella and Gores have said at least, seems to have a decent working relationship with Dumars and his scouts.

  • Jan 31, 201412:43 pm
    by CityofKlompton


    Man, the Dumars debate never ceases to rage on. It’s true we cannot blame all of these issues solely on him, but the team’s performance speaks for itself.
    If a lot of these matters causing losing seasons and bad signings are out of Joe’s hand,s why does he continue to stick around? It would be in HIS best interest to find a new opportunity.

  • Jan 31, 201412:46 pm
    by Vic


    I just feel like the proof is in the pudding. 
    Of course its going a little overboard to say that JD fieldhouse doesn’t use analytics at all. But lets look at the Decision Making and the Pudding:
    - Drummond was on the bench last year
    - Josh Smith was pursued and paid
    - Calderon was not
    - Korver and Ariza were not
    - I’m actually cool with Jennings, he has potential… but besides a little extra passing, WYSIWYG
    - It took half the season to make a commitment to playing 2/3 bigs
    - Monroe is still on the bench while Smennings chucks away the 4th quarters.
    Yes KCP was a great drafting. Yes Harrelson was a steal. Datome was a great potential.
    But its the money that talks. And its talking a bunch of stupidity at the Palace.
    If I spend $10 mil on smart analytical decisions, and $60 million on hype and hope… am I really investing in smart decisions, or in hype and hope?
    JD fieldhouse is providing you the answer to that question.
    Meanwhile Paul Millsap is an all star, Kyle Korver is setting 3 point records, Ariza is blazing Josh Smith at the 3 point line, Jose Calderon is over 50% 3pt from the TOP of the key (the exact space you need to space the paint out.)

  • Jan 31, 201412:50 pm
    by Ozzie-Moto


    The absolute worst thing that can happen is that the Pistons finish 8th with a loosing record  (most due to other teams tanking) and JD is then given a new contract based on “Making the playoffs”.   The Guy has over the last 5-6 years been a complete disaster … but so far as i can see Gores has shown NO BALLs to take control of the team, He would rather JD take the heat.  95% of sports writers and fan predicted the problems that the Smith sighing has caused.  JD has NEVER understood how to balance a roster so that there is not endless shortages of talent at one position and to may need to start players at another. The Detroit sports writers have enabled this for years afraid to call out a past piston hero …. His  choice of Coaches has been even worse than players.  Curry we pure cronyism. Cheeks just plain STUPID … like old comfy jeans JD picks someone ‘he is comfortable with ” IE wont show him up like Larry Brown Did”  that again left most of those that know the game scratching there head. Cheeks was known as detached and unable to adjust X and O’s on the fly in games. 

  • Jan 31, 201412:54 pm
    by Ozzie-Moto


    AND let Arron Afflalo go for NOTHING … the 2 guard we have needed the last 2 years 

    • Jan 31, 20141:38 pm
      by Brady Fredericksen


      Afflalo averaged 4 points per game and looked like he was destined to be a defender off the bench. Hindsight’s 20/20, let’s not pull that card.

      • Jan 31, 20141:58 pm
        by Pistons87


        Hindsight is 20/20 but that trade was the result of a larger miscalculation.  That trade occurred most likely because of the Ben Gordon signing.  With both Gordon and Hamilton on the team there was no room for Afflalo, which I recall (that is not 20/20).  In limited minutes Afflalo had proven to be a commodity and Joe traded his chip in before the value could decrease since he would not be seeing the floor the following season.  Bad signing, Bad trade, worst off season in the Joe D era.

        • Jan 31, 20142:03 pm
          by Brady Fredericksen


          Ben Gordon was coming off a season in which he averaged 20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. He was unequivocally better than Afflalo. Hindsight says Gordon was a bad signing because no one saw his career falling off a cliff soon after. He was two years older and significantly better than Afflalo. 

          • Jan 31, 20145:39 pm
            by oats

            He put up 10.6 points per 36 minutes, had a .548 true shooting percentage, and he played quality defense. As a guy about to turn 24, that had him looking primed to step into being a solid 3rd guard. Gordon was being added to a team that had already given a big contract extension to another SG, so it was likely that he was going to be a much more expensive 3rd guard. Yes he was better, but that doesn’t mean it was universally accepted that he was worth that money for this team when Afflalo looked capable of playing reasonably well for a fraction of the cost. There was a pretty vocal contingent of fans and analysts that thought those moves didn’t make sense and that the money would have been better spent elsewhere.

          • Feb 2, 20142:21 am
            by kevin s.

            “Ben Gordon was coming off a season in which he averaged 20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.”
            But he was a horrendous defender, and those rebound and assist numbers are nothing special for a guy playing 37 mpg. I think Gordon was probably the most defensible of the major acquisitions the last five seasons, but giving away Afflalo because he only averaged 4 ppg is evidence Dumars isn’t using metrics to dig deeper. 

  • Jan 31, 20142:10 pm
    by Ozzie-Moto


    listen there are always an exception and there is always a reasons that JD done what he has done but if you look at how many players where better after they left and how many mismatched player he has put on the roster and how many bad coaches he has hired…  IT ADDS UP TO A TERRIBLE JOB over the last 6 years. And year after year a lot of people makes excuses for him….   (and don’t tell me about Moose and Dru being great picks. They both fell in his lap …)

    • Feb 1, 20148:48 pm
      by T Casey


      I still give Joe credit for Drummond and Moose. He’s the one who drafted them when others passed on them. However, some of that is undone by the fact that he then signed such an uncomplimentary group of players and coaches to help develop and build around them with a poor head coach with plenty of question marks surrounding him, a shoot first knucklehead pg, and another premier pf to crowd the floor instead of pacing it.

      • Feb 1, 20148:52 pm
        by T Casey


        *Typo. That was supposed to be spacing not “pacing”

  • Jan 31, 20143:12 pm
    by jay


    I think it’s time for Joe to move on as well but cmon dude that falling in his lap argument is so lame. You still have to make the picks… he gets credit for those picks the same way as Indiana gets credit for taking Paul George at ten. And the same wit Philly for MCW when they did. 
    Another thing I would like to point out people get so caught up in names… this past draft Ben mclemore was selected one pick ahead of kcp.  I bet if it was the other way around you wouldn’t hear anybody griping about our draft pick n certainly not that many complaining about not getting trey burke …n if i not mistaken kcp n ben are playing at about the same level ..ill give a slight edge to kcp cuz of his defense n he has more opportunity. Kcp will evolve into a better basketball playet as will Ben mclemore… they are both struggling now but I just this fan base would be patience with kcp.  Cuz I’m willing to bet. If we had Ben they would…. all because of the name 

    • Jan 31, 20143:25 pm
      by Tim Thielke


      Indy gets credit for Paul George and Philly for MCW because they weren’t hands down the best prospects and super easy choices. Monroe and Drummond are more equivalent to San Antonio taking Duncan, Cleveland taking LeBron, or Seattle taking Durant. You don’t hear them heralded as geniuses for those decisions because any halfwit would have done the same.

      Here’s a simple test to apply: if random idiots commenting on a blog site would have done the same thing, a move doesn’t warrant much praise.

      • Jan 31, 20145:29 pm
        by jay


        I don’t agree with your assessment of Drummond n Monroe being for sure picks like Lebron or Duncan… Drummond so called motor issues were scaring teams away..  Dumars gets credit for Drummond cuz instead of listening to critics n knocks on Drummond like some of the other teams did. He did his research n decided to take chance on him. Credit to Dumars. He actually gets more credit than usual for Drummond in my book cuz he took Drummond n totally disregarded the position of need with Monroe clearly as the center of the future already in the fold…… 
        And to my point of kcp…. my point was really more about the fact people didn’t know kcp… if we would have drafted Ben mclemore , a guy who was projected as high as the number 1 draft pick.. the rumbles of drafting Trey Burke wouldn’t been as loud even til this day…. n with kcp n Ben playing around the same level people would have more patience with Ben mclemore 

        • Jan 31, 20145:56 pm
          by oats


          McLemore is probably playing a little worse right now, but he was still a much better pro prospect coming in. If McLemore was the pick then the Pistons likely still would have made a mistake by not taking Burke, but it would have been more understandable. People are only going to get so worked up about missing on a draft pick when selecting between similar talents, and a lot of experts even had McLemore ranked higher. With KCP they passed on the guy that analysts considered the superior player, and said superior player is probably going to be in the top 2 in rookie of the year voting. That’s actually a bigger mistake despite KCP being better than McLemore because the KCP decision seemed to have been wrong at the time of the draft. I personally am a firm believer in trying to grade picks based off what was known or should have been known at the time of the decision. I think you are right that the reaction would be less pronounced than it is with Pope, and that’s the way it should be.

      • Jan 31, 201410:33 pm
        by Birdman84


        What if even random idiots on a blog knew that Josh Smith was a mistake? That doesn’t speak well of Dumars.

    • Jan 31, 20144:20 pm
      by Tim Thielke


      And if you’re going to bring up Paul George, if anything, that’s a reason reason to take credit away from Dumars on his Monroe pick. I don’t hold that against him because he made the obvious best move with the available information. But if you’re going to rush to sing his praises, consider that Monroe wasn’t actually the best guy on the board after all.

      Also, about Burke vs KCP, what people don’t realize is that when Burke plays fewer than 20 minutes, the Jazz are 1-16. When he plays 20-36 minutes, they are 7-10. When he plays more than 36, they are 8-3. Those are very arbitrary cut off points chosen specifically to build my case, but they’re also shocking numbers. When Burke plays, the Jazz are much, much better than when he doesn’t.

  • […] Sound thinking here on why it’s dangerous to assume that a team — in this case, the Pistons — isn’t making analytically informed […]

  • Feb 1, 201412:00 am
    by Danielle


    How do you get an a avatar on this site?  Why does Dan have a much cooler avatar?  Are you guys in a boy band?  Would you ever be in a boy band?  Who takes the longest to get ready in the morning?

  • Feb 1, 201410:38 pm
    by brgulker


    No one using analytics worth the paper they are printed on would sign Gordon, CV, Jennings, and Smith to the tune of $280 million, draft Brandon Knight, or trade Billups for Iverson. 

    • Feb 1, 201411:41 pm
      by Dan Feldman


      Or draft Andre Drummond. Amirite?

      • Feb 2, 20141:47 am
        by kevin s.


        You are right. Drummond was not a player the analytics would have chosen. Metrics are not perfect predictors, and the eye test is not a perfect failure. The point is not that we are the worst team in the NBA, but that we are consistently bad. Consistent mediocrity is exactly what I would expect from a GM who uses his gut to make personnel decisions. 

  • Feb 1, 201410:42 pm
    by brgulker


    I say that because those are the biggest decisions the franchise has made over the past five years. The difference between KCP and Burke was a coin flip, anyways, to both eyeballs and most stats. 
    Dumars does good things. He has had good success late in the draft. He has done very well with small contracts (Harrellson being the easiest example and most recent). 
    But the really huge, franchises altering decisions… No analytic worth anything supports those decisions. I think we can say confidently (and I have) that Dumars is making those decisions – not any of the people you mentioned here – and he is failing miserably. 

  • Feb 2, 20142:14 am
    by kevin s.


    GMs speak with their (owner’s) wallets. If JoeD let Catanella make that call on KCP, that’s great, but he also spent $22M on players the metrics suggested are below average. 
    I do think JoeD values one statistic, and that is points scored. His contract offers and major personnel decisions correlate very strongly to PPG. Hello, Iverson, Gordon and Jennings. Later, Big Ben, Calderon. Stay right here, Rip. Pack your bags, Chauncey. Joe likes points. 
    As for the 49 win projections, they had little to do with the Pistons’ offseason acquisitions. The Wages of Wins projections were based on some optimistic assumptions. The biggest was that Smith’s value would IMPROVE at the three (to average, thus representing an improvement at the position). 
    Basically, they ported over his production as a PF, assuming he would post the same numbers as an SF this year as an average of his previous three years. The three year average ignored a consistent decline in production and efficiency, which is problematic.
    But the real problem is that wp/48 places a massive, massive premium on rebounding from non-traditional rebounding positions (see: Odom, Lamar). Smith was a mediocre rebounder as a PF, but a stud compared to other SFs. Of course it was unreasonable to expect Smith to maintain his rebounding numbers playing a perimeter position, but the spreadsheet didn’t know that. 

    That’s acceptable from someone who has to crunch the data on every player in the NBA. But anyone getting paid to run a team should make some very simple adjustments to the data. 

    • Feb 2, 20145:00 pm
      by Dan Feldman


      If JoeD let Catanella make that call on KCP, that’s great,

      I would be shocked if Dumars “let” Catanella make any call. The process Catanella described is that Dumars gets input from a variety of sources, including the analytics. Then, Dumars makes a decision based on the totality of available information.

      but he also spent $22M on players the metrics suggested are below average. 

      I’m not arrogant enough to believe the metrics I’m aware of are the best metrics available to an NBA team. I’m also not a big fan of catch-all metrics, unless it’s for a quick comparison. Perhaps, the metrics indicated Jennings and/or Smith would help the Pistons in the areas they most desired an upgrade.

      Most importantly, as Drummond showed, sometimes it’s wise to consider the numbers and then make an informed determination in spite of them. That doesn’t meant the numbers aren’t being considered.

      Hello, Iverson, Gordon and Jennings. Later, Big Ben, Calderon. Stay right here, Rip. Pack your bags, Chauncey. Joe likes points. 

      Catanella was hired in December 2011, so there’s no point bringing up moves before that. Did the Pistons use analytics to a reasonable amount before that? I’d guess not, but that has nothing to do with the case I’m making.

      As for the 49 win projections, they had little to do with the Pistons’ offseason acquisitions. The Wages of Wins projections were based on some optimistic assumptions. The biggest was that Smith’s value would IMPROVE at the three (to average, thus representing an improvement at the position). 
      Basically, they ported over his production as a PF, assuming he would post the same numbers as an SF this year as an average of his previous three years. The three year average ignored a consistent decline in production and efficiency, which is problematic.
      But the real problem is that wp/48 places a massive, massive premium on rebounding from non-traditional rebounding positions (see: Odom, Lamar). Smith was a mediocre rebounder as a PF, but a stud compared to other SFs. Of course it was unreasonable to expect Smith to maintain his rebounding numbers playing a perimeter position, but the spreadsheet didn’t know that. 

      That’s acceptable from someone who has to crunch the data on every player in the NBA. But anyone getting paid to run a team should make some very simple adjustments to the data. 

      First of all, congratulations on being the first member of WoW to acknowledge publicly the HUGE flaws in the formula.

      Perhaps, a smarter spreadsheet would know that. It’s not impossible to create a formula that accounts for rebounding ability of teammates and diminishing returns of rebounding ability, especially for defensive rebounds.

      But that just gets back to my two largest points.

      1. You don’t know what metrics the Pistons are considering. As you said, they should have access to better metrics than we do.

      2. Based on everything we know, it seems much, much, much more likely than not the Pistons are considering the numbers. It’s also extremely probably they’re looking at more than just the numbers. As it should be.

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