All posts by Jeremy Beren

The Desolation of Dumars

This is Part 2 of a two-part exploration of the Detroit Pistons’ upper-management woes and how said woes have impacted the team’s on-court performance. Part 1 can be found here: http://www.morethanafan.net/2014/02/17/blood-gores/

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“Everybody’s in play. There are no sacred cows here.”–Joe Dumars, June 2008

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Joe Dumars has been the general manager of the Detroit Pistons since 2000. Since he took over, the Pistons have posted seven 50+ win seasons, captured six Central Division titles, participated in six conference finals series (winning two), and obtained one NBA championship. All told, a decent run of results.

But his time presiding over the Pistons is about to end.

The bumbling Pistons have slumped to 25-40–four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They likely will miss the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Since the controversial decision to fire first-year coach Maurice Cheeks on February 9, Detroit has lost 11 of 15. Their 108.3 defensive efficiency rating since February 10 is fifth-worst in the East, and their 102.4 offensive rating since that date is fifth-worst in the entire NBA.

So, it would appear as if Cheeks wasn’t the problem.

I discussed Tom Gores’ role in the disaster that is the Pistons in Part 1, and his refusal to sack Dumars has enabled the Hall of Fame point guard to run the franchise into the ground. Now, let’s study exactly how Dumars has managed to do this.

After the Pistons were eliminated from the playoffs in 2008, an angered Dumars famously declared that no one was safe on his team. That proved true when, two games into the 2008-09 season, he dealt 2004 Finals MVP and fan favorite Chauncey Billups to Denver for former scoring champion and future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. The trade was controversial at the time, and still is–Billups flourished over his two-and-a-half seasons in Denver, while the trade wrecked the Pistons. Iverson was not a difference-maker, and fell out of favor when he expressed displeasure at being asked to come off the bench. He left Detroit after one season.

After the season, Dumars went shopping. He signed shooting guard Ben Gordon and power forward Charlie Villanueva to twin five-year deals. Dumars took the bait on the former Connecticut Huskies after they put up career seasons–Gordon averaged 20.7 points with a .455/.410/.864 line over a career-high 76 starts with the Bulls in 2008-09, while Villanueva averaged 16 and seven boards for the Bucks.

Safe to say those signings didn’t work out.

ben_gordon_charlie_villanuevaGordon failed to average more than 13.8 points per game over his three seasons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and Charlotte waived him less than two weeks ago. Villanueva is (amazingly) still with the Pistons, and he hasn’t averaged double-digits in points since 2010-11. He’s averaging 4.4 this year and surely will not be brought back.

This past offseason, Dumars again doled out the dollar signs in an attempt to bring the Pistons back from the dead. He signed forward Josh Smith to a four-year deal and poached point guard Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee.

How have those acquisitions worked out?

Well, Smith’s shooting .418/.249/.552 and looks out of place playing the three. But, hey, Jennings is averaging nearly eight assists per game! (He’s shooting under 38%, but wooo assists!)

Ok, so what if Dumars can’t find talent on the open market? That’s what we have the draft for!

While it’s true that Dumars struck gold in selecting Andre Drummond ninth overall in the 2012 draft, and struck…silver, I guess, in selecting Greg Monroe seventh overall in 2010, he hasn’t done a great job building through the draft. Put aside the fact that he took Darko Milicic second overall in 2003. Dumars has selected such great talents as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (looking like a bust), Khris Middleton (traded for Jennings and playing decent ball in Milwaukee), Brandon Knight (also traded for Jennings and playing pretty well), Kyle Singler (what did you really expect), Austin Daye (in the first round–lol, just lol), Jonas Jerebko (who, in all austin-daye_crop_exactfairness, was promising at one point), Chase Budinger (a decent three-point shooter–something this team has needed), and Rodney Stuckey (he was supposed to be the future in the backcourt). He’s also traded Amir Johnson (who went off for 20 and nine boards in the Raptors’ victory over the Pistons on Wednesday) and Arron Afflalo (who is enjoying a very good season in Orlando).

Dumars’ contract expires at the end of this season. With a playoff berth slipping further and further away from the team, there should be no reason for Tom Gores to entertain the possibility of bringing Dumars back. And then there’s the possibility that Dumars may not even want to come back. Matt Moore of CBS Sports relates the following from a Bleacher Report article:

While reports dismiss the possibility of the Detroit Pistons supplanting their current GM, Joe Dumars, with his former championship backcourt mate, Isiah Thomas, sources do not expect Dumars to stay in the position much longer—either he’ll step down or owner Tom Gores will go in a new direction. Dumars, one source said, is weary of the criticism he has received in trying to rebuild the Pistons after constructing a franchise that went to the Eastern Conference Finals six years in a row (2003-2008). The criticism, the source said, fails to account for a dismal Detroit economy and restraints placed on Dumars while the franchise was up for sale and ultimately changed ownership hands. Dumars could not be reached for comment.

Funny–ironic, even–how Detroit’s well-known economic issues are cited when the Pistons have actually spent a lot of money trying to keep up in a city where the Tigers draw three million to Comerica Park annually and the Red Wings play most nights to sold-out crowds. Oh, and people in the state of Michigan fancy the Lions, too.

The Pistons and their fans desperately want the team to be entertaining again. They want the team TO WIN again. But that’s not going to happen unless Tom Gores does something about it, as I wrote in Part 1. New blood must be placed in the Pistons’ front office. Joe Dumars built a championship team, but his magic touch withered away several years ago. It’s time for him, the team and the fans to move on.

Blood and Gores

This is Part 1 of a two-part exploration of the Detroit Pistons’ upper-management woes and how said woes have impacted the team’s on-court performance.

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“I grew up here, I am glad to be back, and I am very excited about all the possibilities looking forward.”–Tom Gores, April 8, 2011

Tom Gores

Detroit Pistons fans were understandably excited when Platinum Equity founder and Michigan native Tom Gores purchased the team nearly three years ago. For many, it signaled a new beginning for a team that lost 150 of 246 games in the three seasons since an Eastern Conference finals loss to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics in 2008. After a few dismal seasons, stability would be restored, and Detroit basketball would thrive once again.

Gores began by retaining embattled general manager Joe Dumars and ordering the sacking of coach John Kuester. He oversaw the hiring of former Nets boss Lawrence Frank–a coaching appointment which lasted all of two seasons and 94 losses. Maurice Cheeks was hired last summer to lead a theoretically-improved Pistons team back to the playoffs. But last week, after a 126-109 home win over the Denver Nuggets (the Pistons’ fourth straight home win), Cheeks was dismissed and replaced by assistant John Loyer. Pistons players took to Twitter to express their surprise; apparently, no one informed them that Cheeks had been fired.

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The results weren’t there for Cheeks this season, but the team’s construction is such that most coaches would be hard-pressed to do much better than the 22-30 mark the Pistons possess. The 2013-14 Pistons simply are not built to be a powerhouse; they are designed to be a 40-win club that should be able to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, even with a roster that has severe limitations.

All things considered, the coach was not the biggest problem with the Detroit Pistons.

Neither is the man who is commissioned to build a team that is just good enough.

The problem stems from the man who gave the order to fire Cheeks last week.

Tom Gores reportedly grew quite impatient with the Pistons and their inability to gel–as if he firmly believed that the roster Dumars was permitted to construct was built to nab a top-five seed in the East. Ergo, Cheeks was axed and assistant coach John Loyer was promoted…after 50 games. Loyer marks the third coach in three seasons for the Pistons under Gores’ ownership, which is sad in and of itself, but the fact that Cheeks was given only 50 games out of a contract that stipulated at least 164 games is appalling. What’s worse, the Pistons aren’t in the Eastern Conference basement; they’re in ninth, less than a full game behind eighth-place Charlotte. They’re not very good, but they can still achieve Gores’ goal of making the playoffs.

The on-court malaise continues to alienate the fans and further fuels Detroit’s reputation as one of the NBA’s worst-run franchises. Attendance at the Palace of Auburn Hills remains low; the team ranks 27th in the category (they ranked 28th in Gores’ first two seasons as owner). Year in and year out, this is one of the league’s most unstable teams, and its supposed homegrown “savior” has enabled the team’s general manager to further propound the idea that the franchise is one of the league’s premier laughingstocks. Gores was proactive in getting Cheeks dismissed, which displays some promise in terms of initializing change with regards to personnel, but the Pistons are still regarded as an also-ran, not even close to approaching Gores’ stated goal of winning a fourth championship.

imagesGores would be best served by finally employing a fresh face as general manager. Stability is badly needed, and it seems impossible to acquire with Dumars in office (Gores won’t be selling the team). However, there’s no guarantee that Gores will decide to go in another direction.  A playoff appearance is still a possibility for the Pistons, and the euphoria generated from a return to the playoffs may convince Gores that Dumars is still the right man for the job, which would be much to the chagrin of Pistons fans and the amusement of NBA fans.

Tom Gores’ first three years as owner of the Detroit Pistons have not brought about sweeping change, or a return to the franchise’s winning ways. Instead, there’s the same frustration and incompetence that was present at the tail end of the Davidson era. There is still time to repair the franchise, and a playoff appearance may help improve the team’s standing in the state of Michigan and their standing league-wide, but in the event that the Pistons are not playing basketball after April 16, Gores must clean house in his front office, and he must prove that he has his pulse on the organization by recruiting the best available front-office and bench personnel. Otherwise, he will show once and for all that he is not really committed to the future of Detroit Pistons basketball.

Andre Drummond And The Word "Snub"

The 2014 NBA All-Star Game reserves were announced on Thursday, thus completing (for now) the squads that will be playing in New Orleans next month. Unlike the All-Star starters, who are voted in by the fans, the All-Star reserves are selected by the coaches of the league’s 30 teams, and for me, they’re much more fascinating to study than the starters, who are voted in because of how popular they are. The seven Eastern Conference reserves are Miami’s Chris Bosh, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Chicago’s Joakim Noah, and Washington’s John Wall.

One conspicuous absence from this list is that of Detroit center Andre Drummond. The second-year big man has taken a step forward in his quest to become one of the league’s very best centers, but the coaches did not feel that his growth was such to merit inclusion on this year’s Eastern Conference All-Star team. Or did they?

Drummond’s absence from the team has led fans and analysts alike to question the decision and declare Drummond a “snub.” But what exactly is a snub? And could Drummond have feasibly usurped any of the four frontcourt stars named as reserves?

Here is a comparison of the four reserves plus Drummond, organized alphabetically:

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Let’s start with Bosh. The nine-time All-Star has developed into a legitimate perimeter threat in Miami; he’s averaging 16.9 points on 54/37/81 shooting (per 36 minutes, he averages 19.5 points per game). Bosh has been heavily criticized since he joined the Heat, being labeled as “soft” and a “third wheel” as his rebounding totals have dropped (6.7 per contest this season), but he’s rounding into a complete threat on the offensive end; he has the highest OWS (offensive win shares) among these five players.

Next up, Roy Hibbert. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is having another fine campaign, averaging 12 points and eight boards per game to go along with three blocks per game (only New Orleans’ Anthony Davis is averaging more blocks per game). The former Georgetown Hoya and now two-time All-Star is an elite defensive player, and very few are capable of making the kind of impact he can defensively. He was a lock for this team.

Moving on to Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap. The 6’8” Millsap is a first-time All-Star in this, his eighth season, and he’s stepped his game up for a Hawks team missing Al Horford. He’s averaging a team-high and career-high 17.8 points on 47% shooting, and he’s added a consistent three-point shot to his repertoire as well; he’s shooting 37% from behind the arc. Millsap has also contributed more than eight rebounds and three assists per game. The Hawks have needed everything he’s provided, and Millsap had been a solid player long enough to warrant an eventual All-Star nod.

Finally, Joakim Noah. This is Noah’s second All-Star selection, and it certainly is deserved; he’s averaging 11.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. He’s continued to grow as a distributor on a Chicago team that’s been without Derrick Rose for nearly two full seasons, while maintaining his great defense and rebounding. Noah has been the Bulls’ MVP to this point, and he’s the reason they’re hanging around despite the Rose injury and the Luol Deng trade.

Andre Drummond is at least seven years younger than all of these players. Had he been chosen over any of the four deserving inline_745286098905candidates who were chosen, he would have been the first sophomore big man named to an All-Star team since Yao Ming in 2004. Read: it doesn’t happen often. Drummond has definitely put in an All-Star-worthy first half; his 12.7 rebounds per game are third in the NBA, and he’s the only player out of the five shooting 60%. The Pistons’ team performance may have hurt him (the other four players are all on current playoff teams), but more likely, it’s that Drummond is only a second-year player. Seeing as he’s only 20 and in position to be a dominant center for years to come, there will be plenty of chances for him to make an All-Star team or six. The fact is, while Drummond has been very, very good this season, the four players who were selected have been very, very good themselves, and also have more experience. If you still want to consider the former UCONN Husky a “snub” after all that, consider this: if Drummond were, say, 30, then it would be more of an issue. But he’s not 30. He’s not even 25. The kid’s only 20, and we’re already discussing him in this manner. There will be plenty of accolades in Andre Drummond’s future if he keeps this up.

The Pistons And The Trade Deadline

It’s about that time.

The NBA’s trade deadline is less than a month away, and the rumor mill is beginning to churn. Title contenders are looking to add that one piece or two needed to strengthen their team in anticipation of a lengthy playoff run, while teams long departed from the race for the playoffs are trying to trade their better players and give it another go next year. Then there are teams right in the middle–they could be buyers or sellers, as their playoff status is uncertain.

One such team is the Detroit Pistons. Ordinarily, a team on pace for a 50-loss season (like Detroit) wouldn’t be facing a trade imagesdeadline conundrum. But the Pistons spent a lot of money over the summer, as general manager Joe Dumars effectively announced that it was time for playoff basketball at the Palace of Auburn Hills again. Also, the Pistons aren’t a team hovering just above the cellar; they’re only one game out of a playoff spot in the moribund Eastern Conference. Over the past few weeks, rumors regarding the Pistons have gone from looking to trade Josh Smith to actively trying to acquire Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. And there’s always the question of “what will they do with Greg Monroe?”

For one, the Pistons will not be trading Josh Smith. Yes, Smith is a flawed player and has exhibited wild inconsistency this season. No, he was not the right fit at the time and he still isn’t. But he’s in the first year of an expensive contract and he is still viewed as a key piece of the Detroit Pistons. For better or worse, he’s staying.

The Celtics may indeed look to trade Rajon Rondo as they continue their massive rebuild, but the Pistons already have a point guard. Brandon Jennings is having an acceptable season; he has his shortcomings (like his shooting and defense), but what ails the Pistons doesn’t fall solely on his shoulders. Besides, Rondo is still working his way back from an ACL tear, and the last thing Detroit needs is to try to ride a point guard shaking off the rust as the games get bigger and bigger. Rondo is one of the NBA’s best when healthy, but it may not be the best idea to part with a ton of value prior to or on the February 20 deadline for a guy who is, as mentioned before, still trying to round into form. Plus, there’s the potential headache of where to move Jennings. But of course, Joe Dumars has done wild things before.

Monroe has seemingly settled into a second-tier frontcourt piece, as he’s averaging at least 14 points and eight rebounds for the third straight year. While he still has some work to do defensively, and his overall growth has been stunted somewhat by the arrival 628x471of Josh Smith, the former Georgetown Hoya is a fine power forward who has a good amount of value. Adding to the intrigue of the Monroe situation is his contract: it runs out after this season, and he could be in line for a max deal. If the Pistons don’t want to deal Smith, then they’ll have to figure out a way to afford Monroe, and if they can’t do that, Monroe will be traded. The Wizards are reportedly interested.

A Monroe trade would be most beneficial to Smoove, who would be able to move back to his natural position at the four.

One last name to monitor over the next three weeks is Rodney Stuckey. The seven-year veteran is in the final year of his contract, and he’s having a good season as Detroit’s bench sparkplug; he’s averaging 14.3 points per game while shooting a career-best 45% and he has the third-highest offensive rating on the team. Stuckey could fetch a draft pick or two from a team needing a moderately efficient shooter who can play 25 or so minutes and not be a detriment to his club.

The Pistons should be active this deadline, and the thinking here is that they’ll look to add by subtracting. As the deadline nears, we may get a clearer picture of who goes where, and that will lend itself to more analysis.

Should The Pistons Have Drafted Trey Burke?

The Detroit Pistons (16-22) host the Utah Jazz (13-27) on Friday night, in a game that features several intriguing storylines. For one, the Pistons are looking for their third consecutive win, and only their fourth over the last 12. Detroit will also be seeking back-to-back home wins for the first time this season. As for the Jazz, they’ll be looking to get back in the win column after a rally in San Antonio fell short on Wednesday.

But perhaps most importantly, this game marks the return of Jazz point guard Trey Burke to the state where he is still revered for his two years of service at the University of Michigan. Burke’s return has led many Pistons fans to engage in some historical revisionism. Their thoughts center on this premise: should the Pistons have drafted Burke over shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and as a follow up, would the team be any better with Burke instead of Brandon Jennings?

In the 2013 draft, Joe Dumars selected Caldwell-Pope with the eighth overall pick; one pick later, Burke was selected by Minnesota and promptly traded to Utah. Burke missed the first 12 games of the season due to injury; the Jazz were terrible in his absence, winning only once. But since his return, Utah’s form has improved; they’re 12-16 over his 28 games. Averaging decent numbers for a rookie (13.6 points /5.6 assists/3.3 rebounds on 39/35/91 shooting), Trey Burke has proven immensely valuable to a young Jazz squad trying to find its way in the wilderness of the brutal Western Conference.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, on the other hand, has been a bit of a disappointment. Coach Cheeks has been granting him more consistent minutes (he’s averaging 10 points in 29 minutes per game this month), but overall, the Georgia product is averaging 7.9 points per game while shooting 40/34/72 on a Pistons team that really could use a shooter of his capabilities.

Now, let’s say the Pistons selected “hometown hero” Burke (who is from Columbus, Ohio). Having drafted Burke, Detroit does not trade for Brandon Jennings. Would the Pistons be any better than seventh in the East? No. Here’s why.

The Josh Smith signing signaled that the Pistons were going all in on a playoff spot in 2013-14. Drafting Burke-a young, inexperienced point guard–to replace Brandon Knight–a young, inexperienced point guard–would be counter-productive. Jennings was an attractive option for Detroit not only because of his potential, but because he’s been to the playoffs before. He’s proven that he can play the point for a top-eight team.

Unlike the Pistons, the Jazz did not and do not have designs on making the 2014 playoffs. Burke was coveted by Utah as another young player who would learn and grow with the young core already in place on that roster (Derrick Favors/Gordon Hayward/Enes Kanter). While it would have been a romantic story, throwing Burke into the fire in Detroit and expecting him to produce immediately on a team gunning for the playoffs would not have been conducive to him or his development.

The fact of the matter is that the Pistons are probably still a playoff team despite this ugly 3-8 stretch, and the current roster, despite its inherent flaws, was constructed to make the playoffs this season. Fans should try not to let their love of a former Michigan player get in the way of the big picture.

The Fight For Second…In The Central

Detroit_PistonsThe Detroit Pistons return to action on Friday night after a five-day break. In their last outing (Monday night), they went to Cleveland and thumped the hapless Cavaliers 115-92. The win moved Detroit to 14-16 and solidified their second-place standing in the Central Division. Despite Chicago’s victory over the Nets on Wednesday, the Pistons are still second, but by only one-and-a-half games over the Bulls and two-and-a-half over the Cavs. Those two teams represent the biggest challenges to potential playoff seeding, and perhaps even a playoff berth for the Pistons. In this post, we’ll take a look at the upcoming slate of games for all three teams, and try to determine who has the edge moving into 2014.

But first, you may be wondering why the Pacers and Bucks won’t be participating in this post. The answer is pretty straightforward: no one’s catching the Pacers, and no one will sink to the Bucks’ level. The Pacers are one of the three best teams in the NBA, and they may win as many as 65 games if they’re healthy and/or motivated enough. No other roster in the Central is constructed well enough, or is simply talented enough, to win more than 45 games, give or take a couple games. As for Milwaukee…they’re not good. They’re not healthy, they’re not scoring, and they’re not winning. And barring an unlikely surge, things are probably going to stay that way for Wisconsin’s NBA franchise.

Now, on to analyzing the fight for second place. Below is a table containing the schedules for Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland from now through the end of January:

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Let’s start with Chicago. On paper (well, technically, on Microsoft Word), the Bulls have the toughest schedule of the other three contending Central teams. They play nine current playoff teams over their next 18 games, and they play seven Western Conference teams. Despite the initially bleak outlook, there are positives for them; five of the playoff teams the Bulls face are Eastern Conference teams, and they only have to leave Chicago twice in order to play said teams. The end of the month could be difficult; over a span of five days, they play the explosive Clippers, the stingy Bobcats (in Charlotte), the underrated Timberwolves, and the reigning Western Conference champion Spurs in San Antonio. The Bulls have lost 11 of their last 14 in San Antonio dating back to 1999.

Next up, Cleveland. The Cavs get to play the Pacers twice and the Blazers once, and they have a five-game West Coast swing in the middle of January. Not too promising. However, respite comes in the fact that their three opponents after the January 5 game in Indy have almost as many wins (24) as the Pacers themselves (23). Further relief could be found in the form of a five-game home stand from January 20-January 28. The Mavericks and Suns are included in that five-game stretch, though, and both teams have winning records in Cleveland over their last seven. In fact, the Suns have won their last three meetings with the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena, with all three wins coming by a margin of at least eight points.

Finally, we have the Pistons. Detroit plays the fewest games of the three from December 26 through the end of January, and they have the weakest strength of schedule to boot. The Pistons have only two games against teams with a winning record over this span; a matchup with the Clippers on January 20, and a date with the Hawks in Atlanta nine days later. In the meantime, they play the Magic and 76ers three times; those two squads are a combined 16-40. Another game of note: the January 17 fixture with the 8-23 Jazz. Former Michigan Wolverine Trey Burke is slated to make his return to the state of Michigan that night as Utah’s starting point guard.

The Pistons have an opportunity over the next month to gain a bit of separation from their Central challengers, and this opportunity is one that they should take full advantage of. Whether or not they will is another story, and it’s one that will have to be played out on the hardwood.

The Battle Of The Brandons

On July 31, the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks agreed on a trade. The Bucks sent point guard Brandon Jennings to Detroit in a sign-and-trade, while the Pistons sent point guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton, and center Slava Kravtsov to Milwaukee. Jennings was reportedly unhappy in Milwaukee, and the Pistons had deemed Knight’s second season insufficient. The thinking was a change of scenery would do both players some good, and it would serve two franchises moving in opposite directions; the Pistons trending upward, the Bucks trending downward.

So here we are, nearly five months later. The Pistons are fifth in the Eastern Conference at 13-14, while the 5-20 Bucks have the NBA’s worst record. On the surface, it appears as if the Pistons won the trade, as Jennings is fifth in the NBA in assists per game and Knight is playing the point on the league’s worst team. But a deeper analysis proves that the two point guards are much closer in production than one may realize. May the Battle of the Brandons begin.

Let’s take a look at Jennings first. The fifth-year point guard is averaging 17.5 points/8.0 assists/3.6 rebounds per game, and shooting 39/37/77 (field goal percentage/three-point percentage/free-throw percentage). This season, the Pistons have risen 120513_brandon-jennings_600from ninth to third in the East in offensive rating, and from ninth to fourth in pace (possessions per 48 minutes); both jumps are in no small part due to the Compton, California native’s contributions. Jennings’ standard numbers are nearly in line with his career averages; his 17.5 points per game average is 0.5 points higher than his career average, his 3.6 boards per game average is o.2 rebounds higher than his average over the first four seasons of his career. His .394 shooting percentage is exactly the same as his career average, and he’s shooting slightly better from three (36.7% compared to his career average of 35.5%) while shooting worse from the charity stripe (76.9% vs. 80.9% career average). The biggest difference comes via Jennings’ assists; his average of eight dimes per game is a full two assists higher than his career average.

Looking at Jennings’ per-36 stats, they’re slightly worse than his per-game numbers. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 16.9/7.7/3.4, down from his career averages of 17.6/6.1/3.5. Per-36 statistics are important to keep in mind as we move on to discussing the ex-Piston Brandon Knight.

Knight is averaging 12.6 points/3.6 assists/3.5 rebounds per game, while shooting .374/.339/.839. The Bucks are the owners of Brandon+Knight+Milwaukee+Bucks+v+New+York+lmMASFDj4tNlthe NBA’s worst offensive rating at 94.2, and are 21st in defensive rating (104.2). The net rating derived from this is -10.0, an Eastern Conference-worst. Milwaukee has much bigger problems than Knight, who has experienced a 30+ point drop off from his career average in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. However, the former Kentucky Wildcat is connecting on his free-throw attempts at a clip eight percent higher than his career average. This comes in handy later.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Knight’s per-36 stats read like this: 16.6 points/4.8 assists/4.6 rebounds, up from the 15.0/4.5/3.8 line he averaged in his two seasons in Detroit. The points-per-36 average posted by Knight is quite close to the mark Jennings has averaged to this point in the season, and Knight actually has the edge on Jennings in terms of rebounding. But Jennings’ assist average still trumps Knight’s, although that average is partially a function of Jennings having better offensive weapons at his disposal than Knight.

Jennings also has an advantage over Knight in two key advanced shooting stats: effective field goal percentage (or eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TS%). Effective field goal percentage takes into consideration the fact that three-pointers are worth more than two-pointers, and this is where Jennings’ decent three-point shooting helps him; his eFG% is six percent higher than his “normal” shooting percentage. Effective field goal percentage giveth…and it taketh away; while Knight’s eFG% is five percent higher than his regular field-goal percentage, his unimpressive three-point shooting means his eFG% is low. As in, 42.8% low.

True shooting percentage takes free throws into account along with three-pointers. Knight’s superior free-throw shooting (84%) helps him here; his TS% is 48.7%, which is close to average. However, Jennings has him beat here, too; his TS% is 49.8%. The difference is small, but again, slightly in favor of the former Milwaukee point guard, rather than the current one.

Defense is something neither player excels at (both men own a defensive rating higher than 105), but the edge goes to Jennings here, mostly on the strength of his 1.6 thefts per contest. Brandon Knight, on the other hand, is averaging 0.7 steals per game. Obviously, steals aren’t the be-all end-all on the defensive side of the ball, but acquiring them requires being aware of the surroundings and being opportunistic.

Finally, a quick word about turnovers. Both players have seen their turnovers per game average rise to career-high levels so far this season; Knight is averaging 3.1 giveaways per contest, while Jennings is averaging 3.4 turnovers per night. On paper, a slight advantage in holding on to the ball for Mr. Knight. But looking at the two players’ turnover ratios, we see that Jennings has been better at keeping the ball than Knight. Jennings’ turnover rate is around 12, which means for every 100 possessions, he turns the ball over 12 times. Knight’s turnover ratio is about 16 turnovers per 100 possessions. What’s more, Jennings is in the top 10 in the league in touches per game, making his turnover rate a bit more impressive.

In conclusion, Brandon Jennings and the Pistons win the Battle of the Brandons over Brandon Knight and the Bucks, but not by as sizable margin as one may think. While it’s easy to see that Jennings has been pretty good for a Detroit team itching to win now, Knight has been deceptively solid for a terrible Milwaukee team whose mindset has turned to winning in the future. The trade has proven to be, in some ways, a win for both sides, and those trades are the best trades.

The Impact of Andre Drummond

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers

It’s no secret that Andre Drummond has emerged as one of the NBA’s best young centers this season. The former Connecticut Husky, who was playing college ball only two years ago, has arguably been the brightest spot on the 10-13 Pistons. He’s recorded several outstanding performances over the season’s first quarter, the most impressive of which was a 31 point/19 rebound/six steal performance against Philadelphia on December 1, and there’s even been talk of an All-Star bid for the 20 year-old. Drummond’s growth hasn’t been lost on the league’s best player; LeBron James was quoted in the Detroit News as saying, “he’s much more comfortable than even the beginning of last year and that’s good for him.”

Last season, Drummond flashed some offensive potential; over 60 games (10 starts), he scored at least 15 points on eight occasions, and reached at least 20 points twice. In 23 games in 2013-14, Drummond has scored at least 15 points…on eight occasions, and he’s scored 20 or more twice…in the month of December. The increased offensive output is not only a product of an increase in playing time (12 minutes more than last year, on average), but it’s also the result of utter dominance in the paint. One note that I found interesting is Drummond’s increased productivity has come despite his usage rate dropping (only by 1%, but it’s a drop nonetheless). Overall, he’s averaging 13.1 points per game after averaging 7.9 in his rookie season, and he leads the league in field-goal percentage, shooting an outstanding 62.4% on the season. Below are two charts indicating why Drummond’s shooting percentage is so high:

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On the left is Drummond’s “hot-spot” chart, and as you can see, he’s shooting extremely well (close to 63%) less than eight feet from the basket. A whopping 97% of his shot attempts are taken in the restricted area, as the shot distribution chart on the right indicates. Now, take a look at his charts from 2012-13:

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Nearly the same; a large percentage of shots taken close to the basket (93% last year, 97% this year), and a high conversion rate on those shots. Drummond’s proclivity for inside scoring is the biggest reason why the Pistons lead the NBA in points in the paint, and there’s no reason to think that will change. He hasn’t needed to develop a shot from longer than about eight feet because of his effectiveness from within eight feet. Scoring plays like this are typical of Drummond:

Drummond Hoop and Harm

Drummond sets the pick, then scampers back to his spot near the basket as Josh Smith fires a perfect pass in to the second-year center. Drummond receives the ball, is able to draw contact nearly immediately, and lays the ball in with the right hand and heads to the free-throw line.

While Drummond has rounded into a major threat in the paint, what he’s known most for is his defense. One-fourth of the way into the season, Drummond has a DWS (defensive win share) of 1.2–his defense has added a little more than one win to the Pistons. That defensive win share mark ranks among the top 15 in the league. When he is challenged at the rim (nearly eight times per game, 20th-most in the league), opponents shoot less than 47% percent. Drummond ranks in the top 20 in steals (1.7) and blocks (1.4), and he’s fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, hauling in 12.7 per game (he’s one of four players averaging at least 12 boards per night).

More on Drummond’s rebounding. He is the NBA’s leading offensive rebounder, averaging 5.1 per game, and grabbing more than 17% of available offensive rebounds. He’s collecting nearly 29% of all available defensive rebounds, and overall, his 22.5% rebounding percentage leads a team that ranks sixth in the Association in that category. Drummond’s percentage of rebounds per chance–which measures the number of rebounds a player recovers in relation to the number of chances–is 71.7%, fifth among players averaging at least 30 minutes per game. Perhaps the most impressive feature of Drummond’s rebounding is the number of contested rebounds he gathers in. A contested rebound is defined as a rebound that is collected when an opponent is within 3.5 feet. Drummond pulls in an average of 5.7 such rebounds per game; this number leads the NBA. His contested rebound percentage is 45%, good for seventh in the NBA, but his overall haul on the glass is higher than everyone else in the top 12 of the contested rebound percentage category.

Here are a couple plays that highlight Drummond’s ability defensively, as well as his jaw-dropping athleticism:

Drummond Rejects West

Andre Drummond makes ridiculous defensive play against the Warriors

Video example #1 begins with Drummond and Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert jostling for position under the Indiana basket. C.J. Watson is able to kick it over to David West, who drives…only to be rejected emphatically by Drummond, who was able to explode past the All-Star Hibbert. Not only did Drummond get the block, but he was able to retrieve the ball and get it to Brandon Jennings in an attempt to kick off a transition opportunity.

In the second example, well, this is just crazy. David Lee tries to sneak one past the 6’10” Drummond and his 7’6” wingspan…and fails. Drummond snatches it out of the air with an elegant combination of authority and grace, and as Sean Highkin points out in the post, there’s no clear way to classify this. A stupendous play by a great athlete.

Andre Drummond’s game has undergone a sizable transformation to this point in the season; Drummond has not only established himself as one of the game’s best on the glass, but he has become a monster in the paint for a team that needs a presence there. The second-year center is immensely important to the Detroit Pistons on both ends of the floor, and his continued excellence is paramount to his team’s chances of sustained success.

 

The Pistons And The Eastern Conference

The Detroit Pistons have started the month of December with three wins in four days. They’ve played well; led by the sterling play of Andre Drummond (21.7 points/18.7 rebounds/3.3 steals/2 blocks per game this month), the Pistons beat up on the 76ers, upset the Heat in Miami, and pulled away from the lowly Bucks in the second half. The first three-game win streak of the year for the Pistons has pushed their record to an unimpressive 9-10…and sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Wait. How’s that?

Yes, the Pistons, despite their overall mediocrity through 19 games, are sixth in the East–and only a half-game behind the third-place Atlanta Hawks. The horror, the horror.

Let’s take a look at the standings in the East, what to expect from teams close to the Pistons in the standings moving forward, and whether the Pistons can capitalize on being a part of the weaker conference.

Atop the Eastern Conference, we have the Indiana Pacers and the two-time defending champs from Miami. Led by the excellent Paul George, the Pacers are 17-2 and look like Miami’s only challenger in the East. As for the Heat, they’ve been taking it easy this season (yes, 14-5 qualifies as “coasting” for them), as they’re already preparing for a run at a three-peat.

Now it gets fun. Here’s teams three through 15:

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The Hawks and Wizards are the only two teams even AT .500 (for comparison, 12 of the Western Conference’s 15 teams are at or above .500). Chicago is the only team in possession of a positive point differential, and no team has more wins than losses away from their home court. The Celtics are 8-12…AND THEY LEAD THEIR DIVISION. THEY’VE WON 40% OF THEIR GAMES. The 76ers are allowing 111 points per game and are ONE GAME OUT (THEY LEAD THE EAST IN POINTS PER GAME). The Cavs, Nets, and Knicks were all expected to be playoff teams, they’ve all been terrible and wracked by strife…and none of them are more than three games out. At this pace, a 35-47 team will make the playoffs in this conference. One last thing: the Timberwolves, who are 13th in the West with a 9-10 record, would place sixth in the East–occupying the spot currently held by the Pistons.

Now, what can we expect the rest of the way from the abomination that is the Eastern Conference? A few teams (particularly the two New York teams) probably won’t be this terrible the rest of the way; with health, the two New York teams are playoff teams. Teams like the Celtics, Sixers, and Magic are rebuilding, and will most likely regress as the season moves along. A note about the Atlantic-leading Celtics: they’ve played the third-weakest schedule in the NBA to this point (h/t @TreyAdell). The eighth-place Bobcats haven’t played terribly (defensively, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA), but they’ve played the league’s second-weakest schedule.

All of this is good news for the Pistons, who are probably a 40-44 win squad. The team’s identity has been forged through dominating inside; Detroit leads the Association in points in the paint. Despite ranking second-to-last in three-point percentage (30.2%) and dead last in free-throw percentage (67.1%), the Pistons have managed to play…okay. They’ll need to take advantage of the fact that only four Western Conference teams are on the December slate, but if they continue to rule the paint, they’ll put themselves in good position to win a few games and solidify their position in the East.

What's Wrong With Josh Smith?

The Detroit Pistons broke the bank over the summer to ink Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith to a four-year deal worth nearly $60 million. Expectations were immediately heightened for the Pistons, and Smith was expected to be a major piece in Detroit’s quest to Josh Smith, Tayshaun Princereturn to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Fast-forward to November 30. The Pistons are 6-9 after a thrashing at the hands of the Derrick Rose-less Bulls on Wednesday night, and they’re tied for eighth in the East (however, they would have the third-worst record in the West). The team has been inconsistent offensively and mostly porous defensively, as has been discussed here lately. Smith (or Smoove, as some like to call him) has mostly mirrored his team’s struggles. What’s wrong here? And can it be fixed?

First, let’s take a look at some stats. Smith’s overall shooting percentage is a career-low 40.9%. He’s averaging 14.1 points per game, his lowest average since 2005-06. His eFG% (effective field-goal percentage; which adjusts for a three-point shot being worth more than a two-point shot) is a career-low 46%, and his TS% (true-shooting percentage, which takes into account two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws) is 47.8%, also a career-low. He possesses an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 94 (again, a career-worst). Smith’s 3.1 assists per game is his lowest average since 2008-09, and his rebounding totals have sunk to a nine-year low, but in part because he’s teammates with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Now, take a gander at Smith’s shot charts from the last two seasons. His chart from 2012-13 is on the left, while his 2013-14 chart is on the right:

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What’s most noticeable about this is whereas Smith was average or below-average from two-fifths of three-point territory in 2012-13, he’s been poor from four-fifths of three-point land in 2013-14. What’s worse, this isn’t a part of #SmallSampleSizeTheatre; Smith’s three-point-attempt rate sits at .369, up from .170 last season in Atlanta. This means 37% of his field goal attempts have come from downtown, and that spike in three-pointers attempted is a direct result of the Pistons’ lack of floor-spacing and three-point woes. It’s like a square peg in a round hole, in other words.

Defensively is where Smith makes most of his impact, but so far, it’s been a struggle for the for the former Hawk on the defensive side of the ball. He’s averaging a career-low 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 104, the highest it’s been since a 104 mark in 2008-09. The defensive win shares stat tells us that Smith’s overall defense contributes only six-tenths of a win to the Pistons’ total; two years ago, he led the NBA with a 4.9 mark in DWS. Smith isn’t known for subpar defending; he averaged a defensive rating of 100 from 2009-10 through 2012-13, and he was selected for the All-Defensive Second Team in 2010.

So, let’s review. Smith’s role in the disjointed Piston offense is as primary long-range shooter, something he has never done well. Defensively, he’s regressed rather heavily on a team that was looking for him to be a defensive anchor.

Now, there’s 67 games left. It’s far too early to proclaim that Josh Smith will post-career lows in every metric. His defensive track record indicates that he’s much better than what he’s shown to this point; looking at positives, he’s averaging 1.7 steals per contest, and opponents are shooting less than 50% when Smith is defending the rim. While the blocked shot average is a career low, it can easily jump up a few points to 1.8 or so. Offensively, if you look at the shot chart from this season, you’ll see that he’s been very effective inside, shooting 62.3%. It remains to be seen whether or not a sharpshooter can be found to replace Smith’s errant ways from long range; if a shooter is found, it will mean Smith’s primary duties will consist of setting up said shooter, scoring on the inside, and–most importantly–defense. Josh Smith is an integral part of the Detroit Pistons, and despite this slow start for player and team, there’s a chance the shots start falling and the defensive effort pays off. And as Josh Smith goes, so likely will the Pistons.