Are the Pistons’ Point Guards Actually Good?

I came into the off-season hoping for Jose Calderon or Darren Collison.  Having missed on both, I was pretty doom-and-gloom regarding the Pistons point guard situation.  But then, the Pistons brought back Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum.  All of a sudden, my mood has upgraded to mildly optimistic.  Here’s why.

First, Will Bynum:

Will Bynum 2012-2013 scorecard

Will Bynum 2012-2013 scorecard

When I thought Bynum was the only alternative to Knight or Stuckey at the point, I wasn’t too happy.  But as a backup?  I can handle a guy that tries to be instant offense off the bench and to create plays on defense.  Is he a great defender or a low-turnover point guard?  No.  But if the Pistons want to give him 14 minutes a game like they did in 2011-2012, I’m game.  Plus, there is always potential for plays like this.

And then the return of fan favorite Chauncey Billups:

Chauncey Billups 2012-2013 scorecard

Chauncey Billups 2012-2013 scorecard

Billups’ scorecard for 2012-2013 should be taken with a grain of salt, since he played only 400-some minutes last season.  But logging about 20 minutes a game, he still looked like starting caliber point guard (at least on offense).  Good shooter, decent at ball handling and gets to the free throw line.  There is a lot to like here.  Count me among those who believe that Billups, who will be 37 this fall, will be the Pistons’ best point guard this season.

There are 48 minutes in a typical NBA basketball game.  How could the Pistons divvy up the minutes?  Here is my proposal:

Player Minutes
Billups 25
Bynum 15
Knight/Stuckey 8

This is making a few assumptions:

  • That Peyton Siva doesn’t make the team (or at least the active roster on most nights)
  • That Chauncey Billups can play 25 minutes a night.  (I’d be willing to play him 30 minutes a night, but I don’t want to get greedy.)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Plus, for as active as Joe Dumars implied he would be in the trade market, I’m not sure if the team’s opening night backcourt is even set yet.  But, even if no trade happens, there is still reason for hope for Pistons fans.

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Welcome Josh Smith

So Josh Smith will be a Detroit Piston next year.  I live in Atlanta, so I’ve heard about Josh’s pluses and minuses for a  long time now.  But if he’s new to you, here is a snapshot.

Josh Smith 2012-2013 scorecard

Josh Smith 2012-2013 scorecard

Let’s start with the positives first.  Smith is a force on defense.  He uses his athleticism to affect the opposing offense.  He was a top-10 player in blocks per game in the league last year.  For a Pistons team that ranked 24th in Defensive Rating in 2012-2013, and for a franchise that has built its best teams around defense, this should be a welcomed site.  He’s also a great defensive rebounder.  His 21.3 DRB% would have been third on Detroit last year behind only Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.   For a team that was 24th in DRB% last year, this is again a welcomed addition.

The negatives, however, are centered around his offense.  Smith is a high usage player who turns the ball over a lot and can’t shoot well beyond the paint.  Atlanta Hawks fans have long had a love-hate relationship with Smith and most of the hate is centered around his frequent shooting of long twos.  This raises extra concern among Pistons fans because with Monroe and Drummond, Detroit needs people to shoot outside to create spacing in the paint.  This seems to be an open invitation for Smith to continue doing what he does poorly: shooting a high number of low-percentage shots.

Many may question whether Smith is a good fit, considering Monroe and Drummond will command many minutes in the post.  Though a legit concern, I think we can all admit that Josh Smith is a talent upgrade to the roster that needed an upgrade in talent.  He also plays great defense, and that should always be welcomed in Detroit.  As a result, let’s reserve judgement and see how the Pistons fill out the rest of the roster before getting too hung up on fit.

Finally, let’s speculate on intangibles.  Sometimes a fresh start is all a player needs to take his game to the next level.  Smith did not seem to be in the Hawks long-term plans and that very well could have affected him throughout the season.  I don’t want to speculate too much on this, nor do I want to make excuses for anyone.  However, Smith has played in Atlanta since he graduated from high school to the NBA.  Maybe the switch to Detroit will help bring out a new aspect of  Josh Smith’s game.  That may be naive optimism, but stranger things have happened.

Pistons Free Agent Targets – Above Average Point Guards

As it is the night before teams can “officially” have discussions with free agents, now seems like a good time to explore some free agent point guard options.  First, let’s baseline with Brandon Knight.

Brandon Knight 2012-2013 scorecard

Brandon Knight 2012-2013 scorecard

This is just a reminder that Brandon Knight wasn’t very good for the Pistons last year.  The Pistons can get someone better to start at the point next year.  One option is already familiar to Pistons fans.

Jose Calderon 2012-2013 scorecard

Jose Calderon 2012-2013 scorecard

Jose Calderon played well for Detroit last season after the Tayshaun Prince trade.  Jose is a very good offensive player.  He shoots great and is a high assist guy.  With a young squad, I would love to see the Pistons bring Calderon back to provide some veteran savvy.  He’s not a superstar, but I don’t think they are going to find any free agent point guards this off-season that excel at both ends of the court.

If looking for a plan B, Darren Collison is a good option.

Darren Collison 2012-2013 scorecard

Darren Collison 2012-2013 scorecard

Collison is a little Calderon-y.  Not a great defender (though he does get steals).  The biggest difference between Collison and Calderon (besides age) is that Collison gets into the paint.  This creates free throw opportunities and even when it doesn’t, he still shoots a high percentage from close.

There are other unrestricted free agent options (Jarrett Jack, C.J. Watson or Mo Williams for example), but none are more interesting than a stop-gap solution.  There are restricted free agents (Brandon Jennings or Jeff Teague), but both seem destined to return to their old teams.  If I was Joe Dumars and I didn’t have a trade lined up, my point guard plan would look like this:

  • Plan A: Resign Jose Calderon
  • Plan B: Sign Darren Collison
  • Plan C: Sign a stopgap for one year
  • Plan Z: Have Brandon Knight come into camp as the starting point guard.

I am excited about this off-season, because I have know idea what the Pistons will do.  It’ll be fun to see.  I just hope they don’t settle for Plan Z at point guard.

Pistons Free Agent Targets – Young Small Forwards That Lack Star Power

Good news: The Pistons will have cap space this summer to sign free agents.  Bad news: The best free agents play the same position as Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.  Nevertheless, there are still players that can help the Pistons at the guard and small forward positions.  Seems like a good time to explore some options, starting with small forwards.

The lack of name recognition with these players may make you nervous about The Gordon/Villanueva Signings Redux coming to a basketball team near you.  A legit concern to be sure, but I believe Dumars learned a lot from that summer and we’ll see a better result this time around.  As a result, don’t be surprised to see one of these three youngsters wearing Pistons blue this fall.

Martell Webster

Martell is my favorite choice to start at small forward next year (barring a top draft pick or Andre Igoudola).  Let’s look at his player card from this year:

Martell Webster 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

Martell Webster 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

He can shoot from the outside, gets to the free throw line and doesn’t turn the ball over a lot.  He’s 26 years old — right in his prime.  Probably my biggest concern is that the Pistons need a perimeter guy who can be a prolific scorer, and Webster has never averaged 11 points a game in any season.  Paired with the right backcourt, he’d be a nice complement to the Monroe/Drummond core.

Dorell Wright

Another option is Dorell Wright.  Player card below:

Dorell Wright 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

Dorell Wright 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

A good three pointer shooter, but unable to do much inside the arc.  A pretty good rebounder and makes plays on defense.  Wright is 27 years old, so not a bad plan B if we miss on Webster.

Al-Farouq Aminu

A different type of player, but with intriging upside is Al-Farouq Aminu.  Player card below:

Al-Farouq Aminu 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

Al-Farouq Aminu 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 3/9/2013)

Aminu is the biggest upside play of the three.  He is only 22 years old.  Although he is a strong defender and rebounder, his offense is pretty unhelpful at this point in his career.  That would be OK if the Pistons lean heavily on their guards to score, but Aminu could still limit floor spacing on the offensive end.

It sure would be nice if next year’s small forward a young Paul Pierce, but I don’t think that player is going to be available this year.  Landing a player like any of the three above won’t keep the talking heads up all night at ESPN, but each would make the Pistons better next year and in the years ahead.

I’m hoping for a #9 Webster jersey to be on sale this fall at the Palace.  Only time will tell.

Player Impact Estimate vs. Wins Produced

The NBA has opened up a new stats platform.  Upon first glance, it seems pretty impressive.  I especially like the shot charts and the many filtering options.  However, one element in particular caught my eye: PIE.  Player Impact Estimate (PIE) looks like the NBA’s attempt at an overall statistic.  When looking at the formula, I noticed it looked a lot like Wages of Wins’ Win Score, which is closely related to it’s Wins Produced and WP48.  Some subtle differences, but it looks a bit like player Win Score divided by overall game Win Score.   People with more time than me will probably do a much more detailed comparison, but I thought I’d see how the Pistons ranked in each of the stats.

First the presented stats: PIE and WP.

NAME WP Name PIE
Jose Calderon 7.6 Greg Monroe 14.8%
Andre Drummond 7.2 Jose Calderon 14.4%
Greg Monroe 4.2 Andre Drummond 14.3%
Tayshaun Prince 3.0 Will Bynum 10.8%
Kyle Singler 2.9 Charlie Villanueva 10.7%
Jason Maxiell 1.6 Tayshaun Prince 9.9%
Rodney Stuckey 1.4 Rodney Stuckey 8.9%
Austin Daye 1.3 Brandon Knight 8.8%
Charlie Villanueva 1.3 Austin Daye 8.6%
Brandon Knight 1.2 Khris Middleton 8.4%
Jonas Jerebko 0.4 Jason Maxiell 7.0%
Will Bynum 0.1 Kyle Singler 6.5%
Khris Middleton 0.1 Jonas Jerebko 5.8%
Viacheslav Kravtsov 0.1 Viacheslav Kravtsov 4.6%
Kim English 0.0 Kim English 3.5%
Corey Maggette -0.7 Corey Maggette 3.3%

PIE likes Monroe more as it puts him on the same level as Calderon and Drummond.  It’s after that the player ranks in the stats start to deviate.  PIE doesn’t have a position adjustment, so I wonder how much position adjustment can explain?

What if instead of using PIE, we use Total PIE (TPIE), since PIE is a per game stat.  TPIE = PIE * GP.

NAME WP Name TPIE
Jose Calderon 7.6 Greg Monroe 8.0
Andre Drummond 7.2 Jose Calderon 7.3
Greg Monroe 4.2 Andre Drummond 7.2
Tayshaun Prince 3.0 Tayshaun Prince 5.0
Kyle Singler 2.9 Brandon Knight 4.8
Jason Maxiell 1.6 Will Bynum 4.8
Rodney Stuckey 1.4 Charlie Villanueva 4.7
Austin Daye 1.3 Rodney Stuckey 4.3
Charlie Villanueva 1.3 Jason Maxiell 3.8
Brandon Knight 1.2 Kyle Singler 3.5
Jonas Jerebko 0.4 Austin Daye 2.6
Will Bynum 0.1 Jonas Jerebko 1.3
Khris Middleton 0.1 Kim English 0.8
Viacheslav Kravtsov 0.1 Corey Maggette 0.6
Kim English 0.0 Viacheslav Kravtsov 0.4
Corey Maggette -0.7 Khris Middleton 0.3

Closer still, though Monroe the point guards rank higher in TPIE than WP.

What if we adjusted per 48 minutes?  PIE48 = PIE / MP * 48.

NAME WP48 Name PIE48
Andre Drummond 0.349 Khris Middleton 1.344
Jose Calderon 0.249 Viacheslav Kravtsov 0.442
Khris Middleton 0.233 Andre Drummond 0.361
Austin Daye 0.150 Charlie Villanueva 0.321
Greg Monroe 0.113 Austin Daye 0.295
Kyle Singler 0.089 Will Bynum 0.288
Tayshaun Prince 0.087 Jose Calderon 0.247
Charlie Villanueva 0.085 Greg Monroe 0.215
Viacheslav Kravtsov 0.067 Kim English 0.210
Jonas Jerebko 0.060 Jonas Jerebko 0.199
Jason Maxiell 0.056 Rodney Stuckey 0.153
Rodney Stuckey 0.049 Tayshaun Prince 0.149
Brandon Knight 0.034 Brandon Knight 0.136
Kim English 0.008 Jason Maxiell 0.134
Will Bynum 0.007 Corey Maggette 0.113
Corey Maggette -0.139 Kyle Singler 0.111

Quite a mixed bag again.

Wages of Wins points out the strong correlation with WP and actual winning.  PIE apparently claims to do the same,  at a slightly lower, but still significant percentage.  For the time being, my trust is still in WP.  However, I look forward to seeing how much stock will be put into PIE in the future… especially after a round of scrutiny from the basketball stats community.

Bring Back Jerebko

On November 23, Jonas Jerebko played about 12 minutes in a win versus the Raptors.  Since then, Jerebko has played less than 12 minutes combined.  Let’s look at his scorecard this season to assess why.

Jonas Jerebko 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/29/2013)

Jonas Jerebko 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/29/2013)

It seems like the glaring flag here is his shooting.  His eFG% and his shooting inside of 16 feet has been so poor.  But remember, the bulk of these stats were accumulated in just 13 games.  How do they compare to what Jerebko did in 64 games last season?

Jonas Jerebko 2011-2012 scorecard

Jonas Jerebko 2011-2012 scorecard

The big difference here is better shooting and a little down-tick in defense.  When we think of what type of player Jerebko is, 2011-2012 seems like a wise starting point.  Here is why:

Season G MP
2011-12 64 22.9
2012-13 15 15.3

Sample size.

Now, maybe Jerebko was doing some things this season differently than last season.  Maybe he is regularly out of position on defense going for steals or not aggressive enough in the paint to draw fouls and get to the line.  Or maybe the problem is merely limited to shooting.  Let’s look at these numbers from HoopData.

At Rim 3-9 Feet 10-15 Feet 16-23 Feet Threes
Yr M A FG% M A FG% M A FG% M A FG% M A eFG%
2011-12 3.0 4.9 61.1 0.5 1.7 32.3 0.2 0.5 35.3 1.2 2.4 50.0 0.9 2.9 45.3
2012-13 3.0 5.8 51.5 0.2 1.4 12.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 1.1 50.0 1.1 4.6 34.7

The biggest change is that he is taking more shots at the rim and three pointers.  This is generally good for any player, but Jerebko is shooting worse at the rim and his 3pt shooting is below average to begin with.  He is taking less long twos, which again is normally a good thing, but it is the one shot Jerebko hits consistently.

Poor shooting may explain why Jerebko is used as a PF and buried on the depth chart.  But his rebounding, energy and defense are valuable enough that he should still be contributing to the Pistons.  As the season moves forward, I hope Lawrence Frank finds a spot in the rotation for Jonas once again.

Improving Turnovers: Internal Improvement

For the Pistons to improve on the turnover front, the best option is for Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight to just turn the ball over less.  As  young players with talent, there is no sense in the Pistons giving up on each player just because of their current turnover issues.  The question is, can you teach a young dog new tricks?

Let’s start with Monroe.  A good historical comp for what we hope to see is Chris Webber.   See the stats below.

Season Age TOV% USG%
1993-94 20 14.7 23.7
1994-95 21 13.8 25.5
1995-96 22 13.8 28.5
1996-97 23 15.0 24.6
1997-98 24 11.1 26.5
1998-99 25 14.8 24.9
1999-00 26 11.2 28.2
2000-01 27 9.6 31.6
2001-02 28 11.4 29.0
2002-03 29 11.9 30.4
2003-04 30 11.3 28.9
2004-05 31 11.6 29.3
2005-06 32 10.4 27.7
2006-07 33 13.1 21.1
2007-08 34 23.3 15.8

His first four seasons had a TOV% over 13.8.  After that though, just about every season his TOV% hovered around 11.5.  This is above average performance while maintaining a high usage.  Other high turnover young big men like Brad Daugherty and Patrick Ewing also improved significantly in TOV% starting in year 5.  We may be a year or two away, but there is potential for Monroe to improve in taking care of the ball.

But what about Brandon Knight?  Two players similar to Knight that improved in TOV% are Gilbert Arenas and Jeff McInnis.  McInnis figured it out in his third season, while Arenas did it in his fourth.  My favorite Brandon Knight comp, Randy Foye also lowered his TOV% in year two.  However, there are cautionary tales like Steve Francis that show that sometimes the high TOV% remains the same.

In both cases, there are similar players in the past that have improved on their turnovers as they moved toward their prime.  However, just because Monroe and Knight are young is no guarantee that they will improve in this area.  The prudent approach is to give each another two seasons before we condemn either as turnover-prone.