Improving Turnovers: Low Turnover Players

One of the Pistons’ biggest issues is turnovers.  If they intend to keep high turnover players like Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, they need to ensure the rest of the team is low turnover.  Let’s break it down position by position.

Center

Andre Drummond is clearly the number one candidate for center of the future for the Pistons.  In fact, many would argue he should be the center of right now.  But how is he turnover-wise?  He is actually pretty good.  His TOV% of 11.3 puts him firmly in the B letter-grade range.  His turnovers might increase if his usage increases to average or higher, but for now, there is one more reason to have confidence is Drummond going forward.

Small Forward

Tayshaun Prince is one of the best at holding onto the ball.  Bash Isolation Prince all you want, but those iso-plays are safe possessions, if nothing else.  With two more years on his deal, the plan may be to keep Prince there long-term.  However, if not, a player in the Tayshaun Prince/Shane Battier is the type of player that would fit nicely with the current core of Pistons.  Depending on where they draft, Otto Porter might be an option.

Shooting Guard

Rodney Stuckey currently has a TOV% of 13, which puts him middle of the pack or in the C letter-grade range.  On some teams that would be just fine, but the Pistons might need above average at the other guard to pair with Knight.  That said, there are not a lot of players who carry the scoring load for their team and can keep their turnovers in check.  Exceptions are the elite (Kobe, Dwyane Wade, etc.) and the young stars (Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, etc.).  As much as I’d like to see a Stuckey for Thompson or Beal trade, I can’t image Golden State or Washington giving it a second of thought.  Beyond that, I don’t see how trades like Stuckey for Shannon Brown help the Pistons long-term or short-term.

Building around Knight, Monroe, Drummond, Tayshaun and a Bradley Beal-type player looks good on paper.  It’s the shooting guard that is hardest to figure out.  There is always a chance that the Pistons sign Kevin Martin in free agency or see  Ben McLemore drop to them in the draft.  Neither is a likely scenario, but both are worthy pursuits.

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Four Factors Check-in

The Dean Oliver’s four factors are an easy way to begin assessing a team’s strengths and weaknesses.  With that in mind, let’s see where the Pistons rank compared to the rest of the league going into tonight’s game vs. Boston.

Offense

  • eFG% = 19th
  • TOV% = 25th
  • ORB% = 9th
  • FT/FGA = 15th

Defense

  • eFG% = 9th
  • TOV% = 27th
  • DRB% = 21st
  • FT/FGA = 21st

When the Pistons win games, holding the opponent to a poor shooting night is key.  In 11 of the 14 wins, the opponent shot below the league average in FG%.

The ranking that probably best explains the loses is turnovers.  564 turnovers by the Pistons this year compared to 493 for their opponents.  That is a difference of 1.8 turnovers a game.  With 7 of the 25 losses thus far decided by four points or less, those two possessions a game are a glaring shortcoming.

The lack of created turnovers on defense may be explained away by the defensive strategy.  If the team increased their steal attempts, the aggressiveness might lead to open players and open shots for the opponent.  Turning the ball over on offense, however, is purely skill.  With the young cornerstones of Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight being the worse culprits, the Pistons have a few options as they look toward the future:

  1. Build the rest of the team around low turnover players (like Tayshaun Prince).
  2. Coach or scheme to help Monroe and Knight reduce turnovers.
  3. Trade away Monroe and/or Knight.

We will explore these options in a future post.

Who is Brandon Knight?

On June 23, 2011, I sat anxiously at my computer watching one of my favorite sports days of the year, the NBA Draft.  All the various scenarios for the Pistons ran through my head:

  • Jonas Valanciunas could fall to #8.  Would he be worth waiting a year for his arrival?  (It felt exciting, but Darko-y at the same time.)
  • There is no way Joe Dumars would setting for Tristan Thompson, right?
  • Kemba Walker would probably be there.  (Eh, felt a little Mateen Cleaves-y.)
  • Could they trade down and take Kenneth Faried or just reach and take him at #8?  He seemed very Dennis Rodman-y at the time (minus the mental baggage).

Finally, I settled on the best option being Bismack Biyombo.  He seemed like the perfect complement to Greg Monroe as a raw, poor man’s Ben Wallace.  But when the Kings took Biyombo as part of a trade with Charlotte, Detroit selected Brandon Knight.

Brandon Knight had a few things going for him.

  1. He was young.  19 years old means a lot of potential.
  2. He played for Kentucky.  By definition, that means he must be an NBA prospect.
  3. He could shoot.  Nearly 38% from 3pt range in college.
  4. He was a great person with a great work ethic.

Overall, I was lukewarm on him.  I was really hoping for a big guy to compliment Monroe.  (One unknown at the time is this pick left room for the Pistons to go big and draft Drummond one year later.)  But, Rodney Stuckey did not seem like a long-term solution at the point, so a “point guard of the future” made a lot of sense.

So how was Brandon Knight as a rookie?  In short, he was a high usage guy who shot the 3 ball well, turned the ball over a lot, and wasn’t particularly good at anything else.  Here is Brandon’s scorecard for his rookie season.

BrandonKnight1112

To get perspective, I searched for a player with a similar rookie profile.  The only point guard comp that made sense was Tony Delk.  However, the player that was actually the best match was Randy Foye.  Check out Foye’s rookie scorecard.

Randy Foye 2006-2007 scorecard

Randy Foye 2006-2007 scorecard

The profiles are similar, with an overall advantage to Foye.  If Knight is to be viewed as “the point guard of the future”, the poor man’s Randy Foye is not the most encouraging comp for Pistons fans.  However, one shortened lockout season does not make a career.  Let’s see how Knight’s game has evolved this year.

Brandon Knight 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/18/2013)

Brandon Knight 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/18/2013)

Modest overall improvements, with the biggest difference is Knight’s ability to get to the free throw line more this year.  Nevertheless, Brandon Knight continues to look below average.  I want to believe that Knight is a rising star, but the large gap between rising star and Knight’s performance thus far in the NBA is hard to ignore.

Brandon Knight is still young, but that does make it too early to re-assess what type of player Knight will be for Detroit in the future.  On draft night in 2011, the Pistons may have hoped for the next Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday or Chauncey Billups.  A year and a half later, it might be wise for them to expect the next Randy Foye, Tony Delk or Terry Dehere instead.  While the former is a starter you can build around, the later is a nice player off the bench.

The “point guard of the future” is probably still in the Piston’s future.

Explaining the Scorecard

The era of advanced basketball metrics has added a rich layer to the discussion of NBA basketball.  Sites like Basketball-Reference, HoopData, and The NBA Geek are loaded with stats that help us better understand the game.  However, with every new metric, the challenge is creating a common understanding of good and bad.  Think about baseball.  Fans understands the rule of thumb that .300 is great batting average, .280 is pretty good and below .250  is pretty bad.  But when SABRmetrics became popular, fans started scratching their heads on the relative goodness of a .130 ISO or a .334 wOBA.  This is where acceptance of advanced metrics eventually breaks down.  But acceptance is crucial to understanding, so we need to try a new approach.

If you understand what each stat is supposed to tell you, then the specific number is less important than a general knowledge that a player and/or team is good at that stat.  Visualization can help we this.  I created a scorecard template to add meaning to common advanced metrics.  Let’s look at Tayshaun Prince this season and break it down.

Tayshaun Prince 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/18/2013)

Tayshaun Prince 2012-2013 scorecard (as of 1/18/2013).

All stats in the scorecard come from Basketball-Reference, except the shooting zones data, which comes from HoopData.

An explanation of each stat can be found here.  The key thing to emphasize is that we are trying to capture an understanding of a player’s performance based on metrics.  The top sections emphasize the overall player.  The bottom left focuses on offense, the bottom middle shows the Four Factors for an individual player and the bottom right focuses on defense.

Side note: I am in the camp that values WP48 more than PER, but I recognize that ESPN has powered PER into the consciousness greater than Wins Produced, so we’ll keep it in the scorecard… for now.

Other than PER and WS/48, we don’t actually show any numbers.  Instead, we color code by percentile.  What is displayed is where a player fits in each stat compared to other players in the same season.  So, when Tayshaun has dark green in the 3 pt shooting zone, that means his .419 3pt% puts him in the top 20% of the league.  If he has one red basketball in steals, his 0.5 STL percentage puts him in the bottom 20% of the league.  His yellow usage puts Tayshaun right in the 41-60% range of the league. See the color key below.

Key
0-20 Percentile
21-40 Percentile
41-60 Percentile
61-80 Percentile
81-100 Percentile

There are limitations with this method.  1.) Percentiles don’t line up with averages.  For example, the upper thresholds of the 60th percentile for PER and WS/48 tends to hover around 15 and 0.100 respectively, but these are actually the accepted average of these metrics.  2.) There is no breakdown by position.  I am comparing Tayshaun’s rebounding to point guards, centers and everyone else, not just other small forwards.  3.) Without the numbers we don’t know if a player is barely in the percentile or on the upper end of it.

Nevertheless, we can tell a lot about Tayshaun quickly from this scorecard.  Overall, he seems to be an average player.  At this point in his career, his value on offense exceeds his value on defense.  His greatest strengths are outside shooting and not turning the ball over.  His greatest limitation is his ability to create turnovers on defense.  Try to pull all of that out of the numbers in the table below.

Season G MP PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2012-13 39 1273 13.4 .510 .474 3.4 12.9 8.2 12.7 0.8 0.8 8.9 18.2 108 109 1.5 0.8 2.2 .085
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/18/2013.

Visual scorecards are not perfect, but they are an additional tool that will aid our understanding of players through the use of analytics.

An Introduction

Welcome to Pistonalytics, where we take an analytic approach to understanding the Detroit Pistons.  I am a life-long Pistons fan living in Georgia.  I do not have NBA League Pass, so my knowledge of the Pistons relies heavily on metrics, blogs and columnists.  There is great insight gained from watching the games night-to-night.  For that insight, check out the great work done at PistonPowered, Detroit Bad BoysNeed 4 Sheed, The Detroit News, and the Detroit Free Press.  That said, there is plenty to be learned from metrics as well.  That is where Pistonalytics can join the conversation.  The goal is to thoughtfully consider the Pistons using metrics, visualizations and narratives to add to our understanding of the team.

I hope you find some value from these posts.