Tag Archives: Detroit Pistons

Hi! How Was Your Summer: Detroit Pistons

Photo Credit: Juliana/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 29-53

New Faces: Maurice Cheeks (Head Coach), Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups,  Luigi Datome

New Places: Lawrence Frank (Now Brooklyn assistant coach), Jose Calderon (Dallas), Brandon Knight (Milwaukee), Viktor Kravstov (Milwaukee), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Jason Maxiell (Orlando)

Draft: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8), Tony Mitchell (37), Peyton Siva (56)

The Detroit Pistons definitely did something this offseason. No one knows for sure exactly just what they did yet, but depending on how you see the glass, it’s either half-empty or half-full. General manager Joe Dumars told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that he feels as if they’ve added talent, which he isn’t necessarily wrong about, but there are legitimate questions about the fit among the team’s additions and their young players. I mean, there’s definitely a glass here; you just have to turn your head to the side and squint a bit to see if it’s half-full or half-empty.

First, they added forward Josh Smith to a frontcourt that already includes Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith is infamously a poor shooter from distance, but Monroe shot .486 from the field on the season, which is below average for a center. However, the two big men were both above average at the rim, .771 for Smith and .614 for Monroe, but that presents a potential spacing problem. Same goes for Drummond who attempted just 63 shots from further than 10-feet from the basket, in which he made just 15 of those attempts. Dumars, in the same Grantland interview, mentioned that their basketball IQ’s and ability to make plays for others will mitigate some of these negative effects. Which really has to happen if Detroit hopes to return to the playoffs along Smith, Monroe, and Drummond being able to play together.

There other big move was, of course, dealing Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Victor Kravstov for the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings. Which, again, doesn’t improve a team that was 18th in three point percentage last season, nor does it help their probable spacing issues. Jennings, like Knight before him, also struggles as a shooter, even finishing below the league average of .608 percent for point guards at the rim having shot .492 percent last season. Sure, Jennings can make plays for others, but who is he passing to? Austin Daye, Jose Calderon and Tayshaun Prince — their top three players in three-point percentage last season — are all gone. The return of Chauncey Billups won’t help this, either, being an average shooter at best last season. Same goes for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who may go on to be more than an average shooter from distance, but that likely won’t happen this year.

Dumars did succeed in upgrading his roster from a sheer talent perspective but there are legitimate questions about how well these pieces fit together and if you can have success in the NBA today without being able to stretch the floor. Yes, talent and smart players do tend to figure it out, but usually that’s when they’re surround by other pieces that complement their strengths. We’ll find out if these Pistons have that ability or not.

Statistical support provided by Basketball-Reference.com and Hoopdata.com

 

Andre Drummond’s Summer of Love

Believe it or not but Pistons’ center, Andre Drummond, just turned 20 this past Saturday. His age is quite deceiving with his height and build but Drummond dispelled draft day rumors of teenage laziness by putting together an impressive rookie campaign and earned himself an invite to this summer’s USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp. The future of “Deee-troit Basketball” looks to be quite promising with Drummond anchoring the center position but it may come as a surprise that Drummond recently became the “man” for millions of teenage males for a non-basketball reason.

Remember back in May when Memphis Grizzlies small forward, Quincy Pondexter, made a date with Miss Tennessee 2012, Chandler Lawson, through Twitter? Many were amazed at Pondexter’s Twitter game but it looks like Drummond may have him beat, as he was able to connect with someone through Twitter that he has had a crush on for a long time.

With Drummond being twenty, it makes sense that he would have a crush on teen sitcom star, Jennette McCurdy, from Nickelodeon’s teen sitcom, Sam & Cat. McCurdy was also in another Nickelodeon show, iCarly, which Drummond must have grown up watching and now with his new fame, he began to reach out to her.

Drummond announced his “love” of McCurdy back in July by Instagramming a photo of her with the Women Crush Wednesday hashtag, #WCW:

If that Instagram needed any clearing up, when a follower tried to get Drummond to follow back by talking about other teenage sweethearts, Drummond proclaimed his favoritism towards McCurdy:

Drummond even retweeted this tweet of McCurdy’s to get her to follow back:

Then on the same day he sent out another #WCW Instagram:

Even though McCurdy was still not aware of Drummond’s overtures, his followers were, and they tried to get her attention, much to Drummond’s delight as he retweeted their pleas:

https://twitter.com/HaqueZee/statuses/364963038878638081

Perhaps in one last final attempt, Drummond Instagrammed a third #WCW photo of McCurdy:

Then in a move that Drummond probably believed would only happen in his dreams, McCurdy tweeted this:

https://twitter.com/jennettemccurdy/statuses/365247297623298049

With his heart seemingly racing, Drummond played it cool and responded formally but McCurdy’s response must have really put him over the edge:

https://twitter.com/jennettemccurdy/statuses/365249074661826562

Drummond then set a “date”:

The Pistons first trip to a Los Angeles is November 17th to take on the Lakers. This is a date that Drummond must have instantly circled on his calendar. Will McCurdy actually show up or was she just “leading” him on?

Much to Drummond’s delight, McCurdy’s interest in Drummond seems to be legitimate as  she recently wished him a happy birthday:

As teenagers, we have all had crushes on other famous teenagers, and for Drummond to actually connect with his, is quite remarkable. If he brings the same level of intensity that he brought to his pursuit of McCurdy to the court this season, the rest of the league better watch out. Now that he doesn’t want to disappoint his newest fan, Jennette McCurdy, you can safely bet we are in for a vastly improved second year from Andre Drummond.

 Top image via Andre Drummond’s Twitter.

Brandon Jennings’ Renewed Freedom Of Imagination

Photo from ~ Marjolein ~ via Flickr

Even a week later, the sign-and-trade bringing Brandon Jennings just feels weird.

Maybe it was how it came about. The NBA has, over the past few years, taught us to expect little-to-nothing from restricted free agency. Most applicants fall into one of three major camps – swift, immediate re-uppings, such as Tiago Splitter this year; matched offer sheets, such as Jeff Teague; or a withdrawn qualifying offer, such as with Tyler Hansbrough.

Neither of these is a major source of drama. Occasionally, members of the second group whose agents have neglected to teach them how restricted free agency works are “insulted” that their initial team hasn’t offered them a contract, let everybody know that they’d rather leave, and are then even more “insulted” when the sheet is matched (this is also known as “The Eric Gordon”, and it’s incredibly annoying). On even rarer occasions, we might get major news that exceeds the realm of gossip and hurt feelings, such as last offseasons’ dual-poison-pilling by the Houston Rockets, or Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic holding out on the 2007 Cavs.

Usually, though, a restricted free agent eventually finds himself back where he started, be it on a fair deal struck early in July, or at a discount a few weeks later. So it was somewhat out of place to see Jennings, a major free agent by name if not by production than by name, make news in a manner so unrepresentative of his restricted status. Which caught me off guard, because, four years in, I’ve stopped expecting surprises out of Brandon Jennings.

It’s an odd thing to say, given how unexpected the start to his career was. From the decision to spend a year in Rome as opposed to donning an NCAA-sanctioned uniform, to showing up late to the NBA draft in which the Bucks picked him 10th, to those damn 55 points, all the way to his Bucks nearly advancing to the second round to end a rookie year of which nothing was initially expected, Jennings had established himself as an out-of-the-blue extraordinaire. His game inherently flashy, swagger oozing from every pore, he was a refresher through and through.

Of course, the problem with Jennings’ entire career has been just how high the standards were set after jos scorching start. That premise was explored in impressive detail and excruciating pain by some very smart Bucks bloggers following his ultimate departure, but even without Bucks rooting interests, the deterioration was depressing. Brandon Jennings, former breath of fresh air, turned into Brandon Jennings, living embodiment of a franchise with stagnation etched upon its flag. There were still flashes of unique happenings – every now and then he would play that game or hit that shot, and every now and then his team would trade for Monta Ellis or draft John Henson – but those were minutiae. The Jennings season recap would always tell the story of a sub-40% shooting, high usage pick and roll initiator, who is technichally a borderline all-star, but is only in consideration because he plays in a guard-bereft East. Similarly, the Bucks season recap would always tell of a team ultimately relegated to yet another narrowly missed playoff berth, or a narrowly hit playoff berth that might as well have been missed.

If nothing else, the move to Detroit offers Jennings, and those who are watching him, a chance to break out of that rut. Yes, it’s looking like a lower Eastern playoff spot (How U), but it’ll be a different lower Eastern playoff spot. One without Scott Skiles running the show (or Jim Boylan, who might as well be Scott Skiles). One without Ersan Ilyasova (bless his soul) as the primary pick-and-pop weapon of choice. One with a different jersey and a different mascot and different League Pass broadcasters. Brandon Jennings might just be who he is, at this point, but if he was ever going to be somebody else, sheer inertia meant that Milwaukee was no longer a fit screen upon which he could project that sequel.

In that sense, Jennings is very much like his new teammate, Josh Smith. Not just because both have maddening shot selection and a seemingly squandered skill set, but because Smith, like Jennings, has been who he is and where he is for so long that he’s become almost imperceptible. Josh Smith, the player has become Josh Smith, The Idea. The versatile freak athlete has been replaced with that familiar #5 Hawks jersey, taking yet another jumper as the half-empty arena screams “NOOOOOOOOOO” all the way to a first round playoff bounce, even if he happens to do something else every now and again.

We might see the same things in Detroit, but just by seeing them in new surroundings, we leave the possibility of something new open. Whether it’s individual success, a surprising team run, or just some fun pick and roll synergy with Andre Drummond – himself a once-future-star whose slip in the draft was offset by a tantalizing rookie season – Brandon Jennings once again offers us some freedom of imagination. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov seem like a small price to pay for that.

A Little Bit of Everything

Photo: Flickr/Nicholas Noyes

Life is full of choices. Some small like what to have for lunch and others far more consequential. I mean, when is the last time a turkey sandwich ruined your day? Probably never, I’m guessing. Typically, you would be just as happy with the ham or roast beef as you would with the turkey. It’s nothing on par with signing a lease, changing careers, buying a car or anything else that takes serious consideration. And you also typically have multiple choices to make with big decisions, which is not always easy.

Same goes for NBA teams and the route they choose to take after evaluating their team following a season. If you think you’re missing the few essential pieces to making a championship run or feel you still have another shot at it, you acquire players past their rookie contracts that can help you immediately. On the other hand, if you feel your glory days are behind you and it’s time to look towards the future, you identify your franchise cornerstones, add picks, expend the long-term veteran contracts you need to and add additional vets on short-term deals to maintain your salary cap flexibility.

The cold hard truth: even if you select either of those routes, there is still no guarantee that you will be successful. You need luck. You need the proper personnel in place. You also need to put the right combinations of players together. And when you do all that you need to get favorable matchups in the playoffs and hope the ligaments in your star player’s knee holds up.

In short, building a good basketball team is hard. It would be so much easier if you could just throw a bunch of money at an assortment of talented players and just skip right ahead to the parade planning, but that’s just not how it works.

Since it’s such a difficult decision, it’s hard to fault a team like the Bucks for the decisions they’ve made this offseason. They won 38 games this past season, good enough for a four game “Thanks for Coming!” sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round. Sure, they still made the playoffs but they were facing a crossroads with prominent rotation players like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis expiring with several young players on the roster as well. When you consider general manager John Hammonds’ Bucks teams have won 34-46-35-31-38 games  in his tenure that should have been an indicator that it may be time to focus on player development rather than winning and first round exits.

Aside from the draft, the Bucks appeared to be headed into July looking to finally blow it all up after years as a fringe playoff team. Not only did they select two projects in addition to having John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders on the roster, but they moved JJ Redick in a three-team trade for two 2nd round picks and a trade exception. Shortly after that they dealt for the expiring contract of Luke Ridnour to boost their point guard depth and we thought we had the Bucks all figured out.

Following the Bucks’ trade of Luc Mbah a Moute for a second round pick, it really seemed that the Bucks were collecting assets in the form of draft picks (a form of currency in today’s NBA that is ever-growing in it’s value because of the new CBA) and promising young players. Despite a brief flirtation with Jeff Teague, Milwaukee seemed to be focusing on player development and maintaining cap flexibility for the future.

Then things got interesting. They brought in OJ Mayo  in free agency. A few days later they brought in veterans Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia. Finally, they added San Antonio free agent Gary Neal and the team that once looked like they were rebuilding looked as if they were looking to make another exhilarating run to the 8th seed. At least these players they signed were all veteran guards whose minutes wouldn’t stifle a developing player’s growth because the Bucks don’t have any. The same can’t be said for Pachulia who will be sharing frontcourt minutes in the frontcourt with Henson, Udoh, Ilyasova and Sanders.

Still, this wasn’t the end of the world and a very manageable situation. These moves seemed to make it unlikely that they would bring Jennings back, which is fine because his fit next to Mayo doesn’t seem like a great one on paper. With Pachulia, they have a solid rotation, and even though he may cut into some of the young players’ minutes, having a veteran could help the Bucks through their young frontcourt’s growing pains. Besides, waiving Gustavo Ayon a few days prior made this less of a cluster-you-know-what than it was before.

Alright, so the Bucks had added a few veterans in addition to their blossoming former lottery picks while gaining a few extra picks along the way. They weren’t totally bottoming out despite the strong draft coming next June but they will still likely receive a good pick nonetheless, and the veterans they added are on short-term contracts that will allow that to maintain cap flexibility. They just had to get the Brandon Jennings situation resolved and they’re all set.

Well, unless you sign and trade him to the Pistons for Brandon Knight (another combo guard and recent lottery pick) and 2013 rookies Khris Middleton and Viachevslav Kravstov. Don’t get me wrong — Knight is a great get in exchange for Jennings — but now they have all of these prospects surrounding these established players for a team that would be lucky to win 40 games next season.

You can’t rebuild and win at the same time when you’re a team like the Bucks. This isn’t like the Spurs where they retool on the fly by plugging in different role players next to their stars and win 50 games every year because they already have stars. It’s not just the fact that this is the way it’s always done: it’s done that way because it doesn’t work any other way. And winning 40 games this season does the Bucks very few favors in the near future since, despite their cap space, aren’t a prime free agent destination. Teams like the Bucks need that cap space to use on their own draft picks once their rookie contracts expire.

Now they have the 15th overall pick in last June’s draft, Giannis Antetokounmpo,  and Middleton on the roster for next season. They will have to figure out how to disperse the minutes at power forward and center between Pachulia-Henson-Sanders-Ilyasova-Udoh-Kravstov.

As for the guards, they have Ridnour and Neal at point guard, but where does that leave Knight?  If he can’t hit shots well enough as a shooting guard do they move Ridnour over into the role he played in Minnesota and have Knight take point guard minutes? Will he or should he start? If he starts, do you try to get Mayo to come off of the bench and play Knight as the off-guard?

I know that positions aren’t the most important thing, but the roles of a shooting guard and point guard require different skill sets to help the team, and these are the questions the Bucks will now have to ask after adding several developing players. In fact, having Neal, Ridnour, Delfino and Mayo all on the roster wasn’t a big deal until they brought Knight on board. Furthermore, their unique veteran-backcourt/young-frontcourt dynamic worked before the Jennings trade.

This offseason, John Hammond has proven just how hard it is to make the decision to rebuild or continue trying to win in the present. Yet, when you begin a rebuild, you can’t stop halfway through once you realize just how bad you are going to be and abruptly change course. You have to be patient, which is something that is hard to find in today’s NBA culture because teams want results sooner rather than later. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if another year of 35 wins as a middling team is better for your job security than a 25 win season and a chance at eventual long-term success.

What are the Detroit Pistons?

Daniel Y. Go | Flickr

The Detroit Pistons have probably had the most mesmerizing offseason in the NBA this year. And by no means are you to make the mistake of assuming that mesmerizing has a positive connotation in this case. Almost every move that Joe Dumars has made has been met with either “LOL PISTONS” or “What the f*ck are the Pistons doing??” Detroit signed Josh Smith to a huge 4 year, $54 million contract. On Tuesday afternoon, they completed a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to bring Brandon Jennings to the team on a 3 year, $24 million contract. In a vacuum, both of those moves are pretty sensible. The Pistons got two very talented players on fairly reasonable contracts without giving up much more than Brandon Knight and some cap space. But as components of a larger Detroit Pistons organism, they are head-scratching moves to say the least. Now, I’m not about to write 2500 words about why these moves make perfect sense and why the Pistons are now destined for greatness with Jennings and Smith complementing a young core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But I will write roughly half that many words to explain why Detroit’s offseason leans more towards “sensible” than “head-scratching.”

The question that immediately comes to mind when we consider Detroit’s offseason move is: how does it all fit? They figure to have young studs at power forward and center in Monroe and Drummond. So why the hell are they spending $54m on Josh Smith to further complicate the situation in the frontcourt? Well, that’s a really good question. And it’s a question that has a couple of potential answers. The easiest solution to the problem of the crowded frontcourt is that the Pistons think Josh Smith can play small forward. Defensively, Smoove can certainly guard most NBA small forwards, but it’s the offensive end that gets messy. How do you possibly play those three players at the same time and have an effective offense? That’s another really good question and I don’t think I have any easy answers to that one. But Josh Smith is a really talented player (yes, even on offense) and when all else fails, adding more talent to your roster is usually a pretty good strategy. Even if you’re losing some value due to Drummond, Monroe, and Smith overlapping offensively, the Pistons still figure to get a net gain from the addition. Whether or not it’s cost effective or the best allocation of their resources are different issues that deal with a host of hypotheticals that I don’t feel the need to get into at the moment. Instead, let’s stay focused on what we do know (or can at least reasonably project).

Another explanation for bringing in Josh Smith when you already have a talented frontcourt is that it’s possible we are all overestimating the short-term impact that Detroit intends for Andre Drummond to have. Drummond has all of the tools to be an elite NBA player in the future. He’s extremely young, has a tremendous physical profile, and has produced phenomenal per-36 minutes numbers in his brief time in the NBA. But that first trait might be the most important: Drummond is extremely young. He’ll turn 20 years old on August 10th and despite his impressive numbers in the NBA thus far, his skill level still leaves a lot to be desired. He’s just a kid; he’s very raw. He played just over 20 minutes per game in his rookie year and missed several weeks due to a lower back stress fracture. For all of those reasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons bring Drummond along very slowly. As much as the basketball blogosphere would like to #FreeDrummond, it seems unlikely that the Pistons will suddenly thrust Drummond into the starting role and let him play 35 minutes every night. If you’re only planning on playing Drummond 25ish minute per game, it shouldn’t be that hard to mix and match the lineups with Drummond/Monroe/Smith to minimize the overlap.

I think the move to get Brandon Jennings is easier to make sense of than the Josh Smith signing. First off, the dollar amount on the contract is very reasonable. According to the NBA free agency market, the Pistons seem to be paying roughly the right amount for a player of Josh Smith’s caliber, but they might be getting a relative bargain in Jennings at just $8 million per year. He’s not the most efficient player, but his shot-creating ability (for himself and others) is valuable. He’s still quite young (will turn 24 just before the NBA season starts) and he likely has some remaining upside on both sides of the ball. $8 million seems to be roughly the going rate for an average starting point guard in the NBA and there’s a pretty decent chance that Jennings ends up being better than that.

Of course, the addition of Jennings is viewed as questionable because you have another guy that struggles with efficiency and doesn’t exactly solve the spacing issues that you’ve created with the Drummond/Monroe/Smith combo up front. And these concerns are legitimate – I’m not trying to pretend they aren’t. But the Pistons have started to address the spacing issues by drafting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who projects to be a threat from three-point range even if he isn’t an elite shooter right away – and by signing Chauncey Billups. They also signed Italian League MVP, Luigi “Gigi” Datome (his name is Luigi and he shot 42% from three in Italy, your argument is invalid). Maybe this roster will end up being totally dysfunctional and the talent will go to waste. But I’m willing to wait and see it in action before declaring it a disaster (or even really worrying about it, then again I’m not a Pistons fan).

Smoove and Jennings are guys who have developed reputations as shameless chuckers who are at best ambivalent (or perhaps just unaware) about the concept of efficiency. But is that reputation a life sentence? Is it possible for Smith and Jennings to change their ways on their new team? Some people around basketball will say that they are who they are. Personally, I’m more hesitant to write them off. Jennings and Smith are both obviously very talented and have the ability to be far more efficient than they have been recently. Will a simple change of scenery be enough for them to adjust their shot selections and lead to an uptick in efficiency? I have no idea, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that there is a coach, player, or mentor in Detroit that these guys lacked in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Any NBA fan has seen Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith do tremendous things on the basketball court. If somebody is able to harness their overwhelming potential and skills into consistent efficiency, then all of the questions of fit and cost can likely take a backseat.

More often than not, the NBA team with the more talented roster wins out. There are certain cases where scheme, chemistry, and coaching allow a lesser roster to overcome a significant gap in talent, but usually talent reigns supreme. And while you can question all of the specifics regarding the additions of Jennings and Smith, I don’t think you can sincerely question that they increase the overall talent on the Pistons’ roster. Again, I’m not about to simply dismiss any questions about the future direction of the Pistons’ franchise (what’s the endgame here??) or about what how the heck Mo Cheeks is going to make this roster work. But at a certain point you want to start winning games. It could have been pressure from ownership to put more fans in the Palace or the front office may truly believe that a Drummond/Monroe/Jennings/Smith core can be a title contender in the future. But more likely, the Pistons saw an opportunity to improve their roster by adding two very talented players – and they did so without sacrificing much more than some newfound cap space (sorry, Brandon Knight). That seems pretty sensible to me.

My Finals Memory: Spurs, Pistons and Big Shot Rob

It’s fitting that this year’s finals features the San Antonio Spurs , because they are the stars–or, perhaps more fittingly, villains–of my first, true finals memory.

It was the summer of 2005. I was at the University of Michigan football camp–this was back when my plans for the future consisted of nothing more than playing defensive tackle for the Wolverines–and my roommate at the camp had brought his tiny television, since there was little else to do for high schoolers in a college town. On the second night, Matt (Matt? Yeah, I’m pretty sure his name was Matt), turned on Game 5 of the Pistons-Spurs finals.

At this time, my love for basketball had not superseded my love of football. I loved watching the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, but past that, I had little interest. Still, I wanted the Spurs to lose. Maybe it was because I found them to be extremely boring, even though the Pistons weren’t exactly Seven Seconds or Less themselves. Or perhaps my hopes for a Spurs defeat had roots in their budding rivalry with the Phoenix Suns. Regardless of reason, I found myself overjoyed at the Pistons late-game lead, and felt assured that my wish would be granted (at one point, Rasheed Wallace hit a three, and I proudly pointed out that he was one of the only big men in the NBA to hit that shot, to which my roommate responded, “What about Dirk?” “Well, yeah, Dirk.” “And Horry?” “OK, Horry, too.” “KG?” “I’ll shut up.”).

But on this night, I learned why the Spurs were the Spurs. Undaunted by Detroit’s defense or lead, the Spurs clawed their way back into the game. A previously sub-zero Robert Horry emerged from a broiler and lived up to the moniker of Big Shot Rob, sinking a three-pointer with nine seconds left in overtime to lift the Spurs over the Pistons in dramatic fashion, 96-95.

While I thought I had little emotional investment in the game, I found myself choked up when the final buzzer sounded. That feeling of disappointment and not-quite-hatred intensified when the Spurs won game seven a few days later. Looking back, I guess I owe the Spurs a debt of gratitude, as this moment of defeat was pivotal in deepening and developing my now-endless affection for this sport.

Statiscal Anomaly: Mavericks @ Pistons

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Mavericks win over the Pistons.

 

Jae Crowder matched a career high by handing out five assists as he is possibly carving a niche for himself as more of a big guard than a small forward. Already in March Crowder has two zero rebound games, something he didn’t do once in all of February. He has also had four consecutive games in which his assist total at least matches his rebound total, setting a career high for such games in a month. His playing time figures to fluctuate as the Mavericks have been outscored when he is on the court in three of their last four wins (including a -16 point difference against Detroit).

OJ Mayo is generally thought of a pure scorer, but until last night, his best scoring nights included a handful of assists. By scoring 20+ points and dishing out only three assists, Mayo ruined a nearly three month long streak of handing out more than three assists in every game in which he scored 20+ points. The explosive shooting guard has already recorded a season high in assists (268), but he is also scoring at the most efficient rate of his career. At 25 years old, the free-agent to be has got to be enticing to teams with franchise point guards who are looking for a back-court mate (76ers, Cavaliers, and to some extent the Wizards). Here’s a look at Mayo’s improvement in terms of shooting percentage and points per shot (PPS).

HP1

HP2

Vince Carter managed to tally seven rebounds against the Pistons without recording a single assist. He had gone 144 straight regular season games sense the last time he had as many as seven rebounds with no assists. It has been 536 regular season games sense he had more than seven rebounds but no assists. The rebounds these days are grabbed below the rim, but Carter has shown to be graceful when it comes to aging. He is 36 years old, but unlike some great players, he has adapted his game to his physical limitations, making him capable of helping a playoff team for the next season or two.

Jose Calderon may have changed jerseys this year, but his game has not transformed a bit. He registered his seventh game this season with at least seven assists and no turnovers, and has done so in 21.9% of his last 32 games. That is more often than LeBron James drops double digits dimes (18.3%) or Kevin Durant takes 22+ shots from the field (21.0%). His ability to create for his teammates has allowed Brandon Knight to establish himself as a scoring two guard that can pass when needed as opposed to an offense initiating point guard who was asked to keep his teammates involved. The Pistons are full of youth and potential, making Calderon the perfect man to run the show.

Kevin Garnett had choice words for Charlie Villanueva back in the day, and while I trust KG’s basketball intelligence, I highly doubt he used the word “marksman” when describing the Pistons big man. But the eighth year pro out of UConn has earned that title this year, connecting on multiple trey’s in 45.3% of his games this year despite averaging only 16.9 minutes. Kobe Bryant, who averages nearly 11 more points than Villanueva does minutes this season, makes two or more three pointers every other game. Villanueva is currently averaging about three more points per 48 minutes than another 6’11” shooter that played for Detroit (Rasheed Wallace) who always got considerably more press. He’s got one season left on his current deal and he should find himself on a contender before long.

Will Bynum plays on the same team as Calderon, but that is about the only comparison to be drawn. Bynum passed the ball to the wrong team four more times, giving him 54 turnovers in 44 days (not 44 games, 44 days) despite playing only 20.4 minutes per game. For reference, Ty Lawson has turned the ball over 43 times in that same time frame while averaging 36.9 minutes. On a team full of young guards (three that are 26 years of age or younger), Bynum may very well find himself looking for work in the near future.

In a game featuring two teams that will combine for 93-100 losses, I find it interesting that they have pieces that would be of interest to contending teams. Role players are difficult to find, and I believe both of these teams have assets that could be dealt in order to help them accelerate their rebuilding phrase. That being said, f the Mavericks think they can get another few solid years from Nowitzki, would it be unreasonable for them to bring in Calderon next season? They don’t seem to have a ton of faith in Darren Collison, and if Dallas is working in a small frame in trying to build a winner around Nowitzki, Calderon’s age shouldn’t be an issue. Neither one of these teams is headed to the playoffs this season, but who do you like to make a playoff run first: the very young Pistons or the aging Mavericks? Tweet me @unSOPable23 your responses, I’m curious what the public thinks.

Diary of a Thrilled Raptors Fan

The Toronto Raptors acquired Rudy Gay as the centerpiece of a three player deal, a deal which could change the career paths for multiple players. The Pistons get a playmaking veteran in Jose Calderon who should help mold their team into a future contender considering that Detroit is loaded with young talent (Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe). The Grizzles unloaded a tough to manage contract and filled the void with a high potential front liner in Ed Davis and a strong defender in Tayshaun Prince. That being said, no team improved from this trade (now or down the road) as much as the Raptors. Why do I say this? Here is what I expect from the four Raptors I expect to start 2013-2014 alongside Gay.

Kyle Lowry – He has spent the first half of this season adjusting to life as part of a point guard by committee (a role he never seemed comfortable with) and was averaging fewer than 28 minutes a game. With Calderon out of town, the now supremely athletic Raptors are putting all of their eggs in the Lowry basket. The 26 year old has moved from team to team over his seven year NBA career, but his second season with each team in the past (Memphis and Houston) has been considerably better than his first. In his second season in Memphis (2007-2008) Lowry saw his per game scoring increase by 71.4%, his assist rate increase by 12.5%, his shot total increase by 89.5%, and his shooting percentage increase by 17.4% over his first season as a member of the Grizzles. In his second consecutive season in Houston (2010-2011) Lowry saw his per game scoring increase by 48.4%, his assist rate increase by 48.9%, his shot total increase by 58.8%, and his shooting percentage increase by 7.4% over his first season as a member of the Rockets. All of those increases were based on Lowry’s ability to get comfortable in a system and were never the product of bringing in a potentially franchise altering player. It would be reasonable to expect a statistically superior 2013-2014 season from Lowry based simply on his past, but with a significantly increased role and a much improved roster at his disposal, we could be looking at an All Star level season sooner rather than later (think Jrue Holiday type growth).

Lowry

DeMar DeRozan – Critics will question the Raptors adding a Gay to play next DeRozan, as they are two players with a seemingly similar style on the offensive end. While it is true that both prefer to slash to the rim, that doesn’t mean that an offense won’t be successful with both of them on the court at once. With one of them positioned on each wing defenses will be to pack the paint, surrendering the midrange jump shot. While Gay and DeRozan are recognized for their work at the rim, both are consistent threats from as far as 15 feet out (DeRozan shot 49.6% and Gay 52.7% from 15 feet or closer last season). Defenses couldn’t stop DeRozan from getting to the rim when he was the primary scoring option and now as the secondary option he should benefit from seeing weaker defenders and rotating defenses as opposed to defenses that are positioned with the sole intent to prevent DeRozan from scoring. His assist totals have increased every season thus far; a trend I expect to continue in what will be an explosive offense. A common misconception about DD is that he is a one dimensional player who needs always needs the ball, but I contend that he was only that over the past 3+ seasons because he had to be. Don’t forget that DeRozan is only 23 years of age and has very similar numbers to the 26 year old Gay this year.

DeRozan

Andre Bargnani – My feeling toward the 27 year old Italian have completely changed as a result of this deal. Prior to the deal, I didn’t like a finesse center who takes over 29% of his shots from behind the three point line for a team that struggled to get consistent production in the paint. But with the addition of Gay and the increased workload of an aggressive point guard, I don’t mind the idea of the floor stretcher being a seven footer. In fact, he could create some serious matchup problems for teams who have a “true” center. A shot swatting big man is going to have a hard time keeping up with Bargnani on the perimeter and (more importantly) won’t be planted at the rim waiting for Gay/DeRozan/Ross/Anderson. With an abundance of explosive athletes, a player who can worry defenses from the perimeter is crucial, and the fact that he is the starting center provides the Raptors with a unique wrinkle. He averages 1.4 3PM for his career and if defenses decide to pack the paint against the 2013-2014 Raptors, it could very well result in a new career high for 3PM for Bargnani (121 is the number to beat). Bargnani has never been a force on the defensive end, but the athleticism of the other projected starters/rotation players should help mask that flaw to an extent.

Amir Johnson – The final piece of every good team is a player who will do the dirty work, and with Ed Davis no longer being groomed as the PF for years to come, Johnson should fill that role nicely. He has the ability to score in an efficient manner (a 57.9% career shooter from the field), but his value to next year’s Raptors team will come on the defensive end. Over his career, Johnson is averaging one rebound every 3.79 minutes played, a ratio that is nearly identical to Al Horford’s number this season (3.77). The Raptors have been looking for a nasty interior presence since Antonio Davis (2000-2001) led the team to it’s only ever playoff series victory. Johnson’s strengths fit what I expect to be the primary deficiency of this offensively gifted core of athletes, making him the perfect fifth starter to what could be the best Raptor team we have ever seen.

How do you feel about the Raptors acquisition of Rudy Gay? Tweet me (@unSOPable23) what you think, I’d love to hear what your thoughts on the first domino to fall as we approach the 2013 trade deadline. Again, from a Raptors perspective, I believe every individual involved won in a big way. Jose Calderon will accelerate the youth movement that is quietly taking place in Detroit and Ed Davis couldn’t ask for a better mentoring duo than what he will have in Memphis. But I like the Raptors to emerge as the short and long term “winner” from this deal due to athleticism and youth (average age of my starting five is currently 25.4 years old).

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

Profile Paroxysm: Andre Drummond: Big Kid

Via Panini America.

Andre Drummond didn’t have a driver’s license when he moved to Detroit this past summer. His mother, Christine Cameron, gave him rides so he could get around the city and train at the Pistons’ practice facility. She’s currently living with him and his younger sister, Ariana, just a short drive — which Drummond now can do on his own — from the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Drummond is 19 years old. His three favorite movies are March of the Penguins, Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. Last year, he was the world’s largest Gumby for Halloween. Asked to sketch something for the NBA’s trading card partner at the Rookie Transition Program, he produced the bugged-out Kirby at the top of this post.

His age isn’t immediately obvious looking at him, though. While the majority of rookies need to fill out their frames, Drummond’s draft preparation involved shedding extra weight so he could be lighter on his feet. Listed at 6’10 and 270 pounds, Drummond is easily the most physically imposing player in his draft class and on his team. He has center strength with wing player agility and athleticism. He covers ground on defense and scouts salivate. He dunks and blocks shots and fans fawn.

He did these things last year at UConn and the previous two at St. Thomas More high school. At each stage, though, the conversation surrounding him changed more than Drummond did. In high school he was the consensus No. 1 player in his class, understood to be raw but considered a can’t miss prospect. Heaps of hype followed him to college, and when he and his team didn’t dominate as easily as expected, people looked at his physical prowess and questioned his motor, his mind and his love of the game.

“What went through my mind is this is a freshman in college,” said Jere Quinn. Quinn is the head coach at St. Thomas More, a man Drummond describes as “like a father to me.” Turns out, sometimes if you’re a young, goofy kid and you don’t yet possess a polished offensive game, you’ll be painted as someone who doesn’t take the game seriously.

“When I first met Andre he was trying to sell that he was a 3-man,” said Quinn with a laugh. “It was like, ‘Oh, great. Great, but we’re going to make you into more of a power player, if you’re okay with that. I think your livelihood will be revolving more around the basket.’ But I mean he puts the ball on the floor pretty well, he’s got pretty good vision, he catches freaking everything. But at the same time he enjoys it. He seems to enjoy it. And that was the irony when people were calling me last year and they were asking about his motor. I said, ‘You’re talking about a kid who loves to be in the gym to the point where he was an assistant coach for the JV team during our season his senior year.’ I said, ‘That’s not a kid who doesn’t like basketball. You’re not volunteering to coach the JV team sitting on the sideline in a shirt and tie in your senior year if you don’t love being in the gym and love the game.’”

“I just like working with kids, man,” said Drummond. “It’s always been a thing of mine. Just trying to give back and just share some of the knowledge that I have.” As well as coaching, Drummond was a residential assistant and a tour guide for prospective students.

“He was 18 years old,” Quinn said. “With expectations to get University of Connecticut back-to-back national championships. It’s just like, let’s slow the process down. Let him be 18. Now, let him be 19. Next year, let him be 20. He’s a young kid who enjoys life, who enjoys his family, who enjoys basketball, who’s got unlimited potential [which] I believe he will eventually maximize. But let it happen in the proper course. And in the interim, just enjoy the kid.”

“He’s your typical 19 year old,” said fellow Detroit rookie Kyle Singler, whose path to the NBA included four years at Duke and a year in Spain. “I remember when I was that age, I was just a kid that’s fun-loving, not a care in the world. He’s just a down to earth guy.”

“At times I definitely forget that I’m five years older than Andre,” Singler said. “At the same time we’re rookies, we’re at different points in our career.”

While Singler lived on his own in Madrid before becoming a Piston, Drummond is happy to have his family with him as a pro. “It’s great just having them out there in the city with me because I won’t be by myself,” he said. “Having a home cooked meal every day is not too bad, neither. And just having them there for support really is the biggest thing for me.”

Cameron goes to games in Detroit and, when her son plays on the road, she calls or texts afterward. “His mom gets it, his sister’s adorable,” said Quinn. “He’s got a good package as a family. And I think that’s one of the reasons Andre is so even-keeled and level-headed because when he was with us her focus was never really on the athletics, it was more on the academics and his character. Which quite honestly didn’t need a lot of work.”

What do need work are Drummond’s fundamentals. His ability to affect a game with his athleticism and bulk was evident from his first preseason outing. But to the chagrin of Pistons fans who rightfully see him as the franchise’s future, he’s only averaging 18.5 minutes per game as he figures out the nuances of the professional game. Even without a go-to post move or any semblance of an outside shot, Drummond is posting per-36 minute averages of 12.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“Watching him on film, he’s a beast,” said Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “He’s strong, he’s big, he’s aggressive, he’s learning the NBA game. I’m sure he, like most rookies, makes a lot of mistakes — offensively, defensively, he’s not where he’s supposed to be — but physically and athletically he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league.”

Detroit head coach Lawrence Frank isn’t limiting Drummond’s minutes because of any off the court issues or a deficient work ethic. He knows the fans, and some writers, want to see him on the floor more often and, to them, he stresses patience. Frank continually says Drummond is a “tremendous, tremendous young man” with a bright future who will see his minutes increase if he keeps up what he’s been doing.

“He just continues to get better,” said Frank. “He’s got a great spirit and energy about him and, every day, he comes to work. He’s a sponge.”

Drummond says the toughest part of the NBA transition has been the travel. He also mentions, like most rookies do, the physicality and speed of the game. Getting used to that as well as new terminology, new teammates and an entirely different lifestyle from what he was used to at college and boarding school is not easy, but he’s doing the work to learn. Enter the Pistons locker room before a game and you’ll find him hunched over a laptop with assistant coach Roy Rogers, going over game tape.

“That’s just something I’ve always done even throughout college — watch film on different players and different schemes that they have,” Drummond said. “But coming to the NBA, it’s a lot more high-tech stuff so we break it down to just one player and the different things that they do. So that’s one of the biggest things I’ve been working with.”

“He’s a great guy because he’s very very coachable,” Frank said. “And when your better players are coachable that sends a message to your whole team. So as he continues to grow and develop, as long as he keeps that ‘we’ mentality and that coachability mentality, then he has an unbelievable upside.”

There are no questions about his attitude coming from the people closest to him, and those who were yelling about his supposed lack of love of the game are quiet these days. “What’s there not to love?” says Drummond. “You’re playing the game that you love. Night in and night out, it’s a passion game.”