Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A look at the Detroit Pistons' decline

Much has been made of the decline of the Detroit Pistons since trading away near-MVP-candidate Chauncey Billups for the aging, one dimensional hall-of-famer Allen Iverson. At 46 games into the season, the Pistons sit at 25-21, 6th place in the Eastern conference, compared to last year's 33-13 mark at the same point.

But can all really be blamed on Iverson? He's clearly not a good defender, and not the scorer he once was, but he's still a valuable part of a team. Let's take a look at the side of this story that hasn't been looked at quite as much: the Pistons big men. For the sake of discussion, I'll be including Rasheed Wallace, Amir Johnson, Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, and Kwame Brown.

Changes from 2007-08

Aside from the short-term absence of McDyess due to the Iverson trade and his subsequent release, the only difference in the main rotation of forwards for the Pistons is they now have former #1 pick Kwame Brown instead of a half-season each from journeymen Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff.

Kwame plays the least minutes of the five bigs we're looking at, so the difference shouldn't be enormous, right?

Team stats comparison
Last year, Detroit enjoyed a +2.3 rebound differential per game, along with a block advantage of nearly two per game. This year that rebound differential has fallen to -1.1, with blocks down to around one per game.
The most telling part of the rebound number is that Detroits offensive rebounds have declined greatly (down 11%) while opponents defensive rebounds have increased greatly (up 8%). To me, this implies a lack of hustle by the bigs to get after second chance points.

The Forwards
Please note that all stats referenced below are on a per-48min basis, for consistency.

Rasheed Wallace

'Sheed is considered one of the emotional leaders of this team, especially now that Mr. Big Shot has left the building. He's seeing about three more minutes per game this year, but his numbers almost across the board have seen a drop.
Wallace is down 33% on the offensive glass from last year, and down 25% in blocks, the two main weaknesses above. In less big-man-oriented stats, where Wallace tends to be ahead of the curve for his size, he's also down 39% in assists and 24% in steals. He's also become slightly more oriented to the three point shot than he already was, with a 4% increase in 3pt attempts to go with a 18% drop in 2pt attempts.

I'd never thought I'd be pining for more aggresiveness out of one of the shortest tempers in the game, but 'Sheed needs to get mad and get at it if he wants to help swing the momentum back in the Pistons favor. Although he's still leading the league in technical fouls, so maybe he just needs some direction.

Antonio McDyess

Since his return to the team, McDyess has contributed plenty off the bench. Though he's averaging about five fewer minutes per game, Antonio has seen most of his rate stats go up compared to last year.

He's seen a 10% increase on the offensive boards to go with a 17% increase on the defensive boards. He's turning the ball over 16% less as well, although he's fouling at a slightly higher rate this year, and has seen a slight drop in scoring. The one glaring weakness compared to last year is a 15% drop in blocks.

On the whole, McDyess is helping his team, and could probably help them improve in greater minutes, but as a 34yr old player already on his second life after major knee injury, pushing him any further can't be a good idea.

Jason Maxiell
Last year, Maxiell was heralded as one of the up and coming role players in the league, with great energy and possibly a replacement for Rasheed Wallace down the line. This year, he's taken a notable step backwards in his development, in the eyes of coach Curry, and is seeing five fewer minutes per game as a result.

An obvious reason for this decreased floor time could be the 20% spike in foul rate for Maxiell, to go along with an overall 7% scoring decrease. In terms of rebounding, Maxiell nets about even with a 20% increase in offensive and a 19% decrease in defensive boards. He's also seen huge swings in guard numbers, with a 56% drop in assists but a 76% increase in steals.

With fouls, offensive rebounds, and steals on the rise, and assists on the fall, I think you could say Maxiell is going in the opposite direction of Wallace, almost being too aggresive. which leads to foul trouble. He does lead the team in offensive rebound rate, however, and if he can keep his fouls under control should hopefully take more minutes from Wallace or the remaining bigs.

Amir Johnson

When McDyess was originally traded away, Amir Johnson was stated as a reason the world wouldn't end if he did not return. Coming off his first year as a regular role-player, expectations were high for Johnson coming into this year, and he's received five more minutes of play per game as a result. Thus far, he appears to have come up short in almost every way.

Almost every rate for Amir has declined from last year, with the most notable being a 34% drop in blocks and a 14% drop in rebounds overall, mainly due to a 26% drop in defensive rebounds. Though not much different than last year, Johnson's foul rate is still an outrageous 9.2per48, more than 50% higher than Jason Maxiell's rate.

Clearly, Johnson still has more developing to do, and shaving his minutes back down to last years numbers, as opposed to continuing to start him as the Pistons have of late, could assist this development.

Kwame Brown

Kwame sits as somewhat of a space-filler on this roster, as the Pistons become the third team in three years to try to juice some production out of the former top pick. He averages less than 15 minutes per game, least of the players profiled here.

Kwame is scoring and rebounding at a similar rate to Amir, but with half the blocks. Kwame may foul at a rate of only 2/3 of Amir, but he turns the ball over more than 50% more than Amir.

Brown serves as you'd expect in his role, being a somewhat serviceable fifth big man, not meriting more play but not deserving less at the same time.

The Big Picture

With a progression of forwards like this, maybe it made sense to go small-ball for a while on this team. Curry needs to emphasize to the bigs their continued importance on the team, even though the local and national media only wants to talk about Iverson, Hamilton and Stuckey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess stats only tells you that much of the whole picture.

Recently I watched the Piston played, (against whom I forgot) when they use Hamilton as the focus, the other 4 was very active running the offense, when Iverson came in for Hamilton, the other 4 just stopped playing. There is no team chemistry. The body language of the other 4 is very negative.It doesn't look like a team who has been in the conference final for the last couple of years.