Showing that Criticism is not Equal to Hate

Posted on October 29, 2009 by


In general, if you tell fans of a team that there is little hope before the season even starts, those fans are going to become unhappy.  At least this has been true when I have discussed the fortunes of the less-fortunate teams in the NBA. 

Often when I state that a particular NBA team is not very good (or a particular player is not very productive), fans of that team will declare that I “hate” their favorite team (or favorite player).  To prove that this is not the case I am going to return to the subject of the Detroit Pistons.

As the following picture illustrates, I am a fan of the Pistons. 


When Henry Abbott asked me what I wanted for winning the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, I asked for an autographed banner of the Detroit Pistons.  And for better or worse – and as we will see, last year, and probably this next year, are part of the “worse” – this banner is staying on my office wall.

The Pistons Decline

How did last year become part of the “worse”?  In 2007-08, the Pistons won 59 games. And the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) of 8.17 ranked second in the NBA (behind Boston). 

At the onset of the 2008-09 season, the team that won 59 games was still essentially the same.  But after winning the first two games of the 2008-09 season, general manager Joe Dumars made a bold move.  Chauncey Billups – the team’s leader in Wins Produced in 2007-08 – was sent to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.  Given the past performance of Billups and Iverson, one suspected this move would remove Detroit from the list of title contenders in 2009.  Looking at Table One, we can see that’s indeed what happened. 

Table One: The Detroit Pistons in 2008-09

Iverson ended up playing nearly 2,000 minutes in Detroit, producing only 1.4 wins.  His WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.034 was below Iverson’s career average; but even if Iverson had performed at the level seen across his career the Pistons would have struggled.   Iverson’s career WP48 entering the 2008-09 season was 0.083.  Had Iverson played at this level the Pistons would have only won two more games last year [in contrast, Billups produced 16.0 wins for the Pistons in 2007-08].

Although I doubt that Dumars looks at Wins Produced in making decisions, I suspect he knew that going from Billups to Iverson was a step back.  But the Pistons — with Billups — were not likely to win a title in 2009.  Given the age of Billups, it was time to start building another title contender.  And with Iverson’s expiring contract, Dumars had the ability to start building during the summer of 2009.

So in the short-run the Billups-Iverson trade looked bad. But in the long-run, this could be thought of as a stroke of genius.  Unfortunately, the word is “could”.  When we look at the moves Dumars made with this cap space, we (and I mean “fans of the Pistons”) are left disappointed.

Faltering on the First Steps to the Next Title

Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva – two players who have never been above average in their careers – were signed to relatively large contracts.  And Antonio McDyess – the player who led the Pistons in Wins Produced in 2008-09 – was allowed to depart for San Antonio.  Such moves leave the Pistons with the following depth chart.

Potential First String

PG: Rodney Stuckey [4.1 Wins Produced, 0.079 WP48]

SG: Richard Hamilton [2.5 Wins produced, 0.052 WP48]

SF: Tayshaun Prince [7.8 Wins Produced, 0.122 WP48]

PF: Charlie Villanueva [3.8 Wins Produced, 0.087 WP48]

C: Ben Wallace [4.3 Wins Produced, 0.159 WP48]

Potential Second String

PG: Will Bynum [0.9 Wins Produced, 0.052 WP48]

SG: Ben Gordon [6.1 Wins Produced, 0.097 WP48]

SF: Austin Daye [rookie]

PF: Jason Maxiell [2.6 Wins Produced, 0.090 WP48]

C: Kwame Brown [1.6 Wins Produced, 0.078 WP48]

As noted this past summer, the Pistons 2009-10 depth chart fails to inspire confidence.  Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were the only veterans who were above average last year.  And the Wins Produced of the nine veterans listed above only sums to 33.7.  This is hardly enough to contend for a title.  Yes, maybe Big Ben to can return to what he was the last time he played for the Pistons.  Any maybe the younger players will get much better.  And maybe…. I am spending too much time looking at my Pistons banner (and drinking the Kool-Aid).

The numbers seem to suggest that if the Pistons get to play teams like the Memphis Grizzlies every night, then Detroit will look amazing.  But against the better NBA teams the Pistons will probably have problems.

The silver lining in all this is that Joe Dumars is more than willing to make different decisions when things don’t work out as he originally thought.  Past mistakes – see Rodney White, Darko Milicic, and yes, Allen Iverson – were soon allowed to go elsewhere.  So when the Pistons don’t contend in 2009-10, we can expect changes to be made.  Such changes could –and we must emphasize the word “could” – bring in some players who are truly above average.  And if that happens, my banner will look so much better in my office.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.