Big Ben Cannot Save Detroit from Ugh!

Posted on December 7, 2009 by


Soon after the 2009 free agent market opened the Detroit Pistons made a huge splash, giving $100 million to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.  At the time this deal was announced I – as a lifetime fan of this team (with a wonderful team banner on my office wall) – offered a quick response: Ugh!

To understand this response, let’s look at the career numbers for Gordon and Villanueva:

Gordon’s Wins Produced = 15.3

Gordon’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] = 0.059

Villanueva’s Wins Produced = 11.2

Villanueva’s WP48 = 0.074

An average player posts a 0.100 WP48, so both Gordon and Villanueva had career numbers that were below average.  Given such numbers, Detroit’s $100 million investment was unlikely to generate the return the Pistons envisioned.

Well, we are now 20 games into the Gordon-Villanueva era.  And the early returns – despite winning three of the last four games – are still “Ugh”.

Table One reports what the Pistons have done – with respect to Wins Produced and WP48 – after 20 games.

Table One: The Detroit Pistons After 20 Games in 2009-10

The Pistons’ efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) is currently -2.0.  This mark – and the team’s Wins Produced – suggests the Pistons will win 36 games this season (assuming – incorrectly – that minutes played stay the same the rest of the year).  As Table One indicates, about 7.7 of these wins can be traced to the production of Gordon and Villanueva.  More importantly, Gordon’s WP48 is 0.084 while Villanueva’s WP48 stands at 0.073.  Yes, the $100 million players are still below average.

The good news is that Ben Wallace – after three years away from the Motor City – has returned.  And his productivity – after years of injuries – is quite impressive for a 35-year old player.  As Table One reports, Big Ben’s WP48 is currently 0.281 and his projected Wins Produced stands at 14.8. 

Here is what was reported when Wallace was signed for $1.3 million last August:

In Detroit, the Pistons plan on using Wallace as a backup to Kwame Brown. The Pistons were especially thin on their front line last season and still believe that Wallace can defend and rebound — albeit not at the same pace as his last stint with the Pistons.

Although it may have been the plan to have Wallace come off the bench, that’s not what happened.  Big Ben has started all twenty games, and his productivity – although not quite what he did last time he was in Detroit (0.332 WP48 in 2005-06) – is simply amazing for an old basketball player.

Again, this is not what the Pistons expected.  And if we subtract Wallace’s projected productivity from the rest of Detroit’s roster we see a collection of players that are only expected to produced 21.3 wins.  In sum, without Big Ben – a player who was not expected to play much or play this well — Detroit would be very bad.

Fans of the Pistons (not this fan, but perhaps other fans) might note that so far Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton haven’t played much.  Last year, though, Hamilton was below average (WP48 of 0.052).  And although Prince was above average (WP48 of 0.122), he only produced 7.8 wins.  In sum, even with Prince and Hamilton the Pistons wouldn’t be that good.

Of course, in the Eastern Conference – where the list of truly good teams only includes Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, and Atlanta – “not that good” might still be good enough for the playoffs.   But for $100 million, the Pistons fans probably expect a team that can seriously contend in the East.  And the signings of Gordon and Villanueva – as expected – are probably not going to make that happen.  So for this Pistons fan, “Ugh!” is still the word.

– 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.