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The Final Frontier: A Detroit Pistons Season Preview

US Presswire

US Presswire


30 Previews, 30 Days

9/29 – Orlando Magic
9/30 – Charlotte Bobcats
10/1 – Cleveland Cavaliers
10/2 – Phoenix Suns
10/3 – New Orleans Pelicans
10/4 – Sacramento Kings
10/5 – Washington Wizards
10/6 – Detroit Pistons
10/7 – Minnesota Timberwolves
10/8 – Portland Trail Blazers
10/9 – Toronto Raptors
10/10 – Philadelphia 76ers
10/11 – Milwaukee Bucks
10/12 – Dallas Mavericks
10/13 – Boston Celtics
10/14 – Utah Jazz
10/15 – Atlanta Hawks
10/16 – Los Angeles Lakers
10/17 – Houston Rockets
10/18 – Chicago Bulls
10/19 – Golden State Warriors
10/20 – Brooklyn Nets
10/21 – Indiana Pacers
10/22 – New York Knicks
10/23 – Memphis Grizzlies
10/24 – Los Angeles Clippers
10/25 – Denver Nuggets
10/26 – San Antonio Spurs
10/27 – Oklahoma City Thunder
10/28 – Miami Heat
All Previews

This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!

Talent and fit are both abstract and largely unquantifiable concepts. All of our measures of talent are flawed in one way or another, and skewed by a player’s context and fit. Fit is even tougher to define, as it’s hard to tell how much of a team’s success comes from talent and how much from how this talent fits. These two factors are hopelessly intertwined, which makes weighing and manipulating them optimally one of the most challenging and important jobs for NBA executives.

A prime test case for how these two factors can be balanced will play out this season in Detroit. The Pistons went all out this offseason in upgrading their talent level, trying to bypass the slow, losing-based rebuilding process with money and nifty trading.

This blatant rush for talent, any talent, is most obvious in a log-jammed front court. There’s the quiet, consistent producer in Greg Monroe, the potential breakout star in Andre Drummond, and of course this offseason’s marquee acquisition, Josh Smith. All three players will likely start, which puts Smith at the small forward and creates a spacing crunch. Our valiant leader analyzed Monroe/Drummond film last season, and came away with the conclusion that for them to succeed together, the three other players on the floor had to be able to move well without the ball and shoot well. Smith may pass when it comes to off ball movement, but fails the requirement of shooting.

How successful can a lineup with only two “shooters” on the floor be offensively? I dug into the lineup data from last season to find out. I defined a shooter as a player with more than 70 shots from 16+ feet who had shot at least 35% on these shots, and looked at the how many shooters each lineup with over 60 minutes had. Here are the basic results:

This data shows a clear relationship between a lineup’s offensive efficiency and spacing, but there’s a flaw in the approach that comes back to talent vs. fit. In general, lineups with talented players do better. And in general, talented players are better shooters, because they’re, well, talented. To try to avoid this issue, we have to use an approach devised by Eli Witus, which compares the expected output of a lineup to how it actually did, and sees if that difference is correlated to a certain factor . All the methodology I use here can be found in Witus’ seminal study on the usage/efficiency tradeoff. I do what he did with two differences: I use the number of shooters in a lineups instead of summed usage rate, and I add in a usage curve when projecting a lineup’s offensive efficiency because of Witus’ findings. The results:

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.07.25 PM

The blue line is a smoothed out version of the data, and the black is a linear regression trend line. There’s a tiny linear trend that corroborates what the initial data showed, but it’s not statistically significant.

In short, lack of spacing doesn’t ring a death knell for the Pistons’ starting lineup, but it is still a large hurdle that will have to be jumped in order to attain success. Joe Dumars wasn’t worried about spacing when he talked to Zach Lowe earlier this summer about it, stating that it was worth the talent upgrades.

And ultimately, even if the starting lineup is a failure on offense, it’s not that big a deal. The defense should be suffocating, and the three big lineup will probably only get around 14 minutes a game. How things fit is yet to be determined, but the talent upgrades will come through to some degree, and help end the Piston’s competitiveness drought.

  • Andrew

    Great stuff. I am not at all surprised by the non-linear result. Shots at the rim are still the most valuable shots as you guys know. Spacing’s value is to open space around the rim so three shooters seems like a reasonable place for diminishing returns to set in.

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