Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blake Griffin Trade: desperate, but necessary

I got pretty excited after the Pistons finished the first quarter of their season in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. They were 14-6, ranked 2nd in the East (although not even diehards would've assumed that would stick), and had just beaten the Celtics (#1 in the East) and the Thunder. Unfortunately, the Pistons would immediately follow their 14th win with 7 straight losses, lose their starting PG and their big FA signing to extended injuries, and just ended an 8-game losing streak with a win against Cleveland last night. Since starting 14-6, the Pistons have gone 9-20 and have dropped from the 2nd seed in the East to 9th. It's not pretty.

Injuries, regression, and poor coaching moves have been all to blame in part, but it was becoming increasingly clear that this team needed a top talent to move up a level. Well, they got one, albeit with some risks. Here are the pieces of the trade:

Pistons get - 

  • Blake Griffin, PF
    2017-'18: 22.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG & 5.4 APG
    Contract: $32.3M/yr thru 2021, with a $39M player option for 2022
  • Willie Reed, C2017-'18: 4.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, & 0.6 BPG in 10.7 MPG
    Contract: $1.6M thru the end of the season
  • Brice Johnson, PF  
    2017-'18: 1.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG, & 0.7 SPG in 4.2 MPG
    Contract: $1.3M thru the end of the season

Clippers get -
  • Tobias Harris, SF/PF
    2017-'18: 18.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG & 2.0 APG
    Contract: $16M in 2018 and $14.8M in 2019
  • Avery Bradley, SG
    2017-'18: 15.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, & 1.2 SPG
    Contract: $8.8M thru the end of the season
  • Boban Marjanovic, C
    2017-'18: 6.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, & 0.7 APG in 9.0 MPG
    Contract: $7M/yr thru 2019
  • 1st Rd Draft Pick
    Top 4 protected thru 2020, then unprotected in 2021
  • 2nd Rd Draft Pick, 2018

This was a bit hard to process. The Pistons NEEDED to do something, there's no doubt. Stan Van Gundy's rope was running out. There were a lot of rumblings among the fans that he needed to either step down as coach or get fired. This trade probably buys him time, but does it set a good course for the franchise moving forward?

On one hand, Blake Griffin is still in his prime, he's the best player we've had on our team since... well, probably the 2005 version of Billups. Griffin, much like Drummond, just improved an aspect of his game that was previously a glaring flaw - for Drummond it was FTs, for Blake it was a 3-point shot. Previously, it wasn't worth guarding Blake behind the arc. Now he's got about a league average shot for his position. He'll add scoring, rebounding, and play-making to a team that desperately needs all 3 things.

On the other hand, he's getting a LOT of money over the next several years, and Blake Griffin has been injury-prone lately. He's not a particularly good defender, and the trade shipped out our best defensive player (only under contract this year, but still). The trade severely weakened our perimeter, and it will also likely cost us this year's draft pick - a cheap potential source of talent. With 2 players now on max deals, the Pistons DESPERATELY need cheap talent. The only ways to get that are either through the draft or to get lucky.

Either way, the Pistons are going to need some luck. They need Griffin to avoid any more serious injuries - he hasn't played a full season since 2014. They need Luke Kennard to be a legit SG, and preferably a GOOD one. They either need Reggie Jackson to get healthier or to replace him with someone good enough to start. And they need Stanley Johnson to at least be a credible starter at SF, or replace him with someone credible.

I'd like to see SVG get a little more comfortable with his younger players too. Henry Ellenson barely sees the floor. Kay Felder was just added to the team and could be an offensive spark off the bench, except he hasn't even dressed for a game yet. Kennard has been one of our top 3pt shooters, but only recently went from bench afterthought to key contributor. Our defense is already going to take a hit, and giving some of these guys more minutes won't help that, but we're going to need some contributions from cheap talent, and those guys are pretty much where that has to come from.

The reviews of this trade, from the Pistons perspective, have basically all fallen along the lines of "desperate move, might work, but pretty risky".
Whether the move ends up being good or bad, the Pistons should be a bit more fun to watch now.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Case For/Against Jim Caldwell

The Lions' season is essentially over, with one meaningless game left to play against the Packers, who are without Aaron Rodgers and are in the same boat as the Lions, playoffs-wise. The season has been lackluster and disappointing, and Caldwell's job has been called into question. Should his name be on the list of ousted head coaches on Black Monday?

The Case FOR Caldwell

Jim Caldwell has only been the Lions' head coach for 4 seasons, and of those four he's made the playoffs twice as a wild card and has only 1 losing season (2015, at 7-9). The Lions' 11 wins in 2014 are the most the team has had since 1991. This season was plagued by injuries to key players on both the offensive and defensive lines, which provides an excuse for missing the playoffs this year.

Record aside, Caldwell has been a stabilizing influence on the team. He is notoriously even-tempered (except when talking with reporters), and has often brought positivity and some level of personal accountability to the team. His calm demeanor was a stark contrast from his predecessor Jim Schwartz, who was a bit of a side show with
 his sideline antics (ironically, Schwartz once mocked Harbaugh for challenging a scoring play, then made the same mistake himself in a later game, which ended up costing Detroit a win. We're well out of the Schwartz era, believe me).

It's also worth pointing out Matt Stafford's development under Jim Caldwell. Whether Caldwell himself is responsible or if it's Jim Bob Cooter, Caldwell was the first coach to bring a dedicated QB coach for Stafford. The results were improved accuracy, fewer INTs, better running & pocket movement, but also fewer yards and more sacks. Take a look at the average of Stafford's last 3 seasons under Schwartz (which omits his rookie season and the injury season) vs. the 4 under Caldwell:

  • Schwartz Era AVG Season: 
    • 60.6% completions 
    • 4,885 yards
    • 30 TDs
    • 17.3 INTs
    • 87.1 passer rating
  • Caldwell Era AVG Season:
    • 64.5% completions
    • 4,309.6 yards
    • 26.4 TDs
    • 11.4 INTs
    • 93.3 passer rating
There are various factors that play into this, but ultimately Caldwell has had a positive impact on the Lions' most expensive asset. It's worth pointing out that we're comparing the impact of a BAD coach on Stafford vs. the impact of Caldwell (a mediocre coach) on Stafford. 

The Case AGAINST Caldwell

Caldwell is NOT a good coach. While his record has been markedly better that any other Lions HC in my memory, record isn't everything. His time here happens/ed to coincide with the prime of the best QB ever to play for Detroit in my lifetime. That's not nothing. 2 of the 4 years also happened to coincide with the best WR ever to play for the Lions... ever.

Caldwell also managed to benefit from major injuries to the starting QBs of each of the other 3 teams in the division, without (thankfully) having to deal with a similar injury to Stafford. Yet despite that fact, the Lions haven't won the division in his 4 years here. They haven't hosted or even won a playoff game, and each of their seasons ended in disappointing fashion. 
  • 2014 - Lost final game of the regular season (finishing 11-5), missing out on the division and hosting a playoff game. Then lost playoff game in Dallas
  • 2015 - Started season 0-5 before finally firing incompetent OC Joe Lombardi. Finished season winning final 3 games, which vaulted them out of the top of the draft (would've had a top 5 pick, probably either Ezekiel Elliot or Joey Bosa) down to 16th. Even going 2-1 would've resulted in a top 10 pick (Conklin, maybe). This is the worst possible way to win out.
  • 2016 - Finished the season on a 0-3 run, but backed into the playoffs at 9-7 because Washington lost. The last 3 games were all against playoff teams (NYG, DAL & GB), but had they beaten the Packers, the Lions would've won the division and hosted their playoff game. Instead they had to go to Seattle and got creamed.
  • 2017 - Needed to win out to make the playoffs. Instead, they dropped the 2nd to last game to a very poor Bengals team in one of the more pathetic efforts you'll see on the football field, managing less than 300 yds of offense, and allowing 26 points to one of the worst offenses in the league
Record aside, Caldwell has been a pretty poor game day coach. He doesn't have a good handle on when to challenge a call and when NOT to challenge a call. He's a terrible clock manager (which was his rep with the Colts), to the point where he's had to hire a guy to take over that aspect of the game. Caldwell is notoriously conservative when it comes to 4th & short situations (which probably cost them the WC game against the Cowboys), and when he DOES choose to go for it, it's usually the wrong decision (which definitely cost them this year against the Steelers).

In addition to being a poor call challenger, clock manager, and go-for-it guy, he's also a poor game planner. He rightfully took responsibility for the Lions' ineptitude in the first quarter this season. Rightfully because the coaches SCRIPT the play calls for the first couple of offensive series. He's been entirely unable to fix this problem, which dates back to last year. He hasn't been able to fix the running game (which dates back to when Barry left), which is somewhat on personnel, but it's also on scheme, which is the coach's responsibility. 

The play calling this year has been horrendous. This is mainly on JB Cooter for designing a predictable and conservative offense, but it should also be a referendum on Caldwell. He hired Joe Lombardi who was WORSE, and stuck with him FAR too long, until the 2015 season was a lost cause. Cooter seemed better only by comparison, as his offense failed to advance the ball and stretch the field, and ultimately got predictable as defenses became familiar. With the personnel we have, our offense should be running people out of the building. 


Caldwell isn't the worst coach in the world, but he's pretty mediocre. The team as currently constructed, with THIS quarterback, should make the playoffs 8 times out of 10. We're Lions fans, so we're not used to that expectation. We need to get over it, or the Lions will remain SOL. We have to expect better. Caldwell doesn't know how to fix this team, and he will definitely stick with JB Cooter for a season longer than he should, if Quinn lets him.

We need to stop comparing Caldwell to Jim Schwartz, Rod "0-16" Marinelli, and Marty "Take the Wind" Mornhinweg. We need to start comparing him to who's out there and who is potentially available. We can do better. Easily. And if you know that, why wait around and waste another year of Stafford's prime?

Thank him for 4 years and 2 playoff appearances, and show Caldwell to the door. If we don't do that, the Lions will continue to spin their wheels in mediocrity. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lions on the Brink

The Lions were 6-4 and coming off of 3-straight wins going into the Thanksgiving Day Game vs. the Vikings. A win vs. the Vikes (who they'd beaten in a VERY low-scoring affair in week 4) would've put the Lions in a favorable position to win the Division and make the playoffs. Since then, they've dropped 2 straight and basically need to win out to have a shot.

In the post-game presser after the most recent loss, Caldwell took the blame for the slow starts that have plagued the Lions this year, leading to several of their (currently) 6 losses. A better start would've probably led to wins against the Falcons in week 3 and the Vikings on Thanksgiving, and Caldwell's decision-making (not kicking FGs) & the red-zone play calling in the Steelers game led to that one being a loss as well. With better coaching, the Lions would be sitting at 9-3 right now and leading Minnesota in the divisional race. 

I don't want to absolve the players in this. Stafford's stats are deceptively good (per his reputation, so maybe it's not that "deceptive"), but he fails to move the chains at critical moments and for large stretches of the game. The Thanksgiving Day game was emblematic of this, with 6 of 11 drives lasting less than 5 plays and ending in either a punt or a turnover. That and the lack of scoring in the red zone (check out the Pts/RZ & TDs/RZ stats) can be laid at Stafford's feet, but I'm not sure how much is on him and how much is on the play calling...

JB Cooter has been less than stellar this year. For example, a sequence that directly led to the loss vs. Pittsburgh went like this:

  • 2nd & goal at the 1* - the defense lines up spread out, with a HUGE gap over the OG... a QB sneak would've plowed right in. Lions opt to throw, it's well covered, incomplete.
    * Washington should've scored on 1st down, only he failed to stretch for the goal line & was down at the 1 
  • 3rd & goal at the 1 - the defense bunches up in the middle, (prime setup to throw), Detroit opts to run Washington off right tackle & gets stuffed.
  • 4th & goal at the 1 - OK, the Lions have been stuffed on 2 straight plays at the 1. A FG would've given them the lead at that time... That's on Caldwell. But the pass play they drew up was abysmal, and Stafford got sacked.
One of my long-standing gripes with the Lions' playbook is that it does not seem to contain a goal line play that almost every NFL offense utilizes to great effect - line up for power run, 2 TE, play-action, and hit the TE in the end zone on an short flat/out route. We should know this play. We get hit with some version of this every time we play the Packers, for example (the clip below is not GB, I realize, but it was the best example I could find).
Given how bad our running game is, especially in short yardage situations, you'd think Cooter would add this little wrinkle into our offense. I don't think I've ever seen us run this. Or very many deceptive plays in general. Or very many plays that made me think, man, that was a WELL DESIGNED PLAY. So for all his rep as a "Stafford whisperer", Jim Bob has failed to demonstrate any level of innovation in our offense, and we seem to be as obvious as we were under Joe Lombardi's tutelage.

A quick analysis will show that in the Lions' 12 opening drives this season, 1 has resulted in a touchdown, 2 have resulted in FGs, and the rest have been punts or turnovers. The first drive is the one most scripted by the coaches, and usually planned out almost entirely prior to the game. When an opening drive fails so frequently, it's usually a result of coaching. Here are a few more facts about the opening drives:

  • Average 5.7 offensive plays (#21 in NFL), not counting punts
  • Average 23.8 yds, good for 27th in the NFL
  • Average of 1.08 pts, counting a TD as 7 (tied for #21 in NFL)
  • 3 of the Lions' opening drives have ended in a turnover, tied for 2nd worst in the NFL (not necessarily an indicator of bad coaching, but worth pointing out)
  • The 1st play has been a running play on 6 out of 12 times
  • The 2nd play has been a running play on 6 out of 12 times
  • Not counting sacks, 31 out of 37 passing plays have been described as "short" passes (usually inside 5 yds from the line)
In short, the Lions are one of the worst offenses in the NFL on their opening drive, and the bulk of that is on coaching. They don't game plan very well. They start out VERY conservatively, and they are very predictable.

Part of the problem is the Lions are a terrible running team, but they use their running game as though they were the '72 Dolphins. Run out of passing formations. Pass out of running formations. Run a LOT more off tackle (Abdullah is fumble prone, yet they like to run him up the middle for some reason)...

In fact, check this out: the Lions are a TERRIBLE running team, but their best success is on the outside - 24th in NFL off the left end, 30th off LT, 30th up middle, 32nd off RT, 20th off left end... Yet 33% of their carries go up the middle, and only 36 % of their carries go off the ends, where they're most effective. It's weird how this coaching staff has constructed an offense that insists on playing to the Lions' weaknesses, all in the name of "balance". 

Look, by all means, run the ball 40% of the time. But stop running it like we're a power running team. And telegraphing the run by being predictable sort of defeats the purpose of attempting a balanced attack.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Pistons Report: First 20 games

A lot has been going on for me lately, and as a result I haven't posted in the last 5 months. Several major life changes happened within the space of a couple of months, and blogging wasn't a priority. Now, I could go back and cover all the major Detroit-based sports stuff from the past 5 months, but the thought of that wearies me. I'd rather talk about something I didn't see coming... THE PISTONS!!!

Now, the Pistons really only made 1 "major" move in the off-season and a couple of minor ones. The big move was trading Marcus Morris and a 2nd rounder for Avery Bradley. Bradley represented a noticeable upgrade over KCP (who the Pistons opted not to re-sign & ended up with the Lakers). Bradley is a better defender than KCP, who was the team's best defender, and a MUCH better offensive player. But losing Morris meant either Stanley Johnson would end up as the starting SF (a role he hadn't earned yet), or Tobias Harris would play SF and either Leuer or Ellenson would step in as the starting PF. It looked like a there wasn't a net gain, talent-wise, based on who would have to get Morris' minutes.

The other moves were to bring back Tolliver (bench), draft Kennard 
(bench - for now), and sign some back of the bench fillers - Eric Moreland and Langston Galloway. Some minor players were re-signed, some minor players were let go, but this was nothing franchise-altering. Yet here we are, 20 games in, and the Pistons sit at 14-6, in the #2 spot in the East, just below the Celtics. So what gives?

I had severely underestimated the impact that Andre Drummond's surgery to repair a deviated septum would have. He wasn't sleeping well due to that issue last year, which resulted in him showing up to games already lethargic, not to mention the impact it had on his breathing during games. But that's just part of the picture. His role in the offense changed, going back to pick-and-roll, doing more face-up attacks, and being a distributor - Drummond went from a career average of less than 1 assist per game to now nearly 4. But the greatest change in his game is in his free throw shooting (FINALLY). Drummond went from the worst FT shooter in the history of the league (.386% last year) to a capable one (.630% so far). 

This is the guy I wanted to see a couple of years ago. I had given up hope that the FT% would ever come around, but the offense and defense at least should get there. Well, he looks to have fixed his FT form and is fitting in with his new role in the offense better than ever. He's not afraid of getting fouled anymore, so Drummond is much more assertive on offense, instead of falling back on that fadeaway hook that went in about 25% of the time. He's also making a higher percentage of his put-backs, probably because he's less afraid of contact. Simply put, Drummond is back to being the best player on the team, and that's elevated by the fact that the team has the 4th best record in the NBA.

The 2nd best player is debatable. You could make a credible case for: 

  • Tobias Harris - improving upon last year, which was already pretty good
  • Reggie Jackson - healthy, shooting better than ever, running a solid offense AND playing credible defense
  • Avery Bradly - currently having his best offensive year ever, best defender on the team, and people like Zach Lowe are saying things like "he's showing the rest of the team how to cut to the hoop"

It's worth noting that all of the 3 guys I named above are currently shooting better than ever from behind the arc. Bradley is at .441 3P% (.371 career), Jackson is at .390 3P% (.326 career), and Harris is astoundingly at .467 3P% (.346 career). The team was one of the worst in the NBA from behind the arc last year at .330 3P% (28th, in fact). At this moment they're shooting .391 3P%, good for 3rd in the NBA.

Also, the bench is surprisingly GOOD (ranked 8th, by one website). Ish Smith, coming off of a pretty good year (for him) last year, seems to be even better. Especially on the defensive end. Langston Galloway, Eric Moreland, and Anthony Tolliver - all brought on to fill out the bench - have contributed to make it a potent unit. Galloway is the Pistons' best player by net production, and he absolutely lights it up from behind the arc. Last year's team had one player shooting over .360 3P% (roughly league average). This year's team has 4 players shooting .400 3P% or better.

These improvements - massive improvements, in some cases - beg the question... are the Pistons a contender? As in, a TITLE contender?

Well, they do have a couple of marquee wins. They beat the Warriors on 10/29 by 8 pts IN GOLDEN STATE, which is no small feat. Monday's win over the Celtics IN BOSTON is another big deal. It's early, it's early, it's early... but the early indicators are yep, this team could contend. In the East, anything is possible.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why the Tigers MUST trade JD Martinez

The Tigers are in bad shape. It might not look so bad on the surface, if you haven't been paying attention. They're only 3 games below .500 and 4 games behind the Division-leading Twins, who can't POSSIBLY be for real (right? RIGHT???). Plus, the Tigers have an inordinate number of key players who are starting slow or slumping right now, so we should have every expectation that they'll turn this thing around...

Except it's June. It's no longer "getting the kinks out". The season is nearly a third of the way over, and guys like Cabrera are playing WELL below expectations. In fact, let's look at the main culprits:

Something worth pointing out about Victor Martinez - he's on pace to strike out over 100 times, something he's never done in his career

These are 4 of your 5 highest-paid Tigers. The other is Justin Upton, who is actually having a pretty good year (on pace for 40+ HR). Going into this year, we had a few assumptions - Cabrera and Victor would hit (they aren't), Verlander would be at least "good", if not "great" (more like "mediocre"), Zimmerman would be better than last year (he's worse), the starting pitching would be a strength (it's kinda not, at 13th out of 30 teams), and the bullpen would struggle (ok, nailed that one).  It's looking like the Tigers' aging core has started to fall off the cliff. 

*** To be fair to Cabrera, we recently discovered he's been playing through a litany of injuries since the World Baseball Classic, so it's safe to say his game hasn't deteriorated THIS much. At the same time, he's on the wrong side of 30, so I expect injuries to be more of a factor down the road.

But wait! It gets worse! Check out the salary situation going down the road:

That's right, we are shelling out $30M/yr to Cabrera through the end of the chart. In actuality, that number increases to $32M for each of 2022 and 2023, and there are 2 conditional $30M years on the contract after THAT. It's not very likely Miguel will meet the conditions (must finish in top 10 of MVP voting in 2024 & 2025), but the earliest he's going to come off the payroll is after 2023, at the age of 40.

Victor Martinez looks like a bargain by comparison, since we only owe him $18M for one more year. Still, he's getting paid to be an All Star, and his OPS is 35 points below the AL average. As a DH who can't run anymore (I honestly don't think there is a slower player in all of baseball), his only value is as a hitter, and he's not hitting. Additionally, he's slotted in the clean-up spot for some reason... This insanity deserves its own paragraph, so hold that thought.

One year removed from being the top pitcher according to Wins Above Replacement, Verlander now ranks 81st (56th among starters). He might not be this bad, but I seriously doubt he'll be in the Cy Young conversation again.

As bad as all those other contracts are, Zimmerman's is far, FAR worse. He currently ranks 114th among starting pitchers, according to WAR (and 334 overall). Yet for the next 3 years, he'll be getting money that usually goes to a top 10 starter. For perspective, we're paying him more next year than Max Scherzer is getting (although Scherzer's salary jumps SIGNIFICANTLY the 3 years after that). Zimmerman has managed to string together 3 good starts in a row, but his best days seem to be behind him.

Just to underscore the intractability of the situation, here are some of the guys that are getting paid not to play for us. Additionally, Anibal Sanchez is getting $16M to play minor league ball. Sanchez, Pelfrey, and Lowe's money will come off the books after this season, but we're still paying Prince Fielder (now retired) $6M of dead money through 2020.

If you add up the dead money, the guys under contract next year, and then figure Upton & Kinsler come back, that's $140M dedicated to 2 position players, a DH, 2 starting pitchers, and 2 guys who won't be on the team. The luxury tax threshold will be $197M next year, which leaves $57M to fill out the roster. That's about an average of $3M per player, assuming only a 25-man roster (it'll be more than that). 

The rumor is that JD Martinez could be traded for multiple top prospects... Not the #1 guy, but maybe the #2 guy and a couple other higher prospects in a given system. Given the cap situation, the degrading core, and the state of the Tigers' farm system, this has to be a no brainer.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Stan Van Gundy on 97.1 The Ticket

Stan Van Gundy is without question one of the best interviews in all of the current coaches in professional sports. At least out of the big 4 (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey). He's intelligent, honest, and not afraid to say things. Most coaches don't say things. They spend a lot of time talking, but they obscure, mislead, or flat out refuse to answer some pretty straightforward questions. For example, Lions coach Jim Caldwell was weirdly evasive about DeAndre Levy's status all year, treating his meniscus surgery like it was the nuclear launch codes. SVG is NOT like Caldwell.

Additionally, Mike Valenti can be pretty combative. He doesn't pull punches, he holds everybody to a pretty high standard, and he asks questions that sound like a critique on the way out of his mouth. The Lions dropped 97.1 as their broadcast home because The Ticket refused to fire Valenti based on his on-air criticisms of the team. That should give you an idea of the environment SVG was walking into when he agreed to an in-studio interview on The Valenti Show.

It was fascinating radio, and well worth a listen if you have time. If you don't, here are some highlights:

  • 4:51 - Talking about Drummond's post-up game. The post-up game took a step back this year, and SVG thinks that's due to Andre being afraid of getting fouled. Drummond's a beast in the post in practice, but it doesn't translate in games because they just put him on the line.
  • 8:57 - Valenti asks about off-season moves. Based on Stan's response, they are actively looking to make a trade, but they're having problems finding a partner. The approximate quote is "I like our core of guys, but no one is untouchable." 
  • 11:30 - Stan's approve vs. Sam Hinkie's "Process". SVG disagrees with the viability of The Process as a multi-year tanking strategy. He makes great points that a ton of cap space doesn't do the Pistons much good because we aren't a free agent "destination", and that your building strategy has to fit with what the fans & ownership are prepared to face.
I've never been a fan of The Process, and I think the Sixers fans are nuts for lionizing it as much as they have, considering it hasn't won them anything yet (they essentially raised a banner to losing earlier this month). But I do think limited scale tanking can be effective and even necessary. For example, when Reggie Jackson went down with tendinitis, the Pistons' season was basically over. It wasn't super obvious until towards the end of January, but the right move would've been to shut Reggie down for the rest of the season, try to dump somebody at the deadline for picks or players on their rookie deal (KCP, Drummond, or Tobias Harris would've been the best bets), and tank for the remaining third of the season.

A one year tanking strategy can work too, and Stan Van Gundy did acknowledge that it has worked in the past. I totally disagreed with his stance that the team/fan-base wouldn't have supported a teardown when he came on as GM/Head Coach. Yes, the Pistons had been losing since 2009, but they never bottomed out. They had 5 straight seasons of 25-30 wins, which was never bad enough to net a top 3 pick. Based on Stan's first season of 32 wins, we could've easily done a teardown and built from the ground up, instead of trying to build a contender on a crumbling foundation. Had Stan cleaned house, Gores might not have been thrilled, but I think most of the fans would've accepted it.

Every year from 2009 on, Dumars was trying to make the playoffs, which was like charging the enemy lines with a gun full of blanks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Big Surprise, Pistons Drafting 12th

The Pistons entered the lottery with the 12th best odds of ending up with the 1st pick, and no surprise, they ended up with the 12th pick. The odds of landing anywhere between 1 and 3 were 2.5%, and there was a 3.9% chance that they'd move back . So I suppose we can be thankful that at least we're picking 12th and not 13th. But based on how the 2016-'17 season went, a couple of things became very clear :

  1. The Pistons will not contend for a title with this roster
  2. The Pistons have a lot of money invested in Drummond and Reggie Jackson, who will never be the best or 2nd best player on a contending team
Keith Langlois tweeted the last 7 #12 picks, and it's not particularly encouraging:
Saric looks like he might be ok, and Adams is a decent player, but basically you're looking to get a role player at 12, MAYBE a starter, but probably not. If you're looking for encouragement though, maybe we should just look at good players taken in the first round with pick 12 or later. Let's start with 2014, since we can't really be sure how good anyone in the last couple of drafts will be...

2014: 12 - Saric, 13 - Zach Levine, 19 - Gary Harris, 23 - Rodney Hood, 25 - Clint Capela
2013: 12 - Stephen Adams, 13 - Kelly Olynyk, 15 - Giannis Antetokounmpo, 21 - Gorgui Deng, 22 - Mason Plumlee, 27 - Rudy Gobert

2012: 21 - Jared Sullinger (Jae Crowder and Draymond Green were taken in rd 2)
2011: 13 - Markieff Morris, 14 - Marcus Morris, 15 - Kawhi Leonard, 16 - Nicola Vucevic, 19 - Tobias Harris, 22 - Kenneth Faried, 24 - Reggie Jackson, 30 - Jimmy Butler
2010: 13 - Ed Davis, 14 - Patrick Patterson, 18 Eric Bledsoe, 23 - Trevor Booker

Of that group you've got Giannis, Gobert, Kawhi, and Butler who are all franchise players taken 12th or later in that 5-yr period. Adding Green, although he was a longshot at the time, makes it 1 guy per year. The trick is to get lucky/good enough to take him. So who is it in THIS draft?

Well, if I knew that I would be in a different profession than I am now (and making a lot more money). At some point before the draft, I'll go over who I'd like to see the Pistons take. But for now, let's look at what they could do to turn the franchise around...

To me, this is crucial. The Pistons HAVE to get shut of Andre Drummond's contract, and it would be preferable to dump Reggie's deal as well. Interestingly, there are two potential trade partners at the top of the draft who are in need of some interior help. Boston really needs to move Horford to the 4 and get a 5 who can protect the rim and rebound. Drummond fits the rebounding bill to a T, and while he isn't the best shot blocker, he's better than anyone the Celtics currently have, and I think he'll do better if he focuses more on that end of the floor. Boston is pretty loaded at the guard position, so they might find it preferable to trade the pick for a big who is ready to go NOW so they can make their run at a title.

The other option is LA, and I think they'd do this. The Lakers have the #2 pick, and they've made no secret that they're in love with Lonzo Ball (and the feeling is mutual). But LA just spent a #2 pick on another PG, Russell, 2 years ago so... why not trade him? I believe I recommended some version of THIS TRADE a little before the deadline, and it makes even more sense now. The Lakers get something for Russell, they offload Timofey Mozgov's ridiculous contract, and they get a GOOD center in return. From the Pistons' perspective, they add a young PG on the rise, Ingram was the #2 pick last year, and the Pistons should also get a pick or two as well (the Lakers own Houston's 1st this year, pick #28, but none next year).

BOOM or BUST Candidates
If the Pistons can't swing a trade, they could play it safe and draft a player who fits their needs and is next up on their draft board (Chad Ford has them taking Kennard, which would be the epitome of this strategy). The other possibility is to go for a high-risk/high-reward candidate that could be that diamond-in-the-rough franchise guy, like Kawhi, Giannis, Gobert, Butler, and Green all were. What you need is a player who looks like he could be really good, but has some question marks that cause him to drop (think Thon Maker in last year's draft, only he didn't drop enough).

Harry Giles PF/C, Duke: Giles is actually the guy on the board at #12 (per the ESPN100 rankings), but he's also a big boom-or-bust candidate. He's had a couple of ACL injuries and wasn't 100% when he played with Duke last year, so we didn't get a real good look at him. Based on his DraftExpress scouting report, he has similar strengths and weaknesses to Drummond, except he's a little better from the stripe and he needs to add muscle. If he could develop a jumper and become a better passer, he could be an improvement over Drummond, but cheaper.

Justin Jackson SF, UNC: Jackson will be a good player. Or at least an okay player. In that respect, he's not that risky. I look at him in much the same way that I saw Denzel Valentine last year. Now Valentine was a much more established shooter and passer than Jackson is, but both players were old for their draft class and very limited athletes. Jackson still isn't an elite shooter, but his shot has already improved significantly and could continue to do so.

OG Anunoby SF, Indiana: If the Pistons make this pick, they're likely tanking the 2017-'18 season because Anunoby is expected to miss the entire year recovering from an ACL tear. If he comes back healthy with the same bounce (or near enough), he could be a steal at 12. His shot is quite uneven, but he has shown the ability to hit 3s at a high rate (although the FT% concerns me). He has the potential to be a top defender in the league.

Hamidou Diallo SG, Kentucky*: This would be a true boom-or-bust move. While Diallo officially is coming from Kentucky, he never actually played a game for them. He stayed in HS for a graduate year, then did a spring semester with UK and practiced with the team but never played. He's an other-worldly athlete, with the top vertical in the combine and some of the better sprint & agility times as well. The problem - his shooting SUCKS. Dwyane Wade was able to be a pretty good SG without ever developing much of a 3pt shot, but this is a different league than the one Wade entered 14 years ago. Diallo shot a .176 3P% last year at Putnam Science Academy. He'll need to double that, if he's going to be an effective scorer in the NBA. Also, Diallo would be a huge reach at #12 for the Pistons.

Caleb Swanigan PF, Purdue: Speaking of a huge reach, here's the Draymond Green of this draft. Swanigan isn't an elite athlete and he'll need to continue to improve his conditioning, but he did make some strides after a poor combine showing last year. He's a phenomenal rebounder, defender, he's good with his back to the basket, and he featured a .447 3P% that wasn't there last year. He might not even get picked in round 1, but he's a guy that has the potential to be one of the 5 best players of his draft class.

Jordan Bell - the PF out of Oregon - is another guy I like a lot, but I don't see him as a potential "boom" candidate. I just like his skill set. He blocks, rebounds, has an ok shot, and he can get up & down the court. He'd be an ideal small-ball 5, or somebody to play next to Ellenson and add a rim protecting presence. If we do the trade with LA and end up with the 28th pick as well as our own 12th, we could go with either him or Swanigan there and it wouldn't be a huge reach.

As far as the 2nd round goes, I'd LOVE to get Frank Mason, the PG out of Kansas. He was Kansas's best scorer, and he can really shoot (.490/.471/.794 shooting %s). Any small guard will get Isaiah Thomas/Nate Robinson comparisons, but they might actually be apt in this case. I think he ends up as a quality backup PG, and he has the potential to be a starter on a good team.