Monday, June 11, 2018

Pistons that Almost Were...

Now that the Pistons have selected Dwane Casey to be their next head coach, they need a GM who can run a better ship than SVG did (or Dumars, in his last 5 years). That got me thinking about trade near-misses Dumars and SVG had in their time here.

2007 - Kobe vetoes trade for Rip, Tay, and picks.
This one would've been a coup for Dumars, but Kobe shot it down. He had demanded a trade and wanted to go to Chicago, but they couldn't make the pieces work. Detroit and LA had the details all worked out, but Jerry Buss talked Kobe down off the ledge and he stuck it out. He would go on to be league MVP the next season and win 2 more titles. Could he have won a 'ship here with Chauncey, Sheed and Dice? Probably.
Grade: Not Dumars' fault, but MAN... 1/2 a facepalm.

2009 - Detroit rejects Ray Allen & Rondo for Rip, Tay & Stuckey.

Ainge reached out through an intermediary and was summarily rejected. Allen's contract was expiring, so it's not as sweet an offer as it looks on the surface. Still, we would've had Rondo through his prime, the horrific 2009 FA moves Dumars made probably wouldn't have happened, and we would've had cap space in the bigger free agency summer of 2010.
Grade: Would've had 4 AS appearances out of Rondo, instead of 0 from Rip/Tay/Stuckey. 4 facepalms.

2014 - Stan turns down multiple offers for Greg Monroe.
Ugh. We don't know what was offered, but anything would've been better than what ended up happening. The Suns were the most aggressive suitor and they had guys like Dragic & Bledsoe that they were trying to get rid of. Even a weak tea offer would've been better than Stan opting to ship out Josh Smith for nothing, stretching his contract until 2020, then losing Monroe for nothing that summer.
Grade: Stan set off a chain of events that continues to screw us to this day. 10 facepalms. 

2015 - SVG prefers to draft Stanley Johnson over the 6 picks Boston offered.
This might be the most inexcusable non-move of the bunch. Danny Ainge was desperate to draft Justise Winslow, and started offering up the farm - 6 picks, including potentially 4 first-rounders. Fortunately for Boston (and unfortunately for us), Stan Van Gundy was so enamored with Stanley Johnson that he turned down a deal that included the Jaylen Brown pick and the Terry Rozier pick, among others. Brown & Rozier started for a team that made the ECF, Stanley Johnson comes off the bench for a team that couldn't win 40 games.

Grade: Inexcusable. INFINITE facepalms.

Most of Dumars' gaffes involved bad drafting and bad contracts. He tended to do well in trades, although the Ben Gordon trade wasn't great and turning down the Allen/Rondo trade probably led to some of his worst moves. 

Stan made a couple of decent trades early on, but he got progressively worse. Not dealing Monroe at the beginning of the '14-'15 season was just dumb. Nixing Boston's offer for the 8th pick was an all-time boneheaded move.

Look at who we could've had! Kobe in 2008 (not the GM's fault), Ray Allen in '09 and Rondo through his All Star years, whoever on the Suns instead of no Greg Monroe and negative cap space of Josh Smith, and finally Scary Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown instead of Stanley Johnson. Why didn't these deals happen? Other than the Kobe deal, it was because the GM at the time overvalued what he had and failed to look into the future. 
Whoever the next GM of the Pistons turns out to be, learn from this. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Now Here's a Thought...

Blake Griffin is the best player to play in a Pistons uniform since Grant Hill. In a vacuum, I love the fact that we have such a dynamic player on our team. He's also got a great attitude and is one of the more marketable players in the NBA. The problem is that he doesn't exist in a vacuum. He comes saddled with a monster of a contract (average salary of $34.2M thru 2021, with a $39M player option for 2022), and his skill set doesn't match well with Detroit's other star/good-ish players.

The Pistons still don't have a head coach or a GM, but whoever ends up in that role will have his or her hands full trying to make this roster work. We're maxed out, salary cap-wise, and this still is a borderline playoff roster AT BEST. I've got an idea that could fix both the player fit problems AND some of our salary woes in one fell swoop.

Trade Blake Griffin for Kevin Love straight up.

Stay with me here - Cleveland IS going to lose in the Finals, probably by getting swept tonight. That's a fact. LeBron IS going to sign elsewhere next year. Not necessarily a fact, but this is almost assured. So what does Cleveland do? They've mortgaged their future for the present. They don't own a pick in the first round this year, and they could lose their pick in either 2019 or 2020 if it falls out of the top 10. Their roster, sans LeBron, would be headlined by Kevin Love, a good player who has never headlined a playoff team in his career. Plus, even with LeBron's salary gone, the Cavs would still be too close to the salary cap to get a star in free agency. If Cleveland doesn't get a star player in exchange for LeBron via sign & trade (as suggested by The Ringer in this piece), the Cavs are STUCK. 

There's no replacing LeBron, but... if the Cavs did this deal for BG, they'd have an All Star PF and at least be under the luxury tax. A team of Blake Griffin, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, and Rodney Hood could make the playoffs in the East next year, especially if LeBron goes West. Look, the Cavs are screwed either way if/when LeBron leaves. Trading for Griffin would definitely ease the blow.

Now, the impact for the Pistons...

Love is not as dynamic a player a Griffin, but he's still pretty good. Love's rep as a lights-out shooter is deserved (.458/.415/.824 this year), but he's also a great rebounder AND a great low-post scoring threat. If his defense was a little better, he'd be a perfect match next to Drummond. He's quietly having a pretty good finals too, other than some sub-par 3pt shooting. We'd also clear about $1oM in salary from our books, still putting us over the cap, but it would allow us to use the full $8M MLE on a free agent instead of the $5M taxpayer exception.

The presumed starting lineup would be Drummond, Love, Johnson/Bullock/FA, Kennard, and Reggie Jackson. The SF position is still a bit dicey, but we could do better to fill it if we had that $8M MLE to spend (Trevor Ariza??? Sign & trade for Jabari Parker???).

We (the Pistons) don't have a lot of options. We're a team built to contend, but we're not a contender. It's possible if Griffin & Jackson are healthy next year, and we get a coach that can create a viable offense out of Drummond and them, the Pistons might be a playoff team. That's not enough, with this payroll. A trade for Love could move them from borderline playoff team to borderline contender.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Winter is Coming for the Pistons

The Pistons fired Head Coach/President Stan Van Gundy and their extreme long shot to hit the draft lottery didn't pan out, so they have no 1st round pick this year. The salary cap situation is pretty dire, maxed out with only trade exceptions and the MLE available to help their current personnel crisis.

What's the "personnel crisis" you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked. The Pistons are built around a pseudo-Big Three of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond. Of those three, only one isn't a liability on the defensive end of the floor, only one can even make threes at an average (or better) clip, and only one can be trusted to play in at least 70 games next season. The skill sets and weaknesses in Drummond & Griffin's respective games overlap quite a bit. Reggie has played at a near All Star level once in his life. And 74% of the Pistons' cap space is tied up with those 3 players.

On top of that, the Pistons are overloaded at the PF position with Ellenson & Leuer needing minutes, and under-loaded at the wing positions with no viable starters. Kennard could grow into a starting role at SG, although he would leave the team with sub-average defenders at 3 or 4 out of 5 positions. If you could combine the strengths and weaknesses of Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock, you'd have a pretty nice player. Unfortunately, what the Pistons have instead is a talent deficit at the SF position.

With no 1st rounder and no cap space, how can the Pistons extricate themselves from this cluster? Well, as a result of throwing Boban Marjanovic into the Blake Griffin trade, the Pistons have a $7M trade exception. This means they can work a trade where they can take on an extra $7M of salary that won't count toward the salary cap. With LeBron and Paul George likely opting out this summer, a number of teams will be looking to clear space. 

  • Patrick Beverly, PG/SG LAC - $5.03M
    12.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, .403/.400/.824, good D
  • Justice Winslow, SF & Bam Adebayo, PF/C MIA - $6.41M combined
    Winslow - 7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, .424/.380/.635, good D
    Adebayo - 6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, .512/---/.721, good D
  • Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF POR - $6.96M
    9.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, .395/.369/.738, good D
  • Terry Rozier, PG & Gueschon Yabusele SF BOS - $5.71 combined
    Rozier - 11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, .395/.381/.772, good D
    Yabusele - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.5 apg, .462/.324/.682, good D
  • Brandon Ingram, SF LAL - $5.76M 
    16.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, .470/.390/.681 
The Lakers REALLY like Ingram, and while a lot of their cap space IS tied up, they can alleviate that by renouncing the rights to a guy like Julius Randle (although they'd prefer a trade). The Aminu deal isn't such a long shot though, Patrick Beverly is another name that's been floated around. Boston isn't as cap-tight as the Clippers, Miami or Portland are, but they might be interested in freeing up some space to chase a larger salaried player. Still, Scary Terry Rozier has been invaluable this season with Uncle Drew out, and they'll probably want to get more than just cap space for him. Miami is in a similar situation to the Pistons, so I could see them cutting Winslow and Adebayo loose to free up space, although they'd much rather have Whiteside be someone else's problem.

Another option the Pistons have to give their lineup a boost is the Mid-Level Exception (MLE). The MLE would give them about $8.6M to spend on a player over the cap, although if they are approaching the hard cap ($123M), they lose the MLE and get the Taxpayer MLE instead, which is only worth $5.3M. For PGs who might be available at one of those prices, I like...
  • Fred VanVleet TOR, 2018 salary - $1.3M
    8.6 ppg, 3.2 apg & .426/.414/.882 shooting in 20 mpg
    He's on the little side at 6' even, but his defense isn't terrible despite that fact. He's only 24 yrs old, and his per 36min numbers look encouraging.
  • Milos Teodosic LAC, 2019 salary - $6.3M (PO)
    9.5 ppg, 4.6 apg & .419/.379/.848 shooting in 25 mpg
    Teodosic is a good bet to opt out of his $6.3M option. He's 31 and probably looking for a long-term deal, maybe 3-4 years. The MLE might be enough to get that done.
  • Yogi Ferrell DAL, 2018 salary - $1.3M
    10.2 ppg, 2.5 apg & .426/.373/.796 shooting in 27 mpg
    Ferrell switched to more of the SG role last year, but the year before he played a lot more PG and averaged 3.7 apg. The 3P% is real, and he's only 24.
  • Raul Neto UTA, 2018 salary - $1.5M
    4.5 ppg, 1.8 apg & .457/.404/.743 shooting in 12 mpg
    Neto has always impressed me, but he's on a team loaded with PGs. I don't know how good his D is, but I think he'd flourish in a #2 PG role.
  • Zach Levine CHI, 2018 salary - $3.2M (RFA)
    16.7 ppg, 3.0 apg & .383/.341/.814 shooting in 27 mpg
    Levine's a restricted free agent, but if Detroit offered $5M/yr for him, I don't think Chicago would match. Levine's been around for a while (4 yrs), but he's only 23.
Here's the same for wings:
  • Joe Harris BRK, 2018 salary - $1.5M
    10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, .491/.419/.827 in 25 mpg
    Harris looks pretty legit as a shooter, not so much as a creator, and he doesn't defense.
  • Seth Curry DAL, 2018 salary - $3.03M
    12.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, .481/.425/.850 in 29 mpg
    Steph's little bro basically player starter's minutes last year. He's listed at PG because he's 6'2", but he's really more of a SG. The defense isn't there, but he's got his brother's sweet shot.
  • Nick Young GSW, 2018 salary - $5.2M
    7.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.5 apg, .412/.377/.862 in 17 mpg
    Swaggy P is a good player who's playing for a GREAT team, so his production is down this year. That said, I don't know if $7M - $8M would be enough to get him. 
  • Marco Belinelli PHI, 2018 salary - $6.3M
    12.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, .442/.377/.908 in 24 mpg
    Belinelli would've been a nice guy to have for the SVG era. He's just a pure shooter. He doesn't do much else, though. Honestly, I'd bring him off the bench and start Kennard, if we went that route.
  • Wayne Ellington MIA, 2018 salary - $6.3M
    11.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, .407/.392/.859 in 26 mpg
    He's a bit undersized at 6'4" and a bit long in the tooth at 30 yrs old, but the guy can shoot. Not a great defender, but he's not a swinging gate either.
  • Rodney Hood CLE, 2018 salary - $2.4M
    14.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, .429/.381/.860 in 27 mpg
    He's been a bit of a controversial figure these playoffs, what with his refusing to play in the 4th quarter of a game and generally playing like garbage when not refusing to play, but prior to that he was a sought-after commodity. 
The point is, we cannot start a reboot this off-season. With no draft pick, no cap space, and to be honest, hardly any desirable trade pieces, the Pistons are in a bit of a pickle. They could try blowing it up, shipping out Drummond, Jackson and Griffin for picks and pennies on the dollar. I just don't think we can pull that off, and not very many GMs would jump at the chance to take a rototiller to the roster. Sam Hinkie's available, I heard.

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.