Monday, August 24, 2015

Over/Unders from PistonsPowered

Tim Thielke of PistonPowered.com posted an article asking readers to predict 20 statistical over/unders for the Pistons' 2015-'16 season. I thought it was fun, and some of the juxtapositions were provocative, so I'll post my predictions here so we can track them, along with some explanations.

Which will be higher?
  1. Andre Drummond’s rebounds per game or Andre Drummond’s points per game?
    Points. Drummond's rpg are pretty close to maxed out, ppg should see a boost with Monroe gone. Plus, I think he's developing a lot more as an offensive player.
  2. Andre Drummond’s free throw percentage or Marcus Morris’ total starts?
    Drummond's FT%. I think Morris gets between 30-40 starts, Drummond's FT% should be over 40%. Please let it be over 40%.
  3. Spencer Dinwiddie’s total minutes or Stanley Johnson’s total points?
    Johnson's points. With Blake & Jennings, Dinwiddie doesn't get any burn. Even if Jennings gets traded, I think Dinwiddie spends most of the year in the D League.
  4. Reggie Jackson’s double-doubles or Pistons’ made free throws per game?
    RJ's double-doubles. He had 15 last year playing part time most of the year, Pistons averaged 15.8 made FTs per game, and they didn't add anybody who'll raise that number significantly. This is a safe bet.
  5. Stan Van Gundy in-season player acquisitions or Andre Drummond’s blocks per game?
    SVG's in-season acquisitions.  SVG picked up 6 guys mid-season last year. Drummond will have to average over 3 bpg to have a shot.
  6. Combined games played by Danny Granger, Cartier Martin, Adonis Thomas, and Darrun Hilliard or Ersan Ilyasova’s total three pointers made?
    Ilyasova's made 3s. These other guys will be cut, traded, or sent to the D league. EI makes at least 70 threes, probably closer to 100.
  7. Pistons’ longest winning streak or Aaron Bayne’s points per game?
    Pistons' winning streak. This is really close because I think they're both around 8. Almost said "push".
  8. Jodie Meeks’ three point percentage or Spencer Dinwiddie’s field goal percentage?
    Meeks' 3P%. This was nearly a push as well. I think they both end up close to .380, although less PT on Dinwiddie's end could skew the numbers.
  9. Brandon Jennings’ total games played or Joel Anthony’s free throw percentage?
    Anthony's FT%. Mainly because I expect Jennings to get traded at some point.
  10. Steve Blake’s minutes per game or Reggie Jackson’s points per game?
    RJ's ppg. Backup PGs usually get 20+ mpg, but if Jennings gets a lot of PT and doesn't get traded, Blake gets closer to 10-15 mpg.
  11. Reggie Bullock’s total DNP’s or Joel Anthony’s total field goal attempts?
    Bullock's DNPs. Anthony took 62 shots last year. I doubt Bullock plays in 20 games.
  12. Kentavious Caldwell Pope’s three point percentage or Pistons’ total wins?
    KCP's 3P%. He should shoot somewhere between .360% & .380%, Pistons likely finish with 35 or less.
  13. Marcus Morris’ total steals or Aaron Bayne’s free throw percentage?
    Baynes' FT%. I don't think Morris plays enough to get 80 steals
  14. Brandon Jennings’ total starts or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s points per game?
     KCP's ppg. Unless Jackson gets hurt, Jennings won't get 12 starts
  15. Pistons’ final seed or Stanley Johnson’s rebounds per 36 minutes?
    Piston's final seed. If Johnson doesn't play much, this could get totally skewed by a small sample size. I'm betting the Pistons' seed will be between 9th & 12th, and Johnson's rebounds per 36min fall between 7 & 8.
  16. Number of Piston all-star berths this season or number of Piston playoff wins?
    All Star berths. I think Drummond makes it in this year, possibly Jackson as well. If they even make the 8th seed, they get swept. This could very easily be a 0-0 push.
  17. Ersan Ilyasova’s points per game or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s points per game?
    Ilyasova. I think he gets more of a bump in SVG's offense than KCP does. This was close as well. One of these guys will average close to 14ppg, the other closer to 12.
  18. Anthony Tolliver’s total rebounds or Andre Drummond’s total blocks?
    Drummond's blocks. Tolliver plays fewer min, Drummond improves on D.
  19. Jodie Meeks’ total three pointers made or Marcus Morris’ total three pointers made?
    Meeks. Unless he gets traded. If he sticks, I think he plays a bigger role in the offense.
  20. All Pistons’ combined triple-doubles or Stanley Johnson’s final Rookie of the Year rank?
    Johnsons's ROY rank. The only Piston with a triple-double last year was Jackson with 2. He'll play more this year, but it's very rare to have more than 4 triple-doubles in a year. Russell Westbrook led the NBA with 11, but he's ridiculous. Harden was 2nd with 4. I'm betting the Pistons combine for 3 triple-doubles on the season and Johnson finishes 4th or lower in the ROY voting.
That was fun. The bets (no money involved) I'm least secure about are 7, 8, 10, 17, and 20. We'll check on these halfway through and again at the end of the season.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

One Red Paperclip - Pistons/Dumars version


I've been obsessed with the idea of the Pistons pulling off a One Red Paperclip trade. Since Stan Van Gundy used this offseason to basically add a bunch of minimally significant, moveable parts, the idea struck me that some of these moves could be potential stepping stones to something greater. For those of you who don't know the One Red Paperclip story, a guy named Kyle MacDonald started with a red paperclip and made a series of trades, gaining a bit of value with every trade, until he ended up with a house.

I noticed in the Ersan Ilyasova trade that Stan gave up 2 guys he was going to cut anyway for a guy he could use, and in the trade that brought over Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, and Danny Granger, Stan gave up a future 2nd-round draft pick. Both trades were deals where the Pistons were giving up very little to almost nothing in order to gain useful players. The hidden cost on the Pistons' side is the loss of cap space which hinders their ability to sign good free agents, but for the sake of this post I'm looking at asset-for-asset moves and leaving cap space out of the picture.

Instead of trading a red paperclip for a house, we're trading 2nd-round picks and guys we want to waive for a championship roster. Is this possible? As sort of a test case, let's look at how Joe Dumars constructed the 2004 Championship team.


First, Joe D took over the team prior to the 2000-2001 NBA season. The year before, they went 42-40, made the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, and lost to Miami in 4 games in the first round. The top contributors on that team were Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Lindsey Hunter, and Christian Laettner. He had a lot more to work with. If the team as constructed when SVG took over was the red paperclip, Joe D was starting with the Coleman Stove.

The first big move involved the Pistons' best player, but it was still kind of a "something for nothing" deal in that Grant Hill was leaving Detroit as a free agent. They managed to get a couple of players in return by swinging a sign & trade with Orlando. We all know how that worked out.
Grant Hill --> Orlando, spent multiple seasons on the DL before getting traded to PHO
Chucky Atkins --> Detroit, starting PG, then backup, then traded

Ben Wallace --> Detroit, starting C, won multiple DPOY, AS appearances, centerpiece for championship defense

Dumars was shipping lots of guys out. Lindsey Hunter was traded for Billy Owens (meh), but the next notable deal was the Laettner trade.
Christian Laettner --> Dallas, basically washed up, ended up in a trade package to WAS
Terry Mills --> Dallas, never played there, signed with IND and was totally washed up
Cedric Ceballos --> Detroit, washed up, dumped on MIA for a 2nd-rounder who was in turn traded for Zelly Rebraca
Eric Murdock --> Detroit, waived
John Wallace --> Detroit, mediocre backup who was then traded

A very key move was Dumars' deadline deal later that season.
Jerome Williams --> Toronto, mainly bench player, ended up traded to CHI

Eric Montross --> Toronto, backup C, retired after the following season
Corliss Williamson --> Detroit, 6th-man type post scorer several years including 2004
Kornel David --> Detroit, played in 10 games, did nothing
Tyrone Corbin --> Detroit, waived



Dumars wasn't the greatest drafter in round 1, but he did nail many of his 2nd round picks, getting Mehmet Okur with the 38th pick of the 2001 draft. The groundwork for the 2004 championship team and the Rasheed Wallace trade was laid at this point. How did Dumars expand on that in the '01-'02 season? He started by trading 2 2nd-rounders to Toronto for Zelly Rebraca, a capable backup C who ended up part of the Rasheed Wallace trade.


The next move was a classic example of a something-for-nothing trade that Dumars utilized to turn the Pistons from also rans into contenders.
John Wallace --> Phoenix, was next to useless at this point in his career
Jud Beuchler --> Phoenix, a 3PT specialist who did nothing else and was basically done
Cliff Robinson --> Detroit, starting PF for 2 yrs, capable stretch-4 and defender, traded

Dumars rounded out the roster moves of the '01-'02 season by picking up Jon Barry & a draft pick (who became Delfino) for Mateen Cleaves, and then drafted Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd overall pick. Looking to build off of the 50 wins of the previous season, Dumars used the mid-level exemption to sign Chauncey Billups and then followed that by making another key move that helped build the championship team.
Jerry Stackhouse --> Washington, played a couple of solid years before being traded

Brian Cardinal --> Washington, played 5 games & got waived, career backup elsewhere
Ratko Varda --> Washington, waived
Rip Hamilton --> Detroit, played here 9 seasons, usually leading the team in scoring

Hubert Davis --> Detroit, played 3 games, got waived
Bobby Simmons --> Detroit, waived



Stackhouse was Detroit's leading scorer, averaging NEARLY 30 ppg one season, but he seemed to disappear in the playoffs. Hamilton was possibly less talented a scorer, but he was more reliable and provided better spacing with his midrange game. Chauncey was famously a steal for the MLE. That Pistons team won 50 games again and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1991. Like the '91 ECF, they were swept. Clearly they needed one more piece to get over the hump, and owning the Grizzlies' #2 overall pick might have been that piece except Dumars drafted Darko.

Detroit needed one more big piece to be seriously considered a contender. They couldn't get past New Jersey, let alone match up with any of the Western Conference elite. That led to the deadline deal that became the linchpin of the Pistons' 2004 title contention: The Rasheed Wallace Trade. I'm including the sources of each player involved in the trade so you can more fully appreciate the moves that led up to it.
Chucky Atkins (acquired in Grant Hill S&T) --> Boston, started at PG for the final 3rd of the season for Boston before being traded to LA for, among other things, the Rondo pick

Lindsey Hunter (acquired in trade for Michael Curry) --> Boston, waived, re-signed with Detroit (he leaves but always seems to come back) and was a key sub on the title team
#25 pick in 2004 --> Boston, used to pick Tony Allen, a defensive BEAST
Zeljko Rebraca (acquired in trade for 2 2nd round picks in 2002) --> Atlanta, played in 3 games and signed elsewhere in the offseason

Bob Sura (acquired in trade for Cliff Robinson & Pepe Sanchez) --> Atlanta, got a LOT more burn than he did in Detroit, signed elsewhere in the offseason
#17 pick in 2004 (acquired in trade for Rodney White) --> Atlanta, used to pick Josh Smith, we all know how that turned out
Rasheed Wallace --> Detroit, provided another one-on-one scorer and floor spacer, and his elite man-defense in the post allowed Ben Wallace to be a free-range shot blocker. 'Sheed provided 2 1/2 quality years before his skills started to erode and his volatility got the better of him
Mike James --> Detroit, quality backup PG. When Chauncey Billups went down and the Pistons wanted to just SHUT DOWN the opponent completely, they'd take out Rip and bring in James to run with the rest of the starters, Lindsey Hunter starting for the injured Billups. James was out of Detroit the following year

To recap, here is a list of all the major players on the '04 team and the player(s) who were the source of their acquisition, with the degree of separation in parenthesis (only going back to the earliest source in the Dumars era, otherwise Corliss & Darko could be sourced back to a trade back in 1982). If a player was part of a previous trade that was already sourced, I won't bother putting the same info in twice.
PG Chauncey Billups --> MLE (1)
SG Rip Hamilton --> Stackhouse, Cardinal, Varda (1)

SF Tayshaun Prince --> 2002 NBA Draft (1)
PF Rasheed Wallace --> Hill (2), Curry (2), '02 2nd rd picks (2), Laettner (5), White (2), '04 1st rd pick (1)
C Ben Wallace --> Hill (1)
-------------
Okur --> 2001 NBA Draft (1)
Hunter --> Curry (1), then signed off waivers
Corliss --> Montross (1), Williams (1)
James --> same as 'Sheed


It's notable that of the top 9 players who got a ring, 2/3 of them were acquired by trade. Sometimes a something-for-nothing trade peters out and doesn't have any payoff in the long run. Other times, those tiny improvements can snowball into pulling off a 50 cents on the dollar hijacking like the Rasheed Wallace trade.

Right now SVG is gathering assets. He's already pulled off 2 something-for-nothing trades. Can he pull off a Red Paperclip deal? Will we be evaluating a deal some 2 or 3 years in the future and say, "you know, this all started with a 2020 2nd-rd pick"? We can only hope.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Tigers' Deadline Reboot

The Tigers went into trade deadline week having lost 2 series and split one since the All Star break. At somewhere between 4 & 5 games out of the Wild Card, the consensus was the team wasn't good enough to contend this year and needed to get younger. The Tigers haven't drafted all that well, and most of their better young talent has been used in trade to acquire immediate impact vets. With three of their top players - David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria - entering into free agency this winter, the Tigers opted to cash them in for whatever prospects they could get.

I followed the Price deal very closely, since Price is on my fantasy team and I lose him for nothing if he gets traded to the NL. Fortunately, the Tigers found a buyer in the AL and got what I thought was a VERY good deal.
Dombrowski sent Price north to Toronto, getting 3 LHP prospects in return - Daniel Norris, Jairo Labourt, and Matt Boyd. Labourt and Boyd are middling prospects and may never turn out to be much, but Norris was a HUGE get. Keith Law had him ranked as the #18 prospect in all of baseball
going into this year, and had this to say:
"On any given night, Norris can show you four average or better pitches, with a plus slider and changeup and the ability to touch the mid-90s (although at the risk of coming out of his delivery). ... He's athletic enough to be able to maintain a consistent delivery, and the raw stuff is certainly there - he was fifth in the minors in strikeouts in 2014 - for him to be a frontline major league starter."
Norris was a really good get for Price, who the Tigers were losing for nothing anyway at the end of this season. Norris's debut with Detroit was on Sunday, and he basically had everyone saying, "Price who?" Saying he'll REPLACE Price is a bit of a stretch, but he's had a pretty nice start.


Soria was the next domino to fall, getting dealt to Pittsburgh a few hours after the Price deal. The player Detroit got in return, JaCoby Jones, is a mid-level SS prospect currently toiling away in double A. He's a 5-tool guy (speed, hit for power, hit for average, glove, throwing arm), so if he can put it together and make the big league club, this trade will look really good for Detroit. Right now it's a "well, at least we got something" trade.

Finally, Yoenis Cespedes was shipped to the Mets for a couple more pitching prospects. I like the deal from the prospective that there's a decent chance Cespedes signs back with Detroit in the offseason. Of the two prospects Detroit got in return, Matt Fulmer and Luis Cessa, Fulmer is the better prospect. Grantland's Jonah Keri thinks Fulmer might make the rotation as early as next spring. Cessa has been getting lit up since his promotion to triple A, but hopefully that's more a product of playing in the VERY hitter-friendly Vegas minor league ballpark in the VERY hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Fulmer is a good "get", and the Mets' reluctance to part with him is probably why this deal got done only at the last minute. Zack Wheeler would've been REALLY nice to get, but his inclusion in the proposed (and nixed) Carlos Gomez deal was based on the fact that CarGo has another year of team control. Getting Fulmer is good enough, and hopefully Cespedes comes back next year anyway.

Take a look at the Tigers' updated prospects list. Norris is at the top, although now he's with the big club he's less of a "prospect" and more of a player. Fulmer slots in at #5 on the list, just behind Buck Farmer, who's filled in with a spot start here and there already. Anybody that high on the list stands a chance to play in the majors next year. Matt Boyd and Luis Cessa follow at #8 and #9, which indicates that they're a couple of years away from debuting just yet. Finally, JaCoby Jones and Jairo Labourt come in at #13 and #15, respectively. They're at least 4 or 5 years away, if they're going to make it at all.

I liked the Tigers' moves overall. The pressure is off and I can enjoy the games without getting too frustrated with every loss. Plus, Dombrowski did a good job to get what he did. Dave Dombrowski's contract is up at the end of the year as well, and he may follow Price and the others out the door. If that's the case, I think he's left the team in decent shape to rebuild. They're still wearing Justin Verlander's contract like an albatross around their neck, but they've got some young talent coming up that mitigates the impact of some of those larger contracts. I think they'll re-sign Cespedes, and then hopefully they'll focus most of the rest of their spending on bullpen arms.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Tigers Enter the Wasteland

The MLB All Star game is over and games start again this Friday, so let's take a look at the Tigers going into the 2nd half (technically they've already played more than half a season, but traditionally the All Star Break is considered the halfway point). The Tigers' record is .500 at 44-44, which is viewed as a big disappointment, given the season expectations.

The Tigers opened the season with the 4th-highest payroll in baseball, which ideally should lead to some wins. Unfortunately, while they improved some areas on the team, the starting pitching and the bullpen didn't get as much help. The offense & fielding were bolstered by the additions of Yoenis Cespedes (trade) and Jose Iglesias (return from injury), but they lost Max Scherzer (free agency) and Rick Porcello (traded for Cespedes) and did not adequately replace them (Simon and Greene have stunk, stunk, STUNK). They also did nothing to bolster the bullpen, which has been this team's Achilles' Heel since the Tigers have been good enough to HAVE an Achilles' Heel.

Of all the issues holding this team back, the pitching gets the most attention, and rightfully so. The Tigers have the 4th-highest ERA in baseball and the 5th-lowest number of strikeouts. That's probably not good. If you break it up between starters and relievers, it makes it a bit clearer. The Tigers' starters rank 18th in the MLB right now, which is actually better than the Royals and Giants who both have better records than Detroit does, and just below the Twins & Angels. The bullpen is a different story. A team can overcome a mediocre starting rotation with a good bullpen, or a mediocre bullpen can be overcome with good offense & starters, but nothing can overcome a 'pen as bad as this one.

Dombrowski added Neftali Feliz a few days ago, which was a classic Dombrowski move. Pick up a mostly-washed up, former closer and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. This is Joe Nathan, Soria, and Jim Johnson all over again, and I expect it to be about as unsuccessful as those moves were. The big speculation is whether the Tigers will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, likely adding an arm if they're buyers. The next 10 games are pretty crucial to determining which road the Tigers will take. If they're sellers, expect them to look to deal David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline. Neither player is under contract next year.

The Tigers' offense is actually pretty good, ranking 5th in Batting WAR and 3rd in runs scored. However, they could be a lot better. The Tigers are leading the league in GDP (that's "Grounded into Double-Play, not Gross Domestic Product) and times caught stealing, two stats that take potential runs off the board. UBR is a stat that takes into consideration all other aspects of baserunning, like getting thrown out, not tagging up, etc. The Tigers don't rank well there either. If they lead the league in grounding into double plays, caught stealing, and are towards the bottom in EVERY OTHER ASPECT OF BASERUNNING, we're not a good baserunning team. This is odd to me, because aside from two or three guys, we have good or even great speed across the board. So we either have some of the slowest fast guys in baseball, or our coaches aren't doing a good job of deciding when to send a guy and when to reign him in. I think it's probably the latter.

Based on the use of the bullpen, baserunning, and other decisions, I'd say coaching has already cost this team a couple of games. The real problem is the bullpen, and I don't think there's an easy fix for that. Unfortunately for this season, I think the Tigers' best move is to embrace a rebuild. I really like Cespedes and Price is by far their best starter, but this team is a mess right now and they're too top heavy in salary.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pistons muddle through free agency, Stanley Johnson shines in Summer League

This was a very frustrating Pistons offseason for me. They passed on Justise Winslow in the draft. Ok, I've heard compelling arguments from the other side and have come to believe this is less of an incredible screw up than I originally thought. Both players are close. Most experts favored Winslow. He was only 1/2 an inch shorter, more athletic, and an elite defender. Johnson's offensive game was a bit more polished, he was stronger (with an extra 20 lbs of muscle), and he looked slightly less good than Winslow in every other category. Personally, I'd take the defensive freak, but I see the argument for Johnson has some merit.


Then came the trades and free agency. SVG traded for Ersan Ilyasova prior to the draft. With Monroe certainly heading out of town, Van Gundy wanted to add depth to the PF position. Ilyasova is a stretch 4 (he shoots .370% from 3pt range for his career, although his seasonal averages waver from about .400% to about .300), which fits with Drummond and Van Gundy's offense much better than Monroe did. However, the move cost the Pistons some cap space. This becomes important a little later.

The Pistons had targeted a couple of SFs to go after in free agency. Danny Green, a SG/SF, was a restricted FA for the Spurs. Reportedly we called him at 12:01AM the instant free agency began. Here's my impression of how that conversation may have played out:



Stan Van Gundy: Hey Danny, happy free agency! This is Stan from the Pistons, just wanted to let you know that we really like you and will pay you a lot of money to come to Detroit.
Danny Green: Um, yeah, thanks Stan. I appreciate that. But you should know that I'm already with someone, I'm happy here, and I think I really have a chance to help build something special.

SVG: That's great Danny, but do they appreciate YOU? I've got a $60M contract here that proves how much I appreciate you. What have the Spurs done for you lately?
DG: Well, we won a national championship like a year ago. Money isn't everything, and I'm committed to this relationship and I want to make it work. If that means taking less money to stay, I can make that sacrifice.SVG: Relationships are a two-way street, Danny. Remember that. We'll be here if you need us.
DG: Yeah, okay.

SVG: By the way, do you have a friend?


DeMarre Carroll was next on the list. He had a breakout season last year as the starting SF for the Hawks. Carroll was on his first free agent visit with Toronto, heard the number he wanted to hear, and cancelled his other visits. I figured Draymond Green wouldn't see the light of day, that Golden State would lock him up before he had a chance to hear any offers. Their contract talks broke down, so for a few hours I had a slim hope that the Warriors were insincere in their desire to re-sign Green at any cost. Unfortunately, Golden State recovered and offered a max-type deal of 5 years, $85M which Green gladly accepted.


That left Tobias Harris - a young SF/PF combo-forward with 3pt range, Wes Matthews - a 3&D SG/SF coming off an Achilles tear, and Khris Middleton - a throw-in from the Brandon Jennings/Knight trade who turned into a 3&D monster. Both Harris and Middleton were RFAs, so the incumbent team could match any offer. The word on Harris was Orlando wasn't going to match a near-max deal, so he was supposedly more attainable than Middleton was. Matthews was less desirable, since he was coming off of a serious injury and was more of a 2 than a 3 or 4. Harris seemed like it was going to happen, and then... this.


Aron Baynes is basically a replacement-level player the Pistons signed for the type of money that goes to your best guy off the bench. Several equivalent or even better players went for far less money. And not only was it an overpay, it killed any cap space the Pistons had for signing Harris, Middleton, or Matthews. Van Gundy mitigated this terrible move and his failure to sign any of the names he had targeted by making a deal with Phoenix to help them clear cap space. The trade sent a 2020 2nd round pick to the Suns for Marcus Morris (who will either start at SF or come off the bench as a SF or PF), Danny Granger (who might get cut or might be a 2nd- or 3rd-string SF), and Reggie Bullock (who might get cut or might be the 3rd-string SG or SF).


By all accounts, both trades were considered favorable to Detroit. In both cases we lost little and gained more. The Baynes signing was pretty bad, probably overpaying him by 30-50%. Reggie Jackson signed a near-max deal to stay in Detroit, which I considered a solid move. But the object this offseason should have been to put the team in good position for next offseason. Detroit was one of a few teams with good cap space to sign free agents. Next season, everyone will have good cap space. They needed to sign their max guy this year and go for filler next year.

I'm reserving total judgment in the hopes that SVG is working on asset acquisition, hoping to pull off some One Red Paperclip type of swindle. Van Gundy could be looking for players who have a talent/value gap on the open market, but that wouldn't explain the Baynes signing. At this point they have to either hope that they're good enough to attract a quality FA, or that they're bad enough to land a top 3 draft pick. They've lived in the middle ground for the past 7 years.

***



Stanley Johnson has been really good in Summer League play. Through 3 games he's averaging 17 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2 assists, 2 steals, he had a monsterous block on Justise Winslow, and he's shooting .704/.500/.563. This is a ridiculously small sample size, and it's Summer League. Summer League success doesn't necessarily translate to the NBA regular season, just ask Austin Daye.






In the anticipated Winslow/Johnson matchup yesterday, Johnson acquitted himself very well. He only took 5 shots but managed 14 points, 7 boards, 2 dimes, 2 steals and dat block! Plus, he mentioned a couple of "hockey assists" (passes that lead to passes that lead to baskets) which don't show up in the stat sheet. He also racked up 5 fouls, all in the first half. Johnson's assessment was he wasn't playing strong, physical defense, causing him to lose Winslow and bump him when Johnson tried to recover. He adjusted in the 2nd half and was much better.

Stanley Johnson looks like he has the potential to be a very good player in the NBA. I don't think he'll ever be a STAR, but he might make an all star team or 2.

Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 NBA Draft: Did SVG Screw the Pooch?

The 2015 NBA Draft is over, and man was it an emotional rollercoaster. Heading into the draft there were some trade possibilities, some potentially Machiavellian maneuvering, and a list of potential draftees as long as my arm. I was hoping that either Mario Hezonja or Justise Winslow would slip past the Denver Nuggets at #7, but if not I was resigned to talking myself into Stanley Johnson. Well, we got Stanley Johnson, but not in the way that I expected.


In order for either Hezonja or Winslow to slip to the Pistons at 8, 3 different things needed to happen.
  1. Jahlil Okafor had to go in the top 3 picks
  2. Willie Cauley-Stein had to be drafted before the Pistons went on the clock
  3. Emmanuel Mudiay needed to be taken in the top 7 as well
Those were the 3 main things I was rooting for as we went pick by pick. Minnesota took Karl-Anthony Towns first overall, no big surprise there. The Lakers took D'Angelo Russell #2, which wasn't a surpise but it threw the first thing I needed to have happen in jeopardy. LA was a 50/50 shot to take Okafor, they didn't. Philly had the #3 pick and already had taken big guys in the last 2 drafts. I thought Mudiay might've been the pick there, or Porzingis, or... who knows. GM Sam Hinkie is pretty unpredictable. He took Okafor.

This screwed the Knicks at #4 big time. They desperately wanted Okafor or Russell. I thought Mudiay would've been a good consolation prize, but they went with Kristaps Porzingis. This drew a strong reaction from the New York crowd.



My favorite was the kid who was trying to boo while taking several selfies of his cryface. I can't take your anguish seriously if you're more concerned about posting pictures of it to social media. I felt bad for Porzingis. It's not really his fault Philly took Okafor. I thought he was one of the best 3 guys available at that point, and I hope he shoves it in the Knicks fans' collective face. Anyway, Porzingis going 4th meant Orlando was grabbing Hezonja (the guy I wanted most). That left Mudiay and WCS still in the wind, and Winslow as the top guy available on most draft boards.

The next two picks were pretty intense. WCS went 6th to Sacramento, knocking down my 2nd requirement to get Winslow. Mudiay then went 7th to Denver, filling requirement #3. Winslow was available. Then Adam Silver announced Detroit was drafting Stanley Johnson. I was pretty frustrated.



A lot of people have compared us taking Johnson over Winslow to how we took Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when Trey Burke was available. The fans really wanted Burke, KCP was a "meh" prospect, but Dumars went with KCP. I actually don't think that's the best example. A better hypothetical example would be if the Kings had taken someone else (say, Burke or someone like that) ahead of the Pistons, leaving Ben McLemore available, and the Pistons still had taken KCP. McLemore was a better prospect who played the same position as KCP, like Winslow and Johnson.

Comparing the two prospects, Johnson is slightly taller, not really longer, but more muscular than Winslow. On the other side, Winslow is more athletic, shot the ball better, and defended better than Johnson did last year. I saw a lot more of Winslow in the NCAA tournament than I did of Johnson, and Winslow impressed the hell out of me. Johnson did not. That doesn't necessarily mean that Winslow will become a better pro than Johnson, but he was certainly a better prospect.

***

Moving past what-might-have-been, what is the outlook for the Pistons going into the 2015-2016 NBA season? What did they actually get in the draft?


Pick #8, Stanley Johnson - SF Arizona
Age: 19 yrs old; Ht: 6'6.5"; Wt: 242 lbs
College Stats: 13.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 asts, 1.5 stls, .446/.371/.742 shooting %s



Look, he's not bad. He's pretty good on catch & shoot threes, he's a solid defender, and he has an ok handle. I'm a bit worried about the rest of his offensive game. If he wasn't shooting a 3 or scoring on a fast break, most of his other buckets came off of floaters in the lane. This wasn't a very high % shot for him in college, and it'll be worse in the pros. He needs to develop a better face up game, and probably work on his post game as well. He has the size & strength to guard LeBron and not get backed down. I'm not sure he's as quick as he needs to be. We'll have to wait and see. Detroit should be a much better defensive team next year, at any rate.

Pick #38, Darrun Hilliard - SF VillanovaAge: 22 yrs old; Ht: 6'6"; Wt: 220 lbs

College Stats: 14.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 asts, 1.8 stls, .440/.387/.796 shooting %s


Hilliard is a 4-yr college player, so he has less upside than does Johnson, but he should be a solid backup. He'll play either the 3 or the 2 off the bench, and he basically comes in as a somewhat unathletic 3 & D guy. Given the dearth of depth at the 3, I think he plays right away.

Free Agent Needs
Now that the draft is over, we can start thinking about filling the remaining holes in free agency. Monroe is gone, we'll probably re-sign Reggie Jackson, but it gets murky after that. They might explore trade options for Brandon Jennings, but more likely they'll keep him and hope he boosts his trade value when he comes back from his injury. That leaves 3 or 4 possible positions to fill: backup C, PF, SF, and SG.

There are a number of solid options at backup C. Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, Marreese Speights, and Brandan Wright could all be had for something in the $3M - $6M range. Alexis Ajinca is a very solid, low-budget option, or they could take a flyer on a guy like Jeff Withey.

At PF, the Pistons could throw their checkbook at LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, or even Millsap and hope they say yes, pushing newly acquired Ersan Ilyasova into a backup role. They could take a middle road and go for someone like Thad Young or Brandon Bass to compete for a starting role (Ilyasova probably keeps his job in that scenario), or they could go for depth and get a backup like Ed Davis or Amir Johnson.

SF is less of a need now, but I think the Pistons still need depth there. It's looking less and less like Detroit could even sign a 2nd tier option at this position, given that they really do need to spend at PF and they used the 8th pick to draft a SF. None of the 2nd tier guys would come here to either backup or caddy the starting SF spot for Stanley Johnson. I think Omri Cassipi or Jared Dudley could be had off the bargain bin and flourish in Van Gundy's system. Khris Middleton would be a slightly more expensive option, but I'd really like to get him back (not one of Dumars' better trades).

The Pistons have a glut of SGs, but none of them are very good. KCP took a nice step up last year, but his shooting numbers still weren't ideal. It doesn't really make sense to sign a SG, especially if Meeks' 3P% in the last 2 months of the season indicate he's worked out his shooting woes. However, based on the uncertainty at this position, SVG shouldn't rule anything out. That goes for PG as well, except that there aren't any good PGs available.


I'd like to see Detroit sign Alexis Ajinca for $1M/yr, at least make an offer for Aldridge (it won't happen though) and ultimately end up with Bass or Davis for about $5M/yr, and then sign Middleton for around $8M - $10M. Milwaukee can match for Middleton, so if we want to get him, it'd have to be an overpay. If we were able to pull that off, here's what the Pistons' depth chart would look like next year:

PG: Jackson/Jennings, Dinwiddie
SG: KCP, Meeks
SF: Johnson, Middleton
PF: Ilyasova, Tolliver, Davis
C: Drummond, Ajinca


All things considered, that team could make the playoffs in the East. No way they get home court, but they could be as high as a 6th seed. I tend to be overly optimistic though, and their floor is probably 30-ish wins again. I'd certainly like their odds better had they drafted Justise Winslow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Catching up in to the lull in Detroit sports & recapping the canoe trip

I haven't posted since May 22, mainly because it's kind of dead around here. The Pistons aren't in the playoffs and the NBA Draft isn't for another week yet, the Wings got bounced in round 1 and predictably named Blashill their new HC. There is little going on with the Lions & U of M right now, and the Tigers are basically grinding until they get healthy. There's a little to talk about there, but I'd rather lump it into one post instead of trying to stretch it into something weekly or bimonthly.

First, los Tigres. Verlander finally got healthy(ish) and pitched ok on Saturday (5 inn, 5 walks+hits, 2 ER, 2 Ks, no decision). My expectation is that Verlander becomes Detroit's #2 starter and solidifies the rotation, not that he becomes a second ace. He's older, still kind of recovering, and the decreasing velocity on his fastball is well documented. He'll be an upgrade over Lobstein and the pu-pu platter of fill-ins that were spot starting in Verlander's spot. He'll stabilize the rotation and probably give the Tigers an extra 6 wins that they wouldn't have gotten with replacement-level starters.

At this point, they're waiting for Alex Avila and Victor Martinez to return, neither of whom is on a firm track to get back soon. Without Victor, there's not a lot of pop in the lineup. Only Cabrera, JD Martinez, and Cespedes have more than 4 HR on the season. Avila, for all of his offensive shortcomings, is SORELY missed for his game calling (ESPN recently rated Alex Avila as the 2nd best catcher in baseball for calling pitches). James McCann is a bit better on offense, but not nearly as good on defense. As infuriating as it is to watch Avila stand next to the plate and watch strikes pour by, I'd really like to see him behind the plate watching strikes pouring in.

Last Tigers thing - the MLB All Star Game. All Star voting has been a crock for a long time, especially in baseball. While fan voting has tipped the NBA from time to time (hello, Yao), there's a long history of undeserving candidates getting voted into the Mid-Summer Classic (hello, Jeter). Still, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Miguel Cabrera, best hitter in baseball, might not start in the All Star Game. This is the problem with fan voting - if one particular fan base (in this case, Kansas City) decides to vote for all of their players, regardless of merit, it skews the results. The Royals have a decent case for maybe 2 of the 9 players currently slotted to start in the game, catcher isn't one of them. So vote early, vote often, vote Cabrera. You can resubmit your vote up to 35 times total, and voting ends 7/2/15 at noon.



My AL Ballot
C - S. Vogt, OAK
1B - M. Cabrera, DET
2B - J. Kipnis, CLE

SS - X. Bogaerts, BOS
3B - J. Donaldson, TOR
DH - N. Cruz, SEA

OF1 - Mike Trout, LAA
OF2 - Yoenis Cespedes, DET
OF3 - J. Reddick, OAK



I could've voted a Royal for OF (Lorenzo Cain), but screw them for messing with the voting process. Omar Infante, really? This is a guy who his own team is looking to replace at 2B, he's that bad. I could've slotted JD Martinez at that 3rd OF spot, but I didn't want to be too much of a homer. My NL ballot was more cursory, but I had Posey at C, Goldschmidt at 1B, Panik at 2B, Tulo at SS, Frazier at 3B, and Harper, Stanton, and Pollock all in the OF spots.

***

The Pistons made a sort of under-the-radar move, acquiring Milwaukee Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, 2 guys that Detroit was probably going to cut anyway. Ilyasova right now is a much better player than the other 2 guys in the deal, so this was a straight salary dump for Milwaukee. As far as Detroit is concerned, Ilyasova provides a MUCH better complement to Andre Drummond than Greg Monroe did, although Monroe is a better player. Ilyasova, shoots the three, and well, although his 3P% can fluctuate. Despite not being as good as Monroe, I expect the Pistons' offense to flow much better with him at the 4. Plus, he may be a backup or a 6th man, depending on how the draft and free agency go.







Speaking of free agency, you would think that taking on an $8M/yr would hurt Detroit's chances at landing a top FA, but not so. The actual impact of this move on the Pistons' salary cap is fairly minimal, giving them enough room to sign 2 or 3 quality FAs, their draft picks, and to match whatever Reggie Jackson is offered (if anything). I'd like to see Detroit get a couple of SFs, at least one of whom should be a pretty good player, another PF, and a backup C. This would be through a combination of free agency, the draft, and a possible sign & trade that sends Greg Monroe some place like NY.


There are some movings and shakings going on with the draft, but that deserves its own post, so I'll save that for next week some time.


For anyone who wishes the Pistons had taken the road to rebuilding that Philly is on (I'm not one of those people), apparently it's a bad strategy to draft dudes with injury troubles. Embiid might end up ok, but this is the risk they took. I'll feel bad for Embiid if he turns into Greg Oden, but I'd experience some serious schadenfreude for Philly.


***

My wife's brother is getting married, and this past weekend was his bachelor party. The bachelor party consisted of a camping & canoe trip up north, on the Pine River. It was all good times, with good food, a little bit of drinking, and some games like horseshoes, bocce, and a thing called Kan Jam, which was pretty cool. But let me get to the canoe trip.





This isn't me, but this is the stretch of river we canoed. Actually, we did about half of this stretch. Anyway, it was kind of chilly (I'm guessing mid-low 60's) and the water was COLD (we were told 57 degrees). Additionally, the river was a foot high due to rainfall during the week, and it was even faster than usual (the Pine is the fasted river in the LP). This made for a very interesting trip.
Side note: if you're canoeing a river with any kind of rapids, get a plastic or fiberglass canoe. Both my paddling partner & I were more familiar with aluminum canoes, so that's what we went with. This was a bad idea.
The people at the canoe livery strongly suggested water rafts for everyone. Half our group went that route, but not I. Three guys opted for kayaks, which I have no experience with, and four of us chose canoes, 1 plastic and 1 aluminum. The livery guy kind of shrugged at the aluminum canoe, which should've been a sign. 


Anytime we hit any kind of rapids (which was often), anytime either of us shifted in the canoe or dug deep with our paddles, or anytime somebody else (usually the guys in the other canoe) pushed our boat, we rocked like crazy. The body of the canoe was too stiff and we were sitting up too high. We ended up dumping in the river 3 times. Finally, we sat on our knees and managed to navigate some pretty rough water without much difficulty. I'm convinced we would've stayed out of the river had we either used a plastic canoe or paddled the whole river on our knees.


Regardless, we got soaking wet in freezing cold water, we got banged around by logs, rocks, and the canoe itself (I'm still sporting a bruise on my arm 4 inches long), and it was loads of fun. I'd have preferred to stay out of the river, but I still loved the experience. I wouldn't attempt this river in a canoe unless you had some experience (I can claim some canoe experience, not a TON) and you're paired with someone who has some experience. Otherwise, take a raft and enjoy yourself.