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Pistons: All That

So I'd developed this notion that the Pistons weren't really all that. I can't even recall what the evidence for that notion was, but I'd been clinging to it. This was probably related to my failure to watch any actual Pistons games except the one where the Wizards beat them. But now I watched the San Antonio game and the Miami game and it's pretty clear that I was, um, wrong about that. I still don't quite understand why they didn't try harder to challenge Wade's defense when he stayed in with five fouls and four minutes to go, but obviously it worked.

December 29, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Would you still take Gil over Chauncey?

Posted by: Pooh | Dec 29, 2005 10:54:10 PM

In a weird way, the Pistons aren't all that.

Their strength is their lack of weaknesses, their defense, and their almost perfect execution. But they aren't invulnerable in the way of the Jordan Threepeat Bulls or the Shaq/Kobe threepeat Lakers.

In other words, a rounded team with a dominant superstar should be able to beat them. But that team doesn't necessarily exist this year, and so the Pistons are seriously in the mix.

At the end of the day, I thought they were vulnerable to Indiana until the Ron-Ron fiasco, and I still think they're vulnerable to the Heat if Shaquille is healthy in May.

The current Pistons hysteria seems as wrong to me as the pre-season Spurs hysteria did. But unlike the Spurs, I do love watching the Pistons play. The tiresome Larry Brown cliche about "playing the right way" really does apply to them. And the Pistons/Heat Eastern Conference Finals should be an epic showdown.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 29, 2005 11:32:11 PM

How are the Spurs not a rounded team with a dominant superstar? I think nearly everyone would have described them that way six months ago and they are little changed.

I think you are setting the bar too high with the Jordan/Pippen, Shaq/Kobe comparisons. If they hold this form through the rest of the season and playoffs, Detroit will be in the top half of all the championship teams in league history.

Posted by: quietstorm | Dec 29, 2005 11:57:12 PM

They are just about flawless. The fact that 'Sheed drills 3 pointers really gives Miami fits. Their big men can stay on the perimeter and pull Shaq and Haslem away from the middle which opens up everything. Plus they are so damned clutch.

I really like the fact that they don't have any over-exposed superstars, but I think that's why they get misunderestimated. As soon as they beat the invincible Shaq/Kobe threepeat Lakers, all anyone wanted to talk about was LA drama instead of what team play can accomplish. I don't see how they are vulnerable to a single or superstar duo. The Spurs are more than just Duncan. They are also a team that plays very well together.

Posted by: Just Karl | Dec 30, 2005 12:09:39 AM

"How are the Spurs not a rounded team with a dominant superstar?"

Timmy's not a dominant superstar. He's just a really tall Piston.

He's not Jordan, or what Shaquille was a few years back, or what LeBron will be in a few years.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 30, 2005 12:29:49 AM

Are the Pistons playing above their point differential? So far they're 24-3 with an 8.5 point differential. The '95-'96 Bulls were 72-10 with a 12.3 point differential, though, offensive levels were a bit higher then. The Spurs and suns are at +6.5 with substantially worse records.

So I think one might make the case that the Pistons are playing a bit over their heads, and really ought to be something like 21-7 or thereabouts. And I don't even know a thing about how to make strength of schedule adjustments. But, it's not an open-and-shut case, so it may be contrarian instincts.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 30, 2005 1:09:07 AM

"Are the Pistons playing above their point differential? ... So I think one might make the case that the Pistons are playing a bit over their heads"

But a large part of the Pistons success is how well they execute in the last six minutes of the game.

So in an odd sense, they are playing over their heads by design.

Or to put it another way, they could make a run at the Bulls unbreakable record while having a significantly lower point differential. Jordan was on the bench icing his knees in the fourth quarter in blowouts while the Pistons are on the court in the fourth quarter reliably grinding out close wins.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 30, 2005 1:18:37 AM

At the end of the day, I don't think you'll see Detroit make a serious run at 70 wins. As Marc Stein's been saying, it doesn't make much sense for such a thin-benched team to try all that seriously to do it and risk over-fatiguing (or, worse, injuring) the starting five and blowing the playoffs. The fact that Jordan was able to spend lots of time "on the bench icing his knees in the fourth quarter of blowouts" was integral to that 72 game season making sense. The Pistons aren't generating tons of blowouts, but at the end of the season it'll still be more important to let everyone ice their knees than to ring up more regular season wins.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Dec 30, 2005 1:24:02 AM

Re: point differentials.

Pistons offensive and defensive numbers expect a winning percentage of 82 per cent. For 27 games, that would be 22-5 and for the full 82 games, 67-15. Maybe, they are a little over but still one of the greats if they keep it up.

Posted by: quietstorm | Dec 30, 2005 1:33:11 AM

Re: The Pistons not winning 70 - they seem likely to break down at some point given this usage pattern. Unless Flip backs off the minutes for the top 5, which doesn't bode well for their record, given the extreme dropoff in production from starters to bench players.

Posted by: Pooh | Dec 30, 2005 1:42:27 AM

Someone (I think it was Marc Stein) recently noted that this Pistons team is the same team that has won 50-something games each of the past two seasons. So why would we think that they are now a 70-win team? Is the change from Larry Brown to Flip Saunders worth an added 15 wins? I don't think so.

I didn't see the game last night, but obviously the Pistons are playing great ball at the moment. But I don't think that there's any reason to say that the hot streak they've been on will continue for the next 2/3 of the season.

For one thing, they haven't had any injuries. In that regard, they've been plain lucky. Take their competitors for the top team in the league - Miami, San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. They've all had injuries to one or more of their top players. I don't think the Pistons can count on their players remaining healthy for the entire year. Moreover, I agree with the above that as the season wears on, and the Pistons' lead in the conference grows, there'll be pressure on Flip to play his starters less minutes. And then you've got the prospect of more Darko minutes. (I note that the winning streak has occurred as Darko was eased out of the rotation. Hmmmm....)


Also, Petey's claim that Timmy isn't a dominant superstar is just nuts.

Posted by: Al | Dec 30, 2005 9:55:04 AM

Quietstorm: Royce Webb predicted a very similar win number (66) in yesterday's Daily Dime. I'm inclined to agree with both of you.

It is true that the lack of injuries to the Pistons has been fortunate for the team, but I'm not sure I would call it "lucky" in the common sense of the term. I wonder if Joe D has an eye for hearty players, in a way that, say, poor Kiki does not. That being said, their players are getting old and surely the team doesn't have that many injury-free seasons left.

I think Detroit has been getting pretty good bench production lately, especially from McDyess. I'm sure they'd like to see some more reliability from Arroyo and Delfino, though.

Like the rest of America, I watched the Pistons handle the Spurs on Xmas day. It was a shellacking writ large, but it's premature to talk about what the Spurs are capable of until Manu returns. That dude is sick.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Dec 30, 2005 10:14:58 AM

"That being said, their players are getting old and surely the team doesn't have that many injury-free seasons left."

It's only the Wallace brothers who are really getting old, but they're both on the edge of a steep precipice. Add to that the fact that Ben Wallace's contract is up this summer. And add to that the most important fact that this will make three straight years of playing over a hundred games at an elite level.

In recent decades, three full years at that highfalutin airy level seems to produce team burnout with clockwork regularity. No one has managed to successfully retrofit a fourth year onto the functioning machinery..

At the end of the day, the Pistons '05/'06 season will be an extreme wilderness test of how far much
the core group can stay together, stay effective together, and meld effectively with needed new elements to proceed far along the path to stealing an L-Obi they probably won't deserve.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 30, 2005 11:17:34 AM

UPDATE [correcting the dates of the season I was trying to refer to in the final paragraph of the preceding post.]

At the end of the day, the Pistons '06/'07 season will be an extreme wilderness test of how far much more the core group can stay together, stay effective together, and meld effectively with needed new elements in order to proceed far along the path to stealing an L-Obi they probably won't deserve.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 30, 2005 11:25:07 AM

This is also the last year of Tayshaun Prince's contract, right? On the other hand, the current Detroit team is nothing if not a triumph of savvy General Management so there's some reason to believe Dumars will figure out how to make the smart moves to keep his team elite.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Dec 30, 2005 11:44:15 AM

"This is also the last year of Tayshaun Prince's contract, right?"

Nope. That was last year. Tayshaun signed for 5yr at around $9m/yr.

"On the other hand, the current Detroit team is nothing if not a triumph of savvy General Management so there's some reason to believe Dumars will figure out how to make the smart moves to keep his team elite."

All hail Joe Dumars, no doubt. But his job is about to get much harder after this year.

You'd figure almost any offer to Ben Wallace will be for too much money. And what if another team decides to offer Wallace much too much money. Do the Pistons match and end up paying $16m/yr to Wallace when he's 37? Hard choices comin' round the bend.

And even if everyone stays, the normal burnout after three elite years also looms round the bend.

The best argument for the Pistons winning it all this year might be the sense among the five that this could be the last dance.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 30, 2005 11:52:24 AM

Petey--point taken about the Wallaces' dotage--Prince and Rip are definitely youngsters--but Billups is in his 9th season and I don't know how long it will be before he starts pulling a Cassell late-season disappearing act.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Dec 30, 2005 12:15:45 PM

Their strength is their lack of weaknesses, their defense, and their almost perfect execution. But they aren't invulnerable in the way of the Jordan Threepeat Bulls or the Shaq/Kobe threepeat Lakers.

I don't think those teams were all invulnerable either, at least not all of them. The '98 Bulls came awfully close to losing to Indiana, and they didn't have the easiest time of it with Utah either. And two of the three Shaq/Kobe teams came down to the last minute of Game 7 of the conference finals, against Portland in '00 and Sac in '02. Some well-timed opposition choking and/or gifts from the officials were indispensible to the Lakers in those two series. The '01 Lakers playoff run could accurately be described as as a team playing at an invulnerable level, but certainly not their other two title winning teams.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 30, 2005 12:22:21 PM

Then again, Cassell was a rookie at 24, whereas Billups debuted when he was 21.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Dec 30, 2005 12:22:39 PM

"Timmy's not a dominant superstar. He's just a really tall Piston.

He's not Jordan, or what Shaquille was a few years back, or what LeBron will be in a few years."

The second paragraph is true, but so what. The first paragraph is just plain, completely, wrong. He does it different, but he's just an astoundingly astute and valuable player. As I suspect we shall see, at least through to the finals and maybe with another trophy.

Posted by: drinkof | Dec 30, 2005 1:09:47 PM

The Lakers also lucked into a situation where the Eastern Conference was pathetic. That notwithstanding, as Haggai notes they had some tough battles in the West finals. Playing a tough series in the finals after a tough conference finals match (as Detroit-or-Miami and SA-or-Dallas will have to do this year) becomes a real challenge and introduces a lot of additional contingency into the situation.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Dec 30, 2005 1:49:00 PM

The '02 Nets were definitely lackluster competition for the Lakers, but the '00 Pacers were a reasonably legit Finals opponent. The '01 Sixers weren't all that great, but that was the one Laker team in that 3-year run that really was unbeatable, so even a good Eastern champ wouldn't have beaten them.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 30, 2005 2:00:41 PM

"Timmy's not a dominant superstar. He's just a really tall Piston.

He's not Jordan, or what Shaquille was a few years back, or what LeBron will be in a few years."

I think people underestimate Duncan because so much of his value comes on the defensive end. He's been the best player in the league for the last 5 years (only KG comes close in the time frame) and from 1978 to the present looking at all players over the chunk of their career from age 21 to age 28 Time Duncan only trails MJ in Net wins.

Posted by: NickS | Dec 30, 2005 2:34:00 PM

NickS's stats confirm what I've always believed, namely that TD's greatness lies significantly in intangibles and completeness of game. It's hard to control for all the variables, but the net-win figs suggest to me that TD contributes to his team in many incremental ways that are more difficult to track on a stat sheet than MJ's point totals or The Dream's rebounding. I have a similar theory about Chris Webber, a smooth, talented player with a sweet touch who just never seemed to have that killer instinct. Either that, or he's just too high. In any event I don't mean to suggest that Webber is quite the player that Duncan is, but only that they are misunderstood in a similar way.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Dec 30, 2005 3:01:50 PM

Nitpicking, but:

The player wins that NickS linked to, for Duncan and the others, is directly derived from statistics available in the box scores. In that sense, it is not an intangible, but a tangible. Although unlikely, a player could have a great Net wins figure on a losing team. Tracy MacGrady, for instance, is in the top 50 and headed higher.

Posted by: quietstorm | Dec 30, 2005 3:30:08 PM

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