Monday, November 09, 2009

Willie "Blow By"

I’d like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to the respective sports of baseball, hockey, pro and college basketball, and professional football and those of you who love them for my neglectful ways. I got carried away to the tune of eight consecutive “Michigan football” posts. In hopes of avoiding further and potentially more damaging penalties from the hated governing body of blog posts, I’m putting myself on probation which includes a three-day suspension of all “Michigan football” themed posts and a reduction in allotted caloric intake of 300 per day for the next week.

Today’s replacement theme is everyone’s favorite Metro Detroit area professional basketball team. Before I get to that, though, if you already know who I’m referring to in the post title without reading any further, then you have won my admiration as a highly loyal reader, immediate induction into my reader Hall of Fame, and a .25 cent gift certificate to the fictitious Motown Sports Revival apparel section. Please identify yourselves so I can dole out the rewards as necessary. Moving along…

When Joe Dumars burned all of his coin on an undersized shooting guard and an oversized small forward last summer—rather than bank it on the deep 2010 free agent class—the future of Pistons basketball was officially set for the course of “Milwaukee Bucks.” With money tied up in redundant players and no way of scoring or preventing scoring in the post, the Pistons are destined for a brutal stretch no matter how many cherries Joe D tries to put on top. Joe should know more than anyone that there are four ways to win an NBA Championship. You either need to dominate the paint offensively and defensively, have three (or more) superstars, have a historically stingy defense, or have the best player in the game. Of the last 30 NBA Champions, all 30 have fallen into at least one of those four categories. The Pistons aren’t even remotely close to embarking on any of the four proven paths to a championship. They are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA and have virtually no post-offense. They don’t have a single player who qualifies as a “superstar” which, unfortunately, means they don’t have the best player in the NBA either. They have been respectable defensively through seven games but most of that has been against some of the worst teams in the league. Sadly, the Pistons don’t seem to be above average at anything except “percentage of payroll devoted to the shooting guard position.”

All sports fans ever want from their team is to either play at a championship level or be building towards a championship level. The absolute worst place to be is stagnation, or the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are nowhere near contending and no amount of maturation will change that. Unless Joe D has a trade on the horizon involving Rip Hamilton and/or Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons are very close to being a finished product. Considering how flawed they are, this team is in for a long bout of stagnation without a major change in course.

Since there isn’t a whole lot of hope for contention anytime soon my only recourse as a fan is to find something to root for. When the Lions were being the Lions in the 90’s, that “something” was Barry Sanders. When the Tigers were the Tigers earlier this decade, it was “Jeff Weaver.” Yes, I realize what I just wrote. This time around, it’s without question, Will Bynum. Bynum flourished in limited opportunities last season. Why his opportunities were limited still remains a mystery. Apparently, Michael Curry’s way of dealing with unexpectedly good players is to superglue them to the bench. When last season neared its miserable end, I wrote that all I wanted to see this season was Will Bynum in the two-deep. Fortunately, John Kuester, seems to be more amiable than Michael Curry at both appeasing fan requests and playing good players more minutes. The result has been Bynum playing nearly twice as many minutes over last season. Some of those minutes have surely resulted from injuries to both Rip and Tayshaun. It’s obvious, though, that a bigger role for Bynum was in Kuester’s plans even before the season began. He mentioned before the season that he intended on utilizing Bynum more and in the first game of the season—with both Hamilton and Prince healthy—Bynum got a robust 28 minutes.

Not surprisingly, Bynum has delivered on the tantalizing potential he flashed last year. Through seven games, he is averaging 11 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds in just under 27 minutes. He has continued to show the explosiveness that eluded Michael Curry’s consciousness last season and that compelled me to come up with the spectacular nickname, “Willie Blow-by.” In fact, if he were a starter, he’d be producing near-All-Star caliber statistics. If he were getting, say, Ben Gordon’s 38.7 minutes per game, his numbers would come out to 16 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal per game. His numbers would probably be even more impressive than that since he’d be spending more time with accomplished NBA players rather than the worst bench in the league.

Even though the future doesn’t look too promising, Joe D still has a few moves remaining before he officially check-mates himself. If he could somehow shed the contracts of Rip and Tayshaun—some $24 million due next season—and turn that money into the post-presence that the Pistons so sorely lack, then we might be able to raise the short-term ceiling to a more respectable level. Bynum essentially fell from the sky. He is young and won’t command anything close to what Rip makes. There is no question that his emergence along with Rodney Stuckey’s versatility gives Joe the flexibility to part with Rip. Now it’s up to Joe to do something about it.

Optional Reading: Stop Fouling!

The NBA season is just two weeks old and other than the continued wussification of professional basketball players—injuries have reached an epidemic level—there isn’t much in the name of interesting storylines, yet. One that has caught my eye, however, is the curious case of Benjamin Greg Oden. If the guy could just keep his hands to himself, he would not only have the potential to be a dominating center, he would already be one. Despite being Portland’s starting center, Oden barely plays more minutes than Joel Przybilla, his backup. In fact, Oden’s move to the starting lineup has only generated an extra minute and 30 seconds of playing time over last season. At a paltry 23 minutes per game, Oden isn’t getting nearly enough minutes to put up All-Star caliber statistics let alone shed his reputation as a draft bust. To compare, Dwight Howard played 35:42 per game last season and that was down two full minutes from the previous year. That’s nearly a 13-minute per game discrepancy. I’ve watched the NBA a long time and I don’t recall another player whose inability to stay out of foul trouble has threatened to steal away a potential Hall-of-Fame career.

Oden’s first season was entirely and tragically lost due to a knee injury. His second season was plagued by inconsistency and confusion. Yet, if you watch him play, you no-doubt notice flashes of immense potential. If/when he gets comfortable playing in the NBA, he is good enough to become the closest thing possible to Shaq. Oden is off to a rather average start to the season statistically but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that he is merely an ounce of self control away from league-wide domination. He is currently averaging eight points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. That’s not much to fawn over and it’s barely enough to keep him off waiver wires in fantasy basketball leagues. However, those per-minute numbers spread over Dwight Howard’s minutes become downright scary. At 35:42 per game—a typical number for an NBA starter—Oden would be averaging 13.5 points, 14.6, rebounds, and 3.8 blocks per game to go along with a Shaq-esque 59% shooting percentage. Howard led the league in both rebounding and blocks last season with 13.8 RPG and 2.9 BPG. The obvious problem is that, with Howard’s minutes, Oden would be averaging a hilarious 6.6 fouls per game.

This isn’t a new problem for Oden. He was notorious for getting into foul trouble at Ohio State. When he did play, though, he was the most dominating player in college basketball and one of the most dominating college big men in recent memory. I have no idea how this is going to turn out because there isn’t any precedent to draw from. Obviously, he doesn’t want to have foul problems. He is surely trying to “not foul.” It’s just that it’s not working. That leads me to believe this could be a long-term issue. If so, that would be a shame. Most NBA players succeed or fail based on ability. Oden’s chances of succeeding or failing depend entirely on a lesson that everyone learns in kindergarten. I guess time will tell if he can keep his hands to himself.


Jim said...

Regarding the whole, "move Rip and Tayshaun by the end of this season" deal, what do you think is the likelihood of a trade for Al Jefferson using any of our (and the Timberwolves) players?

Jake said...

As for the move, I'd love it. I would need to be sure that Jefferson is capable of getting back to where he was before the injury. I think that would probably take at least a half-a-season to figure out. He's having a rough time right now. If/when he gets back to form, there is no question it's a move Joe D would have to jump on. I would trade Rip and Tayshaun for Jefferson without hesitation. Big men like that aren't easy to find as Detroit fans can attest.

However, your question poses the "likelihood" of a trade which, of course, is a whole different monster. From a Minnesota perspective, I guess it depends on how good they think Kevin Love can/will be. I'm sure they like the idea of Love at PF and Jefferson at C for the next decade. To move Jefferson, they'd need to be presented with something that would knock their socks off. They have Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes at Rip and Tay's positions. Brewer is a great defender and has shown major strides offensively this season. I can't imagine the T-Wolves would want to give up Jefferson to take on a guy like Rip with Brewer in the fold. Gomes isn't a worldbeater but he stretches the floor and would be a great complimentary piece to a healthy lineup with Jefferson/Love/Johnny Flynn/and Corey Brewer.

So, from a Pistons perspective. I'd need to see two months of old Jefferson and then say, "Hell, yes!". From a Minnesota perspective, I think it's "no thanks."

Anonymous said...

Great post as usual, got a slightly different question for you: is there any kind of low-risk, medium-reward scenario where we can move picks/expiring contracts for a post-scorer? I'd use Eddy Curry as an example, but I don't know what his contract is/if his legs still work.

Jake said...

Unfortunately, I think the options are very limited. There is no doubt that the Pistons need help in the paint; the problem is that they need someone who can make an impact. It’s not necessarily about needing bodies—Kwame Brown is a body—it’s about getting someone worth having. The vast majority of big men in the league are just different versions of Kwame Brown. Eddy Curry is much closer to Kwame than he is to being someone who can come in and help. Plus, he has an $11.2 million player option for next season. We don’t want any part of that.

The best player that I could find to fit your criteria is Marcus Camby. He makes only $7.6 million this season. His contract expires after the season. He is one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. He would be an upgrade offensively over Kwame. Considering the emergence of Will Bynum and the overall depth of the backcourt, I don’t think there’s any question that the Pistons would be better off with Camby over Rip Hamilton. Plus, the Pistons could be back in the game for next summer’s free agent extravaganza. Of course, Rip would have to come back and play a few games before anyone would trade for him. Plus, the Clippers would have to take on Rip's remaining contract of 3 years at 12.6 million per year. With Baron Davis under a longterm contract, I'm not sure the thrifty Clips want any part of that. Who knows, though. This would seem like a perfect fit for the Pistons.


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