Monday, February 1, 2010

The Chemistry Issue

As the Pistons lost their fifth in a row last night (19th of 23), I couldn't help but think it was a minor victory. They didn't get blown out. How far has this team fallen that their fan base is content to see them simply stay within 10 points of the opposition?

There was a stretch last night when the Bad Boys resurfaced. In the 3rd quarter, with Stuckey, Rip, Tay, Jerebko, and Big Ben on the court, the Pistons dominated the Magic, turning a 3pt deficit into a 7pt lead. And it wasn't like they did it with red-hot shooting. In fact, they shot quite poorly, but they crashed the boards, getting second-chance points, and they played such great defense that Orlando rarely got a shot. I'm convinced that, if Kuester let that group finish the game, the Pistons win. Unfortunately, he had to sub in Gordon, Atkins, and Maxiell, and it all went to hell. The subs killed the momentum, and it again brings up the issue of chemistry.

We all saw how much the Iverson trade ruined chemistry last season. This season, chemistry further came into question as the Pistons seemingly played their best hoops when Hamilton and Prince were sidelined with injuries. Shouldn't those two talented, experienced players be the unquestioned leaders of the team? Why has the lingering injury to Will Bynum hurt them infinitely more? (Healthy Bynum: .454 win percentage, Injured Bynum: .285 win percentage)

It all comes down to chemistry and coaching. Let's compare this squad to the 01-02 squad.

In 2001, the Pistons were coming off a 32-win season, with a new, untested coach, Rick Carlisle. With Cliff Robinson, Jerry Stackhouse and a squad of cast-offs, the Pistons won 50 games. Let's compare the rosters:

Point guard - Chucky Atkins vs Rodney Stuckey
Defensively, there's not much comparison. Stuckey's superior size allows him the freedom to cover the best point guards in the league. Yet, offensively, Chucky had a respectable season in 01-02. He shot a significantly better percentage (46% vs 40%), and he turned it over less. Yet, Stuckey commands so much more attention from the opposition's defense. He's usually matched up with the best defender and is the focal point of the Pistons offense. He also has higher numbers for rebounds, assists, and free-throw attempts.
Advantage: 09-10 Pistons (Stuckey)

Shooting guard - Jerry Stackhouse vs Rip Hamilton
This is an interesting one considering they were traded for each other. For their careers, I'd have to take Hamilton. He can't create his shot like Stack, but he's one of the most consistent scorers I've ever seen. He'll rarely put up 30, but he'll give you 20 pts on close to 50% shooting every single night. This season, unfortunately, the injuries really cut into his production, while Stackhouse in 01-02 was at the peak of his game. Stack shot a low percentage, but he was the sole offensive threat and averaged over 21 pts and 5 assists per game. I predict, though, that Hamilton's numbers will improve as he returns to full health.
Advantage: Push

Small forward - Michael Curry vs Tayshaun Prince/Jerebko
Not much of a comparison here. Michael Curry was in the starting lineup as a defensive specialist, and he was fairly effective at not embarrassing himself. Statistically, he didn't fare well, averaging less than a steal per game and a shockingly low 2.0 boards/game. Tayshaun, meanwhile, for all his injuries and poor play, is still much more effective than Curry. Jerebko, who spent most of the season as the starting SF, also brings much more to the table. This one isn't even close.
Advantage: Big edge to 09-10 (Prince/Jerebko)

Power forward - Cliff Robinson vs Chris Wilcox/Jerebko/Maxiell
Not much debate about this one. Cliff Robinson was a former All-star who excelled at one-thing - winning. The dude spent his first 13 seasons in the NBA without missing the playoffs. He came to Detroit and partnered well with Big Ben as defensive stoppers. Uncle Cliffy didn't clear many rebounds or shoot a high percentage, but he seemed to make the right plays in the clutch. The current roster has nobody that comes close to Uncle Cliffy.
Advantage: Big edge to 01-02 (Robinson)

Center - Big Ben vs Big Ben
Ben is still a force in the middle, and he's re-won the hearts of every Detroiter. Unfortunately, he's eight years older. The numbers aren't quite what they once were.
Advantage: 01-02 (Big Ben)

Bench - Corliss, Jon Barry, Rebraca vs Ben Gordon, Charlie V, Will Bynum, Maxiell, Daye
From a talent perspective, the current Pistons absolutely destroy the 01-02 bench. Nobody on that old squad could match the shot-making ability of BG and CV. And a healthy Will Bynum is the spark plug that every team would want. Yet, in terms of effectiveness, the 09-10 version falls short. Whether it's injuries or inconsistent minutes or passion, the 09-10 bench rarely gets the job done. Every 6th game, Charlie V will light up the scoreboard. But Corliss brought it every night and earned the 6th Man of the Year award. Jon Barry drained 3s at a 47% clip and was second on the team in steals. (For comparison sake, the best 3pt percentage on the current roster is Austin Daye at 31%. Ouch.) Rebraca provided key depth on the front-court and could put up 15/8 per game as a starter.
Advantage: 01-02

Coach - Carlisle vs Kuester
Carlisle instilled a defensive-first mindset, unleashing the unique skills of Ben Wallace. Kuester tried to do the same but failed. Perhaps the injuries derailed his season, but injuries can't explain his bizarre rotation decisions. Chris Wilcox began the year as the 13th man, then somehow became a starter. Kwame started the year as a starter, now he's the 13th man. Jerebko has been one of the only consistent contributors to the team but was banished to the bench when Tayshaun returned. Now Jerebko is back. Austin Daye, an offensively-talented rookie on an offensively-challenged team, somehow has no role. The coach's job is to put players in a position to succeed. Carlisle defined each player's role, based on their strengths. They all delivered. Kuester seems to be unsure what each player's strengths are. The result? Chaos on the court and one of the worst records in the league.
Advantage: 01-02 (Carlisle)

Conclusion: The starters were relatively evenly matched, and this year's bench has the talent to match 01-02. Yet, the coaching made all the difference. Stackhouse was the scorer, Ben was the enforcer, Chucky was the ball-handler, and Corliss got the ball in the waning minutes. The current players could all succeed on other teams in other systems. Together, though, they're a mess. Stuckey should be the scorer, but he butts heads with Rip and (now) Ben Gordon. Ben is still effective as an enforcer, but nobody other than Jerebko has any interest defending the post. With such a bizarre, ever-changing rotation, the players have no set role on offense. As a result, their 2nd worst in the league in scoring. Defined roles, accentuating strengths - those were the trademarks to Carlisle's success. Kuester should take note. Or he'll join the long list of coaching casualties.


  1. The team just seems smaller too...Cliff, Zellie, Elden, Corliss...they just seem stronger than the line-up today. But more than that...this season's team looks beat down. I dont think they are over the debacle of the Chauncey/AI trade. And, when you had a cheerleader like Rasheed stop being a cheerleader...who's the guy that picks up the team? Last night it looked like it was Big Ben. But can he do that every night? Chauncey was the obvious heart of the team. And who can deny the image of Rasheed dancing in the middle of a ring of bench players? Where is that now and who is it going to come from? Rasheed and Chauncey were there for the bench/rookie players. Is that why the bench sucked last night? Are the vetereans so apathetic or injured that they cant be mentors?

    I miss McDyess

  2. So true.

    Where is the camaraderie? I don't get the feeling these guys dislike each other, but there's not much love. When BG turned the ball over on that last possession last night, the camera crew cut to the bench's reaction. Jerebko just turned his back on the whole scene, as if to say, "Wow, we suck."

    There was a general look of embarrassment on all their faces. That's not going to build morale.

    I think this bench can be much more productive than the 01-02 version, but only if the starters are producing. The defined-roles bit starts at the top. Then you plug certain players in for each role.

    To compare apples to oranges... Darren Helm wouldn't work terribly well paired with the Zetterberg/Datsyuk line. He's better served on an energy line, with Drapes and Eaves, so he can rely more on speed and forechecking, less on skill.

    When BG enters the game, he's got to be the primary scorer, because why else would you have him out there? When the team JUST takes the lead from the top team in the Eastern conference, perhaps subbing out the back-court is not the best idea. It killed the flow.