Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
First in this year's occasional digressions into NBA blogging. Complaints about topic choice will be considered and then dismissed.
When the Bulls decided to spend every last bit of their cap space on an older version of Tyson Chandler, the Pistons were declared dead. And at first blush, the departure of Ben Wallace has hurt the Pistons severely. The Pistons are on pace for 11 fewer wins this year than they had last year. Opponents average 92.2 points per game, up from 90.2 -- a major leap when the Pistons' overall point differential is just +4.1. But how much of the fall is due to the loss of Wallace? And was resigning him worth it?
Lindsay Hunter and part of Flip Murray have picked up Arroyo's minutes. Delfino and the rest of Murray pick up Evans' minutes. Four post guys receive more time: Webber, Mohammed, Maxiell, and Davis. For convenience's sake we'll apply Davis's minutes to the deficit in Rasheed and McDyess' minutes; Wallace's replacement is the three-headed Webbmomax. Webbmomax plays 74% of the Pistons minutes; Wallace played 73% a year ago.
So what do the Webbmomax Pistons do worse than the Wallace Pistons?
Rebounding? No. Despite losing a man widely regarded as the league's premiere rebounder, Detroit still gathers 69% of its opponents' misses and 30% of its own misses.
Blocks? No. Last year Detroit blocked 7.6% of its opponent's shots. This year it's 7.5%.
Causing turnovers? Last year opponents turned it over on 15% of possessions; this year 16%.
Maybe Wallace had some sort of weird anti-shooting mojo that didn't show up in the blocks? No. Detroit's FG% and eFG% defense percentages are actually better this year (44.3%, 47.6%) than they were last year (45.2%, 47.8%). It should be noted that approximately 1% of opponent's field goals have migrated from jumpers to post moves and dunks, though strangely enough opponents are doing worse at them.
The only thing that jumps out as any different is opposition free throw attempts. This year opponents get 25.3 per game; last year they got only 20.5. That huge discrepancy, plus that extra possession per game, is the only reason the Pistons' D is any worse this year than it was a year ago.
The next question: is that because of Wallace's departure? Survey says yes. Last year Wallace played 73% of the time and picked up 164 fouls, only two per game. The three headed monster that replaces Ben's production is on pace to finish this year with 354 fouls between them. 96% of the excess fouls this year's Pistons are piling up are from Webbmomax.
How many points is this worth per game? If you accept the standard 0.44 multiplier when converting FTAs to FGAs -- and-ones, techs, and the like make it a bit lower than the 0.5 you might expect -- this year Detroit is converting 2.1 FGAs per game into free throws. The free throws are worth 3.55 points; the hypothetical FGAs they replace would be worth 2.01. Wallace's marginal contribution appears to be 1.54 points per game, though it does appear that the more aggressive post defense has created a few more missed shots and a few more turnovers.
Perhaps the revelation that losing Ben Wallace is a detriment to the Piston defense is not Nobel-prize worthy, but what is interesting is where the dropoff is. Rebounding: useless. Blocks: useless (with the stipulation that this is the 05-06 Wallace we're talking about. Previous editions averaged over 3 blocks per game). Contribution to FG defense and opponent turnovers? Negligible or negative. Ben Wallace's main marketable skill is the ability to keep opposing shooters off the foul line.
Let's go back to Rodman. A key question that, as far as I can tell, is not answered by the WOW authors is this: what is the difference between the number of rebounds the Bulls would have secured with a replacement for Rodman compared to the number they did secure with Rodman? The answer, I am sure is "fewer." But, how many fewer? If a Rodman replacement snared seven rebounds a game, instead of 15, can we really say that the switch cost the team eight rebounds a game. I don't think so, and neither, I suspect, do the authors. ...
I agree that rebounds contribute to winning, but to know how much Rodman contributed to winning, we need to know more than how many rebounds he got and we need to know more than how many rebounds he got relative to players on other teams.. What we really need to know is how many rebounds his own team got that it would not otherwise have gotten if he weren't there. Do I have a clue how to figure that out? Absolutely not. But, I am convinced that that is the key question and that it has not been answered by WOW (and, in fairness, other similar systems).
So how many rebounds did Ben Wallace get that a mediocre version of himself, an undersized version of himself, and a crippled 33 year old power forward could not? This analysis implies, shockingly, that the answer is "none at all." And yet WOW treats each rebound like it's a diamond. As Dan Rosenbaum points out, the whole thing would be wildly off if not for an enormous team defense fudge factor.)
So... is Ben Wallace worth it?
Absolutely not. His yearly numbers are in steady decline and he's in the first year of a four year contract as a 32 year old. And his offensive deficiencies are severe enough that his net contribution is minimal. Webbmomax has hit 178 of 289 free throws this year; Ben Wallace and his 0.407 FT% would have hit 55 fewer and the Pistons would be scoring 0.9 fewer points a game. That's most of his measurable defensive contribution without even considering the rest of his limited offensive game.
At this point in his career, Wallace is an average-at-best starting center who is paid like Kevin Garnett.
So why are the Pistons losing so much more than they did a year ago?
- Injuries to Billups and Rashee
d. The Billups injury especially, as it ushered in the horrifying Flip Murray Era. The plus-minus numbers for the Pistons' two backup guards are atrocious. It's Billups who's irreplaceable, and it's Billups who Dumars will break the bank for this offseason. If I could put in a request for an MLE point guard, perhaps in exchange for Nazr Mohammed?
- Average luck. I don't have any numbers on this, but when you go 64-18 you're a lucky team. I'd be willing to wager that the Pistons' record in close and OT games is markedly worse than it was a year ago.
- Familiarity. There was disconnect between the Pistons' regular-season performance and their playoff struggles, but the return to earth started before that. Excluding the four year-end games after the Pistons secured the best record in the league, the team started 37-5 and finished 26-10. Then came the playoffs... ugly. What happened? No one can really be sure, but my belief is the Pistons blitzkrieg caught the league off guard. When Flip Saunders replaced cranky old Larry Brown the Pistons underwent and instant transformation from a pack of ugly grinders into a gorgeous, efficient offensive basketball team. By the time anyone knew what was happening, Chauncey Billups was at Moscow's doorstep. Now that teams have the Pistons scouted, the going is tougher.
- Flip Murray is awful at everything.
Arrrrgh. Carr did address the widespread rumors that three Michigan players were in trouble. The PC's first question was about the eligibility status of Adrian Arrington; Carr danced around it, but when pressed...
Will he [Arrington] participate in spring practice?
Will any other players miss spring practice?
If you have any names, you feel free to ask.
Do you expect that those three players will meet your requirements to rejoin thet team?
Um... that is possible... maybe not probable.
Score another one for the unreliable internets, I guess. Horrible news. Butler and Arrington were both breakout players poised for big 2007s. Hopefully the situation isn't as grim as Carr made it sound, but it sounded awful.
Later, when asked about guys coming back from this suspension:
Well... I think the number one thing when you reach a certain stage is... a guy has to prove that he really wants to be here, and that he's willing to do what he's asked to do.
Other guys out for more benign reasons: Mike Hart's going to be out for spring, Forcier limited. Mallett will get a lot of work. Englemon, Taylor, and Schilling are going to practice but might be dinged up. Mario also limited. Kraus, McKinney, and Massey are out with injuries.
The Bass situation remains tragic. He won't be back for spring. He's still trying, but a return looks increasingly unlikely. Carr said "I'm not optimistic" when asked about a potential August return.
Position switches: Carlos Brown and Doug Dutch are now cornerbacks. Andre Criswell will practice at tight end with both Massey and Butler sidelined, might be a permanent move. Brett Gallimore is giving the defensive line a shot. The widely assumed Charles Stewart-to-safety move is official. And we already knew this, but Jonas Mouton is at WLB.
And now the grand poobah weirdness: Brandon Graham "will probably play inside," and the same with Adam Patterson(!!!). This means our DE depth chart reads:
- Tim Jamison
Position battles: Boren and Moosman going at it for the center spot; Kraus apparently to remain at guard if at all possible. Steve Brown and Greg Mathews called out as potential up-and-comers. Gingell, KC Lopata, and scholarship redshirt freshman Bryan Wright at kicker. Obi Ezeh called out as a potential contributor at linebacker much like, yes, David Harris. I'll take two. Panter also amongst the first mentioned, Graham and Thompson something of an afterthought. Lloyd "excited" about Mouton.
ZOLTAN: "I think Zoltan Mesko displayed the ability to be a great punter. A great athlete."
Spring actual game thing? Carr claimed that he wanted to play an actual spring game this year but cited the extensive injuries and suspensions as a reason not to have one. Usually that rings a little hollow, but this year it seems legit.
Update: forgot the audio link.
I happened to go to an Ann Arbor bar last night. Readers may recall that Ann Arbor is where the University of Michigan -- often the focus of this blog's analytical endeavors -- is located. The basketball team of said University had a game last night against Utah State in the NIT, and there was indeed a basketball game on the various televisions scattered around the bar: Niagara-Florida A&M. At some point during the night a man in a Michigan hat approached the bartender, who nodded and went to the box-and-wire filled cabinet all bars that have televisions also have and fiddled with some stuff. Channels were being changed. The Niagara game blipped out of existence. In its stead was the Red Wings game.
If there had been no Wings game, the man would have asked for the Pistons game. If there had been no Pistons game, the man would have asked for NASCAR. If there had been no Wings game or Pistons game or NASCAR the man would have asked for the World's Strongest Man or bass fishing or possibly The View. At no point would the NIT flit across his neurons -- or those anyone with any sanity at all, really -- even to be dismissed with a short sharp burst of self-mocking laughter. The NIT does not exist. There is no NIT.
It's with some concern, then, that our athletic director hasn't announced anything in re: Amaker having honey smeared on his chest, a box taped above the sweetened area, and a rat placed in said box until he agrees to resign except "I won't announce anything until after the season." Does Michigan's performance in something that doesn't exist have an impact on Amaker's future? The implication is that it does, and therefore the implication is that a good performance can help Amaker's case. Furthermore, it implies that there is an Amaker case at all. There is no case. Michigan can win the entire freakin' Not Extant Tournament and it will matter not one bit. He should still have the rat thing happen to him, and if he's still recalcitrant we will connect small rocks to him with rubber bands and then hire dutch children to run away from him holding the rocks with predictable results.
This is the worst of all possible basketball worlds. If we had blown it against Minnesota earlier in the year or gotten swept by State or gone down to Six Guys With One Arm Between Them in the nonconference slate and finished the year a striking 12-20 and 6-10 in the league, at this very moment we would be doing the rat thing and the dutch children thing and if he still doesn't break we would be forcing him to drink just epic amounts of water and then providing only one possible outlet for the ensuing torrent, one that has a piece of paper on it that says "urination upon this contract constitutes a resignation from the Michigan Men's basketball head coaching job."
Instead, we wait. And if we can't find timbersports or the WNBA or Mind of Mencia, we might watch. But probably not.
7:06 PM. Yep... this paint is totally getting dry. Awesome.
Lester Abram is emo. He displays all the enthusiasm for life that Hunter S. Thompson has in this year's edition of Michigan NIT Newspaper Article:
"It's not like we're going to go out there and lose on purpose -- whatever happens, happens," captain Lester Abram said. "You're happy you're still playing, but nobody wants to play in the NIT.
"It's something you have to do, though."
Emphasis mine. I would find it helpful if they did, as then we would get some sort of final word on whether or not Amaker is gone. I regret to note that Abram seemed to have the same sort of can't-do spirit his last two years and that a lethargic, ennui-plagued Abram would be no surprise. You might as well break out the black eyeliner and horrible taste in music.
(Rosenberg: fire Amaker.)
Yeah... like... uh... Amaker on the NIT:
We're not apologizing for it," he said Monday. "We're honored to be a part of it, and we're going to do the best we can do.
"A lot of people would trade places with us, and I'm confident our players will approach it in that manner."
Complete list of noun phrases willing to trade places with the Michigan basketball program:
- Penn State
- anyone rushing puck against JMFJ
Math? Varsity Blue points out an interesting quote from Bill Martin:
"My goal in football, in the Big Ten, is to ideally play a complete round robin - 10 conference games and two non-conference (games). I've been fighting for that for four to five years. I'm not going to get it. But I think I'll get nine games, soon.
Loyal readers already know that having 11 teams play 9 games is mathematically impossible -- 99/2 is not an integer -- so that quote means
- They've decided "eff it, we'll go unbalanced,"
- We're getting a 12th team, or
- Martin's back on the applesauce.
More in a candid interview with the News.
TMFJ. Yost Built on last weekend. As everyone else has noted, when the seniors took a long moment before stepping off the ice for a final time Jack was amongst their number. Even Mr. MFJ's second-intermission dance had an air of finality to it.
Also, TJ is now ten points clear of any competitor who isn't either playing in Atlantic Hockey or on his line. If the Hobey goes to a skater, it has to be him. There are a few goalies out there with a shot -- Jakatis, Brown, John Curry at BU, Goepfert at SCSU -- but without a single strong contender like a Miller, it seems likely that the goalie votes will get split.
Irritating. This AP article is dramatically titled "Ohio State graduates 10 percent of its basketball players, study reveals"; it's the standard article you get immediately after the NCAA tourney field is announced with alarmingly low numbers for various highly-seeded teams. But NSFMF:
Taking into account players who transfer, enter from junior colleges and are graduated late, 38 percent of Buckeyes basketball players earned degrees during that period, Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, said Monday.
38 percent is still not good but it is a more realistic picture of how many OSU basketball players are getting degrees. Does the story lead with this? No. It goes right for the sensationalism, probably because the "Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports" framed their press release like that. The perpetual disconnect between journalism and critical thinking amazes me.
PA has been good to us. If history is any indicator, Michigan will reel in at least one highly-rated prospect from Pennsylvania. Black Shoe Diaries has a look at Penn State recruiting through the dual lenses of geography and rivalry that includes Michigan. Net conclusion: PSU has to watch out for Weis and Schiano, who are raiding New Jersey, traditionally a Penn State stronghold.
Etc.: Enter Brendan Loy's NIT pool! Woo!
For context on the below, see Part I for an extensive discussion of what exactly is going on here (warning: math) and Part II for some examples of why I think this is a useful exercise. Note those posts are from last year. Which is 2005.
(Performance note: generating these graphs is a dynamic process, so they can take several seconds if no one else has looked at the requested data recently. Cached ones should come up immediately.)
First: Third down efficiency. The thick line in the center is the NCAA average (e.g., approximately 68% of third and ones were converted last year). There is a second line that represents an individual team's third down efficiency. Where there is a gap between the lines that gap is filled in with either red or green depending on whether it is "good" or "bad". Being above the line is good for offenses--you convert more often. Being above the line is bad for defenses--you are converted upon more often. You want to see a lot of green in these graphs.
Second: Third down distance distribution. Again, the line in the center is the NCAA average and the thinner line is the individual team's. Green is just "above"; red just "below," since there's no clear distinction on good or bad based solely on what side of the line you're on.
Third: the raw numbers. The following graph shows the underlying data used to construct the first two. Each bar represents one yard line. Blue segments are failed conversions. Red segments resulted in first downs.
(A note on reproducing these graphs: feel free. Right click and "Save As" to get a static copy that won't break if I decide to change the URL... which I might. Please drop a link. Also: if the idea of maize and blue on your site is revolting, you can give me two other colors (specified in hex--ie, #A30924--, please) and get pretty team-color-appropriate ones.)