5/31/2006 - Pistons 107-109 Cavaliers - Down 3-2, ECF
We've been here before. Last year, when Dwyane Wade was suffered to run free:
I only just resisted titling this post "Is Flip Saunders An Idiot?" because it seems clear that a man who is paid more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes can't be all 'tard, but... there's a strong chance Flip Saunders is an idiot in some sense. If you did a Family Feud-style survey with the question "Who Is Going To Defend Dwyane Wade in the conference finals?" survey would say:
- What are you talking about? You want a mango? I am from France. (37)
- Um... I don't know his name, but probably the guy who looks like a heavily abused Stretch Armstrong doll? (34)
- Tayshaun Prince, you idiot. (31)
The third opinion would be given to you by anyone with even a smattering of NBA knowledge all the way up to, say, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant, players of Wade's bionic shooting guard ilk who have run up against Stretch and who -- if not exactly stopped -- have been decently contained. Tayshaun is popularly regarded as the Kobe-Lebron-McGrady-Wade stopper, one of the few players in the league with both the size and the quickness to stop the NBA's unstoppable. Only an idiot or an expert would do anything other than stick Tayshaun on Wade and forget about it.
As you can see, I did not escape titling this post with something raw, possibly unfair, but JESUS CHRIST SO VERY TRUE IN ALL WAYS EVERY WAY ALL WAYS FOREVER AAAAAARGH.
The world is Lebron agog this day and not without reason, but can we get some condemnation up in here? Flip Saunders displayed the same sort of miraculous ignorance football coaches do when they screw up game-ending clock situations during nearly the entirety of Lebronfest. He was complicit in Birth of a Superstar, inexplicably refusing to double for much of the fourth quarter and overtimes. When he did bring a double, Lebron would pass out of it and the Cavs, being the non-Bron Cavs, would turn the ball over. There are mice that can figure out that when there are two buttons, one of which dispenses a shock and the other a tasty treat, you press the treat button. If there was any justice, Saunders' incompetence would be just as legendary as Lebron's performance.
Consider this: on the last Cleveland possession, Ilgauskas, Gooden, and Daniel Gibson had fouled out. Larry Hughes' foot had held him out the entire second half. On the floor with Lebron were Donyell Marshall, Anderson Varejao, Sasha Pavlovic, and Eric Snow (or Damon Jones? I forget, does it matter?). Saunders' brilliant idea: put a point guard on the guy who had scored the last 23 points and give him no help whatsoever. This was also his brilliant idea -- except it was Tayshaun Prince left alone -- on the final two Cavs possessions of regulation, both of which ended in thunderous Lebron dunks.
I mean... what can you say? I decided to repress the sputtering rage by sleeping on it and then writing about the game, but here it is. Sputtering Rage says "hi, honey, I'm home," takes off its hat, talks about what a hard day he had -- lot of work in Detroit today, lot of work -- and settles in for a nice long rest that is 75-80% likely to start in the next few days and last for the summer. It's back, and I can only delete so many sentences that contain elaborate punishments for Saunders and his Charlie Weis-like ability to get far too clever for his own good. A sampler:
- Forced to eat own organs.
- Locked into party chit-chat with tools who came up with Heineken ad campaign that runs incessantly all hours of the night and day on TNT.
- Elaborate scenario staged wherein he is drugged, and carefully made up to look and sound like Bill Walton -- sort of "The Hot Chick" except "The Worst Person On The Planet" -- until on the verge of self-immolation, say, 10-15 minutes
- Forced to watch his favorite basketball team coached by Flip Saunders.
It is inexplicable how this guy and his lip-chewing inability to do anything right in the playoffs is a respected NBA coach. Don't even get me started on Rasheed's substitution pattern.
Dammit, too late: what the #&$! was with Rasheed's substitution pattern? During the first eight minutes of the game he had played great defense and was 3/4 from the floor. He was in rhythm, on a roll. Chris Webber picks up a second foul with eight minutes gone, Saunders yanks both starters and leaves Rasheed on the bench until there are four minutes left in the half. He rested his best post player, a guy who was in rhythm, for an entire quarter when his second best post player had been ejected at the end of the first. Then the Pistons start going well and Rasheed gets yanked six minutes into the second half. Inexplicable. After the first removal, Rasheed would hit one shot the rest of the night. There isn't a basketball fan on the planet who would do something that stupid.
So, yeah, Lebron was pretty freakin' impressive. Yes. He's kind of good at the basketball. But even Lebron has trouble dealing with traps and doubles and can be dealt with unless you are too busy chewing your lip to think.
Last year, when it finally clattered to a halt:
Riley watched the tape, devised a plan, and obliterated the Piston offense. There was not much of a riposte from Saunders other than to look on grimly.
The Heat were a soft team when they struggled through the opening portion of the season, but Pat Riley is a hard man. The Pistons were a hard team under Carlisle and Brown, but Flip Saunders is a soft man. And thus goes a series.
Since I can only burble aggravated nonsense this morning, I guess that has to stand.
FLABMOJAN! GRUNDLEFLOX THE AXERAOJ. ZING ZING ZING!
5/29/2007 - Pistons 87-91 Cavaliers - ECF Tied 2-2
Chauncey Billups is broken, though it's not clear exactly how. I remain steadfast in my belief that "clutch" is a fiction borne of the human mind's imperative to shoehorn events into some sort of narrative causality, to look for reasons where there are not necessarily any. See the sun moving across the sky? How does it do that? Probably chariots. There must be sun chariots. Reading anything into Billups' (debatably) ill-advised late three or turnover spectacular other than "Billups is broken" is an exercise in sun chariot detection...but something ain't right with him.
What? I wish it was self-inflicted. I wish some vital portion of Billups' industrial-strength reliability gyro had fatigued at a critical point and released a bit of shrapnel that ricocheted its way through his normally aerodynamic interior, gouging divots and scraping paint and leaving behind basically the same thing except a little... off. And that internal repair gnomes hired by anthropomorphized time would sing their little internal repair gnomes song and bring out their spackle and their belt sanders and whistle -- no, that's dwarves -- sing "The Final Countdown" a capella style as they restored Billups to pristine working order.
This does not appear to be the case. Freed of the presence of Larry Hughes' stifling defense, Billups dominated the first half against a gimpy Hughes, undersized Daniel Gibson, and, well, Damon Jones. But in the second half -- and this is something that went completely unremarked on by the announcers in an uncharacteristic oversight by a normally crack TNT crew (with the notable exception of horrible Doug Collins; see below) -- the Cavs switched Lebron James on Billups and Billups disappeared. What's worse, he didn't even probe a matchup against a six-eight small forward. The one time he did he got the defense to collapse and got a teammate an open look. The rest of the game, though, he avoided making even the slightest move towards the basket. The aggression of the first half drained.
The thing that makes Cleveland a dangerous team now and in the future is that ability. As James was confusing Billups into thinking "there is a 6'8" guy on me, there must be a mismatch somewhere on the floor," similarly 6'8" Sasha Pavlovic was on Prince, the posts were handling posts, and whoever the point guard was at the moment, probably Gibson, was running around with Rip Hamilton. When Hughes is healthy, the team Cleveland fields is freaking huge. They're a defensive nightmare, as both this series and last year's seven game adventure demonstrate ably. The ugly conclusion is this: Chauncey Billups is broken because of the Cavaliers and is unlikely to un-break unless Flip Saunders shows a mental dexterity his entire career implies he does not possess.
So this is different than it usually is. This is not boredom or laziness or switch-flipping. This is for real.
- A headband? Seriously? Rasheed Wallace's energetic headband removal after a Pistons timeout earned him a technical foul that was critical towards the end of the game, making the last four seconds an academic exercise instead of a shot at a game-tying three. And... why did that need to be called? Wallace wasn't even looking at a referee or talking to one. The headband was thrown into the Detroit bench. It had no impact on the game at all. And yet the referees still saw fit to call it. Inexplicable.
- Annual "Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him" bit: Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him. Kerr and Albert are perfect and cannot be improved upon, but during the conference finals TNT shoves a third man in the booth for reasons that cannot be explained. This is not a unique phenomenon, either. See Monday Night Football, the late unlamented Sunday Night Football, and the Nessler/Griese/Horrible Fat Maguire trio that is also late and unlamented after only a single season. Whenever I listen to a three-man booth I invariably think "this would be better with only two people."
Re: Collins. Guaranteed to say the same thing at least four times in a row when something happens. "That layup/free throw/made shot will get [DANGEROUS SHOOTER] going" is guaranteed at least six times a game. Also his hair looks ridiculous. You are not blonde. You are not fooling anyone.
- I love the TNT studio crew. I do. No one ever doubt that. But Kenny Smith has seriously got to cut out the "Cleveland can't win a close game" sort of analysis. It's very ESPN of him and, as the last two games show, it is not true.
- Man, Chris Webber seems done with a capital D. He cannot handle the Cavs' length and activity. It's painful to watch him do all these brilliant things that come with experience and then see his legs betray him and the shot go unfinished. At this moment he is a metaphor for aging, and it is sad.
- You would think the Pistons would be able to make something out of the Cav bigs showing really hard whenever the Pistons try a high screen for Billups but they've been doing it for four games and there is nothing forthcoming from Saunders. Anything so predictable should also be exploitable.
- The Lindsey Hunter insertion was effective this game. Gibson spent a few possessions attempting to deal with him, almost got his pocket picked, and then spent the rest of the time the two spent on the floor being freaked out and giving up the ball. If only they had done it earlier.
- For some reason I find the superstar fawning re: Lebron more irritating than superstar fawning provided Nash/Kobe/Wade/etc. I think it's because it all seems so obvious. Lebron is built like a tank and could probably run to and from Detroit in ten minutes. He is obviously a freak athlete in a league consisting entirely of freak athletes. He is a freak's freak, the freakiest freak who ever freaked. If he wasn't crushing people it would be odd. I mean, when he does those nasty throwdowns or one of those preposterous (preposterous!) step-back fadeaway jumpers, sure I'm mildly impressed, but the overwhelming feeling I get is "oh well, he's Lebron, next posseession."
Apparently everyone has beaten me to the punch: Yes, that was a a foul. It was a fouly foul made out of 100% foul. Kids love it because it comes with 100% of the recommended daily allowance of foul.
I can see the argument being thrown about by some Piston fans that the game was being refereed like a cage match and that in the waning moments of a playoff game it would require a chainsaw and some bloody stumps to get a call, but... man, that's a foul. Maybe you don't call the friendly, constant bumping from behind. You definitely don't call the arm-straight up stuff at right, but in between Rip brought his arm down and raked Lebron's elbow as he went up to shoot. That is not permitted. Of course, this is the NBA and so "not permitted" is wildly inconsistent unless you wander a few feet from the bench when a Spur does something dastardly, but... foul!
(the best video I could find is up at the Fanhouse but is not conclusive.)
On the other hand, I think everyone associated with the NBA except Manu Ginobli and his loathsome floppy ilk experienced a private moment of delight when Anderson Varejao allowed a Rasheed Wallace shove to send him into low earth orbit and the referees watched impassively as 'Sheed turned and hit a dagger. I speak for everyone on the planet when I say that Anderson Varejao could never get a call again and it would be too soon. People should be allowed to punch him in the face as he shoots. They should be allowed to charge into a stationary Varejao like they are crash-testing a car against a stupid Brazilian walls with ridiculous haircuts. If a Cavalier is injured and cannot take foul shots that are assigned and he is chosen to replace that Cavalier at the line, the referee should throw the ball at his nads and call him for a technical. (I don't like Anderson Varejao.)
So, yeah. Fouls and non-.
Non-conspiracy conspiracy! A theory: sick of the constant conspiracy theories thrown around by NBA fans, David Stern and his Illuminati cronies hatched a conspiracy to make it obvious to everyone that there were no money-generating conspiracies in the NBA. Oden and Durant were carefully shepherded to the Pacific Northwest to franchises no one really cares about that start most of their games at 10:30 PM. Not coincidentally, both of them are in the Western conference, further unbalancing the level of play between East and West. The hugely entertaining Phoenix Suns get thugged out of a series against the Spurs, a team everyone in the country would like to see deported, thanks to the most tone-deaf, inane suspension in NBA history. And Lebron James, of all people, can't get a call in the Eastern Conference Finals, presumably setting up another Spurs-Pistons Finals that no one, not even Pistons fans, wants to see.
The inescapable conclusion: only an idiot could possibly screw up a conspiracy this badly. There must be no conspiracy. And that's the conspiracy! Truly, David Stern is the Machiavellian puppet master for our time. "Dance!" he says. And we dance!
Sheed. I figure most people who have to deal with Rasheed game-in, game-out have conflicted feelings about the guy on a regular basis. He was the guy who left Marshall oh so wide open in Game 1, and if anyone on the planet should know better it's him. But he had seven blocks that game. This game: 7 for 10, 16 points, 11 rebounds, stiff defense, one dagger -- dagger! -- that was as clutch as the Lebron foul was foul.
And then he goes and says this in the postgame:
Ohhhhh, amen. Let's all punch him when he shoots! Then give him a technical! Yesssssss.
I will bring you fresh baby. Maxiell must be hungry. Feed him. Feed him baby.
Bulls! When I posted on game 1 of the ECF, Chicagoans in the comments lamented that the Bulls series was ignored in this space. I have good reasons: book, Canada, missing game 3, and the overwhelming dullness of the constant blowouts. I have opinions on the Bulls, but nothing you haven't heard before:
- Ben Gordon is a terrifying offensive player but such a defensive liability that he should resume the super-sub role he had when he entered the league. You should still give him starters minutes but try to get him soft minutes when, say, Chauncey Billups is on the bench.
- They should try giving Sefo... Sefa... the Swiss guy a ton of minutes next year in an effort to find out just what they have in him. He's big, a decent shooter, and seems like he's got the skills to play. Anything that gets Duhon out of the lineup is good and if Guy Who Is Swiss Guy can play, really play, that lets Gordon do the super-sub thing.
- I want to headbutt Scott Skiles.
- Deng good, still a couple years away from being a real star.
- As everyone said, the Wallace signing was complete nonsense that is probably going to kill their chances of putting together a championship-level core until it expires. I was ambivalent about the Pistons bringing him back at $13 million per year when they were exercising their Bird exception -- ie, when they couldn't have spent that money on anyone else in the entire league. Dropping $15 million per when that 15 million is precious, precious space actually under the actual cap was insane.
You can blame "back problems" for his performance in the last game, but where was he the rest of the series? The Bulls had no advantage on the boards and, though Wallace blocked a couple shots here and there, no real defensive advantage because of his presence. If Tyrus Thomas could go ten seconds without dribbling the ball off his foot he would have been a clear upgrade over Wallace.
I mean, honestly, game six was bittersweet. It was good to see the Pistons had made the right decision, but watching Ben Wallace limp and clatter through a playoff game he had no impact on was
sad. Mostly I felt bad that I didn't feel worse, though. Wallace was the reason I started following the NBA again and now he'll end his career a cap albatross at the end of Chicago's bench with an entire city sort of hating him for costing so much and sucking so bad. Was it worth eight million to give up a retired number and demi-godhood in a city that loved him? I don't think so, and I don't think Ben does either.
- They seriously f-ed up if there was any way to swing a Gasol deal that didn't involve Deng/Gordon/Hinrich. That's debatable, but you don't think Memphis would have gone for Thomas, the Knicks pick, Nocioni, and spare parts to make up the salaries? I mean, if Baron Davis proved anything it's that you don't mess with a guy who can grow a killer beard in the playoffs.
- I'm not afraid of the Bulls passing the Pistons the next couple years. Just don't see the growth potential. Gordon is who he'll be, same with Hinrich. Deng will improve, but Tayshaun is always an equalizer against those sorts of players. If Thomas gets much better very quickly -- possible but unlikely -- they'll be a threat. Otherwise... not so much.
I hope this concludes my Bulls-related duties.
5/22/2007 - Detroit 79-76 Cleveland - Up 1-0, ECF.
Lebron kicked it, and Rasheed was vastly, enormously, unforgivably out of position and Donyell Marshall morphed into Robert Horry for one or three hateful seconds before the ball clanged off the rim and Marshall was lovable, unthreatening Donyell Marshall again. We like Donyell Marshall. We do not like Robert Horry and it has nothing to do with his hipcheck; it has to do with the irritating playoffs-clutch-guy thing.
And so the hot topic appears to be the Pass of Destiny. I, being a Pistons fan, hated the Pass of Destiny; therefore it was probably a really good idea. Math:
- Donyell Marshall is a career 35% three-point shooter and most of his looks haven't been nearly as good as a wide open corner three. A conservative estimate of that shot's chance to go in is around 40%.
Marshall's shot wins the game if it goes in.Update: I remembered the end of the game wrong. There would still have been time for a response from the Pistons.
- Hypothetical Lebron shot ties the game and takes less time, giving the Pistons an opportunity to respond at the other end of the floor. Chances of Cleveland winning are less than 50%. If you conservatively estimate that Detroit's last second shot when they inbound at half-court after a timeout is 20% to go in and that OT is 50-50, Lebron scoring gives the Cavs a 40% chance to win.
- The chance Lebron scores must be 2 times greater than the chance Marshall scores for the kick to be a bad idea (80% chance of win / 40% chance of win = 2).
- 40% * 2 = 80%.
- Lebron didn't have any 80% chance to make his shot.
- He did the right thing. QED, MFer.
That's a pat conclusion that requires some hypothetical numbers. It also assumes that Lebron is basketball Deep Thought and has this sort of game theory analysis going on constantly; the tipping factor here is the difference in potential Detroit ripostes given the amount of time left on the clock, which would require some preternatural sixth sense to absorb and evaluate. So Lebron might not have known that he was doing the right thing and it might be a symbol of his vexing failure to become the ur-player or even the best player in his draft class.
Because Lebron chews his nails. He misses important free throws. He has not thrown down and roared in a critical situation for all to see. He is not... clutch. So when you kick to a wide open player who has a shot for the win it is read as further evidence of being UnClutch even though you have just set your teammate up with the best possible shot he could have and given your team the best possible avenue to win. That's the job of any player, and sometimes even when you're a superstar the best play is for someone else to shoot.
Now, the ten points and no free throws? Well... that seemed to be an interesting reaction by Mike Brown to the defense the Pistons threw at the Cavs last year, when they essentially played a zone whenever the Cavs tried to iso Lebron and did so to good effect. Last night they displayed a willingness to continue this, switching every screen when Lebron came across the perimeter and having help defenders keep an eye out for any potential drives. They left other players open and for a while Cleveland took advantage of that strategy by getting open looks and using the out-of-position help guys to their advantage and crashing the boards. Lebron had no points in the first quarter and his team led by six. Was that a bad performance? Um... no? The problems came later when the Cavaliers remembered that they were the Cavaliers and therefore sucked. By that time it seemed that Lebron was all too content to remain peripheral, and the few times when he took it upon himself to create something the result was a tough jumper after a double-team. He was damned if he did or did not; those criticizing him today are choosing between two different ways to reach the same end.
- Hated the insertion of Lindsay Hunter. I know the last time I talked Pistons here I declared my abiding hatred for all things Flip Murray, but essentially from that moment on Murray turned his season around and started playing inexplicably well when given a chance. Hunter still has him on ball-hounding and has a place in the lineup, but when the opposing point guard is Eric Snow? Um... what? If the point of putting Hunter out there is to shut down an opposing perimeter player and the person you are shutting down is Eric Snow, there is a problem. Flip Murray is perfectly capable of doing the same. There are probably WNBA players capable of doing the same. Hell, you could send Reed Baker out there to watch Snow launch his jacked up shot with no detrimental effect on your winning percentage. So... what is the purpose of sending Hunter out, especially when your offense is clunking along to 35 first half points?
- OTOH, the Maxiell insertion was very effective late (though there was that ugly, unnecessary goaltending).
- Antonio McDyess lost his jumpshot, found it in a major way in the second half of the season, and then lost it again. It's frustrating to watch him throw up shots that were almost guaranteed in the waning days of the regular season and watch them clang off the rim. An average performance from him and the game is tied at the half and comfortable down the stretch.
- This felt like a game Cleveland had to have if they were going to win the series. Detroit has now survived a game in which Prince was something like 1/11 and Billups not only failed to get his shot but coughed up seven(!!!) turnovers. All told, Detroit had 16 to Cleveland's 7; this will not happen again.
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.