Earlier this season I took a look at PER differential which gave us a glimpse of what it takes to make the playoffs. Now that we have actual playoff teams, I thought we should revisit this and see what we can determine. In that article I thought that the Lakers would make the playoff based on their team PER differential, especially at SG. Only Denver ended with a positive at all five positions, as the rest of the playoffs teams gave up something at at least one spot. The Thunder, Heat, Clippers, SA, and Grizzlies all posted a 10+ differential as a team.
When looking deeper at what separates these teams, it becomes clear what positions the non playoff teams should focus on to improve. The playoff teams averaged a positive in both points and PER differential at every position, while the non-playoff teams were all negative. Looking at the teams however paints a much clearer picture of what is really making these teams better.
There where 13 teams whose PF and C positions combined for a positive differential, 10 of them made the playoffs. There where only 12 teams whose SG and SF positions combined for a positive differential, all 12 of these teams made the playoffs. The four playoff teams without a positive were Golden State, New York, Brooklyn, and Atlanta.
Three of these teams however still had extremely effective perimeter players. Golden State had a huge edge with Curry at PG, New York had Carmelo playing PF and was a top 3 pt shooting team, and Brooklyn's starters where very effective and their bench was poor. Only two non-playoff teams had a positive differential at either SF or SG. They were Toronto and Sacramento, both at SG, all other 26 total SG and SF spots for non playoff teams were negative.
When looking at the positional advantage, we see a similar story. The biggest positional advantages for playoff teams based on point and PER differential where in order: SF, PF, SG, C, and then PG. Or you could say that SF is the most important position to have an advantage on in order to be a playoff team, with PG being of the lowest importance.
Only 4 four playoff teams held a significant edge at PG, the Warriors, Clippers, Thunder, and Spurs. Three of these teams have more of a scoring guard playing PG, where only Chris Paul averaged less than 20 ppg this season. Most of the rest of the playoff teams deployed PG's who are strong defenders who are also solid shooters.
Lets take a look at how this applies to our Pistons.
The PF spot was the worst position as far as differential this season, followed by SF, SG, PG, and C. The SF spot is a little deceiving in that it was positive before trading Prince going from a +0.8 to a -2.4 The SG spot actually improved after the trade going from a -5.6 to a -3.5. This is the Singler effect, as he was consistently outperformed at both spots.
We can expect that the PF and C spots will be solid for Detroit next year as both Monroe and Drummond posted positive differentials this year. Interestingly Knight posted a net positive at both point(+3.4) and PER(+1.2) differential at PG this year, while Calderon was negative in point and even in PER. I am not too surprised by this as the team was significantly outscored when Jose was on the floor. Knight's surprising effectiveness at PG this year, and the minimal impact PG play has on most playoff teams, it might be in the best interest for this team to let Knight play PG again next year and focus their resources elsewhere.
This leaves the obvious SG and SF spots to upgrade. When looking at available free agents, I was only able to find two players at SG or SF who played at a positive level this year: Tyreke Evans and JJ Redick. If we consider that any rookie will not likely produce a positive, these are the two most likely players to improve the important wing play. These are crucial spots that separate the have's and the have not's.
This team should easily make the playoffs if they can be just even at the wings. With the draft and free agency likely to bring help, the team should be much improved next year with the right moves.