2013-2014 NBA Projections: Will the Pistons win 50 games and make the Playoffs?

For the Pistons to be successful, they will need a lot of Drummond and Monroe around the rim. - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For a dejected fanbase that's tired of losing, 50 wins sounds too good to be true. And while it might be a little, it's possibly not too far from the truth.

I've been staring at the numbers for almost a month now. After the dust settled, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings were officially inked, and the initial wave of frustration passed, I sought out objectivity in the best way I know how: statistics.

Specifically, a box score stat called Wins Produced, that I find to be the most reliable box score stat out there.

Arturo Galletti beat me to the punch and surprised many by projecting the Pistons as a 50-win team, capable of - literally - shocking the entire NBA and winning its way into the #2 seed. Those of us who contribute to the aforementioned WoW Journal aren't strangers to flying in the face of conventional wisdom, and we're also not strangers to taking the (deserved) heat when we get it wrong.This projection is bold, and if it falls flat, will be one of those times when we take a good bit of heat. But if it comes to fruition, there will be a lot of happy Detroit fans, none happier than those of us here.

But... what are the chances that we statheads are on to something here? Can the Pistons - a perennial lottery team since 2009 - make a historic turnaround and seize homecourt advantage for two rounds of the Playoffs?

(Deep breath)

It's possible.

At least on paper anyway. There are lots of questions, many of them very big questions that could make or break the season if one of them doesn't fall the Pistons' way. Do the pieces of the roster fit? Can this team make enough shots? Will Mo Cheeks take risks and play his young players? How many minutes will we see "big ball," and can it be effective? Will the defense be as good as advertised? Was Andre Drummond's back injury a fluke or not?

Qualifiers out of the way, here's a look at the numbers, and what could be. Note that I've placed my projections next to Arturo's for comparison.

The numbers

Guard Rotation

Position

Minutes (BG)

WP48 (BG)

Wins (BG)

Minutes (AG)

WP48 (AG)

Wins (AG)

Chauncey Billups

PG/SG

1640

0.100

3.42

1525

0.108

3.43

Brandon Jennings

SG/PG

2232

0.085

3.95

2818

0.094

5.52

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

SG

2000

0.075

3.13

1336

0.139

3.87

Rodney Stuckey

SG/PG

2000

0.051

2.13

1897

0.078

3.08

Will Bynum

PG

0

0.010

0.00

384

-0.015

-0.12

Guard wins

12.62

Guard wins

15.78

Small Forward Rotation

Position

Minutes (BG)

WP48 (BG)

Wins (BG)

Minutes (AG)

WP48 (AG)

Wins (AG)

Josh Smith

SF

1300

0.075

2.03

Luigi Datome

SF

1650

0.075

2.58

653

0.055

0.75

Kyle Singler

SF

986

0.040

0.82

509

0.065

0.69

Smal Forward wins

5.43

Smal Forward wins

1.44

Big Men Rotation

Position

Minutes (BG)

WP48 (BG)

Wins (BG)

Minutes (AG)

WP48 (AG)

Wins (AG)

Greg Monroe

PF/C

2700

0.180

10.13

2613

0.174

9.47

Andre Drummond

C

2400

0.280

14.00

1968

0.332

13.61

Josh Smith

PF

1312

0.050

1.37

2814

0.100

5.86

Jonas Jerebko

PF

800

0.090

1.50

1165

0.101

2.45

Josh Harrellson

PF/C

660

0.125

1.72

773

0.152

2.45

Charlie Villanueva

PF

0

0.022

0.00

953

-0.004

-0.08

Tony Mitchell

PF

0

0.025

0.00

0

-0.015

0.00

Big Men wins

28.71

Big Men wins

33.77

Total wins (BG)

46.76

Total wins (AG)

50.99

Analysis

The Pistons will go as far as Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond carry them. They are without question the best players on the team, and they have a chance to become the best frontcourt tandem in the Eastern Conference this season. Thus...

The new additions are all roleplayers, not stars. Undoubtedly, Josh Smtih and Brandon Jennings will get plenty of hype and attention, especially if they score a lot. But make no mistake, Drummoe will have more to do with winning than anyone else.

There's a healthy bit of optimism about new additions here - Harrellson, Jennings, Smith, Datome, and KCP. But that optimism isn't blind homerism; all of these guys have a history of production. The question is simply whether or not it will translate to this roster this season. For example, Josh Smith's projection here is favorable, and it treats last year as an outlier, not his earlier productive season. Luigi Datome's excellent shooting is projected to translate, but it's not a sure thing. KCP's sophomore numbers project a very solid pro, but that's only one year of production, and it was in the NCAA... And so on.

Obviously, there's some (educated?) guesswork here about rotations, minutes, and positionality. Both Arturo and I have made some assumptions, some similar, some different, and those assumptions could pan out differently than we assumed. For example, if Josh Smith spends a lot of time at SF, and he struggles at that position... very bad things could happen. Similar statements could be made about several players.

Keep in mind that Wins Produced doesn't claim to explain the how or why of productivity. It is derived from box score outcomes, and as a result, it simply says that players (and teams) who produce certain kinds of box score outcomes tend to generate wins, and those who don't, don't. That said, there are reasons for some skepticism here. Diminishing returns is a real thing that happens, and Wins Produced has been criticized on this front. I won't respond fully here, but will instead point to the official FAQ, while noting that given the production of the individual players on this roster in the past - particularly Smith, Drummond, and Monroe - diminishing returns may have an impact, particularly when all three players share the floor.

Most important, however, is scoring efficiency. Wins Produced is affected more by shooting efficiency than any other stat, and it's far from certain that Detroit will be able to put the ball in the basket at a better than average rate.  Floor stretch is also a thing, and the Pistons have some obstacles to overcome in this regard.

The Big Question

How do the Pistons get close to 50 wins? I think 50 is overly optimistic, but better than .500 is a real possibility. If the Pistons get there, the formula for how will be a familiar one: Defense and Rebounding.

Put simply, because the Pistons are likely to struggle with scoring efficiency, they need to do two things. First, make it really hard for the opponents to score efficiently. Second, generate as many shot attempts for themselves as possible. In simpler terms: contest every shot, generate steals and deflections, not allow second chance opportunities, generate transition opportunities from steals and boards, and crash the offensive glass.

It might not be pretty, but it's a winning formula.

On paper, the personnel is capable, but replete with question marks . Thankfully, it won't be long until spreadsheets come to fruition (or ... not) on the court.

----------------

Update: thanks for pointing out in the comments I've left out Siva. Siva projects as mostly a non-factor.

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