Grantland has an obsession with the Pistons, or at least I have an obsession with pretending that they do. In its latest installment, Zach Lowe dives into coach Stan Van Gundy and what he can bring to Detroit.
It joins a long series of Grantland love -- most of it before the games started being played (and the Pistons started to lose). There was love for Luigi Datome, Brandon Jennings and the onslaught of dunks. There was the 6,000-word piece on Andre Drummond. There was the oral history of the Malice at the Palace. There was the Chauncey Billups profile. There was the sad story of the Jennette McCurdy-Andre Drummond doomed romance. And the even sadder story of the destructive power of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings (can't win em all).
Lowe's piece is more in line with the initial excitement the Pistons generated when it looked like Drummond was ready to take over the league and the Pistons might actually be good again. The whole 2,300-word enchilada is a great read and should be mandatory reading for any Pistons fan, but I wanted to highlight some of the best bits that should have fans most excited about the coming Stan Van Gundy era.
On SVG being worth it:
The Pistons are paying Van Gundy $35 million over five seasons to act as both coach and the team's top front-office decision-maker, according to both Yahoo (which broke the news) and ESPN.com. The salary cap does not apply to head coaches, and there are only a half-dozen or so guys who really move the needle. If you can get one of them, you should do it, even if it's pricey. Van Gundy is one of those guys.
On the team's flexibility going forward:
And yet, the Pistons are not a total shit show - not even close. They are actually pretty lean going forward, and they have a potential franchise centerpiece in Andre Drummond. The idea of Van Gundy doing for Drummond what he did for a young Dwight Howard should terrify the league. They could have as much as $22.5 million in cap room this summer, and still about $12 million once you account for Greg Monroe's cap hold. In other words: Detroit could search the market for some badly needed shooting while Monroe hangs in restricted free agency, and then move on Monroe when the market dictates its path.
On Van Gundy's impact on the team's woeful defense:
Detroit nudged Smith toward his worst habits by shoehorning him in at small forward, where he had to spend time away from the basket in an attempt to "space the floor." But the team let him jack up shots with no accountability, and Smith bricked his way to one of the worst perimeter shooting seasons in modern league history. With the exception of a couple early-season benchings under Cheeks, the coaches did nothing.
That will change with Van Gundy working under a five-year deal. He prizes shot selection, on both ends. If you violate his rules repeatedly, you are coming out of the game. He doesn't care about your status or salary.
And there will be rules. Van Gundy has historically stressed packing the paint on defense, protecting the 3-point line, avoiding gambles, and forcing midrange jumpers - analytically savvy tenets he implemented before analytics were cool. His teams typically force very few turnovers and clean the defensive glass; he stops scrimmages to point out when players gamble out of scheme for steals.
He'll likely have Monroe and especially Drummond hang back near the paint, as Howard mostly did in Orlando. There will be a strict system the team uses night-to-night, with only minor tweaks for each opponent. The team will be insanely well prepared.
On Van Gundy's style of play (sounds like someone was reading Mike Payne):
Van Gundy's Orlando teams were ahead of the curve in chucking lots of 3s, and he has been pigeonholed as a 3-point zealot. That's not exactly true. In Orlando, Van Gundy molded his offense around Howard's pick-and-roll gravity and the skill set of Rashard Lewis (playing under a massive contract Van Gundy likely would not have approved). His Miami teams with Shaquille O'Neal played a bigger brand of ball, with more of the inside-out game you'd expect from a Shaq team. Still, Van Gundy gets the importance of the 3, and finding more outside shooting will be his first priority. Detroit over the last two seasons has already shown it can be an enormously powerful offensive force running Drummond on the pick-and-roll with shooting around him. Expect more of that.
On Van Gundy and analytics (sounds like someone was reading brgulker):
Van Gundy is malleable, to a degree, and much more analytics-friendly than people think. That misconception is partly Van Gundy's fault. He has made himself into a friendly sort of cartoon character, mocking the silly fringes of analytics with a mustachioed old-school gruffness. But he's really just suspicious of blind trust in numbers generated by people who don't know the nuances of the game - the responsibilities of each player in his scheme, how an opponent's system works, and how a particular player fits within a particular roster. It's hard to credit and blame players accurately if you don't know that stuff.
That does not make Van Gundy hostile toward analytics. He has told the Pistons he would like to expand the use of analytics for both coaching and personnel evaluation, a team source says. As previously mentioned, his teams have naturally played an analytically friendly style, and Van Gundy is a smart, curious guy who wants to know what the numbers say.