No, that's not an Onion headline. On Twitter recently, I noticed a tweet from @HPbasketball (aka Hardwood Paroxysm) and stopped dead in my tracks. It seems Matt Moore was having a little fun sorting through stats at basketball-reference and he caught something that literally made my jaw drop.
The Detroit Pistons cannot convert close shots to save their lives. And I'm not just talking about baskets from the paint, I'm talking about shots from 1 foot and closer. The Pistons currently rank 1, 2, 3, 4 in the number of shots missed from between zero and 1 feet away from the basket with a minimum of 25 shot attempts. That is courtesy of Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko, respectively. Tayshaun Prince comes it at No. 7 and Jason Maxiell comes in at No. 25.
It all just seems so ... weird.
Is this just an oddity of an arbitrary stat (indeed, if you change the parameters to two feet things get slightly less weird)? Does it mean the team is much better than we all think? Or does it mean the Pistons are even worse than we think?
To answer those questions we have to think about how to take in this information.
First, there is the question of not only misses but attempts. While the Pistons take the top four slots in the NBA at misses between zero and 1 feet, they also hold slots 1, 2, 4, and 6 in attempts. In fact, only six players in the NBA have as many as 75 field goal attempts from zero to 1 foot and the Pistons have four of them.
Plus, we all know that the Pistons play at one of the slowest paces in the league (No. 28 in the NBA to be precise). A slow pace means lack of possessions. A lack of possessions means a lack of shots. And so, in spite of the fact that there is a limited number of shots available, the Pistons are getting a crazy amount of them right at the basket.
Of those that rank in the top 100 players in field goal attempts from 1 foot or closer, the Pistons collectively have more than 200 misses, about double nearest competitor Cleveland Cavaliers (though I only eyeballed the chart).
For fun, lets consider a hypothetical.
Lets say that the Pistons got the same types of shots, but only missed as many as the second-worst team in the league. That would mean 100 more baskets, which would mean 200 more points. And that would mean over the course of 33 games we could reasonably expect the Pistons to have scored six more points per game. That would up there average to 94.8 points per game and take them from No. 27 in scoring to No. 13. Not bad for one of the slowest teams in the league.
But you know what they say about making assumptions.
Unfortunately, you must also consider not just number of misses but their actual field goal percentage.It's not that the Pistons players are converting at a league-average rate. If that were the case the number of misses wouldn't be that big of a deal. But they are also shooting some of the worst percentages around the basket in the league.
While Monroe, Stuckey, Knight and Jerebko take the top four spots in misses, they rank 12, 3, 6, and 27, respectively, with Prince vaulting up to 11 and Maxiell falling to 42.
So are these percentages an aberration or a trend?
For two of the biggest offenders, sadly, it's a trend. In 2010-11, Stuckey and Monroe were also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in misses. And both were in the top 10 in lowest field goal percentage as well (minimum 75 attempts). And the year before, Stuckey had the sixth-most misses and third-worst field goal percentage in the NBA.
So is there reason for optimism?
First, I think the jury is still out on young Knight, who is going through all the typical rookie issues: 1. the game is too fast 2. decision making needs to improve 3. needs to learn how to negotiate the bigger, faster NBA defenses.
Plus, he has a reasonably effective tear drop shot already, and that is a dangerous weapon in any point guard's arsenal. And it's not unreasonable to expect Knight, Monroe and Jerebko to improve as they gather more experience. This is especially the case with Monroe, who doesn't have the height disadvantage of JJ and has already shown himself wiling to develop moves and counters in the post to get open looks.
A big issue with Monroe last year was the abundance of his shots being blocked. Well, he went from getting 12.4 percent of his shots swatted last year and is already all the way down to 8.6 percent this year.
As for Stuckey, I'm afraid, to paraphrase Dennis Green, "he is who we thought he was." Stuckey has been and seems like he will always be a poor finisher at the rim. His only hope is to get more respect from officials and turn more of those misses into potential foul shots (a trend on display during his recent hot streak).
Does this mean that the Pistons should stop taking so many (possibly bad) shots right at the rim? No way. I don't care if the team finishes with the top six slots in missed shots from within 1 foot. I'd much rather have that then see them do what they've done since Larry Brown left, which is miss inefficient jump shots form 15 to 20 feet away.