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John Hollinger still ignorant about 2004 title, PistonPowered defends him

After suggesting that the Detroit Pistons' 2004 championship deserves an asterisk for "key injuries" to players on the Nets, Pacers and Lakers, John Hollinger doubled-down on his comments in a follow-up tweet:

I hate to belabor an unfortunate issue, but I won't ever tire of defending a championship which should not need to be defended. Yesterday, we examined the rosters of each team Hollinger listed, the contributions of each injured player and determined that these injuries did not provide a significant advantage to the Pistons title run. Given Hollinger's latest tweet, he didn't read our analysis. Dan Feldman of PistonPowered, however, read the article and defended Hollinger in a piece of his own, "Sticking up for John Hollinger":

"’s worth pointing out that Hollinger is right. The Pistons benefited from injuries. I don’t think that takes away from the Pistons’ title – their training staff deserves credit for keeping everyone healthy, and unlike their opponents, they didn’t rely on as many older players – but Hollinger is right."

Feldman defended Hollinger by citing news reports about injuries to players the Pistons faced on the Nets, Pacers and Lakers. I take issue with Feldman's defense due to two significant flaws-- first, a misunderstanding of the context of Hollinger's comments, and second, for ignoring what happened on court in favor of one-sided, inconclusive news reports.

The Context of Hollinger's Comments

Earlier this week, Bill Simmons posted an article discussing which NBA teams deserve an addendum to their titles. Simmons organized his list of 20 "asterisk titles" by the reason for wins which may not have happened without a specific stroke of luck. His list included three teams which won titles due to key injuries to their competition:

  1. 2009 LA Lakers - Simmons suggests that had Kevin Garnett not missed the playoffs with a knee injury, the defending champion Celtics would have returned to the NBA Finals and the Lakers may owe their title to this injury.
  2. 1965 Boston Celtics - The Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals, but the Lakers lost Elgin Baylor in the first round. Baylor averaged 27 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists that season, and Simmons suggest the Celtics may not have beaten the Lakers if Baylor was healthy and available.
  3. 2003 San Antonio Spurs - According to Simmons, the Spurs dodged a bullet when Chris Webber went down in round 2 of the playoffs. The Kings then lost to the Dallas Mavericks who faced the Spurs in the next round (and without Dirk Nowitzki for the final three games of the series).

In response to Simmons' article, Hollinger suggested that the 2004 Pistons be added as an asterisk team due to key injuries to the Nets, Pacers and Lakers. Does the gravity of a team losing its top player, like Kevin Garnett, Elgin Baylor, Chris Webber or Dirk Nowitzki even remotely compare to what the Pistons faced during their 2004 title run?

Feldman continues:

It’s just Hollinger giving another example of a team that caught a break on its way to a championship.

This is an over-simplification of an ignorant claim by Hollinger. He's not suggesting the Pistons just "caught a break", he's suggesting that the 2004 title was benefited by injury on a grand scale. The Pistons didn't win by avoiding the Celtics without Garnett, the '65 Lakers without Baylor or the 2003 Kings without Webber. The Pistons faced three teams who were at full strength to start each series, with only one player missing a single game in the entire playoff run. I just don't see how Hollinger can connect these dots.

Inconclusive News Reports and Ignored Data

To defend Hollinger, Feldman references status reports on the injuries to Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley and Karl Malone. The news reports alone are inconclusive-- with the exception of Karl Malone, who missed one game, each of these players were at full health when the series started and their production record is there for analysis. Why ignore that? To start, here is Dan's evidence from the Associated Press:

The star point guard has struggled with a knee injury, and there has been speculation that his back hurts, too. But Kidd refused to talk about his injuries during the series — or after.

Jason Kidd was available for all 7 games against the Detroit Pistons, averaging 10 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. His assist and rebounding averages for that series matched his season averages exactly, and his scoring was down due to three bad games to start the series. In Hollinger's latest tweet on the subject, he mentioned Kidd's game 7 injury. Injured or not, Kidd played 43 minutes that game which Detroit won by 21 points. (despite the speculation that his back hurts, too)

Given Kidd's on-court production in that series, and the similarity to his record throughout the playoffs, it is a hard stretch to suggest Detroit benefited from Kidd's injury.

On Jermaine O'Neal, via the Chicago Tribune:

"It’s an injury," O’Neal said. "It takes away some of your mobility. It won’t get better overnight, so I’ll have to find a way to deal with it. This series isn’t over."

Funny enough, it did get better overnight. In game six, O'Neal scored 20 points to go with 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. O'Neal didn't miss any time, and in the series against the Pistons he averaged more rebounds and blocks than he did throughout the playoffs. If he was injured, it didn't appear to effect his production.

What's curious to me is that Feldman was quick to point out the injury to O'Neal, but ignored the injury that Rasheed Wallace was dealing with. Via ESPN:

The injury is a dreaded case of plantar fasciitis in Rasheed Wallace's left heel. In this case, it's dreaded because, besides being the sort of injury that can linger for months, it threatens to negate the Pistons' main advantage in this series.

Last, on Karl Malone's injury during the Pistons-Lakers NBA Finals, via the Associated Press:

Karl Malone is playing despite having what he believes to be a torn ligament in his right knee

As I pointed out in my analysis yesterday, Malone was at full health in game one of the NBA Finals. In 44 minutes of play, Malone only scored 4 points. In game 2, after sustaining an injury, Malone still played 39 minutes and added 9 points. Was Malone's injury, which only led to missing one game (after the Pistons were already 3-1) a significant factor in Detroit's win in that series?

With the exception of Malone's one game absence, none of these injuries led to lost time for any of Detroit's competitors in the 2004 playoffs. The players who did sustain injuries played through them and maintained their production averages throughout each series.

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I take issue with John Hollinger for suggesting that the Pistons benefited from injuries in the same way that the 2009 Lakers, 1965 Boston Celtics and 2003 Spurs did. In fact, injuries did not play a significant role for any of the teams the Pistons faced in 2004. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the data, to rewrite the past and frankly, to insult the accomplishment of the team that dominated the Eastern Conference for nearly a decade.

Furthermore, I take issue with Dan Feldman's defense of John Hollinger. To suggest that Hollinger was saying that the Pistons "caught a break" is an oversimplification and it ignores the context of the "asterisk" discussion. It's also strange that Feldman would use news reports to support Hollinger while ignoring the data, and even more strange that Feldman didn't support the Pistons by noting the injury to Rasheed Wallace. I doubt Feldman would put company above team in defending Hollinger, but this seems to be out of character.

Frankly, the whole "asterisk" conversation is nonsensical and I'd love to see it put to bed. The inclusion of the 2004 Pistons in this discussion is laughable, given that the data shows that Detroit's competitors weren't hampered by significant injuries. As for the news reports, they show both teams dealing with roughly equivalent issues. There's a whole lot to be said about the Pistons 2004 title run, but giving the Pistons an edge due to injuries is absolutely not one of them. Detroit's blue collar, grind it out, going to work identity remains 100% intact.