ESPN has projected the Detroit Pistons to finish 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-49. The forecast is part of ESPN's newly released basketball preview, featuring in-depth previews of all 30 teams and scouting reports on every player in the NBA.
I often look forward to the season preview, especially when it was written by John Hollinger. Say what you want about the value of PER as a metric, but Hollinger knew how to interpret stats (and often used ones other than PER to make his point), and he had a good eye for scouting based on film and in-person observation.
This year, the Pistons are evaluated by the tag-team of Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton and the results are just a mess. And I don't mean that because the bottom line is lower than I would like. I mean it is a mess because of obvious errors in analysis.
Let's go through everything wrong with ESPN's preview.
No. Just no. No. No. No. No.
There has literally been zero percent evidence that the three big men will start for the Pistons this season. And there has been ample evidence that one of either Smith or Monroe will come off the bench as part of a big-man rotation.
Not a good start, ESPN. And we haven't even gotten to the actual analysis yet.
Jennings' usage rate soared even as he decried becoming a pass-first point guard.
First, this sentence doesn't make any sense. Second, Jennings actually had a career-low usage rate and if you look at his per-month splits they remained consistent so you couldn't even argue that he regressed once Maurice Cheeks was fired.
There is no reason a team with this much length and athletic ability should flounder as the 25th-ranked defense, and Van Gundy has always been a top producer on that end. But the same trio of bigs returns, in the same spots, with the same problems. And there's little new coach Stan Van Gundy can do.
Actually, there is something he can do. Bring one of his big men off the bench. Which he will do. And has said he will do. Often.
But the team does project to play surprisingly above average D from the right-corner.
Whilst bashing the team defense, Doolittle the analyst talks about how good the team is projected to be on right-corner D. But we're talking about an area with an extremely limited sample size -- 253 shots out of the 6,820 Pistons opponents attempted last year.
The ESPN Insider forecast is a larger elaboration on Doolittle's shorter publicly available preview, but here too there are problems. The second paragraph ends like this:
The failed experiment turned out to be one rebuilding plan gone awry too many for longtime Pistons executive Joe Dumars, who ultimately stepped down.
Perhaps if I was being kind I'd let this slide, but this is simply not true. Dumars did not step down, his contact was up. He was even given a psuedo face-saving "reassignment" within the organization. A small error but it's there.
In his public comments, Van Gundy has said that Smith, Drummond and Monroe can coexist. Hopefully he doesn't mean at the same time, as that trio was outscored by seven points per 100 possessions when it was on the floor. If Drummond can excel as a bench energy guy getting 25 to 28 minutes a night, maybe it can work. Of course, that's limiting the upside of a player who could be emerging as the best center in the game.
There are plenty of ways to make it work other than benching your best player. Like bringing Monroe or Smith off the bench and sliding Monroe to either center or power forward as appropriate. This isn't that hard to understand.
The Pistons have a lot of capable parts. Jonas Jerebko is often a capable stretch-4 but struggled in Detroit's crowded frontcourt last season. He might be Van Gundy's new Ryan Anderson on this team. Kyle Singler is a floor stretcher.
Jerebko's 3-point shooting percentage in his five-year career (one season missed due to injury): 31.3, 30.2, 30.1, 41.9. Anderson attempted more 3s in his last season under Van Gundy than Jerebko has attempted in his entire career. Just stop it.
ESPN Forecast: 33-49
Real Plus-Minus: 30-52
ESPN Forecast is their panel of 200 writers, analysts, etc. It represents conventional wisdom, though wisdom that might be better than average. Maybe. Last year, the same panel pegged the Pistons to win 38 games.
SCHONE, meanwhile, projected the Pistons to win 49 games. This year it is again the most generous at 42 wins. Real Plus-Minus, which pegged Josh Smith as the 99th best player in the league last year, is the lowest with just 30 wins.
Kevin Pelton handles the individual player profiles again this season and he fares much better than Doolittle in his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each player. But he's also not perfect.
+ One of league's most efficient scorers inside arc. Doesn't shoot there often enough.
This is sort of true but wildly misleading. Smith isn't really efficient inside the arc, he's efficient inside the restricted area, where he shot 66.8 percent last year. But outside of the area immediately under the basket, Smith shot 32.1 percent from the field.
It's arguable that Augustin doesn't do much different than holdover Piston Will Bynum.
Three-point shooting and foul shooting are things that are important so this is not true. Arguably.
There's some good stuff in the preview, too, including praise for Monroe's post defense.