Last year after hiring whiz kid general manager Ryan McDonough, the Suns jumped from 25 wins to 48. SB Nation's Bright Side of the Sun summed up McDonough's roster construction philosophy as "you need a couple of stars and some developing youth, but the core of the team should be in their mid-20s just entering their primes and already contributing to a winning culture."
That vision pretty well fits the roster constructed by Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower over the past offseason.
After six seasons without a winning record and a 21-year-old budding star in Andre Drummond, many were perplexed by the seemingly win-now moves of signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, and Caron Butler in an environment when tanking is a buzz word.
But judging by the Suns' success last season, the Pistons may be better equipped to win now than their sub-30 win streak indicates.
Now, declaring a player's prime is a tricky subject. Dave Berri from Wages of Wins has the most numerically-based stuff, coming from his book with Martin Schmidt in Stumbling on Wins. They essentially claim that a player's peak comes at 24 years old, he holds that peak until 25, declines slowly until he hits 30, then declines rapidly.
Wide brushes have their uses, but I'm not sure I buy this one. 24 seems awfully young to declare a peak, and raw data might just create a warped picture. After all, the average NBA career length is only 4.8 years.
For D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, or Jodie Meeks, their careers have been on obvious upward swings since 24. If one segmented the data further, they might find that's the case for many of the role player varieties. There's probably less of a decline at 25, but a plateau or even slight rise until 27 or 28 for this types of player. But of course, I'm not going to try parsing through data to try showing that hypothesis for the sake of this post.
And whether it's Berri or me who's right, the Pistons win either way. The Pistons stand to be loaded with players in their prime.
Of the expected rotation, only Caron Butler is on the wrong side of the upward arc of his bell curve and only he, Andre Drummond, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are not near their peak. And only Josh Smith, at 28 years old, is likely in or near the declining point of his career. The rest are in the 24 to 26 year old range, at a point where they are either improving or playing near their peak for the next several years.
Last year, Mike Payne wrote a great piece discussing the ideal roster surrounding Drummond as the team's franchise player, calling the design The Drummond Contender. The idea was creating a team that has a team with an age profile similar to this year's roster once Drummond entered the early years of his prime.
However, what if Drummond is ready to be the best player on a contending team either this season or next? This may well be the case. If so, it makes plenty of sense to have expedited The Drummond Contender blueprint, which may be what Van Gundy has done.
McDonough also pointed out that a team needs some developing youth. While Drummond is the team's star and is only 21, surrounding him with players who will be on the decline as he is playing his best basketball doesn't really make sense. But that's where Caldwell-Pope and perhaps Spencer Dinwiddie come in. If these two players are able to stick as long-term pieces, roster spots can be filled with others hitting their prime as openings come available -- something that Van Gundy showed may not be as hard as other teams make it look.
Thankfully, the Pistons have all of their future draft picks for the foreseeable future to help fortify this group of young players.
Looking at the team through this lens makes Greg Monroe's contract that much more important. As arguably the second most talented player on the team and with about five years left in his prime, retaining Moose to a long-term contract would provide a tremendous amount of stability. On the contrary, losing him this offseason would make power forward the team's biggest question mark moving forward.
But as a whole, the team is relatively well-positioned for both the short and long term. Van Gundy indicated that his rotation will include nine players on most nights, and perhaps 10 to get Jonas Jerebko in the game. Presuming it's Butler who shares the small forward minutes, that would make the average age of the rotation just a shade under 26 years old -- nearly the same as last year's breakout Suns team.
While the signings of Augustin, Meeks, Butler, Martin, and Aaron Gray may lack upside, potential comes with risk. The player will likely face a learning curve and even then might not fulfill his potential. For a player just entering his prime, there may be the lack of the excitement factor without that unknown upside. But from day one, you're getting what should be the best basketball of his career.
What say you DBB? Did Van Gundy and Bower hit just the right part of the curve, or make a mistake by limiting their upside?