Pistons by the numbers: 2002-03 vs. 2015-16

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Someone, somewhere, recently mentioned the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons. That team went 50-32 and got swept by Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I thought about that roster and how un-sexy it was, featuring an unproven PG in Chauncey Billups and a SG in Richard Hamilton who was less explosive than Jerry Stackhouse. It featured starters like Michael Curry (3.0 PPG) and Ben Wallace (6.9 PPG) who weren’t offensive threats, but also a deep bench filled with guys like Corliss Williamson, Jon Barry, Chucky Atkins and Mehmet Okur. Tayshaun Prince didn’t even appear in half the regular season games, and averaged a paltry 10.4 MPG when he was allowed on the court.

After noticing some similarities between this year's squad and that club - the as-yet-unproven PG, the young and talented SG, the rookie SF, the stretch PF, the dominant C and the deep bench - I decided to compare this year's Pistons to the 2002-03 squad as fairly and accurately as possible - using stats.

I’d love to compare them using 2015-16 stats, but alas, those games haven’t been played yet. So the most sensible thing to do is compare the previous season’s stats. The idea being "What would fans and experts have projected for the 2002-03 team?" While that team was coming off an identical 50-32 season, it was replacing the entire backcourt with guys who hadn't produced as much as their predecessors.

While comparing the 2002-03 Pistons roster, I'm using their stats from 2001-02. Using, I cherry-picked stats that support my pre-conceived conclusions selected stats that I found the most relevant or interesting.

Let's first look at how the starters compare.



2002-03: 28.6
2015-16: 23.6

2002-03: 0.563 WS/48 (in 2001-02)
2015-16: 0.548 WS/48 (in 2014-15)

Billups (25): 12.5/5.5/2.8 | .555 TS | WS/48 .156 | 17.6 PER | .394 3PT | 29.2 AST%
Jackson (24): 17.6/9.2/4.7 | .511 TS | WS/48 .110 | 19.8 PER | .337 3PT | 51.2 AST% (with DET)

Hamilton (23): 20/2.7/3.4 | .511 TS | WS/48 .087 | 16.9 PER | .438 2PT | .381 3PT (16 made) |
Pope (21): 12.7/1.3/3.1 | .501 TS | WS/48 .052 | 11.2 PER | .449 2PT | .345 3PT (153 made) |

Curry (33): 4.0/2.0/1.5 | .521 TS | WS/48 .057 | 6.2 PER | .472 2PT | .269 3PT (7 made)
Morris (25): 10.4/4.8/1.6 | .520 TS | WS/48 .093 | 13.7 PER | .487 2PT | .358 3PT (112 made)

Robinson (35): 14.6/4.8/2.5 | .503 TS | WS/48 .073 | 13.5 PER | .443 2PT | .378 3PT (115 made) | 35.7 MPG
Ilyasova (27): 11.5/4.8/1.0 | .554 TS | WS/48 .146 | 16.8 PER | .515 2PT | .389 3PT (74 made) | 22.7 MPG

Wallace (27): 7.6/13.0/3.5 blk | .522 TS | WS/48 .190 | 18.6 PER | DWS 7.2
Drummond (21): 13.8/13.5/1.9 blk | .504 TS | WS/48 .147 | 21.4 PER | DWS 4.3

I was most interested in seeing the comparison between between Billups and Reggie Jackson. In his stint with the Pistons, Reggie mostly compares favorably to Chauncey’s full season with Minnesota. While I’m not including them here, his Per 36 numbers hold up favorably as well. In terms of points & assists, Reggie filled the stat sheet more than Chauncey. Even his full-season AST% was higher - at 34.8%. However, Chauncey did have him beat soundly in TS%, WS/48 and 3PT%. Keep in mind that Chauncey was a year older and had one more year of NBA experience during the seasons being compared.

The KCP/Rip comparison seems very one-sided at first, and in some respects, it is. However, the age factor is important here. If you compare Rip’s sophomore season to KCP’s, you’ll find more similarities, even though Rip played an extra season of college ball before entering the NBA. Rip had a .046 WS/48 in his sophomore campaign, before jumping to the .087 you see in his 3rd season. If you compare the two at the same age, it's even more interesting. KCP was 21 last year. Rip was 21 during his rookie season.

Here's how they compare at the age of 21...

Rip: 19.3 mpg, 9.0 ppg, .482 TS%, .024 WS/48, 11.6 PER

KCP: 31.5 mpg, 12.7 ppg, .501 TS%, .052 WS/48, 11.2 PER

The reason I think these similarities are interesting is that Rip showed a big improvement the year he turned 22.

Rip: 32.3 mpg, 18.1 ppg, .508 TS%, .046 WS/48, 15.7 PER

One reason Rip's TS% was so low that year is that he wasn't a good 3PT shooter. In fact, he shot 27% and took only about two threes per game. So throw in the fact that KCP is already a far better 3PT shooter than Rip, factor in the extra year of maturity, and it's reasonable to expect a nice uptick in performance this year. Additionally, with Reggie and Dre drawing a lot of attention in the paint, he should get more open looks from outside the arc.

Taking a quick look at the remaining starters, Morris is an upgrade on Curry, Ilyasova much more efficient than Robinson, and Dre even fares pretty well with Big Ben (aside from DWS), especially considering the 6-year age difference.

So how do the benches compare?



2002-03: 28.6
2015-16: 25.4

2002-03: 0.565 WS/48 (in 2001-02)
2015-16 : 0.497 WS/48 (in 2014-15)

Atkins (28): 12.1/3.3/2.1 | .568 TS | WS/48 .107 | 14.5 PER
Jennings (25): 15.4/6.6/2.5 | .522 TS | WS/48 .136 | 19.7 PER

Barry (33): 9.0/2.9/3.3 | .645 TS | WS/48 .180 | 17.7 PER
Meeks (27): 11.1/1.7/1.3 | .548 TS | WS/48 .103 | 14.1 PER

Williamson (29): 13.6/4.1/1.2 | .567 TS | WS/48 .144 | 20.0 PER
Johnson (19): ROOKIE (DNP 2014-15)

Okur (23): ROOKIE (DNP 2001-02)
Tolliver (29): 7.7/3.7/0.9 | .569 TS | WS/48 .092 | 11.1 PER

Rebraca (30): 6.9/3.9/0.5 | .569 TS | WS/48 .134 | 16.2 PER
Baynes (28): 6.6/4.5/0.5 | .618 TS | WS/48 .166 | 15.9 PER

A quick glance at the WS/48 shows that the 2002-03 squad's bench was superior by a good margin. The differences that stick out are Jon Barry's efficiency compared to Meeks' subpar season and Corliss Williamson being an absolute beast of a sixth man.

The other big difference is the same as with the starters - age. Not only is the starting unit of the 2002-03 squad on average five years older, the bench is three years older as well. Clearly, it's somewhat easier to predict how an older group will perform the following season, but it's also more likely to see significant improvement from the much younger team.

The whole reason I find this comparison to be relevant is how similar the numbers are to this year's much younger group... even given the vast difference in age.

I don't think anyone could look at these numbers and predict the 2015-16 team to win 15 fewer games than the 2002-03 team (35-47, according to ESPN's expert panel). In fact, a quick bit of math using WS alone shows the Goin' To Work team winning 8.036 more games over the course of a season. So just using last year's numbers, the 2015-16 team could be projected to win about 42 games. Factoring in the age difference and expected improvement from key players in their early 20's, that projection might even be a bit higher.

Post-injury Jennings will be assuming the same role as Chucky Atkins - going from starter to the bench. Atkins only put up 7 ppg in 21 mpg with a .475 TS% in 2002-03. Swag should be able to best that easily if he's able to get on the court. Barry put up 6.9 ppg in about 18 mpg with .593 TS% that next season, and Meeks put up .601 TS% during his last year with the Lakers, so maybe a season without back injuries will let him return to that level.

It's highly unlikely that Stanimal puts up Corliss-type numbers, as the Big Nasty was a seasoned veteran and well-rounded offensive player at that point. But he could provide 8-12 ppg and play tough defense with similar burn (about 25 mpg). Okur put up 6.9 ppg his rookie year, which is right about what we got from Tolliver last year. Rebraca only appeared in 30 games (injury?), and wasn't a regular part of the rotation. My guess is that Baynes will have a bigger impact.

All in all, the teams don't look wildly different stat-wise. Age and experience are the most obvious differences here, and while that might have a big impact on wins over the course of the season, that may be at least somewhat offset by what looks to be a more talented and explosive 2015-16 team. While the Goin' To Work squads had stellar defense, they really struggled to score at times (especially pre-Sheed). This year's team may be the opposite. If SVG can coax some consistently tough defense out of his young team, the sky's the limit.

This is my first foray into advanced stats, so feel free to slap me around in the comments if my math or analysis is off here, but I had fun putting it together and it seems to make some sense.

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