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DBB Debates: Is is time for Stan Van Gundy to be fired?

Justin Lambregtse and Steve Hinson debate whether Stan Van Gundy should be fired or allowed to finish out his contract.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy should be fired: Justin Lambregtse

As the Pistons continue their downward spiral, there is only so much you can blame on the injury to Reggie Jackson. Yes it sucks, but that is part of the flaw of Stan Van Gundy’s vision. This team is built to be so heavily reliant on the starting point guard, that when that starting point guard can’t stay healthy, which Reggie Jackson has not been able to, the team falls apart.

This team is built in Stan Van Gundy’s vision, yet they only have one playoff appearance to show for it in three seasons This includes last season where the team regressed and appeared to quit on SVG. It is also looking like they will not have a playoff appearance to show for this season. The East is better than expected and the Pistons are in the middle of a downward spiral.

The Pistons have been a terrible offensive team since Stan Van Gundy has gotten here. Their offensive rating ranks in the league since Stan Van Gundy was hired before the 2014-2015 season are as follows: 17th, 15th, 25th, and 21st. Their offensive rating was 103.3 for every season except for 2014-2015 when it was 102.3. The team hasn’t gotten any better offensively since he has gotten here. They have been a good defensive team, but that doesn’t do much good when you are middle-of-the-pack at best on offense.

Speaking of the offense, Stan Van Gundy’s offensive system is bad and he is resistant to change. He ran the same pick-and-roll centered offense for his first three seasons. It wasn’t until he was given pressure from his brother Jeff and assistant coaches that he decided to implement more of a motion offense this season. The numbers show that this change has not done anything, which leads me to my next point.

The offense sucks because he does not hold every player to the same accountability. Avery Bradley is allowed to go out there and chuck away without any repercussions. He is second on the team in shot attempts, and only .3 attempts behind Tobias Harris with 14.4. Since returning from injury on Jan. 3, Avery Bradley has led the Pistons or tied for the lead in shot attempts in eight out of 11 games. He is averaging 33 minutes per game and 16 shot attempts per game on 35.7 percent shooting over that stretch and only scoring 14.2 points. Where is the accountability?

Heaven forbid Luke Kennard miss a defensive assignment or Stanley Johnson turn the ball over, they will ride the bench the rest of the game. Avery Bradley can do the same stuff and nothing will change.

Avery Bradley is averaging 2.3 turnovers per game and seems to have issues with handling the ball out of the direct hand-off offense the team has started running this year. However, the team is still running the same offense through Avery Bradley.

It also isn’t just an Avery Bradley problem. Ish Smith is allowed to highjack the offense in the 4th quarter, which has been terrible, and there are no ill effects for him. Just look at Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz. Ish Smith played 16 straight minutes to close out the game, and shot three ill-advised mid range jumpers after Andre Drummond’s herculean effort to give the Pistons a 9 point lead with about three minutes left. Just like that the Jazz tied it up and the game went to overtime. Surely Ish Smith would get punished for his poor play down the stretch? Especially since he had just played 16 straight minutes?

Nah, Stan Van Gundy trotted him out there for the entire overtime period. Yes, Reggie Jackson is hurt and the backup point guard options are not very good, but shouldn’t Ish Smith be punished for his attrocious play down the stretch that allowed this game to go to overtime in the first place? Do you think Luke Kennard would have been able to get away with what Ish Smith did in the 4th quarter?

I am also getting tired of listening to Stan Van Gundy’s postgame comments. It is the same things over and over again. If he isn’t blaming the players, he is appologizing for his screw up in a routine game situation. He then goes on to make the same mistake. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“Maybe I should not have had the 5’11” Ish Smith guarding the 6’6” Spencer Dinwiddie on the final possession.”

“Maybe I should have used Luke Kennard more down the stretch instead of Avery Bradley.”

How about actually doing this stuff instead of just saying you should do it?

Stan Van Gundy has been stubborn to extend his rotation beyond nine players since he has gotten here. Early on this season, he said he was going to be more flexible with his rotation than years past and mostly backed that up. There were games when 11 guys would play. Henry Ellenson, Jon Leuer, and Eric Moreland were all getting minutes. Hell, Anthony Tolliver was getting DNPs early on. Henry Ellenson had one bad game defensively on Kristaps Porzingis, and was taken out of the rotation. Even after Jon Leuer went down, he still could not get back into the rotation. As the season has gone on, the rotation has gotten thinner. Langston Galloway had a stretch of DNPs despite two-way player Dwight Buycks getting minutes.

The team has struggled on offense mightily since Reggie Jackson went down with his injury. The only real changes Stan Van Gundy has made is replacing Langston Galloway as backup point guard after one game and then replacing Ish Smith as starting point guard after 13 terrible offensive games (The Pistons are 28th in the league offensively since Reggie Jackson went down). The rotation hasn’t changed, players like Henry Ellenson, who could maybe bring an offensive spark, continue to ride the bench.

I realize firing Stan Van Gundy probably does not fix all of the problems with this team, the roster is still flawed. However, this team needs somebody who is more willing to think outside the box. Somebody who is more willing to expand his rotation and try out different looks when things aren’t working. Somebody who doesn’t only emphasize defense in an NBA that is all about spacing the floor and playing as fast and efficient as you can.

That guy is not going to be Stan Van Gundy. This is his 4th season and nothing has significantly changed. He has built a flawed roster in his vision and that flawed roster has fallen apart as the schedule has gotten easier.

If Stan Van Gundy does not make some changes to save this sinking ship, it is time for him to go.

Stan Van Gundy shouldn’t be fired: Steve Hinson

Firing SVG isn’t the answer. I’ve got four reasons why to start off with, and will also address a couple of Justin’s points along the way.

1) Process versus outcome

It’s easy for fans to sit on the sidelines and think about what they would do with this franchise. We do that at DBB every offseason with the Pistons offseason project. You know, we’ve done that every year that Stan Van Gundy has been at the helm of the Pistons and every year that we’ve done it, I’ve liked SVG and Bower’s results better than my own.

In 2015 I wanted to hand Terrence Jones the starting small forward spot. The guy isn’t in the league anymore. Instead, SVG and Bower landed Ersan Ilyasova for nothing and eventually flipped him into Tobias Harris.

Fans complain about the Stanley Johnson draft pick. Know who was the most popular draft pick in that season’s offseason project? Stanley Johnson. Know how many plans called for Devin Booker? Zero. Frank Kaminsky was a more popular pick for Pistons fans than Booker at the time. In 2016 the most popular target for Pistons fans was Wade Baldwin. And we call SVG a bad drafter.

The point is that overall SVG and Bower have done a nice job building this roster. It’s not perfect. There have been missteps. But as a whole, this is a roster that makes sense, there are no dumpster fire positions, and heck, the 13th and 14th roster additions have been excellent key contributors.

That doesn’t mean to ignore the outcomes. Certainly, below .500 in year four isn’t where this team should be. But the vision makes sense. It’s worth keeping on the course for another season.

2) Good franchises invest in continuity (until there’s a good reason not to)

Know where a carousel takes you? In a circle. You end up right back where you started.

That’s what happens with a coaching carousel. Firing a coach just because doesn’t lead to improved results. Look at Memphis, Orlando, Phoenix. Those are textbook terrible organizations. No one in their right mind should be willing to coach for those franchises.

In 2014, the Pistons were a part of that list.

Now that doesn’t mean that continuity is always going to bring success. Yeah, it’s easy to point out a list of teams that have had the same coach for a while who still stink. But the goal of finding a coach or general manager is to find smart folks who move the team forward.

It doesn’t always work. Steve Clifford and Rich Cho are both smart, talented guys but the Hornets remain a mess. But it’s best to stick with those smart folks until they give you a reason not to anymore. SVG and Bower haven’t done that.

Those two get the issues with this team. Just look at this season. Drummond’s post up game clearly wasn’t working, and he completely redesigned Drummond’s role to keep him involved in the offense but not flinging hook shots from 10 feet. The Pistons were one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league last year, this year they’re pretty darn good from three. In 2015-16 the Pistons backup point guard spot was a mess and they found a gem to fill the spot in Ish Smith.

I trust SVG and Bower to have a better feel for the team’s problems and be better able to solve them than whoever is behind the mystery door.

3) Firing a coach doesn’t drive change (unless they’re incompetent)

Replacing Randy Wittman with Scott Brooks, sure, that’ll drive change. Wittman was a lousy coach. But that’s not the situation in Detroit. SVG makes some decisions that are frustrating at times, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

There are few things more arbitrary than criticisms of coaching rotations or in-game management. It relies on an alternative history being available that amounts to “If SVG had done X instead of Y, the results would have been better.” But that alternative timeline simply isn’t available.

The Pistons’ point guard play in the fourth quarter sucks. It was foreseeable. Reggie Jackson was a better closer and Ish Smith’s offense is better for the freewheeling style earlier in games. But the alternatives at point guard down the stretch are Langston Galloway and Dwight Buycks. Galloway has also been pretty rough in the fourth quarter since Jackson went down and I don’t really trust this guy whose name no one is quite sure if they’re pronouncing right with the game on the line.

Still, SVG is often criticized for being inflexible. I don’t understand that.

We’re coming immediately off a game where he made a change to the starting lineup that no one thought he’d actually do, bringing Ish off the bench in place of Galloway. Last year he saw the need for scoring off the bench and switched Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer, which worked nicely. He regularly ran 10 and 11 man rotations early in the year while he tried to figure out who he wanted at backup power forward between Leuer, Anthony Tolliver, and Henry Ellenson.

Ellenson was taken out of the rotation, yes, but that’s because Tolliver has been a much better player than him this season. Why is playing a better player in favor of an inferior player a criticism?

Either way, whoever were to take the reins from SVG if he were fired, I can guarantee one thing: they’d do stuff that annoyed us too.

4) The grass isn’t greener on the other side

Since Jackson went down, the Pistons have had four games decided by three or fewer points. They’ve lost all of them. A bad shot choice from Avery Bradley trying to be the hero, a Reggie Bullock missed layup, a Spencer Dinwiddie dagger, a disappearing offense in overtime. Those coin toss games go a little bit differently, and we’re singing a different tune. Doesn’t that mean calling for a firing is reactionary?

But ok, let’s say we fire SVG. Now what? We get David Fizdale? That guy who doesn’t believe in analytics? Sounds like fun! Doc Rivers after he gets fired? Jason Kidd? Some other retread? We’ve been there. It didn’t go well.

There are perhaps two coaches in the league right now that would make a difference if no matter what team they went to: Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens.

The coach the Pistons would wind up with probably aren’t the next Popovich or Stevens. It’s just a new face.

Firing the coach is a way of doing something with out actually addressing the existing problems. This team has problems, to be sure. All firing SVG would do is push solving the real problems further down the road.

Those problems are clear. The Pistons are 25th in the league in points per game. They’re 27th in offensive rating in the fourth quarter since Jackson went down. They’re 25th in true shooting percentage. 27th in free throw attempts per game. 30th in blocked shots.

These are issues that can be addressed. But they need to be addressed through continued incremental improvements to the roster, the same way that they’ve solved previous problems. Firing Stan Van Gundy won’t solve a single one of them.

What say you DBB?


Is it time for Stan Van Gundy to be fired?

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