The 2003-04 Pistons: Great Timing?

by Blake Murphy 9. November 2012 00:13

Scanning the box scores the other night I came across two lines that made me kind of sad.

Tayshaun Prince, Nov 6, Detroit @ Denver - 2/8 FG, 4pts, 3rbs, 1ast, 29min

Richard Hamilton, Nov 6, Chicago vs Orlando - 3/8 FG, 7pts, 3rbs, 2ast, 2to, 1stl, 28min

With The Basketball Jones identifying Rasheed Wallace as The Human Victory Blunt for the season and Chauncey Billups struggling to return from injury, it appears that all of the remaining members of the 2003-04 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons are on their last legs.

To wit, Mehmet Okur retired at 33 today. Ben Wallace is retired. Corliss Williamson is long since retired. And then there are the four men mentioned above, plus leftover bench players like Mike James and Darko Milicic.

It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising to me that the Pistons from nearly a decade ago are slowly filing out of the league and shrinking out of basketball minds (save for Rasheed, who is and forever will be a walking meme). After all, basketball careers are short and success fleeting, and there’s no exception for players like those 2003-04 Pistons who played very specific roles, most without superstar peaks.

But the box scores and retirements and jokes got me thinking about that team in general, and just how perfect a storm that team was, coming together and peaking at just the right time. They say that you need three stars to win now, or two top-50 All Time players and a third All Star, or something like that. But the top seven Pistons that year in terms of importance were all at or near the apex of their careers, a rare feat for seven teammates of varying ages. The graph below shows the Win Shares of each player across their careers.

Chauncey continued on the upswing for a few years after that championship season, but most everyone else was looking down at the rest of their careers. Rip and Tayshaun would stay at that level of play for a few more years, relative disappointments given their youth at the time. Corliss was out of the league shortly after, Big Ben slowly started to become less effective, and Rasheed had some ups and downs, as he is wont to do. Mehmet Okur took off, but it was outside of Detroit in Utah.

Again, maybe none of this is shocking, but to further illustrate how lucky the Pistons were to find seven players outperforming their peers at the same time, take a look at the graph below. This graph compares the Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) of each of these players to what would be expected from a player that age based on historical data.

One final thing I wanted to look for was to see whether this happened to be the Pistons having seven players peaking at the same time despite age differences, or just seven very good players. Either way, the team was intelligent and fortunate, but we saw above that while it was a career apex for some, a couple of the players remained relevant for some time.

The graph below shows each player’s win shares at each age compared to the average player mentioned previously (in this case I took the “expected WS/48” and multiplied it by 36 minutes). This shows what a typical player at that age would be doing with 36 minutes a night. It’s not perfect, but it gives you a visual of how good these Pistons were, and how well-run and fortunate they were to have seven such players together at once, near their relative peaks.

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Billups Back Too Soon?

by Jeff Fogle 16. March 2011 00:15

Chauncey Billups returned to the New York Knicks lineup two games ago after missing time with a thigh injury. He's struggled noticeably in a pair of losses to the Indiana Pacers...

*Billups is usually a dangerous threat from three-point land. He shot 0 for 11 on treys in the two games.

*Billups had been a free-throw earning machine prior to missing six games. In his first four games as a Knick, he was 45 of 50 from the free throw line, which works out to an average of 11.3 of 12.5 per game. In the two games since his return, he's just 5 of 6 total.

*Billups may be getting a bit old to handle the defensive challenges of a fast pace. The thigh injury certainly wouldn't help that. His counterpart Tuesday Night, Darren Collison, was 9 of 13 from the floor, 5 of 5 from the free throw line, and connected on 9 assists. Sunday, Collison was 6 of 10 from the floor, 3 of 4 from the line, and had 8 assists.

Two-Game Plus/Minus:
Billups: -36 (in games NY lost by 15)
Collison: +40 (in games Indiana won by 15)

New York was 2-2 in the four games Billups played before the injury. They went 4-2 without him vs. a tough schedule. They're 0-2 since his return. Versus a team that had been slumping badly before that twinbill.

Transition Points

*Hustling Tyler Hansborough (well, there's "hustling," and there's the even higher level of passionate fanaticism Hansborough brigngs to each game) scored a career high vs. the Knicks Sunday with 29 points. He bettered that Tuesday with 30.

This really exposes the internal defensive woes of the Knicks. And, it's not like Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were standing idly by:

Carmelo: 5 fouls Sunday, 4 fouls Tuesday
Amare: 5 fouls Sunday, 5 fouls Tuesday

The high profile stars are widely considered to be poor defenders. Imagine how bad they get when they have to back off because of foul trouble!

I was glancing at the boxscore during Tuesday's fourth quarter, and noticed Hansborough was having another big game. With about 9 minutes to go, he was 12 of 16 from the field. I wondered to myself how many had come on hustling put-backs after offensive rebounds. The offensive rebound column showed ZERO at the time! No easy put-backs on 75% shooting from the field. Hansborough gives it his all. He shouldn't be able to do THAT.

Hansborough would end up 12 of 17 from the floor, 6 of 8 from the free throw line, with one offensive rebound.

*Milwaukee got blown out for the second game in a row Tuesday, losing 110-85 at Atlanta. I was thinking it might be time to start the Scott Skiles job watch given their last two results. But, the Bucks had won the three games prior to Sunday's 87-56 debacle at Boston.

And, to be fair, Milwaukee is in a brutal schedule stretch. They had a back-to-back on March 8th and 9th...then another one on March 12th and 13th...and the loss in Atlanta was part one of a new one that ends Wednesday the 16th vs. Orlando. That will be six games in nine days.

Can't suggest a 56-point combined loss over two nights is a red flag about a coach getting fired given those other influences. But, Milwaukee is showing the general performance arc that Scott Skiles-coached teams are known for:

Skiles in Phoenix:
91-53 in his first two seasons
25-26 before getting fired in his third season

Skiles in Chicago:
19-47 in a partial season with a struggling team
47-35 in his first full season
135-109 in his first three full seasons
9-16 before getting fired in his fourth full season

Skiles in Milwaukee:
34-48 in his first season with an injury riddled team
46-36 in the "Fear the Deer" year
26-40 in the current season

I'm sure others have made this point before. Skiles is the Billy Martin of the NBA. He can get things headed in the right direction in impressive fashion. But, that flame sure burns out quick.

*Wednesday's busy 11-game slate features Oklahoma City at Miami on ESPN, and Denver at Atlanta in games matching playoff bound teams. Back with comments on those games and more once they're in the books.

*In college hoops tonight, UAB showed everyone why the TV pundits were so outraged about them getting an NCAA tournament bid. They were never in the game in a "12 vs. 12" matchup against Clemson. UAB lost 70-52, and it felt worse.

Two-Point Shooting: Clemson 58%, UAB 25%
Turnovers: Clemson 11, UAB 19

UAB only made 6 two-point baskets all night, and 4 free throws. And they turned the ball over 19 times! That's a tournament caliber team?

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