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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How Good Can Terrence Williams Be?

by Eno Sarris 6. October 2010 15:23

Fantasy owners and Nets fans alike are wondering about their team this year. The Nyets have repeatedly been linked to Carmelo Anthony in trade rumors, and we can leave it up to fellow HoopData and ESPN writer Tom Haberstroh to discuss Anthony’s over-rated-ness (insider link).

But, beyond the defensive and sharp-shooting shortcomings of the Nuggets’ current star, there’s the fact that the team already owns a decent young forward that showed the tantalizing first glimmers of upside last year. That’s right, probable starting small forward Terrence Williams is young and on a young, rebuilding team – making him an interesting fantasy sleeper already. Let’s look into his limited sample and try to see what’s coming this year. 

The first thing that jumps out from the HoopData stats is Williams’ rebounding rate. He gobbled up 4.5 rebounds in only 22+ minutes last year, producing a 11.4 Total Rebounding Rate (TRR). The nice thing about TRR is that it usually stays steady even with added playing time, so we can easily compare him to some starting small forwards from last season.

He is above league average for his position already (9.3 TRR), and that 11.4 number placed him 13th among small forwards last year, right behind Shawn Marion. It also had him above Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Luol Deng – it looks like he can clean the glass, and that more minutes means more boards. More boards means more playing time on a New Jersey team that ranked third-from-last in the statistic last year.

Boarding alone does not make an NBA starter, and we can easily see why some fantasy players and Nets fans are skeptical about Williams. His 40.1 FG% (31% from three) are verging on a problem. Again, the HoopData stats provide some hope – Williams took far too many long twos last year. 23.8% of his field goal attempts were from 16-23 feet, and the spot on the floor that produces the worst field goal percentage across basketball produced a 22% field goal percentage for Williams.

The team as a whole exhibited this problem, unfortunately. Even Brook Lopez, their center, took 21% of his shots from there. But if new coach Avery Johnson preaches the three or the drive, Williams’ overall FG% could easily rise this year. Unfortunately, Avery Johnson’s Mavericks took 30% and 28.6% of their shots from the Long Two area in successive years, while the team only took 27.6% of their shots from the same area last year. This piece of the puzzle is admittedly the most tenuous, but we do have Williams’ college numbers, where he hit 34% and 38.5% of his threes. There’s at least some shooting upside there.

We all know Avery Johnson can ride young players, and that he preaches defense. Williams is young – he can’t do anything about that – but his defense is probably strong enough to give his new coach hope. According to BasketballValue.com, Williams was one of the better defenders on the team last year - the site has the Nets at about 2.86 adjusted points stingier with him on the court. 82games.com also thought his defense was good, labeling his defensive value about 3.7 points better than neutral.

So we know that he can board and play defense, and we think he can shoot better. The last piece of the puzzle is his ability to make his teammates better on offense, and once again Williams does not fail to elicit hope. His assist rate from last year (20.99) was far and away better than the average small forward (12.4) and was good for sixth-best in the league. Give him 34 MPG like Tayshaun Prince (19.17 AR), and he may put up three assists per game like Prince.

Williams has opportunity – he’s battling the previously underwhelming Travis Outlaw for minutes at SF and lifetime defensive-minded backup Quinton Ross at backup SG. He’s got talent – his assist rate, rebound rate, and defensive numbers are all better than Carmelo Anthony’s, for example. He could help the Nets as a glue-type small forward that can play defense, rebound and move the ball, and he can help fantasy owners as a late sleeper that can put up multi-category goodness.

Because he’s got all of these pieces, he’s one of the better late-round fantasy sleepers for the upcoming season, and he could be a big help to his own team as well. Now all the pieces need to fall in place.

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