Let’s get that whole minutes / bench development thing out of the way first. Three Pistons starters averaged fewer minutes per game this season than last. Minutes went up for two, but only by a combined one minute per game. The three who played less went down by nearly six minutes per game. So, the Pistons’ bench got fewer minutes under Larry (five less per game during the 04/05 season) than under Flip this year. PY – 2004/2005 Regular Season CY – 2005/2006 Regular Season In the championship season the sum of the starters’ average minutes per game was 172. This went up to 181 in Larry’s last season and dropped back to 177 this season. So, you either believe that five additional bench minutes per game (between the championship year and this season) is enough to adequately develop a bench or you have to admit that the Pistons haven’t had a bench that played real minutes anytime in the last three seasons. Under Flip the starters played 73.8% of available minutes versus 71.1% under Larry. For comparison, the Pistons’ starters average minutes per game sums to 172 while the Miami Heat this season shows a sum of 159. That extra thirteen minutes a game going to the bench, plus a lot of experience sitting over there, does seem like enough to develop a strong group behind the starters. Scoring and Shooting Scoring was up for the Pistons this season - a whole 2.2 points per game separates out the defensive minded, conservative offense of Larry Brown and the offensive minded walk it up and gun, the more threes the better offense of Flip Saunders. Where the offense came from is another story. The Pistons shot 37% more threes under Flip than under Larry. Two point shots fell by 7% and free throws fell by 11%. The team made 53% more threes than under Larry so their shooting percentage was also much higher. Despite the general decline in shooting over the second half of the season and the playoffs, the Pistons bettered their shooting from the field this year, 12% better from beyond the arc. Breaking Down the Source of Points Here is how the scoring difference per game breaks down. The Pistons get 1.3 fewer points per game from shooting two point field goals. They drop by 2.3 points per game from the free throw line. They are able to increase their absolute scoring by taking and hitting more three point shots, up seven points per game on average. Numbers of made shots More threes means fewer contested shots (especially early in the season when opposing defenses were daring the Pistons to shot from three), fewer drives to the basket, and subsequently fewer free throws. Assists, Turnovers, and Offensive Rebounds Assists per game were up slightly this year, but the percentage of field goals made with an assist fell a bit. Despite Larry’s insistence on taking care of the ball, turnovers actually fell substantially under Flip. At least some if not all of this decline must come from a jump shooting offense that took fewer risks with the basketball. Some must also come from the improved play of Billups, especially in the first half of the season. Offensive rebounding drops under Flip, partly because there were fewer missed shots. However, the percentage of missed shots that produced an offensive board also falls so fewer opportunities to board is not the whole answer. Most likely, simply taking more players out of rebounding territory by shooting so many jumpers is a primary culprit. [break=Breaking Down the Players] Breaking Down the Players Chauncey Billups Summary: From multiple MVP mentions to the leader of the gang who couldn’t shoot straight Partly because the team shot the ball better, partly because of a more free flowing offense, and partly because of his maturity as a player, Billups set a career high in assists, up nearly 50% from the prior year. Certainly for a substantial period within the regular season he made the game look easy. He made good decisions and could be counted on in the clutch to come through (remember the ten points in 99 seconds spurt in crunch time). And despite playing in an offense with much more point guard control of the ball, Billups made ten fewer turnovers this year, down 0.2 per game. Billups ends the season fourth in the league in assists per game and first in assist to turnover ratio (not counting McKee’s 15 game season for the Lakers). Beyond assists and turnovers though most other aspects of Billups’ game declined. He shot the ball more poorly overall, up slightly from 3, down substantially from 2, and down a bit from the line. Rebounds are down, as are steals and blocks. Richard Hamilton Summary: Most improved shooter in the league? - at the expense of an all around game Hamilton’s increase in shooting percent is the story – up 9% from two and an amazing 50% from three. He becomes the first option in the Pistons’ offense under Flip despite playing over three minutes a game less than under Larry. With his newfound freedom to shoot and his newfound skills, Hamilton edges over twenty points per game for the first time in his career ranking 25th in the league in scoring this season. On the other hand, Hamilton forgets about the defensive boards, dropping by 26% on a per game played basis. Assists, turnovers, and steals fall by similar amounts in Hamilton’s transition to the scorer role. Tayshaun Prince Summary: From “the block” to most disappointing Piston Prince is perhaps the most disappointing of the starters this regular season. He shot the ball slightly better from three, but a precipitous drop in two point shooting brought his overall FG average down by over six percent. In Flip’s offense Prince became a jump shooter trading 36 fewer free throw attempts for 45 more attempts from three. The problem is, that wasn’t the game that made him so successful under Larry. Jump shooters, particularly those that take nearly one in five shots from three don’t tend to be in the right place for rebounding, and the numbers bear this out - a 20% drop in rebounds. Prince makes far fewer turnovers, mostly because he attempted to do a lot less with the ball, while accounting for 25% fewer assists. He makes a couple more steals, but blocks fall by nearly 50%. And despite my many memories of the Prince shoulder-shrug-praying-mantis-arm-thing reaction to foul calls, he only averages one foul per game. Combine that with the declines in blocks and boards, and you have a much softer player this year than last. Rasheed Wallace Summary: From the missing link to team MVP? Wallace had a solid season, probably in spite of the way we might remember it. My first and dominant memory was of too many two for eleven nights from three. The numbers tell a more objective tale. While Wallace’s overall shooting percentage falls slightly because he takes a higher share of lower percentage shots (i.e., from three), he improves his shooting from two and from three taken individually. Again, despite memories of a late season free throw shooting slump, overall his free throwing percentage is better this year than last. The big difference this year is of course Wallace’s discovery of the long ball. He takes 84% more three point shots than last year, hitting 107% more. Well, rediscovery since he took over 300 threes twice while in Portland. Wallace takes 193 fewer two point shots while attempting 198 more threes. The offense didn’t go to him more, but it sure went to him in different places on the floor. This new placement kills his offensive rebounding which falls by nearly 50%, accounting for the majority of his drop in rebounding. On the other hand, assists, steals, and blocks are way up, while turnovers are way down and fouls are down a bit. Flip’s offense changed Wallace’s role, but he remained a highly productive player. Ben Wallace Summary: From Team MVP to the forgotten man Yet another Defensive Player of the Year award. And perhaps his final season with the team. How did Flip manage to lose Ben Wallace in the shuffle? Wallace shoots the ball better under Flip though taking 58 fewer attempts. He shoots fewer free throws and makes fewer of those, dropping his scoring average by nearly two and a half per game (down 25%). This year, as for the past couple of years, Wallace’s rebounding also declines, by nearly a full board per game over last year. He is down by 36% from his career season of 2002/2003 when he topped fifteen a game. Wallace accounts for more assists and more steals this year than last. Blocks were down, but only slightly, one less block per five games played. So… Age? Motivation? A different league? A different coach and a different way of playing? Probably all of the above, but overall, this season must be called a disappointment. Antonio McDyess Summary: From on the way up to on the way down At times last season you wondered if McDyess could be starting for a fair number of teams. This season he seemed much more solidly in the sixth man role, still a wonderful player to be able to bring in off the bench, but not the man with only one small step needed to put him back into a starting role. McDyess will have several more very productive years, but count on consistency and not improvements. McDyess played a couple of minutes less per game under Flip. His field goal attempts were down less though (9.3% fewer minutes per game versus 6.4% fewer FGAs per game) indicating that he shot more often per minute played than under Larry. His shooting declined very slightly, but literally one or two more made shots would have shown him with a very slight increase. Free throw shooting took a serious hit though. Perhaps most importantly in looking at McDyess’ role this season versus last is the drop in the number of free throw attempts – down an attempt per game. Fewer free throws and a lower percentage accounts for his overall drop in scoring. Rebounds are down a bit per game, but up slightly given the reduced number of minutes, except on the offensive end where the drop is larger. Fewer free throws probably means more jump shots, therefore being out of position for offensive rebounding. Otherwise there are small declines across the board. Detroit Pistons Summary: From one quarter away from a championship to out in six in the conference finals Unleashed from the confines of Larry’s offense the Pistons’ improved their shooting from both two and three (though down a bit from the line). They parlayed 229 fewer free throw attempts into 390 more three point attempts. All told though they only managed to increase their scoring by 2.2 points per game and that was not enough come the playoffs. Rebounding was down for the team and basically across every player. They didn’t turn the ball over, ranked second in the league in assists, and won the regular season. When the playoffs came they showed they could still clamp down on defense. What they couldn’t show was an offense that could win if the jumpers didn’t fall, especially the threes. Putting aside the cumulative effect of three very long seasons (which could have been substantial), overall the starters played fewer minutes than under Larry and should have been as able as last year to stand the rigors of the playoffs. Perhaps fatigue is exacerbated though when the shots stop falling. It surely must be harder to get some lift on the current shot when the last three have clanged off the boards. So, what will it be? A highly structured offense that doesn’t attempt as much, but can weather spells when the shots don’t fall, or a looser offense that has nothing to fall back on when the defenses tighten and the circumference of the basket shrinks? I know I like to watch the latter more, but I think I might trade that for a season extended by a couple more weeks. Larry 1 / Flip 0 All statistics from www.dougstats.com and from www.nba.com. Thanks guys.