Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Season Review: Lineup Analysis

If you've been watching the playoffs over the course of the last 8 days, you may or may not have noticed that the Pistons aren't in them.  There's a myriad of reasons for this, but the short version of it is, they weren't able to coerce even a .500 record out of a respectable group of NBA talent.  The long version can be found in the fact that out of a roster with 15 guys on it the Pistons five most used lineups, totaling over 1,500 minutes of court time, had an average net efficiency rating of -8.74.  Let's take a look at what those lineups were and try to see where things went wrong with each one:

Click "Read More" to see the horror...

PG - B. Jennings SG - K. Caldwell-Pope SF - J. Smith PF - G. Monroe C - A. Drummond
Minutes Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Net Rating TS% eFG% 3P% TRB% TOV% FTR
496 98.9 103.3 -4.3 49.1% 46.7% 32.6% 54.0% 15.3% .239

This lineup was Detroit's most-used lineup for the season, playing the equivalent of 10.3 full games together.  The fact that they managed to play that much time together despite getting outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions should speak to how poorly coached the Pistons were this year.  The numbers confirm what pretty much everybody had said when Joe Dumars assembled his death bed: there's just not enough shooting here.  If this unit were its own team, it would have ranked last in True Shooting Percentage by nearly a full two percentage points.  This should come as no surprise as the lineup's 32.6 3P% would have ranked it 28th in the league if it were its own team.  On the bright side, they would have been the league's best rebounding team by a wide margin.  Small victories were the only victories this season.

PG - B. Jennings SG - K. Singler SF - J. Smith PF - G. Monroe C - A. Drummond
Minutes Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Net Rating TS% eFG% 3P% TRB% TOV% FTR
461 102.1 112.7 -10.6 50.5% 48.1% 35.0% 52.9% 14.4% .206
The Pistons used two main starting lineups this year, with the difference coming at SG.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the starting SG early in the year until Kyle Singler's shooting proved too difficult to keep on the bench.  As you can see, the downside to replacing KCP with Singler was a massive down-swing in the team's ability to defend.  Whereas the unit with KCP at SG was a middle-of-the-pack defense, this one would have ranked dead last in the league if it were its own team.  It would be easy to blame the whole slide on Singler, but to be fair, he is playing out of position.  It's hard to mask a guy playing out of position when the other perimeter defenders are Brandon Jennings and a PF.  The silver lining to this unit is the added ability to make outside shots, which helped contribute an extra 3.2 points per 100 possessions on offense.

PG - B. Jennings SG - R. Stuckey SF - K. Singler PF - J. Smith C - G. Monroe
Minutes Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Net Rating TS% eFG% 3P% TRB% TOV% FTR
248 96.0 107.2 -11.1 48.9% 44.0% 32.1% 46.9% 12.8% .363
Here, the Pistons essentially replace Andre Drummond with Rodney Stuckey and slide everybody but Jennings up a position.  This group played the equivalent of over 5 games together this season and managed to get outscored by an unfathomable 11.1 points per 100 possessions.  The 76ers were a -10.7 this year, if that frames it for you.  If this unit were its own team, it would have sported the league's least efficient offense (worse than the 76ers!) to go with a 24th ranked defense.  It's the worst rebounding unit that the Pistons played for more than 100 minutes together this season, and its only qualities on offense were a knack for getting to the FT line and its ability to take care of the ball.  There's too much replication of offensive characteristics in this lineup, as every player other than Singler needs the ball to operate, and does most of their work inside the arc.


PG - B. Jennings SG - R. Stuckey SF - J. Smith PF - G. Monroe C - A. Drummond
Minutes Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Net Rating TS% eFG% 3P% TRB% TOV% FTR
175 108.0 118.5 -10.5 53.4% 49.8% 36.0%
17.1% .289
Sub-par defenders at every position is how you get a Defensive Efficiency like that.  Even though they have size at all three frontcourt positions, this unit allowed opponents to shoot 60% on two-point attempts.  That should show the importance of not allowing penetration, as Jennings and Stuckey are both sub-par on-ball defenders.  Andre Drummond may be a more fearsome presence at the rim later in his career, but right now his reads are too poor to overcome the penetration allowed by Jennings, Stuckey and Smith in this lineup.  I'm not sure how this group shot 36% from three, but good for them.

PG - B. Jennings SG - R. Stuckey SF - K. Singler PF - G. Monroe C - A. Drummond
MinutesOff. Eff.Def. Eff.Net RatingTS%eFG%3P%TRB%TOV%FTR
A near duplicate of the lineup above with Singler subbed in for Smith produces similar results, but with slightly improved defense.  That slight improvement still doesn't get the unit anywhere near respectable, however.  As the amount of minutes for a unit decrease, we could start to run into sample size issues.  This group only played the equivalent of 2.73 games together for the season.  However, it is interesting to see how changing out one player can change the dynamics of a group.

B. Jennings SG - R. Stuckey SF - K. Singler PF - J. Smith C - A. Drummond
MinutesOff. Eff.Def. Eff.Net RatingTS%eFG%3P%TRB%TOV%FTR
Success!  There were two units that the Pistons played together for more than 80 minutes this season with a positive Net Rating.  The other one was Jennings, KCP, Singler, Smith and Monroe, which played 83 minutes to a positive 22.8 NR.  This unit played a full game more than that one and still managed to produce some gaudy numbers.  The defense still isn't ideal, but the offense was spectacular despite a lack of outside shooting.  This group converted 61% of its two-point attempts and got to the free throw line at a respectable rate.  This group also maintained the stellar rebounding rate which was the Pistons' lone bright spot this year.  Again, a warning about small sample size applies here.  If this unit had traded places with the starting lineup, it could have degraded to the point where it wasn't a positive anymore.  Unfortunately, we'll never get the chance to find out.


So, what is there to take away from all of this?  A few trends stuck out to me:

  • Kyle Singler needs to see all of his time at SF from here on out.  461 minutes of basketball suggest that a unit with Singler at SG is going to get torched.  He's a very reliable offensive player, but playing the proper position is necessary for him to not be a black hole defensively.
  • Replacing Brandon Jennings remains a priority in my eyes, moreso than replacing Josh Smith.  Jennings is the lone constant in that slew of lineups which all featured mediocre-at-best defensive production.  He isn't doing enough on the offensive end to make up for being a sieve at the top of the key who forces our young big men to scramble to fill rotations they don't fully understand yet.
  • For defensive purposes only, KCP should probably have seen more time at SG.  The unit where he was featured there, which was also the unit with the most minutes together, was quite easily the best defensive unit among the team's five most featured groups.  This partially confirms the eye test, which suggests KCP has a high ceiling as a defender at the NBA level.  
  • Josh Smith at SF was as bad statistically as it looked.  Over 900 minutes worth of Smith at SF produced an average Net Rating of -7.5.  Whether he's around or not next year, the team can't afford a single second of Smith on the perimeter at either end of the floor.

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