Gulp. Stan Van Gundy to Detroit.

SVG
Pictured: A brilliant basketball man.

Stan Van Gundy was, to my mind, the best coach available on the market this offseason, and for the last few offseasons frankly. That stance, of course, comes with the caveat that there are many assistant coaches and coaches at different levels of basketball with whom I am unfamiliar and therefore, I exclude from any consideration in the “best coach available” discussion. There may be some diamonds in the rough who need a shot to show how good they can be. But I don’t know enough about the coaching development chain to say much about those guys. Still, SVG has proven himself as a great coach in the NBA.

Van Gundy ought never to have lost his job in the first place, but it’s a superstar league and the Magic wanted to appease Dwight Howard, before realizing how futile a game that really was. SVG has a winning percentage of 64.1% in the regular season over 579 games and he is 9 games over .500 in the post-season (48–39). Winning percentage alone, however, is not the only mark of a great coach. If you need any proof of that, check out Avery Johnson’s career after his Dallas turn, Vinny Del Negro’s run with the Clippers last season, or Scotty Brooks’ campaigns the last few seasons. Talent can overcome imperfect or even downright incompetent coaching, at times. Van Gundy isn’t that sort of coach. He’s exceedingly competent, curious, and supremely adaptable. So the following should hardly be surprising:

Stan Van took two separate and totally different style squads through deep playoff runs, ending in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals, respectively. In Miami, he paired Dwyane Wade’s pell-mell drives to the hoop with a still dominant Shaq’s low-post scoring to reach a top 5 offense and a 7 game conference finals loss to Detroit. It was a distinctly traditional offensive setup, and Van Gundy made it work incredibly well.

Then, from 2008–2011, he helped Dwight Howard reach his peak, which he has still not surpassed or even really approached, with a 4-out spread pick and roll attack which both incorporated the biggest lessons of the modern basketball analytics movement (the importance of spacing, along with the value of the three point shots and dunks) and best catered to the talents of his team. It’s also worth noting that no coach since SVG has been able to get Dwight to buy in to the pick and roll game as thoroughly as he did in Orlando. In 2009, the Magic overachieved in the playoffs, knocking off LeBron’s Cavaliers juggernaut — +8.68 SRS, well ahead of the second best team, the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers — in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to get beat by that Lakers team in 5 games. It would be easy to be disappointed by the Magic’s performance in that Finals, but really, they shouldn’t have even been in that series at all. Orlando had already overachieved by reaching the Finals. Of course, that’s not the attitude a coach or his team should have in that series, but for fans and media analyzing Van Gundy’s resume, it’s important to note that important context.

So, in short: Detroit has nabbed a great coach. Van Gundy, after being burned by both his former Florida employers and unjustly let go, also managed to negotiate control over Basketball Operations for the Pistons. I don’t know how SVG will do on the management side of things, as there’s no history to go on. Given his understanding of how teams fit together and how to maximize the talents he’s provided, though, I suspect he’ll also do a heck of a job there, as well. He would be hard pressed to do worse than Joe Dumars the last few years.

I see most things in the NBA through the lens of how they will effect my beloved Chicago Bulls. Stan Van Gundy entering the Central Division scares the hell out of me. I’d imagine most fans of other Central Division teams feel likewise, which is as good an indication as any that Detroit has done very well for themselves here. Now it’s time to fire up the trade machine, because there’s almost no way SVG is keeping this trainwreck together next season.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Detroit Pistons

This offseason, the Pistons upgraded. They also seemingly ignored fit and spacing, which might hamper them reaching their maximum offensive potential. Ultimately, though, they decided that’s less important than simple improvement. This was a team destined for another lottery appearance without major talent upgrades. In adding Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have greatly improved their overall base of talent. So what sort of return can Detroit fans expect on that upgraded roster?

The addition of Josh Smith was, frankly, huge for the Pistons. Despite his possibly troublesome fit with the existing Pistons front court of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, Josh Smith is a difference making player. He’s one of those rare players in the NBA: a positive contributor on both ends, even with his troublesome propensity for long jumpers. Smith’s projected xRAPM, according to Nathan Walker’s numbers, is a +3.4, which may be a tad optimistic, given those fit issues. On the other hand, it’s also possible that Smith, Drummond, and Monroe will simply share all of the big man minutes and Michael Curry won’t ask J-Smoove to play on the wing, where his worst impulses are more likely to get the better of him. For Pistons fans, that has to be the hope.

Brandon Jennings should improve a lot over last year’s (-2.5) lackluster campaign and return to something more closely approaching his previous career tendency of hovering around the league average of +0 xRAPM. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond both still look to be great contributors. The rest of the Pistons roster is pretty unremarkable. It’s a supporting cast of nearly all above replacement, but below average players. That big man trio, though, is enough to account for nearly 27 projected wins above replacement, which gets you most of the way to the 42 wins these Pistons project to win, given that a team of all replacement players would, on average, win about 7 games out of 82. I wrote at the time that it happened that I couldn’t figure out why the Pistons signed Josh Smith, but now it seems perfectly obvious: to be a better, more talented team, this year. Good on Joe Dumars for building a team worth watching and that should finally see his Pistons playing meaningful games again in April.

Image from Gameface-Photos via Flickr.

For some reason, the Detroit Pistons have signed Josh Smith

Get used to this, Detroit fans

Josh Smith agreed to a 4 year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons yesterday. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Detroit would make this move. Smith is a pretty good, sometimes really good player but he doesn’t really fit with the Pistons current roster, at all.

Detroit’s best two players last year were young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  The reports of the deal suggest that Smith will likely start alongside those two players, with guards Brandon Knight and the recently drafted Kentavious-Caldwell Pope rounding out the Pistons’ starting unit. Drummond and Greg Monroe are both players who want to operate close to the basket, and Josh Smith, when he’s at his best, is a player who operates near the basket. Josh’s problem, and the biggest problem with this signing, is that Josh Smith does not love to operate near the basket. What Josh Smith really loves are jump shots. But sadly for Josh, jump shots do not love him back. Josh fancies himself more of a swing man than his size and skill-set would suggest is wise.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, and fans who would like to see J-Smoove reach his peak effectiveness, playing Smith alongside Monroe and Drummond will do nothing to dissuade him from floating more and more around the perimeter, likely tempting him to take more and more of the jumpers that, try as he might, Josh just can’t make. In a vacuum, Smith is worth right around what the Pistons have committed to him over the next 4 years. But Smith will not be playing in a vacuum, he will be playing with Monroe and Drummond and barring a, likely unwise, trade of one of their young, promising, cheap (!) big men, the Pistons figure to have serious spacing issues for their foreseeable future. Piston’s President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars has created a mess for himself when there were likely much more prudent options available. He’s improved the overall talent of his club, there’s no doubting that, but it’s hard to see how that translates to winning more games when the talent now fits together so poorly. It could be that Dumars just believes in grabbing talent when it’s available for a team that was so bad last season, but I can’t help but thinking patience should have won the day here. Ah well. As a Bulls loyalist I say, you take those jumpers, Josh Smith. You take them as much as your heart desires.