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Just The Sports: Webber and the Pistons

Just The Sports

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Webber and the Pistons

Admit it. When you heard that the Detroit Pistons had signed Chris Webber after the Philadelphia 76ers bought him out of his exorbitant contract, you scoffed because you said to yourself that there was no way Chris Webber would be able to help out the Pistons, what with his inability to jump more than a foot off the ground and all. You even suspected Pistons general manager Joe Dumars was starting to believe so much in the accolades he has received for putting together the Pistons roster that he was turning into the NBA's version of Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. In other words, he was making foolish deals for no other reason than to see if someone would dare criticize him for them.

Now that the Pistons have a record of 11-4 with Webber, you have landed on a more positive square of your jump to conclusions mat, proclaiming that Chris Webber's career has been rejuvenated and he is the final piece the Pistons need to waltz their way easily into the NBA finals.

This is a correct observation. Webber has seen his shooting touch surge upwards since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers where he had a 39.1% eFG in eighteen games; he has a 58.2% eFG for Detroit in twelve games and he is making his shots count more with 1.20 points per shot attempt, much better than his Philadelphia mark of 0.82 points per shot attempt. So far, so good with your drawing of conclusions.

The problem lies when you start whispering that the acquisition of Chris Webber mirrors the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace in the 2003-04 season, which propelled the Pistons to the NBA title. Stop and think about what you are saying when you say that. Better yet, read further and let me tell you what you should be thinking instead.

In order to mimic the impact Wallace had on the Pistons in 2004, Webber will have to play better defense than he has ever played in his career and at the age of thirty-three, the likelihood of him doing so is slightly unlikely.

The only significant improvement Webber's play has given the Pistons has been in terms of assist rate, from 16.5 without Webber to 19.4 with Webber. Two theories can help explain the increase in the number of assists. One is that Webber's passing prowess has led to more assists for his teammates and the second says that the Pistons are getting more assists because Webber makes more shots per contest than Nazr Mohammed ever thought about making (5.4 FGM per game to 2.7 FGM per game).

When Rasheed Wallace landed in Detroit in 2004, after a one-game pit stop with the Atlanta Hawks, his presence totally revamped the Pistons defense. The Pistons went from giving up 99.0 points per 100 possessions in their fifty-nine games without him to only allowing 90.5 points per 100 possessions in their twenty-two games with him (I discarded the 82nd game because the Pistons didn't take it seriously). Out of defensive efficiency allowed, floor percentage allowed, field percentage allowed, effective field goal percentage allowed, true shooting percentage allowed, points per shot attempt allowed, assist rate allowed, turnover rate forced, offensive rebounding percentage allowed, and turnovers per possession forced, the only category the Pistons with Wallace did not have a statistically significant improvement over the team without him was in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Like I said, Webber really has his work cut out for him.

In fairness to Webber, he does have a start on helping improve the Pistons' offensive and defensive efficiencies, with the Pistons' offensive rating increasing from 109.6 to 112.9 and the defensive rating decreasing from 106.2 to 103.2, but those numbers could be attributed to Lady Luck and Random Fluctuation instead of to Chris Webber. He will have to maintain, and probably improve on, his impressive Pistons statistics for the rest of the season to match Rasheed Wallace's contributions three seasons ago. My guess is he will be unable to do it.



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