Flip's Toolbox - Part 4 - Small Forward

At Pradamaster and the gang's suggestion, I'll be posting some stats-oriented pieces on a weekly basis--Wednesdays noonish.  I'll try to get the numbers right and see if they can tell us anything that might surprise or might confirm hopes/fears about the team.  After the jump is a continuation of the Flip's Toolbox series I started in the Fan Posts.  I'm planning to come back to these later in the summer, after the frontcourt is a little clearer (hey, even if it is going to be a $1.2m, 8mpg retread big man, I want to know which one it's going to be).  In the meantime, I'm going to do some analysis of the East's transactions, some Arenas-Billups breakdown, and some other stuff.  And, I'll be looking in the comments for more ideas.

Continuing the look at Flip's last team (07-08 ECF Pistons) compared to the 09-10 Wizards, we're onto the starting SFs.  Here we have two talented do-everything forwards who have some different strengths.

Tayshaun Prince's reputation has now reached the point where it by most measures probably surpasses his numbers, which is pretty funny for a guy who is probably in the NBA's top-10 in being called underrated.  There are two ways of looking at Prince on the Pistons:  (1) he has been the ideal glue guy who brought to the table whatever the team needed, whether it was the occasional scoring night, or a timely three or block, or lock down perimeter defense, while taking nothing away; or (2) if the Pistons had never had him, then they probably draft ‘Melo and win a couple more titles.  Maybe both are true.

But, onto 07-08.  He played all 82 games, posting a PER of 15.6 and 7.1 win shares.  It was pretty much in line with his career #s.  His per 36s:  14.4 pts, 3.6 assists, and 5.3 rebounds.  His %s were 44.8% FG (12.6 attempts per 36), 36.3% 3pt (2.0), and 76.8% FT (3.2).

For all Prince's reputation as a guy who judiciously chooses his shots and sacrifices some of his own offense for the good of the team, it is really just appropriate that he not take more shots.  His TS%/eFG% were 51.6 and 47.6.  Those put him well behind Billups and Hamilton and a bit behind Rasheed Wallace that season.  He was on par with Jarvis Hayes (I'll have to give him his J again, looking at these nauseatingly adequate non-Wizards stats) and Antonio McDyess in terms of scoring proficiency that season.  And it's not like he's done much better any other year.  There's really no reason to give him more shots and no reason to think he could be a featured scorer on a good team.

Prince did, however, take care of the ball, with only 1.2 TOs per 36, good for a very impressive-especially for a SF--3:1 assist to turnover ratio.  And, he was second among the Pistons' rotation players in Roland Rating (function of on-court/off-court +/-), though it was a very distant second to Billups.  Prince and Billups were also both on each of the top-5 five-man units for the team.  The more I look back at that team, the clearer it is that those Pistons were a team without a "superstar" only in the marketing sense-they had a superstar on the court in Billups.

As those who are into fantasy hoops probably know, Prince is really only good for about half a block and half a steal per game, despite his reputation as a defender.  Still, it is hard to deny that it looks like it should be hard to shoot over him with his Gumby arms.  And, he certainly seems to try on D.  And some of those blocks and steals have been very well-timed.  Still, while his counting stats don't prove much, it remains that opposing SFs have not fared too well against him.  In '07-08 opposing SFs posted a 14.0 PER against the Pistons. 

Maybe the most interesting Prince stat is that he has played 82 games 6 times.  Caron Butler never has.  Caron has averaged just under 66 games in his 4 seasons with the Wizards.

Caron mostly fares better in the stats than Prince does.  Caron has put up (slightly) better TS%s in recent years (he has come a long way in his career) and roughly equal eFG% despite being a much higher usage player.  He has slightly better offensive and defensive rebounding rates, a much higher assist rate (Caron has been around 20% the last two years-Prince, despite his unselfish reputation, had a mediocre 12.9% in 06-07 and has never been higher than 16.5%), and 2.5 times more steals, which far outweigh Prince's advantage in blocks.  (Steals by definition create a change in possession, blocks create a rebound if they don't go out of bounds.  Blocks famously have a deterrent effect on the offense, of course, but quantifying that in comparison to whatever deterrent effect steals might have would seem quite speculative.)  It is those turnovers where Prince closes the gap-Prince has had a turnover % of 8.2% or running three straight years, compared with Caron's figures right around 12.5-14%.  

Caron has had at least a 17.0 PER every year in Washington, including an 18.8 last year and a 20.7 the prior year.  (And, just so no one starts worrying that he can't play with Gilbert, he did have an 18.3 in 06-07.)  His Win Shares have taken a hit because of his number of games missed, as he has topped out at 7.0 (in 07-08) and dipped all of the way down to 4.4 last season.  If he could make it through 75+ games, 9.0+ Win Shares are not out of the question.

The Wizards should hope that Caron cuts back on his 3-pt shooting volume with Arenas back and Miller on the team.  There is just no real call for having a low-30s shooter attempt 2.9 threes per game when the man is so very effective in the mid-range game and at the line.  Despite the 3-pt attempts dragging down his overall FG% some, and despite the number of jump shots he takes, Caron has been between 45 and 47% from the field for the last four years, which is pretty impressive considering.  Of course, knowing how hard Butler works and that he already is a decent shooter, we shouldn't rule out possible further improvement from downtown.  Still, I'm not so sure this team needs that from him.

It is interesting that to some degree, Caron almost profiles out more like Rip Hamilton than Prince.  Especially since, pre-trade, Flip had spoken of potentially going big, likely meaning playing Caron at SG.  That is an interesting idea, but probably not if it means putting McGuire on the floor at the 3 for big minutes while Miller comes off the bench.  And, it certainly doesn't make sense right now to slide Jamison to the 3, given the lack of frontcourt depth.  (Not to mention the whole question of how Jamison would stay in front of most opposing 3s.)  Perhaps Butler, while the more prototypical SF in many ways, could be viewed in terms of that Pistons team as a SG on offense even if Miller is also on the floor.

Anyway, now that they have Miller, assuming Miller and Butler both play starter minutes, they WILL be going big.  Really big.  Huge.  Here are the three lead perimeter guys with their measurements and career (per 36 and %) rebounding stats:

                        Height  weight  Oreb    Oreb%             Dreb    Dreb%             Total

Arenas:            6'3"     191      0.9       2.7%                3.2       10.1%              4.1

Miller:               6'8"     218      0.8       2.5%                4.8       15.5%              5.6

Butler:              6'7"     217      1.7       5.4%                4.2       13.8%              5.9

Their collective career total rebound % adds up to 24.7%.  While on the one hand there might be some tendency to cut into each others' boards, on the other hand using the career % undersells all of them, as each has posted %s in recent years better than their career averages.

For comparison, some of the leading 1-2-3 rebounding combos from last year (total rebound %):

LAL - 28.1%  (Fisher/Bryant/Odom)

OKC - 27.6     (Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant - this lineup won some games)

MIA     27.4     (Chalmers/Wade/Marion - even with Beasley replacing Marion they were good)

CHA - 25.9     (Felton/Bell/Wallace - Wallace was their de facto PF on the boards)

NO -    25.2     (Paul/Butler/Posey)

PHI -   24.8     (Miller/Iguodala/Young)

BOS -  24.7     (Rondo/Allen/Pierce)

So, the Grunfeld meme that the Miller acquisition will relieve some of the pressure on the big men is probably true. And, you can obviously win with your backcourt doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the boards.  The good teams on that list still had at least one good rebounder up front-Jamison can perhaps fit that bill.

On defense, while it may still be difficult (ok, impossible) for this team to check a Tony Parker or Chris Paul on the perimeter (seriously, though, who can do that anyway?), there will be very few teams that can match up with that size.  There are more than a few power forwards no bigger than this SG/SF combo, and Gilbert is among the bigger PGs around.  Also, all that defensive rebounding from perimeter players should be ready-made for turning missed shots into transition opportunities.  It will be very interesting to see whether Flip seeks to take advantage of that.  His Detroit team did not get much rebounding from the perimeter, despite having good overall size there.  Billups/Rip/Prince added up to only 19.6%, though one has to suspect that part of that was due to having Sheed and McDyess up front.

Both Butler and Prince are something of the do-it-all SF and both are above average players.  It will be interesting to see how Flip uses Butler's different skills (rebounding/mid-range scoring) and what, if anything, he does with some of Butler's comparative weaknesses (turnovers/3s).

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