9rbet casino Over the last three seasons, the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets were easily the NBA’s two least successful teams on the court, winning 59 games (Houston) and 60 (Detroit), respectively. Piling up losses yielded those teams a series of lottery picks, including the top two in 2022 (Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green) and twins Amen and Ausar Thompson this year.
After adding Dillon Brooks, Fred VanVleet and other veterans in free agency, the Rockets have shown dramatic improvement early in the 2023-24 season, including a recent six-game winning streak.
Conversely, the Pistons have yet to turn the corner despite signing coach Monty Williams to a deal that made him the NBA’s highest-paid coach at the time (Gregg Popovich has since surpassed him). Detroit remains mired near the bottom of the NBA standings at 2-10.
What can we learn from the contrasting approaches taken this summer by the Pistons and Rockets? And how can Detroit get the same kind of development out of Cunningham that we’ve seen from Houston’s young talent this season?
Throughout the NBA season, I will answer your questions about the latest, most interesting topics in basketball, which can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s get to this week’s Pistons- and Rockets-themed questions.
“Does putting better players or offensive structure around prospects lead to development? Basically thinking of Houston and how Green and Alperen Sengun look so much better playing off of FVV and Brooks.” — Saurabh
Let’s take a look at how much the Rockets’ young starters have actually improved. Green, Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr. are the three crown jewels of Houston’s rebuild from the draft.
Using my SCHOENE projection system, I’ve compared how the trio has rated thus far this season against what we would expect based on the development of the most similar players at the same age.
Green’s development is the ordinary progression typical for a young player. His efficiency has improved slightly with a lower usage rate, putting him right at the median among his comps.
On the other hand, Smith has taken a solid step forward, rating near the 75th percentile of his comparable players in terms of development. But, it’s really Sengun who has transformed his effectiveness. Of the 39 players with a similarity score of 90 or better to Sengun at the same age, only one improved more the following season so far: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
There’s a couple of obvious ways where better surrounding talent has helped unlock Sengun’s skills in particular. According to Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, 71% of Sengun’s potential assists have been converted this season, up from 58% last season. His potential assists are up on a per-minute basis, too, as Ime Udoka is using Sengun as an offensive hub. But those same passes went unrecorded in the box score last season when teammates missed the shots.
Additionally, the improved floor spacing around Sengun has made his post touches — although less common with him playing in the high post — more effective. Per Second Spectrum tracking, Sengun post-ups have yielded an incredible 1.6 points per play when he either shoots, is fouled, turns it over or passes to a teammate who shoots. Only the Boston Celtics’ Kristaps Porzingis post-ups have been more productive (1.7 points per play) among players who have at least 10 opportunities. Last season, Sengun post-ups produced 1.03 points per play.Editor’s PicksNBA Rookie Power Rankings: Chet or Wemby for the No. 1 spot?5dBobby Marks and Kevin PeltonLowe: The Wolves need to win big now, SGA’s superstar trait and the team that nailed its in-season tournament court3dZach LoweWhere’s Wembanyama? The top 25 NBA players under 25, ranked11dNBA Insiders2 Related
Although Smith hasn’t made the same kind of leap as Sengun, he’s undoubtedly benefited as a play finisher from Houston’s influx of talent. According to Second Spectrum, 62% of Smith’s shot attempts have been assist opportunities this season, up from 58% as a rookie. Like most players, Smith is lucky lady casino slots far more efficient when set up by a pass, helping him up his 2-point percentage from 49% to 59% and his 3-point accuracy from 31% to 36%.
The Rockets presumably hoped Green would be more effective with improved spacing translating to wider driving lanes. That hasn’t really been the case. Green is shooting just 35% on drives, down from 44% last season. Green has offset that by hitting 40% on 3s, so if his scoring in the paint comes around, it’s possible he’ll show more progress statistically.
If Houston continues to make a push for a postseason spot with the young starters playing key roles, I suspect other teams will take notice. Few will have enough cap space to make the aggressive moves the Rockets did, but so far they seem to be validating a philosophy many old-school GMs have long espoused: It’s dangerous to let a team get too young and unskilled during a rebuild.
“What does Detroit do to try and start making real progress?” — Andrew
In fairness to the Pistons, they have added some quality veterans to their group, only to see the most important of those players (Bojan Bogdanovic and Monte Morris) both miss the start of the season due to injury — compromising their floor spacing. Of Detroit’s current starting five, only power forward Isaiah Stewart is shooting better than 33% from 3.
This puts Cunningham in the opposite situation of Houston’s young talent where a lack of floor spacing is shrinking his opportunities. Based on DARKO projections of current player talent, just two NBA rotation players are playing in lineups with lower 3-point attempt rates around them than Cunningham: teammate Stewart and LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets.NBA on ESPN+
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With the loss of Morris’ playmaking ability, Cunningham’s shot diet is 10th-hardest in the league among players with at least 100 attempts according to Second Spectrum’s quantified shot quality (qSQ) metric. Cunningham got substantially easier shots as a rookie when he was teamed with more willing 3-point shooters Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant.
Despite his 44% start from 3-point range, Stewart is also suffering from exclusively playing with another post player. Stewart’s rebound and block numbers have dipped, leaving him less valuable according to all-in-one player metrics after signing a long-term extension last summer.
The good news is Detroit’s rookies are shining. In the recent Rookie Power Rankings I did with Bobby Marks, we placed Ausar Thompson third and Marcus Sasser fourth. Additionally, the Pistons have been more competitive than their record shows. Their minus-4.6 point differential ranks 24th in the league, which counts as progress for a team that was 29th a year ago.
Detroit could look far more functional with Bogdanovic and Morris, particularly if Williams is willing to play Bogdanovic at power forward to keep Thompson in the starting lineup. That would push Stewart to a bench role, which better fits his skill set. Ideally, Morris would cut into the minutes of starting point guard Killian Hayes rather than Sasser and 2022 lottery pick Jaden Ivey, who’s shown progress in Year 2 after losing his starting job.
Down the road, the Pistons have the opportunity to make a Rockets-style splash in free agency with several large contracts coming off their books next summer, including $20 million for Joe Harris and $12 million for James Wiseman — both on the fringes of their rotation. But Detroit has to spend that money wisely rather than continuing to collect non-shooting big men and lottery picks who have washed out elsewhere.
“Can we compare the Thompson twins as a natural experiment to measure the impact of context on their development? Or are they different people?” — Matt
We’ll wrap up with a question that ties the two organizations together. I don’t think they work as a natural experiment for two reasons, one specific to them and the other more general.
Specifically, the Thompson twins aren’t starting their development now. Their games have evolved in different fashions by virtue of playing together. Watching them play at Overtime Elite, it was evident Amen naturally took the on-ball creator role while Ausar honed his off-ball instincts and focused more on defensive impact before moving to the point when Amen rested. Those traits as a role player helped Ausar contribute immediately with the Pistons. It’s going to take longer for Amen’s creation to get to the point where he can be an NBA starter.
More generally, there’s too much randomness in the development of any player to attribute their success or failure solely to their team environment. Injuries are probably the single biggest factor, and Amen has already dealt with a pair of ankle injuries (one to each ankle), which cut short his summer league and sidelined him during the regular season recently.
That level of randomness helps explain why academic studies have found few statistically significant differences between coaches in terms of developing players. Player development can involve coaching skill but we would need enormous samples to distinguish the coaches (and teams) who truly excel at development (or drafting) from the ones who have just gotten lucky breaks.
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