Richard Hamilton’s struggles and how newspapers cover them

Since Richard Hamilton returned from injury three games ago, he’s been terrible – and that might be putting it lightly.

In the Pistons’ last three games – all losses – Hamilton’s plus-minus rating is a combined minus-50. Here’s a game breakdown of how the Pistons have played with Hamilton on the court, and how they’ve played without him:

  • Raptors: minus-8 with Hamilton, plus-1 without
  • Knicks: minus-20 with Hamilton, plus-3 without
  • Bulls: minus-22 with Hamilton, plus-11 without
  • Total: minus-50 with Hamilton, plus-15 without

I know he’s coming back from injury and shooting poorly (13-of-54 in those three games). But I didn’t think he could be playing that badly. So, I searched the box scores looking for for an excuse for such a poor plus-mus.

But I found the opposite. There are signs his play is as bad as, and maybe even worse than, those numbers show.

For one, his plus-minus has been the worst on the Pistons or within one point of the worst in each of the three games. And when he was the worst, it wasn’t close.

Against the Knicks, his plus-minus was seven points worse than the second-worst Piston. (Rodney Stuckey was minus-13.)

Against the Bulls, his plus-minus was 11 points points worse than the second-worst Pistons. (Ben Wallace, Charlie Villanueva and Chris Wilcox were minus-11.)

Next, I looked at end-of-game runs. I figured at least one of these games was decided before the closing minutes and the Pistons made a meaningless late run while Hamilton sat on the bench. Didn’t happen.

So, I looked to see how Hamilton played at the beginning of each half.

For a player of Hamilton’s stature, that should be a fair measurement. He’s playing with Detroit’s starters and against other starters (at least mostly). These teams are all near the Pistons in the standings, so these stats should provide a solid hint.

Here’s how the Pistons performed from the beginning of each half until Hamilton first left the game (first- and second-half totals are combined).

  • Raptors: plus-6
  • Knicks: minus-14
  • Bulls: minus-12
  • Total: minus-32

That means Hamilton was minus-18 otherwise. So, he’s really just playing poorly at all times.

Why are the numbers so bad?

Well, Hamilton just returned from injury, and he’s not really in shape. From Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News:

"They’ve been hard for me," said Hamilton of the last two days of practices. "I’ve been huffing and puffing, feeling like training camp. I haven’t done this much running in a long time.”

That’s probably why he’s made just 13-of-54 shots (.241) since returning. But that doesn’t completely explain such a low plus-minus. From Chris Iott of MLive:

Kuester was asked whether "heavy legs" should be having an effect on Hamilton defensively.

"It should not," Kuester said. "We weren’t good defensively overall.

I’m not sure what Kuester means by this, but I see two possibilities.

1. A defense-first guy like Kuester doesn’t want to make any excuses for his team’s defense. Even if he’ll concede Hamilton’s “heavy legs” have led to poor shooting, he won’t give his shooting guard an out for poor defense.

If this is the case, the only thing to do is wait for Hamilton to work his way back into shape.

2. Hamilton’s current physical weaknesses may affect his offense, but they don’t hinder him on defense. Offense and defense mostly require similar physical skills, but this is an example of only offensive skills being hindered.

If this is the case, there could be a bigger problem. Maybe Hamilton is an awful defender at this stage of his career.

I doubt this is happening. He’s been pretty solid throughout his career, so I have another guess.

Hamilton’s missed shots make it easier for the opponent to run and get easy buckets. Even if he should be defending as well as usual, his missed shots are putting the Pistons at too big of a disadvantage defensively.

My guess is a combinations of No. 1 and No. 2 are happening. Either way, Hamilton getting back into shape should go a long way.

Newspaper coverage of Richard Hamilton’s play

Whew. That was a pretty exhaustive look at Hamilton’s plus-minus, an advanced stat itself.

It’s something you’d never see in a newspaper, understandably so. There isn’t enough space. And unlike a Pistons blog, non-hardcore Pistons fans are much more likely to see a story in a newspaper. So, articles aren’t usually as technical.

But there were a couple surprising references to advance stats in recent articles about Hamilton.

Here’s how four newspapers have covered his first three games back. The first three articles on the subject were published late yesterday or early today.

Detroit News: Ted Kulfan wrote just about Hamilton’s shooting woes. He makes no mention of Detroit’s poor play with Hamilton on the court.

MLive: Chris Iott explains the Pistons have been outscored with Hamilton on the court and outscored their opponents with him on the bench. But, probably in an effort to not confuse readers, doesn’t use the words “plus” or “minus” in his article. They are used in an accompanying chart, though.

The Oakland Press: Dave Pemberton made Hamilton’s poor plus-minus the central piece of his notebook. This is on his blog, and The Oakland Press doesn’t publish its print articles online. So, I’m curious if something different appeared in print.

Detroit Free Press: Vince Ellis wrote about Hamilton on Saturday. Ellis should get some credit for being ahead of the game, but he makes no reference to Hamilton’s plus-minus.

Since it’s rare for any newspaper to address advance stats at all, let alone two papers on one day, I’m guessing it came up at media availability Sunday. I have no idea if Kuester referenced the stat or if a reporter did.

If anyone knows, I’d love to hear.

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