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Pistons aren’t close to winning 60 games

I know, right? Check back tomorrow for the following posts: “Kevin Durant should be paid more than John Salmons,” “Kevin Love is a better rebounder than Andrea Bargnani,” and “Ten reasons the Bobcats won’t win the 2011 NBA title.”

But Keith Langlois of Pistons.com – although he never explicitly said the Pistons would, or even could, win 60 games next season – wrote an article that seems to imply it’s reasonable.

How wide is the gulf between 30- and 60-win teams in today’s NBA? Maybe not as pronounced as conventional wisdom suggests.

I think I’ll stick with conventional wisdom on this one.

Langlois explains:

Chicago got to 62 wins this season despite playing large chunks of the schedule without either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer. Indiana won 25 fewer games to earn the East’s No. 8 seed. The Bulls are almost certain to win their first-round playoff series after taking a 3-0 lead, but the Pacers could just as easily be up 3-1 instead of down by that count heading to Tuesday’s Game 5.

No, the Pacers couldn’t just as easily be up 3-1. They haven’t played nearly as well as the Bulls have. Chicago is the better team and that’s why it leads the series. It’s not that complicated.

Also, I’m not really sure how Indiana, which won 37 games, counts as a 30-win team in this context. There’s a big difference between 30-win teams like the Pistons and 37-win teams like Indiana. And even then, the gap is huge between that and 60 wins.

Using Langlois’ seven-game wiggle, since the NBA expanded to 82-game seasons, teams that won between 23 and 37 games have an 11-46 record in the playoffs against teams that won between 53 and 67 games. In fact, 23-to-37-win teams haven’t won any series against 53-to-67-win teams and have been swept as many times as they’ve won at least a game.

Langlois continues:

And even the most pessimistic Pistons fan would concede it’s not a stretch to believe the Pistons could finish ahead of Indiana in next year’s standings.

Step one: pass the Pacers.

Step two: win 60 games.

It’s that easy.

Obviously, that’s not exactly what Langlois is saying, but the implication that 60 wins is just a hop (Pistons), skip (Pacers) and a jump (Bulls) away doesn’t sit well with me. Quite a bit separates each of those three teams.

Langlois lays out six individualized hopes for next season and says:

Give them one or two of the following ingredients and they’ll be a playoff qualifier. Give them three or four on the list and they’ll be next year’s turnaround success. Give them the clean sweep and all bets are off.

I agree these ingredients, which I’ll examine one by one, would help the Pistons greatly. I just don’t see them as likely enough to discuss seriously. If the gulf between 30 wins and 60 wins isn’t as wide as I think, there better be more reasonable ways to bridge it than the following six steps:

Greg Monroe continues to improve at the same rate he did this season

A Monroe that averages 15-18 points and 10-12 rebounds a game isn’t that far from reality.

If Greg Monroe hits those averages next year, he’d be the youngest player ever to do so. It’s possible, but it’s a long way from reality.

I also think it’s unreasonable to expect Monroe will improve at the same rate. The better a player gets,the more his rate of return on improvement diminishes. There’s just less to learn.

Although it’s not a perfect measure, here’s a rough idea. Monroe posted 6.6 win shares this year. Since 1980, 19 other players had between six and seven win shares as a rookie.* They averaged 6.3 win shares in their first year. In their second year? 6.4.

*Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Luis Scola, Andre Iguodala

, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony , Amar’e Stoudemire , Steve Francis, Wally Szczerbiak, Kerry Kittles , Dean Garrett, Joe Smith, Michael Finley , Brad Daugherty , Ralph Sampson , Clark Kellogg , Larry Smith, Reggie King, Dave Greenwood

Outside of Steve Francis, who exploded in his second year for 12.2 win shares, Luis Scola (8.6 win shares his second season), Marc Gasol (8.4), Kerry Kittles (8.4) and Reggie King (8.3) are the non-outlying examples of high-end second-year improvement. Those latter four probably represent a realistic best-case scenario for Monroe next season. For perspective, that’s about Tony Parker-level production.

I think Monroe could improve a lot, still. There’s so much of his game left to uncover, so I could definitely see him making a best-case jump.

If Monroe plays as well as Tony Parker next season, that would be great. But that’s practically the best-case scenario, and it’s not nearly as good as 15-18 and 10-12.

Pistons draft an impact player

But as Monroe proved last year, you don’t have to draw into the top three to find a player who radically alters the makeup of the roster.

The Pistons have a 9.2 percent chance of landing a top-two pick, and in this draft, their odds of drafting someone who can make an immediate impact isn’t much higher. Outside of Kyrie and Derrick Williams, the field is pretty thin at the top.

Just because the Pistons picked Greg Monroe at No. 7 last year doesn’t mean they can or will find value like that this year.

Jonas Jerebko returns and takes  the next step

But he gave strong hints that he had much more in him offensively than what he exhibited as a rookie, and with added strength that was the byproduct of sitting out a season – Jerebko is up to 240 after a year spent under Arnie Kander’s watchful eye – he should come back with even greater versatility.

Last season, Jonas Jerebko stood out because he provided, by far, the most hustle and grit on a lousy team. What he does is important, but players of that ilk don’t often become polished all-around players. That’s why I expressed doubt about Jerebko’s offseason plan of working on his ball-handling and mid-range jumper.

After he sat out for a year, I’d be happy if Jerebko matches his rookie-year production. After that, we can worry about an expanded offensive role.

Jerebko at 240 pounds intrigues me, though.

Ben Gordon plays like he did with the Bulls

There is no logical explanation for why Gordon’s production has declined sharply from the player who was a model of consistency in his first five years in the NBA.

I have a longer post on this planned, so I won’t go too deep into it here, but players whose production has fallen as much as Ben Gordon’s rarely revert to their previous level.

Before this season, I predicted Gordon would bounce back. Basically, I didn’t see any logical reason, besides injury, to explain Gordon’s 2009-10 struggles. When something so abnormal happens, it’s logical to predict a regression to the mean, which in Gordon’s case was very good basketball.

But I’m afraid his mean has changed to tentative and subpar basketball. With two years of playing like that, Gordon has established a new baseline for himself.

The question before was, why won’t Gordon bounce back? I couldn’t find an answer.

Now it’s become, why will Gordon bounce back? Again, I don’t see an answer.

Rodney Stuckey plays as well he did late in the season

The last five games for Stuckey were pretty much what the Pistons envisioned for him all along, from his rookie season as understudy to both Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton.

He averaged 25 points and nine assists, made over half his field-goal tries and got to the line almost 10 times a game. No one will count on that level of production over 82 games – he’d be solidly in the MVP discussion if he did – but if he scores 18 to 20 with seven or eight assists, shoots 45 percent and plays with the aggressiveness that gets him to the line frequently without becoming turnover prone, he’ll be every bit the point guard the Pistons need.

At least Langlois didn’t cling to the numbers Stuckey actually put up in his last five games, but 18-20 and 7-8 on 45 percent shooting is probably unrealistic. That’s basically Russell Westbrook.

I usually back up my arguments better than this, but I don’t think we’ll have much disagreement here. Just watch a Thunder playoff game and decide whether you legitimately believe Stuckey will play like Westbrook next season.

Austin Daye earns the starting position and improves as much as he did in the last year

Austin Daye wins the starting small forward job and improves as much in year three as he did in year two.

I don’t really need to explain why the Pistons can’t count on this happening. Langlois already does it for me.

But it’s a big leap from where he’s at to 30 minutes a night and consistent production.

It’s a big leap, indeed.

Not like going from 30 wins to 60 wins, though. That’s nothing.

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