3-on-3: Joe Dumars' philosophy

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, Dan and I will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic.

For each 3-on-3, we’ll be joined by a guest contributor. Today, that’s Ryan Slocum of ABC 12. Ryan is the hardest working man in TV news. If you’re a Detroit/UM/MSU sports fan and you’re not following Sloc on Twitter, you should be. Also, this gives me an opportunity to link to Ryan’s Inside the High feature, one of my all-time favorite stories. I can’t recommend watching that video enough. – PH

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After the Chauncey Billups trade, Joe Dumars frequently discussed his belief that the league was becoming less physical and, as a result, he pursued players who he believed could “stretch the floor and score from all five positions.” Was his philosophy right and the players he chose wrong, or did he get miscalculate on both counts?

Dan Feldman: Both. The key pieces for Dumars’ 2009-era rebuild – Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villauneva and Austin Daye – could have all developed into decent, maybe even good scorers. But not together. They all are too reliant on having the ball in their hands to create. Plus, if the league was making scoring easier, the premium should have been placed on the defenders who could still get stops.

Patrick Hayes: Both. I think Dumars became too fixated on the way the Pistons were being beaten in the playoffs, namely by heavy isos against superstar players like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (as apa8ren9 noted in the comments). Instead of simply shoring up the defense by (finally) trying to find a defensive big man to replace Ben Wallace and adding a defensive-minded swingman or two (or, heaven forbid, developing one of the ones he had in Delfino or Afflalo), he changed up the model, built an iso-heavy team around Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince, focused less on building the defense and the dropoff was both dramatic and predictable. It was a total sell-out of his values and a total miscalculation of both the league and of the talent level of the players he acquired.

Ryan Slocum: Joe absolutely miscalculated on both, along with just about every other move he’s made since the Cavs eliminated Detroit in the East Finals in ’07. But those are other stories for other days.

I think you are definitely onto maybe his biggest issue here. When the Pistons introduced their ’09 draft class, I asked Joe why he drafted four small forwards (Daye, Jerebko, Summers, Budinger) and he told me that the league was changing to a high scoring up and down game. He said look at Phoenix and Orlando (which just came off a trip to the finals with one big and a bunch of wings). I couldn’t believe what he was saying because Phoenix was the most underacheiving team of the decade, and Orlando LOST the finals to the Lakers, who became elite only when they went BIGGER the year before with the Gasol move. The Celtics did the same, getting big and playing defense with Garnett and Perkins.

The best teams were traditional, but Joe decided to go with the gimmick offense junk. Then just to add icing on the cake, the Magic completely changed styles that very same summer and went more traditional, and the Suns traded for Shaq …  So much for the league "changing". Joe wasn’t even close on this one.

In the 2011-12 offseason, Dumars stressed the need to rebuild the team around the tough, defensive principles characteristic of the franchise’s greatest teams. Realistically, which players on the current roster could you envision being a reliable contributor to a great defensive team?

Dan Feldman: Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko have proven they can be key pieces on any team. Tayshaun Prince is hanging around that level, for now. Brandon Knight could get there, too. None of them are going to help implant a defensive mindset. At best, they won’t hurt a top defense.

Patrick Hayes: Greg Monroe has quick hands and already gets a lot of steals. If he improves his defensive awareness, he’s an easy answer. Jonas Jerebko is active and can defend either forward spot in a pinch, depending on matchups. Brandon Knight has long arms and is quick enough to eventually become a bothersome perimeter defender. That’s about it. Rodney Stuckey has been stuck on defensive potential for years, but rarely actually shown it for prolonged stretches. I’m selling on his ability to ever become a top-notch defender.

Ryan Slocum: I’ve never thought of this question for the team as a whole, just individual players … and now I wish I hadn’t.

WOW … Stuckey maybe, a BIG maybe. BG can’t at all. I can’t believe I’m even typing Charlie V and defense in the same sentence. Obviously like Daye’s length but we’re coming closer to being safe to say that pick was a bust. Jonas is a hustler, but he is a 3 NOT a 4, but we know this team likes playing guys out of position. Isn’t that right Hot Rod?

Maxiell is what he is. Moose gets better everyday, so I have to believe he can get better on D. Will be be an elite defender? Probably not, but he can probably be good. If I had to put money on one player becoming a great defender it would be Knight just because of his speed, but that will be tough with the number of amazing PGs in the league right now.

Dumars clearly believed that his rebuilt version of the Pistons needed more offense. The last five NBA champions have finished second, first, sixth, fourth and eighth in the league in defensive rating, respectively. Could you ever see an average or slightly below defensive team winning a NBA title?

Dan Feldman: Yes. In their heyday, Mike D’Antoni’s Suns, though they fell short, were capable of winning a title. Their defense floated around the league average, but their offense was elite. It’s not an easy formula to duplicate, and attempting to do so without a Steve Nash is probably foolish.

Patrick Hayes: New York Knicks, 2012 NBA champs. No, there’s no way a team can win a seven game series without being good defensively.

Ryan Slocum: Yeah it’s possible for an average defensive team to win, they would probably have to be 1 or 2 in the league on offense though. That’s what puzzles me so much about what Joe did a few years ago. Going back to the first question, Joe wanted to play like Phoenix and Orlando, which NEVER WON ANYTHING!!!

Joe knows that you have to have tough guys. It was like that when he played and it’s like that now. I can’t for the life of me figure why he abandoned everything he’s ever known, and to make matters worse, the guys he signed to play this amazing offense are currently last in the league in scoring.

They say that in the NBA you have to hit rock bottom to build back up, and many times that’s true, but I don’t think it had to be in the Pistons case. Joe never made tweeks when he had the pieces to do it, and when he finally did (Iverson), they were horrible moves.

And please don’t give me the "but Joe was handcuffed and couldn’t correct his mistakes" bit. How many redos does this guy need? And here’s a concept, QUIT MAKING HUGE MISTAKES THAT NEED TO BE CORRECTED! You can make little ones, but his have been franchise killing abominations.

I love Joe. Loved him as a player, and he’s probably the best human this side of Lidstrom, but holy cow it’s been a rough five years.

What do you think? Share your answers to each question in the comments.

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