In the NBA, there’s a tried-and-true method for getting significantly better quickly: get new players or a new coach. There’s no guarantee either method will work, and the former probably has a better chance than the latter, but it’s nearly impossible to leap forward without one or the other.
In the last three years, 22 teams improved by more than six games. All but one made the leap with new players and/or a new coach.
• More than 35% of total minutes going to players who didn’t play for the team the previous year: 18 teams
• Coach other than the one it started the previous season with: 15 teams
In fact, most of those 22 teams met both conditions.
The only exception to the rule — the 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs — had a brilliant coach, smart veterans and a top player who missed part of the previous year because of an injury. They went from 50 to 61 wins. I don’t think the Pistons can replicate that formula.
So the Pistons won’t have a new coach, but do they have enough new players?
Five players – Ben Gordon, Damien Wilkins, Ben Wallace, Walker Russell and Vernon Macklin – who collectively played 24% of Detroit’s minutes last season are no longer on the roster. Of course, there’s no guarantee those vacated minutes go only to new players. Returning players could see more (such as Stuckey) or less (such as Prince), but 24% is a decent estimate.
Unfortunately, 24% is well below the 35% typically required for leaping forward without a new coach.