Last season, the Pistons ranked 22nd in the NBA in steal percentage — simply an estimate of the percentage of opponents’ possessions that end in steals. With a fairly similar roster, the Pistons ranked 11th and ninth the previous two years.
The difference: coach Lawrence Frank, whose teams have a history of not getting many steals.
When Frank took over the New Jersey Nets midway through the 2003-04 season, they had a steal percentage that would have ended the year second in the league. Instead, New Jersey finished fifth overall.
Though they featured the NBA’s active steals leader, Jason Kidd, the Nets’ steal-percentage ranking dropped each year until they finished last in 2006-07. Frank’s teams have finished in the bottom half of the league since.
That said, Frank deservedly has a reputation as a good defensive coach. It’s just that his game plan is based more on forcing misses, grabbing defensive rebounds and taking charges than stealing balls.
So why make a big deal out of Frank’s defensive preferences, especially when I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence that going for more steals would be better? Because I believe it’s only part of Frank’s tendency to play it safe.
Frank faces no decision more important to both the Pistons’ long-term and short-term prospects than choosing the team’s primary lineup, which, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the starters.