Pistons have NBA’s second-best frontcourt

Bradford Doolittle of ESPN rated every NBA frontcourt, and the Pistons ranked second behind only the Heat.

First, the methodology:

The list is based on 2013-14 projected WARP as forecast by ATH, my system for generating performance predictions based on trait matching, athletic indicators and aging curves. At the bottom line, WARP is a function of both the quality and quantity of a player’s production, so these rankings take into account not just how well ATH thinks a player will play, but how often.

The combined unit WARP for the frontcourts is based on the projections for each team’s probable starters at center, power forward and small forward, plus the projected top reserve for the unit.

And the Pistons’ summary:

2. Detroit Pistons | Combined WARP: 33.0

Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Josh Harrellson

The NBA is constantly in flux, which is something I think we can all agree on. Nevertheless, when we use analysis to point out a trend that is already well underway, there is an element of the sports community that just isn’t going to believe you until the movement is fully manifested. That being the case, many were taken aback by our (well, my) ranking of Houston’s backcourt the other day as the league’s best projected group. And I suspect that many will also doubt this ranking of the Pistons. But I’m telling you, folks, the Detroit front line is flat-out loaded when it comes to pure talent.

That said, there are legit basketball reasons to doubt this lofty forecast. Drummond, Monroe and Smith — individually — can all play, and I’ve gone on record about buying into Drummond as this season’s breakout star. But how does it all fit? There were plenty of questions about how Drummond and Monroe fit last season, but it was unclear how much of that was due to any lack of complementary skills, and how much was due to a lack of faith in the pairing by former coach Lawrence Frank.

Now that Smith is in the mix, the talent level is off the charts. But for this to work at an optimum level, someone is going to have to knock down some jump shots. Among the others, Harrellson isn’t much above replacement level, but simply pops up as the top projection among an uncertain mix of talent that includes Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko,Charlie Villanueva, Tony Mitchell and Gigi Datome.

I’m starting to sense WARP-based projections really like the Pistons.

WARP stands for Wins Above Replacement Player. A team full of replacement players will win 10 games, according to the formula, so the Pistons’ frontcourt having a WARP of 33.0 means the Pistons would win 43 games if the rest of the team plays at a replacement level.

Brandon Jennings alone had a WARP of 7.0 last season. We’ll see when Pelton’s full projections are released, but it seems the Pistons will be pegged for about 50 wins

As I relayed earlier today, two of the biggest blind spots for this system are coaching and player fit, two areas where the Pistons face real question marks. So, this projection might skew positive, but even if the Pistons fall a little short of their WARP baseline, that’s still better than most pundits believe they’ll do.

Also, it’s interesting Josh Harrellson rated as the fourth-best frontcourt player. I’m not sure the season will play out that way, but among the listed group, no single player stands out.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings Greg Monroe Josh Harrellson Josh Smith

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