Joe Dumars and Maligned Guards

July, 2, 2009
7/02/09
12:42
PM ET

Remember when the Pistons were the toast of the town? In 2003-2004, they added Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace and won the title. But the seeds of that team were really planted when the Pistons acquired some players with shaky reputations around the league.

By signing Ben Gordon to big dollars, Joe Dumars has run the same play again. 

But there's a difference this time around. 

In 2000, the team got Ben Wallace as a throw-in, after Grant Hill agreed to sign with the Magic, and the Pistons participated in one of those lopsided "you got us" trades instead of losing the player for nothing.

The summer of 2002  is when GM Joe Dumars really earned his money. That's when he drafted Tayshaun Prince 23rd overall, and acquired Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups -- neither of whom was seen, then, as likely to contribute to a title team.

Ben GordonOf course, the pieces fit together tremendously well.

Later, working on a story for a magazine, I asked Dumars why he had decided those were the two guards who would make the most sense for his team.

Dumars' answer was very clear, and represented a real philosophy: Those were two guards who could help the team without needing possession of the ball.

The Pistons were going to be a team of ball movement and they were not ball-stoppers.

Hamilton could run around a thousand screens and force the defense to chase, hedge, and help all over the place. Such movement has the potential to get easy buckets for any and all Pistons, from the guy setting the pick to the guy spotting up behind the 3-point line.

Billups, meanwhile, is a good enough shooter to keep a defender near. The team could run its offense with Billups at the top of the circle. Now and again the ball would be kicked out to him, and he had the skill and mentality to drain the shot if he was open, or swing the ball to the opposite side if he wasn't. 

It worked.

Ben Gordon represents a different approach.

I have never seen good statistics determining which players are the most opposite of what Dumars described. As in, players who can't do jack for you unless they have the ball.

But by reputation, Ben Gordon would be on that list.

So, does this mean Joe Dumars has changed his tune? That he is desperate?

Maybe none of the above. Perhaps it just means that the Pistons have a different roster now, with different needs.

And more likely, it could be a story about hand-checking. The rule changed in 2001, but the following strategic shift is still unfolding. The ball-stopper, time-consuming thing Gordon does  -- creating scoring opportunities for himself off the dribble -- may well be more valuable than it was. That's because such play now comes with frequent trips to the free throw line, which is the home of the easiest and most efficient points in the NBA. 

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) 

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