Why Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver is here for all your jokes about centers

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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After the Detroit Pistons’ 2020 offseason, it should be obvious that general manager Troy Weaver is a big fan of the center position. 

The Pistons signed Mason Plumlee to a three-year, $25 million contract, Jahlil Okafor to the veteran minimum and used the 16th pick of the draft on Isaiah Stewart. For a brief stretch, the Pistons also had two other centers on the roster, in Tony Bradley and Dewayne Dedmon. Bradley was traded to the Sixers, and Dedmon was released to gain cap space. 

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Weaver’s affinity for centers, a position that many teams valued less in recent seasons, as the league has become more perimeter-oriented, became the subject of jokes on NBA Twitter. 

Weaver saw the jokes, and wants to make it clear — he likes centers and will continue to make the position a prominent part of Detroit’s rebuild. 

“Let the record show, I know there was a lot about us collecting a lot of centers,” Weaver said during Thursday’s news conference. “Absolutely. I love bigs. People always say they want the opposite — guards want to be bigs, bigs want to be guards. I love big guys. I believe that’s the way we win, by controlling the backboards. It’s held true. I’ve never seen a team win a championship without controlling the backboard. 

“I welcome all the center jokes, because I do love centers.”

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Weaver’s argument is that teams that are good at rebounding the ball tend to win more games. He said the first stat he tends to look at after games is which team won the rebounding battle. 

To his point, 10 of the NBA’s top 12 teams in rebounding percentage last season made the playoffs, and nine of those had winning records. Only one playoff team, the Houston Rockets, finished in the bottom five. 

The Rockets were an extreme outlier, embracing small ball without a player taller than 6-foot-8. James Harden’s all-around offensive brilliance and the willingness and ability of Robert Covington and PJ Tucker to defend larger players sufficed in the regular season. 

It hurt Houston in the playoffs, though. They faced the Los Angeles Lakers, the eventual NBA champion, in the second round and L.A.’s size advantage was too difficult to overcome. Houston won Game 1, while  tieing the rebounding battle, 41-41. The margin grew in the Lakers’ favor as the series went on; they won the next four games while out-rebounding the Rockets, 186-122. 

Yes, the Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But their championship run also illustrated the importance of the center position. Dwight Howard and Javale McGee provided a size advantage, and it’s something that Weaver has noticed. 

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“The way I learned the game of basketball, the game starts when the shot goes up,” Weaver said last week. “The teams that can rebound the ball are usually the better team. We saw the Lakers win the championship, they had tremendous size.” 

Plumlee and Okafor, who were introduced on Thursday, should both help the Pistons in rebounding. Detroit finished 19th last season, and Weaver expects the team will improve in that area next season. 

Weaver is confident that head coach Dwane Casey will find a way to balance the workload of Detroit’s three centers. It appears likely that Plumlee will start, leaving Okafor and Stewart to compete for backup minutes. 

The GM addressed concerns that Plumlee and Okafor are too traditional for today’s game, as well. He noted that Plumlee is one of the NBA’s best passing bigs, while Okafor excels as an offensive rebounder. They don’t space the floor, but they’ll fill the roles they were signed to do. 

“I think they fit today’s game,” Weaver said. “Today’s game is all about scoring at the rim and 3’s. These guys score at the basket. They fit today’s game very well. Mason’s passing is exceptional. Jahlil’s offensive rebounding is exceptional. Coach Casey will use these guys for the benefit of the team.” 

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Weaver has also drawn parallels to past Pistons championship teams in explaining what he wants the next one to look like. The Pistons have had a lot of prominent big men in their history — think Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace.

As he establishes a new culture for the franchise, he sees value in drawing inspiration from what has worked for past Pistons teams. 

“They had a lot of bigs, and guess what? We’re going to have some bigs as well,” he said.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. TRead more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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