3 goals: Tim Frazier – win Casey’s trust, reduce turnovers, stay ready
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Tim Frazier. Coming Friday: Blake Griffin.)
Not that the Pistons ever doubted the value of a first-rate point guard to man their second unit, but they got a sobering reminder of it last season.
Humming along under first-year coach Dwane Casey with a 13-8 record in early December, Ish Smith pulled up with a leg injury early in a game at Milwaukee. He would wind up missing 26 games – after playing in 163 of 164 games over his first two Pistons seasons – and it cost the Pistons dearly. They went 8-18 in Smith’s absence. Had they broken even at 13-13, they’d have finished with a 46-36 record and been the No. 6 instead of the No. 8 seed, avoiding the 60-win Bucks in the first round.
So it was no surprise when front-office boss Ed Stefanski and his inner circle chose to address point guard first and allocate the bulk of Pistons cap assets at that position. Derrick Rose came to terms in the first hour of free agency and before the first 24 hours had elapsed they’d also added Tim Frazier.
That gives Casey three players at point guard who played a combined 4,801 minutes last season. Frazier, who started 19 games for New Orleans and Milwaukee, had 1,120 of them.
You could make a case that Frazier offers similar quality as a No. 3 point guard as Smith did as the No. 2 point guard last season. Frazier is a little more focused on distributing that scoring as opposed to Smith, but their per-36 stats are relatively in step: 14.4 points, 5.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds on 14.1 shot attempts for Smith; 12.8 points, 7.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds on 11.3 shot attempts for Frazier.
Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Tim Frazier, those are …
STAY READY – On a traditional depth chart, Frazier is the clear No. 3 behind Jackson and Rose. Under a traditional framework, that would mean he likely wouldn’t play in most games. But tradition has been turned on its ear over recent NBA seasons and Casey has been at the forefront of change. He often finished games with both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet on the floor in Toronto and used lineups that included three point guards without hesitation. Given the likelihood that Casey will use Jackson and Rose to finish games – or at least give himself the option to do so by having both relatively fresh for the final five minutes – Frazier might even become a rotation regular. Even if it’s less than that, chances are that the Pistons are going to be cautious with Rose and that means Frazier will on some nights be Jackson’s backup. There are 13 back to backs on the schedule and it would surprise no one if Rose took some or all of those nights off. Frazier has played in more than 50 games in each of the past four seasons and has made 70 starts in his five-year career. He won’t be in an unfamiliar role.
LEARN THE SYSTEM – Frazier has played for five other NBA franchises and has never started a season twice in a row in the same place. So he’s had experience picking up new offenses. He should prove a quick study in Casey’s system with its emphasis on an analytical shot chart. While Smith took 47 percent of his shots at the rim (19.4 percent) or from the 3-point arc (27.6 percent) last season, 66 percent of Frazier’s shots came from those areas Casey’s offense emphasizes, including 27.2 percent at the rim and 38.7 percent from the 3-point arc. Smith was considered an effective mid-range shooter, though still made just 40 percent of his shots from between 3 and 10 feet. Frazier finished on 65 percent of his shots at the rim (61 for Smith) and hit 36.6 percent of his triples (32.6 for Smith). At 28, Frazier should be ready for his best NBA season and appears to be in an offense that can bring his best out.
REDUCE TURNOVERS – Turnovers have been Frazier’s major NBA bugaboo. While Smith had a terrific 10.6 percent turnover rate last season, Frazier’s was 21.1, only slightly above his career rate of 20.4. That will have to come down for Frazier to fully win Casey’s trust. The good news is that as players gain experience and point guards, in particular, grow more familiar with their personnel and system, those rates tend to fall. Smith had a similar past to Frazier – undrafted and had to bounce from team to team – before landing his first multiyear deal with the Pistons; his turnover rate also hovered in the high teens or low 20s until the past few seasons. The three lowest rates of his career have come in his past three seasons with the Pistons, who was also 28 when he came to the Pistons – same as Frazier is now. If Frazier can get his turnover rate down to the mid-teens, he figures to thrive in Casey’s offense and could put himself in position to win minutes and free Casey to use Jackson and Rose together more liberally.