Author’s note: I think about basketball way too much. Thinking Out Loud is my new attempt to just get those thoughts and feelings on internet paper before I move onto another topic.
You can’t even stretch your arms out without hitting a trade rumor these days. It’s wonderful.
Carmelo to Cleveland you say? Three teams discussing a move involving Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Dwight Howard? It’s the most wonderful time of the year and it’s only going to get better the next few days. But do teams that make trade deadline deals actually get any better? Off the top of your head, can you name the most successful trade of last season?
I would argue that the best deal at last year’s deadline was Boston trading Marcus Thornton and Cleveland’s 2016 first round pick for Isaiah Thomas. It wasn’t a sexy trade by any means and ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan actually called it the worst trade of the day. ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh felt similarly. At the trade deadline last year, the Celtics had the 23rd best offense and the 15th best defense in the NBA and were being outscored by opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions. Just one year later they are top 10 both offensively and defensively and the 3rd best team in the East standings.
In full disclosure that improvement has to do with signing Amir Johnson and trading Rajon Rondo last season as well for a sneaky good Jae Crowder, but those aren’t the type of moves that get tons of praise and yet no team improved themselves more in the last year than the Celtics. How did they do it?
If you could only use one metric to measure someone’s offensive ability or impact, what would you choose? (Answer in the comments at the bottom of the page.)
For me it would be True Shooting percentage. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here is the formula as defined by John Hollinger:
For those of you who don’t like math equations, True Shooting percentage simply measures efficiency while rewarding a player for taking three point shots and drawing free throws. It is by no means a perfect stat, but if I were teaching Basketball S
tats 101 on offense, I would start there. Steph Curry is the best offensive player in basketball and he’s also shoots the highest TS% in the league. Eight of the 10 top teams in true shooting percentage are in the top 10 most efficient offenses.
So what does true shooting percentage have to do with the trade deadline? Let’s suppose that the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo, Dwight Powell and Jeff Green for Amir Johnson and Isaiah Thomas (the accumulative trades last season, if not the actual trade).
The Celtics traded away two players with poor true shooting percentages and replaced them with two players who are very high in true shooting (Rondo and Green are shooting an improved, but still inferior 51.7% TS% this season). Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they went from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in offensive efficiency, especially with the relatively high volume of shots that those 4 players use. As I mentioned, TS% is not a perfect measure of a player’s offensive ability, because some players have such high gravity or are able to help their teammates get highly efficient baskets even if they themselves are not terribly efficient. But it is a very valuable measuring tool in your toolbox of basketball analysis.
This graph from basketball reference shows how the Jazz players fare in true shooting. Rudy Gobert leads the team in TS%. It doesn’t mean that Rudy is the Jazz’s best offensive player, because you can’t draw up a play for Rudy to dunk every possession. Context does matter. But I would argue that Rudy’s incredible efficiency does make up for a lot of his offensive deficiencies. It’s super valuable to have a big man who can dunk anything within 8 feet of the hoop. It puts tremendous pressure on a defense. I wouldn’t argue that Rudy is the Jazz’s best offensive player, but he might be their best offensive weapon.
You may have also noticed the rather large gulf that exists between the top 6 players and the rest of the roster. What if the Jazz traded out playing time (or actually traded) those bottom players for players that had high true shooting percentages? The Jazz offense would improve. Possibly in a drastic manner.
This is a list of the top players in the league in true shooting percentage. Most of these players are unavailable at the trade deadline. They are just too good for their teams to trade. But there are a couple names on there of worth to the Jazz in my opinion. Perhaps you understand why I have been begging for the Jazz to trade for Jared Dudley, Omri Casspi, or even Channing Frye all season. They are incredibly efficient offensive players. If the Jazz replaced Trevor Booker with a player like Ed Davis, they would take a big leap. These aren’t sexy hypothetical trades, but if the Jazz traded Alec Burks or Trey Burke for Omri Casspi, Jared Dudley, or Jose Calderon tomorrow, the offense would instantly improve. The Jazz would win more games in all likelihood, although we have not talked about defensive contributions.
I have heard some people mention the San Antonio Spurs as a blueprint for why teams should not make trades at the deadline. The Spurs are the gold standard of stability and continuity and I think they should be admired, respected, and in some ways emulated. But I also can’t help but think of the Golden State Warriors and the trade deadline deal they made that changed the face of their franchise. On March 14, 2012 the Warriors traded Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. In hindsight it was a brilliant trade, but that didn’t keep Warriors fans from booing Golden State’s ownership off the stage just a week later. At the time of the trade the Warriors were actually the 7th best offensive team in the league, but they were just as poor defensively. The next season the Warriors became the 4th best defensive team and 12th offensively. The rest is Golden State history. But the current machination of the Golden State Warriors would not be able to exist with Monta Ellis, his super poor defense and his true shooting percentage of 51% the last 5 seasons. Ellis has even admitted as much himself. Perhaps the Jazz already made their Monta Ellis type deal when they went from Enes Kanter to Gobert. But I think it’s an interesting point to keep in mind. What trade would collective Jazz fans boo ownership about that would actually be very beneficial?
On paper it seems, looks, and feels like the Jazz are just a point guard away from really making something of themselves. Almost all of the trade chatter around the Jazz is whether they will address that need. Jeff Teague, George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Patrick Beverly, and soon to be Ricky Rubio, are some of the names that get tossed around the most in regards to the Jazz.
I don’t know exactly how much the Jazz like any of these guys, but in short, I don’t think the Jazz are willing to give up what it would cost to acquire Teague, Hill, Holiday or Rubio. These are better than average starting point guards in the league and they are not just going to give them away. Even if the Hawks feel they need to get some value for Teague before he leaves in free agency, they will get increased value in the offseason when draft orders are set and have a better determined value. The same teams that need point guards right now will almost assuredly need them in June.
But let’s pretend that the Jazz could trade for any of these players. For consistency sake, lets look at each of their true shooting percentages.
I must stress again that this is not an end all, be all stat, especially for point guards who have great value on the offensive end in setting teammates up and running an offense. But at the same time, if you are not an individual threat to use a possession efficiently, I do believe it hurts a players ability to impact an offense positively.
If I were the Jazz, I would also not be very willing to give up much of anything for (most of) these players. The fact they would be an 18 month player aside, I’m not sure how much these players would truly help the Jazz past this season. Offensively, any of these players would certainly be an upgrade over Raul Neto and Trey Burke, both of who have true shooting percentages of only 51%. But any of the ball dominant guards might just be taking the ball out of Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward’s hands. And only Collison and Hill are more efficient scorers than those two.
I think Miami of last season was in a similar position to the Jazz this year. Before the trade deadline deal for Goran Dragic, the Heat were starting Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Shabazz Napier at point guard. Yikes. So the Heat traded Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Shawne Williams, and Justin Hamilton and 2 future first round picks to Phoenix for Dragic. On paper it seemed like a steal for Miami. They gave up fringe NBA talent and two late future first round picks for a guy who was 3rd All-NBA team just a season before. I do think it was still a good trade, but I’m not sure it changed Miami’s outlook as much as they had hoped.
Miami sports the 24th best offense in the league today and the 6th best defense. And although they are the 5th seed, currently, they are only 2.5 games ahead of Detroit, who is not in the playoffs currently. In short, Miami has not established themselves as contenders for anything past the second round. When they traded for Dragic, they were only 22-30 and right at the 8th spot for the playoffs, so the trade improved them, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to get them the outcome they hoped for, to compete for the Eastern Conference title. At the time, it seemed like a given. They would be one of the two or three best Eastern Conference teams. That’s just not a probability at this point.
Get well, Chris Bosh.
While the trade chatter around the Utah Jazz has basically been just about point guards, I would offer that the Jazz would be better off just trading in their less efficient offensive players for very efficient ones, even if they weren’t point guards. I think Darren Collison might be the right balance of efficiency and price tag for the Jazz, if they did go that direction, though. George Hill and even Jrue Holiday would be good fits for the Jazz because they are competent defensive players and have other offensive skills besides their ability to score efficiently, but they will be way too expensive to make it worth it for the Jazz. I’m confident of this. Jeff Teague is of average efficiency offensively, is not an elite playmaker, or a great defender AND will be an expensive acquisition. I think he makes sense for the Jazz on paper, but nothing past that. He wouldn’t change the long term outlook of the Jazz, much like Goran Dragic. Sorry, I’m just thinking out loud here.