When David Stern vetoed the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade in November, it was big news. Many analysts panned the veto for various reasons. However, analysis using Wins Produced suggested that the Lakers were actually receiving the short end of the stick.
Yesterday, I was talking with a couple of my buddies and I got the idea to review this non-trade using hindsight. I will only be using this year’s Wins Produced Per 48 numbers as opposed to Composite Score and/or Win Shares. My data can be found at chris paul.
The trade sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and (take a breath) Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, and a Knicks first round pick to the Hornets. At the time (note that this is before my analytics conversion), I thought that the Rockets should be the ones crying foul, if anyone. The nice thing (or maybe the bad thing) about this trade is that there is a lot of room for interpretation.
First, I will evaluate the teams player-by-player. By leaps and bounds, the Lakers got the best player in the trade. Chris Paul is one of the elite players in the NBA today. If you use Wins Produced as a guide but not the rule, LeBron is the only player in the game who is better. However, he has only one more year under contract, and his perceived value is just as high as his actual value (as measured by my PERrate).
Pau Gasol is still a good, above-average player. That is not in question. Unfortunately, he’s past thirty (he’ll be 32 in July), and it’s been well-documented that NBA players age like milk. (Just check the Wages of Wins.) I sincerely believe that this Spaniard has hit the wall. This year, his WP48 level dropped 122 points, a staggering total. Theoretically, he lost almost half of his value. (Someday I’ll go into depth about the “theoretically” part.) However, Samuel Dalembert and Jordan Hill (who did not get major minutes and was traded to the Lakers) were the only bigs for the Rockets who played better. (I know that Marcus Camby did too, but he was an mid-season acquisition.) I believe, without a doubt, that Pau Gasol still would have deserved the starting slot at the 4 for Houston. (More on line-ups and stuff later.) Unfortunately, he’s under contract for two more years, and it’s indefinite what his future production levels will be.
New Orleans sort of got a mixed bag. Goran Dragic is a well above-average point guard who has been overshadowed by Steve Nash and, of late, Kyle Lowry in his career. This is somewhat surprising as he’s produced solid, if below-average, PER numbers in his career. The only Hornet at any position who performed better was Mexican rookie Gustavo Ayon. He would definitely have been an upgrade over the very average Jarrett Jack. He is one of the marquee free agents in this year’s class.
Kevin Martin is a scorer. Scorers are typically overvalued. This year, Martin was no exception; his PERrate was more than one-and-a-half times as high as his Wins Produced Per 48. There is no question that he has regressed from his 2005-2008 skill level, when he was a borderline star. He was not better than Greivis Vasquez at shooting guard, but I wouldn’t mind having him off the bench. He will still be under contract for next year; I’m not sure if that would have been a good thing or a bad thing.
At this point, the Hornets’ acquisitions start to fall off the cliff. Luis Scola is their next-best added player. As recently as two years ago, Scola was a near-average player. But over the past two years, he has regressed to a level below 0 Wins Produced. He is also under contract for three more years. His salary is also over $8.5 million, meaning that whoever owns his contract has a massive sinkhole in their financial statement. The good thing is, he still has a PER level above average, implying that he still has trade value. Furthermore, he’s still better than Chris Kaman, and terrible is better than absolutely, positively horrendous!
Then we have Lamar Odom’s ghost. Yes, his ghost. Whatever happened to the former Sixth Man of the Year? Between this year and last, he lost just shy of 300 points in his WP48 numbers. Yes, I said it; 300 points! While a major drop-off is not unlikely considering his advanced age (for basketball at 32), the question is how this is even possible. He went from being a borderline star to lurking in the nether regions with the likes of Byron Mullens, Tyrus Thomas, and Norris Cole. (Notice that there are two Bobcats on that list.) Even PER has completely panned him; at 9.3, he has hit pretty close to rock-bottom there too. Aye. He has one more year left on his contract, too. Amnesty candidate!
Beyond the (very) obvious reason(s), I believe that the Lakers would profit greatly by this trade. Yes, Chris Paul is an outstanding player at a very important position. Yes, he has a reputation for that elusive “clutchness.” The latter trait I discredit, but still. However, one of the most important ways he would benefit this team is that he would take possessions and, more importantly, shots away from Kobe! It is well-documented that No. 24 has been launching way more than his fair of shots; his Usage Rate was a league-leading 35.7! With the presence of an All-World dominate ball-handler and (cringe) scorer, the ball would unquestionably taken out of the Black Mamba’s hands. Paul is significantly better than this year’s Pau or Odom (especially Odom), and as aforementioned a point guard to boot. My likely starting line-up for the Lake Show, analytics aside, would be: Paul, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Troy Murphy/Josh McRoberts/Free Agent X to replace either of the two, and Bynum. Unfortunately, the Lakers still have massive depth problems (which, despite being inconsequential in the play-offs, is still necessary), and trade one starting position for another. However, the Lakers would be better, at least by a little bit.
I also believe that the Rockets performed very shrewdly in this deal. Based on this year’s data, they would have acquired a quality starter without trading away their best player at any one position. Granted that the trade of Dragic one-for-one for Gasol would have been fairly even in hindsight, pretty good is better than questionable. Besides, they would have jettisoned Scola’s albatross, which by itself saves some wins; somehow, the Argentinian managed to lead the team in minutes! To start the year, I would draft a starting line-up of Lowry, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Pau (or Jordan Hill), and Samuel Dalembert. I believe that this would have been the actual line-up, except for the fact that Hill’s spot would not have even been a possibility. Houston certainly would not have hurt themselves with this deal.
Without a doubt, New Orleans was handed a mixed bag. On one hand, they received a very good starter in Dragic and a solid sixth/seventh man in Martin. On the other hand, they got the very definition of scrubs in Scola and Lamar, although Scola’s reputation exceeds him greatly. The local fans; only hope would be that those two would not receive nearly as many minutes as Chris Kaman actually did in real life, 1,372 in 47 games. I would start Dragic, Greivis Vasquez, Trevor Ariza, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Carl Landry. I know it’s an extremely small line-up, but at this point, the Hornets lacked a center of note besides maybe Jason Smith. Remember that they didn’t pick up Gustavo Ayon until December 23, two days before the season started. How good the Hornets would be dependent on how much they played Scola and Odom and if they could acquire another big.
In the end, I do not think any team would have been negatively affected by this trade. However, it is murky whether or not the Rockets or Hornets would have truly benefitted despite my earlier comments. Like I said in the beginning, this trade has lots of room for interpretation.
P.S. I’m sorry for the long(ish) delay between posts; I’ve been on a bit of a reading rampage of late.