Thoughts on the Jason Richardson Trade

Currently I am attending the Western Economic Association meetings, so my ability to post is somewhat limited.  I did want to offer some thoughts on the NBA draft (as well as various signings and trades). My limitations, though, prevent me from commenting on everything (worth commenting upon).   So let me just offer thoughts on one event – the Jason Richardson trade. 

On draft night the Golden State Warriors traded Jason Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats for the draft rights to Brandan Wright (other players were involved, but these players were the key to the trade).   To put this trade in perspective, I want to go back to the major trade the Warriors made in 2006-07. Just prior to the midpoint of this past season the Warriors traded Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy to the Pacers for Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson.  At the time of the trade the Warriors were not contenders and I expected that status to continue.  In fact, given that neither Harrington nor Jackson have ever been average or above average players, I expected the fortunes of the Warriors to decline in the second half. 

The reality was a bit different from my expectations.  In the second half the Warriors improved enough to take the 8th spot in the Western Conference standings.  And in the playoffs this team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the league. Such results suggest that the Harrington-Jackson trade was a stroke of genius. 

The numbers before the trade suggested otherwise.  And when we look at the numbers after the trade, we actually get the same story. It’s not clear the Harrington-Jackson trade helped. Before the trade occurred I noted that Harrington and Jackson had posted the following numbers with respect to Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48].

– Al Harrington: Career (0.022), 2006-07 (-0.20)

– Stephen Jackson: Career (0.047), 2006-07 (0.003)

Remember, average WP49 is 0.100.  So both players have been historically below average. In the second half of 2006-07 Harrington posted a 0.019 WP48. Jackson’s second half WP48 was 0.035.  In sum, both players performed close to their career averages. And this means that neither player appears responsible for the second half surge of this team. 

If we look at the other players on the team, we do see another explanation. Whereas Jackson and Harrington performed close to their career averages in the second half of 2006-07, Jason Richardson did not.

Richardson posted a -0.044 WP48 in the first half of 2006-07.  Yes, he was so bad he was in the negative range.  At the conclusion of the season, Richardson had a 0.114 WP48, a mark quite close to his career average.  Given a -0.044 mark in the first half of the season, Richardson had to perform quite a bit better in the second half to finish at 0.114.  Specifically, Richardson’s second half WP48 was 0.224.  

To put that number in perspective, Kobe Bryant posted a 0.234 WP48 in 2006-07.  In essence, Richardson suddenly imitated Kobe in the latter half of the season.  And had the Warriors traded Murphy and Dunleavy for Kobe, we certainly would have expected the Warriors to improve.   

We should note that Baron Davis also improved, posting a 0.252 WP48 in the second half of 2006-07. Davis had a career WP48 of 0.141 entering last season (and a 0.182 mark in the first half).   

Had Richardson and Davis not improved the Warriors would have won nearly seven fewer games in the second half of the season.  Hence, one could argue that it was these two players that led Golden State’s surge. Although one might argue that Harrington and Jackson caused these players to improve, there are two more plausible arguments. 

First, both players recovered from injury during the season. Hence one could argue that improved health led to improved output.  

One could also focus on the coaching of Don Nelson.  Unpublished research I have completed with Mike Leeds and Mike Mondello suggests that many coaches have no statistical impact on player performance. Nelson, though, does appear to have an ability to get more from his players.  Perhaps the improvement in Richardson and Davis could be tied the input of the coach.  

Whether it was injury or coaching cannot be known with certainty.  What we do know is that the Warriors have now traded Richardson for Brandan Wright.  And that may not be a move that will help in 2007-08. 

Of the 47 college players taken in the 2007 draft, Wright ranks 15th in terms of PAWSmin last season.  In other words, Wright’s college performance last year does rank in the top third of all college players selected. Unfortunately, most rookies are below average, and given Wright’s 2006-07 college performance, this would be our expectation for next year.  So looking at this trade for next year, it looks like the Warriors have traded an above average performer for a player who is likely to be below average.  

In the long-term, perhaps Wright can make this trade look better.  In the short-term, though, the Warriors have let go a player who was a key part of the team’s surge.  And such a move suggests the Warriors might not be surging as much next year.

– DJ

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