The Other Side of the Indiana-Toronto Trade

Previously I labeled Jermaine O’Neal the MOP (Most Overpaid Player) of 2007-08.  Although we frequently focus on the winner of any contest, there should be some interest in the player who was MOP runner-up.  After all, in the event the reigning MOP cannot fulfill his duties, the runner-up will assume the crown.  And who would take on such duties if J. O’Neal faltered?  It’s none other than Andrea Bargnani, the new teammate of J. O’Neal.

Bargnani for O’Neal?

In addition to being the runner-up MOP, Bargnani was also the L2P (Least Productive Player) of 2007-08.  Bargnani – in only 1,861 minutes – produced a (-5.7) wins.  Had the Raptors replaced Bargnani with a power forward that produced zero wins, Toronto could have expected to win nearly 54 games this past season.

How does replacing Bargnani with someone who produced zero wins get a team that won only 41 games all the way to 54 victories?  The answer is in Table One.

Table One: The Toronto Raptors in 2007-08

Table One offers two projections of the Raptors.  The first is based on the player’s performance in 2006-07.  The second looks at how many wins the team should have seen based on the 2007-08 performance.  Both forecasts indicate that the Raptors were better than a 41 win team.  And this can also be seen in the team’s efficiency differential (no surprise, since Wins Produced is based on efficiency differential).  The Raptors efficiency differential of 3.1 was the fourth best mark in the Eastern Conference (something I noted last March).

To this team, the Raptors are adding Jermaine O’Neal.  Unfortunately, O’Neal – since the middle of the 2006-07 season – has stopped producing at an above average level.   Prior to the 2007-08 campaign, O’Neal had a career WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.143 (average is 0.100).  Last year his mark was only -0.017. 

Obviously – as I noted a couple of days ago – O’Neal didn’t help the Pacers much last year. Still, even if he doesn’t improve at all as a Raptor, he could help Toronto win more games if the minutes given to Bargnani are simply transferred to O’Neal.  Specifically, the Raptors are about five wins better replacing Bargnani with O’Neal. And again, that’s without J. O’Neal getting any better.

Unfortunately, one suspects that the Raptors are not going to follow this approach.  No, O’Neal’s minutes are probably going to come mostly from Rasho Nesterovic (who departed in the trade for O’Neal).  Nestrovic posted a 0.104 WP48 last year, so the Raptors would have to be getting the O’Neal from a few years ago for this move to start to make sense.

It’s possible, of course, that this is the J. O’Neal the Raptors have acquired.  At least, it’s possible that J. O’Neal only played poorly because he was either injured or unmotivated.  Certainly when the other O’Neal (Shaq) moved from Miami to Phoenix, Shaq suddenly offered more output (not as much as the Shaq of old, but certainly more than the old Shaq we saw in Miami).  So it’s possible the change of scenery will make a difference for J. O’Neal and the Raptors.  But since the Raptors gave up an average big man for J. O’Neal, even if J. O’Neal is healthy and motivated, the Raptors are still not much better off.

Looking at the Rest of the Trade

And this analysis completely ignores the other elements of the trade.  The Raptors are also surrendering T. J. Ford and the draft rights to Roy Hibbert.  Ford posted a 0.160 WP48 last year, making him one of the better point guards in the game.  The Raptors, though, already have Jose Calderon.  Calderon’s WP48 was 0.309, a mark that ranks among the top five at the point guard spot in the NBA.  By moving Ford, the Raptors have made a clear commitment to Calderon (re-signing Calderon also helped).  And giving some of Ford’s minutes to Calderon should help the team improve.  But it’s important to remember, Calderon averaged 30 minutes per game last season.  So the Raptors can’t transfer all of Ford’s minutes.  In other words, Toronto can’t give Calderon that much more time.  And Toronto is still going to have to add a back-up point guard, who is likely to be worse than Ford.  In sum — if you can follow this last paragraph (not sure I can) — the net impact of losing Ford might still be negative.

The Colangelo Way

Let’s summarize all of this by considering the recent big moves in Toronto. 

  • This year we have the O’Neal trade. When we consider O’Neal’s lack of productivity in 2007-08, the loss of T.J. Ford, and the loss of Toronto’s first round pick, it’s hard to see how this trade helps the Raptors.  
  • Last year the Raptors signed Jason Kapono, who produced -2.0 wins this past season.  Not Bargnani bad, but still not a level of productivity that helps.   
  • And then in 2006 the Raptors drafted Bargnani with the first pick overall.  Clearly this move hasn’t quite worked out either.

If we consider each of these major moves, it looks like the tenure of Bryan Colangelo has not been successful.  But then we consider the following names: Calderon, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, and Carlos Delfino.  Each of these players are above average talents who were acquired very cheaply by Colangelo. 

In sum – as I noted last January – Colangelo seems to have a knack for finding productive players who are also quite cheap.   It’s just the big decisions – trades, free agents signings, and the draft – that seem to cause problems.

Nevertheless – even with the O’Neal trade – the Raptors will still have five productive players in the regular rotation (Chris Bosh, Calderon, Parker, Delfino, and Moon).  If O’Neal can return to form – and the team’s efficiency differential and wins move into better alignment (like it is for most every other team) – Toronto should win more games than it did last year.  And if Colangelo finds yet another cheap, productive player, perhaps the Raptors can make this O’Neal trade look like a winner.

It probably won’t be, but it might look like one if the team wins more than 41 games in 2008-09.

Update: Two WoW Journal readers noted that Colangelo did not originally sign Calderon.  So Calderon was not a Colangelo find (although he did choose to keep him).  Also, most of the arguments in this post were actually noted in the comments on the post examining the Indiana side of this trade.  I meant to note the perceptiveness of the WoW Journal readers when I originally posted this column on the Raptors.

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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