In October of 2005 the Chicago Bulls sent Eddy Curry to the New York Knicks for two first round draft picks (there was more stuff involved, but these were the main pieces of the trade). One of these picks became the second choice in the 2006 NBA draft. With this pick the Bulls selected LaMarcus Aldridge. Soon after making this selection, though, the Bulls sent Aldridge to the Portland Trail Blazers for Tyrus Thomas (there was more stuff involved, but Aldridge and Thomas were the main players in the trade).
The Conventional Wisdom on Aldridge and Thomas
More than three years have passed since this draft day trade and it seems clear that although trading Eddy Curry has worked out for the Bulls, the Aldridge-Thomas trade was definitely a mistake.
A quick glance at the number confirms this story. After more than three seasons in the NBA…
- Aldridge has scored 3,925 career points, or more than twice as many as Thomas (1,833 career points). Aldridge has also scored more points in every season these two players have played.
- Aldridge has averaged 15.5 points per game across his career. Thomas is only averaging 7.8 points per contest. Aldridge has also average more points per game in every season these two players have played.
- Turning to PER (Player Efficiency Rating) we see that Aldridge has a 18.3 career mark while Thomas has a career PER of 15.3. And once again.. in every season these players have played Aldridge is the better player according to PER.
- Aldridge is currently ranked in the top 10 in All-Star votes — at the forward position — in the Western Conference. He also ranked in the top 10 last season. Thomas has yet to be ranked in the top 10 in All-Star votes.
- Aldridge signed a five-year extension a few months ago that could pay him as much as $70 million. Thomas has not signed such an extension.
So whether we look at scoring, PER, all-star votes, or salary, the story is the same. LaMarcus Aldridge has simply been much better than Tyrus Thomas.
A Different Perspective
Obviously, given this set-up, it looks like I am about to argue that Tyrus Thomas is actually the better player. Although that’s the impression I am giving, my point is a bit more vague. Specifically, I am going to argue that the difference between these two players is not quite as great as the previous numbers listed might indicate.
Let’s start with Table One, which reports all the box score numbers for each player across their respective careers.
Fans of Aldridge will note that their favorite has an advantage with respect shooting efficiency (from the field and the line), field goal attempts, points scored, turnovers, and personal fouls. Thomas, though, does better with respect to free throw attempts, rebounds, steals, and blocked shots.
When we summarize all these statistics – via Win Score per 48 minutes and PAWS48 – we see that Thomas has the advantage over Aldridge. It’s not a large advantage. But Thomas has bested Aldridge in every season these two players have played.
Now Aldridge has played more minutes. So in terms of Wins Produced, Aldridge currently has an advantage. Across his career Aldridge has produced 15.0 wins. Thomas, though, has produced more than eleven wins while playing 3,500 fewer minutes. So on a per-minute basis, Thomas has done more.
Of course there is value to staying on the court. So if Aldridge fans wanted to focus on Wins Produced, that seems reasonable. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like the gap between these two players is as great as the difference we see with respect to scoring, PER, all-star votes, and salaries. So for fans of the Bulls who look back on the 2006 draft with regret, perhaps this analysis will make them feel better.
The Bulls Today
Certainly if we look at the other part of this trade – the 2007 first round pick – fans of the Bulls should be very happy. In 2007 the Bulls selected Joakim Noah. As Table Two indicates, Noah currently leads the 2009-10 Bulls in Wins Produced.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the only other above average performers – with respect to WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – are Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas. And Thomas has only played 233 minutes this season (again, he has trouble staying on the court). Noah and Deng – by themselves — are currently on pace to produce 25.5 wins this season. The rest of the roster, though, is only projected to produce 1.1 wins. Hence the Bulls in 2009-10 are struggling. In fact, their current won-loss record – which is not very good (only 14-19) – actually exaggerates the quality of this team.
To understand this team’s problems, let’s look at what we should have expected given what Chicago’s players did last season. The performances we observed in 2008-09 suggest the Bulls should currently be on pace to win 44.6 games. So this team is under-performing this projection by 18 wins.
Almost all of this drop-off can be linked to three players. Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Kirk Hinrich are responsible for nearly 16 wins of this decline. If these three players were performing as they did last season, the Bulls would be an above average team in 2009-10. And the Bulls would have six above average players.
As it stands, though, the Bulls only have a trio of above average performers. If Thomas can play, the Bulls – led by the players acquired in the Curry trade (and Luol Deng) — should improve somewhat across the remainder of the season. But unless someone else steps up (like Derrick Rose, for instance) the Bulls are probably not going to win as often as their fans might like.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.