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Analyzing the Basketball Portion of the Brendan Haywood-Drew Gooden Trade

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As I'm writing this, we're all still checking the rumors, waiting for the other shoe to drop on the trade front.  Or not.  Or is it shoes, plural? 

In the meantime, let's take a look at the trade that has actually been completed, Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and Deshawn Stevenson for Drew Gooden, Josh Howard, James Singleton, and Quinton Ross.  But, instead of analyzing it as an "NBA Trade", with concerns of salary cap space, luxury tax, franchise financial health, ownership situations, cap-friendliness of contracts, etc., etc., etc., what if we suspend disbelief (and ignore the part of this where certain guys may never actually suit up for their new teams), and just look at the players involved, with particular attention to the incoming players who have the best chance of being here for the rest of this year, and maybe even going forward.

Given the composition of the trade, it might make some sense to break it into three pieces, the big men (Haywood and Gooden), the former all-stars (Butler and Howard), and then everyone else.

Again, the ground rules here are that we are not considering what other trades might have been out there (or what rumors various GMs, player agents, or random dudes might be spreading to that effect), the financial implications to the teams, or any of that stuff.  For the moment, they are players, not contracts (though since two of the players will likely still be under their contracts next year, we can give some consideration to that, just not how much they'll be paid).  I'm also going to leave aside, for this post, questions of "fit" in the team's respective systems, and focus more on actual productivity.

Haywood-Gooden

You probably noticed that in the title to this post, I titled the trade after this pair, rather than the pair of former all-stars involved.  That is, quite simply, because these two have clearly been the best players this season.  

Haywood is, at age 30, turning in what is on track to be one of the best seasons of his career, if not the best (07-08, before the season he lost to injury, is probably the one to beat).  I've already recently written quite a bit on his defense and his impact on the team in general. so there's no reason to revisit that now.  We can throw out a few more superlatives, though.

Haywood is on pace for 7.5 Win Shares (WS), which would be a career high.  He is second on the Wizards to Mike Miller in on-court +/- and is leads the team in on/off +/-.  In short, he is by most measures, right now, the best player in the trade and, despite being lower-profile than Butler, it is hard not to think that he is the player the Mavs were after, particularly given his known interest in the variations on +/-.  (If you follow that link, note the current and former Wizards on the list--funny.)

Gooden is, as always, an interesting case statistically.  Through his career, he's posted an above-average PER and a solid number of WS.  He's been a very good rebounder (and has better career numbers than Haywood), generates some steals and blocks, and can score, if not quite as efficiently as one would like to see for a player his size.  But, he's also been the subject of criticism for his play in phases of the game that arguably don't really get captured by the individual stats--his decision-making and his defense.  This can sometimes be seen in his +/- numbers.  But, he's also had seasons where he looked, even through +/-,  like a positive contributor to the team.  I should mention that the knock on him has not been his effort really, so much as his decision-making, particularly in the pick and roll and on help.  So, from that perspective, he's sort of the anti-Haywood.

So, in Gooden, are the Wizards getting a player who has a net +/- of -5.1 per 48 minutes this season, or a player who has managed to post 2.7 WS this year in only 1,030 minutes?  

Advantage--Mavs, though if Gooden gets big minutes this will be another interesting test case for the competing advanced stats.  And if McGee and Gooden are every on the floor together, expect to see quite a few pick-and-rolls run against the Wiz, with the occasional monster blocked shot.

Butler-Howard

These two have had more similar careers than I'd expected to see.  Howard came into the league a year later, and has missed more time (yes, more time than Caron Butler) due to injury.  Howard has had a somewhat higher career PER, has been a very slightly more efficient scorer (mostly due to being less bad from three), has been a somewhat better rebounder, and has blocked more shots while turning the ball over less.  Butler, for his part, has had a higher assist rate, even more steals than Howard, and has been the better free throw shooter.  Both players have, in general, done well in +/-, and are close enough that it probably isn't a useful way to differentiate them.

On net, Howard's advantages have allowed him to accumulate very nearly as many WS as Butler, in about two-thirds the time.

Looking only at this season, neither has produced at anything like his career rate.  Butler has played far more minutes, as Howard has been limited by injury and seen his role likely diminished by the arrival of Shawn Marion.  Butler has the better PER of the two, mostly because, as awful as his shooting has been, it has been somewhat less awful than Howard's.  Also, as all-too-frequently as Butler has shot (particularly Js), he's still actually shot a bit less frequently than Howard.  Nevertheless, Howard gets a big boost from his lower turnover rate (just under 10% versus 12.6% for Butler), and has produced WS at an only slightly lower rate than Howard.

On the other hand, if we look back to last season, Howard had the better year.  Butler played more minutes and had a somewhat better PER, but Howard had big advantages in blocked shots and turnovers.  Adjusting for relative minutes played, Howard produced about 10% more WS than Butler (scaling them both up to 3,000 minutes, Butler ends up with 5.2 WS and Howard with 5.8 WS).  Their shooting and rebounding were comparable, while Butler had more assists.

While both players have had declines in shooting efficiency this year, they've had different secondary drivers for their problems.  Butler's has been fewer assists and more turnovers.  Howard's has been fewer rebounds.  Of the two, I like better Howard's chance at turning that around this season, as his might be an effort problem combined with the Mavs' addition this year of more good rebounders.  Nevertheless, there is an argument for Butler, since he'll be moving to a team where he should feel less obligation or motivation to initiate the offense and where there will likely be more sharing of the ball.

I don't want to dwell too much on Butler's apparent decline, but I do think there has been some tendency on the Washington end of this deal to compare the Tuff Juice of a couple years ago to the Howard of now in reacting to the trade.  The Caron Butler who we've seen this year stands 126th in WS out of the 147 players who have played at least 1,200 minutes.  Keep in mind that WS is a cumulative measure (like total points), not a percentage or rate (like PER or FG%), so the fact that he's played over 1,800 minutes should be a big advantage.  Only Trevor Ariza and Mona Ellis have produced less while playing more.  Caron's PER has been only the 8th best on the Wizards this year.  He has produced WS at the 8th highest rate on the team.  His +/- has fared better, certainly, but he has seen some benefit from the players he has and hasn't had court time with.

Advantage--Even.  Howard has been better historically, both have been awful this season, with Butler looking very slightly better while Howard has the advantage of having been awful over a smaller sample size.  A case can be made for each that the new situation will result in improvement.  But, they are both at ages where one would expect to see decline set in.  Something to keep an eye on.

Stevenson-Singleton-Ross

Deshawn Stevenson has produced negative WS this year, the 5th most in the league.  He has the worst PER in the league for players with more than 150 minutes.  (Oberto is second.)  His defense is probably worth something, though, since his on/off +/- is actually about break-even.  The team has been no worse off with him on the floor.

Singleton is an interesting player.  He has gotten the dreaded 3/4 tweener label, and at 6'8", 214 lbs, you probably don't want to see him matching up with any bigger PFs, but there are fewer of those than there used to be and I don't see why he can't get minutes as a relatively low-usage SF.  He has spent time overseas, and quite a bit of time on benches, but when he has played, he has produced.  Looking at his career of 2,224 NBA minutes (which amounts to about a year of being a 6th or 7th man):   His PER of 14.1 and TS% of .560 indicates that he is not offensively challenged.  He can score near the basket and he sticks to what he can do.  He isn't a completely inept 3-pt shooter, with a career percentage of 32.3%, roughly the same as Stevenson and Howard and better than Butler, and he also doesn't put up too many of them.    

His rebound rates 15.9% total boards, including 10.9% offensive and 9.8 boards per 36, including 3.3 offensive, are downright impressive for a player his size.  Singleton puts up more than a block and a steal per 36 minutes, though his foul rate is also higher than you would want to see, at 4.5 per 36, which is probably indicative of his tweener status.

 He has produced 6.2 WS, which is exceptional in those minutes.  Last year, in the most minutes of his career (884), playing for the best team he'd been on, he ended up with a positive on/off +/- and a positive adjusted +/-.  One wonders why he didn't play more, though it might just be that he was the journeyman with Howard and other, more established players, plus the emerging Brandon Bass, getting priority on minutes at SF and PF.  Singleton is 28 years old (will be 29 after the season), and so is no longer a "prospect" exactly, but by all indications he should be capable of being a non-scoring starter on a mediocre or perhaps even playoff team or a good rotation player on about any team.  Despite his age, he may still have some time before we see much decline from him, given his relatively low NBA mileage.

Quinton Ross is a famously bad offensive player who gets praised for his wing defense.  For years now, he's been on the list of guys who "could be the next Bruce Bowen if they could learn to make the corner three reliably."  But he hasn't.  His career PER is 8.3, which is even lower than Dominic McGuire's (though not much lower).  Even so, thanks to his solid steal rate, good blocked shot rate, and solid-for-a-guard rebounding, he has put up 8.1 WS in under 8,000 career minutes.  (For comparison, Stevenson is at 9.2 WS in under 15,000 minutes, suggesting Ross's defense has helped him have a more productive career so far, despite his severe offensive limitations.)

On the other hand, Ross has not posted good +/- ratings.  The 82games data does not help his case as a difference-making defender.  In his last two relatively big-minute seasons with the Clippers, he had negative on/off +/-s, and his counterpart players posted above-league-average PERs.  That data is too limited, probably, to conclude he is actually a bad defender, but it doesn't help his cause.

Advantage--Wizards.  Even if there were nothing on the Wizards side of the ledger here, it would be hard to make a case that sending away Stevenson is anything less than addition by subtraction this season.  He has had some productive times in his career and he has played through injury, including last season, which has not done his stats any favors, but this year has been a problem.  On top of that, the Wizards are getting one apparently quite productive player and a second player who may be no better than D-league replacement level, but who at least does not seem to actively be hurting the team.

On balance, as a basketball trade, the Mavs got the better of it.  Haywood's value is too much for Singleton/Ross to swing.  Nevertheless, it is probably a closer call than has generally been acknowledged.