A few months ago, I was talking to a friend who covers the Indiana Pacers and mentioned the fever dream trade of a legion of Wizards fans: Thomas Bryant for Myles Turner.
My friend paused for a long moment and finally said, “Really?”
His bewilderment wasn’t that Wizards fans are delusional in thinking Washington might pry Turner from the Pacers for so little, it was that Wizards fans thought so highly of Turner.
“It wouldn’t take much to convince Pacers fans,” he said.
The idea of Turner in the middle for Washington seems like it could be an ideal fit. He’s young and athletic, he defends well, and he’s willing to take threes even if his accuracy is somewhat iffy. He doesn’t finish well around the basket, but he does make it more difficult for the opponent to finish around the basket on the other end.
This is basically the polar opposite of Bryant. He’s a skilled offensive weapon. He’s among the league’s best finishers around the basket (80% at-rim the past two seasons) and he shot better than 40% from three-point range last season. Plus, he sets good screens, has a nice synergy with Bradley Beal and several other teammates, and makes good reads on whether to roll to the rim or pop to the three-point line in pick-and-roll sets. His Kryptonite: defense.
Or is it?
I’m not about to argue that defense is secretly a Bryant strength — it’s not. He’s excellent on offense, and defense is definitely the weakest part of his game. But it may not be as bad as his reputation.
Over the past two seasons the Wizards have allowed 114.6 points per 100 possessions with Bryant off the floor and 116.1 with him in the game. That’s 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse with him in the game — with a defensive rating that would rank as the worst in NBA history.
But, take a look what happens if we look at the same two seasons with and without Isaiah Thomas:
- with Bryant and Thomas — 127.7
- without Bryant and Thomas — 114.2
- with Bryant, without Thomas — 113.9
Pause for a moment to consider just how damaging Thomas was to the Wizards defense last season. Those 411 minutes took Bryant’s defensive impact from negligible (0.3 points per 100 possessions better) to negative (1.5 points per 100 possessions worse). That’s a staggering impact given that those 411 minutes together represent just 15.5% of Bryant’s total playing time the past two seasons.
Turner has definitively been better defensively than Bryant the past two seasons. Bryant has definitively been better offensively. In weighing a potential trade, it’s worth asking whether the gap between the two is larger on the offensive or the defensive end.
In my analysis, I think Bryant’s offensive advantage outweighs Turner’s advantage on defense. I think Bryant is likely to be close to average on defense and continue to be among the best offensive centers while Turner will be a notch below elite on defense and average or worse on offense.
In my analysis, Bryant is the more productive player overall. However, the gap is small enough that if someone wanted to swap Bryant for Turner for fit, I might be persuaded. But not if it included additional assets like a first round pick — especially when accounting for the fact that Turner’s salary is $9.7 million higher.
Bottom line: I’m unconvinced Turner’s overall production and impact is any better than Bryant’s. The Wizards would be smart to take their time with Bryant and work to strengthen his defensive effectiveness. Unless they get an overwhelming offer, now’s not the time to trade him.