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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cross-Conference Deals: Did the East Get Stronger?

Looking back on a frenzied trade season in the NBA I thought I’d take a conference-level approach rather than a team-by-team one, just for kicks and giggles. The dominant perspective among all of us NBA blowhards—bloggers, fans, and press alike—is that the West not only has better teams but also the better top-to-bottom talent. Then the Celtics landed KG and Ray Allen, and some of us thought the deal might reverse the flow of talent back to the East as teams responded to it. After a busy trade season where a lot of players actually did switch conferences I wondered how much those deals have narrowed the on-paper talent gap.

Overall, I think the Eastern Conference certainly managed to stop the bleeding, and perhaps even close the gap a bit. Perhaps most significantly, focusing solely on in-season deals, the second tier eastern teams made moves to restore credibility. That’s important because that’s where I think eastern teams can compete. For instance, New Jersey positioned itself to rebuild reasonably quickly with a solid off-season. Atlanta put itself in a position to get its feet wet in the playoffs and continue to develop its core.

I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the talent that has flowed across conference lines since the season began. Again, my interest is in overall improvement in talent for each conference—not each team. I use two quick-and-dirty indicators of talent: career player efficiency rating (PER) to indicate productivity, and age as a loose indicator of what we should expect from a player in the future. (Due to my interest in the conference, I ignore deals involving teams in the same conference.) This is more of a broad look–not an in-depth statistical profile.

Players Moving East (Age, Career PER)
Gordan Giricek (30, 11.8)
Wally Szczerbiak (30, 16.5)
Mike Bibby (29, 17.1)
Maurice Evans (29, 12.8)
Shawn Marion (29, 20.9)
Trenton Hassell (28, 8.8)
Stromile Swift (28, 16.4)
Brian Cook (27, 14.4)
Marcus Banks (26, 12.1)
DeSagana Diop (26, 10.3)
Devin Harris (24, 16.6)
Delonte West (24, 13.8)
Maurice Ager (23, 1.0)

Average age: 25.2, Average PER: 12.33
(Note: I did not include Keith Van Horn, who is not likely to play for the Nets)

Of the 14 players moving to the East the “prize” acquisitions are either entering their primes (e.g., Harris) or likely have another 2-3 seasons left in it (e.g., Bibby, Marion). Five of the 14 have career PERs at or above league average (15). All but two are under 30. Granted, none have a ceiling comparable to Shaq or Jason Kidd but the list includes a number of useful role players including West, Diop, Swift, and Cook who are still fairly young.

Players Moving West
Shaquille O’Neal (35, 27.4)
Jason Kidd (34, 18.7)
Donyell Marshall (34, 16.8)
Adrian Griffin (33, 11.9)
Anthony Johnson (33, 11.3)
Ira Newble (33, 9.6)
Lorenzen Wright (32, 13.4)
Tyronn Lue (30, 13.1)
Malik Allen (29, 10.8)
Jason Collins (29, 7.6)
Kyle Korver (26, 12.7)
Shelden Williams (24, 11.8)
Antoine Wright (23, 7.2)
Trevor Ariza (22, 14.2)

Average age: 29.8, Average PER: 13.2

When looking at the in-season deals involving players moving to the West, it’s one season after this—maybe two—where Shaq and Kidd can be centerpieces of a championship caliber team. There isn’t much else to consider beyond them, save a few expiring contracts. More than half (8) of the players are 30 or more. Some are useful role players (e.g., Trevor Ariza, Kyle Korver) but none has even Devin Harris-level upside.

The other component to the in-season deals is the draft picks. The Nets own two firsts from the Mavs deal. Seattle owns a second round pick from their three-way with the Cavs and Bulls. Sacramento owns a second round pick from Atlanta. Also, Utah owns a protected first round pick from Philly. To quote Knickerblogger, “looks like a win for the East there too.”

28 comments on “Cross-Conference Deals: Did the East Get Stronger?

  1. Alec

    Overall, I think the East did get better. Bibby can still be productive and I think he helps the Hawks a lot.
    Devin Harris is going to be a stud.
    Marion will be more productive than Shaq in Miami.
    Everybody else the East got are good roll players. West, Diop, and Wally could all be starters.
    The West may be stronger today, but not next year with aging Shaq and Kidd. The only other player I see making contributions are Korver. Everyone else was included for cap reasons.

  2. jon abbey

    I don’t think these deals matter much in the conference balance, Marion and Harris are the only guys who matter and there’s still a chance that Marion will opt out and go back West (I think he’ll stay but it’s not set in stone).

    Oden waiting in the wings more than balances those two out IMO, and the gap is massive. besides the nine teams playing at least .600 ball right now, Portland and Seattle are rebuilding better than anyone in the East, including the Nets.

  3. David Crockett

    Kidd has cleared a PER of 20 twice, but his prime years (mid 20s – early 30s) were all a pretty consistent 19-22 PER. Kidd’s a bit like Tom Glavine in that you don’t see many eye-popping seasons but his consistency at a position where you do see lots of wild year-to-year fluctuation is what sets him apart.

  4. Ray

    Honestly, i dont think i care. This has been a rough season. You hope the east gets better from these moves so that there is more competitive basketball but then you also hope that somehow the knicks can get better with everyone else. The latter remains to be seen.

  5. Caleb

    For most of his career I think Kidd was well above average on the defensive end, so PER probably understates his value, by a good margin.

    But it’s also hard to overlook that he is a champion bricklayer.

    Does anyone know how to find out who holds the record for the most career missed shots? My money’s on Kareem…

  6. Thomas B.

    One of the big reasons that the West could send young talent to the East is that the West had much more young talent to begin with. It would be intersting to look at the top 10 players under 25 years of age in each conference and compare their productivity. Would the West still be ahead of the East in terms of young talent? It would be close. The East probably has greater talent at the top of their ten (James, Howard, Bosh). However, the East probably has much more depth.
    (Anthony, Roy, Durant, Jefferson, Paul, Aldridge -I won’t count Oden until he plays a game).

    I think the East has closed the gap somewhat. But depending how the draft goes, the three tops picks could all land on Western conference teams. The Griz, Sonics, and T-Wolves could go 1-2-3 (Miami is no lock on the first pick, ask Boston). That would further thw West’s dominance in young players. Eastern teams need to do a better job of finding and retaining top young talent.

  7. Thomas B.

    Caleb,

    Kareem missed 12,470
    Malone missed 12,628
    Jordan missed 12,345
    Hayes missed 12,296
    Baylor missed 11,478

    but the winner is…..

    John Havlicek with 13,417! A career .439 shooter, which is second to last on the all time field goals attempted list (Baylor had .431).

    Well I’m not totally sure that he has the record. I only checked the top 30 of the all time field goals attempted list. It is hard to image that someone else played long enough to miss more shots than that.

    Watch out John, Jamal Crawford is coming for ya.

  8. Thomas B.

    Actually, Allen Iverson, with 10,417 missed and counting has a much better shot at catching Havlicek. Iverson shoots .424 from the floor for his career, which is worse than Havlicek’s .439. Iverson missed 940 shots a year on average during his 11 seasons. If he plays just four more years at his career average missed FG rate, the record will be his.

  9. Thomas B.

    Fourth post in a row but it is not my fault that everyone is on vacation today.

    Clyde mentioned the lack of leadership on the Knicks and I have to agree with him. The lack of leadership, respect, and teamwork have been made clear thus far. Nevertheless, I suspected this was the case just moments before the home opener. Prior to the opening tip of the home opener, Nate Robinson addressed the crowd. He promised a much-improved level of effort from the team. I did not mind what was said, but I found it very strange that the address came from a 3rd year reserve. I would have expected this sort of statement to come from a team captain, failing that, a respected playoff tested veteran (Do we even have one of those?). Marbury could not have done it after the sexual harassment trial. Lee could not do it for the same reason that Robinson should not have done it. Even Randolph could have done it as a way to show the fans his commitment to making this a winning team. It might have bought him some good will. Crawford could have done it.

    Anyway, I thought it strange when I saw it and even commented on it to my wife. Nate had to do it because no one else was going to step up and take responsibility for the team. I admire Nate for his effort, but it really shows that we have no leaders. If Marbury and Turnovers will not step up and be leaders, then they should just go.

    Now, to relate this post back to the topic of the East’s young talent. Is it not time to accept that Eddy Curry is the new Kwame Brown? Perhaps we can trade him to LA for a Caron Butler type producer. Lord, if only there was a GM dumb enough to give up the team’s future for Eddy Curry…well I guess I should say ANOTHER GM dumb enough.

  10. David Crockett

    My working assumption is that conference dominance tends to be cyclical. It usually turns on a handful of moves at crucial moments (e.g., Milwaukee and Atlanta pass on Deron Williams and Chris Paul in 2005; Charlotte, Atlanta, and Chicago all pass on Brandon Roy in 2006.) Lots of times it’s hard to identify those moments exactly when they take place. You only see them in retrospect. But this trade season, given the number and the magnitude of moves made, seems like one of those moments where the pendulum at least begins to lose momentum on one direction.

    I suppose my point is that when taken as a whole–an admittedly artificial way of looking at trades–for the first time in a long time nobody in the East obviously hurt themselves. Even Chicago, who is universally thought to have gotten the least out of the trade season, didn’t make themselves any worse. The gap between East and West is still big but what may be heartening is that no one made the impulsive deal to match up to Boston. GMs were patient and focused on moves that help now and going forward. You can’t ask for much more than that.

  11. jon abbey

    “But this trade season, given the number and the magnitude of moves made, seems like one of those moments where the pendulum at least begins to lose momentum on one direction.”

    maybe, but like I said, I don’t see any young teams positioned for the future in the East like Portland and Seattle are in the West.

    anyway, it’d be hard for it to get even more lopsided than it is this year, it’s a huge, mostly undiscussed systemic problem in the NBA (who desperately need to just take the top 16 records regardless of conference and seed them 1 to 16).

  12. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, Mitch Lawrence had a good bit about how, because of the ultra-competitiveness of the West, there really should be an East team positioning itself well by divesting itself of its veterans to the West, and prepping itself for a good stretch in the future.

    He mocked the fact that the Knicks were not even attempting to be that team, but also noted that it did not seem like any other East team was doing it, either, so the Knicks still, theoretically, had time.

    I mean, right now, the best rebuilders look to be the Nets, and they don’t look that good.

  13. Thomas B.

    Jon,

    What do you think of ATL’s young talent? Too bad they did not take Paul or Deron Williams or they could be neck and neck with Portland today. They also wasted a pick Sheldin Williams. ATL does not have a center prospect to rival the theoretical dominance of Greg Oden. Nor do they have anyone as talented as Roy. But they do have some skilled young players. They need a better coach. But I like Josh Smith, Al Horford, Johnson, and Childress.

  14. jon abbey

    yeah, Atlanta and Chicago are probably the most loaded with young talent in the East. the thing about Portland is they have guys at each position, Atlanta seems to have a lot of freaky athletic swingmen with no real position. but yeah, the four guys you mention plus Marvin Williams plus Acie Law, they’re certainly on the right track.

  15. Thomas B.

    ATL reminds me of Pat Riley’s fantasy team. After he coached Magic, he talked about putting together a team of players that could each swing to whatever position was needed on the floor. ATL may be on that track with what seems like 6 guys that can play solid ball at either the 2,3,or 4 positions. They would be better off with 6 guys that could play one position very well.

  16. Devin

    “maybe, but like I said, I don’t see any young teams positioned for the future in the East like Portland and Seattle are in the West.”

    While the Cavs and Magic may not be the youngest of teams, they have elite young stars who will make them contenders at some level for a decade or more assuming both stay put.

    I wouldn’t confuse being a young team with having a bright future. These aren’t mutually inclusive. Chicago was a young team 5 years ago and everybody though they had a bright future, yet here they are sinking back down as a result of questionable personnel decisions.

    I think Atlanta is coming up to the same position Chicago found themselves in a couple years ago. It’s about time to start handing out new contracts to some of the young guys and they need to act shrewdly. Chicago overvalued their young talent and didn’t make moves for proven star caliber players. Now, they are paying the price as some of the guys start to plateau and they are no longer big trade chips and aren’t good enough for the Bulls to seriously contend.

  17. jon abbey

    yeah, LeBron and Howard would be the first two picks if everyone was eligible, which makes it even more amazing how lopsided the conferences currently are.

  18. Ben R

    Devin – I agree about Atlanta. I think their future is up in the air.

    They have two of their young players expiring this year; Childress and Smith. I bet they will let Childress walk and then overpay for Smith (who has never shot a TS% of over 51.2%).

    I think the Bibby move was premature, he is too old to still be contributing when Horford and Williams really hit their stride and in the meantime will only keep Atlanta from getting a great player in the draft.

    Also Atlanta seems to be missing that great talent that they can build around. Horford or Williams could still possibly turn into that, I doubt it, but right now I think their two best players, Smith and Johnson, are no more than good starters, neither is a star in my opinion.

    The Chicago analagy is a great one, they too are missing that transendent talent that solidifies a team. Deng is almost there but not quite and Deng is better than anyone on Atlanta.

  19. Thomas B.

    Ben R.

    I see the Bibby move as a good thing. Acie Law is not ready to run the show. Bibby is a good stop gap to give Law time to learn the point. Plus ATL needs to make the playoffs this year as PHX owns their pick. If ATL gives up a lottery pick this year after wasting a lottery pick on Sheldon last year and passing on two top points two years earlier, Billy maybe sent packing. Has any team other than the Clippers done less with so many lottery picks?

  20. Ess-dog

    I don’t like the Bibby move. I just don’t think he’s that good anymore. I think Shelden has value with more p.t. god knows I’d take him over Curry right now. Bibby could barely squeak them into the playoffs, but they need to get better quick before J.Johnson loses all his hops. Smith and Marvin are up and coming and Horford’s a beast. We’ll see, but I think they are still a great player away from doing any damage.
    Did you read the quotes today from Curry? I don’t think anyone on that team respects I.T. anymore. It’s embarrassing what a hack organization the Knicks have become. It’s like Dunder Mifflin over there. But sad and hostile instead of funny.

  21. villainx

    “My working assumption is that conference dominance tends to be cyclical.”

    Maybe the East getting the ping pong bounce would also help.

  22. Ted Nelson

    While Atlanta suddenly looks pretty good this season, keep in mind that they’ve been a disfunctional franchise for sometime: their ownership is a mess and they’ve been one of the worst teams in the league for years. As other peple have pointed out, just as they’re getting good they’re going to have to start resigning guys long-term, and adding Bibby takes a way a little bit from their flexibility.

    They’ve got lots of talent, but keeping the right combination to go from playoff contender to title contender will be tough. Smith and Childress are free agents after this season; Bibby, Marvin WIlliams, and Zaza after next; then Joe Johnson; then Horford and Law. Reminds me a bit of the Clippers a few years ago (Brand, Maggette, Odom, and Miller), although Atlanta is lucky to have them a bit more spaced out.

    “I think Atlanta is coming up to the same position Chicago found themselves in a couple years ago. It’s about time to start handing out new contracts to some of the young guys and they need to act shrewdly. Chicago overvalued their young talent and didn’t make moves for proven star caliber players. Now, they are paying the price as some of the guys start to plateau and they are no longer big trade chips and aren’t good enough for the Bulls to seriously contend.”

    Devin, your point about potential not being a sure thing is well taken and I see some parellels between Chicago and Atlanta, but I can’t say I completely agree with your take on Chicago.

    With Noah and Ty Thomas in their first and second years is the league I think it’s hard to say their talent has plateaued… Luol Deng hasn’t come as far as expected, but he’s still a good player and I don’t think you could have reasonably expected Hinrich to become more than a solid floor general and all-around player, which he seems to be, and Gordon to become more than a fairly efficient gunner with a sweet touch, which he is. Nocioni also didn’t have a particularly high ceiling.

    I realize that neither Atlanta or Chicago is following the build around a superstar model, but unless you luck out in the draft or free agency that’s pretty hard to do. If Chicago was going to trade for a “superstar” it likely would have been a Pau Gasol level guy at best, or maybe an aging Iverson, Shaq, or Kidd. In which case I don’t think you give up much of your young core. It’s not like they have a short-term “window” like Dallas.

    I see them following more of the team building model followed by Dallas or Phoenix, bring together a bunch of solid players who fit well together. Then develop some “superstars” or at least realy good players from your young guys (Dirk/Amare/Marion/Howard/Barbosa or former guys like Joe Johnson/Devin Harris/Nash for Dallas) or a free agent (Nash for Pheonix). The Bulls even made a bit of a Steve Nash attempt with Ben Wallace, which obviously blew up in their face.

    Overall, I’m not sure they overvalued their young talent, rather they didn’t jump for a Gasol, Randolph type of guy whose not necessarily better than some of their young guys will be or an aging star (well not in a trade anyway). At the same time, the only young guys they’ve signed long term thus far are Hinrich and Nocioni, neither of which has an untradable deal (Hughes does, but it’ll be a trade chip after next season).

    I would put the Bulls at least on par with Seattle and Memphis in terms of the NBA’s young teams with the brightest young futures, if not up to Portland’s level (because of Oden mostly).

    While the West is clearly the dominant conference, the East has taken 2 of the last 4 titles and I think you have to give the Leastern Conference a chance to continue competing for the championship in the forseeable future with, at least, Boston and Detroit in the short-term and the Cavs (LeBron), Magic (Howard), and Heat (Wade + lottery pick) down the road.

  23. Artie

    Not to stray off-topic but:

    “Is it not time to accept that Eddy Curry is the new Kwame Brown? Perhaps we can trade him to LA for a Caron Butler type producer. Lord, if only there was a GM dumb enough to give up the team’s future for Eddy Curry…well I guess I should say ANOTHER GM dumb enough.”

    Thomas…does Eddy shoulder all the blame? Last year he had a decent enough year..but still needed lots of work on rotation,defense ,rebounding and conditioning. But there was reason for some optimism. This year IT put him in a system that doesnt suit him. His skills didnt diminish overnite. He’s in a total mental funk. I have a hard time believing that if we didnt get Zach, Curry would be having a much better year. We saw last year when his confidence is up, he can do a few things. Which isnt too say there isnt room for lots of improvement.

  24. Thomas B.

    Artie,

    All the blame? No. But I think the Kwame Brown comparison is apt. Lets go down the line.

    Kwame Brown Eddy Curry

    Stone hands: Check Check
    Poor defender: Check Check
    Poor rebounder: Check Check
    Inconsistent: Check Check
    Low BB IQ: Check Check
    Skipped college: Check Check
    Traded before age 23: Check Check
    High draft pick: Check Check
    Poor shot blocker: Check Check

    I think I’ve made my point. Look, I agree that he had a nice offensive season last year, but he still could not pull more boards than the starting small forward (Richardson) and a reserve (Lee). You could argue that last season was his best as a pro but that was a result of being the first, second, and third option on offense. He still had a high number of turnovers, low number of blocked shots, and a poor defensive rating. He has not improved his footwork, FT%, defensive skills, passing, ect since he came into the NBA.

    The defensive system has not changed. Just becuase Curry isnt featured in the offense the way he was last year does not excuse him from contributing with defense and rebounding. If he did either of those very well he would get minutes on this team, even if offensive system did not fit his so called skill set.

    Ok maybe Brown is a bit of stretch (he could be the worst top 5 pick ever), but I think I am damn close to the bullseye on this one.

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