Two weeks ago, the PointAfter team decided to look back at 2015’s off-season signings and determine the best and worst of the crop. With the benefit of a significant sample size, we used stats to justify or condemn the deals through numbers.
This week’s Data Dimes will head back to that general theme, focusing on off-season trades during the same time frame. It’s important to note that moves deemed “best” for one side often double as bad trades for the other team involved.
Note: All statistics referenced in this article are accurate as of Jan. 27, prior to games played. Visualizations will update automatically.
What’s the best way to recover from an All-Star-caliber talent reneging on an agreement to join your franchise? Well, adding a steady veteran presence to replace him no doubt helped the Dallas Mavericks.
Couple in the fact that the Mavs only had to give up a second-round pick to net Zaza Pachulia from the Milwaukee Bucks, and this trade can quite easily be viewed as the best of the summer.
Pachulia is averaging a double-double with Dallas—10.4 points and 10.7 rebounds—and has started in all 43 games he's played in. His rebounding output is comfortably a career best, while his scoring is only two points off his best scoring season from 2006–07.
The Clippers, who ultimately held on to Jordan, have been the better team through the first half with a 29-16 record (No. 4 in the Western Conference), but the Mavericks aren’t far behind with a 26-21 mark (No. 6).
Pachulia’s impact has not gone unnoticed by teammate Dirk Nowitzki, who praised the new addition.
“He is one of the smartest centers I ever played with,” Nowitzki said, per Sporting News. “He can pass, he can shoot a little bit, he can put it on the floor. He may be undersized some nights, but he’s got a big heart, he fights and he is very, very smart. He will compete for us and I love him to death.”
How’s that for a glowing review? From a future Hall of Famer, no less.
For added context of the trade that sent away a measly second-rounder in exchange for Pachulia, consider the Cleveland Cavaliers parted with not one, but two first-round picks a season ago in exchange for center Timofey Mozgov. The 7'1" Russian is a solid pivot, but let’s compare his production to Pachulia in 2015–16.
Pachulia has trumped Mozgov in virtually every meaningful statistic. Aside from field goal percentage—which is skewed because Mozgov takes a higher percentage of his shots in the restricted area and, thus, fewer mid-range shots—Dallas’s big man wins in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and PER. The latter of which is most telling, because it normalizes regardless of minutes (Mozgov plays about 12 fewer per game by comparison).
The Mavs missed out on adding DeAndre Jordan, but Pachulia has proven himself as a worthy Plan B.
Pistons Acquire Morris Twin
Last summer, the Phoenix Suns front office opted to unload Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Detroit Pistons to free up cap space in pursuit of free-agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge. The ex-Blazer had shown interest, but ultimately decided to sign with the San Antonio Spurs.
Thanks to Phoenix's desperation, Detroit made out like bandits.
By surrendering a second-round pick in 2020 to complete Phoenix’s salary dump, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons essentially netted Morris (and his remarkably modest contract) for nothing.
Markieff’s brother agreed to a modest contract extension with the Suns in 2014, and now Detroit is reaping the benefits of that deal.
Morris hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire in his new digs, though. He’s shooting an ugly 31.3% from long range and sports an unsavory 12.05 PER. However, the 26-year-old swingman has started all 44 games he’s played in, and the Pistons are a far superior offensive team when he’s on the floor.
Detroit scores more than 10 additional points per 100 possessions with Morris versus when he sits on the bench. It’s worth noting that Morris plays the bulk of his minutes with team stars Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, so they could be propping those numbers up. But it’s also worth noting that three of Detroit’s four best lineups by net points include Morris, per Basketball Reference.
Considering SVG gave up table scraps to get Morris, this trade has worked out swimmingly.
(An honorable mention is in order for the Charlotte Hornets acquiring Nic Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. Batum has been better than Morris, but his contract is set to expire in 2016, so he could wind up as a one-year rental.)
Ill-Fitting Baggage to Rockets
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey rolled the dice by acquiring embattled point guardTy Lawson, who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving for the fourth time last July. The gamble to get Lawson hasn’t paid off, as his shooting percentages are down significantly across the board.
Pairing Lawson with the offensive firepower of James Harden looked appealing on paper. Unfortunately, Lawson’s baggage off the court and poor team fit on the court has doomed the addition.
In fact, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported in December that Houston was already trying to move Lawson via trade.
The Rockets gave up a first-round pick (albeit a protected one) to take a chance on Lawson. In the end, the diminutive spark plug wasn't worth the gamble.
Clippers Add Born Ready
As a former Coach of the Year winner who also guided the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008, it’s impossible to doubt Doc Rivers’s coaching chops.
When discussing "President of basketball operations Doc Rivers," however, the details get much, much murkier. While in charge of top-level personnel decisions with LA, Rivers has orchestrated one misguided blunder after another.
He traded Eric Bledsoe, who blossomed into a star in Phoenix (albeit an injury-prone one). He unloaded Jared Dudley along with a first-round pick, then signed a pupu platter of free agents—Ekpe Udoh, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Hedo Turkoglu—with the salary space. He traded for his son, Austin Rivers, then re-signed him last summer to the tune of $6.4 million over two years. The younger Rivers has responded by shooting a career-worst 26.2% from three-point range while posting a PER of 9.05, which ranks him 297th out of 333 qualified players.
All of that fails to mention his decision to sign Josh Smith last summer (then essentially give him back to the Rockets via trade) and trade both Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes for Lance Stephenson, marking one of the worst off-season trades of 2015.
Stephenson’s downward spiral since leaving Indiana has continued in the City of Angels. He’s fallen out of favor with Coach Rivers, who said back in November, “He will [help us]. Just not right now,” per SI’s Ben Golliver. Well, fans are still waiting for “Born Ready” to help out.
His minutes are way down, which explains the drop in statistical averages. But Stephenson’s efficiency hasn’t been there, either.
The 25-year-old’s PER has slipped to 8.03—the lowest it’s been since his second year in the pros.
Chalk this up as yet another executive failing by Doc.