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December 16, 2011
Transaction Notes
Thoughts on This Week's Moves

by Neil Paine

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With the first week of NBA free agency coming to a close, it's time to look at some statistical notes on some of the biggest transactions so far.

New Orleans trades G Chris Paul and two future second-round draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers for G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu, C Chris Kaman and a first-round draft choice.

As TrueHoop's Justin Havens noted Thursday, Paul is not the player he was prior to a knee injury he suffered during the 2009-10 season. In 2008 and 2009, Paul had 49.8 cumulative WARP, which is the highest total in back-to-back seasons by anyone not named Michael Jordan, LeBron James, David Robinson, or Kevin Garnett:

Player             Years   WARP
-------------------------------
Michael Jordan   1988-89   54.5
Michael Jordan   1989-90   53.6
LeBron James     2009-10   52.3
David Robinson   1994-95   51.0
Kevin Garnett    2004-05   49.9
Michael Jordan   1990-91   49.8
Chris Paul       2008-09   49.8

How historically great was that version of Chris Paul? According to WARP, his 2008 and 2009 campaigns were only the two best seasons since 1980 by any point guard (Magic Johnson included).

Sadly, the current edition is no longer capable of such lofty heights. CP3 is still tremendously productive, mind you, and his 16.3 WARP last year ranked fifth in basketball (placing him right behind Derrick Rose for the PG crown), but his numbers have definitely fallen off. Most notable are marked declines in usage and assist rate, to go with a dip in two-point percentage:

Year    MIN    Usg   %FGA    2P%   Ast%
---------------------------------------
2008   3006   28.2   25.0   51.6   52.2
2009   3002   30.0   25.9   52.5   54.5
               
2011   2880   23.3   19.9   48.2   45.8

Paul is no longer shooting as often--or as well--as in his pre-injury heyday, nor is he setting up others as frequently. He's still arguably the game's top point guard, but the Clippers aren't getting the vintage, all-time great CP3.

Denver re-signs C Nene to a five-year contract.

New York trades C Ronny Turiaf, cash considerations and a 2013 second-round draft pick to Washington and G Andy Rautins to Dallas, who sent C Tyson Chandler and the draft rights to Ahmad Nivins and Giorgos Printezis to New York and a 2012 second-round draft pick to Washington, who also sent a conditional future second-round draft pick to Dallas.

Memphis re-signs C Marc Gasol.

It was pretty much agreed that Nene was the best player in the 2011 free agent class, which was nice recognition for one of the most effective (and underrated) players of the past few seasons. The price Denver paid wasn't bad, either--to re-sign the Brazilian center, the Nuggets only needed to shell out $67 million over five years, a veritable bargain compared to some of the contracts we've seen for premium centers over the years. According to Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus, Nene is the 14th-most effective player in the NBA, adding 1.4 pts/100 to the Nuggets' Offensive Rating when in the game and subtracting an impressive 2.9 pts/100 from their Defensive Rating.

Nene is not a dominant big man, never even having used plays at an average rate, but he influences the game at both ends. Chandler, widely considered the second-best prize of this FA class, is even less of an offensive factor than Nene; his usage has floated around 14-15 percent in each of the past three seasons. He is extremely efficient, however (131.0 ORtg in 2011), and he matched Nene's +2.9 RAPM score on defense, confirming his reputation as a defensive wiz.

As an aside, though, let's cool it with the idea that Chandler somehow "changed the culture" for the Mavericks defensively ... Dallas ranked eighth in defensive efficiency in 2011 with Chandler, but was a respectable 12th in 2010 with the seemingly motley collection of Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood, and Drew Gooden at C. Instead, Chandler likely upgraded Dallas' offense more than anyone thinks; compare his offensive RAPM of +0.1 to the extremely negative impacts of Dampier (-2.8), Haywood (-1.2), and Gooden (-3.1) at that end of the floor.

But for a Knicks team that ranked 22nd in defensive rating, there's no doubt that Chandler's D will come in handy. While Ronny Turiaf did solid defensive work at center (+1.5 defensive RAPM), Amar'e Stoudemire (-1.7) and Timofey Mozgov (-1.2) contributed mightily to NY's defensive struggles. Chandler should largely fix those deficiencies, and will allow Stoudemire to shift back to the more natural PF position.

As for Gasol, he's the youngest of the top three free-agent pivots, and theoretically has the most room to improve offensively and take on a bigger load. Only 61.5 percent of Gasol's FG were assisted last year, compared to 70.4 percent for Nene and 74.4 percent for Chandler, meaning he was creating more shots for himself (and others--he's also a pretty good passer as far as centers go) than you would expect from a 17.4 percent usage guy.

Indiana signs F David West to a two-year contract.

No list of the best midrange-shooting bigs in the NBA would be complete without West, who drilled 50.8 percent of his two-point jumpers from 15 feet and out in 2011:

Player              Tm    G    FG   FGA   FG%   %Ast'd
-------------------------------------------------------
Al Horford         ATL   75   197   373   .528   .929
Dirk Nowitzki      DAL   72   250   475   .526   .796
Pau Gasol          LAL   69   104   202   .515   .808
David West         NOH   68   166   327   .508   .873
Luis Scola         HOU   74   166   333   .498   .958
Kevin Garnett      BOS   71   160   336   .476   .913
Brandon Bass       ORL   72   121   256   .473   .860
Chris Bosh         MIA   76   190   413   .460   .832
Amare Stoudemire   NYK   78   186   405   .459   .656
Tyler Hansbrough   IND   62   117   256   .457   .855

But as potent an offensive duo as West and Chris Paul would seem to be, their player-pair adjusted plus-minus score in 2011 was just +0.5, making them one of the most underachieving player pairs in the league last season (minimum 7,500 possessions together):

Name                               NetO   PairRk   IndRk
--------------------------------------------------------
Lee, David+Ellis, Monta             0.1    1325     779
Conley, Mike+Gasol, Marc            0.2     893     370
Diaw, Boris+Augustin, D.J.         -0.2    2917    2439
Aldridge, LaMarcus+Batum, Nicolas   0.1    1376     925
Artest, Ron+Gasol, Pau              0.4     594     164
Lowry, Kyle+Scola, Luis             0.4     602     206
Granger, Danny+Collison, Darren    -0.1    1804    1520
Fisher, Derek+Gasol, Pau            0.5     394     115
Fisher, Derek+Bryant, Kobe          0.5     391     123
West, David+Paul, Chris             0.5     335     114

I suppose in some ways that's good news for Indiana, though, because it means West's success (and he was successful, to the tune of a +1.6 offensive RAPM) was not as heavily dependent on Paul as you might initially think.

Miami signs F Shane Battier to a one-year contract.

Even though he's become a near-total non-entity in the box score on offense, Battier still somehow has a major positive impact on his team's fortunes at that end. The Rockets were 2.9 pts/100 better on offense when Battier was in the game, and Memphis was 5.4 pts/100 better, leading to a +1.3 offensive RAPM that hardly seems fitting for a 12.0 usage player. A lot of that is floor spacing--52.5 percent of Battier's shots were from downtown--and the rest is good passing and all-around veteran savvy.

Of course, defense is what Battier really gets paid for, and he delivered a +1.4 RAPM performance at that end (down from his spectacular +4.1 mark in 2006, but still a major improvement over the -1.8 Mike Miller provided at backup SF for the Heat a year ago). With his combination of tough defense and shooting ability, Battier seems like a perfect fit for Miami.

L.A. Lakers trade F Lamar Odom and a second-round draft pick to Dallas for a first-round pick and an $8.9 million trade exception.

For the Lakers, this appears to have been a straight salary dump, but the Mavs brain trust knew they were acquiring a piece that could help net a second consecutive title. And when Mark Cuban stressed that Odom is still a very good player, he might have been looking at the veteran forward's advanced stats. Odom's conventional numbers were solid, of course--14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.0 APG--but his APBRmetric stats were great: +3.2 RAPM (ninth among SFs), 10.4 WARP (eighth) and an outstanding 117.9 ORtg on 19.9 percent of L.A.'s plays, to go with a 103.1 DRtg.

As John Hollinger notes, Odom's hot 2011 shooting is unlikely to stick – he shot an unsustainably high percentage (56.6 percent) on two-pointers last year, and his newfound long-range prowess (38.2 percent) seems equally ephemeral. But Odom's strength has always been his versatility anyway. Even if his percentages decline, he still figures to be one of the better passing, rebounding and defending SFs in the league.

By pairing him with Shawn Marion in a SF platoon, Dallas continues its trend of stocking up on do-everything forwards (all-around stat-stuffers who tend to get underrated sometimes because they don't score a ton). Marion is no longer the player he used to be, but Odom is still near his peak and had an outstanding +5.5 RAPM as recently as 2009. Unless the deal is part of a master plan to acquire another superstar, the Lakers will likely come to regret giving away Odom, one of the most secretly effective players in the league.

Neil Paine is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Neil by clicking here or click here to see Neil's other articles.

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