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March 19, 2012
Projection vs. Production
Post-Deadline Edition

by Bradford Doolittle

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By our count 27 active players were moved in the days leading up to, and including, the trade deadline. If there is one common thread to this select group, it's that they are underachievers. The traded players have accumulated 47 fewer wins above replacement than was projected for them this season. Just eight of the 27 have met or exceeded their preseason forecast, and the leading "overachiever" -- Nick Young -- has beaten his prediction by just 0.99 WARP.

What does this tell you? Teams tend to hold onto players that are producing well and meeting expectations, while shipping away guys that are disappointing or simply getting old. This made putting together our modest three-player Projection vs. Production group for today a bit of a challenge. We look for one overachiever, one underachiever and one guy who is hitting his projection on the nose. Today, we're limiting our pool to those 27 guys moved last week so, as it turned out, the "overachiever" pool was awfully dry.

Our projection system SCHOENE forecasts a full suite of our favorite metrics, but the bottom-line number to watch for is WARP (Wins Above Replacement), which measures how many more wins a player adds to his team's total than a freely available guy plucked off the scrap heap. While no single number can capture everything that happens in an interdynamic team sport like hoops, WARP points you in the right direction. When you see a WARP number that surprises you -- and remember, we know when to be surprised because we've predicted all these WARP scores -- the next step is to ask why. All the WARP numbers you see in this article have been prorated to 82 games, just to give the results an air of normalcy in this abbreviated NBA season.

BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT

PG: Nick Young, Clippers
Projected WARP: -0.9; Current WARP: 0.1

As the Wizards' ship sunk this season, Young made sure to get his shots. He's used five percent more possessions than SCHOENE projected and his usage rate is at a career-high level. His efficiency, on the other hand, is at a career-low level as evidenced by his .513 true shooting percentage. He's shooting just 42.5 percent inside the arc, about six percent worse than we thought, but he's beaten his projected WARP by maintaining a solid 3-point percentage and upping his success rate at the foul line.

Young has used 26 percent of his team's possessions while on the floor this season. With the Clippers, he's going to be playing alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler in the Clippers' first unit. That quartet has combined to use 83 percent of possessions, so something has to give.

Either those shots are going to be redistributed, or Young is going to have to be more selective. You know those shots aren't coming off the plates of Paul and Griffin, and all Jordan does is dunk home alley-oops and putbacks. So it's between Butler and Young. Butler's true shooting percentage (.500) is worse than Young's so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Neither player is known for their ability to defer.

WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT

SF: Gerald Wallace, Nets
Projected WARP: 8.2; Current WARP: 4.1

That's right -- the Nets responded to the disappointment of missing out on Dwight Howard by trading a potential high lottery pick (top-3 protected) for a nearly 30-year-old wing who has always relied on athleticism and is producing just half his projected WARP for the season. The chances of this ending well are not good.

Wallace is blocking fewer shots, getting to the line less and grabbing fewer rebounds than projected. These are all possible signs of athletic decline and once that goes, it doesn't come back. That doesn't mean that Wallace can't continue to be a useful player. As his ability to beat people down the floor and soar over them in the lane diminishes, his offensive game is going to become more skill-based. That's going to be problem, because he's always been an erratic jump shooter and his passing skills aren't a strength.

We've seen players of Wallace's ilk remain solid role players and defensive stoppers well into their thirties, and there is plenty of value in that. And his decline may turn out to be more gradual than sudden, which is surely what the Nets are banking on. If they're wrong, Wallace is not worth the $9.5 million the Nets will pay him next season after he exercises his player option. He certainly wouldn't be worth the high lottery pick New Jersey surrendered. But he'll worth something. His next contract will likely compensate him accordingly for his post-30 skill set.

WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS

C: JaVale McGee, Nuggets
Projected WARP:7.1; Current WARP: 7.8

Here's a guy who can be counted on to block 6-7 percent of opponents' shots while he's on the floor yet for three seasons running, the Wizards have been as good or better defensively when he's on the bench. Here's a guy who might have a maximum reach that is further off the floor than any other player in the NBA and would easily be comfortable dunking on a 12-foot rim. Yet, he consistently puts up a true shooting percentage more appropriate to an average-shooting wing player. There's something to be said for playing within a team concept.

McGee has immense talent, no one can deny that. But one of his first published post-trade quotes was, "(Denver is) a winning team, so I can show I can win & that I'm not a loser just because I was on a losing team." There are an awful lot of perpendicular pronouns in that sentence -- not a "we" to be found. Nuggets coach George Karl has had success dealing with high-maintenance personalities going all the way back to World B. Free in the 1980s. Denver fans better hope he can work with McGee, who is hoping to land eight-figures per annum in his next contract.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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

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