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February 19, 2009

Instant Deadline Reaction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:07 pm

It’s been a half-hour since the NBA’s trade deadline, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re done. Often, teams will agree to trades just before the deadline, but news of them won’t trickle out for some time thereafter. If anything important breaks, I’ll update. I’ll save most of the minor trades for a comprehensive transaction analysis that should be up by the early evening, but there are two deals worth reacting to at the moment.

The first is the day’s biggest trade, a three-team swap that gives the Orlando Magic a starting point guard (Rafer Alston), sees Houston make a challenge trade of point guards (Alston for Kyle Lowry) and provides the Grizzlies with a first-round pick and possibly some other minor assets. Without knowing the exact particulars and working under the framework provided by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, my thoughts.

Sometimes, when I look at the numbers, even I am surprised. I did not realize how inefficient a shooter Alston had been over the course of his career as a starter. I figured his True Shooting Percentage (48.4 percent this year) was way off from his recent marks, but alas he was at 49.2 percent even last season. So I’m starting wonder not so much why the Rockets would move Alston as why they kept him as a starter for so long. Alston has been a pretty solid defender for Houston as part of top defensive teams. At 32, it’s easy to imagine he’s beginning to slip at that end (I haven’t seen him enough this year to say anything definative) and the Rockets wanting to get value for him while they can.

What puzzles me from Orlando’s end is why the Magic didn’t want to simply make a straight-up deal with the Grizzlies. Lowry would have been a better fit to the extent that he could have backed up a healthy Jameer Nelson next season, while Alston presumably would want to be traded again this summer. Otis Smith has shown a tendency to heavily favor veteran players, which worked in Alston’s favor. The concerns I’ve aired aside, obviously Alston is a huge upgrade over Anthony Johnson the rest of the way. Orlando could have held on to the third seed even standing pat, but given the team’s difficulty scoring consistently since Nelson’s injury, the Magic might have gone into the opening round of the playoffs as an underdog with Johnson at the point. Making this deal dramatically improves Orlando’s chances of winning a series, even if it still leaves the Magic a tier below Boston and Cleveland in the East.

The Rockets get much younger at the point, with Lowry and Aaron Brooks splitting minutes. The big hit to Houston is in terms of shooting, because Alston is a threat from three-point range (80-of-230 from beyond the arc this season) and Lowry (17-of-69) is not. Alston fit nicely alongside Tracy McGrady as someone who was dangerous without the ball in his hands. Now that McGrady is out, Lowry’s ability to get to the basket and run the pick-and-roll is more useful to the Rockets. They got that out of Brooks, but only by sacrificing defense because of Brooks’ small stature. Lowry gives them more creativity at the point to go along with the defense they were getting from Alston.

The other deal worth talking about in basketball terms is Chris Wilcox going to New York. Mike D’Antoni has made no secret of his admiration for Wilcox. I remember him talking extensively on the subject late in the 2005-06 season, when Wilcox was enjoying a great run for the Sonics after a mid-season deal from the L.A. Clippers. D’Antoni told a group of us that the Suns had tried to acquire Wilcox, but couldn’t work things out with the Clippers.
“He’s a heck of a player,” D’Antoni said. “He runs and he fits our style.”

The obvious comparison in terms of strengths and weaknesses is to D’Antoni’s old big man, Amar’e Stoudemire. While Wilcox isn’t quite at that level, it’s easy to see him being very effective for the Knicks if they can find playing time for him up front along with Al Harrington and David Lee.

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