NBA Metrics 101: Market Value for Top Stars on Trading Block
Trades would happen far less frequently in the NBA if all general managers valued players exactly the same.
Some are higher on big-name players than others, while a handful will always think the contributor in question is worse than a typical assessor. That discrepancy is what allows a deal to take place, since no intelligent front office would sign the paperwork unless it thought it was on the better end of the agreement.
But how should the biggest names on the block be valued?
To be clear, not many players populate trade discussions this time of year. Newly signed free agents can't be traded for months, which severely limits flexibility. Teams are buying into what they've done over the offseason, even if their logic is faulty.
But Carmelo Anthony isn't the only name being whispered around the league. A few other stars could be on the move before too long, and the same is true for a handful of lesser values.
To give you a better idea of how to evaluate any trades that actually do come to fruition, we're getting objective. First, we'll be diving into the numbers, playing styles and market influences to ascertain a player's true value. Then we'll show an example trade.
Do note that these hypothetical deals are not predictions of what will actually happen. They're meant to be realistic options that most accurately show the level of return teams should expect for their coveted assets, assuming everyone is evaluating the players in question properly.
Team: New York Knicks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
Take the name out of the equation.
Carmelo Anthony isn't the same player he was during his prime, no longer willing to act as an understated facilitator and rarely willing to exert energy on the defensive end. Sure, those failures have been crucial pieces of his reputation for a long time, but he actually put forth effort in those areas as recently as a few years ago.
Maybe this is a function of playing for a New York Knicks squad that doesn't motivate its own players. Perhaps Father Time has sapped enough stamina from Anthony that he's forced to focus more on his specialties. Either way, it increasingly seems unavoidable that the 33-year-old will spend the next few years serving as little more than a glorified scoring threat.
According to ESPN.com's real plus/minus, he was merely an average contributor in 2016-17. NBA Math's total points added (TPA) has him finishing in the red, thanks to that shoddy defense. But neither metric is purely predictive, and it's not hard to imagine Anthony's regaining large swathes of his value in the right home.
The 10-time All-Star added more value as a spot-up shooter than in any other situation last year, accruing 1.23 points per possession and sitting in the 93.8 percentile. Put him in the right spot, where he can focus his efforts on supporting other sterling offensive contributors—Chris Paul and James Harden or Paul George and Russell Westbrook, maybe?—and he'll recoup plenty of what he's lost during the last few years in the Big Apple.
Though Anthony may have been functionally average in 2016-17, he won't—and shouldn't—be treated as such on the trade block. It's not just because of his reputation and the enduring value of his name, but rather his ability to continue thriving in such a notable area that's so important to modern-day offenses.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Oklahoma City Thunder trade Alex Abrines, Doug McDermott, Enes Kanter and two future second-round picks to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony
Team: Phoenix Suns
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
When healthy, Eric Bledsoe is one of the game's most underrated contributors.
He's capable of utilizing his physicality to hold his own on the defensive end, even if he's not a true stopper. He's able to drain shots from the outside, bully his way to the basket for easier finishes and keep his eyes up in search of open teammates all the while.
He finished 15th among point guards in ESPN.com's RPM, but only George Hill, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul were able to match his work on both sides of the ball.
Bledsoe, to be clear, is only on the trade block because of the Phoenix Suns' situation. It's not that they want to get rid of him, but rather that doing so makes sense.
The 27-year-old floor general, especially given his lengthy list of previous injuries, doesn't have compatible timing with a roster that features overflowing youth. Trading him now for younger pieces and/or draft picks makes sense, since the Suns can hand over more touches to Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis while getting the whole depth chart on the same timetable.
If Bledsoe leads to a Kyrie Irving acquisition, that would be ideal. But even if he doesn't, trading him for a lesser return is a logical decision.
Bledsoe is a two-way asset when at full strength, and he's one of the most dangerous offensive point guards in basketball. He's also among the elite rebounders at his position. But the Association's other 29 squads know Phoenix no longer serves as a great fit for him, and they should drop their offers accordingly.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Milwaukee Bucks trade Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson, a lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick (via the Dallas Mavericks) to the Phoenix Suns for Eric Bledsoe
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Jordan Clarkson does a few things quite well.
He's a deft ball-handler capable of lining up at either guard slot, and he rarely turns the rock over. Though he's a limited perimeter shooter, he makes up for the absent range with an impressive knack for finishing plays on the interior; after hitting 48.2 and 46.8 percent of his two-point attempts as a rookie and sophomore, respectively, he upped that mark to 50.3 percent in 2016-17.
Perhaps most importantly, he's able to create offense for himself. Even when he's playing at the 2 next to a lead guard, he can bail out his team in the half-court set by putting the ball on the floor and generating his own look—a valuable skill that teams especially like having off their benches or during postseason action.
But defense drastically depresses Clarkson's value.
In ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM), only D.J. Augustin and Isaiah Thomas finished with inferior scores. The Los Angeles Lakers—a putrid defensive squad no matter who was on the floor—managed to allow 3.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when Clarkson wasn't playing. His lack of foot speed and similarly slow instincts were that problematic, more than negating his billowing wing span (6'8", per DraftExpress).
Because of this, teams trading for him should view him as a second-unit specialist capable of bringing an offensive spark and serving as a spot starter when injuries strike. As such, his value declines, to the point that the Lakers can't hope to include him as a main draw in a package for someone of Paul George's ilk.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Cleveland Cavaliers trade Iman Shumpert, Walter "Edy" Tavares and a 2019 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks
The seven players throughout this piece enjoy varying levels of stardom.
Some, though they're still among the best players on the trade blocks during the dog days of the NBA offseason, haven't enjoyed truly celestial status since dominating collegiately. Others are past their primes or coming off major injuries that severely affected their performances.
Kyrie Irving, however, is a true superstar.
Yes, you can knock him for his lack of defensive chops and occasional unwillingness to pass. But from a purely objective standpoint, he's still one of the best point guards in basketball. Maybe he's not on the same level as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and the rest of the true elites. Realistically, he's on the fringe of the position's top 10, more in the tier occupied by Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker than the uppermost echelon.
And that's fine.
Irving is a tremendous offensive player who specializes in working off the bounce—a skill that's lessening in frequency in the modern-day NBA but still quite important, especially come playoff time. According to NBA Math, he added 87.5 more points than an average player would've as an isolation scorer in 2016-17, easily outpacing the best of the rest: Lillard (50.69) and James Harden (48.8).
He's not a perfect player. He's not a great fit as a lead option and should be cast next to a fellow star who can cover up some of his glaring weaknesses. But he is a true superstar, whether we're evaluating him based on his name recognition, performances in the biggest moments or objective value.
The Cavaliers' desires aren't asking for too much. Especially given his youth, he's well worth the massive packages they're seeking out.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Phoenix Suns trade Eric Bledsoe, Josh Jackson and a lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick (via the Miami Heat) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving
Team: Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
Per Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders, the Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans discussed a deal that would send Reggie Jackson to the bayou for E'Twaun Moore and Alexis Ajinca. Nothing came to fruition, but that's still a good indication of just how far the 27-year-old point guard's value has fallen.
To be fair, it's likely the Pistons who put the kibosh on that potential trade.
Jackson is coming off a horrible year, but he's worth more than middling players. Moore still has some untapped potential, but the three-year deal attached to him is problematic. The Pistons can still point to Jackson's production just two seasons ago and avoid picking up a potential albatross contract, even as they're trying to match salaries.
Lest we forget, Jackson averaged 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from downtown and 86.4 percent at the stripe during his first full season in the Motor City. A legitimate All-Star candidate who ultimately missed out on entry into the midseason festivities, he posted a 19.6 PER, 1.45 RPM and 110.47 TPA—a stark contrast to last year's putrid numbers.
The difference? Injuries, which were quite problematic throughout the 2016-17 campaign, to the point that they caused strife between teammates. Here's ESPN.com's Zach Lowe in February:
"[Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope chases opposing point guards because Reggie Jackson, alleged franchise player at that spot, hasn't been able to since recovering from a knee injury. The Pistons usually hide Jackson on the least threatening wing player, a reprieve that draws shade from teammates—including during an infamous players-only meeting in December, when a few guys hammered Jackson for his desultory play."
That injury (knee tendinitis) should be close to fully healed at the start of the 2017-18 season, if it's not all the way better. And with health comes increased expectations, which is why the Pistons are right to wait for a bigger package if they do decide to hit the red button and blow up this nucleus.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Denver Nuggets trade Wilson Chandler, Emmanuel Mudiay, 2018 second-round pick (via Golden State Warriors), 2018 second-round pick (via Portland Trail Blazers/Sacramento Kings) to the Detroit Pistons for Reggie Jackson
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
What's particularly disconcerting about Jahlil Okafor's glaringly negative advanced metrics is why they're negative. In both ESPN.com's RPM and NBA Math's TPA, he fares far worse on offense than defense:
- RPM: No. 468 (dead last) in ORPM and No. 370 in DRPM
- TPA: No. 454 (out of 486) in offensive points added and No. 179 in defensive points saved
Okafor's reputation would have fans believing he's an absolute turnstile who can put up points in bunches when getting opportunities. But while the defensive metrics may be overselling him, in part because of his height and according rebounding prowess, so too are the per-game scoring numbers.
Yes, the 21-year-old is a capable producer of points on mid-range jumpers and finishes around the basket. But his field-goal percentage (51.4) is hampered by the inability to shoot threes or generate easy points at the free-throw stripe. Also not helping his cause? Recording 82 more turnovers than assists during his first two professional seasons, which makes it far too easy for opponents to send double-teams and watch as he panics.
Okafor can still break out. He possesses plenty of raw talent and would likely be better on a roster that doesn't feature an overcrowded rotation at center. But he's been terrible during his two opening campaigns, and it's telling that he's been a mainstay on the trading blocks and has yet to find a new landing spot.
The Philadelphia 76ers have been resistant to shipping off their young big man, presumably because they're worried about the public perception that might stem from trading the No. 3 pick of the 2015 NBA draft for a mediocre—or worse—return. On the flip side, they might not have received any legitimate offers.
But as they continue to move further from that stinker of a selection and start looking at a potential playoff run in the weak Eastern Conference, they shouldn't hesitate to clear up more minutes for better players. Perception be damned.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Chicago Bulls trade David Nwaba and Cameron Payne to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor
Team: Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
The Toronto Raptors have made it inordinately clear they're not just going to give Jonas Valanciunas away for pennies on the dollar.
"We believe in JV's talent. I want everyone to know that," general manager Masai Ujiri explained in mid-July, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. "We're very comfortable with JV. We're not going to give him away."
They shouldn't have to.
The 25-year-old hasn't grown quite like expected, but he's still developed into a valuable specialist. Even if he's never going to thrive as a two-way standout who asserts himself as one of the game's best overall centers, he's a dominant force in the pick-and-roll game (92.2 percentile for points per possession as a PnR roll man) and can capably defend both post-up (77.6 percentile) and spot-up threats (73.5 percentile). That's a valuable player, especially because he still has time to continue improving.
On the flip side, Valanciunas' market value is hindered by his position. Teams just aren't as interested in traditional centers without three-point range these days, which makes the number of suitors drop. And when the demand is lowered, so too is the realistic return.
If the Raptors do decide to trade Valanciunas, they'll likely be the "losers" of the deal, but only if we're looking in terms of pure value added and lost. When you factor in the big man's remaining contract ($49.6 million in total through 2019-20) and Lucas Nogueira behind him in the depth chart, eager for an opportunity to play bigger minutes, accepting a bit less is more palatable.
Realistic Value, Realistic Return: Portland Trail Blazers trade Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and Caleb Swanigan to the Toronto Raptors for Jonas Valanciunas
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.