Ryan Knaus

The Numbers Game

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D'Angelo & Dwight: Trade Talk

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


This week’s column breaks down two big trades that occurred in the lead-up to the draft – we’ll begin with the Hawks’ decision to shed Dwight Howard’s salary in a deal with the Hornets, before looking at the blockbuster Nets/Lakers deal involving D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov and Brook Lopez.

 

 

Hawks send Dwight Howard and the No. 31 pick to the Hornets for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the No. 41 pick

 

Newly-minted Hawks GM Travis Schenk cited the need for "flexibility" as the primary motive for this trade -- Howard was owed a fully guaranteed $47.3 million over the next two seasons, and the Hawks obviously didn't value him too highly after a disappointing 2016-17 season. Plumlee is no bargain, with his own $25 million guaranteed in the same span, plus an additional $12.5 million coming his way in 2019-20. Marco Belinelli will earn $6.6 million in the final year of his deal this season. Atlanta's weak haul of talent, and the need to swap a higher pick to complete the trade, speaks volumes about Dwight's fading appeal around the league.

 

For the Hawks, Plumlee is the only big man currently under contract with Paul Millsap a restricted FA, and both Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries unrestricted. Atlanta will bolster the frontcourt throughout the offseason, but even if Plumlee lucks into a solid role he's an unlikely fantasy asset. During five NBA seasons, he's only averaged 19+ minutes one time (with Phoenix in 2013-14). Belinelli's outlook is even bleaker as he joins a roster brimming with young wing talent. Guys like Kent Bazemore, Malcolm Delaney, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry will ensure that Belinelli's role is marginalized, even if Tim Hardaway Jr. walks in free agency.

 

The Hawks may view this as a long-term win for financial reasons, but Charlotte has a stronger argument for making the deal. In addition to unloading Plumlee's longer three-year contract, they bolster an already-solid defense with a proven interior defender and rebounder -- Charlotte ranked No. 2 in defensive-rebound percentage last year (79.6%), and they gave up the fifth fewest points in the paint (40.5 per game). Dwight has a lot of mileage on his body at age 31, but he can still get it done in those areas -- despite a lousy playoff performance this year, he still posted the second-highest percentage of team blocks (71.4%), barely trailing Clint Capela, and had the second-highest individual DREB rate (331.%), behind only DeAndre Jordan.

 

Those numbers are a small six-game sample, and the defense and rebounding stats are overshadowed by the fact that Atlanta benched him for most of their fourth-quarter minutes. He was also a non-factor offensively, averaging a paltry 8.0 points on 6.0 shot attempts per game vs. the Wizards. That's the exaggerated result of a downward trend for Dwight, whose usage rates over the past four seasons look like this:

 

2013-14 ... 24.1%

2014-16 ... 23.4%

2015-16 ... 18.7%

2016-17 ... 19.7%

 

It's an implicit recognition that Dwight, for all his attempted offensive renaissances, is not a reliable go-to option, especially in today's NBA. He scored 3.6 points per game on putbacks last season, behind only Hassan Whiteside, a haphazard type of basket which accounted for 26.7% of his scoring. When he occasionally tried to expand his range last year, it didn't go well -- he shot a combined 33-of-107 from beyond five feet (30.8%). Yikes.

 

Dwight may be accepting his limitations, however, as evidenced by the fact that he planted himself near the hoop on offense. Here's a quick comparison of Dwight and some similar peers, in terms of shot distances last season:

 

% of Total Shots Attempted

 

Restricted Area

Paint (non-restricted)

Outside Paint

DeAndre Jordan

92.40%

6.90%

0.07%

Dwight Howard

78.96%

12.07%

8.97%

Andre Drummond

53.57%

34.03%

0.76%

Hassan Whiteside

50.77%

33.61%

15.62%

 

DeAndre Jordan is the king of 'staying in his lane' offensively, but Dwight wasn't too far behind. His post-up game is as unreliable as ever -- despite accounting for 28.0% of his usage last year, he scored just 0.84 points per possession on post-ups (slightly behind Frank Kaminsky). The Hornets ranked 27th in frequency for post-ups, at just 4.7%, so it's safe to assume we won't see Dwight backing down defenders this year.

 

Increasing specialization and decreasing usage isn't necessarily bad for Dwight, because it solidifies his impressive FG%, which soared to a career-high 63.3% last season. It also reduces his trips to the free throw line, which takes some of the sting out of his inaccuracy -- his 5.7 attempts per game last year were Dwight's fewest since his rookie season. Throw in his familiarity with coach Steve Clifford from their Orlando and L.A. days, and he’s poised to have a quietly effective season with his new team, which is hungry for another playoff berth. (Dwight also said recently that he intends to work on his 3-point shot this summer, to prolong his career, but there's nothing to hope for there).

 

His arrival hurts Cody Zeller, who was otherwise slated for heavy minutes at center, but Zeller could still carve out low-end value in deeper leagues. Dwight is likely to hover in the 28-32 minute range, and Zeller was a sneaky top-100 player in just 27.8 minutes last year. That said, there should be higher-upside guys available until the player pool gets very shallow.

 

 

Nets trade Brook Lopez to the Lakers for D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov

 

This should be fun. D'Angelo gets free rein with the Nets, likely bumping Jeremy Lin to a sixth-man role, although the two could possibly share the court for long stretches. More on that in a minute.

 

The trade has multiple angles to consider from L.A.'s point of view. Russell is still just 21 years old, but they may not have been sold on him as a superstar-type point guard to build around. That's amplified by the fact that they can likely choose between Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox with the No. 2 pick on Thursday. From a fantasy perspective, whichever guard lands in L.A. gets an instant boost without Russell to contend with -- depending upon how they look throughout the summer, a late-middle round pick could be the going rate.

 

Another big factor is that the Lakers managed to offload Timofey Mozgov's horrendous contract (a guaranteed $48 million over the next three seasons). Brook Lopez's deal expires next summer, and they won't have to worry about Russell hitting restricted free agency, which clears the way to chase a max free agent in 2018. They'd have to give up another key young asset and/or first-round picks to rid themselves of Luol Deng's contract ($54 million over the next three years), so it looks like Deng will stick around.

 

Brook Lopez finds himself in a familiar situation as the veteran offensive hub around which a young, rebuilding team will orbit. He is leaving the team with the fastest pace in the NBA last season (103.6) but the Lakers aren't too far behind, ranking 6th in the league (100.8). BroLo's usage should be safe and there's no reason to think Luke Walton will limit his 3-point shooting, which exploded last year with 1.8 makes per game on 34.6% shooting. As a bonus, the 29-year-old Lopez is entering a contract year. If he just stays healthy and plays to his usual level, he'll be in the max-money conversation in 2018. My assumption is that he'll be drafted in the 30-40 range in most fantasy drafts.

 

As for Russell, he'll undoubtedly be groomed as the Nets' point guard of the future, L.A.'s possible misgivings notwithstanding. And why not? The former No. 2 pick averaged 15.6 points, 2.1 threes, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals last season, despite playing just 28.7 minutes per game. Fantasy owners were somewhat let down by his percentages (40.5% FGs, 78.2% FTs), but more so by injuries, as he appeared in just 63 games. None of those ailments were chronic and the real concern is inefficiency. He took 13.8 shots per game last year, more than guys like Jrue Holiday, Chris Paul, George Hill and Danilo Gallinari. That number should increase this year, along with his minutes, so it's imperative (in roto leagues, at least) that he improve his percentages.

 

To do so, Russell will need first and foremost to shoot better at the rim. He shot a mere 50.7% in the restricted area last season, which is awful. His shooting in the paint (but outside the restricted area) was also poor, at 47.2% -- for comparison, he made 48.3% of his left corner 3-pointers. Here's a quick look at his shot chart from last season:

 

 

In addition to improving at the rim, Russell should really cut down on his above-the-break 3-pointers. He shot 34.1% on those attempts but the real problem is volume -- he took 328 triples above the break, which is an incredible 37.9% of his total attempts. Of players who relied at least that much on above-the-break triples, only Russell Westbrook made fewer of his attempts. The sheer predictability of those shots may be a factor in Russell's low efficiency -- why sag off him defensively if he struggles in the paint and is more than likely to either pass the ball or launch a defended 3-pointer?

 

In addition to better shot selection, the Nets should strive to have another playmaker around Russell, someone who can encourage his off-ball game. He made just 34.1% of his above-the-break triples, as cited earlier, but fully 58.0% of his makes came off assists. Which is to say, he was solid as a catch-and-shoot option, and less so creating his own shot. That red-hot mark from the left corner? Fully 92.9% of those makes were assisted. With guys like Caris LeVert, Jeremy Lin and Isaiah Whitehead available to share the court with D'Angelo, the third-year guard will ideally find himself with easier opportunities. Brooklyn's backcourt rotation will be one to watch all summer, as they could also bring back both Sean Kilpatrick and Spencer Dinwiddie.

 

Russell is a terrific target in points leagues and should still be in the 40-60 range in roto leagues, despite concerns about his percentages and turnovers. Timofey Mozgov doesn't fare nearly as well despite the void at center in Brooklyn, of course, where Justin Hamilton, Andrew Nicholson and Trevor Booker round out the current frontcourt. The Nets should add a big man in the draft and they'll likely make a few more moves to bolster PF and C. Even if Mozgov were guaranteed the starting job, however, he's done nothing in seven seasons to justify owners' attention outside of deep leagues.

 

There’s a lot more to discuss but the draft-day craziness could change everything overnight, and we’ll have plenty of time to sort through the wreckage in the coming weeks. Enjoy the draft…here’s hoping for some fireworks!



Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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