Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raptors trade: Another PF?!?

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According to ESPN, the Raptors have traded a first round draft pick (originally Miami's and acquired during the Bosh sign-and-trade) to the Bulls in exchange for James Johnson. Here's what Bryan Colangelo had to say about the deal:
“James Johnson is a strong, athletic and versatile small forward that we have had our eye on dating back to the 2009 NBA Draft."
This whole thing is rather odd. First of all, James Johnson is more of a power forward than a small forward - both 82 games and Andres' automated WP site (Nerd Numbers) say that Johnson has spent more time at PF than at SF this season. For last season - Johnson's rookie year - the Auto WP site had Johnson playing more of his time at SF than at PF, but 82 games still has him playing most of his minutes at PF. This all makes sense because Johnson is 6'9" and 245lbs; he's as heavy as Reggie Evans and one inch taller, tied for third heaviest player on the roster, and tied for fifth tallest on the roster. He also doesn't have much of an outside game and is best playing close to the basket...like a power forward.

The Raptors already have the following "bigs" - power forwards and centres:
  • Andrea Bargnani
  • Amir Johnson
  • Ed Davis
  • Reggie Evans
  • Solomon Alabi
  • Alexis Ajinca
  • Joey Dorsey
Bargnani, Johnson, and Davis get the bulk of the playing time at these positions. Once he returns from injury, Evans may get some minutes, but who knows what will happen with him at this point. Dorsey was getting playing time earlier in the year but has seen his minutes dwindle recently. Ajinca and Alabi may get the occasional garbage time minutes, but not much else.

Why add another power forward to this group? The Raptors have more need for a small forward who can shoot threes or a real centre. Of course the Raptors can play Johnson at SF and call him a SF, but we've already seen how effective playing players out of their natural positions can be (see Bargnani, Andrea).

Another problem I have with this deal is the fact that Johnson hasn't been very good thus far. Last year he posted a WP48 of -0.006 and produced -0.1 wins; this year he has posted a WP48 of -0.077 and produced -0.2 wins. And it's not just due to how the automated site managed his position adjustment - his AdjP48 is down from 0.197 to 0.160 this year, too. So Johnson followed up a rather unimpressive rookie campaign with an even worse performance this year, although he's played limited minutes so far. He just turned 24 on the 20th, so Johnson is young, but not young enough that we should expect a significant jump in his productivity. I don't ever expect him to be anything more than an average player (WP48 of 0.100), and I'd be surprised if he even came close.

The last problem with this trade is that Miami's first round draft pick could've been useful. Sure, it'll be up around 26-30, but there are almost always good players to be had at that spot. I've already done a lot of work on draft picks, but don't believe me? Here are some of the players taken at 26th or later from 2006-2010:
  • Paul Millsap
  • Landry Fields
  • DeJuan Blair
  • Marc Gasol
  • Carl Landry
  • George Hill
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Luc Mbah a Moute
  • Ramon Sessions
  • Mario Chalmers
  • Taj Gibson
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Marcus Thornton
  • Chase Budinger
  • Jonas Jerebko
  • Sergio Rodriguez
Based on those players alone (and there are a few more useful players that I didn't mention - Joey Dorsey, for instance), there are at least three solid players available at 26 each year. You're telling me you'd rather have James Johnson instead of a chance at grabbing a decent player? Trading away draft picks is a bad management strategy.

Unless Colangelo has something else up his sleeve, I remain puzzled by some of the decisions he makes.

 - Devin


  1. He is a small forward

  2. For the sake of argument, let's suppose he plays SF. He's still not a good player (Julian Wright is miles ahead of him) and not likely to become a good player, he still plays close to the basket, and he was still a waste of Miami's first round pick.

  3. Do you watch the game and have you ever seen him play? Johnson is a perimeter player and a gazelle in the open court.

  4. He is a SF ... not "another PF" ... man.

  5. Hi Devin. Interesting post.

    It appears there is a bit of cherry picking from *every* pick post 26th to serve your argument. There is inherent survivorship bias in your sampling. I would examine how many picks did not turn out as well for a full picture. Yes, 5% of the time you get a good player. **And I don't disagree that may be a gamble worth taking.**

    The other question I have is: if you live by Wins Produced, shouldn't you be consistent with using it?
    E.g. You claim that Carl Landry is a good player, yet his Wins Produced is -0.3. Mario Chalmers has produced a whopping 1.3 wins. Thornton has produced 1.5 wins. Sergio Rodriguez is not currently playing in the NBA and had 0.3 wins produced the final year he played.

    Another request: if you were to examine, for example, Arron Afflalo, you would have declared him (or I would have) as a poor pick after he posted only 0.02 WP48 in his first season. Yet after 1 3/4 more years of experience, he's jumped to 0.134!!

    So the questions are: Is Wins Produced a good predictor of future performance (is Afflalo an anomaly?). Can a player increase his WP with more experience and a change in scenery (like Afflalo)? What would be the average Wins Produced for the 26th to 30th pick? (I would ask you to include a zero for those who never did suit up in the NBA and not ignore these players).

    By your measure, smart teams would have picked these players sooner. Then why did CHI not pick Taj Gibson before James Johnson?! This explains my point - its difficult to draft late and while certainly "value" is found later on - it is by far the exception and not the rule.
    (BTW, Johnson only makes $1.8M next year, so its a low risk gamble).

  6. This is by far the most rediculous article I have ever read in a long long time.

    Fisrt of all James Johnson is a SF, Guy like turk show you why U cannot just stand around shooting 3s. We already have Bargn standing around doing that.
    A shooting Forward is a athletic big man with speed to guard guys and take the ball to the basket on guys like: carmelo,lebron,pierce,rudy gay, durant, etc. It is better to teach physical gifted atheletes to play tough the teaching soft players to play tough.
    This was a great move by colangelo, James is a black belt in martial art. He deserves to play this game more than alot of guy because he has the body no all he needs is time invested. It took andrea 5 years to get to where he is know, so other guy need the same opportunity to
    Devin you should stop writing about basketball. I convinced your a Euro loonytoon. This is the americas where blood sweat and tears counts.
    This would be my new starting line up for rest of season. Bayless,Derozan,Johnson,Davis,Bargnia.

    Johnson is perfect he give us athletic big guard
    to help our power forward crash the glass and block or change direction of shots.

    Then when the draft comes you might even get your point guard of the future who is use to playing with athletic big men.
    In the Nba the sucessfull teams where you down and put pressure on the defense.

  7. Tom:

    The point of picking from every pick post #26 is that all the players are available at 26 - limiting my list to players who were taken from 26-30 doesn't make sense. The hit rate may not be good, but as you can see, there are always at least three decent players available there - if you know how to identify them. So yes, as you say, the gamble is certainly worth taking.

    Carl Landry has been bad this year, but over his career as a whole he has been good. Over his first three seasons he produced 13.8 wins in bench minutes. True, ever since he's been playing in Sacramento he's been playing poorly, but that may be a function of them not using him properly.

    Mario Chalmers was average as a rookie - which is actually above-average for a rookie. Ever since then he hasn't been as productive.

    I created that list very quickly and without looking at the exact WP numbers - basically it was a list of players who were around average or above for at least some part of their careers to date. I could do a more in-depth analysis on this point, but I don't really see the need.

    Is Wins Produced a good predictor of future performance? It's as good a predictor as I've seen so far, and I find it works quite well. Most players are stable from year to year, with the exception of young players (like Afflalo) who improve during their first few seasons, injured players (Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Brandon Roy) who are limited due to injuries, and older players (Jason Kidd, Antawn Jamison) who see age-related decline.

    If you are interested in more draft analysis, Arturo Galletti has done a lot of work on the subject as well: http://bit.ly/foWDEY. The numbers in his table are not a true average; instead it describes the productivity of all the minutes played by players taken at a certain draft spot. You could say it's not really fair to exclude the late draft picks who don't play, but it's hard to evaluate the productivity of players without any evidence. I think the big thing to take away from that is that earlier picks are almost always given the opportunity to fail, even after they've shown very little (ie: Bargnani), while the later picks who play generally deserve it.

    Looking at the Position Adjusted Win Score (PAWS) of NCAA players who have declared for the draft is a good way of determining future NBA productivity. It's not perfect - some good NCAA players never make it (Michael Beasley, for example), but some average players (John Wall, Derrick Rose) go on to become good NBA players. Here's an example of the analysis done before the 2008 draft: http://bit.ly/iikK5B

    And here's an early look at this year's draft prospects by David Berri: http://bit.ly/h0M7ev

    The PAWS numbers for 2009 said this: http://bit.ly/eaobpk. Gibson and Johnson were basically equal on this measure despite being picked ten spots apart.

  8. Professional Scout:

    James Johnson plays both SF and PF, but I'm convinced he's better when he plays at PF. He's taller and heavier than all of those players you mentioned. Think about it - he's taller and heavier than LeBron! LeBron is huge! He's taller and as heavy as Reggie Evans! And Johnson doesn't have the speed like those other guys you mentioned.

    I don't want a SF who stands around exclusively shooting 3s, but I want someone who can make threes when he takes them, because the Raptors are in desperate need of 3pt shooting. Johnson can't shoot 3s. Johnson doesn't add anything valuable to the team. Julian Wright is a much better player than Johnson.

    Johnson being a black belt really has no relevance to his production on the basketball court. Joey Graham was very athletic, and we know how that turned out.

    Last post I was accused of hating on European players. Today I'm being called a "Euro loonytoon"? Make up your minds, people!

    While Johnson might be able to play SF in spurts, he is not a guard and never will be.

  9. Another request: if you were to examine, for example, Arron Afflalo, you would have declared him (or I would have) as a poor pick after he posted only 0.02 WP48 in his first season. Yet after 1 3/4 more years of experience, he's jumped to 0.134!!

    This is not in any way correct. Anyone who understands and blogs about Wins Produced numbers also understands the volatility of young players.

    As a Pistons fan and Wins Produced blogger, I would have argued vehemently that Aaron Afflalo was a nice prospect after his rookie year whose ceiling was capable role player, potential starter.

    Turns out, it looks like he's become the latter -- a capable starter.

    No one, regardless of their feelings about advanced statistics, would have declared Afflalo a bad pick. He was a late first-round draft pick from a quality program who could shoot and defend. Sometimes those guys pan out, sometimes they don't.

    Your attempt to be dismissive of this post using AA as an example appears to me to be very little more than ignorance on several fronts, but on what Wins Produced has to say about young players in particular.

  10. Where can I see James Johnson's PAWS 40 from college?

  11. Thanks Devin

    ....Only slightly above average for a college player, just another reason not to be exited for his future potential....

  12. brgulker,

    Appreciate the "welcome" and insults.
    I have read Wages of Wins and emailed Berri back and forth in the past. He was quite helpful.

    I have legit questions and asked them.

    And if you did even a bit of work, you would find I'm a huge proponent of advanced stats and even did a feature on Wins Produced once.

    Suggestion - there is no perfect metric to totally capture a player's worth. If you wish to promote Wins Produced, do so in a professional matter. This is one reason several people look to attack it - and when someone asks questions, this is often the type of answer they'll receive.

    Please do a bit of homework before insulting. It will help build a community around Wins Produced and slowly enhance its value by having more inputs from the community.

  13. David,
    Appreciate the response - good points.
    I would have bet on Blair as well (as PAWS40 suggests) at that spot, but it was a big bet (injuries) at the time. Certainly worth the gamble.

    If we take out Blair (let's assume GMs had poor advice on the potential recurring nature of his injuries - and absolutely, I'm cherry picking a removal here - but reasonably legit). From this:
    Wouldn't you have picked top 10 ranked Admad Nivins, Lester Hudson, or Jon Brockman - the first two picks one would make are playing overseas now and Brockman is play a few minutes in Milwaukee.

    The other factor is if you sign this player, he's on the books for three years and takes a roster spot correct?
    Given the uncertainty around the CBA and only one year left in Johnson's contract, this may help the deal make sense.

    Johnson had a couple decent games to start, we'll see if it's simply a "honeymoon" period.

  14. I used to read David Berri's posts and think to myself, "These are well-written and fun to read, but it looks like he overrates rebounders." I used to think that WP was simply one of the many player metrics - along with PER and Win Shares - that I should consider before evaluating players. But the more I became familiar with all the different metrics, it was clear that WP is the best one out there. The really important thing to remember is that WP is not an "evaluation" of a player - it's an evaluation of a player's performance. WP tells us who's been productive and who hasn't - not necessarily who the "better" players are. Once we have the WP numbers we still have to understand why a player is or is not productive and try to guess at how many minutes they will play and at what position.

    This is why I can be wrong about James Johnson. In my evaluation I noted that he hasn't been productive so far in his career, is young, but not too young that we should expect a huge change in production (although there are always exceptions - ie Steve Nash), that he played most of his minutes at PF and played better at PF (debatable, but I still feel comfortable making that assertion), that he doesn't offer anything more than Wright, and that a late first round pick is more valuable than him.

    But all that can change if the Raptors use him in a way that complements his abilities. As we saw in the PAWS table, he was about as productive as Taj Gibson was in College (that did surprise me). Perhaps the Raptors can find a way to put him in situations that play to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses? So far he's been more productive than I expected, although still not as productive as Wright has been this season. Although his first game was against his old team (inside info might've helped there), his second game was not good, and his third game was okay - certainly interesting, given the assists. As with Bayless, I could be wrong (although Bayless hasn't been good after his hot start), and I'd be happy if that was the case, but I don't think I will be.

    With those other guys you mentioned...I have no idea who they are (I don't follow NCAA at all). Man of Steele left some good comments on another post of mine (http://bit.ly/eAyqVv) that might address these players. I'd also mention that just because a player is no longer in the league, it does not mean the player wasn't or couldn't be productive (just Raptors: Anthony Parker, Michael Bradley, P.J. Tucker). Similarly, just because a player is in the league doesn't mean they are productive (just Raptors: Greg Foster, Araujo, Bargnani).

    Johnson's salary is higher per year than a first round pick taken 26-30, so I don't buy that argument. The player taken at that spot will be very easy to trade in the event that the player doesn't pan out, and I don't think the Raptors should be worried about roster spots (at least Evans, Weems, and Wright are gone next year, and probably Ajinca and Dorsey too).

  15. All good points - thank you.
    (Johnson's salary is much higher, but only for 1 year. Get your point about roster spots though).

    Fine point on players not playing in the NBA.
    Absolutely spot on about Wright (I'm a fan) - likely came down to "known" salary of $1.8M (for Johnson) versus Wright who *may* find someone for a 2 year deal (albeit smaller pay).