Why the Andre Iguodala trade doesn’t make Denver better: Part II

According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, two franchises in the NBA have seen their win percentage decline each of the past three seasons. Northwest Division rivals Denver and Portland are those two teams. The Portland Trail Blazers are a franchise that’s been besieged by injuries the last three years. Their whole roster has seemingly been turned over. They haven’t been able to control their misfortune (see Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, among others). The Nuggets, on the other hand, have welcomed this roster turnover with open arms – believing they’re smarter than everyone else by trading ball-stopper Carmelo Anthony, oft-injured Nene Hilario, and drafting rebounding machine Kenneth Faried. I guess the proof is in the pudding. Denver doesn’t think size matters in basketball, for if they did, they might have reconsidered drafting Faried a mere two years after acquiring undersized point guard Ty Lawson in a draft day trade with Minnesota. I guess they were on the verge of panic, otherwise they might not have leaped headfirst into the three-team talks involving Dwight Howard.

Explanation:

I am not entirely sure the basketball population at-large is aware of just how good Arron Afflalo is as a player. But you can know one thing for certain: Rob Hennigan took notice. He had his eyes on Afflalo from the jump. It’s why the Lakers, Sixers, and Magic included Denver at the very tail-end of their negotiations. As I explained in part one three weeks ago, Denver was at an inherent disadvantage during the negotiations. And they paid for it — in full.

Since the league’s inception in 1946, when it was actually known as the Basketball Association of America, there have been ten players to post a 3-point field goal percentage greater than 40%, a field-goal percentage greater than 46%, and a free-throw percentage greater than 80% with a minimum of 873 3-pointers taken. Players like Steve Kerr, Steve Nash, B.J. Armstrong, Brent Barry, Jeff Hornacek, Mark Price, and Craig Hodges grace this list. Ray Allen? Not on the list. Jason Terry? Not on it, either. Dirk Nowitzki? Nope. Kevin Durant? Can’t locate him. What about the best pure-shooter from the point-guard spot in the game today, Stephen Curry? Nope. Kyle Korver? As if. J.J. Redick? That’s a good one. Arron Afflalo? Fat chance of that–err, wait a minute. Afflalo actually is listed. He’s listed sixth, in league history. I don’t see soon-to-be max-contract guy, James Harden, in those ten. I don’t even see potential Hall-of-Famer, Chauncey Billups, on that chart. Eric Gordon, Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant are also nowhere to be found. Arron Afflalo is, though.

To put these numbers in proper context I should explicitly state that in sixty-six years of American professional basketball there have been just ten players to post similar shooting statistics to Arron Afflalo. I have no idea how many players have played the game since 1946. It must total upwards of 20,000 (I’m sure someone far smarter than myself can give a much closer approximation). If there have in fact been nearly-20,000 players to suit up in NBA history, that would mean Arron Afflalo was a member of an exclusive class of player — the 0.05%. And Denver traded him. With little thought. With little pause. And with little fanfare.

I first released these findings on Twitter at around 10:30 pm on Friday, September 7. The backlash was fierce and fast. I was criticized for having too small of a sample size. I was criticized for picking and choosing my categories for measuring success. I was accused of being everything under the sun. Some even brought Tim Tebow into the discussion — implying I was “cooking the numbers” to make Afflalo look better than he is. I was harangued and harassed for the remainder of the evening and have continued to be so in the weeks since Denver made this trade.

Since my initial criticisms of the franchise became known months ago, I have had to defend my point of view under ridiculous attacks from seemingly everywhere. Anonymous people with anonymous IP addresses who I have reason to believe work within Denver’s front office have been leaving disparaging remarks on my blog. I was considering deleting my Twitter account altogether a month or two ago, as my mentions filled with incalculable threats from various unknown outcroppings around the ‘Net. I have had followers secretly tell Nuggets players via Twitter that I am speaking ill of them as people and professionals. The scrutiny I have been under is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

I didn’t ask for this. I am not enjoying this. I have an undying love for the Denver Nuggets franchise because it saw me through some of the most difficult times I will likely ever face in my life. I don’t hate the team. I don’t hate the franchise. I don’t hate the players who suit up every night. I merely want them to be respected as the players they are and not asked to be players they are incapable of becoming.

All that said, in order to satisfy the ever-growing horde of detractors I am likely to face going forward, I reduced the sample size to include a minimum of 400 career 3-pointers made. Only two new names were added to the list, with one of them of particular note in the annals of NBA history:

Drazen Petrovic starred at shooting guard for the New Jersey Nets two seasons before being killed in an automobile accident at the tender age of 28. He was posthumously enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 2002, merely nine years after having his jersey retired by the Nets. New Jersey never overcame the death of Petrovic, outside of 2002 when Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, and Richard Jefferson led the team to a Finals berth.

Now, I should for all intents and purposes end my argument against the trade right here, right now. However, that would be doing a disservice to both Afflalo and the player he was traded for, Andre Iguodala. First, I will discuss Arron Afflalo and his contributions beyond shooting to Denver these last three years. Then, I will further explore what Andre Iguodala’s role should be going forward in Denver. Look for that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

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About J.R.
I have been watching basketball for over twenty years. I like to think I've learned a thing or two in that time. Truth is, I've learned just one thing: I love this game.

5 Responses to Why the Andre Iguodala trade doesn’t make Denver better: Part II

  1. Maurice says:

    I glad someone see’s the value in my boy, Arron is a great player and he’s one those one’s over looked cause he is quiet spoken and easy going. Arron one those player that gotta work extra hard to prove himself, which is not fair. Please continue these discussion i back you up 100%.

  2. Pingback: Winning Links: October 15th 2012 | The Wages of Wins Journal

  3. doktarr says:

    While it’s a useful way to look at how efficient Afflalo is, you are cherry picking a little. The basic problem with this analysis is that 3-point percentage shows up in field goal percentage as well, and that double-accounting is keeping a lot of players out of your sample.

    You’ve proven that Aaron Afflalo is truly exceptional in a peculiar way. Extremely few players in history:

    1) Shoot the 3 as well as Afflalo,
    2) Shoot better from the 2-point area than they do from the 3, and
    3) Shoot a significant percentage of their shots from inside the arc.

    (Incidentally, this doesn’t really jive with your critique that he would drive more if he could. The point here is that he’s actually unusual in how many 2s he shoots for someone who shoots that well from 3.)

    Anyway, here’s an alternative analysis that tries to correct for this. I’ll look at players who meet the following criteria:

    1) At least 500 3-point attempts
    2) A 3 percentage of at least 40%
    3) A True Shooting Percentage of at least 57.5%. This doesn’t penalize players for taking more of their shots behind the arc than Afflalo does.

    That list has 16 players on it – that’s still an elite list! Here it is, sorted by win shares per 48.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/psl_finder.cgi?request=1&match=combined&type=totals&per_minute_base=36&lg_id=NBA&is_playoffs=N&year_min=&year_max=&franch_id=&season_start=1&season_end=-1&age_min=0&age_max=99&height_min=0&height_max=99&birth_country_is=Y&birth_country=&is_active=&is_hof=&is_as=&as_comp=gt&as_val=0&pos_is_g=Y&pos_is_gf=Y&pos_is_f=Y&pos_is_fg=Y&qual=&c1stat=fg3a&c1comp=gt&c1val=500&c2stat=fg3_pct&c2comp=gt&c2val=.400&c3stat=ts_pct&c3comp=gt&c3val=.575&c4stat=&c4comp=gt&c4val=.8&c5stat=&c5comp=gt&c6mult=1.0&c6stat=&order_by=ws_per_48#stats::none

    Anyway, I’m not trying to completely negate your overall point – I think you could have made basically the same argument with this list, although several other current NBA sharpshooters now show up.

    • I agree that I may be cherry-picking to a certain extent. However, I did it this way for a couple of different reasons.

      1. The concept of space — and how it relates to Denver’s offense — is very important with respect to studying Afflalo’s game. He’s smart enough as a player to know how to operate in traffic as well as on the wing. (Not to mention, he’s also smart enough to know the difference between high-efficiency shots, low-efficiency shots, and usage rates).

      2. A typical Afflalo possession worked as such: He’d corral the ball on the wing. Either work out of the triple-threat position and perform a shot-fake or use his quick first step to drive to his right towards the top of the key. Usually, a defender would slide over to stop his drive. In such a case, he would stop for a pull-up jumper. On RARE occasions he would wrap the ball around towards the baseline. The only problem is invariably his teammate was not a threat to do anything remotely successful with the ball. Kenneth Faried, for example, is not a threat offensively from anywhere on the floor. When he began to realize he had no one to dish the ball to, he’d more often than not opt for the pull-up. (Because he absolutely, positively would face two or three defenders if he was fortunate to ever get into the paint.)

      3. It’s not unusual how many two-pointers he shoots because defenses were all over him from the jump — he was Denver’s only shooter. Period. Defenses didn’t really bother with anyone else on the floor from three. Cory Brewer, Andre Miller, and Danilo Gallinari were all well below-average from that spot. Ty Lawson was the only other relatively good shooter. Seeing as how offensively incompetent Denver was position-by-position from nearly everywhere on the floor, defenses flooded Afflalo on the perimeter. Which is why he had to play so fast both with and without the ball. And why he had to stop for pull-ups when defenders collapsed on him.

      With Afflalo acting as Denver’s primary option, (and paying special attention to his usage rate in space–sounds ethereal, I know) I felt the need to make the player comparisons explicit, rigid, and well-defined.

      Also, as I was trying to point out in part three with the explanation of PER, Wins Produced, and win shares, using TS% is much the same in that it acts as a catch-all number to some extent. It oversimplifies things when we should be defining decisions in the realm of the complex, seeing as how complex the game of basketball will always be. (I hope that makes some semblance of sense.)

      I agree with your overall point, though. I should not have cherry-picked.

      Thank you so much for reading. I genuinely appreciate the feedback.

      • doktarr says:

        Yeah, ideally the stats you would use would be 3-point attempts, 3-point FG %, 2-point FG %, and Free Throw %. Unfortunately, 2-point FG % isn’t readily available.

        I enjoyed the analysis, keep it up.

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