Artest-Ariza: Short term goes to Lakers

Last summer when I evaluated the Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza de facto swap of small forwards between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets I said Ariza was the more productive player but also the more statistically volatile.  His career has been marked by ups-and-downs.  Ron Artest, on the other hand, has been quite steady, especially recently.

Consistency was the decisive factor in the short term.

Click Here to see a Win Chart comparing Artest and Ariza in 2009-10

True to form, Ron Artest produced nearly identical numbers for the Lakers that he produced the season prior for the Rockets.  Much like Kobe Bryant, Artest was almost dead on his three year average in terms of both Marginal Win Score and minutes played.

Trevor Ariza was not.  His defense was pretty good, pretty similar to what it was in Los Angeles, but his offensive efficiency and statistical productivity took a hit.  As has been chronicled, Ariza shot too often last season and converted too few.   He also neglected rebounding, or at least deemphasized his rebounding productivity.  The net result was a Marginal Win Score per 48 minutes that sank from his three year average of +1.14 down to just above average at +0.07.

Here’s the strange thing about the two.  One player’s Usage went way down (Artest went from using 24% to around 16%) yet he shot the same percentage from the floor and his overall marginal production was nearly identical to what it was at the higher Usage rate.

The other player’s Usage went up (not that dramatically — from 16% to 21%), and his effective field goal percentage went down, as did his scoring efficiency.

Ariza may have been forcing the issue with his shot selection.  The evidence suggests he did too much “free lancing” with the basketball.

According to HoopData.com the one area where Ariza’s “assisted” basket percentage plummeted most severely was on shots attempted “ten feet and in” but short of the rim.  Shots that are ten feet and in but not taken directly at the rim are some of the worst value shots in basketball, and often they are the forced product of one-on-one moves that stalled short of the rim.  One can imagine the kind of shots Ariza was opting for — the dreaded “pull up jumpers”.  Those will kill a player’s effective field goal percentage, as they did to Ariza’s (along with every other form of two point jump shot).

The net result was fewer wins for the Rockets.

But were the Lakers actually better off with Artest?

So the Lakers “won” the swap when comparing each player this season, but were the Lakers worse off with this season’s Artest compared to last season’s Ariza?

Wins Above Bench

Its difficult to compare the players across seasons like that because Artest was a full time starter for the Lakers this season while Ariza was a sixth man until the end of last season for the Lakers.

So the comparison I used was “Wins Above Bench”.  WAB is my basketball version of  “Replacement Value”.  It compares a player’s win production against the production the team could have expected to receive from a fictional “average” bench player at the same position playing the same minutes.

As I alluded to in a previous  post, its difficult to set a “replacement” value in basketball like they have in baseball and other sports because unlike in other sports “replacements” are actually an integral part of each basketball team.

In baseball if a starter goes down the starter is usually replaced by a minor league call-up or a utility bench player — a player that is otherwise rarely used.  In basketball if a starter goes down the player is normally replaced by a regularly used reserve, who is then in turn replaced by a rarely used scrub.

I decided to peg the average “bench” or “replacement’ player at each position in basketball with that distinction in mind.  I made each bench player a fictional combination of the following two players: 2/3rds of an average second string player (roughly a 12-15 minute a game player at the position) and 1/3rd of an average scrub at the position (a rarely used “blow” substitute).

Lakers slightly worse off

By that measure, the Lakers were still better off after the swap.  In 2008-09, Ariza produced 6.8 wins, which were +3.4 better than a fictional bench player.  This season Artest produced 7.1 wins, but that was only +2.7 wins better than a bench small forward.

The Rockets, of course, were worse off by roughly -2.4 Wins above Bench.

The Long Term could go to the Rockets

But that’s just a short term analysis.  The long term, and even the medium term could very well go to the Houston Rockets.

Ariza appears to have a higher ceiling for his marginal statistics.  He also seems to adjust slowly to his new teams.  Ron Artest pretty much is what the Lakers received this season.

And Artest is in the twilight of his strange career.  Ariza is roughly six years younger and arguably around his prime seasons.

So in the end it could be the Rockets who win the swap, but for this season advantage, in some sense, goes to the Lakers.

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