Get ready for one crazy rumor-fueled weekend of NBA Trade Speculation. With All-Star Break here, the NBA will now see most owners, GMs, and agents converging in Dallas for the festivities. With both sides expected to meet to discuss the impending Collective Bargaining negotiations, it creates an atmosphere conducive to GMs and owners to meet face to face and talk about getting certain deals done.
The biggest deal everyone is talking about now, of course, is the Amare Stoudemire rumor. Whether or not Amare is the right fit for Cleveland is a fair question. I’ll touch on that briefly in a minute, but first I wanted to talk a little bit about the timing of this rumor as well as about what the Cavs are really risking in losing JJ Hickson.
Lets start right there with JJ. Some of the comments on this site and other Cleveland sports sites is getting a little out of control here. I understand everyone is excited because JJ is finally beginning to show slight signs of consistency. This excites me as well, and I would really like to see what kind of player Hickson can develop into. But any notion that Hickson’s ceiling is in Amare’s ballpark is more than just a little bit of a stretch.
Lets look at some numbers to back up the stark differences in playing style between JJ and Amare. First off, what offensive skills does JJ have? Beyond his athleticism, he has not developed any offensive skills. “But JJ just dropped 20 on one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Funny you say he has no offensive skills.” How did JJ score most of his points, though? He caught the ball underneath the rim for an easy dunk because the defense was too busy doubling Shaq and/or LeBron.
65.78% of JJ’s FG attempts are dunks, layups, or tip-ins. On those attempts at the rim, JJ is assisted on an astounding 77.8% of them. What this shows is that the shot that JJ primarily takes is a shot that he is unable to create on his own and must be the recipient of someone else’s work. Only 2 players in the NBA who attempt more than 3 shots at the rim per game (Kendrick Perkins and Shawn Marion) are assisted on a higher percentage of them.
For comparison’s sake, only 41.05% of Amare’s attempts are dunks, layups, and tip-ins. Furthermore, Amare is only assisted on 61.4% of his attempts at the rim. What this shows is that Amare is more than capable of creating his own easy basket opportunities and doesn’t need to rely on someone else as much (although he certainly gets more than his fair share of easy setups from Steve Nash).
Beyond just the way they create their shots, Amare also has a much more diverse arsenal of shots at his disposal. Just compare the breakdowns between the FG% of the 2 players from the different shot locations (courtesy of Hoopdata.com):
So as you can clearly see, Amare is not only capable of attacking opponents off the pick and roll, but he can also create his own shot inside as well as knock down jumpers. JJ Hickson right now is a one dimensional offensive player, and to brutally honest, has shown very little evidence of getting better in this his 2nd season.
I’m not saying all this to dump on JJ. I was one of the few people who was ok with the selection of JJ in the draft in the first place, and I have always rooted for JJ to get more playing time to better facilitate his growth and development. And I still think he has some room for growth. But he is never going to be Amare Stoudemire. Amare is the real deal, a legit 20+ PER All-Star impact player. To not trade for him simply because you don’t want to give up a 7 pt, 4 rebound per game player is ludicrous.
Now, as for whether Amare is a good fit with Cleveland, that could be a different story. If someone is looking for an angle on why the Cavaliers shouldn’t trade for Amare, this is the smarter avenue to take. I can listen to and respect any argument for why Amare won’t work in Cleveland. Too much ego, demands the ball too much, not enough shots to go around, atrocious defense, etc, etc. All of those sound like decent reasons to be wary. But the loudest argument I’ve heard is simply that Shaq and Amare didn’t get along or work in Phoenix. But for that, I respectfully defer to both John Krolik and Seth Pollack.
Despite the fact that the Suns have replaced Shaq with three-point bomber Channing Frye and opened up the paint for Amare, his numbers at the basket remain identical to where they were last season. He takes 46% of his shots at the rim, up 1% from last season. He shoots 66.8% at the rim, up exactly 1% from last season. And his foul drawing rate is 18.2%, which is actually a little lower than it was last season. Whatever it was that caused Amare’s effectiveness at the basket to drop last season, it looks like it wasn’t Shaq.
Amare and Shaq were also quite effective when they played together, especially on the offensive end. Last season, Amare and Shaq’s two most used lineups had an average offensive rating of 1.14 and a defensive rating of 1.07.
This season, the Shaq/Hickson lineup has an offensive rating of 1.05 and a defensive rating of 1.12. The most-used Shaq/Varejao lineup has an offensive rating of 1.02 and a defensive rating of 1.02. Of Shaq’s 10 most-used lineups this season, only two have an offensive rating equal to or better than 1.14, and those lineups have been used for a combined 43 minutes. Now, that 82games data is 12 days old, and the lightbulb really seems to be turning on for Shaq and the Cavs over the last few games. However, the above data does show that Shaq was more effective playing alongside of Amare than he was playing with either JJ Hickson or Anderson Varejao. I think this should be taken into consideration before Shaq and Amare are labeled oil and water.
And then there’s Seth Pollack who writes for Bright Side of the Sun who also said via Twitter Friday night that he disagrees with the notion that Shaq and Amare didn’t mesh:
Totally disagree w @JohnKrolik @PDCavsInsider that amare and shaq didn’t mesh. Shaq and Nash didn’t mesh. Shaq and Amare can’t play D together though
From what I recall of watching the Suns play last year, I honestly don’t remember ever feeling like Shaq and Amare were hindering each other’s play. If anything, I think it was just a lack of explosiveness from his surgically repaired knee that has caused Amare’s effectiveness at the rim to drop a little. Despite this fact, though, Amare has still molded himself into a more complete player and is still performing at an All-Star level.
On a side note, I just wanted to say a couple words on the timing of this rumor popping up again. When I first heard this rumor, I wondered if it was a possible counter move to the perceived posturing by the Wizards of trading Jamison and Butler to Boston in an effort to entice Cleveland to trade Hickson. CelticsHub.com mentions that If Cleveland lands Stoudemire and Washington finalizes the Butler to Dallas trade, then they will have no leverage left to get rid of Jamison’s contract. CelticsHub then says:
This, frankly, surprises me, unless the C’s could pry another asset from the Wizards in exchange for taking Jamison.
So now the Wizards will have gone from leveraging the Cavs to sweetening the pot by including Hickson to having to add in someone like Foye just to get the Celtics to take Jamison off their hands. So I began to wonder if Ferry was using this scenario to reduce the image of desperation and to leverage the Wizards into agreeing not to take Hickson just to avoid being stuck with Jamison’s contract.
However, I think the Wizards may be saying that being stuck with Jamison isn’t the worst thing in the world. Besides, to read so deeply into motives for floating trade rumors is a dubious practice to partake in anyway. But I just wanted to throw that out there, because on some levels it does make sense.
I have always said that trading for Antawn Jamison was all about winning the Championship this year. Sure, the Cavs could win it without making a trade, but getting Jamison unquestionably increases the Cavaliers’ chances this season. So if you’re of the belief that LeBron only stays if the Cavs win the title, then you should be of the opinion that Ferry should give up Hickson for Jamison.
On the other hand, if you believe LeBron wants to stay in Cleveland and wants to surround himself with talent for the future, then Stoudemire is the trade to make. Amare is still young at age 27 and even though he lost some of his power in his knee after his injury, the knee has still held up well and he hasn’t had further injury problems with it. If you’re Danny Ferry and you believe LeBron is going to stay in Cleveland, then this is a great chance to setup a long term future with a core of LeBron, Amare, Mo, and possibly even Delonte. You can always build around that core.
Finally, the other advantage that trading for Amare gives the Cavaliers is that it makes them much less reliant on Ilgauskas getting bought out than if the Cavaliers do the Jamison trade. Stoudemire is much more capable of playing center than Jamison is, and so if by chance Ilgauskas isn’t bought out (or if he doesn’t agree to a buyout or signs with a different team after getting bought out), the Cavaliers will still have a guy they can rotate into the center role when needed.
I still fully support Danny Ferry’s decision to do everything in his power to keep JJ Hickson on the team. But I don’t support Ferry allowing it to be the final sticking point that prevents a trade for Amare getting done. If Phoenix tries to make the Cavaliers take back Jason Richardson and his $14 million remaining on his contract next year, then Ferry should try to argue that in doing so the Cavaliers should be able to keep Hickson. I don’t want to give the impression that I am anti-Hickson. Far from it. Rather, I just fear letting emotion and sentiment getting in the way of making a smart business decision. It’s great to see JJ playing well in mid-regular season games in February, but a player like Amare Stoudemire is a pure difference maker come May and June in the postseason. Ferry can and should posture all he can to keep JJ, but to not do a deal like this just to keep Hickson could potentially be a decision Cleveland fans will long regret.