The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote about Cleveland basketball’s dominant frontcourt trio. This week, it’s time to talk NBA trade rumors.
The Houston Rockets’ self-imposed deadline for trading center Omer Asik is closing in fast. They now have just about 36 hours to make their ideal trade within the NBA’s trading calendar. And, for some unholy and unknown reason, the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to be in the mix of all the Asik rumors. Logically, as many have speculated, the Cavs could be intricately involved solely because they want to be the third team in any such deal. Let’s dive into all the gory details to see what could happen and what should happen.
How good is Omer Asik?
In the old NBA world, 27-year-old Omer Asik would probably be a highly effective under-paid starting center. That’s a point that Grantland’s Zach Lowe made eloquently earlier this week. Many criticized math-centric Rockets GM Daryl Morey for giving Asik a poison pill-style contract worth $8 million on average after two relatively obscure years on Chicago’s bench.
Immediately, however, Asik delivered and made the deal another classic Morey surprise. Last season, as the starter for all 82 games, he averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. His 956 rebounds were a league high. He was regarded as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. With today’s more commonly used advanced metrics, he’s much more appreciated league-wide.
But then, Dwight Howard ended up in Houston, and every NBA team chooses the All-World Howard over the fringe All-Star Asik. The two 7-footers never seemed like a good idea on the court together and thus, Houston is looking for a king’s ransom for their summer of 2012 steal.
On offense, Asik is one of the most limited players in the game. Since 2011-12, 86.5% of his field goal attempts have come in the circle, in contention for highest in the league. He is a career 53.4% free-throw shooter, although that’s improved slightly of late. Houston’s elite ball movement, spacing and outside shooting occurred last season despite Asik’s stumbling presence inside.
Rebounding- and defense-wise, there’s no doubt he’s elite. His 27.8% career defensive rebounding rate is fifth-best among active players. He nearly single-handedly carried Houston to defensive respectability last season. Players of his defensive skill and size don’t grow on trees in the NBA landscape.
Last night, Mike Brown bluntly said the Cavs obviously won’t be trading for a guy whose name he can’t even pronounce. All jokes aside, Asik is clearly a very productive player and one worthy of an $8 million cap hit – although the $15 million to be paid next season is reported to be a burden for the non-Dan Gilbert owners of the league.
But the Cavs have Andrew Bynum, eh?
In one possible reality, Omer Asik would actually seem like a perfect fit for these Cleveland Cavaliers. Said reality would have the Cavs not reaching an agreement, however, with former All-Star Andrew Bynum five days after Howard took his talents to Houston. And said reality would not have Bynum being mostly healthy and playing like his old self of late.
In the last eight games, the perhaps surprisingly younger 26-year-old Bynum is averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in 23.5 minutes. Hardly anyone would have predicted those stats to ever be a regular occurrence this season after last year’s debacle in Philadelphia. He’s regaining his efficiency inside the post, whenever the Cavs guards can actually feed him the ball.
But Bynum and Asik play a very similar style of basketball as intimidating 7-footers. If Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Howard might be Asik’s three worst possible co-starter fits, then Bynum might be No. 4. The former Laker is far and away more skilled offensively, with this Cavs roster desperately needing his post scoring. But they all five occupy largely the same space defensively as huge forces down low.
If Asik can’t handle playing 20 minutes a night behind and alongside Howard, then why would he do so with Bynum? Why wouldn’t he aim to get 30 minutes a night with no direct competition? That concept has never made much sense and has never been fully answered amid the rumors. It’s why the talk has always been confusing. The Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd has repeatedly shared the Cavs have no direct interest in Asik. But the rumors keep on churning.
In regards to the future, it is also worth reviewing Bynum’s complicated contract situation. Again, $6 million was fully guaranteed. If he remains on the roster on Jan. 7, 2014, he is due all $12.25 million possible for 2013-14. If he remains on the roster and not waived by July 10, 2014, then he’s due $12.54 million for 2014-15.
The Cavs might have trouble with that salary math this offseason if they want to keep Bynum on the roster continuously and add in another high-priced free agent. But it’s certainly unlikely they’d be willing to part with Bynum for nothing based on how he’s played thus far. And it’d be even more unlikely they’d want to lock in an $8 million cap spot for Asik without knowing said future.
How are the three-team trade options?
Again, that’s why most long-form trade conversations have considered the Cavs as an ideal third-team trade partner, assisting Houston and an unknown team in completing a complicated arrangement. Previously, an Omer Asik-for-Anderson Varejao swap was rumored. That also later was swiftly denied.
Thus, it’s not yet known what GM Chris Grant would consider unloading for Asik or others in any such deal. But in the nature of analyzing all options, let’s take a look at all of the other reportedly involved teams and some possible pieces for Cleveland:
Philadelphia 76ers – Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner. Philadelphia’s name has been among the most reported throughout. Asik seems like a great fit for their roster, even if it means a possibly difficult fit alongside Nerlens Noel starting in 2014-15. Young and Turner are likely casualties of wunderkind GM Sam Hinkie’s tanking scheme, with long-term assets on his mind. The two 25-year-olds aren’t great shooters, but can score. Their fit in Houston or Cleveland is a bit obscure1. Turner is a restricted free agent at the end of the year likely hoping for a big-time pay raise.
Boston Celtics – Jeff Green? The Celtics have been a rising competitor in the sweepstakes for Asik. Their name has specifically popped up in three-team talks with the Cavs, with forward Jeff Green possibly heading to Cleveland. Green, the team’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, also would be a near-ideal fit with this Cavs roster. He’s due $9.45M in 2014-15 and an identical player option for the next season. That would practically take away the Cavs’ financial flexibility, but would provide needed scoring and size at the 3. Brad Stevens’ crew has been a mild surprise this season, but they’re likely still a while from actual contention.
Atlanta Hawks – ??? Give former Cavs GM Danny Ferry a ton of credit for the re-tooling of the Hawks roster over the offseason. The Kyle Korver re-signing and cheap Paul Millsap deal appear to be two steals of the past summer. That’s why the Hawks are a competitive 13-12 despite taking two long-term projects in the first round of the draft. Asik would fit amazingly alongside Al Horford for the long term. They’re likely not in tank mode yet. Millsap would likely be Houston’s desired target. Korver would be stellar for the Cavs, but it’s unlikely to ever be moved with his very team-friendly contract.
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski said a fifth “wild card” team also could emerge in the trade mix behind leading contenders in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta. In most every article or tweet, it appears that Houston will require at least one future first-round pick. The Cavs have some extra future draft pick assets they could pass along. Most trade scenarios also have the Rockets preferring a power forward in return.
What do the Cavs need anyway?
All of the trade options are a bit dizzying to consider at the moment. It’s wildly unclear how the Cavs could be involved, what pieces they might be willing to unload and why their name keeps popping up in every report. The trade talk, however, leads to one final question: What should the priority be right now anyway for GM Chris Grant?
The Cavs are now an improving 9-15 on the season. They’re 5-3 in their last eight following two narrow loses to Miami and Portland, among the NBA’s top four teams so far. Despite their terrible start, they remain well within reach in the Eastern Conference’s dreadful playoff hunt.
One of the biggest differences of late: the improving offense. Over the season’s first month, Mike Browns’ offensive system (or lack thereof) was a hot-button topic among fans. The defense has been far improved throughout the year. During this recent stretch, however, the Cavaliers have played like a top-10 offensive team again. Check out the stats:
The biggest differences contributing to the dramatic 13-points-per-100-possession improvement: assist rate, turnover rate, offensive rebounding and efficiency field goal percentage.
In the first 16 games, only the Boston Celtics (1.05) had a worse assist-to-turnover rate than the Cavaliers. The lack of ball movement was very clear. And the Cavs were among the worst eight in turnover rate. Since then, it’s a night-and-day difference, with them now ranking among the top eight in assist-to-turnovers. The turnover rate was a stat I predicted to be a season-long storyline after the offseason roster turnover.
Rebounding-wise, thanks to the three-headed monster of Bynum, Varejao and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs are among the top eight in offensive rebounding of late. Usually, except last night against Portland, they’ve been great on the offensive glass and average-ish with defensive rebounds. That should be good enough.
Finally, that all leads to shooting and the Cavs have certainly turned their fortunes around in that department. Previously, they were the NBA’s worst in efficiency field goal percentage. Now, they’re at least average, which is a huge step in the right direction. One helpful movement is the fact they’re shooting about 7% more of their shots inside the paint recently. That takes them away from the inefficient mid-range zone.
I asked the question on Twitter yesterday over who fans would ideally want Grant to target in hypothetical trade talks. The hole appears to be at the 3 position with Earl Clark doing OK in limited minutes, but not earning the call in crucial moments. Alonzo Gee is his usual self and C.J. Miles is in an extended funk after a hot start. But what possible options are clear upgrades while serving the team’s need for spacing and defense? Jeff Green might be the best, but his contract rips the Cavs of financial freedom for next summer.
There likely aren’t too many such perfect fits out there, as Fear the Sword’s Conrad Kazcamarek quipped on Twitter in response. And that’s why, although Grant could be eager to pull the big trigger and facilitate an Asik trade, the best move for this team right now might be a non-move to buy more time and see what this roster can really do.
Turner is Turner; a medium-upside do-it-all point forward that isn’t the most efficient scorer. But Young appears to be getting a bit over-rated by the media. Over the past three years, he’s shot just 38.2% from mid-range, slightly below league average. He’s also just now shooting threes regularly again for the first time in four years. Turner actually has been a much better shooter at 41.7% from mid-range since 2011-12 and had a great start to this season. [↩]
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.