The numberFire basketball team has decided to copy the successful Burning Questions format used by our amazing group of baseball writers. The idea is simple: we pose a general question to the numberFire basketball writers, getting contributors to provide an answer and an explanation on the particular subject.
The question today: Should the Cavs include Andrew Wiggins in a trade to acquire Kevin Love?
Justification: Defensive Loss
Would Love be an instant upgrade on offense for the Cavs? He sure would. I have no argument for that. As a matter of fact, I’m a big Kevin Love fan. But I say keep Wiggins for what he brings to the other side of the floor. The Canadian kid’s physique and basketball instincts alone show the promise of an elite perimeter defender in the NBA for years to come. The same can’t be said for Love.
What do the numbers say though? At this time, they don’t say a lot, but they're very promising for Wiggins. In only one season – exactly 35 games – Wiggins managed to tally a steal and a block per game. Wiggins’ managed both steal (2.1%) and block (3.1%) percentages superior to that of Love’s (1.0% each). No doubt a testimony to the former Jayhawk’s length, quickness and jumping ability.
This very unique set of attributes, along with his knack for the ball, helped him contribute to the Jayhawks’ 25-10 campaign this past season. In his first and only 35 college basketball games, Wiggins contributed 1.7 defensive win shares with a defensive rating of 102.8. If Wiggins would have played the same number of games as Kevin Love last season (77), he would have tallied approximately 3.7 defensive win shares – the same as Love this past year.
But one thing that should be sticking in the back of your mind as you read this is the number 19. That’s how old, or young, Andrew Wiggins is. Love is 25 with six years of experience in the league, and has yet to prove himself defensively. We can only imagine where Wiggins will be in a few years under the tutelage of LeBron.
It may just look like Wiggins and his numbers up against Love’s. The question is, however, would you trade Wiggins (in a package deal) for Love? I say no, but there’s another reason why. And that's Dion Waiters. Trading away Wiggins for Love would amount to a projected starting lineup of Irving, Waiters, LeBron, Love and Varejao. What’s the problem with this? Only LeBron and Varejao are good defenders. Irving and Waiters have career defensive ratings of 109 and 111, respectively. Let’s just say they like to play their offense. Wiggins’ rating of 102, and his potential to improve upon that, would be a great improvement over Waiters. However, that’s only in a perfect world where Minnesota would accept a deal without Wiggins. Sad face.
Justification: Win-Now Approach
The most important thing to the Cleveland Cavaliers should be LeBron James’ prime years. Check out this aging curve that was developed, like the one Bill James originally created for baseball. By the start of 2015, LeBron will be 30 years old. I know James is superhuman, but historically, players start to trend down at that 30-year mark. Players really hit their peak around 27, and become good players around 23.
So imagine a scenario in which LeBron James plays the next five years in his prime but doesn’t win a championship. Let’s say Andrew Wiggins develops into a superstar under the mentorship of James. That means he'll start to begin his prime right as James is finishing his. It's likely because of the age difference that their primes don’t overlap. With how little room for error there is in the NBA, this suddenly becomes a big risk.
As I’ve written previously, the average number-one draft pick in the NBA compiles 34.84 win shares over their first five years in the NBA. Kevin Love will equal that number in two years. If the Cavs keep Wiggins instead of giving him up for Love, they’re giving up approximately 40 win shares over the next five years, historical data would say. That's a lot. Even if Wiggins is on the high-end side of the number-one pick development, it still falls short of Love.
If you have the best player in the world, and probably will be the best or second-best player ever when his career is over, you don’t take bets on rookies who have never played an NBA game. You maximize that guy’s prime and ability to win championships right now. I don’t know what the Cavs will do, but it better be with LeBron’s best interest in mind.
Justification: Wiggins’ Star Potential
This is a rhetorical question at this point. It has fueled plenty of debates in NBA circles over the last two weeks, but no one has a surefire, right answer.
Imagine being given this choice: you can have $1 million in your bank account tomorrow, but you have to spend it in the next two years, or you can have $500,000 and invest it over the next seven. Whichever option you’d choose, any validation of which was the right choice would have to be made in hindsight at the end of the seven-year period. For that reason, your choice right now would be hard to fault, one way or the other (although people would certainly try).
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Kevin Love is the $1 million dollars you can spend now in this scenario, and Andrew Wiggins is the $500,000 you can invest. The fact is, for all the people that say “you have to” or “you can’t possibly” to the argument simply don’t know the answer for sure - at least not yet - because there are so many clear pros and cons to each side that will take years to play out.
The last time a team had one of the best players in the NBA and managed to land the top pick in the draft was when the Spurs got Tim Duncan to team up with David Robinson. If you look at both Robinson and LeBron around the respective time they had the opportunity to play with the top prospect in basketball, you’ll notice their ages, win share totals, and resulting league ranks were eerily similar.
Hypothetically, what if people had believed the best way for Robinson to win the first title for San Antonio was to trade an unproven Duncan for a player who was already a star? What if they had argued that Duncan’s skill set was redundant next to Robinson’s and that the Spurs would be better suited getting someone who plays a different position as a complement? Any of this sound familiar?
The closest equivalent to Kevin Love for this imaginary situation is Grant Hill. If the Spurs had traded Duncan the summer he was drafted for Hill’s inflated stats, the debate would have likely sounded similar to the one we’re having right now about Wiggins and Love.
As it turns out, Hill was only a couple years away from having his career altered by injuries and Robinson got his title in year two with Duncan anyway. Duncan then went on to become one of the best players of all-time, and has won the Spurs multiple titles since. That situation could have turned out so many different ways, but now - in hindsight - it would be hard to argue with the Spurs choosing to invest in the potential of Duncan over the sure thing of Hill if they had been presented with this hypothetical.
You could come up with a million other “what if” scenarios that would prove or disprove what I just said, but my point is this: I agree with getting Love, I just disagree with giving up on Wiggins and his potential more. The kid is 19 and we’re spending his whole first summer in the NBA dismantling his game because he’s not Kevin Love yet. It’s a real shame that so many are ready to dismiss that sky-high potential simply because it doesn’t come with a 100% guarantee.
LeBron’s letter talked about how hard it is to deliver championships, and Love coming certainly doesn’t guarantee one. He expressed that he was prepared for the process and even excited for the opportunity to mentor young guys and help them realize their full potential.
I say stick with the kid with the most of it and see what happens.
Justification: Surround LeBron With Shooters
It’s no secret that one of LeBron James’ greatest assets is his unique ability to pass the ball. He does so with an unmatched level of precision and velocity which, in turn, optimizes the probability of positive outcomes based upon when and where the shooters catch the ball.
But we must ask ourselves this: Do the signings of two sharpshooting wings, Mike Miller and James Jones, help spread the floor enough for the Cavs’ superstar to make it back to the NBA Finals for a monumental fifth-straight season?
The answer, in my opinion, is an emphatic no. They're simply role players whose jobs will be limited to coming off the bench and jacking up threes.
Love would be a major part of the Cavs' success if dealt there. Don't believe me? Check out my buddy Russell Peddle’s article where he showcases how our algorithms would project the Cavs’ record at 62-20 next year if they added Love.
Sure, Wiggins is younger, but it’s not like Love, at age 25, is ancient. Wiggins is certainly a better defensive prospect than Love, but Kevin does, indeed, make an impact defensively. His third-rated 29.5 defensive rebounding efficiency ranking (per basketballreference.com) proves that he creates changes of possession for his team in the same way NFL teams do when they force the opposition to punt. Besides, the best way to stop the offense is to gain possession of the ball, isn't it?
The main reason why the Cavs should deal Wiggins for Love is that Love is a stretch 4, similar to ‘Bron’s former teammate, Chris Bosh. In fact, he’s a better version. Bosh wasn’t truly a stretch 4 before Miami; he filled the role due to necessity.
Love, however, is one of the best shooting big men in the game. He’s coming off an amazing season in which he averaged 26.2 points per game on 38% shooting from three-point land. The advanced metrics love him, too (pun certainly intended here). His 17.7 nERD and 5.0 nF Efficiency ranked third behind only LeBron and reigning MVP Kevin Durant last year.
Check out where he ranks in other metrics.
|Kevin Love's 2013 Season||Rating||Rank|
|Win Shares (WS)||14.3||3rd|
|WS per 48 Minutes||0.245||4th|
|Player Efficiency Rating (PER)||26.9||3rd|
|Free Throw Makes||520||3rd|
Love will help open up driving lanes for the King. He will explode through them to either finish or find the open man. It’s funny how we used to complain about LeBron’s passing in late-game situations when his time in Miami was spent highlighting this special skill to the tune of four NBA Finals appearances with two championships. For LeBron, Kyrie, and the Cavs, bringing Love will complete a bigger Big Three than the Heat had; a fact that should make others in the league cringe.