Should the Dallas Mavericks Trade for Rajon Rondo?
After categorically denying that he would trade Rajon Rondo this season only about a month ago, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is changing his tune so fast in mid-December that it feels like he's warming up for Christmas caroling season.
ESPN sources say Celtics & Mavs in substantive discussions on deal that would send Rajon Rondo to Dallas for multiple picks/package of vetsâ€” Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 18, 2014
Story going online details Celtics/Mavs talks in which Boston would get at least one first and blossoming center Brandan Wright for Rondoâ€” Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 18, 2014
The exact details of the deal have yet to surface, but the key parts seem to be Rondo, Brandan Wright, and some Dallas draft picks (including at least one first-rounder). Since we're in the business of projections, let's see how our algorithms predict the fallout of this trade for Dallas. (We can forget Boston for now, considering they're clearly not a playoff team like Dallas is and seem to have their eyes firmly set on a rebuild anyway.)
First, let's clarify something. These players seem worlds apart in terms of star appeal, with Rondo's being a four-time All-Star and Brandan Wright's being a perennial bench guy, but their efficiency ratings trend in polar opposite directions.
Rondo, for all his fun passes and triple-doubles, is a pretty inefficient player. This season, for instance, he's shooting a measly 40.5% from the floor, 25.0% from three-point range, and 33.3% from the charity stripe for a paltry true shooting percentage of 42.2%.
That would make him one of only seven players in the last 38 years to play over 30 minutes per contest, while posting a true shooting percentage under 43%. (Incidentally, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson are among that group this year as well.) Toss in three-plus turnovers a game, and Rondo's the only one on the list in NBA history.
All that is to say, dude's not efficient. His -3.5 nERD -- our in-house efficiency metric that estimates how many wins above or below .500 a league-average team would be with him as one of its starters -- reflects that.
Brandan Wright, on the other hand, absolutely kills advanced analytics with his high-end efficiency. His 12.1 nERD for this season puts him ninth on our NBA Player Rankings, smack dab in the middle of a who's who list of the league's stars. That's thanks to his sterling per-minute production and league-leading field goal percentage of 74.8%.
Sure, the guy takes over 70% of his shots within three feet of the basket, but there's something to be said for someone who knows his role and plays it well. He also leads the NBA in true shooting percentage at 76.2% because he shoots a decent 75.0% from the free throw line to boot.
His offensive rating of 149 also leads the league and makes Rondo's 96 look downright disgusting by comparison. The 103 to 105 defensive rating discrepancy in favor of Rondo doesn't even begin to make up for it. Wright's also got the league's fourth-best player efficiency rating (PER) at 26.1, while Rondo's barely above the league average at 15.2. Obviously, their usage rates and roles are way different, but the efficiency chasm is a bit hard to ignore.
With that big ol' caveat about efficiency in mind, you might better understand what our algorithms have to say about this trade.
While most people would see the positives of the Mavericks' -- the second-ranked team on our NBA Team Power Rankings -- adding a former All-Star to a starting lineup that already includes Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, and Tyson Chandler, our numbers are a bit more hesitant to plan a championship parade in downtown Dallas.
In fact, our algorithms have this trade as a loss for Dallas this season.
|Mavs Now||Mavs + Rondo - Wright|
|Projected W-L||49.1 - 32.9||45.7 - 36.3|
That 3.4-win drop-off is from losing 2.7 wins with Wright's departure and Rondo's coming in and taking away 0.7 wins at his current efficiency levels. Of course, that drop-off is with this season's less-than-ideal version of Rondo (the one that hasn't been quite the same since an ACL repair) and basically the peak version of Wright (who is playing the most efficient ball of his career).
That said, even if you take peak Rondo from the heights of the "Big Three" era in Boston and toss him into this equation, the Mavericks would only get 2.0 wins back, while still losing the 2.7 wins for which Wright is responsible. The trade would still be a net loss of 0.7 wins for the Mavericks with the best version of Rondo we've ever seen (one, realistically, we'll probably never see again).
Of course, our numbers are admittedly rigid. They don't account for the interaction effect of players and how various Mavericks would improve with a point guard like Rondo in tow. The idea is that Rondo would make the other Mavs around him better, and maybe adding Rondo would make the other four starters improve dramatically in terms of efficiency. Then again, it's hard to overlook the fact that guys like Monta Ellis need the ball in their hands to be effective, and Rondo dominates it more than just about anyone in the business.
There would surely be some kinks and growing pains to get through if the trade were completed, and who's to say they'd be worked out in time for the playoffs? The trade is likely being considered with the idea of Dirk's career winding down in mind, yet the adjustment period could very well waste a precious remaining year that's off to a pretty excellent 19-8 start as it is.
At first glance, of course, Rondo would seem like an upgrade over guys like Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, and Raymond Felton, but his nERD is actually lower than Harris' (3.4) and Barea's (2.9) and is on par with Nelson's (-3.8). Felton hasn't even played a minute for the Mavericks yet this season. Although it's fair to assume that Felton won't be that great, he still has shown flashes of dependable production at different points in his career and could bolster the Mavs' already jammed backcourt upon his return.
Considering said depth that Dallas has at point guard and the complete and utter lack of it they have at backup power forward and center, is a point guard upgrade that -- efficiency-wise -- isn't really much of an upgrade at all really the right move for them at this juncture? If the Mavericks lose Wright, they're down to guys like Greg Smith and Charlie Villanueva as backup bigs. One would have to assume that a guy like Brandon Bass or what-have-you would come back in the deal from the Celtics, but still...gross.
The deal ain't a done one yet, though. The Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings are all apparently in the mix for Rondo as well, although the Mavericks seem to be a clear frontrunner in that pack.
Based on the numbers above, however, maybe they shouldn't want to be.