Does the Arron Afflalo Trade Make the Portland Trail Blazers Better?
Since the 1999-2000 season, the Portland Trail Blazers have lasted past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs just once -- in 2013-14.
This year, their playoff hopes are quite secure (our algorithms give them a 99.8 percent chance to make the playoffs), and their championship hopes (3.2 percent) are ninth-best in the NBA.
With quite a commanding division lead, the Blazers need not worry about making the playoffs but rather making the most of their trip there.
In an attempt to bolster the roster, Portland shipped Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and Will Barton to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Alonzo Gee and Arron Afflalo, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
The real question, though, is whether this deal actually makes the Blazers better.
Lets dig into the numbers and find out if it does.
Blazers without Afflalo
Prior to the trade, the Blazers secured a record of 36-17. They are also considered the seventh-best team in the NBA according to our power rankings. Our rankings are dependent on nERD, which is a number indicative of a team's ultimate projected winning percentage and is based on the team's overall efficiency.
Their nERD of 62.4 suggests they'll finish the season at roughly 52-30, two wins shy of their total from last year. But is this year's squad really worse?
Not exactly. Sure, the Blazers were ranked second in the NBA in Offensive Rating last year (111.5) and dropped to 10th so far this year (107.6), but their Defensive Rating has improved drastically. Portland ranked 16th in the NBA last year in Defensive Rating (107.4). This year? They're second in the NBA (102.0).
Afflalo was known for his defensive ability at UCLA years ago, but what does he really bring to the table for the Blazers?
After running the numbers with Afflalo on the roster, the Trail Blazers can expect to add a whopping zero wins to their record as a result.
How can that be?
Well, even though Afflalo has been touted for his defense before, it hasn't translated to the NBA. Afflalo's career Defensive Rating is 111, and he's only posted one season (out of his eight total, including this year) with a Defensive Rating lower than 110. For context, Kyrie Irving has a career Defensive Rating of 109. Additionally, his Offensive Rating (104) is the second-lowest of his career.
That's why, in terms of overall efficiency, Afflalo hasn't been helpful this year. His individual nERD score, which indicates how many wins above or below average a team would expect to finish with Afflalo as a starter, is -5.3. That ranks 128th out of 140 qualified players this year. It's also the second-worst mark of his career (it was -5.8 in 2012-13), and well below the -0.3 average in his previous seven seasons.
Further, his Win Shares per 48 minutes (0.053) are the second-lowest of his career, as well. (He had just 0.042 in 2012-13.) In fact, Afflalo is one of only five players this year to average at least 32 minutes per game and secure fewer than 0.053 wins per 48 minutes.
Ultimately a Wash
Portland traded away just 767 combined minutes in the trio of players sent to Denver. Afflalo has played 1,750 this year so far, to underwhelming effect.
Depth is certainly something the Blazers shore up with this move, as Afflalo can definitely play as many minutes as he'll be offered in the rotation. However, expecting him to return anything significant is overly optimistic, based on the numbers. Afflalo has secured a positive nERD score in just two of his seven full seasons, and his career average of -0.3 indicates he's little more (well, actually, a little less) than a replacement-level talent in the NBA.
This move should undoubtedly help the Blazers secure a more solidified rotation, but even Afflalo's offense (he ranks just 39th in effective field goal percentage among the 62 players attempting at least 12 field goals per game) in limited quantities likely won't help the Blazers make the next step.
It's not necessarily a step backward, but the already solid Blazers don't exactly get better with this swap, and that speaks to the quality of their roster.