Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld Does it Again...Fails

by John Huffstetler

Wizards get: Nene Hilario, Brian Cook, and a future 2nd rd pick

Nuggets get: JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf

Clippers get: Nick Young

Analysis: Ernie Grunfeld does it again. This trade makes absolutely no sense for the Washington Wizards organization. Back in January, I wrote and posted an article about the ineptitude of Grunfeld as a GM, and his obvious propensity for trading potential in the form of young players or draft picks for overpaid, out of their prime veterans. Acquiring Nene for the young, talented McGee is yet another example of his failures as a GM. Nene is having his worst statistical year since his rookie season. His true shooting % dipped to 55.4 so far this year, which is his first season below 60% (excluding his 07-08 season where he missed 66 games due to injury) since 2004-05. In the 2008-2011 seasons, he neared the league lead in shooting, which makes his inauspicious dropoff this season even more alarming.

This is also the first year in his entire career (again ignoring his injury-plagued 16 game season) in which his team's points allowed while he is on the floor is greater than his team's points scored. For his career, the Nuggets have scored 113 points per 100 possessions and allowed 103 while he is on the floor. This year, they have scored just 100 and allowed 102. This drop off in offensive production can be attributed to the aforementioned true shooting % drop and his drop in offensive rebounding % to 6.2 %, his lowest mark of his career. To make matters worse for the Nuggets this season, Nene was using 22.5% of the offensive possessions (his highest career mark), despite his major drop-off in shooting.

The Wizards also gave up a major piece of the future in this trade in JaVale McGee. Although McGee occasionally makes glaring errors on the floor he is only 24 with many years to learn the game and continue to improve. Even right now, McGee shows the potential to be a terrific player in terms of rebounding and defense. He ranks 21st this season in rebounding % (17.9) among players who average more than 20 minutes per game, ranking ahead of highly-touted rebounders such as Blake Griffin, Tyson Chandler and Serge Ibaka.

There were only two players on the roster (not surprisingly) who were positive in net points per possession: JaVale McGee and Trevor Booker. McGee has the strongest defensive rating on the team among regular contributors. The Wizards scored 105 points per 100 possessions with McGee on the floor, while allowing 104. Although this 1 point difference is not overwhelming, consider that with John Wall on the floor, the Wizards score 102 per 100 and allow 110, a net difference of -8. You can read the rest of the offensive and defensive ratings here, but more than half the team is strongly in the negative (Blatche is an appalling -21). What this statistic means is if the Wizards had played McGee with average NBA players with the same offensive and defensive rating, the team would have scored more points this year than they allowed. McGee and Booker are not the reason the Wizards failed to make stops defensively and lost games. Now they must attempt to replace his production with a potentially declining Hilario.

Now 29, Hilario has had major knee surgeries, and, more telling, the Nuggets felt comfortable enough jettisoning their franchise cornerstone of nearly a decade in the middle of a playoff run in order to give rookie Kenneth Faried more playing time. He is also in the first year of a 5 year, $67 million deal that will expire when Nene is 33 and in his 14th NBA season (if he lasts that long). Beyond the clear financial implications of the deal, the move make NO sense for where the Wizards currently stand as an organization. If they had acquired Nene four years ago when they had a strong but perimeter-oriented nucleus of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison, this move could have propelled them to an Eastern Conference championship in what was then a soft conference.

Now, however, the roster is no where near contention for a playoff spot, let alone a conference title. Assuming Hilario was still in his prime (which statistical analysis questions), the move still makes no sense because the Wizards won't have the pieces in place to make a playoff run in any of the next three seasons. If anything, it makes it more plausible that the Wizards could become a middling team again fighting for the last playoff spot, which, in the NBA, is a dreaded fate given the lottery structure and importance of high draft picks.

This move reeks of a desperate man in Grunfeld trying to salvage his job at the expense of an organization and a city. His complete lack of understanding of statistics, roster construction, franchise direction, and salary implications in regard to this trade make this move unconscionable. This cancer needs to be fired before he makes any more moves that cripple the future of the franchise. Hopefully, next season the Wizards can start yet again from square one and undo the severe damage Grunfeld inflicted on the organization.

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