NBA.com’s David Aldridge recapped the trade deadline this morning. Included in the article was a Clippers’ tidbit that, surprisingly enough, had nothing to do with Kevin Garnett or Eric Bledsoe:
“The Clips stood pat, but not by their basketball people’s choice. L.A. and Washington had a done deal Wednesday night that would have sent forward Trevor Ariza to the Clippers in exchange for Caron Butler, giving L.A. a long, defensive-oriented body to throw at the likes of Kevin Durant in the playoffs. (Butler, who still has an offseason home in the D.C. area, and who was loved by the locals, didn’t have a problem returning to a non-Arenas Wizards locker room. He’d have been welcomed back as a much-needed offensive option, according to sources.)But sources indicated that Clippers owner Donald Sterling nixed the deal Thursday morning, not wanting to gamble on the team’s chemistry being affected in any way down the stretch.”
It’s easy to see what the logic of the front office was here. The Clippers’ defensive woes have only worsened on the perimeter, and a deep playoff run could likely entail facing — and surviving — the wrath of Manu Ginobli, Kevin Durant and James Harden. However, the notion that Ariza would provide an ample enough solution to this problem to make us forget his offensive hindrance is false.
It’s no secret that Butler has fallen off defensively. As Jovan Buha beautifully demonstrated earlier this month, Butler is the Clippers’ defensive weak-link at the small forward position. Jovan suggested the Clippers should start Hill or Barnes in his place, having Butler spend the majority of his minutes checking weaker, bench players.
This is something I consider to be a general rule: when a team is contending, and has a legitimate shot at making the finals, they shouldn’t trade a starting-caliber player for someone that doesn’t agreeably make them better. This rings true even more when you factor in how much the Clippers’ chemistry has contributed to their success. Butler has been a contributor to this success in a deeper sense than some would think:
According to NBA.com’s Stats tool, Butler is featured in three of the Clippers’ four best three-man units, as well as their three best four-man units in terms of +/- rating. Not to mention, the duo of Butler/Blake Griffin is only bested by Paul/Griffin and Paul/DJ.
The on/off court stats don’t waiver from Butler’s reputation, either. The Clippers’ defensive rating improves from 102 when he’s on the court to 97.4 when he’s off the court which is roughly the difference between the 2nd best defensive team efficiency in the NBA and the 13th.
No one will deny that Ariza would provide a much-needed defensive upgrade on the perimeter. What’s questionable, though, is whether his defense can make up for the fact that he’s undeniably worse on offense. In 25 minutes per game, he’s scoring 8.4 points on 40 percent shooting from the field and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc. Washington’s defensive rating may improve from 100 to 98.8 with him on the court, but the only solace in Ariza’s offensive efficiency of 96.6 is that it’s only almost as bad as the Washington’s rating of 96. Our very own Jeremy Conlin describes just what an offensive set with Ariza replacing Butler would look like:
“Trying to imagine the Clippers’ offense with Ariza spacing the floor instead of Butler would be like watching complicated time-travel movies like Primer or 12 Monkeys or Looper over and over again. At first you’d be confused, then you’d get a headache, then your nose would start bleeding, and eventually you lose touch with reality and end up eating mayonnaise straight out of the jar because you can’t remember what food tastes like.”
I’d be in agreement with him here, if not for the fact that there is nothing in the world that I wouldn’t smother with mayonnaise.
Another detractor from a possible Ariza-Butler trade scenario is that Butler’s tendency to swing the ball to the open man would be missed. The Clippers assist ratio of 19.1 with Butler on the court is tied with the league-leading San Antonio Spurs. Ariza emulates the Wizards assist ratio of 17.1, which isn’t terrible, but it is in the bottom half of the league at 17. Before you consider this as a result of the teammates Ariza is playing next to, it’s been widely documented that he has one of the worst shot selections in the entire league, which doesn’t exactly supplement the fact that he isn’t a strong shooter in the first place.
Lastly, according to mySynergySports, Ariza scores 22.4 percent (78th out of all players) of his points in transition. The Clippers are already 8th in the league in fast break points, a ranking that is generally positive as there’s nothing wrong with getting as many easy baskets as possible. However, once the post-season comes around, and more importunity the game slows down, LA might be in trouble if they can’t find an alternative source of scoring.
Trevor Ariza may be able to hold off the likes of Jamal Crawford, like he’s done before this season, but he won’t make a nominal difference against someone like Durant, especially with Grant Hill back in the fold. All in all, fans can thank Donald Sterling for valuing chemistry — and the fact that Butler is a better basketball player — over a perennially mediocre defensive stopper.