Establishing Market Value: The Wings

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Published: May 21, 2009

Though the Hornet’s front court was paper thin – there was no question that the Hornet’s got the least amount of production out of its stable of Wing Players.  A few days ago I did my valuation of the Hornet’s Big Men.  Here’s my comprehensive valuation of those players in an effort to figure out what sort of value they might have on the open market.  I hope you enjoy it – and aren’t scared off by the length. :)

The Hornet’s Wings

Rasual “Phoenix” Butler

Contract: 1 Year, $3.9 Mil
At the age of 29, Rasual Butler bounced back from his worst season in the league to post what was most likely his finest, earning himself the knickname of the Phoenix.  Last season, Butler was left off the playoff roster, and managed a league-low 35% shooting.  This season, he posted a 43% shooting, along with 39% shooting from three, and seized the starting shooting guard spot ten games into the season and never relinquished it. He hit a number of memorable shots down the stretch of the season, winning games in Sacramento and a week later, sending a Miami game to overtime on a prayer three-pointer.  In all, there wasn’t a better Hornets feel-good story than the one Butler delivered this season.
Offense: Okay – now that we’ve said all that about Butler, it’s time to get down to the hard truth.  Butler may have been a feel-good story – but he was below average as a starting shooting guard.  His calling card – shooting – ranked 37th amongst shooting guards and 63rd among all Wing players.(as measured by true shooting percentage, which takes into account three-pointers and free throws)  He had the third lowest assist rate of any shooting guard(though mitigated that by having the third lowest turnover rate too) and only drew an average of 1.3 free throws a game.  These numbers clearly reflect what he was asked to do – spot up and shoot – but also reflect that there wasn’t much else he contributed offensively.
Rebounding: I was a bit surprised by this, because I remembered him having several nice double-digit rebounding games, but this is when stats are valuable.  Rasual Butler was 93rd in rebound rate among wing players, grabbing a pretty sad 6.3% of available rebounds.  Even among typically non-rebounders like shooting guards, he ranks in the bottom half.
Defense: So – I’ve given Rasual Butler a lot of credit for his defense over the course of the year.  His ability to stay with and contest most of his opponents seemed pretty special.  He also typically took on the toughest defensive assignment on the wing.  The question is:  Did his ability to track opponents actually make them less productive?  Not Really.  Butler held opposing Shooting Guards to a PER of 16.4, and opposing Small Forwards to a PER of 18.2.  While you’d expect those numbers to be a little higher than average since he takes the toughest player, it does show he’s probably at best an average defender.  Shooting Guards averaged a PER of 15.7 this year, and Small Forwards averaged a 15.9. 
Summary & Trade Value: There’s something that John Hollinger of ESPN talks about every year called the “Fluke Rule”.  Essentially, every year there are several players in the league, age 29 or 30, who suddenly have a tremendous season – way above the norm for what they’ve provided up until then.  In almost every case, the following year that player falls back to their norm.  Rasual is 29.  In his seven seasons, only 2 have varied from the 10.5 PER he’s averaged – last season and this one, making it likely he’s one of those Fluke Players.  In essence, what I’m saying is that Butler has a higher trade value now than he’s ever had – and probably ever will have – and his contract is expiring, making him even more valuable.  There may not be a better time to move him.  While I doubt no one is going to trade straight up for him – he’s not that kind of player – he could be added to a package deal to make it much more attractive.

Morris Peterson

Contract: 2 Years, $12.8 Mil
Morris Peterson started the year as the starting shooting guard, averaging 20 minutes, but got injured in game 9, lost his starting spot to Rasual Butler, and only got two more stretches of play, neither of which lasted more than 10 games or averaged more than 13 minutes per.  There was a lot of frustration among fans about Mo Pete’s disappearance, but was it warranted?  Morris Peterson had been on a decline since the 2005-2006 season, losing a point of PER every year from his high of 15.3.  At age 31, it doesn’t seem too surprising that this trend would continue – and it did, as he matched Projections and hit a PER low of 10.73.
Offense: Mo Pete clearly felt the pressure this season – feeling he needed to shoot when he was on the floor.  As a result he posted the second highest usage rate of his career.  He also posted the second lowest assist rate of the year, right below Rasual Butler in the bottom three, and like Butler, he was in the bottom five in turnovers, a reflection of his catch and shoot philosophy.  Unfortunately, despite shooting much more often, he hit much less often as well.  Even when he was getting regular minutes at the start of the season, he shot poorly, averaging 37% from the field and 24% from three.  By the end of the season those numbers had climbed to 39% and 38%, but his lack of free throws earned him a True Shooting Percentage of 49.9% – which was 64th among shooting guards and 112th amongst all wing men.  Yeah.  That’s not good.
Rebounding: Throughout his career, Peterson has abeen a strong rebounder for a guard.  That trend continued as he dragged down 9.9% of available rebounds, good for fourth best among shooting guards.
Defense: Peterson did well defensively this season, much better than he did last year or the year before, holding opposing shooting guards to a PER of 14.3.  Of course, he also spent most of his time tracking second unit shooting guards for only 4-5 minutes, so I’m probably more likely to believe that the 17.3 PERs he’d allowed the previous few seasons is more realistic.
Summary & Trade Value: I’d like to believe that Morris Peterson has some sort of trade value – but the truth is, any GM worth his salt will be able to look at his numbers and see that his decline has become pretty obvious.  He’s not enticing enough to trade for – and adding him to a package will make that package look less attractive, unless it’s a really big trade that needs $6mil in filler salary.  The good news – and this is a consistent theme for the Hornets(see Stojakovic and Chandler) – if the team is patient for one season, the following season he become an expiring contract – which will make him a tradeable piece.

James Posey

Contract: 3 Years, $19.5 Mil
Posey had some serious expectations on his shoulders when he arrived in New Orleans, having been touted as the “missing piece”, which was always a bit ridiculous considering his career numbers.  Posey did exactly what he did the previous season – gave hard fouls(sometimes silly or too hard), took a lot of three pointers, drew more charges than anyone else on the team, rebounded very well for his position, and played hard.
Offense:  Posey was almost purely a 3-point specialist, shooting 2/3rds of his shots from behind the arc.  After hitting at a torrid 46% through November and December(and endearing himself to many fans) his shooting crashed and burned, hitting an awful 26% in March after hurting his elbow.  For the season, he ended with his worst percentage from behind the arc since he played in Memphis five years ago, hitting 37% of his three point shots.  Despite his shooting problems, his ability to draw fouls and score in the post for the second unit when Byron became desperate for reserve scoring allowed him to produce a 13th best 56.8 True Shooting Percentage among Small Forwards – 28th best among all Wing Players.  One thing the Hornets did not take advantage of, however, was Posey’s ability to pass intelligently.  Throughout his career he had posted decent assist rates of 15-17%, but the Hornets used him as more of a finisher, and he finished with a purely average assist rate of 10.9% – though his turnover numbers remained the same.
Rebounding: Posey is a pretty good rebounder, posting a rate of 10.2%, and ranking 15th among Small Forwards and 17th among all wing players.  He was particularly strong on the defensive side of the boards, grabbing a 5th best 18.3% of defensive boards.  He wasn’t asked to crash the offensive boards, and was instead relied on to get back defensively and it showed.  He only grabbed 2.2% of available offensive rebounds.(Good for 54th)
Defense:  So this is supposedly James Posey’s stock in trade – his ability to defend three positions from Shooting Guard to Power Forward.  How did he do?  A bit better than average.  The players he faced averaged PERs of 15.3 – and the league average was around 15.8 for Wing players.  His defense wasn’t actually all that effective at forcing bad shots, allowing a shooting percentage of around 48%.  Instead, he gave a below average number of few free-throw opportunities(I was suprised there), Limited opposing players to only 4.5 rebounds per 48 minutes(a GREAT number) and forced an above average number of turnovers.  Was he an awesome defender?  No, not really.  But he was still pretty good.
Summary & Trade Value: Posey will still retain some trade value as what he gives – three point shooting, rebounding and solid positional defense – aren’t really things that should decline quickly with age.  The last year of his contract might be ugly, but he’ll be an expiring contract, so his deal isn’t so odious as some claim.  I’d be pretty surprised if the Hornets moved him, but he’d be a nice sweetener on a bigger deal.

Peja Stojakovic

Contract: 2 Years, $29.5 Mil
Peja entered the third year of his contract coming off of a solid season as a Hornet, and most expected him to do about the same thing he’d done the year before.   Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  And it didn’t happen for unexpected reasons.
Offense:  Shooting is usually a skill that doesn’t go.  Slashing goes.  Post play goes.  Spot up shooting?  Typically players reliant on that skill for their spot in the league last until the mid thirties.  Oddly enough, it was his shooting touch that deserted Peja this season.  Now – Peja had posted the best three-point percentage of his career last season – so it was likely to come down, but it fell to the worst percentage since Stojakovic’s sophomore season in the league.  Peja’s FG% fell to 39.9% and his three point stroke dropped to 37.8% for the season.  His usage rate also fell by 1%, though whether that’s a result of his poor shooting, or something else, it’s hard to say.  Peja’s shooting woes do have an explanation, however.  Peja shot 42% through the first three months of the season – but crashed in February – right about where his back started to bother him.  For the rest of the season, Peja only managed 32.5% shooting from deep.  Clearly, his back wasn’t right.  His final true shooting % of 53.1% ranked him as the 34th best shooter among small forwards and 79th among all Wing Players.
Rebounding: Peja is a pretty poor rebounder, and always has been. Despite improving some over the previous year, he still only grabbed rebounds at a 7.6% rate this season, which is good for 44th amongst Small Forwards, and 64th amongst all Wing players.
Defense: I’ve talked about Peja’s defense in the past.  The guy actually is a pretty solid defender in most situations.  Opponents facing Peja posted a PER of 15.4, which is right in line with what Posey did, and better than Butler.
Summary & Trade Value:  Peja can help a lot of teams, especially when his back is healthy.  Unfortunately, he’s making $14 Million next year, and he’s probably worth 1/3rd of that.  Concerns about his health, and 2 years remaining on a big contract make him completely unmoveable.  Expect him to be around next year.  The year after that, however, he becomes a coveted expiring contract.  A big expiring contract.  That could be very useful.

Julian Wright

Contract: 1 Year, $2.0 Mil, Includes Team Option for one more year at $2.8 Mil
The great enigma, Julian Wright got chances this year to have an impact, and typically delivered some great moments with just as many dismal ones.  He was given two 10-game audition stretches through the first half of the season, and delivered only mediocre results.  Late in the season, with the team struggling with injury, he got an extended run, and through the first ten games looked very solid.  Then he had a chain of six games where he shot 25%, and then Peja and Posey came back, and he vanished to the bench again.
Offense:  One of Julian’s greatest abilities his rookie season was his offensive efficiency.  He managed 53% shooting with 42% from deep in his first year, en route to producing a gorgeous True Shooting % of 58.1%.  This year, however, he turned down open threes, and instead preferred to dribble in about two-three feet and take a long two – the most inefficient shot in basketball.  Result?  A True Shooting % of 47.9.  That’s good for 53rd among Small Forwards and 120th amongst all Wing Players.  Passing – something he was billed to be very good at, was not his strong suit either, as he assisted 12.9% of the time – exactly matching his 12.9% turnover rate.  That assist rate ranked a poor 35th among Small Forwards, but the turnover rate was terrible, landing him 54th amongst the league’s qualified(6 minutes per game) 60 small forwards.
Rebounding: Julian’s rebounding was a bright spot – something anyone who watched him could tell you.  He dragged down 11.9% of available rebounds, tying LeBron James for 5th among Small Forwards.  Among all Wings, that ranks as 6th.
Defense: This will come as no surprise to Hornets fans.  As a man-to-man defender, Julian Wright had no equal on the team.  Small Forwards facing him generated PERs of only 13.3, while shooting 43.4%.  They also averaged a high number of turnovers – and this is key – their interior FG%(number of shots they got in the paint) was only 26%, almost 10% below average.  Julian’s fouls were also slightly below average.
Summary & Trade Value:  Putting a value on Julian is really difficult.  His potential remains off the charts, but he has still hasn’t produced anything making him extremely difficult to value.  Personally, at his very palatable salary, I would prefer to hold on to Julian and see if he can make the leap in his third year, but amongst Hornet’s players, he probably has the fourth or fifth most value on the open market.  I don’t think it would be surprising at all to see his potential be sacrificed to the gods of Luxury Tax necessity.

Next up:  The Ball Handlers

Feel free to point out things I’ve missed about these five.

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