The Tale of Two Arizas: Which One Are the Hornets Getting?

Published: August 15, 2010

After the trade, Ryan did a comprehensive breakdown of Ariza’s statistics over the last couple of years. Charles Barkley has a saying about stats, “they are like a fine woman in a bikini- nice to look at, but you don’t see the whole story.” This is especially true in basketball, where every team is completely different with regard to their systems and the talent they already have in place. That makes it extremely difficult to take what we know of a player from the past and project what he will do with a new team. Not only is it likely that the amount of shots a player gets will vary from team to team, but the type of shots he will get varies as well.

A playmaking point guard, a once-in-a-generation wing player, or a dominant big man who demands double teams all make the game much easier for the other four guys on the court, and usually this gets reflected in their overall statistics. In recent years Steve Nash has rejuvenated the careers of Grant Hill, Tim Thomas, Jared Dudley, and Channing Frye by getting them the looks that they could not get in other systems with average point guards. Before that he was responsible for helping relatively limited offensive players like Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson achieve career years that led to them getting paid like superstars. With Nash, even guys like Raja Bell became 15 PPG scorers.

The hope is that CP3 can have the same kind of effect on Ariza this upcoming year in New Orleans. Last season, Ariza did not have the luxury of an elite playmaking point guard that could set him up for easy buckets and because of that his field goal percentage suffered. However, Houston did make a trade in February that took some of the scoring duties away from Ariza, as Kevin Martin became the focal point of the offense, along with Aaron Brooks. Before the Martin trade, Ariza was averaging nearly 15.5 shots per game, shooting 37 percent from the field and only 28 percent from the three point line. After the trade, Ariza was far more efficient. His shot attempts went down to only 11.5 per game and his shooting percentages went up- 43.5 from the field and nearly 39 percent from three. In essence, Rockets fans saw two different Trevor Ariza’s last season, and Hornets fans have to wonder which one they are getting.

Without the pressure of being the number one or number two option, Ariza thrived in the role that was more suited for him. He also benefited from being able to play his true position. Before the Martin trade, Ariza was forced to play shooting guard as opposed to his more customary small forward position. Once Ariza went back to his regular position and Houston stopped forcing him to create his own offense, all of his numbers went up.

If we want to use stats to define a player, then this is probably who Ariza is- a third or fourth option at best on a good team who benefits from being able to roam free while defenses shift their attention elsewhere. Depending on the matchup that night, he should likely get somewhere between 10-13 shots and use his athleticism to impact the game in other areas. In the 18 games where he started at small forward for Houston after the Martin trade, he did just that, filling out the stat sheet with 5.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.9 steals, and nearly a block a game in only 33 minutes per game.  All of those numbers were higher than his regular season numbers despite getting four less minutes per game.

Ariza just turned 25 less than two months ago, yet the national media seems to label him as a finished product while Collison (who will turn 23 next week) is full of limitless potential. The truth is, however, that most NBA players do not “grow” as much as they find the right fit for themselves basketball wise. Of course they improve certain aspects of their game, but nearly every player in the NBA is a better shooter than when he came into the league, has a higher IQ, understands the nuances better, etc. But not every player’s numbers go up every year. That has more to do with minutes, shots, and fit than anything else.

On paper it looks like Ariza has found a home in New Orleans. If one were to draw up a checklist that would best serve Ariza’s game, the Hornets would fit nearly every criteria. A superstar point guard that can get him open looks in the half court and easy shots in transition. Check. A starting lineup with three players that teams will focus on ahead of Ariza. Check. A coach who understands the position and will work with Ariza every day. Check. A front office who believes in what he brings to the table as a player. Check.

Those who debate which team in the four-team trade got the best player are missing the point. Even if Collison’s impressive half season leads you to believe that his future is brighter than Ariza’s, it does not mean that the Hornets got the short end of the stick. They got the piece that was best for their individual puzzle, regardless of what Collison becomes with the Pacers. Ariza is here now and,most likely, we won’t know for a couple of years how to truly grade this trade for all teams involved. If the Hornets get the Trevor Ariza Rockets fans saw before Kevin Martin, this trade will likely be a fail- but all signs point to a higher likelihood that the Hornets will get the more efficient Ariza.

Where Ariza’s game goes from here is unknown, but there is a blueprint out there for him to follow. In 1996 there was another tall, lanky athletic forward who was twenty five years old and had just finished a career year with the Rockets. Like Ariza, this player had also been a key contributor to a team that made back to back Finals appearances and whose contributions extended beyond what showed up in the box score. The player was Robert Horry.

Horry will never be mistaken for a superstar, and he never averaged double digits again in his career after his 12 PPG outburst in 95-96, but he played another twelve years of quality NBA basketball, picking up another 5 rings along the way. He did whatever was asked of him and hit the open shots in the clutch, much like Ariza did in the 2009 playoffs. Guys like that are rare, and Ariza has shown that he can be one of those guys for a good team and maybe he will be again for the Hornets. We won’t know for a while and in the meantime all we have are stats, but as Chuck says, those won’t tell you the whole story of a guy like Ariza.

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