Digging Into the Proposed Chad Ford Trade

Published: February 8, 2016

In ESPN’s recent Insider piece on trades that Eastern Conference teams should do, NBA Beat Writer Chad Ford proposed a trade between the Detroit Pistons and the New Orleans Pelicans. The deal has the New Orleans Pelicans trading Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans away to the Detroit Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Jennings, and Stanley Johnson. This is what it looks like on ESPN’s Trade Machine.

The move would have the Pelicans losing two key cogs in their recent playoff run, in return for a weaker version of the same player (Ilyasova for Anderson), a backup point guard coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon (Jennings), and the eighth pick in the most recent NBA Draft, (Johnson.) Let’s look at what the Pelicans are getting in this hypothetical deal.

Ersan Ilyasova

In Ilyasova, the Pelicans are getting a stretch-4 who has started every game alongside the Pistons’ star center Andre Drummond this year. Ilyasova is averaging 11.2 points per game (shooting 36.2% from beyond the arc) and 5.4 rebounds. These numbers are down compared to Anderson’s 17 points per game (38.5% from beyond the arc) and 6 rebounds per game. Ilyasova shoots 38.1% on catch and shoot three pointers, while Anderson shoots 41.9% on those same shots. Like Anderson, the majority of Ilyasova’s shots come outside of the corners, making them both specialists at key parts on the basketball court. First things first, Ryan Anderson is a better player than Ilyasova.

Ilyasova has some major value for the Pelicans despite this. He fits the mold of a stretch power forward who is a role player. Unlike Anderson, who gets plays called for him and has a usage rate of 23.7; Ilyasova has a usage rate of only 18.4. And how Ilyasova uses those shots differs from Anderson too. Ilyasova takes more three pointers (42.3% of his shots come from beyond the arc), compared to Anderson who shoots 40% of his shots from three point range. On top of that, 44.4% of Ilyasova’s shots are of the catch and shoot variety. 85.1% of his shots come off one or fewer dribbles. 35.3% of Anderson’s shots are of the catch and shoot variety, and only 57.7% of his shots come off one or fewer dribbles. You would be right to assume this shows that Anderson is a more skilled player than Ilyasova. Anderson can score in a bevy of ways that Ilyasova can’t. But, on a team with a bunch of dominant ball handlers, running players for Anderson in the high-post to set him up for long fadeaway twos is also not efficient. When Anderson is hot, the team wins. But often times he isn’t and on those days, the Pelicans find themselves losing, often. Your backup power forward shouldn’t carry this weight. With a team that would still have Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, and Jrue Holiday on its roster, freeing up possessions while having a player that still carries a similar gravity would be huge.

The fact that Ilyasova is a better defender only adds to the fit. According to Basketball Reference, Anderson’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) is an atrocious -2.6. Ilyasova has a 0.3 DBPM. While that stat can be relative to rosters (score one for Omer Asik’s fan club) defensive win shares also favor Ilyasova, (1.6 to 0.5), which explains why the less talented Ilyasova has a greater total Win Share (3.5 to 3.)

These factors, on top of Ilyasova’s favorable contract, make him an interesting piece for the Pelicans. While Anderson will be Rashard Lewis’d by someone (forcing the Pelicans to try to match a lucrative offer or let him walk for nothing), Ilyasova’s contract will allow the Pelicans to be in control. He is on the books for $7.9 million this year and $8.4 million next year, though only $400,000 will be guaranteed. So the Pelicans can take a look at him this year, and then make a decision on whether or not they would like to keep him around or utilize the cap space this offseason.

Brandon Jennings

Jennings has struggled in his return from rehabbing a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left foot. He is averaging 6.7 points per game on (37% shooting) and 3.2 assists per game this season. But looking at last season prior to the injury, there was talk of how Stan Van Gundy was working his magic, with Jennings finally playing on a team that utilized his drive and kick game. Jennings averaged 15.4 points per game (on 40% shooting from the field, 36% from beyond the arc) and averaged 6.6 assists per game last season. Jennings struggles from the field this year can also be chalked up to not being properly utilized, often times being without the ball, and having more than half of his attempts coming from beyond the arc (a career high by a large margin.) Jennings has also averaged at least a steal a game in every season he has played before this one.

Jennings, who is on an expiring contact, can be a fun piece to see how he fits. He seems like the prototypical fit for Gentry’s system, and as a left-handed point guard, can attack the opposite side of the court from Jrue Holiday. At 26, Jennings can still take advantage of the prime of his career. And unlike Anderson, who you can expect to get a huge pay raise, if Jennings stays, he most likely won’t be, allowing the Pelicans to assess whether he’ll stay in his prime, and maybe fend off other suitors and get a good deal on him. He also can be used as insurance in case Holiday leaves, gets hurt, or is expecting a huge pay raise in 2017.

Stanley Johnson

The real prize in this trade is the rookie out of the University of Arizona. At only 19 years old, he had maybe the most NBA ready body out of the rookie class of wings, measuring at 6-7 and 245 pounds. Currently, Johnson’s numbers are modest, averaging 9.1 points per game (shooting 32.5% from beyond the arc) with 4.2 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game, and 0.8 steals per game while coming off the bench. Van Gundy is working on creating a monster of a 3-and-D player, and has Johnson working on his corner 3s, where 40.9% of his field goal attempts from beyond the arc come from (and where he hits a respectable 38.1%.) Johnson’s ability to score in transition and get to the rim gives him even greater potential, making him a possible star. His nearly 7-foot wingspan, lined up next to Davis and Holiday, can make for the foundation of one of the best defensive teams in the league in the future.

Johnson essentially can answer the question of who the Pelicans’ small forward of the future will be. Being a strong defender who is working on his shot, he is exactly the kind of player you want alongside Davis in future playoff series. When Davis is in the heart of his prime (27) Johnson will be 23, exactly the age for him to start his ascent into the core of a championship caliber squad. The fact that Johnson is on a bargain of a rookie scale contract for the next four years (with options to extend and match offers as well) makes him invaluable to a team that has struggled with depth due to injuries.


In the end, this would be a great deal for the Pelicans. While we don’t know if Detroit would have any interest in this trade (the article was purely speculative), it does make sense for the Pistons if they want to go all in this year (and make sure that the Pelicans don’t trade Anderson to another contender, making it harder for the Pistons to sign him.) Evans also makes sense in a dribble drive and kick it out system, and Van Gundy doesn’t seem to have any qualms about using three guard sets. For the Pelicans, the team would get a tryout for two younger vets (buzzwords for GM Dell Demps). If the team likes how they fit, they can resign them, neither of them expecting to break the bank next season like Anderson (and probably Evans the following year). If the Pelicans have the shot of adding a star in free agency (probably a long shot), the team can actually clear out max-level money this year with that trade as well. The Pelicans would lose talent and fit in this trade at first, and will probably lose more games this year than if they stand pat. That isn’t be a bad thing. While I’m not advocating the team to play like the Washington Generals (you want to establish a winning culture and see what you have in the new pieces), the team probably would lose more games, which will give them a better pick (and a better chance of landing in the top-3 and acquiring a foundational piece.) In the end, Demps should be on the phone right now, trying to work out this deal.

Counter Point

by: Michael McNamara

Let’s call this trade what it is: Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans for Stanley Johnson and cap space. Sure, the team can look at Ilyasova and Jennings, but Jennings has been Norris Cole bad this year and Ilyasova is a poor man’s Ryno – and we already have one of those (Babbitt), making 1/7th Ilyasova’s salary.

So, you would be trading two above average starters that can change games on the offensive end for a prospect and cap space, that at best, will give you the right to overpay lesser players. First, let’s look at Stanley Johnson. Yes, he is young. You know who else was a young prospect at one point – Julian Wright. Every bust was ‘young’ at some point, and though people always try to sell the idea that a guy is bound to get better simply because he is bound to get older, history tells us that isn’t true. Some guys start bad and stay bad (here’s looking at you Austin Rivers). And make no mistake, Johnson has started poorly.

Despite playing next to an All-Star point guard and having a big man who draws a ton of attention down low, Johnson has been terrible from the field. He is just under 40% overall and is just 32% from deep. Despite his size and athleticism, his offensive rebounding is non-existent and he doesn’t appear to be anything special when it comes to sharing the rock, getting steals, blocks, or defensive rebounds either. Go back to his one year in college, and he was pretty ‘meh’ across the board as well. His 3 biggest weaknesses according to Mike Schmitz breakdown: Finishing at the rim, decision making, and consistency. Yeah, the Pelicans need MORE of that.

He was drafted on his “upside” and his NBA ready body, but even with those factors, most projections had him going 12-15. Detroit shockingly (and stupidly) took him over Justise Winslow, and when it is all said and done, that might be what he is known for, just as Al-Farouq Aminu’s “upside” got him taken ahead of Gordon Hayward and Paul George.

The other appealing part of this trade seems to be the cap space New Orleans can have going into next summer, but the fault in this argument lies in the fact that you have to believe the Pelicans can get a quality player with all that money. These next two summers will see every team in the league have money, and when money is taken out of the equation (because the player can get the same anywhere), then the next two factors are: winning and location. New Orleans has never been at the top of desired cities for players. We lost our three best franchise players because they wanted to play in New York (LJ), Miami (Zo), and LA (CP3). The best free agent this team has ever landed was an old, about to break down Peja Stojakovic. And yes, there are other ways to use your cap money to land players, specifically uneven trades, but because of the amount of money everyone will have, less teams will be looking to dump players. Also, you will have more teams to compete with than say Atlanta had last summer for Tiago Splitter’s services.

So, you are trading two quality players for a guy who has shown nothing in this league and a bunch of cap room that is unlikely to land you even a sure fire starter. Chris makes a good point about this trade making you worse for the remainder of this season, but honestly, it is going to be close to impossible to catch the bottom 4 teams, and even Minny seems highly unlikely. Heck, a motivated Jennings and Ilyasova, seeing free agency coming, might win you a few more games than Ryno and a hobbled Tyreke.

I would rather try to see if I can get a mid-to-late 1st for Ryno at the deadline and then let Tyreke put up crazy numbers when he comes back after the All-Star break. Then, I find my own small forward in the draft with the pick I get for Ryno, like a Nigel Hayes, and I wait until a ton of teams strike out on FA’s this summer and sell Tyreke to the highest bidder. I would get more of a return going that route, plus I bring in guys who specifically fit my culture. And heck, who knows, maybe there is a new coach and/or GM in June. I’d rather they try to build with their own guys then just inherit more of the players the last regime left behind.


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