First of all, what was Orlando thinking? The centerpiece of the long anticipated Dwight Howard trade ends up being Arron Afflalo? Yikes. Thanks to Orlando’s generosity the three other teams involved in the reported four team deal that will be finalized later today all received much more than they gave. Obviously the Lakers are thrilled with Bynum for Howard. Philly has to be ecstatic to get Bynum for Igoudala, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless. Denver may not have made out quite as well as those two teams have, but this trade is a slam dunk for the Nuggets.
There are several different aspects of this trade to look at so let’s dive in.
What Denver Gave Up
The Nuggets parted with starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo, backup power forward Al Harrington and a future protected first round pick. Harrington was a very important player for the Nuggets last season. He played very well over the first half of the season and gutted out the final month and playoffs after injuring his knee. While Harrington’s efforts were admirable, it is important to keep two things in mind. One, he was horrible two seasons ago and many fans wanted him amnestied. Two, there is no doubt that one year older and coming off his knee injury it is more likely that he will repeat his performance from 2010-11 than 2011-12.
Not only do the Nuggets avoid having Harrington on their roster during his inevitable decline, they have also opened up some much needed minutes for others at that position. Certainly Kenneth Faried should see a significant increase in minutes. It also allows new addition Anthony Randolph to carve out a significant role should he earn one. Plus players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari can potentially see some minutes there as well although it bears mentioning that Gallo was horrible in his limited minutes at power forward last season.
Parting with Afflalo is difficult. He is a tireless worker who is driven to not only reach his potential, but actually surpass it. He expanded his offensive repertoire beyond what I thought was possible last season developing a quirky yet effective off the dribble game. However, with each passing year, what was his calling card initially, his scrappy defense, gave way to a more offensive mindset.
Igoudala may not have Afflalo’s efficiency, but he will add a passing ability that Afflalo lacked. Iggy also runs the floor better and actually shot a nearly identical percentage from behind the arc last season, 39.4%, than Afflalo did, 39.8% (and carried it through to the postseason, 38.8%, unlike Afflalo, 20.0%).
Afflalo is a very good player, Igoudala is a fantastic player and the upgrade is well worth moving Harrington, who was obviously not in Denver’s long term plans, and a late first round pick, especially if that pick is in the reportedly weak 2013 draft.
If there is a drawback to this trade it is Igoudala’s contract. He is undoubtedly overpaid making $14,718,250 for 2012-13 with a player option worth $15,904,750 for 2013-14. The good news is his additional salary is virtually a wash for the upcoming season with what they are sending out. When you consider that this opens up a roster spot to sign Quincy Miller and add his likely minimum salary onto the books, Denver has added less than $1 million to this season’s payroll.
In 2013-14 his salary proves to be more difficult to handle. Ty Lawson’s anticipated extension will kick in for that season and the Nuggets could find themselves forced to maneuver around the luxury tax. Do not expect Corey Brewer to be back and the Nuggets will likely part with one of their backup centers, Mozgov or Koufos, in order to avoid the tax.
A greater issue is the long term ramifications. Should the Nuggets resign Igoudala beyond his current contract they will struggle to find the money to retain Kenneth Faried without incurring the tax or parting with at least one more rotation player. It will be interesting to see what they do going forward to manage their payroll.
As Kalen pointed out, one aspect of this trade that is being seriously over analyzed is the long term savings. Denver does send out more total guaranteed salaries than they bring back, but that is only if they let Igoudala walk when he becomes a free agent. As we know, Masai does not believe in letting quality players get away. Even though Igoudala is only owed $30.6 million guaranteed while Afflalo and Harrington are guaranteed $41.4 million, for all intents and purposes, this deal makes the Nuggets long term payroll more cumbersome because of the likelihood that they will be paying Igoudala for more than two seasons.
You can debate the various ramifications of this trade, but it comes down to the fact that the Nuggets are going to be a better team next season than they were before. We touched a little bit on this above. Iggy is a better defender, both an individual defender and a team defender, than Afflalo.
One of the dirty little secrets in Denver is that Arron Afflalo experienced a significant decline on defense over the previous two seasons. @ESPNStatsInfo tweeted Afflalo was ranked 113th out of 113 players who defended 500 or more possessions, I am guessing that is on a points per play average, while Igoudala was 11th. According to Synergy Sports there is a drastic difference in how these two defend spot up plays. Afflalo was 334th in the league in defending spot up shots giving up a field goal percentage of 42.1%, including an even worse 43.2% on three point attempts, and an astronomical 1.13 points per possession. Conversely Igoudala allowed only 0.8 points per possession, good for 55th in the league holding opponents to 33.1% from the field and a suffocating 29.5% on threes. Remember how the Nuggets struggled to defend the three point line last season? This trade will help significantly.
It is easy to look at Afflalo’s points per game as well as the upward trend in that department and expect this trade to help on defense, while hurting on offense. As mentioned above, Afflalo is a more efficient scorer than Igoudala. However, I do not think he is a better offensive player.
It is important to recognize that Igoudala has voluntarily reduced his scoring over the past two seasons. In the aftermath of the trade that sent another AI to Denver, Iggy lead the 76ers in scoring at 19.9 points per game. In carrying the load offensively he was able to maintain a solid TS% of 54.3. The good news is, as in Philly, Denver does not need Igoudala to be their leading scorer. He simply needs to take advantage of their slash and kick style which should give him plenty of opportunities to use his tremendous athleticism and length to attack the rim, or attempt open three pointers. Plus Igoudala gives Denver another option in trying to defend Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Iggy and AAA is Igoudala’s ability to pass. Afflalo always drove to score. Igoudala will be able to score, or pass. How good of a passer is Igoudala? His assist rate is better than Ty Lawson’s, 28.9 to 28.4. He will fit in exceptionally well in Denver’s up tempo attacking offensive system.
OMG WTF The Nuggets Just Helped the Lakers Get Howard!!!!
Yes, the Nuggets played a role in ushering Howard to the Lakers. That is the wrong way to look at this trade. The Magic had worked on deals with Brooklyn and Houston and failed to come to an agreement. At this point, Howard was going to end up in L.A. Denver did not cause Howard to end up with the Lakers, Orlando did. Denver saw an opportunity to better their team and they pulled the trigger. Would it make Nuggets fans feel better if Howard was traded to the Lakers and Igoudala went to the Mavs or Grizzlies, or Spurs?
The Nuggets have to put the best possible team on the court. Howard puts the Lakers on par with the Thunder and Heat for the next season or two. However, Nash and Kobe are nearing the end of their careers. Denver was not going to surpass the Lakers this season and probably not in 2013-14 either. However, when Kobe and Nash retire, or significantly decline, they are no longer contenders, Denver’s core players will be in their primes.
Honestly, this trade does not ensure the Nuggets of anything. It gives them a chance to rebound from last season’s atrocious defensive performance. Denver now has the potential to be a lockdown defensive team. Players like Iggy, Faried, McGee and Randolph all have tremendous athleticism while Gallo and Chandler have shown flashes of defensive prowess and the Nuggets have plenty of size with backup centers like Mozgov and Koufos.
It will take a concerted effort from both the players and coaches to re-establish the Nuggets as at worst a solid defensive team and at best an excellent one. How far they improve on that end of the court will determine how much they improve.
In closing I will throw out one final thought just to stir things up. If Orlando was willing to trade Howard for a package of Afflalo, Harrington, two young prospects and three future first round draft picks, it would have been very interesting to have seen Denver simply acquire Howard themselves knowing that they could sign and trade him for a decent package of assets following the season if he was bound and determined to take less money to play somewhere else. Just a fun little scenario to think about.