What was lost and gained in the Koufos trade

In the midst of draft day fever, the Denver Nuggets almost inconspicuously swung a trade to ship out the starting center of their 57 win team. They acquired Memphis Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur and the rights to the 55th pick, which turned out to be the rather unfortunately named Joffery Lauvergne.

The trade was a surprising one to say the least but it was perhaps emblematic of the great sweeping this franchise has done to all remnants of the Karl era. Koufos, rather notoriously, was a large point of contention between Karl and the front office, the former remaining adamant about starting Kofous in lieu of McGee while the latter kept pushing for JaVale to take a greater role. This conflict embodied the main argument between these two parties, winning now versus sacrificing for development so you can win later, and it ultimately contributed to Karl getting fired.

However, there was a good reason why Karl stuck with Kofous for the entire season. It wasn’t so much that he did something special or even that far above average, but his capacity to do the things most bigs do at a competent level was huge for this team. It was mostly the little stuff, post defense (Per SynergySports he gave up a lowly 0.78 PPP on post-ups), setting screens (one of the few players on the team that did this well), and post-ups (where he was an ultra efficient 0.94 PPP on the rare occasion post-ups were called for). These statistical intangibles reflect mostly in his plus/minus, where he trailed only Wilson Chandler to lead the team. On a squad with so many unorthodox bigs, having one that could carry the load of the tradition center was a godsend.

In turn for this the Nuggets received Darrell Arthur, a player who, on the surface, does not look like an ideal replacement. Coming off a season-ending achilles tear in 2012, Arthur turned in a rather disappointing season this year after finally coming into his own in 2011. The numbers speak for themselves:

My Infographic


Koufos is better than Arthur in nearly all areas, goes about his business more efficiently, and does it all with a much lower usage rate. However, this trade was made not as a straight up swap between these two players but as a stepping stone to get McGee into the starting lineup.

Now why Denver didn’t want Koufos to stay on as a backup, providing much better play than Mozgov at a similar salary, is hard to say and why they couldn’t get any more value out of him than Darrell Arthur and the 55th pick is even harder. Ultimately I chalk this up to another case of Denver sacrificing the past for the sake of a clean start, much like the cleaning house that took place in the already well-established front office. It goes along with the philosophy that clashed so brutally with Karl’s, sacrifice some wins now for the sake of development and hopefully your investment will make it all worth it.

Now, as for Arthur, it is not all doom-and-gloom. There is a chance he can get back to the 2011 version of himself, the one who played an integral part in the Spurs shocking downfall in the first round. At the very least he brings a similar workman-style, traditional big skill set that Kosta once gave this team and he adds a pick-and-pop threat that Denver hasn’t seen since the days of Kenyon Martin.

Who knows? Maybe Darrell isn’t just a stepping stone to a hopefully brighter future, maybe he’s about to be a part of it.


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David Walker

Freshman at FSU. Love the Nuggets, the beach, and the game that involves a ball that occasionally goes into the hoop.
  • Charliemyboy

    Excellent analysis. I’m so glad Josh and his team did this prior to the exchange. Sure. Now we are going from steady to less in every area. Run Mozgov’s numbers at his best to see if they equal Kosta. Kosta could have been a back-up just fine. Do you think Iggy likes this type of thought? Why wouldn’t he think let me out of here?What do the other members of the team think with this synergy? Don’t like it. Everything points down, not level, not up. THINK, Josh! Look what Masai is doing! Please don’t kill our Nuggets!

    • Chris Sanchez

      Koufos is a player who’s numbers don’t match his impact on the game. Denver was equal with him off the floor as on the floor. At times it was if Denver was playing 4 vs 5 when he was on the court. Playoffs were the best example. He was a product Karl and wouldn’t have seem the court much under Shaw. Why didn’t they receive more? Because only Karl things this guy is good. I’d take Brick hands Mozgov over Doufos any day of the week

      • Charliemyboy

        Again, what does the data show. What is the trend of improvement over the years? Facts, ok?

  • Thomas

    While I am happy that we got rid of GK and I wasn’t on the camp that thought Masai was a genius (he was good, though), this move was just terrible.

    KK was well above average and dirt cheap for his output.

    The only scenario I think would justify trading KK now would be that we are looking to ship Javale for a proven center – which is a scarce commodity in this league.

    Javale (w/o KK) is a big gamble. I don’t buy the Faried argument as I think that despite Faried’s defensive mistakes his good outweigh his bads by a mile – he is one of the most effcient players on the league.

    I don’t like Dwight Howard, but I wonder why the Nuggets are not in the rumor mill for his services. With Howard, Lawson, AI, Faried, Gallo, Chandler and our bench we are more potent that any other suitor – including the Rockets.

    Just the fact that GK is gone makes us a much better bet for winning the west – conditional on us having a center that can contribute a double double and help Faried on the defensive end.

  • DavidRMC

    I didn’t mention this in the article but it may very well be the case that they project Mozgov to have a higher ceiling than KK. Honestly I don’t get what they are seeing in him but the team generally has a greater knowledge of its players than those on the outside. It’s at least an explanation as to why they didn’t want Kosta to stay on as a backup, even though it is not one I agree with.

    • herpderpnuggets

      Mozgov hardly played at all last year,so we really couldnt see any production from him

      • toluene hawk

        He started the previous season, and was relegated to the bench. Karl & Co. wanted nothing more than to win basketball games. I can almost guarantee you that the Nuggets management would do whatever it takes to put the best squad on the floor. There is a definite reason he was not used.

        • heykyleinsf

          I agree toluene… he’s 27 and has shown nothing but being god-awful. I could see the KK trade if we had someone else. But we have Mozgov. I’m sorry.. but that sucks, because he sucks. No sugar-coating it.. plain and simple. He sucks.

        • Chris Sanchez

          KK is horrible. Mozgov is 10x the player that Koufos is

          • Charliemyboy

            Where’s your stats. You in dream land?

  • steve

    i dont get all the love affair for KK. I see the stats above, i know he is a decent player, but did you see him during the playoffs? he was lost out there. I agree KK is a solid defender and we are now lacking that. But i dont think it’ll cost much to bring in someone similar unlike what it is to find a stretch 4 that can pick and pop like arthur can. in our uptempo offense, you know how many times our guys were left open and they missed those mid range jumpers? arthur will help here. I like the trade.

  • Qmill30

    Can people stop with the Masai talk? He’s gone
    Did a great job in Denver but never made us true contenders. We don’t know if he ever would have.

    Him getting good value for Bargnani doesn’t prove he’s a huge loss. We’ve already seen strip down dead weight off a roster before and turn them into a good team but let’s see if he turns Toronto into a true contender.
    No doubt Masai is a good GM. I am nowhere near convinced he is a great one. In the NBA it’s usually better to be lucky than great anyway.

    • Mikey K

      And besides, he was working with the Knicks who he already took to the cleaners once. If it worked once….

    • Chris Sanchez

      People don’t get that paying a really unproven guy 3 mil a year to be the GM is ridiculously an executive…guys have won titles and put together good teams year after year do not make that much. Tim Connelly has just as much experience as Masai does and is by the league people as a brighter star at not nearly the price Masai was

  • Qmill30

    I’d like to see Henry Sims out of Georgetown get a crack on our summer league team. I think he’s got some serious defensive potential and could be a good backup center.

    I thought the same with Greg Smith a couple of years ago so I’m 1/1 in guessing ‘undrafted centers making an NBA impact a year out of college’ category so there’s that..

  • aaron

    this posts illustrates clearly the limits of advanced statistics. The all-important “eye” test was one that K2 (I liked him!) didn’t pass regularly, and he is abused against small ball teams, which is where the league is going. Numbers do lie, sometimes.

  • Colby

    What would you guys think about possibly signing Greg Oden as depth for the center position? He might not ever play, but if he did I think he would be a good option for the 3rd center spot. He wouldn’t cost much, so it wouldn’t be a big deal if he didn’t work out.

    • LBJ

      He will cost more than you think – about 9 teams are looking at him.

  • airvaid

    It was a bad trade. Not a catastrophic one though. Only explanation is the front office didn’t wanna give the coach any other option but to play JaVale. It’s sink or swim with JaVale and it’s insanity.

    No Koufos isn’t great or even good. He is average. But he was a contingency. He worked well with Faried. He wasn’t injury prone. I just don’t understand the front office’s transactions pandering to somehow making JaVale and making team decision’s based on playing JaVale more. This front office will be the butt of all league jokes when TNT launches the eventual “Shaqtin’ a Fool with Pierre” with special thanks to Josh Kroenke and Tim Connelly.

  • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/ JoelRMC

    I’m of the opinion that, much like Corey Brewer (though in different ways) Koufos’ efficiency with the Nuggets has largely been a product of the system and the dynamics of the team. Which is not to take anything away from the developmental work of the coaching staff, or Karl’s utilization of those players to get the most out of their limited talents.

    I’ll go ahead and make it my official prediction that Kosta’s PER will drop to the 15.0-15.8 range next season if he stays in the 20-22 mpg range, and that that’ll be a reflection of lower rebounding and shooting percentages. Don’t underestimate how much his offensive rebound and at-rim % numbers were boosted by the heaps of missed perimeter shots available for him to collect. And by pretty much staying parked at the rim with so many guys cutting to the basket all the time, he had plenty of access to his share of missed layups as well.

    I’m already on the record as being underwhelmed by the Darrell Arthur pickup, and none of this changes that. But in fairness, I do think it’s worth pointing out that a cleanup center around the rim should naturally have higher rebound rates than a midrange shooting power forward, based purely on positioning. That said, I’m still pretty meh on Arthur, and not expecting much from him. But maybe the new FO sees something in him I don’t and, working with the coaching staff, can develop him to surprisingly positive results. We shall see, but I won’t be holding my breath…

    • heykyleinsf

      Neither you nor David mentioned Mozgov in the equation. Any reason for leaving him out?

    • heykyleinsf

      just real quick to be fair to Brewer.. Koufos never sunk three free throws to steal victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of the game.

  • dubstings

    Great graphic. A couple of thoughts:

    Are they adjusted for pace? I know PER is, but the rest of the numbers could be meaningless as DEN and MEM were at opposite ends of the spectrum in that regard.

    I see Arthur more as a backup to Faried than a Center. He runs the floor well and is more athletic than KK.

    We fired Karl because we didnt advance in the playoffs. I don’t have the numbers, but KK was awful.

    Giving up the 55th? Kinda strange, but 2nd round picks are just free tryouts.

    • DavidRMC

      No, I didn’t use the NBA Media Site (which has the option to adjust pace) I used basketball reference for the numbers. But the larger point is Arthur had an inefficient year and adjusting for pace won’t change that, also the advanced stats remain the same (like his rebounding rate) no matter what pace the team plays at.

      I am by no means advocating for Koufos as a “good” player, merely that he provided value through being solid in most of the areas Faried and JaVale were not. Hopefully Arthur can provide that same value and, even better, JaVale and Faried get better at some of the basic requirements of being a big.

      • googergieger

        What were the playoff numbers for everyone?

  • Christopher Ruby

    Every time the Nuggets take 1 step forward they find someway to take 3 steps back.
    We have one of the best records in our history and sell the farm as soon as the season ends.

  • Will Nemirow

    KK would be a fine backup if you want McGee to start. KK is hands down better than Mozgov. Mozgov can’t make defensive rotations and can’t catch the ball and fouls everyone (McGee but with no upside). Arthur and the 55th pick are worth NOTHING.

  • Georoc01

    The other thing with Mozgov is that he was playing really well coming out of the olympics last summer before being relagated to the bench, not getting much playing time at all. I do think there is an upside there and he could end up outperforming Koufus.
    The big risk of course, is McGee. Can the guy playing with asthma at altitude really step up to starters minutes, or is this going to turn into some kind of tag team match, alternating centers at every break in the game?

  • Will Nemirow

    Only way to defend this trade is by saying stuff like ‘well if McGee suddenly realizes his potential and Mozgov plays like he did certain postseason games and if Koufos plays like he did in the postseason but not the regular season’.

  • GKDynasty

    Nuggets Philosophy: If it ain’t broke… completely destroy it and rebuild with inferior parts

  • Ckwizard

    The success of this trade is more about McGee than KK or Arthur… The Success of McGee is going to be dependent on “Shaw and Faried.” The biggest improvement on the Defensive part of the game will come from Faried if he commits to being coached and the defensive philosophies implemented by the coaching staff. McGee will only become a dominate center if Faried becomes a better defender. Offensively this still will be Lawson’s team and McGee will make our half court offense more dynamic than if KK was still the starting center. As for Arthur it will be interesting to see if he is above Randolph on the depth chart when the seasons starts. The Trade of KK doesn’t neccessarilly mean more Mozgov but rather it does mean more atheletic lineups will have to be utilized and if Shaw can “develope” the players on this roster then “this roster” has the potential to be better the last years even if Iggy dosen’t resign… Most people really sell short the actual talent on this roster!

    • googergieger

      If Iggy doesn’t resign, I say we go after Kirelenko. Actually wouldn’t mind getting rid of Chandler and Miller, and getting Kirelenko in general. He could be our sixth man when Gallo comes back. Him, Gallo, and Iggy on the floor at the same time will make us able to guard every position on the court except maybe the five. Though even then Gallo is really great at denying the ball. See when he fronted Marc Gasol or that huge mother effer from the Wolves.

      • Ckwizard

        Agree, but I think Chandler might be another player that can see a positive growth to his game if he buys into Shaw and what will be asked from him this year. Shaw might actually utilize the players on the roster in ways that make them better players!

    • LBJ

      Huh???? Without Iggy there is no way in hell we are better than last year. McGoof’s play at center doesn’t depend on Faried – it depends on HIM coming to play every night. Arthur isn’t going to be behind Randolph – we wouldn’t have dumped a serviceable player for a 3rd stringer. The trade for KK DOES mean more time for Mozgov (if we sign him). WTF???

      • Ckwizard

        Faried was the worst defensive player of the starters last year, KK is a good fundemental basketball player that served one primary purpose on last years team… Compensate for Faried’s lack of Fundementals which in turned allowed Faried to play his high energy game but the fact is Faried is a poor defensive player. McGee is not very fundamentally sound but he poses a greater defensive threat than KK ever did. Basketball is a team game and KK is a good ” team ” player but individually McGee is the better shot blocker and McGee showed an improvement last year in the “Fundementals” department! McGee is never going to be as good as KK in regards to fundemental basket ball but McGee paired with a Fundementally sound PF has a greater upside then the “Faried and KK” foward/center combo ever had.

        • LBJ

          I’ll agree that Faried was not a defensive asset in the half court game last year – but neither was McGee. Furthermore, McGee regressed last year – he didn’t improve. That is why Karl only played him 18 minutes a game. Furthermore, I suspect Josh/Masai wouldn’t have give him his big contract after this year. Bottom line – McGee is responsible for his own playing time. It’s time to stop blaming Karl/Faried/whoever for his lack of consistency.

          • Ckwizard

            McGee did improve over the course of the year in two very important areas. First he stopped biting on every pump fake and did a decent job of staying grounded, Second he improved on boxing out. Both of these are fundamental areas where McGee did improve, as for his “lack of consistency” and ” it’s time to stop blaming Karl ” well It was Coach Karl that treats players very very different for whatever reasons Karl decides… Sorry but it was obvious that Karl had double standards regarding certain players and Fans like me are happy for the change of direction and excited about next seasons potential!

            • LBJ

              I’m not sure which games you were watching, but McGoof’s boxing out last year was horrific. Plus, he pretty much bit on every head fake as well.
              Of course, Karl treats players differently – every coach does. But when you play like a total dumbass and pretty much lose the game in a 5 minute span – any coach that wants to keep his job is going to cut your minutes.

              • googergieger

                Andre Miller laughing in his grave right now.

            • Charliemyboy

              Then let’s blame coach Karl when we lose Iggy, get 45 wins and lose in the first round. You think there is no vision this year, wait until next year. I still stand that Karl should have stayed one more year. We’re in chaos. I pray I’m wrong.

          • googergieger


  • Scott

    I AM HEARING WE OFFERED 5 YEARS $63 MILLION TO IGGY. Might as well say goodbye to Corey or any other free agent.

    • googergieger

      I love Brewer, but he should go somewhere else and get over paid. He could be really good for a few teams I think. Pacers could use him. Memphis. Chicago? I don’t know, few teams could use him more than we could. Though I’ll miss watching him play for us to bejesus and back.

    • heykyleinsf

      I like that offer.
      If Iggy doesn’t take it..
      I’m glad he won’t be a Nugget.
      If he does.. love the idea of him
      being solid across from Ty for 5

      • LBJ

        Considering that Kevin Martin (older than Iggy) is getting $7.5m per year and Tyreke Evans is getting $11m – $12.5m for Iggy doesn’t sound unreasonable.

        • heykyleinsf

          I think they hit a sweet spot..
          Like I said.. anything over.. is too much
          But they didn’t underbid themselves.
          At this point what ever happens is
          cool with me.
          But if he does take it.. I honestly want
          to see a better year next year from him..
          And I think it’s reasonable to expect that

    • heykyleinsf

      Korver was the one I hoped for and he looks Brooklyn bound.

      ESPN says Sacramento are going all in for Iggy.
      I just don’t see that as a fit for him at all.

      • LBJ

        Plus, I thought he wanted to win???

  • EWilson

    It seems to me that people here are basically missing the point of the Koufos trade. Management took a look at the potential ceiling for the team with Koufos as the starting center and decided it wasn’t high enough. And given what happened in the playoffs, that seems a reasonable assessment. From their perspective, and I tend to agree, the Nuggets were never going to contend for a title with a solid/average center like Koufos taking most of the minutes in the middle. And they didn’t see much growth potential for his game.
    By contrast, McGee is a physical marvel with the potential to be an amazing defensive force around the basket. And, yes, I realize it’s all potential and he’s no sure bet to realize that potential. BUT, if he does realize it, the Nuggets become a much more formidable threat to contend for a championship.
    And there’s precedent for this sort of development in the name of Tyson Chandler, who was widely considered a disastrous draft pick early in his career, (though not as disastrous as Eddy Curry, of course) but who eventually developed into a lock-down defender who helped a team win a championship.
    Koufos will NEVER develop into that type of player because he simply lacks the physical gifts. But, McGee has them like Chandler did. Whether he has the head and heart to make that development remains to be seen, but one can hardly fault the front office for wanting to find out. He offers the potential to win big. Koufos does not.
    Are the Nuggets likely to be worse this year than last? Yes. But, I thought all season long that the team was ahead of schedule, and that their 57 wins didn’t really reflect their actual potential. There is still much work to be done to win a championship. But you build those teams around guys with the highest ceilings, and surround them with solid players. And in some ways, McGee may have the highest ceiling of all the players they currently have.

    • Brad from Arvada

      EWilson, good comments. I agree that Kouf as starting C was never going to result in the Nugs being genuine contenders. But I hope to goodness that no one in Nuggets Nation really believes that McGee’s “high ceiling” is high enough to warrant playing him 20+ minutes per game. This young man has been in the league plenty long to prove what he’s made of (as a basketball player). He has shown that he is not capable of grasping team, his role on one, feel for or rhythm of the game, or the 5 position. Never has and never will. He’s a physical wonder who will always tease fans with his potential (even more tantalizingly than Nene did to us), but basketball IQ is more innate than learned. McGee does not have it.

      • EWilson

        That might well be true. But, the Nuggets have invested big bucks in him, so they have to see if they can teach him how to play. Part of the problem, I think, is that McGee got ABYSMAL coaching in Washington, where he was pretty much allowed to do anything without check. As a result, he never really learned anything about his responsibilities.

        The Nuggets made it clear from the beginning that he’d have to act more professionally in Denver, and I do think we’ve seen signs that he understood that and acted on it. But, he has a LOT of bad habits he must break, and I suspect it might take years to break them.

        It’s not surprising that Karl played the more professional/more responsible Koufos because he knew what to expect from him. And the results were pretty good until the playoffs came around. Then Koufos revealed his limitations (as did the team as a whole). But, playing Koufos in front of McGee also, hopefully, sent a message to McGee about the importance of learning and doing the little things.

        Perhaps McGee will never really learn the game, in which case, the Nuggets will have to find another route to go. Maybe he will learn enough to be an effective, but not great, defender. Maybe he’ll develop into an elite defender. It’s certainly a gamble.
        But, I don’t think the Nuggets brass was wrong in projecting Koufos forward and recognizing that they couldn’t win it all with him manning the paint for 35 minutes a night. It’s very possible the same will be true with McGee.

    • Charliemyboy

      Ceiling includes mental acumen; not sure JaVale or Mozzy can fully grasp their responsibilities. KK did. Duncan doesn’t have McGee’s physical abilities either. Worried about playing Mozzy more than 20 minutes as JaVale peters out.

  • Brad from Arvada

    David, fine article and great stat comparison between Kouf and Arthur. I think the trade was a very good move for the Nuggets who had three 7-foot stiffs (all below avg. talents). Only two of them were going to get minutes, one of them was going to sit. No way we were going to trade McGee, too much $$ invested. No way we could trade Moz for any value in exchange. So goodbye, Kouf, and now the Nugs have another serviceable big rather than one who would only occupy pine all season. Arthur’s not a solution to any major needs, no home-run hitter, simply a good draft-day move to improve the team. Kudos Kroenke/Connelly.

  • Oliver Knight

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. This would have been a good trade if we got the Grizzlies water boy. Kous Kous would get beat up by the other big men. I think Javale will become a star with more playing time and Mozgov has a lot of potential as a backup.

    • dynamo.joe

      I agree, I feel you are taking crazy pills