In a trade deadline deal, the Washington Wizards acquired power forward Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for power forward Kris Humphries, forward/center DeJuan Blair, and a first round pick (protected through the top nine picks).
It’s a surprisingly high price to pay for a player who combines Morris’ lack of production with personality issues. It’s also a signal of the front office’s desperation to make the playoffs.
The issue, of course, is that first round pick. Humphries has been injured and below average this season; Blair apparently forgot how to play basketball when he arrived in DC.
What’s that pick going to be worth? Three or four years ago, I used PER to evaluate the expected value of draft picks. Picks 10-14 (where Washington’s pick is likely to fall when they miss the playoffs) have an average four-year PER of 14.5. Morris’ career PER: 14.8. In PER, average is 15.
According to PER, Morris’ peak (so far) was an 18.4 coming off the bench in 2013-14. He followed that up with a 15.8 last season, and an 11.1 this year. So hey, crummy players and a pick who might turn out to be average for a guy who’s been average and had some personal problems this year. Not bad, right?
Well, in my analysis Morris hasn’t been that good. According to Player Production Average (PPA), the metric I developed, Morris has a well-below average 79 (in PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45). Here’s his year-by-year PPA scores:
- 2011-12 — 52
- 2012-13 — 70
- 2013-14 — 97
- 2014-15 — 102
- 2015-16 — 27
What’s behind the difference between PPA and PER? Three key items:
- PER rewards players for taking more shots so long as they make about 28% of them; PPA does not.
- PPA accounts for defense; PER does not.
- PPA includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition faced; PER does not.
What to like about the trade? Morris isn’t old — at 26, he should be entering his prime years. And he’s signed at a flat $8 million per year for the next three seasons after this one. With the cap expected to rise $40 million over the next two seasons, that salary could end up being a relative bargain even with meh production.
What kind of player are the Wizards getting? I ran Morris’ best year (2014-15) through my statistical doppelganger machine — just waving away his crummy play this year. The machine kicked out names like Lamond Murray, Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Morris Peterson, Al Harrington, and Thaddeus Young, with repeat seasons from Thomas and Harrington.
Bucks fans probably remember Grunfeld trading for Thomas, and then awarding him a massive contract — despite thoroughly pedestrian play from Thomas.
Best case scenario, the Wizards get the Morris of 2014-15. He was inefficient on offense and was basically average in the non-scoring part of his game, but he’ll at least be as good as Jared Dudley overall.
Quick addendum: I used PPA to project the Wizards record over their final 31 games assuming they’d get the Morris from 2014-15. That’s a PPA of 102, and represents the best he’s played over a sustained stretch.
For the projection, I assumed perfect health (no one misses any games for any reason), and the following nine-man rotation:
- Wall 36 mpg
- Beal 33
- Porter 32
- Gortat 32
- Morris 32
- Dudley 28
- Nenê 16
- Sessions 15
- Temple 12
After a bit of math, my PPA Wins Projection Machine says Washington will go 16-15 over its final 31 games. That would leave the team with a 39-43 record, and a likely ninth or tenth place finish. Odds are: Phoenix would get the pick in this year’s draft.