Columnists, Sports

Numbers Roundup: Playing the Market

Trade-mageddon struck in both the NBA and MLB this week. Although the NBA was relatively quiet on the trade market for most of the season, a flurry of deals went down up until the 3 p.m. deadline last Thursday. The MLB trade deadline isn’t until late July, but Red Sox fans’ worst nightmare and Dodgers fans’ dream finally happened on Sunday. 

 

Mookie Betts: 24.1 WAR since 2017 

The only player to compile a higher wins above replacement over the last three seasons is Los Angeles Angels’ centerfielder Mike Trout with 25.2 WAR, according to ESPN. Both the Dodgers and the Angels will now feature three of the best outfielders in baseball — Trout, Mookie Betts and Betts’ new teammate, Cody Bellinger. 

The trade makes the Dodgers the clear favorite to win not only in the National League West, but also the National League Championship Series and World Series. Betts hit .295 and recorded a .915 OPS last season, in addition to finishing in the top 10 MVP voting for the fourth-straight year, according to Baseball Reference. He also gives the Dodgers the right-handed outfield bat they lacked. 

In the last couple of seasons, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has been heavily criticized for being risk-averse, but there are plenty of uncertainties that come along with the Betts trade. 

For one, the Dodgers sold part of their future to acquire him by trading Alex Verdugo to the Red Sox. Verdugo was one of the club’s best prospects for several seasons and finally developed into a solid big-league contributor last year. In 2019, he batted .294 and posted an .817 OPS in 106 games, according to Baseball Reference. 

Los Angeles’ Top-25 prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong were also sent to Boston as part of the deal. Downs, an infielder, played in Class A and Double-A last season and hit a combined 24 home runs to go along with a .276 batting average. Wong, an infielder-turned-catcher, hit .281 across stints in Class A and Double-A, according to NESN. 

 

Combined Statistics of the Timberwolves’ Trade Deadline Acquisitions: 58.1 PPG, 13.8 APG, 20.2 RPG 

Minnesota Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas wasted no time overhauling his team’s underperforming roster. After swapping Treveon Graham and Jeff Teague for Allen Crabbe on Jan. 16, the Timberwolves weren’t done making adjustments. Within only a few days, Minnesota shipped off six players, including Robert Covington and Andrew Wiggins, and acquired eight in return, including Malik Beasley, Omari Spellman and, most importantly, D’Angelo Russell.  

Russell is the centerpiece of the Wolves’ trade deadline bartering. In 33 games with the Warriors, Russell averaged 23.6 points per game, 6.2 assists per game and a 37.4 shooting percentage from deep, according to Basketball Reference. Russell’s court vision and passing ability should help to get Karl-Anthony Towns more involved in Minnesota’s offense. He also provides reliable iso shot creation, something the Wolves have been missing. 

None of the role players the Timberwolves acquired are superstars, but they can’t be any worse than the lineup Minnesota put on the floor a month ago. Malik Beasley is the best of the bunch, scoring 23 points in his Timberwolves debut. 

Not mentioning Wiggins here would be a disservice. Dealing him to Golden State was arguably the best move for all parties involved. The Timberwolves got rid of his overinflated contract, the Warriors found a solid forward to populate their frontcourt for years to come and Wiggins can revive his career in a better-managed organization. 

 

Houston Rockets: 115.8 PPG, 43.4 FG percent, 35.9 3-point percent in their last six games 

The role of centers in today’s NBA is declining, and the Rockets took that idea to a new extreme this week by trading away primary center Clint Capela and backup Nene Hilario. Houston has been playing small ball in the truest application of the term since Jan. 31, taking advantage of their athleticism, three-point shooting and floor spacing. In that span, they’ve gone 4-2 and beat two playoff teams. 

Despite Houston’s success, their new approach will probably traumatize basketball traditionalists for the foreseeable future. In addition to fans of old-school, center-oriented lineups, there are a few losers in this situation. 

P.J. Tucker is an obvious choice. Tucker, who is a 6-foot-5-inch stretch four at heart, will now spend most of his minutes at the five getting bruised by much bigger centers. Over the last six games, Tucker has averaged a respectable 7.0 rebounds and 7.4 points per game, according to Basketball Reference, but there’s no telling how well he will withstand elite centers bodying him for an entire playoff series. The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz all have dominant bigs to throw at him. 

Center Andre Drummond was another casualty this week. Drummond averaged 15.8 rebounds and 17.8 points per game on 53 percent shooting at the time of the trade, according to ESPN Stats. But the best the Pistons could get for him was a package of Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick from Cleveland. That is a comical return at best for one of the better fives in the league. 

The only other team to show significant interest in Drummond was the Hawks. During a trade season where other teams went small, Atlanta did the opposite and added centers Capela, Hilario, Dewayne Dedmon and Skal Labissiere. 

There is no way to know which strategy — Houston’s undersized Murderers’ Row or Atlanta and Cleveland’s more traditional offering — will pay off more effectively in the long run, but basketball fans certainly can’t complain that the sport has lost its variety and excitement. 

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