Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trade Analysis: Taj for Tasha

Never content to cede the spotlight, even to the Olympics, "Trader Bill" Laimbeer pulled off another big deal Tuesday, sending rookie center Tasha Humphrey, wing Shay Murphy and a 2009 second-round pick to the Washington Mystics for veteran center Taj McWilliams-Franklin. The deal is obviously a response to the loss of All-Star post Cheryl Ford for the remainder of the season to a torn ACL as the Shock looks to retain its position as the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Does it accomplish that? Let's take a look at the numbers. We'll run through three scenarios: The Shock with a healthy Ford, with Humphrey and now with McWilliams-Franklin. For the most part, we can safely leave Murphy aside, since she had just played 122 minutes since joining Detroit in a deal earlier in the season.

Together, Ford and Humphrey had averaged an even 40 minutes per game for the Shock this season, so let's consider them as playing one position even though they often played together and Ford was considered the power forward and Humphrey the center, with Kara Braxton and Olayinka Sanni also sharing time in the middle.

Let's quickly look at the players as rated by my rating system, which estimates the Offensive Rating, the Defensive Rating and a winning percentage for an imaginary team made up of four average players and the player in question. Lastly, WARP estimates the wins the player has contributed as compared to a replacement-level player in their minutes.

Player       Win%   ORtg   DRtg   WARP
Ford .606 96.7 93.8 3.1
Humphrey .624 99.4 95.9 1.6
McWilliams .581 94.9 92.7 3.6
Both Ford and McWilliams-Franklin have played liked All-Stars this season. Humphrey has actually been somewhat more effective on a per-minute basis, but has not been nearly as valuable because of her limited minutes. I'm not sure about the assertion that McWilliams-Franklin has been the better defender and Ford the better offensive player, but it's no surprise that the undersized Humphrey comes out as a great offensive player who is something of a liability at the defensive end.

If we project out Ford's and Humphrey's minutes per game over a full 34-game season, Ford would be worth 5.1 WARP and Humphrey 2.9 for a total of 8.0 wins above replacement. Obviously, that's excellent for one position. Unfortunately, that option was no longer available after Ford's injury.

In theory, Detroit could have bumped Humphrey's minutes way up, but for a variety of reasons - including foul trouble; Humphrey has averaged 7.9 fouls per 40 minutes - that was unlikely to happen. We got a look at this lineup, more or less, in Detroit's loss to San Antonio before the Olympic break. Humphrey played 11 minutes after picking up four early fouls, with newly-signed Kelly Schumacher playing 18. Let's assume Humphrey would have played about 20 minutes per game, with Braxton (who has rated right around average) adding five more and Schumacher (a replacement-level contributor last year in Phoenix) picking up the rest.

Under that scenario, Humphrey would be worth 4.2 WARP over a season, Braxton an extra 0.5 and Suchmacher at replacement level for a total of 4.7 WARP. That's a fairly significant drop off from the Ford-Humphrey duo, though you didn't need stats to tell you that.

Our last scenario is now reality. McWilliams-Franklin has been averaging 33.2 minutes per game in Washington. Let's conservatively project that drops to 30 a night in Ddetroit, with Braxton again picking up five minutes a game and Schumacher the other five. There, McWilliams-Franklin would be worth 5.0 wins above replacement and the group 5.5 WARP.

Even though McWilliams-Franklin is an able replacement for Ford, giving up Humphrey means the Shock is still not as strong as before Ford's injury. The short-term gain from this deal also might be less than conventional wisdom would have it, though this analysis was more conservative in projecting McWilliams-Franklin's minutes than Ford's. It's also difficult to quantify the value of McWilliams-Franklin's veteran presence in the postseason.

With Connecticut close in the East, every bit of improvement will help Detroit in its quest for a third straight WNBA Finals appearance and a third championship. However, the Shock may regret letting go of the promising Humphrey. That's why this is a great trade for Washington, which contines to stockpile young talent by dealing veteran players for younger ones. In Humphrey, Alana Beard, Monique Currie and Crystal Langhorne, the Mystics have four building blocks in place. Only one thing is missing, and that's a point guard. If Washington can address that this off-season, preferably in the draft but potentially in free agency, the Mystics will be back in the playoff picture as quickly as next season.

There's reason to be careful in evaluating Humphrey, who has yet to play big minutes regularly in the WNBA and dropped to the 11th pick and Detroit in the April WNBA Draft. Still, when the Mystics acquired McWilliams-Franklin at the start of training camp for DeLisha Milton-Jones, I suggested Washington would have preferred to get a younger player. In Humphrey, the Mystics have gotten a talented one indeed.

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