With the bulk of the NBA’s free-agency spending spree in the rearview mirror, the picture of what teams will look like in 2016-17 is becoming clearer.
The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers are essentially the same (with assumed contracts still to come for J.R. Smith and LeBron James). The Golden State Warriors added Kevin Durant and went from juggernaut to apocalyptic. The Boston Celtics got this summer’s second-biggest prize in Al Horford. Dwyane Wade did what we thought he never would do in leaving the Miami Heat. And scores of deals from other teams went down.
Who did the best? Who did the worst? And which teams did better or worse than conventional wisdom might suggest? To answer this question, we look to Basketball-Reference‘s Wins Over Replacement Player (WORP), which can be found simply by multiplying the not-so-simple Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) by 2.7.
Each time a player has been signed or traded for this summer, the acquiring team has theoretically added his WORP from 2015-16. Now, this is an admittedly rudimentary application, as there’s little reason to suggest a player’s WORP will be the exact same next season. It’s merely a piece of the puzzle, as is any analysis based on one metric.
So without further, here’s how things stand with most of the big names off the market. The combined WORP of each team’s offseason losses has been subtracted from the combined WORP of their additions. That gives us the difference and a basis on which to rank all 30 squads:
THE OBVIOUS RESULTS
Sure, Golden State lost plenty of depth, but with LeBron’s return to Cleveland a foregone conclusion, Kevin Durant was the biggest prize available this summer. And he’s now a Warrior. Durant alone added a WORP over 17, but the real coup for the Warriors came in the ancillary deals they made in the aftermath of Durant’s decision.
Zaza Pachulia isn’t the rim protector Andrew Bogut was, but he’s heady, a deft passer for a big and ferocious on the boards. David West, meanwhile, didn’t put up huge numbers in San Antonio, but he quietly had one of the best seasons of any reserve in the league. Among players with as many minutes (1,404) as West or fewer, he had the highest VORP. And that list includes Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and others who had bigger roles for their teams. The best way to sum it up, though, is this: Together, West and Pachulia combined for a WORP of 9.72. All six outgoing Warriors combined for 9.45.
The other result that shouldn’t come as any surprise is that of the Heat. Miami saw three starters — Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson — bolt this offseason for the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, respectively. All three were comfortably in the black when it comes to WORP. Of their various replacements, which include Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed and James Johnson, only Johnson was positive. This may be a case of subtraction by addition since Miami owns its first-round pick in 2017.
And then, of course, there’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though they added some interesting talent on draft night, they lost a franchise cornerstone in Durant and their third-best player in Serge Ibaka. And the pain may not subside any time soon, with rumors of a Russell Westbrook trade swirling since the day Durant announced he was headed to the Bay Area.
The Los Angeles Lakers have understandably been the butt of a lot of jokes over the last couple years, and bolting out of the gates to sign Timofey Mozgov to what has proved to be a ridiculous contract didn’t help. From a purely statistical approach, though, they helped themselves. Kobe Bryant’s retirement is addition by subtraction, and Roy Hibbert had a WORP barely over zero. Seeing them head to greener pastures really didn’t cost the Lakers anything. Deng, Mozgov and Jose Calderon were all positives last season. And while their fit looks a little wonky on paper, their experience and leadership should help the intriguing young core of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle.
Another team that did surprisingly well was the Milwaukee Bucks, mostly by staying out of the fray. They threw their hat in the ring for Dwyane Wade for what felt like a few hours, but that never seemed terribly likely. And in the end, they only made relatively quiet acquisitions in Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic. Those two helped Milwaukee’s offseason score, but the real impact came from the departing group. Milwaukee had the most addition by subtraction of any team this season, as it saw a combined minus-4.59 WORP walk away.
Other teams that quietly got better included a triumvirate of Northwest Division rivals: the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. Utah added veteran leadership for the first time in years, the Wolves got one of the most underrated defenders in the game in Cole Aldrich and the Blazers rounded out their starting lineup without losing much value.
The addition of Pau Gasol to the San Antonio Spurs was mostly met with praise, but it may not have been worth what was lost to make it work. San Antonio needed a Tim Duncan replacement, but there’s reason to believe platooning Boris Diaw, Boban Marjanovic and West would’ve made more sense.
The Indiana Pacers were another team whose approach plenty seemed to like, and it makes sense if they really want to play faster, but their losses outweighed their gains. The law firm of (George) Hill, (Solomon) Hill, (Jordan) Hill and (Ian) Mahinmi provides significantly more defense than the incoming crop.
And finally, the Knicks, who did just fine in terms of name value, might not have helped themselves much on the court. Derrick Rose’s dreadful shotmaking and sub-par defense contributed to his being 260th out of the 271 players who qualified for the 2015-16 minutes leaderboard in VORP. And Robin Lopez had a significantly more productive season than Joakim Noah. He’s also three years younger. Who knows, though. Maybe those two will find one of those healing pools from Wanted in New York and get back to their old selves.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.