The Boston Celtics made a stunning decision on Wednesday when they reportedly traded Marcus Smart, the self-professed "heart and soul" of their team, in that landed them Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards. The move came together at the 11th hour after an earlier version of the trade involving Malcolm Brogdon and the Los Angeles Clippers fell apart because of medical concerns, and while the Celtics are obviously thrilled to get their target, fans of the team are already lamenting the loss of their leader.
While that reaction may or may not be justified based on the intangibles, the numbers are pretty clear about the on-court impact of the trade. According to SportsLine's Stephen Oh, Boston is this deal's biggest winner. His projection system has Boston winning two more games and gaining an extra 4.4% in projected championship equity as a result of this deal.
|Eastern Conference Championship Percentage
So what are the numbers seeing here? Let's start with what Porzingis brings to the table. Boston's big men last season rarely ever scored. In fact, Porzingis averaged nearly as many points alone (23.2) as Al Horford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III (25.9) combined. He scored 259 points on post-ups last season, the eighth-most in all of basketball at a very efficient 1.18 points per possession. More importantly, he is a dangerous shooting threat from deep.
Porzingis hit 38.5% of the 3-pointers he took per game last season. That is impressive in itself, but remember, he made those looks on a Wizards team where he was frequently the No. 1 option offensively. Now he falls down to No. 3 on the hierarchy. Only around 44% of his 3-pointers were considered wide open last season by NBA.com's tracking data. By contrast, around 75% of Al Horford's 3-pointers last season fell into that category. Porzingis is going to get the best looks of his career in Boston.
One of Boston's theoretical losses here comes on defense. Smart is a former Defensive Player of the Year, but Derrick White earned Second-Team All-Defense honors last season, and typically, it is far easier for bigger players to impact a team's overall defensive performance than smaller ones. In this respect, the numbers seemingly love what Porzingis brings to the table. Virtually every notable catch-all defensive metric ranked Porzingis as a very good defender last season. ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranked him 23rd out of 77 qualifying centers last season, while FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR ranked him 18th. Porzingis brings an element of stationary rim-protection to Boston that the Celtics had previously lacked.
So what about the Grizzlies? The numbers here are ultimately pretty indifferent. Memphis takes a slight dip across the board, but grades out fairly similarly to where they were before.
|Eastern Conference Championship Percentage
|w/ Marcus Smart
The simulations here suggest that Tyus Jones is a far better player than the popular consensus believes. There's anecdotal evidence to support that notion. As a backup point guard, Jones rarely has opportunities to showcase his skill set. However, it's worth noting that Memphis has a better winning percentage without Ja Morant (60.7%) than they do with him (57.3%) during his career. This wouldn't be possible without Jones taking the wheel during his absences.
So why would the Grizzlies make a trade in which they give up two first-round picks for a player that statistically makes them slightly worse? There are two compelling reasons. The first is financial. The Grizzlies are constructed in a way that demands a high-end backup point guard. Morant's absences are simply too frequent not to be prepared for that eventuality, which is why they were paying Jones in the first place. However, they also needed a high-end wing defender simply to combat all of the dangerous perimeter scorers in the Western Conference. Jones couldn't do that, but Dillon Brooks once did. Smart is the rare player that can check both boxes, and he'll make only $18.6 million next season. Jones will bring in $14 million, and Brooks is likely to make eight figures as a free agent. Employing Smart is simply cheaper than paying Jones and Brooks, so if the Grizzlies believe he can do both of their jobs, they've made a savvy financial decision here.
The second reason is intangible. Morant's off-court issues speak for themselves. Brooks' antics only served to inspire the Lakers during their first-round playoff matchup. Even Desmond Bane got in on the shenanigans at times, throwing shade at Rui Hachimura after Game 1 of the Lakers series and guaranteeing a Game 6 victory over Los Angeles. In short, Memphis has a bit of a maturity problem. Smart is perfectly suited to serve as the proverbial adult in the room. The Grizzlies already have a number of respected veterans. Jones was one of them. Steven Adams is another. But sometimes, a locker room simply needs a new voice.
And whether or not the Celtics can admit it, the same might have been true for them. Smart's position as team leader was well-earned in Boston, but after a series of playoff disappointments over the past several years, it's worth wondering if the Celtics were simply ready to hear a new voice as well. As young as the Celtics are, the core group of Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been together since 2017. Sometimes teams simply get stale. With Smart gone, new players are going to have to step into leadership roles in Boston. That is something these numbers can't quantify, but it will have an enormous impact on whether or not this deal ultimately works out for both sides.