The Pacers End the Harrington Project

Posted on January 19, 2007 by


Last summer the Indiana Pacers signed (via a sign-and-trade with the Hawks) Al Harrington to a four year, $35.3 million contract. At the time, a few people thought this would vault the Pacers into contention. Those who looked at Harrington’s career Wins Produced reached a different conclusion, which one can see in the following posts:

Do we under-value scorers and should Al Harrington cash in?

Al Harrington is Like Andrei Kirilenko?

Al Harrington Finally Signs

Harrington’s Not Stojakovic Either

The Indiana Pacers in 2005-06

After 38 games the Pacers posted a record of 20-18. Per 100 possessions the team was averaging 99.7 points scored while surrendering 100.7. In other words, in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, the Pacers should have expected to be a sub-0.500 team. The mediocrity of the club prompted Jermaine O’Neal to question if the Pacers were on the right course. O’Neal’s outburst led me to ask: Should Jermaine O’Neal be Unhappy?

My answer focused on the expectations the Pacers should have had given that Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson were part of their starting line-up. In essence, the Pacers should have expected to be an average team, not a contender.

Less than two weeks after O’Neal questioned the team’s direction, Indiana’s management has decided to abandon the Harrington project, trading both Harrington and Jackson to the Warriors. After looking at the numbers, one suspects this course correction could do wonders for the happiness level of O’Neal.

The Trade – By the Numbers

The Pacers are sending Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Josh Powell to the Warriors. In return the Pacers are receiving Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, and Keith McLeod.

Let’s start the analysis with the Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] each player had posted in his career entering the season, as well as what the player has done in 2006-07.

Here are the newest members of the Golden State Warriors:

  • Al Harrington: Career (0.22), 2006-07 (-0.20)
  • Stephen Jackson: Career (0.047), 2006-07 (0.003)
  • Sarunas Jasikevicius: Career (0.108), 2006-07 (0.032)
  • Josh Powell: Career (-0.040), 2006-07 (-0.290)

Here are the newest members of the Indiana Pacers:

  • Troy Murphy: Career (0.138), 2006-07 (0.138)
  • Mike Dunleavy: Career (0.100), 2006-07 (0.031)
  • Ike Diogu: Career (0.032), 2006-07 (0.116)
  • Keith McLeod: Career (-0.031), 2006-07 (-0.003)

Golden State’s Acquisitions

Now that we see the numbers, let’s review what the Warriors are taking on. The key players are Harrington and Jackson. Each has experience, with Harrington currently playing his 9th season while Jackson is in his 7th. Although these players have played, neither has ever played very well. Entering the 2005-06 season, neither player had posted a WP48 above the average mark of 0.100. And this year is not any different. So the key attractions for the Warriors are both below average performers.

Jasikevicious and Powell were also added to the deal. Powell has only played 64 minutes this year, so we do not expect much from him. Jasikevicious, though, was about average last year. This year he has offered a bit less in fewer minutes. The problem for Jasikevicious is that he is joining a team with a surplus of guards. So it’s hard to see how he plays major minutes with the Warriors.

In sum, the numbers tell us that the players the Warriors have acquired are probably not going to help this team. Given the players Golden State employs, Harrington will once again play power forward, where his inability to rebound will reduce the ability of his team to win. If Jackson takes minutes from Monta Ellis, that would help a little bit. One suspects, though, that he will take minutes from Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus, and that would not make the Warriors a better team.

Indiana’s Acquisitions

The numbers suggest that the Warriors are worse off. The Pacers, though, look to be improved. Let’s start with Troy Murphy. Murphy has consistently been an above average performer in his career. If Murphy had played for the Pacers from the start of the season in place of Harrington, we would projec the Pacers to already have won four additional games. Over the course of an 82 games season that translates into 8.6 additional victories. So just replacing Harrington with Murphy is a big step up.

Not only did they get to replace Harrington – again, their big off-season mistake – with an above average player, the Pacers also get Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy was the third player taken in the 2002 draft and has hardly lived up to his draft status. This year his productivity has suffered because the Warriors appear to be playing him at power forward. As a small forward, Dunleavy is capable of being average, and given the talent on the Pacers, that is where he will most likely play. Although Dunleavy is only average, he will be taking minutes at small forward that were going to Jackson. As we saw, Jackson is below average. So again the Pacers are winners.

But that’s not all the Pacers get. Behind door number three we see the Warriors lottery pick from 2005, Ike Diogu. Diogu did little his rookie season. But this year his WP48 has been above average. He will be joining very solid front court that feature Jermaine O’Neal, Jeff Foster, and Murphy. With Danny Granger and Dunleavy taking the small forward slot, the Pacers appear to have above average players in abundance at the 3, 4, and 5 positions.

The only problem is the backcourt. The loss of Jackson and Jasikevicious leaves only Marquis Daniels with any real experience at the shooting guard position. Daniels was an above average player in Dallas, but has struggled with Indiana. Looking at the roster, though, the shooting guard position is his to lose. And if he reverts to what we saw in Dallas, again the Pacers come out ahead.

Impact of New Teammates and New Coaches

Throughout this entire discussion I have been looking at what these players did on their previous team and projecting this performance into the future. It is important to remember that players are not machines. Although past performance is the best predictor of future production, other factors can cause these players to offer more or less.

Two factors are important to note with any trade. Players who play with the same teammates over time will tend to play better. In other words, familiarity breeds improvement in basketball. Obviously these players are now getting a collection of new teammates and that can cause performance to fall.

Additionally, changing coaches can also cause productivity to decline. One bright spot for the Warriors, though, is that Don Nelson has been shown to get more productivity from his players than a generic coach. So it’s possible that the newest Warriors will play better for Golden State.

Finally, the more productive your teammates the less productive you will be. The newest Pacers will be playing with better teammates, so we can expect these players to play a bit worse.

All that being said, it’s important to note that the impact of being on a new team with a new coach, the brilliance of Don Nelson, and the productivity of teammates is relatively small. In other words, I still expect Troy Murphy to be an above average player for the Pacers. And I still expect Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson to be below average performers for the Warriors.

A Quick Forecast

There is only about half a season left to play. Although I expect this trade improves the Pacers, I do not think there is enough time left for this team to get to 50 victories in 2006-07. Still, given the weakness of the Eastern Conference, I do expect this team to be competitive in the NBA playoffs.

As for the Warriors, this trade makes a team that was not in serious contention in the Western Conference worse. Hence, this move makes it more likely that Golden State will be personally observing the NBA’s annual draft lottery. Given the expected talent in the 2007 draft, perhaps this is what Nelson and the Warriors are trying to achieve. Golden State has talent in Andris Biedrins, Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, and Matt Barnes. A lucky break in the lottery could add a talent that could turn Golden State into a legitimate contender in 2007-08. So in the long-run, this trade might end up working for both teams.

– DJ