The Orlando Magic swapped shooting guards with the Phoenix Suns last month, sending Vince Carter to the desert for Jason Richardson. 20 games later, Richardson has logged 693 minutes with the Magic compared to the 664 Carter played in Orlando pinstripes. It's natural to want to compare the two players, as I'll do here, given they play the same position. But perhaps comparing them misses the point.
The Magic counted on Carter to initiate the offense in addition to serve as their top perimeter scorer; for Richardson, only the latter is true. A one-to-one comparison of their per-game Magic stats indeed indicates Carter was more productive in fewer minutes. This surface-level analysis might have you believe the Magic are better off with Carter than Richardson.
But that's where these one-to-one comparisons can deceive, really. Because trading Carter for Richardson isn't the only move Orlando made last December 18th. In the same deal with Phoenix, the Magic also re-acquired Hedo Turkoglu, the playmaking small forward whom they let walk in the 2009 free-agency period after acquiring Carter in the first place, believing Carter to be the better fit. Bringing Turkoglu back into the mix, along with adding Richardson, changed the team's starting wing rotation.
Instead of rolling with Carter and Quentin Richardson--a spot-up three-point specialist who's connected on just 32 percent of his treys this season--Orlando now goes with Jason Richardson and Turkoglu to start games. Here's how the two wing rotations compare:
The Jason Richardson/Turkoglu combination plays more minutes, sure, but also tops the previous starting wing group in productivity and efficiency. Thanks in large part to this pairing, the Magic's offense has improved by 2.8 points per 100 possessions since the newcomers joined the team.
There's another benefit to the trades that doesn't manifest itself in Jason Richardson's or Carter's individual numbers: improved team balance, a topic I covered in greater detail three weeks ago. You'll note Jason Richardson and Turkoglu combine for just two more shooting possessions per game than Quentin Richardson and Carter did despite playing 16 more minutes. That means their teammates have more chances for themselves, which has in turn boosted the team.
If, at the end of the season, Jason Richardson's Magic averages don't measure up to Carter's, don't be fooled. Take a wider view and consider Orlando's accomplishments since the trades compared to where it stood before them. That will paint a clearer picture.