On Tuesday, Frank Isola of the NY Daily News reported that the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks had discussed a trade involving Victor Oladipo and Jeff Teague. Immediate responses, at least in the Twittersphere, were...less than positive, looking at things from Orlando's perspective. The deal was dismissed as outright bad for Orlando. No reason to even consider it.
Personally, my immediate reaction wasn't immediate repulsion. At first glance, to me, it seemed reasonable; it wouldn't make the Magic into a contender by any means, but it would represent an improvement for a team desperately looking for someone to run the offense while also providing some shooting.
When I dug into it, however, the trade started to look worse and worse, and now it looks like this move probably isn't the best long-term answer. The surprising thing is, it might not be the short-term answer, either.
On a per-game basis, the two players actually look pretty similar. The biggest difference is in the rebounding area, where Oladipo is exceptional (tied for 10th among guards in the league). Teague holds the edge in the assist category.
Let's take a look at their efficiency shooting the basketball:
It's pretty clear that Teague is a better shooter, almost entirely because of his proficiency from distance compared to Oladipo. While Oladipo is mediocre, Teague is among the league's best long-range bombers (13th in percentage). His 3-point shooting is probably the first place we should look when thinking about what Teague would add to this team. Evan Fournier and Channing Frye lead the team in 3pt%, at 39.8% and 39.7% respectfully, so they're in the general vicinity of Teague's shooting ability. Things quickly tail off after that. The third highest, believe it or not, is Elfrid Payton at 36.8%. The Magic's core forwards, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon, are tied at a miserable 31.1%.
Presenting a shooting threat from the ball handler would go a long way toward making the Magic's screen plays more effective. Although Payton's shooting numbers are better than you might think, teams still go under screens against him, daring him to attempt, and make, those shots. That makes it difficult for him to penetrate on dribble drives, which is what he needs to do to facilitate his passing game and to open up shots for others.
Teague, on the other hand, is well-established as a 3-point shooter and can make teams think twice about how they defend him on pick-and-rolls. That could have a cascading effect on the rest of the team, leading to more open shots for everyone.
Even still, the need might not actually be as pressing as it might look at first glance. The first issue is that, as a team, the Magic aren't that bad at long-range shooting. They're actually about league-average, improving on last year's shooting thanks to increased efficiency from the likes of Fournier and Andrew Nicholson, while even Gordon is shooting better than his rookie season.
More importantly--and this is going to be a recurring theme, here--Jeff Teague isn't replacing the worst shooters on Orlando. He'd be absorbing minutes, presumably, from Payton, who's the third best long range shooter. Granted, it's still a significant improvement from Payton to Teague in terms of long-distance capability, but it's not nearly as dramatic as if the Magic acquired, say, Teague's teammate Paul Millsap.
Let's dig a little bit deeper.
The Advanced Stats
Before we go any further, a brief explanation of what these numbers are and what they mean. These are all variations of "advanced plus-minus" stats. Real Plus-Minus is ESPN's version and tries to account for things like teammates and opponents on the court, game situation, etc. Box Score Plus-Minus (BPM), from Basketball-Reference, is similar and more heavily weighs box score stats in a player's value. Player-Tracking Plus Minus (PTPM) is available at Nylon Calculus and factors in publicly available data from Sport VU tracking systems like touches, passes, contested rebounds, and so on. Long story short, these all measure how much a player adds or subtracts from his team's scoring margin per 100 possessions.
Suddenly, if you believe these numbers, Oladipo looks like an overall better player than Teague. When you break each of these stats down by offense and defense, Oladipo and Teague are pretty similar on the offensive end, but Oladipo is much better defensively.
Again, however, we should also compare Teague against Payton. I haven't listed Payton's numbers, but to sum it up Teague rates out better than Payton, especially by PTPM. Considering the advanced numbers and the standard box score stats, it's probably safe to say that Teague is a better player, right now, than Elfrid. That doesn't necessarily seal the deal, however.
The Guard Rotation, and the Long Term Picture
Suppose we accept that Teague would be an upgrade over Payton. Let's even assume that Teague's significantly better than Oladipo, considering his All-Star performance last season, as well as whatever general veteran skills he might possess over either of the current Magic guards. Even making these assumptions, it's not clear that adding Teague would really make the Magic that much better.
Consider first that this trade would leave a huge hole in the shooting guard position. Unless Scott Skiles would play Teague and Payton together--which, by the way, sounds like a terrible idea--that leaves very little depth behind Fournier. Devyn Marble might be the only "SG"-type player who could fill in that gap. At least in the Magic's current situation, they have the likes of C.J. Watson and Shabazz Napier to play backup point. Neither are especially great, but they're not tragically bad.
By the same token, this trade doesn't do anything to affect Orlando's crowded big man rotation. In the interest of adding depth to the team, it probably makes sense to swap one of Harris, Frye, or Nicholson for an upgrade at a different position, rather than to trade a shooting guard for a point guard.
Furthermore, the Magic are probably happier having Oladipo's contract than Teague's. The remaining years are the same, and Teague's only getting paid $3 million more this season, but like all rookie-contract players Oladipo will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Teague will be unrestricted at that time, meaning he could go to another team without the Magic having any recourse.
All of this ignores what's probably the most important long-term consideration: Oladipo and Payton will continue to get better. It's unclear if they'll be anything better than average starters, but they certainly have the potential to do much more. Trading for Teague, who will be reaching the end of his prime by the time he finishes his current contract, does not present that same upside.
When you factor that in, along with considering that he might not actually be better than what the Magic have right now, it's pretty clear that Orlando shouldn't trade Oladipo for Teague, not without further compensation from the Hawks. There just isn't enough upside there to punt on the rest of what's been an otherwise patient rebuild by this young Magic team. If they're going to make a move, it needs to be a lot bigger than this one to justify moving up that timetable.