The Knicks should really stop trading with Masai Ujiri. Ujiri set the Denver Nuggets’ franchise in the right direction with the Carmelo Anthony trade with New York, and now he achieved something that was once considered nearly impossible not even a month into his tenure as the Toronto Raptors’ head of basketball operations: getting a first-round pick in exchange for Andrea Bargnani’s contract. The team taking on the last two years and roughly $23 million on Bargnani’s contract? The Knicks, of course.
New York will acquire Bargnani on July 10 in exchange for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, a first-round pick in 2016, two second-round picks and the signed-and-traded contract of Quentin Richardson. Advocates for the trade will contend that Bargnani would be a good scoring alternative if the Knicks lose J.R. Smith to free agency (which is definitely likely) and that New York will have a huge amount of cap space when Bargnani’s contract is up.
Let’s face the facts, here. It’s impossible to ignore the undeniable truth, like ignoring the stench of hot summer garbage left out in the New York City streets: Bargnani was really, really bad last season. As Business Insider’s Tony Manfred points out, Bargnani had the 259th best Player Efficiency Rating last season out of 344 eligible NBA players last season. This is a move that evokes memories of the regrettable Isiah Thomas era in New York.
Bargnani made $10 million last season, but managed to play just 35 games this past season and just 31 the season before that. It doesn’t seem like he’s the most durable player money can buy at this point, right? And what’s worse is that Bargnani was pretty awful even when he took the court last season. His points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds per game and his assist totals were at the lowest levels since the 2007-2008 season when he was just 22 years old.
Win Shares is usually used to determine the value a player has in ensuring his team’s success on the floor, but it would be unfair to compare Bargnani to the other players in this deal because of the limited number of games the forward played. So let’s take Bargnani’s Win Shares per 48 Minutes and compare them to the other players in this trade:
Bargnani’s win shares while he was on the floor were identical to Camby’s (though Bargnani’s PER was a good deal better than Camby’s, so I’m not saying that they were equal last season) and significantly worse than Novak’s. Basketball-Reference says that the league average WS/48 is .100, which makes last season a painfully poor year for Bargnani. But it’s not exactly a total aberration, since the soon-to-be newest Knick boasts a 0.059 career WS/48.
Bargnani also had the least impactful season of his career offensively, with a 94 offensive rating (which determines how many points a player’s team scores per 100 possessions while that player is on the floor) that is a career low for him. Bargnani’s total offensive win shares were actually in the negative last season. Bargnani’s defensive rating was 109 last season, which is actually not as terrible as it could be (it’s just about the same as Novak’s, though Novak’s offensive rating was 125 last season) but right now Bargnani is an average player defensively at best.
Perhaps Bargnani wasn’t very motivated this past season with the Raptors losing so much, or maybe he was discouraged that he wasn’t the top option on offense after the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay over the course of last season. Maybe playing for a winning team motivates Bargnani into being better than a below-average player this season. Maybe his defense improves now that he has Tyson Chandler as a teammate and not Amir Johnson (the two, surprisingly, had identical defensive ratings last season at 104). But that doesn’t even come close to justifying trading a first-round pick for that kind of misguided, delusional potential.
Bargnani isn’t half as good as J.R. Smith and will come to the Knicks at about twice the price as Smith. Oh, and the Knicks had to trade a valuable asset for the “privilege” of acquiring someone with someone with Bargnani’s “potential.” Bargnani’s time as a quality NBA player has passed, but Ujiri’s executive acumen is definitely alive and well. At least the Knicks get some extra roster space. Here’s to hoping they use those spots on players better than Bargnani.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.