The Chris Paul Trade: A Fantasy Analysis

In a move that smacks more of fantasy leagues than a real professional sport, NBA Commissioner David Stern rejected a three team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday. The Hornets would have gotten Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic, and a first round draft pick (in the slot of the New York Knicks); the Houston Rockets would have gotten Pau Gasol.
Earlier this week, the New Orleans Hornets worked out a trade to send Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, a first round draft pick (in the slot of the Minnesota Timberwolves), and two second-round picks.
Just for fun, I’ll “score” the trades, using the RotoValue pricing model and the parameters for the NBA league I belong to, the Ezra Stiles Rotisserie Association*.
First, the trade which actually happened, Paul for Kaman, Gordon, Aminu and the draft picks (which I’m ignoring, since they posted no 2010-2011 stats):

Well, gee, that sure worked out well! Chris Paul earned $3.21 according to Roto Value last year, but the three players the Hornets got back earned only $1.19 cumulatively. So this deal is lopsided in favor of the Clippers! Okay, but both Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman missed a lot of time last year, and RotoValue is simply looking at their cumulative stats. Let’s try again, only valuing players on a per-game basis, rather than full season:

Whew! That’s much better. Now it looks like an even trade: the Clippers give up $3.40 in value, and get back $3.35. Rarely are even fantasy trades that even on paper. And I’m not counting the draft picks at all, which have value, so this is probably a good deal for the Hornets, possibly by quite a bit.
Now, the deal that was killed, Paul to the Lakers for Martin, Scola, Odom, and Dragic, using 2011 statistics:
 Now the four players the Hornets would get back cumulatively earned $5.34, $5.87 if you ignore Dragic’s negative value. So as a fantasy trade, the Lakers/Rockets were giving up a lot more total value. The trade might still work since Paul is the best player, and uses only one roster spot, but in the context of my league, this was quite a lopsided trade. We don’t veto trades in our league, but if we did, it would have been because the Hornets got too much, not too little in return. I’m not even counting the value of the draft pick!
Now for a real basketball analysis, you’d need to consider a lot more. Certainly the draft picks have value (the T-Wolves’ first rounder is a likely lottery pick, while the Knicks’ pick likely isn’t) that I’m not accounting for, and these RotoValue prices value players based only on the stats that count in the particular league. Also the teams have the players for more than just one year, albeit also often with particular contracts. So I’m ignoring lots of other factors that go into real NBA value. Indeed part of the attraction of Chris Kaman for the Hornets in the deal is that he has a large expiring contract, giving them lots of cap space to go after free agents next off season. A “real” NBA analysis would need to consider all of these factors.
But if this were a fantasy trade, rather than killing the Lakers deal to help the Hornets, Stern should have killed the deal to help the Lakers!
* Some detail on the Ezra Stiles Rotisserie Association. It’s an 8-team fantasy league drafting a total of 200 players – 25 per team. 20 players start, 4 each at each of the 5 NBA positions. The league has a $30 salary cap per team, and 6 equally weighted scoring categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals + blocks, cumulative FG%, and cumulative FT%.  Some NBA leagues count steals and blocks as separate categories, but we figured neither were as important as the other three cumulative categories we used, yet added together (steal and block totals for individuals are rather similar) you get a decent proxy for defensive ability, so it made sense. At least to us! If you use different categories, roster sizes, and salary caps, computed prices will, of course, differ. But the broad patterns likely stay about the same: the Hornets got more current basketball value from the Lakers/Rockets offer than from the Clippers offer.