NBA Trade Analysis: Projecting Futures Impact of Celtics, Grizzlies Moves
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies talks to Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics.
The Boston Celtics traded a piece of their history on Wednesday.
Trading guard Marcus Smart wasn't just dealing a player who won Defensive Player of the Year, or been with the franchise for nine years. Smart was consistently looked to as the heart and soul of the team.
But ultimately, after flaming out in the NBA Finals in 2022 and then Conference finals this season, the Celtics clearly felt like they had to shake things up. Hence, they agreed in principle to send Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for two draft picks (one that they traded down with about 800 times Thursday, the other a Warriors 2024 pick) and Kristaps Porzingis from the Wizards.
The Celtics added a frontcourt offensive weapon who is also elite defensively if he's healthy. (That's a big if, though he did play 65 games last season.) Porzingis had arguably the best season of his career for the Wizards in 2023, and if you think that sounds inherently bad, bear in mind that the Wizards, who had a point differential of -6.3, had a point differential of +1.4 with Porzingis on the floor.
For the Grizzlies, it brings them both a point guard to get through the first 25 games without Ja Morant, and a former DPOY next to the reigning DPOY, who is also a top-level playmaker passing-wise.
Smart is the adult-in-the-room version of Dillon Brooks, with less foul-prone defense, better passing, and similar streaky shooting.
We don't have NBA win totals to bet in the wake of these trades, but here's a look at the impact I'm expecting using my own metrics.
Methodology: I have pre-existing power ratings for each team based on their 2022-23 performance that indicates how many points better a team is than an average team. From that, we can extract how many wins they are projected for across an 82-game season. Regular season data is going to be messy based on the way teams currently approach the season, injuries, resting, basic effort, etc, but this gives us a way to quantify forward.
Celtics Add Porzingis
- 2022-23 Power Rating: +5.0
- Projected Wins: 54.5
- Power Rating After Trade: +5.5
- Projected Wins: 56 wins
The loss of Smart was originally worth around a point for me. But when we look at last year's data, the Celtics had a better Net Rating with Smart on the bench and the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the floor than with the three of them together.
Now, that's a one-year trend. But it's notable that Smart was not quite the same level of impact player last season, and the numbers bear that out.
So I moved Smart to a half-point of impact lost and gave the Celtics a full point for Porzingis.
The Celtics' offense has a nasty habit of melting into something resembling flavorless ice cream at the end of games.
Porzingis doesn't solve their need for a primary point guard, but he does help with giving them options toward a steady mechanism to get to. Robert Williams, in pick and roll, has not been an unsolvable partner for either of the Jays, and he can't create offense on his own. Al Horford is past that point in his career.
So Porzingis provides a player that can either pop for 3s or mid-range 2s (think Joel Embiid range) and can roll to the rim effectively as well.
This number assumes health, which is certainly a dice roll, given his history.
Let's put it this way: if Smart's lesser advanced metrics were a single-season aberration, and Porzingis' health was the same, this moves to closer to a minus-1 net situation. That drops the Celtics to a 51-win team. That's a gap that moves them into much closer contention for the No. 1 seed in the East and behind the Sixers (if they retain James Harden).
The tricky part with the Celtics is that their win total is already going to be sky-high. They're even at most books for the title favorite with the Nuggets after the Porzingis trade. So we can expect another win total at or north of 55.
That's right on the line of this impact. But the Porzingis trade makes me less likely to bet an under on a 55-win-total line or to bet other teams to win the Atlantic Division and more likely to bet an over if, for some reason, the number comes in south of 54 wins.
Grizzlies Add Smart
- 2022-23 Power Rating: +2.5
- Projected Wins: 48 wins
- Power Rating After Trade: +3.5 (+1)
- Projected Wins: 51
The Grizzlies gave up Tyus Jones, who is a very good point guard, starting or backup. Jones' ability to run the offense is a big reason why the Grizzlies have gone 33-17 without Morant the last two seasons, regular season and playoffs.
That matters. But ultimately, Smart is a +1.5 upgrade over Dillon Brooks. The Grizzlies' defense was already elite, but Smart gives them more options both in lineup composition and scheme options. Switching is easier with Smart, and he can get over to contest over screens without fouling better than Brooks.
Smart's also a better passer and a lower-usage player than Brooks.
You might notice that my 2023 projection for Memphis at 48 was beneath their actual win total of 51. Their Pythagorean expected wins mark was actually higher at 53. But the Grizzlies' half-court offense, which dooms them in the playoffs year after year, is a big reason why my power rating doesn't believe in them.
The Grizzlies were a beatable squad that beat up on bad teams at home last season, and while that doesn't project necessarily change next season, I do think they overperformed by a handful of wins and are closer to that 48-win mark I had than their 51-win performance.
But with Smart, they're closer to being what they were last year. What will be interesting is how the market sees them. Memphis' win total opened at 51.5 (which the under cashed for) and moved to 48 in some places by close.
I'm expecting it to be higher based on the Smart acquisition … relative to Ja Morant's 25-game suspension absence.
That's why we have to have two different ratings here.
The Grizzlies' success without Morant might lead you to believe his net rating absence should be limited. But while the Grizzlies were gangbusters in 2021-22 without Morant, they were just 12-10 last season without him, with just a +0.5 point differential.
Morant is worth two points to the power rating in his absence.
- Grizzlies Power Rating Without Ja Morant: +0.5
- Projected Wins Across His 25-Game Suspension: 13 wins
- Grizzlies Power Rating With Morant: +2.5
- Projected Wins Across the Final 57 Games: 33 wins
- Total Projected Wins: 46 wins
That's assuming no long-term injuries for Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Smart, Desmond Bane, or any other key players in the rotation.
We've done research that shows that win totals are closer to their Pythagorean expected win total than their actual. If 53 wins was their expected mark, how much does Morant's 25-game absence drop that to? 50? 49?
Anything north of 48 and I'm likely to play an under on Memphis, barring further improvements to the roster, early signs in preseason that Taylor Jenkins has made moves to improve the offense or preseason indications of internal offensive development from Desmond Bane or Ziaire Williams.
Smart makes the Grizzlies better, and this team went over their win total the past two seasons. But I'm still ready to fade them if the market underreacts to Morant's absence and potentially bet their over or division odds if it overestimates the 25-game suspension for Morant.
What's Left of the Wizards
The Wizards aren't done tearing this thing down to the studs after trading Porzingis and Bradley Beal. Kyle Kuzma is likely gone in free agency, and I would expect more trades.
I currently have them projected for 30 wins, and that feels optimistic. If this win total is anywhere above 27, I'll be betting the under almost immediately.
We'll see what else Washington does, but even after trading for Jordan Poole, this looks like a long-term rebuild Washington has embarked on.