Is There Really a Trevor Ariza Dilemma? Spoiler Alert: Nope.
There is no Trevor Ariza dilemma. In all likelihood, he plays out his contract with the Wizards and walks after this season. End of story. It was a fun ride while it lasted. Remember the hookah arms, forget the dribbles, cherish the 3-point spider bags.
Trevor Ariza is having a career year by several metrics, and PER (Player Efficiency Rating*) is just one. Ariza’s PER this season (16.2) hasn’t been higher since his third season in the NBA with the 2006-07 Orlando Magic (also 16.2). That season, despite playing with Dwight Howard, Ariza wasn’t too great from the 3-point line. In fact, he didn’t even exist from deep. Ariza only attempted seven 3s over 57 games and 371 shots, missing all seven. Over his first four seasons in the NBA, Ariza was just 9-for-43 on deep thoughts (20.9%).
Now Ariza is shooting a career-high 39.4 percent on 3s, up exactly three percent from his previous career-high set last season. More than half of Ariza’s shot attempts (52.6%) are 3-pointers. Who knew that to make them he just needed to shoot more of them? (When Ariza won a ring with the L.A. Lakers, only 32 percent of his attempts were 3-pointers and he shot 31.9 percent.)
The allure of Ariza’s game will always be his defensive ability. This is mostly his doing. But smoking from long distance, at least a majority of the inhale, comes from Ariza’s atmosphere: John Wall’s breath of life. Out of Ariza’s 210 shot makes on the season, 156 have been assisted. Wall’s got 80 dimes.** “Shoot more,” sounds simple. “Camp out around the arc and let Wall do the work,” sounds simpler.
When the Ariza chillwave rolls in, you ride it out. The idea that the Wizards need to sell his value while it’s high is too short-sighted in a vain attempt to out-think the long-term. Washington should not trade him to a contender for future assets (a mid-round pick and a little-used prospect). Ariza is worth far more to the Wizards’ baby step playoff goals, where they could actually contend for home court advantage in the first round, than what they would get in return.
Nor, as unlikely a scenario as it is, should the Wizards try to parlay Ariza to another team looking to save money—Chicago, for instance. The Wizards were rumored to have inquired about trading for Taj Gibson, who is making $7.55 million this year and then has three years and $25.45 million left on his contract with the Bulls. (Chicago wants to chase Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, and they need money like J.G. Wentworth.) Gibson is a nice player and would provide a sorely-needed boon of grit to Washington’s interior (especially for the playoffs), but the Wizards would have to think several times before taking on Gibson’s contract—it simply would not fit with the mandate of long-term flexibility charted by Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld.
Even if it were Gibson for Ariza straight up, which the Bulls likely are not desperate enough to do, replacing Ariza with Gibson would severely throw off team dynamic, especially the crucial first line of defense on the perimeter. Turning 29 this June, Ariza is six days younger than Taj Gibson, but Ariza has also been in the NBA for twice as many seasons and has played 260 more games. So Ariza is young(ish), but he’s got plenty of wear on the tires.
Dealing Ariza before the impending February 20 trade deadline is not outside the realm of possibility, but it would have to be a sweetheart deal, and those don’t really exist anymore as teams still try to navigate the new CBA. Ultimately, the c
hance that Ariza is traded this season: less than 10 percent. [Also note: Take the bits of Greg Monroe out of your pipe; it is very unlikely that the Pistons trade him this season, and even so, the Wizards should be unwilling to part with what is sure to be a high asking price for a non-defensive talent in return.]
So now the discussion shifts to a new, somewhat legit, somewhat fabricated, but lacking true perspective “dilemma”: Will the Wizards try to re-sign Ariza this summer? Don’t be ridiculous, Cousin Balki.
Again, Washington won’t hold it beyond the realm of possibility, but such a signing would be rather low on the totem pole of priorities. Re-signing Marcin Gortat will probably rank highest. And even if the Wizards do re-sign Gortat to a reasonable deal, securing additional help for the frontcourt—keeping the perpetual threat-to-miss-time Nene in mind—will be one of the more important factors … along with the Eric Maynor problem; not going there just yet. (And part of Washington’s future needs assessment is also contingent on what Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely show over the rest of this season). Plus, if Ariza had his druthers, you could see him preferring a swing back to the West Coast for what is likely the last significant contract of his career.
From a talent perspective, Ariza is a much better defender than Martell Webster, and when it comes to “depth” otherwise at the 3 for the Wizards, Otto Porter is far away from being whatever he will eventually be (anywhere from bust to a hobo’s Tayshuan Prince)—both insanely huge reasons not to trade Ariza this season. Because all this franchise wants to do is be relevant this May, not get fat watching the NBA postseason on the couch. Going forward, even with Webster and Porter in the fold, depth at the 2/3 position will be very important to Washington. But, you can also find defensive wings with potential on trees—well, good GMs can—so signing someone Ariza’s age to a new contract, no matter how valuable the streaky player may currently seem, is not good business.
So why even discuss? I guess: Ariza seems relevant
and SEO-worthy after his efforts against Kevin Durant on Saturday and after he dropped 20 points via four 3-pointers against Portland on Monday to push Washington above .500; pixels aren’t going to pixel themselves; and, well, it is a conundrum worth the brain’s effort. But in Washington, it’s not so much of a dilemma. Make the playoffs or bust, which Ariza provides them with the best chance to do, and gauge how to best move forward in the offseason.
Don’t get caught by the dazzle of pretty numbers during a contract year. Sometimes it’s OK to let free agents walk.
Just put another coal over the shisha and enjoy Trevor Ariza’s defensive, hookah-esque arms while they’re waving.
John Wall on…
The most impressive part of Trevor Ariza’s defense:
“He’s probably one of the best in the league I know that can change up a shooting gap or chasing somebody. Put his anticipation, he knows how to anticipate when the ball is coming. How to take charges. He’s great with his hand and the way he plays defense makes other guys want to step up and improve their defense, and that’s something we give him a lot of credit for.”
Randy Wittman on…
“Uncanny. Can’t teach it. I wish I could say I taught him everything he knows. I can’t. He’s got that quality of reading eyes is really what it looks like to me. I just watch him. He reads eyes. A lot of times the eyes will tell you where the ball is going. And he’s got long arms, he’s long-bodied and it fools you sometimes when actually those arms do come out … it’s uncanny. It’s been great. He’s been fabulous.”
Trevor Ariza on…
Clutch defense vs. Stephen Curry:
* That said, PER, developed by John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN and now of the Memphis Grizzlies, has been an “advanced stat” for so long that it now is less advanced (in comparison to more advanced stats) than it is flawed. That said, PER is still a metric with accepted use for comparison. For reference: League average PER is about 15.0, so 16.2 places Ariza somewhere between “better than average player” and “third banana.”
** Wall ranks fourth in the NBA with 1.8 secondary assists (or “hockey assists”) per game (per NBA.com/stats), which means the basic assist total probably doesn’t do Wall justice in terms of ‘producing’ Ariza’s 3s.