The Battier-Gay Trade

Much like U.S. presidents, NBA GMs are often credited (whether in a positive light or not) for actions set forth at the tail end of the previous administration.  Daryl Morey was Assistant General Manager at the time of the Shane Battier / Rudy Gay trade*, so he definitely contributed to the analysis, but Carroll Dawson was still GM.  Nevertheless, Morey is often credited with the acquisition, and it will probably remain that way.  My question is will Morey, or the collective Rockets fan base, ever reach a point where that pivotal trade is met with regret?

Let’s go through the major arguments in favor of the trade right now, before anyone blows a gasket:

  1. Shane Battier is a winner.  Ignore the mainstream stats, because they are misleading.  He always finds ways to win.
  2. He is an excellent person, and will always be a source of leadership in the locker room as well as on the court.
  3. We had Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady in their primes.  We had to win now, not develop rookies.
  4. We also got to dump Stromile Swift, for what it’s worth.

For the most part, all of those arguments were valid.  Shane has not disappointed, and has generally delivered exactly what we expected.  He was a part of the magical 22 game win streak and has always held himself and his teammates to the highest standards.  My biggest concern, however, is reason #3, which is in many ways a disastrous mindset.  I know, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s a lot easier to say win-now failed after your two superstars get irreparably injured.  However, how else can we form a basis for decision-making if not by learning from the past?

Also, before I continue, I want to clarify that I am not entirely enthralled by Rudy Gay.  His combination of flashy dunks and high per-game numbers make casual observer drool.  However, he is a volume scorer with mediocre scoring efficiency.  Here are some stats on Gay to prove my point, courtesy of

rudy gay2 The Battier Gay Trade

The league average for usage this year is 18.42, true shooting percentage is 54.1%, and percent assisted is 60.0%.  He also has marginal shot selection, which contributes to his percentages.  Over his career, 58% of his shots have been beyond 10 feet, with 62% of those (37% overall) coming from 10-23 feet (inside the 3-point line).

On the other hand, Shane Battier has been more efficient and has much better advanced statistics.  As my “pseudo-control”, I decided to compare Battier’s first 5 years in the league (with the Grizzlies) to Gay’s first five years (also with the Grizzlies).

Let’s first circle back to the aforementioned shooting statistics.  Now scoring is one of Rudy Gay’s special gifts, right?  I think we can also agree that Battier is a pretty ugly scorer some times.  However, despite different usage, they have had similar efficiency**:

2 bat gay The Battier Gay Trade

It gets interesting when you compare yet more advanced metrics:

3 bat gay The Battier Gay Trade

Battier is more active on the court, contributing to a higher percentage of every statistic other than defensive rebounding, while turning the ball over less.   Judging by offensive and defensive ratings, Battier was clearly superior.  If those numbers don’t show you what Dawson and Morey saw five years ago, these will:

4 bat gay The Battier Gay Trade

Win shares are an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player as a result of his offensive, defensive, or combined contributions.  The WS/48 number represents a per-48 minute number of wins contributed, with the average sitting at approximately 0.1.   If there was any doubt that Battier is a winner, even when he was on the Grizzlies, I hope that this comparison puts that argument to rest. In a final attempt at empathizing with our management at the time of the trade, I will concede that we were very, very close to being a special team, and Shane Battier was perhaps the perfect role-player for us at the time.  We knew he had a limited shelf-life, but it would be worth it as long as we could make a few pushes for the title.

That being said, here is the part where I am going to lose you:  If I was the GM at the time, I would not have made this trade.  The short-term approach to winning is really what irks me, and while Battier is a remarkable person, we acquired him for the back half of his career.  Wait until he retires and hire him as a coach if you like his “presence.”  Actually, if you like defense so much, don’t fire Jeff Van Gundy.  As demonstrated above, Battier is an excellent player.   What’s not demonstrated above is how Gay may have faired the past five seasons if he had a few years to develop with the Rockets under some of the best coaches and players in the league.  Young players on bad teams develop bad habits, and Gay might forever be a different player because of his perceived role on that Grizzlies team, especially after the Gasol trade.  Then again, maybe he is getting better every year, and last summer proved that he can be an incredible role player on a winning team.  Oh yeah, and he’s still only 24 years old.

*The trade was July 12, 2006; Morey became GM May 10, 2007

**Courtesy of

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