Before he was signed by the Suns, there appeared to be consensus around Clipsnation.com that Josh Childress would be a great addition to your Los Angeles Clippers. With half of the 2010-11 season gone by, this consensus appears to have evaporated. What happened?
Josh Childress was signed-and-traded to the Suns for a second round pick. His compensation was reported as five years for $34M by ESPN.com. According to the only guide you'll ever need, the average salary for 2010-2011 was $5.765M. So Mr. Childress got a slightly above average salary by any standard. Based on his historical performance, this is a steal. Poking around the automated wins produced site you will find that in his time with the Hawks he was an elite wins producer.
That's the history.
Before we go further, let's get into the point. What is the point? The point is the Clippers should still be pursuing Childress and to provide general background on how to align advanced stats with simple stats and different ways to think about player evaluation.
So what is the present?
Josh Childress has not lived up to historical performance so far this season. What's wrong? He is playing with Steve Nash. Steve Nash makes everyone better, right? He made Shawn Marion. He made Amare Stoudemire. Why can't Nash get through to Childress?
So where is Childress falling short? Obviously, he has missed all nine of his three point attempts. Not good. But this isn't a significant shortcoming, based on history. For his career, Childress has attempted less than one three per game, and made less than one half. Zero out of nine is just a small sample size. If you liked Childress' game before the season, it makes no sense to be discouraged by his lack of triples now. He is down in this regard, but it is largely inconsequential. There are two areas of concern where Childress was good but is now struggling. His turnover rate is way up (wtf Nash?), and his FT% is way down. What does it mean? Well small sample size again. Also, are we concerned that a once good free throw shooter has forgotten how? Are players defending him better from the line this year?
Outside of that, Childress is who we thought he was. "Wait a second John R. He has only played 550 minutes. His per game numbers are way down too." No doubt. The first issue leads to the second, so let's take a look at what is happening in Phoenix this season. Before and after their big trade, the Suns have had the following players report for significant minutes at the two and/or three:
Wow. Look at those Suns, stockpiling players to try to make their team better. They have a bunch of average to above average wings. So largely it looks like Gentry has made a good decision with the rotation. While Childress is a starter on some teams and sixth man on many, the Suns have buried him because they have had multiple slightly better players. Nothing wrong with that. It would seem to indicate that Childress should be available, shouldn't it?
Because his minutes per game are way down, so goes his x-per-game stats. This is why we look at per-36 minute stats. With per-36, we see that, except in those two areas, Phoenix got the Childress they thought they were getting. When minutes played is held constant, the Suns can see that they actually got a good deal. It will become a great deal once the turnovers and free throw shooting get sorted, and we can be sure at least the free throws will.
Given that Childress is having the worst season of his career, but is still an above average player, his slightly above average salary doesn't seem out of line. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the Clippers to try to outbid the Suns on two fronts: by offering a higher salary to Childress, or by offering more favorable trade conditions with Atlanta to convince the Hawks to force Childress' hand. In hindsight we can say that what we said in July has been correct enough through the first half of the season.
What would even bad Josh Childress do for the Clippers? The vision is Childress is the starting three and soaks the backup minutes at the two. Mainly he pushes Gomes out of the rotation and Butler and Foye off of the team. With Gordon as the starting two and Aminu as the backup three, there are plenty of minutes for Childress as the starter.
Is it worth it? How much better is bad Josh Childress than Ryan Gomes? Let's avoid those scary advanced statistics as much as possible. The first thing to note is that we aren't talking about different roles. We are talking about two "glue guys", as played out as that term is. The second thing to look at is that what Childress lacks from deep this season, he continues to make up from the free throw line. Both players are taking between eight and nine shots per 36 minutes this year, but Childress is getting to the line almost twice as often. Early on, Gomes was much more competitive in getting to the stripe, but as his career has progressed his numbers have headed in one direction. How to value this difference? Normally we would use TS%, which considers all three methods of scoring. Even with his awful free throw shooting and lack of a deep threat, Childress is still the much more efficient scorer, and its not close. Never has been. It should be noted that in 2011, .346 from deep isn't actually much to write home about. Because Gomes cannot efficiently score any other way, his TS% is an awful .509 this season. .509 would be ok for a traditional FG%. After getting the boost from three's and free throws you need that much closer to .600. To Gomes' credit, he seems to know that he is shooting poorly and is refraining from taking more shots that he has to.
Childress has been a better rebounder for his entire career, but I think the non-scoring stats come out in the wash. Though, like his ability to get to the line, Gomes rebounding has been heading only one direction. Is this indicative of declining athleticism? Not a good sign if this was someone that was counted as part of a youth movement that had potential. Still it should not be surprising give his age.
With Josh Childress in heavy rotation, the Clippers are definitely a playoff team this season.
With Ramon Sessions and Josh Childress, two players who were available for what the Clippers could pay well into free agency, we are talking about a serious swing. Even with both players performing near their historical lows on their current teams, the upgrades would be huge. With any good luck at all, the Clippers would have been quite competitive right now, and for years to come, without sacrificing future flexibility. Not accounting for injuries, a rotation of Davis/Sessions/Bledsoe, Gordon/Childress/Sessions, Childress/Aminu, Griffin/Smith/Aminu, Jordan/Kaman could have reasonably produced in excess of 25 wins through 41 games. The actual injuries the Clippers happened to sustain, most notably to Davis and Kaman, would serve to increase the expected wins by giving more time to Sessions and Jordan.
I think this concludes my run of mid-season reviews.