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Orange & Oatmeal: The Johnson-Teasley Trade

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March 3, 2006
Good morning, afternoon, and evening everybody and welcome to the sixth edition of Orange and Oatmeal, the WNBA Internet exchange between Kevin Pelton, interactive marketing coordinator for the Seattle Sonics and Storm, and John Maxwell, director of basketball operations and public relations for the Detroit Shock. Be sure to check back for infrequent postings and general East vs. West musings with a statistical bent on the W leading up to and during the 2006 season.

Kevin Pelton - Well, John, we had our new "biggest trade" of the WNBA off-season earlier this week when the Los Angeles Sparks signed-and-traded restricted free agent Nikki Teasley to the Washington Mystics, bringing back 2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson and veteran forward Murriel Page. As part of the trade, the teams swapped first-round draft picks, with Los Angeles moving up from eighth to fifth.

Now let me start by saying you canít go wrong with either Johnson or Teasley. Although they play very different styles, both are excellent point guards who are likely to be amongst the best in the WNBA for years to come.

For whatever reason, Teasley didnít seem to click last season. There are certainly plenty of potential explanations. Teasleyís role with the Sparks changed with the addition of Chamique Holdsclaw to the lineup. Holdsclaw and Lisa Leslie got most of the looks in L.A., reducing Teasley to a spot-up jump-shooter, which is not really her forte. Nearly 70% of her shots were 3-pointers, up from about 60% in 2004.

Teasley was also dealing with a couple of new coaches in Henry Bibby and Joe Bryant and then battled plantar fasciitis during the second half of the season. Itís safe to say sheíll bounce back next year.

Iím really intrigued with Johnsonís potential. There were serious question marks on her coming out of Louisiana State, namely her 5-3 height and her shooting range, but Johnson more than answered them last season. She shot a solid 45.8% from the field, knocked down enough 3-pointers (13) to survive and finished second in the league with 5.2 assists per game.

Considering that point guard is considered the toughest position to master in the pros, Johnson could be due for a major step forward in her second season. Sheíll always be 5-3, but sheís very physical for her size and is scrappy in the post.

Itís really rare for a Rookie of the Year to be traded so quickly. No WNBA Rookie of the Year has ever been traded the following season (Tracey Reid was dealt after the conclusion of her second year in the league). Going back to 1978, itís only happened once in the NBA, and in that case, then-Warriors forward Chris Webber held out to force a trade.

Given Johnson is three and a half years younger than Teasley, a straight-up swap would have made sense for the Sparks. Getting her, a veteran role player (the Sparks could use some of those) in Page and moving up in the draft seems like a huge coup for Los Angeles to me.

John Maxwell - Youíre right, Kevin, it has been a pretty interesting off-season in terms of some name players changing addresses. But let me play a little Devilís Advocate with you on this particular trade and crawl inside the head of the Mystics braintrust.

The primary known components in the trade are of course the two point guards, so let me start there. You are correct that Johnson had a better overall season last year than Teasley, but to that I would counter that a) it was just one season and b) Teasleyís first two seasons and perhaps her third were better than Johnsonís rookie campaign. Here are the numbers I have for each player throughout their careers.

Nikki Teasley

Year Age Pos/G  eFG% OReb% DReb%  TO%  ARat  FT/FGA  ORtg  DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------
2002  23   7.6  .524  2.6   8.7  28.0  24.9   0.18  107.6  96.2
2003  24  12.5  .510  3.1  14.9  25.5  31.8   0.34  109.2  96.4
2004  25  11.5  .511  3.5   9.6  26.4  32.8   0.19  103.7  94.7
2005  26   9.1  .441  1.4  11.4  27.1  20.8   0.16   92.7  95.7

Temeka Johnson

Year Age Pos/G  eFG% OReb% DReb%  TO%  ARat  FT/FGA  ORtg  DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------
2005  22  11.1  .482  1.8  13.7  23.4  34.8   0.19  103.3  97.7

Reading the player stat lines:
eFG% - Effective Field-Goal Percentage (counts 3-pointers as 1.5 field goals to account for their extra value)
Reb% - Estimated percentage of available offensive and defensive rebounds grabbed by the player
TO% - The percentage of possessions used by the player (including assists) that ended in turnovers
ARat - Assist Rating, how frequently the player got an assist relative to shooting, going to the free-throw line and turning the ball over.
ORtg/DRtg - Dean Oliver's estimates of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions by the player. Pos/G is an estimate of how many offensive possessions a player uses per game.
For more, check out storm.wnba.com's stat primer

Teasley has been the better "scoring" point guard and Johnsonís numbers would seem to suggest that she is the better "passing" point guard. But in terms of predicting future performances, how much weight do you give to Teasleyís subpar 2005 vs. her first three years? How much of it was due to injury? How much was due to the coaching carousel? Washington is obviously betting that 2005 was a fluke.

Also, you suggest that "point guard is considered the toughest position to master in the pros." I would agree with that basic statement, but I have to admit that I canít think of any players who have 'mastered' the position at the pro level who werenít considered great players to begin with - the Birds, Teasleys, Penicheiros, Whalens etc. Iím not saying point guards canít improve or donít improve, I just canít think of any off the top of my head who have gone from so-so to good or good to great once they made the leap to the professional ranks.

Getting back to Johnson, I see a few red flags, the biggest of which stands about 5-feet, 3-inches tall. I donít know if youíve had the chance to watch any of Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight's ESPN reality show, but thereís a scene where he implores his potential players to "grow four inches." Thatís how I feel about Johnson. Her height will make it neigh on impossible for me to believe that she can be one of the gameís greats - and by great I mean in the discussion for All-Star and All-WNBA consideration the way Teasley is. Johnson is a good player who can contribute to a winning team, but basketball is a game where height is a virtue, and unfortunately she wasnít blessed with it.

Here are some other things that worry me about Johnson. Taken as a whole, her 2005 season was worthy of Rookie of the Year recognition, however hereís a breakdown of some of her statistics pre All-Star and post All-Star.

                G   FG%   3P%  eFG%  APG   PPG   ORtg
-----------------------------------------------------
Pre All-Star   16  .500  .350  .525  5.7  10.4  110.8
Post All-Star  18  .414  .261  .436  4.8   8.3   95.7

So is Los Angeles getting the pre All-Star version, the post All-Star version or some combination of the two? I can see Washington looking at those numbers and thinking that the post All-Star version paints a more accurate picture of Johnsonís ability. Still a good player, a player that can contribute to a winning team, but not the kind of player that Teasley has been in the past or could (should?) be in the future.

So from a straight-up Teasley vs. Johnson standpoint, I think Teasley is the superior player.


"So from a straight-up Teasley vs. Johnson standpoint, I think Teasley is the superior player."
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty
Now, to the rest of the trade. Murriel Page, although a starter for a good portion of her career, has never been the focal point of a team. She is a complimentary player at best these days, and with Chasity Melvin, Latasha Byears and DeLisha Milton-Jones on the roster, there werenít going to be a whole lot of minutes for Page going forward in D.C. anyway. She also might have needed to be included to keep Washington under the salary cap.

Iím also not sure where Page fits in to the Sparks rotation. Leslie, Mabika and Holdsclaw are the obvious starters in the post, Christi Thomas has put together back to back above average seasons and Raffaella Masciadri proved herself to be offensively adept over the past two years. Los Angeles also signed 6-8 Korean center Ha Eun-joo during the off-season. I would guess this means that Tamika Whitmore wonít be heading back to Tinseltown, but I donít see Page playing too many meaningful minutes barring injury.

As to the draft picks, weíll have to wait and see on that. I have to think that Washington believes one of two things - in terms of impact players the draft is less than five players deep or they can get the player they wanted at eight just as easily as they can at five.

Either way, if the Mystics run out a top six of Teasley, Beard, Robinson, Milton-Jones Byears and Melvin, and if Byears hasnít lost anything over the past three years away from the W, Washington will be a fun team to watch and picked by most observers to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles looks good in the post, but a little iffier on the perimeter, especially from an offensive standpoint, after this trade - depending on the contributions of that number five pick.

The most interesting thing about this trade to me, however, is that Linda Hargrove is involved in it. As you no doubt remember, it was Hargrove, then the general manager and head coach of the Portland Fire, who traded Teasley and Sophia Witherspoon to the Sparks for Ukari Figgs and Gergana Slavtechva in a draft-day deal in 2002. At the time, I donít remember a single soul who thought that trade benefited the Fire.

If Los Angeles does end up 'winning' this trade, Hargrove might want to remove Penny Tolerís numbers from her blackberry.

KP: I suppose when you get down to it, your take on this trade boils down to two things: The importance of height for WNBA point guards, and how much Teasley will bounce back.

On the first point, Iíve always felt height is overrated for point guards. The league is moving toward larger and larger point guards all the time, yes, but still very few of them have the ability in the post to take advantage of Johnsonís height. (Ironically, the 6-0 Teasley is one of those players.) My general take is that when you force the opponent to play to your weakness instead of their strength, thatís a good thing. Thatís what happens when teams try to post up Johnson. I also suspect the WNBA, like the NBA, is going to continue to encourage a free-flowing open-court style of play, one thatís conducive to Johnsonís game.

As far as Teasley, what worries me is the drop-off she had from 2003 to 2004, when there werenít the outside explanations. She got to the free-throw line a ton in 2003, but hasnít done that at any other point in her WNBA career. When Teasley is creatively looking to push the ball and attack the basket, sheís an open-court force, as we saw in the 2003 All-Star Game when she won MVP. But when sheís just shooting 3-pointers, Teasley is a taller Figgs.