In these dark and serious times, it’s important to have a little fun once in a while. So just for today, I’ll take off my analyst hat and try something different: I’m going to attempt to create the worst 2018-19 NBA team possible.
I call this team the Trenton Hassell All-Stars. I chose Hassell as my avatar not because he was the worst player I could think of; rather, he represented the best statistical mix I could find of lack of production combined with volume of playing time. For this exercise, I’m only going to use stats accumulated this season, but to get a better idea of what we’re talking about, it’s illuminating to look at the breadth of Hassell’s ‘meh’ NBA career. From 2001 to 2010, Hassell averaged 5.8 ppg/2.8 rpg/1.8 apg on 44.5%/31.8%/75.4% shooting splits, the type of stats any number of middle-of-the-bench guys might rack up before being quickly chewed up and spit out by the NBA machine. Except that’s not what happened to him. Hassell averaged 25.3 minutes per game for his career, and started 428 out of the 644 games he played over those nine seasons. He averaged 28.0 minutes per game (4th-most on the team) for the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that went 58-24 and made it to the Western Conference Finals. He was an important player for them, and the team succeeded in spite of his beyond-pedestrian statistical contributions. [Having apex KG probably helped.]
Look, I get it: some teams need low-usage defensive specialists, and the ’03-’04 campaign did rate as Hassell’s best (103 Defensive Rating). He garnered some attention for his defensive work that season, but neither the statistics nor his reputation in the league ever reflected anything particularly special happening. He never made an All-Defense team, and he totaled only nine Defensive Win Shares for his career. [For the arithmetically disinclined, that’s an average of one per season. As a point of reference, Carmelo Anthony, AKA “the guy everyone makes fun of for his lousy defense,” has 34.4 Defensive Win Shares for his career, which equates to 64% more DWS per minute played than Hassell.] The aforementioned ’03-’04 season was the only time Hassell ever reached the playoffs. He wasn’t particularly good at anything as an NBA player, yet he carved out a big role and an extended career for himself, while earning over $27 million in the 2000’s, which in today’s dollars is like, I don’t know, $4 billion or something.
These are the players I want on my team — guys whose role outstrips their production in a significant way, and who generally don’t make up the difference by being elite defenders. The rules of the game are simple: using only statistics from the ’18-’19 season, create the most statistically underwhelming rotation (of 12 or less guys) possible while filling the entire available 240 minutes per game. Positional designations are of limited importance in this exercise, but you will notice this team would be pretty light on big men.
Eat your hearts out, Cavs, Bulls, and Suns, because I’m about to unveil the tank-iest team fake money can buy. Here we go:
[Note: all statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted, and are current through Wednesday’s games.]
DJ Augustin, PG, Orlando Magic
Avery Bradley, SG, LA Clippers
Justin Jackson, SF, Sacramento Kings
Stanley Johnson, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons
Dante Cunningham, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
Langston Galloway, G, Detroit Pistons
Terrance “Turd” Ferguson, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Torrey Craig, SF, Denver Nuggets
Alex Abrines, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Solomon Hill, SF/PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Meyers Leonard, C, Portland Trail Blazers
There you have it, and I didn’t even need all 12 roster spots (or Jeff Green!) to fill the allotted minutes. First, let’s look at how the stats break down, and then we’ll discuss the selections.
Starters Per Game:
Bench Per Game:
Starters Advanced Metrics:
Bench Advanced Metrics:
First, a disclaimer: yes, I understand the lack of Usage Rate among these players makes comparing this team to a “real” team a useless exercise. Someone would have to shoot the ball, so obviously the stats would end up looking pretty different if you put them on a court together. But since this is a dumb, pointless exercise anyway, we’re going to ignore this intractable problem and plow ahead.
The Trenton Hassells would be clocking in at a Big Ten-like 57.9 points per game, less than half of what eight NBA teams are currently putting up nightly. The team would be averaging a respectable 31.5 three point attempts per game, which would place them 17th in the league. However, we’d only be converting 25.7% from downtown, which would rank dead last. These guys made the team for a reason. We’d be last in rebounding, last in assists, last in free throw attempts, and last in field goal percentage by a country mile. Good times.
The advanced metrics are also a nightmare. The team combines for .303 Win Shares per 48 minutes, which is less than Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic, and Dame Lillard are each providing ON THEIR OWN. Our total Box Plus/Minus is -25.6 points per 100 possessions, so basically every NBA team would run the Hassells out of the gym almost every game. Our total VORP is negative, which suggests we could grab a bunch of dudes playing in Europe and probably be equally competitive. It’s ugly.
Surprised by any of the individual names? Avery Bradley obviously sticks out as someone who doesn’t belong, except so far this year, he does. He’s been atrocious on offense, and hasn’t made up for it with his usually tenacious defense. Bradley had groin surgery in March, which ended his ’17-’18 season, so perhaps he is still recovering and will return to form as the season progresses, but until such a time, he’s relegated to the Hassells. Torrey Craig and Meyers Leonard don’t entirely belong, as both have been pretty good defensively for competitive teams. Leonard was mainly added because we needed another big man and he plays the right amount of minutes, and Craig, for his clear defensive acumen, is just an absolute zero on offense, and gets way more minutes than he should for a team with real aspirations in the West. [Yes, I know Will Barton’s injury has a lot to do with this.] The other half of our all-Longhorns backcourt, point guard D.J. Augustin, would probably be the team’s offensive hub, to the extent one exists. He’s the only guy with a PER above 10 — which is, you know, still bad — and profiles as an above-average outside shooter. Stanley Johnson would also probably take on a lead role for this squad, which tells you mostly everything you need to know.
Dante Cunningham is an interesting addition to the team because he represents our closest comp to Hassell. He cuts a similar profile (slightly above-average defender and low usage/stay-out-of-the-way offensive player), but his path has been much different. He’s a superior player to Hassell by virtually any metric you want to use, yet his NBA journey has been circuitous and not terribly fruitful. He’s played for seven franchises in ten seasons, he’s been traded three times (not counting the time the draft pick which ultimately became him was traded in ’08), and he’s earned “only” $16.6 million total prior to this season. [Compare that to Hassell’s career earnings, which came in the decade prior to Cunningham’s, in a significantly tighter salary cap environment.] Part of his misfortune stems from the charges of domestic violence he faced in 2014, right as he was beginning to carve out a real role as a player. The charges were later dropped, but it took him some time to regain his standing in the league, and as the game evolved around him, his skill set came to be seen as less valuable. Now, at age 31, he’s making $2.5 million this year — the third-highest salary of his career, oddly enough — but also ending up in columns like this one and more or less playing his way out of the league. For his troubles, we’ll make him the honorary team captain. Congratulations, Dante. You’ve “earned” it.
I doubt the team would go 0-82 — it’s just too difficult to play that many games and not stumble ass-backwards into at least a few wins — but one has to presume this would be the worst team in NBA history. On the plus side, at least this grim roster wouldn’t be terribly expensive. The total salary for the team would be just a shade under $68 million, which would be fine for their imaginary ownership, except for the unfortunate fact the league has a salary floor, which this season is set at $91.7 million. If the team didn’t take on additional salary, it would be forced to pay out the difference to the players on the roster. Carmelo would have been a nice get for the team prior to his buyout from Atlanta; his $27.9 million salary for this season, 31.2 minutes per game, and 9.9 PER could have been the shitty crown jewel for the roster, and he’d have been happy to make up for our Usage deficit. Alas, his 13.2 points per game is just a little too productive for my tastes, regardless of how inefficient and chemistry-damaging those points are. Maybe next season, assuming he’s still in the league by then.
Happy Friday, everyone. Enjoy your weekend, and DON’T FORGET TO VOTE ON TUESDAY!
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