- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
Basketball Prospectus is taking a look at the NBA division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline, starting Tuesday with a look at the Pacific Division. Wednesday dealt with the Southwest, and today is the Northwest.
The NBA's trade deadline drops at 3 p.m. ET on March 15, and while all eyes remain on Orlando's Dwight Howard, every team in the league will be trying to improve its position. For some teams, it's the immediate future that is the biggest concern, and they will be looking to fill holes for a springtime playoff run. Others are looking more at the big picture, and they'll be looking for young talent, salary-cap flexibility and other franchise-building assets.
The primary statistic you'll encounter will be wins above replacement player (WARP). We're presenting WARP for each feature player in two flavors, separated by a slash. The first number measures a player's WARP value based on his productivity for this season to date, prorated to 82 games. The second projects his combined WARP value for the next two seasons. This will give you a quick glimpse of both short- and long-term value.
The problem: You have to squint really hard to find any trouble with the Thunder. Sure, they're last in the league in both turnover and assist rates. But they also have the second-most efficient offense in the league, so whatever they're doing is working. Oklahoma City does it by running the floor, isolating Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and staying the heck out of each other's way.
The defense ranks just 14th, but all the pieces are there for elite point prevention. The Thunder have shown they can ratchet up the defense when needed, such as Wednesday, when they held the Sixers without a field goal for nearly 5½ minutes down the stretch of a close game. This is a complete team, a legit title contender.
The Thunder have missed backup point guard Eric Maynor since he went down for the season with a torn ACL. Rookie Reggie Jackson hasn't played well in his place, putting up a .441 true shooting percentage and a turnover rate even higher than Westbrook's. Whereas the Thunder's efficiency improved on both ends of the floor when Maynor played, it gets worse on both ends when Jackson comes onto the floor. You'd like to see the Thunder find a veteran backup who can both play alongside Westbrook for stretches and settle the team down when the turnover issues spiral out of control. As well as Oklahoma City is playing, this seems like a small problem, but little things can become magnified at playoff time.
The fix: A modest proposal would be to pick up 36-year-old Mike James, who has played well in a pair of stints this season for Chicago, averaging 18 points and 10.5 assists per 36 minutes over seven appearances. James always has been a low-turnover point guard, but he's also been a shoot-first type at the position. That's not what Oklahoma City needs, but James showed a willingness to be primarily a playmaker for the Bulls, and with his NBA career hanging by a thread, he'd surely do the same with the contending Thunder. Plus James fits in the Bible Belt -- he's an ordained minister.
James' WARP: 0.38 (this season)/no SCHOENE projection beyond 2011-12