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The Kings should cautiously inquire into the availability of Trevor Ariza

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The veteran wing presents an intriguing trade target for Vlade Divac.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday morning, the ever-reliable Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that many teams around the NBA expect Trevor Ariza to become available on December 15th, the first day summer free agents can be traded:

The revelation that the Suns are already eager to shed themselves of Ariza comes as no surprise. They’re a bottom-3 team in the league, feature approximately 42 small forwards on their roster, don’t have a quality point guard rotation, and have nowhere to go but the lottery this season. Conversely, the Kings have no starting-caliber wings, possess a couple of decent, but recently benched point guard options in Frank Mason and Yogi Ferrell, and are still in contention for the 8th seed in the West. Although Iman Shumpert has performed better than expected, he’s best served as a shooting guard. Troy Williams has impressed in limited minutes, but is a backup at best, and Justin Jackson’s recent resurgence isn’t nearly enough to label him as a full-time rotational player. As was known to every soul to start the season, the Kings desperately need a quality small forward, and Ariza can provide that in the short term.

Two questions tickle the cerebrum when contemplating a possible Ariza acquisition. At age 33, is he still able to contribute as a starting-level wing, and what would the Suns seek in return for his services? The first debate is a bit murky depending on which Trevor Ariza is being assessed. The Houston Rockets version is exactly what the Kings need at the moment: a classic 3-and-D wing who can stop a variety of opposing players and knock down shots from deep. The Phoenix Suns rendition of Ariza has been a much less effective player:

Houston vs. Phoenix

Season MP PTS FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PER VORP BPM
Season MP PTS FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PER VORP BPM
2017-18 33.9 11.7 0.412 2.5 6.9 0.368 1.1 1.3 0.854 0.5 3.9 4.4 1.6 1.5 0.2 0.8 11.8 2 1.5
2018-19 34.5 9.9 0.372 2 5.5 0.357 1.4 1.7 0.833 0.6 5 5.6 3.3 1.3 0.4 1.5 10.2 0.3 -0.5

Ariza’s scoring and shooting percentages are down, while his rebounding and assists have trended upwards. On a more advanced basis, the Suns have a net rating of -13.6 with Trevor on the floor and a net rating of -1.1 with him on the bench: not a great look for an aging wing. His perimeter defense has also taken a tumble during his quarter season in Phoenix. Last year, he held opponents to just 27.7% shooting from beyond the arc, a reduction of 8% from their averages, good for 3rd best in the entire NBA. He also recorded a defensive real plus-minus score of 1.15, ranking 14th among all small forwards and 2.8 defensive wins shares. During the 2018-2019 campaign, he’s dropped all the way to 71 out of 85 small forwards in defensive real plus-minus, sitting at -0.77, and his defensive win shares have suffered similarly, sinking to just 0.4. Opposing shooters have actually increased their accuracy by 1.2% when guarded by Ariza, as well. That’s still fairly effective when compared to some of the Kings’ other wing options, but doesn’t hold nearly the impact as his time in Houston:

Defending Beyond the Arc

Player Opponent Attempts Opponent FG% Defensive FG% FG% Differential
Player Opponent Attempts Opponent FG% Defensive FG% FG% Differential
2017-2018 Ariza 215 35.9% 27.9% -8.0%
Shumpert 51 35.4% 33.4% -2.0%
Jackson 71 34.3% 33.8% -0.5%
2018-2019 Ariza 71 35.4% 36.6% 1.2%
Bogdanovic 32 34.2% 37.5% 3.3%
Williams 30 35.5% 40.0% 4.5%

If Ariza is unable to check the bigger wings that are currently giving the Kings so much trouble, his value as a trade target plummets. Brandon Williams Vlade Divac The Front office may be buying low on a quality defender, or they may be yielding minor assets and considerable salary commitment for a player who has lost his effectiveness. An inherent risk resides in the acquisition; the potential trade is by no means a guaranteed win.

The peril of bringing in Ariza doesn’t just exist in his drop-off in play in a Suns uniform, either. Marc Stein mentioned that most contenders may wait to see if Phoenix buys out their 3-and-D wing, rather than trying to swing a trade for him in a dollar-to-dollar transaction, as well as Phoenix’s sensible desire to avoid long-term contracts in a potential trade:

If that’s the case, the Kings could swoop in early and offer minor assets and either expiring contracts or the absorption of most of Ariza’s $15 million contract without sending a large salary in return. But, any trade that requires the Kings to surrender a portion of their $11 million in cap space may prohibit more savory deals in the future. For example, exchanging a large expiring deal (Koufos, Randolph, Shumpert), one of Frank Mason or Yogi Ferrell, and a second round pick would all but exclude Sacramento from a potential Otto Porter acquisition, assuming Ian Mahinmi’s inclusion as an additional salary dump. Eliminating a large chunk of that space could also prevent the Kings from facilitating multi-team deals in February, as Sacramento may be able to obtain future draft considerations or young players in exchange for taking on bad contracts in complex trades. Even a small reduction in that cache of cap space diminishes their chances of exploiting their unique position.

The potential addition of Trevor Ariza is a much more complicated prospect than it looks at initial glance. He hasn’t been the same player in Phoenix as he was in Houston, and it’s unknown if that’s due to his transition from a solid role player on a great team to a solid role player on an awful roster, if he’s fallen off due to age, or if he cashed in his payday and isn’t as interested in contributing on a nightly basis. Frankly, the idea of Trevor Ariza may be more impressive than the reality of Trevor Ariza at this point in his career. Acquiring the experienced wing would also cost the Kings a couple of minor assets and a piece of their most flexible bargaining chip: cap space. Vlade Divac should absolutely make a call regarding Trevor Ariza on December 15th, but the Kings must proceed with extreme caution in any negotiations for the veteran small forward.