After the Pistons traded Ben Gordon and a protected 2013 first-round pick to Charlotte for Corey Maggette on Tuesday, Dan Feldman of the blog PistonPowered wrote that the deal smelled like a move that Detroit president Joe Dumars might have made with an eye toward his job security. Swapping Gordon for Maggette’s expiring deal creates major salary-cap space one year earlier than Detroit would have otherwise had it, giving Dumars a shot to tell the Pistons’ (still relatively new) ownership group that he would be able to attempt an honest rebuild sooner rather than later after the disastrous 2009 summer of Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
I read that and thought of a paper circulating around the NBA about the drafting habits of general managers with shaky job security. The author is a team employee with a deep background in analytics. Team rules prohibit him from talking about the paper or even publicly claiming authorship, but he has shown it to some folks, including SI.com and many stats-oriented people employed around the NBA. Several of those people have assured me that the methodology is solid. The paper concludes many things, none of them definitively, but its main conclusion is this: General managers with reason to believe they are on thin ice are much more likely than others to draft centers.
A sample quote: “Decreasing job security by one standard deviation is associated with a 10 percent increase in the odds of drafting a center. The effect is not especially large, but … it is nevertheless significant at the 95 percent confidence level.” The rest of the math is over my head, but experts tell me that it’s sound, and the conclusions are at the very least worth pursuing further.