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Is Sebastian Telfair Really an Upgrade Over John Lucas for the Raptors?

The HQ takes a closer look at the Sebastian Telfair trade, wondering if the former high school star is indeed an upgrade over the present back-up situation.


At one point Sebastian Telfair and LeBron James were going to take over the basketball world.

Now, "Bassy" is the newest member of the Toronto Raptors, thanks to yesterday's trade deadline deal that sent Hamed Haddadi and a conditional second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for his services.

Telfair was acquired to help back-up lead point guard Kyle Lowry, a job John Lucas III is currently undertaking, but could likely use some assistance with. As's Tim Chisholm noted in his piece on the trade, the Raps' offence has hardly been a thing of beauty with Lucas running the show.

However one has to wonder, is Telfair that much of an upgrade over Lucas, if any?

This morning I thought we'd take a quick look at the two guards in terms of some key metrics, and also compare them to another player that was apparently on Toronto's wish list, and who was dealt yesterday, Eric Maynor. I've paired all three with benchmarks of Jose Calderon, the player Telfair and Lucas are essentially trying to replace, and Chris Paul, as a "how do these players stack up to the league's best at this position" type marker. Due to some sample size issues, I've used the "per 36 minutes" metric for things like points, assists and steals to put all players on an even playing field, and as can be seen below, there are some interesting results:

























Lucas III
















































For starters, aside from better assist marks, Lucas seems to have the edge on Telfair across the board.

He's a better and more efficient shooter and scorer, is less turnover prone despite higher usage marks, and has a better defensive rating too.

One could argue though that it's the assist categories that matter most of course, as Telfair was never brought in to be another high-scoring option. He'll be looked at to try and replicate some of what Jose Calderon did, that is to say, get the Raptors' offense flowing in an effective manner.

However as can be seen in the chart above, Telfair's stats are a long ways off from Jose in this capacity. Calderon's numbers dwarf those of Telfair's and even Jose's career average defensive rating is slightly better than Bassy's. What's interesting to me about some of these numbers is that they take minutes played into account, and yet Calderon still comes out on top.

Of course Calderon was a bit of an NBA anomaly, a point guard whose offensive metrics made him starter-worthy, but whose defensive issues likely had him best suited for a back-up role. So it's hard to simply say "hey, Telfair is no Calderon," as in fact, likely no one is.

So let's turn our attention to another compare, Telfair vs Eric Maynor.

One of the issues with the Telfair trade that many in the media have rightfully noted, is that it cost the Raptors a second-round pick, while the Portland Trailblazers were able to grab Maynor for simply cap space.

But from the chart above, I'd be hard-pressed to say this was a huge loss for Toronto. Maynor may have better assist marks than Telfair, but the rest of the marks favour Bassy for the most part and in the end, I'd argue that the difference between Telfair, Maynor and even Lucas is negligible. We're talking about three players that on average, have produced less than a win per season for their teams.

The bigger issue to me is indeed the second-round pick.

Yes, most second-round picks in the past have a much greater chance of turning into Nathan Jawai than Manu Ginobili, but under the new CBA rules, these picks become more and more valuable. I'd argue this is even moreso the case for the Toronto Raptors, who are already minus a second-round pick this year and in 2016. Losing next year's means the team would potentially have no second-round picks in three of the next four drafts, something that I'd argue is problematic for a club locked into a myriad of undesirable contracts. We've seen second-round picks carry a financial value of about a million bucks on the NBA market right now and therefore could be quite useful in terms of "greasing the skids" of a trade to help move some of said bad deals.

And what exactly is the protection on this second-round pick?

From the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat:

Phoenix receives the worse of Toronto or Sacramento's 2014 2nd.

The Toronto pick is protected 30-36.

If a pick is not conveyed, Phoenix doesn't get a pick, instead, can only swap 2nds with the Raptors in 2015 (ie. if Raptors have 38th pick and Suns, 48th, they would switch).

It seems to me then, that if both Raps and Kings pick 30-36 in 2014, Suns don't get the pick (since the pick has to be the worse of the two and Toronto's is protected 30-36, since the Kings pick would be worse in this scenario, no pick would be conveyed).

If both Raptors or Kings pick 37-60, Suns will receive the worse of those.

If Raptors pick 37-60 and Kings pick 30-36, Suns will receive the Toronto pick.

So basically the insurance is there that if the Raps are awful next season, they keep both picks. If they're decent and the Kings again dwell in the league's basement, the more likely scenario, the Sacto pick goes to Phoenix.

Therefore it's hard to get too bent out of shape over the pick as there's decent protection should Toronto struggle in 2013-14.

Add on the fact that the Telfair acquisition doesn't represent an increased financial obligation for the Dinos, nor should it impact the club's performance in a negative manner, and the trade overall looks ok. I'd grade it as about a C, a mark's Kevin Pelton doled out in his post-trade analysis:

Toronto: C-

For the Raptors, Telfair is primarily insurance. John Lucas III has played well as Kyle Lowry's backup since Jose Calderon was traded, but Toronto didn't have a third point guard or a combo guard capable of swinging to the position. The Raptors could have signed a free agent, but that would have meant waiving Haddadi and eating his salary. This way they saved somewhere between $75,000 (a rookie) and about $200,000 (a veteran) on the cost of a replacement, and they also got a better player in Telfair. I'm not sure that's worth a second-round pick likely valued at somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars, but it's not a huge loss either way.

The bigger picture to me, and something I discussed on this morning's RaptorsRepublic "Rapcast," was that the move again is a short-term one which negatively impacts the club's future. As noted above, it's most likely a very small impact going forward, but nevertheless, this is the type of move you make if you're a San Antonio, or an OKC, looking to plug some final holes as you prep for a long playoff run.

The Raptors are still a long ways away from even making the playoffs, and arguably their path to the dance just got more arduous thanks to the moves made by Milwaukee and Boston yesterday, two teams the Raps are trying to catch in the standings.

Had this move been made in connection with an Andrea Bargnani trade it would make more sense to me as the club would obviously be stocking up for the here and now; one last run at making this year's playoffs.

But at present the situation will likely unfold as so:

Toronto wins a good share of games to close out the season but falls short of the playoffs, and then next season has neither Telfair nor a second-round pick to show for their efforts.

Contrast that move to the one that Oklahoma City made yesterday, snagging a very valuable bench option in Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for...yep...a second-round pick.

So while my reaction to this trade in the end is one essentially of indifference, it's hard not to look at it from a macro level and wonder yet again, just what direction Bryan Colangelo is going with this club.