The Case Against Courtney Lee and OJ Mayo or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Gar

So, there's a lot of consternation over the Bulls holding pat at this trade deadline. At first, I was among the many who thought it was stupid for the Bulls not to have made a move for Mayo or Courtney Lee. Then, as I often do when I'm upset, I went to do some research to see if there was an angle I wasn't seeing. And as often happens when I react emotionally, I was indeed missing something. A big something. Here it is: Courtney Lee and OJ Mayo simply aren't that good.

According to K.C., the Bulls turned down Mayo for Taj and multiple first round picks. They also refused to include Omer Asik in a deal for Courtney Lee.  At first, I was pissed off and thought the Bulls were blowing a real window to win a title THIS year by overvaluing their big depth.  But I went to look at two stats that I find have value when looked at together. PER and adjusted plus-minus.

Adjusted Plus-Minus

The adjusted-plus minus numbers I used were a three year sample that is best at predicting out of sample 10-11 data. That is to say they are the most accurate numbers with reduced standard errors.  The website is here. The numbers are here. So what do the adjusted-plus minus numbers say?

Player Off. Def. Total

CLee 0.4 -0.2 0.1

Mayo 1.1 -1.8 -0.8


So, Lee and Mayo don't look terribly impressive here. Now, these numbers probably need some context. What kind of numbers do Bogans, Watson, Korver, and Brewer put up?

Player Off. Def. Total

Bogans 0.1 0.0 0.1

Watson -0.1 1.3 1.2

Korver 0.5 2.5 3.0

Brewer -0.9 1.5 0.6

As we already knew, Bogans is the worst possible person on the Bulls to get SG minutes. But, he's also as good by APM as CLee and better than Mayo. By APM, neither of these two guys seem like a very big upgrade for the Bulls in any way.

How much would it have cost us? Well, what do the APM numbers say about Taj and Omer?

Player Off. Def. Total

Taj -1.5 1.6 0.1

Omer -0.6 2.5 1.9

Given that Taj was requested in the Mayo trade + multiple picks, it seems reasonable that the Bulls didn't make that move, as Taj is a better player than Mayo AND the Bulls other options are better than Mayo. The same is true, to an even larger extent, of Omer versus Courtney Lee.

Based on APM, it seems pretty clear that the Bulls made the right decision. All of the Bulls current guard options are at least as good as Lee or Mayo and most of them are better. It simply didn't make sense to cash in assets for those guys, especially with the importance of big man depth in the playoffs. Now, what does PER have to say about these non-moves?


O.J. Mayo's PER this year is a pretty crummy 12.4 and his TS% is 50%. In his previous two years, he was a 14.2 and 14.6 PER. His TS% was 53.6 and then 55.1. He's fallen off this year, but even if you assume he can get back to where he once was, he was merely average. But he plays pretty iffy defense and is undersized for his position. He's a below average player, no matter how you cut it.

Courtney Lee's PER this year is a 13.1 (his career best) and his TS% is a mere 54%. His defense is decent, if a bit overrated. But he's still a below average player. He doesn't start on a below .500 Rockets team.

What about the guys the Bulls currently have?

Ronnie Brewer has a 13.3 PER this year (15.4 for his career) and plays great, disruptive defense in this system.  Kyle Korver has a 12.6 PER this year, which is about exactly the same as his career average. He plays decent defense within the system but gets beat by athletes and isn't really super well suited to the SG position beyond spot minutes. C.J. Watson has a 10.8 PER this year and a 13.3 career PER. He, like Brewer, plays disruptive, aggressive defense that leads to transition opportunities. Then, there's Keith Bogans who has a 8.1 PER. Keith's low PER, though, is hugely related to his very, very low usage. He only uses about 10.5% of possessions for the Bulls. He's got a 54.7% TS% and he plays stout defense. 

Are Courtney Lee and O.J. Mayo really significant upgrades over giving more minutes to Brewer and Korver, or even Watson? I'd say no, even looking at PER. These guys aren't pushing you over the edge to a championship this year.

Now, what would the Bulls be giving up to get these guys?

Taj has a 13.5 PER and Omer has an 11.4 PER. But these guys are both incredibly versatile and skilled interior defenders, who I place much more value on than mediocre wing players.


Would I have liked the Bulls to have shored up the SG position with Courtney Lee or O.J. Mayo? Yes. Would I have done it for the asking price that the Rockets and the Grizzlies attempted to extract? No, I would not. 

I can't crucify the front office for their decision. 

Now Thibs, stop playing Bogans and start playing Omer, damn it.

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