When the Sixers dumped Lou Williams to sign Nick Young, I was equal parts puzzled, intrigued, and distraught. Also: I completely opposed the deal at the time, and even disagreed with it up until about a week ago. And then it hit me: the benefits of the swap didn't involve Swaggy's actual play - they involved Jrue Holiday (and Evan Turner to a lesser extent).
I was puzzled because the Sixers let a fan favorite go to sign one of the most frustrating players in the league to a contract that would pay that frustrating player more on a per-year basis than the fan favorite they released. While Lou's contract ended up being longer than the Sixers wanted, unless something catastrophic happened he would have been easily movable in a trade. 6th Man of the Year candidates on friendly mid-level contracts have trade value. I was intrigued because, even though he's never been good in his career, Nick Young has never had a coach that told him to do/not do certain things. And by certain things, I mean he never had a coach who could stop him from taking awful shots or get him to pass. I was distraught because I had watched Swaggy before and thought "wow, I never want to see this guy on my team." I also thought the whole situation of him gunning for buckets on a one-year deal could be a disaster.
To me, Swaggy represented a clear on-court downgrade from Lou Williams. Lou and Swaggy shot near identical percentages across the board while having slightly different shot distribution charts. Swaggy shot more threes, mainly because of his role in the offense, but took far fewer free throws than Lou. The key difference came in their passing numbers - Lou had an assist rate more than 4 times greater than Swaggy even though he committed fewer turnovers. As a result, Lou's PER was a staggering 7+ points higher last year. While Swaggy had a size advantage on defense, there existed no record of him even being a competent defender, so I had no hope of more than a marginal defensive upgrade.
Since the offseason, only a few things have changed in the relationship between Lou Williams and Nick Young. Swaggy's had a couple of awesome games which makes him undeniably lovable, if still so incredibly frustrating. I don't think I can completely hate him anymore. But also, he has given an effort to both defend and pass the ball, making him slightly less of a black hole of just inefficient scoring. Lou, aside from some out-of-place three point shooting, is just doing his thing back in his hometown.
But the difference in output between Lou and Swaggy, I've realized, isn't what the swap intended. The NBA, like many other things is life, is all about context. You shouldn't just put two players in a vacuum and evaluate performance, which I kind of just did (but like you would do in an individualized sport like baseball). This all brings me to Jrue Holiday.
Jrue, as we all know, is having an awesome year. And he's having it because the Sixers ditched Doug's two crutches - Andre Iguodala and Lou. Both of those players had the responsibility to create offense throughout games, but especially late in them. Doug seemed afraid to rely on his young point guard, who had (and still has) the propensity to force passes to teammates and turnovers. He'd rather have a low-percentage shot than a high percentage shot, which resulted in iso-Dres and iso-Lous all day and night. It also resulted in a lot of close losses because those options just aren't good options.
Now, Jrue initiates the offense for most of the game, including during the all-valuable crunch time. It's something fans have waited on for years, and now that it's finally materialized we can bask in it's glory. Jrue has had his rough spots, like a few possessions down the stretch during Tuesday's game against Dallas. But he's also had wonderful moments like his late-game heroics (and his entire game, even) against Phoenix and his shot creation in the fourth quarter at home against Toronto. Would he have gotten this opportunity if Lou were in town? Probably not. Moreover, the secondary creator in most cases is now Evan Turner. Would that have happened if either Lou or Andre still resided here. Again, likely not. Swaggy doesn't have the skill set to take this role, which in a way makes him more valuable to this franchise's future than Lou would have been.
Player development has just as much to do with system as individual talent, I believe. Players can only produce if given the opportunity to get better. With Lou back home and Swaggy in tow, the Sixers gave Holiday the keys to the offense and the chance to get better. He's making the most of it, and meanwhile I couldn't be happier to have been wrong.