If you have read some of my posts on HoopDat, you'll know that I've been pretty rough on Trevor Ariza all season. Before I explain the point of this post - why I think it may be in the Hornets' best interest to sit Ariza against Boston, and possibly longer if necessary - I want to make it clear that the foundation for this belief stems from Trevor's important role with the team. He is one of the key players who helps the Hornets play the defensive-minded style that they have utilized this season. His offensive game usually makes me want to cry, but his stellar on-ball defense and above-average rebounding for his position are essential components to the Hornets' success. Ever since Ariza's latest injury in New York, however, he hasn't been the same player, especially on defense. With how little Ariza typically brings to the table offensively, he needs to be at the top of his game defensively to truly be an asset on the floor, and over the past four games, he hasn't been. With Saturday night's game against the Celtics being the only game that the Hornets will play in an 8-day stretch spanning from March 16th to the 24th, I think the decision to rest Ariza against Boston should be a no-brainer for the Hornets' coaching staff.
First, the numbers to support my angle on the situation. In the four games since Ariza's return, he has posted offensive game scores of 1.6 (didn't know that low of a score was even possible with 41 minutes of playing time), 4.7, 4.5, and 5.0. An "average" game score is right around 10. For comparison's sake, in Chris Paul's 33/15/7/5 game against Sacramento on Saturday night, his score was an incredible 38.3. Carl Landry's performance in that same game (20 pts, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal) netted him a solid score of 18.2. This scoring method is far from a substitute for watching a player in person, but it is at least a decent starting point (GmSc formula here). As we can see, Ariza's offensive scores have been even lower than his already low season average of 7.64; while unsettling, that is not the biggest issue at hand here. The problem that I am seeing which worries me most is his defense.
For his career, Ariza has a defensive rating of 104 (check the game score link for the definition of offensive and defensive rating; basically, the number revolves around points scored/allowed per 100 possessions, so for defense, the lower the number, the better). To compare, Tony Allen and Ron Artest, known all around the league for being defensive stoppers, currently sport defensive ratings of 102 and 103 respectively for their careers. Many of the less talented defensive players in the NBA have ratings that hover around 110. This season, Ariza has posted similar numbers to his own career average, as well as those of Artest and Allen, with an defensive rating of 103.2 through March 1st (not including the Knicks game, when his most recent injury occurred). In the four games he has played since that injury, this number has spiked to 110. Four games is obviously just a small sample size, but by watching the games, I have come to the same conclusion - Ariza looks a step slow on defense, and I have to believe that not being entirely healthy is the main reason why.
Quite simply, I think it would do the Hornets a great deal of good if Ariza were to sit out until he is 100% healthy, and giving him a full week off to rest should allow that to happen while only missing one game. If he isn't absolutely ready by the time the Hornets play in Utah on the 24th, they should keep him out until he's ready to go. The Hornets' win against Phoenix put them 5 games ahead of 9th place Houston and boosted them to a 90% playoff probability according to John Hollinger's playoff odds system. At this point, the only way that I could see New Orleans stumbling out of a playoff spot is if Chris Paul or Emeka Okafor have to miss a stretch of the final dozen games (the reason I don't include West is because Carl Landry should be able to handle starting duties for a short time period if necessary).
From a risk/reward perspective, Ariza's numbers correlate to a wins over replacement player rating (EWA) of .4 thus far this season, meaning his play this season has been just higher than replacement level. However, this number makes a key assumption that the "replacement player" has an EWA of 0. Unfortunately, the Hornets' backup SF Quincy Pondexter's EWA is -.7, so missing Ariza would likely hurt New Orleans more than the numbers may indicate. That being said, the odds are that replacing Ariza with Pondexter for even a 3 or 4 game stretch is unlikely to have an effect on the Hornets' win/loss record over that span. In the long run, ensuring that the Hornets have a completely healthy Trevor Ariza come playoff time is much more important than a brief drop-off at the small forward position.