Deron Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday in a deal mammoth in both its gravity and shock value. After following out of the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Nets appeared to be set on shuffling deck chairs and clearing cap space for the next opportunity for glory. Instead, New Jersey wrought havoc and terror on all rivals, especially Carmelo's New York Knicks.
But the kicker here isn't just that the Nets' Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King made a giant move, or found a star to build around. It's that after seven months of preying and praying on Carmelo, they ended up with a better player at a cheaper price.
Williams is signed through 2011-12; he'll make $16.3 million next season, and his next contract will be subject to a new collective bargaining agreement, which figures to cut salary to some degree. Anthony is due $18.5 million, then more than $20 million in each of the following three seasons. Williams will almost assuredly be cheaper than 'Melo for the next four years.
The stars are about the same age; Williams, despite entering the league two years after 'Melo, is only a month younger, owning to his three seasons at Illinois. But in terms of NBA mileage, Williams is fresher, with about 17,000 minutes played in the NBA (playoffs included) to Anthony's 22,000.
But the real question isn't of age, minutes played or salary. It's about quality. And here Williams has the biggest advantage on Anthony. Carmelo may be a better scorer -- he's at 25 points per game this season, and scores about that many per 36 minutes on his career. But Williams is no slouch in that department (21 per game this year), and Deron does it so much more efficiently. Williams' current effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the higher value of made three-pointers) is .513; Anthony's at .474. Williams scores 1.17 points per shot attempt (including free throws). 'Melo? 1.094.
And we haven't even talked about shot creation for teammates, where Williams excels. He's third in the NBA in assists per game at 9.7; if he bumps that in New Jersey, he could become the first non-Chris Paul player to average 20 points and 10 assists in a game since the early '90s.
'Melo is a very good offensive player, a great scorer. But Williams, while a little less prolific on the scoreboard, is amazing on offense. Williams has a reputation as a better defender (though he may not have shown it much this season) and, for better or worse, a more passionate player. Without question, Williams is the better player here. The Nets win. Prokhorov wins.