When the Bobcats acquired Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline in February, they had some sort of idea as to what the two veterans would bring back to the team. Neal was added to provide some much-needed scoring off the bench, while Ridnour would fill in for Ramon Sessions as the backup point guard, and provide a three-point threat, a skill that Sessions never brought to the Bobcats.
A month later, the results have been a little mixed. Neal's inconsistent play has been frustrating to some, and Ridnour's poor shooting has resulted in unmet expectations. Alternatively, Neal is shooting better than most thought he would, and Ridnour's assist rate is pretty close to where it should be. There's more than one way to look at how they've played so far, especially within the context of the players they replaced.
First of all, while it's easy to look at the current terrific play of Sessions and Jeff Adrien in Milwaukee right now and say the Bobcats made a mistake, I think it would be difficult to say that they would have done the same for the Bobcats. That being said, we do have to consider the gaps they've left in terms of analyzing how Neal and Ridnour have impacted the team. With Adrien, this is easy; although he played well when he was on the floor, Steve Clifford didn't always want him in the game, as he saw the floor in only 25 matches with the Bobcats. Sessions, meanwhile, was a very capable sixth man in the backup point guard role, though he was not playing as well this season, compared to his 2012-13 campaign.
So if we look at it that way, I would say Gary Neal has been an upgrade over Sessions, in the grand scheme of the offense. Although Neal is not tasked with facilitating an offense the way Sessions was, Neal has been considerably better in terms of scoring, posting a .541 effective field goal percentage to Sessions' .409 mark before he was dealt. Neal doesn't have nearly the passing ability that Sessions had, but they have roughly comparable usage rates, and Neal both makes more shots and commits slightly fewer turnovers. Having a good shooter from long range that's capable of playing up with the starting unit is also a plus, as Neal is hitting his threes at a .488 rate.
But while Neal, in a vacuum, is a better option for the Bobcats than Sessions was, it was Luke Ridnour who took over Sessions' role as the second point guard. Ridnour has been less than good since coming to Charlotte, shooting .321 from the floor and .150 from beyond the arc. He was brought in for his shooting ability, and he has yet to be a success in that area of the game. He's not succeeding in other areas you would hope for either; his assist rate is below that of Josh McRoberts, who is a good passer, but his assist rate is not one of a quality point guard. Ridnour is a defensive liability, lacing the athleticism to keep up with many younger guards, and not having the size to create matchup issues for the opposition. It's possible that Ridnour would be playing differently -- especially defensively -- if he had started the season under Clifford's tutelage, but he has to improve a lot at other ends of the game if he is going to be a net positive. Luckily, his shooting is considerably lower than his usual rate, which would suggest that he will progress to his typical shooting numbers soon.
As of writing this article (before Wednesday's game against the Nets), I'd say the Bobcats gained a lot more than it lost from that trade. The step up from the best scorer in the pre-trade second unit to Neal is a bigger step up than Sessions to Ridnour was a step down. Ridnour will return to form soon, I would imagine, and he will not be the quality of player that Sessions was, but he will be a fine asset in due time. Neal, meanwhile, has been a great shooter off the bench, and it's an area that the Bobcats desperately needed to improve at the deadline. At this point, I think we can mark this as another trade victory for Rich Cho.