NBA

NBA AM: You Can Make One Trade, What’s It Look Like?

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Five NBA Questions

Sometimes it’s interesting to get different perspectives when discussing these NBA topics, so this morning we asked three Basketball Insiders writers to answer five league-related questions. Joel Brigham, Jabari Davis and Steve Kyler all weighed in and here is what they had to say.

1. Who Has Been the Biggest Surprise Player for You?

While so many players have gone nuclear this year statistically, the one player who has surprised me the most, even more than Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average, has been James Harden leading the league in assists with 11.8 per game. He’s never averaged more than 7.5 assists per game at any other point in his career and, for the most part, it’s pretty unheard of for an older dog to come up with this kind of new trick. Harden has looked like an MVP this year, and his ball distribution has been a big reason why.

– Joel Brigham

It isn’t shocking given all of the promise, but the most pleasant surprise (or development) so far has been the progress of Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout the first quarter of the NBA’s regular season. It would have been very easy to write the Bucks off given the preseason injury to Khris Middleton and the fact that the Eastern Conference at least appeared to be improving significantly around them, but Milwaukee has shown to be a resilient bunch, and Antetokounmpo has been a major part of that.

At just 22 years old, the 6’11 point forward can effectively play any position on the court depending on the matchup and still only appears to be touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential. He’s up to 22.4 PPG (19th), 8.6 RPG (20th) and 6.1 APG (17th) on the year and the Bucks are exceeding expectations. Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns understandably get mentioned whenever the discussion of “starting a franchise around one guy” comes up, but Antetokounmpo is a guy that should be breaking into that conversation if he’s not already there.

– Jabari Davis

Solomon Hill of the New Orleans Pelicans has surprised me, and not in a good way. Whenever a player changes teams, you expect something of a learning curve. But fresh off a four-year $48 million contract this past summer, Hill has been downright dreadful as a Pelican. In 22 games logged this season, Hill is averaging a career low 5.2 points per game. He has registered double-figure scoring just twice all season and has recorded seven games with a zero field goal percentage. You can point to many things that are not working for the Pelicans, but Hill has turned into an almost disastrous signing.

– Steve Kyler

2. What Players Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?

Chandler Parsons was part of Memphis’ quarter-billion investment this past summer, but he’s only played in six games this season thanks to a knee injury. And even in the games he played, he averaged only 7.7 PPG. That’s a career-low and about half of his career average, so all that vitriol Mark Cuban had about Chandler’s exit can now be targeted at something or someone more deserving. Frankly, Mark Cuban is lucky he avoided investing all that money in a player who’s been arguably the league’s most disappointing through the first 20 games of the year.

– Joel Brigham

Although he appears to be putting it together a bit more of late, Bismack Biyombo hasn’t enjoyed quite the rollover success for his new team in Orlando many would have liked to see following a successful late-season and playoff stretch with the Toronto Raptors last season. His rebounding totals (8.3 RPG) have been impressive for a reserve player, but even more consistency and production would have been anticipated given the deal he signed this past summer.

Unless the plan was to pay a backup an average of $18 million per season over the next four years, it isn’t a stretch to assume Orlando’s front office has a larger role (eventually) in mind for the 24-year-old big man from Zaire. It will be interesting to see if GM Rob Hennigan is active on the trade market at some point this season or moving forward given the roster redundancy or if they ultimately like having the ability to bring in the versatile Biyombo behind Nikola Vucevic. For perspective, Vucevic has been effective and has another two years left on a very favorable deal (about $12.5 million per through 2018-19). That means the team has technically committed about twice as much money to Biyombo moving forward.

– Jabari Davis

Stanley Johnson of the Detroit Pistons gets the nod here. Part of Johnson’s problem is he can’t get out of Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse. There has been talk of needing to be more focused at practice and needing to play harder in games, so some of that is on Stanley. Johnson is immensely talented and shows flashes of being a special talent. Maybe Johnson needs a change of scenery to blossom. This was a year in which the expectations on Johnson were higher, especially after a solid Summer League. With 19 games logged and just 3.6 points per game, Johnson has hardly lived up to the hype and his 9.85 PER rating is downright disappointing.

– Steve Kyler

3. What Team Has Not Lived Up to Your Expectations?

As someone who thought the Indiana Pacers would be one of the East’s best teams, seeing them flounder just south of .500 through the first quarter of the season has been terribly frustrating. While Paul George has dealt with some early-season injuries, Jeff Teague hasn’t been the big-time scorer they hoped he would be and the team just hasn’t come together under Nate McMillan. This group looks weird and disjointed, and they’ll be lucky just to make the playoffs this year, let alone win a series.

– Joel Brigham

A legitimate case could be made for the Indiana Pacers (10-11) and even the Atlanta Hawks (on a 1-9 stretch following a 9-2 start), but it has to be the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were just about everyone’s ‘darling’ squad coming into the season, and while a transition period was certainly anticipated given the new direction under Tom Thibodeau, let’s just say they haven’t shown quite the collective growth that might have been expected.

In retrospect, some of their early struggles should have been anticipated given the age of the core, but you still might expect a more defined defensive identity or at least signs of significant improvement on that end from their wing talent. Given Thibodeau’s penchant for the defensive end, you know being the 23rd-ranked team in terms of defensive efficiency and 28th overall in opponent’s shooting percentage is not sitting well. Perhaps some veteran depth in the locker room and huddle might be the answer?

– Jabari Davis

The Washington Wizards should be substantially better than their 6-13 record. The chemistry of the team is just off. The bench is almost dreadful, and unfortunately, it does not look like something that will right itself. The good news is the Wizards are just 3.5 games out of the playoff picture so a strong run of games could put them in the hunt. But given how good this team should have been coming into the season, the Wizards have been a big disappointment.

– Steve Kyler

4. You Can Make One Trade, What’s It Look Like?

The Philadelphia 76ers trade Nerlens Noel to the Chicago Bulls for Nikola Mirotic. Chicago’s bench has been brutal, and while Noel doesn’t help with the offense, he does bolster the frontcourt in the second unit where currently there isn’t a whole lot of talent that can contribute. Chicago wouldn’t lose much in Mirotic, who has regressed considerably this year, and the contracts are pretty comparable. Philadelphia clears up their logjam at center and brings in a 25-year-old stretch four that still could very well figure it out, while Chicago gets depth for its bench and a pretty talented defensive player itching for a fresh start.

– Joel Brigham

It wouldn’t be able to take place until after January 15th due to a recently signed deal, but a deal centered around Bradley Beal for Nikola Vucevic (+ Jodie Meeks’ expiring deal) could make sense for both teams once Beal can be moved. Washington is 6-13 and headed absolutely nowhere once again this season even with the transition to Coach Brooks’ new system. Although it is still relatively early in his tenure, John Wall is in the midst of his third consecutive frustrating season and certainly doesn’t seem eager or willing to continue struggling. The move would open things up a bit more for the Wizards from a financial standpoint over the next few years and give Wall a big man that has proven he can score and rebound at a high level. It would also balance things out for Orlando, open time up for the aforementioned Biyombo and obviously give them the type of wing scorer the organization has coveted for some time.

– Jabari Davis

If we’re making a trade, let’s make a trade. There are a few problems that need solving, so this deal attempts to do both. There is a massive logjam of similar players in Philadelphia, Orlando and Denver. The Kings also have a couple of guys that would like out, so let’s fix all of that with one deal.

So, the Philadelphia 76ers send out Nerlens Noel (to Denver) and Robert Covington (to Sacramento). The Orlando Magic send out Nikola Vucevic (to Philadelphia) and C.J. Watson (to Sacramento). The Nuggets send out Emmanuel Mudiay (to Philadelphia) and Wilson Chandler (to Sacramento) while the Kings send out Rudy Gay (to Orlando), Omri Casspi (to Orlando) and Skal Labissière (to Denver).

In the end, the 76ers come out with Vucevic and Mudiay, better fitting pieces to the roster they have and a strong option at point guard going forward. There is still some duplication at the center position, but Vucevic could play more of a stretch four role in Philly, and his deal is very team friendly.

The Magic end up with Gay and Casspi; both bring offense. Both would basically be one-year rentals but would give the Magic two true small forwards, both of whom can score the ball.

The Nuggets would thin out the point guard position and concede that Mudiay might not be the guy and let Jamal Murray run the show. They would get back Noel and Labissière and shed Chandler. The Nuggets get some defense and shot blocking, although they’d still have a logjam in the front court, the pieces might be better long-term especially if the Nuggets could extract a draft pick from every team involved for helping make this deal work. For the Kings, they get a lot of value out of two guys that want to leave and a rookie they don’t need. Chandler is playing very well as of late and is under contract. Watson gives them another option at point guard and Covington (while injured today) gives them a tremendous outside shooter.

If you are going to make a trade, why not make a big one? This deal is not ideal for the Nuggets, but what it would do is set them up for a run through the lottery and maybe a shot at a much better fitting group of guys.

– Steve Kyler

5. What Player Is Over-Hyped?

While he started the season on fire, DeMar DeRozan has come crashing back down to earth over the course of the last several games and is showing more of the inconsistency he’s exhibited over the course of his career. We all saw how he completely disappeared in the playoff games that mattered a season ago, and his $139 million contract this past summer was supposed to represent his movement into the league’s upper echelon. He can be an elite scorer, but he’s just as inconsistent as he’s ever been.

– Joel Brigham

These questions are never fun, but following the amount of buzz he received coming out of college and some of the more favorable comparisons bestowed upon him, thus far, Jahlil Okafor has been overhyped. That isn’t, necessarily, a knock against him on a personal level. The fact that he was being mentioned in the same breath as greats like Tim Duncan (offensive skill set) and there was an actual debate (by some) as to whether he should have been the top selection over Karl-Anthony Towns (although, no one will admit this now). Okafor’s inability to assert himself on a team with plenty of opportunities to shine (like the Philadelphia 76ers) is at the very least a bit of a concern.

– Jabari Davis

Without trying to bring the wrath of Laker Nation upon me and admitting he’s a 19-year-old rookie, can we pump the brakes just a touch on Brandon Ingram now? With 23 NBA games under his belt, he’s averaging eight points a game, shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three. He has a PER of 7.86 and just six games with double-figure scoring. Now seriously, I get it. He’s a baby in his NBA career, but if you rewind to the draft, he was drawing a comparison to Kevin Durant, and that he’d be the instant game changer for whatever team got him. He is a very nice player, with lots of upside and potential, but the hype around Ingram was never based in reality. It was always based on this fantasy concept that because he looked like Durant, he’d play like Durant. The Lakers are taking it slow with Ingram, as they should. In time, he has the skill set to potentially be a special player, but now that there is some reality to the equation, maybe we can ease back on how great Ingram is going to be until he actually is great. Just a suggestion.

– Steve Kyler

Don’t agree? Have a different answer to the question, we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your responses in the comment section below.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.