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NBA Daily: Trade Deadline Winners

Drew Maresca parses through the NBA Trade Deadline and pronounces some bonafide, undeniable winners.

Drew Maresca

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The 2020 NBA Trade Deadline made us wait.

As always, the NBA universe held its collective breath until 3 p.m EST on Feb. 6th. Deadline day ultimately had at least its share of blockbusters and franchise-altering deals, headlined by a massive four-team, 12-player trade between Atlanta, Denver, Houston and Minnesota.

Basketball Insiders will provide an in-depth analysis of every aspect of the 2020 trade deadline, including a rundown of the losers of the deadline, as well as an overview of the buyout market. But first, let’s kick off trade deadline coverage with a list of deadline winners.

Winners

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks added Clint Capela and only gave up Evan Turner and the Golden State Warriors’ 2024 second-round pick. The Hawks aren’t your traditional deadline buyers – they’re currently 14-38 – but they identified a need and filled it. They did so by adding a top-tier, 25-year-old shot blocker and lob catcher to their already young core that is averaging 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds per game. The center is signed through 2023 to an incredibly affordable deal with an average salary of $18.55 million. Capela will make Trae Young even more dangerous in the pick-and-roll, fitting perfectly alongside Young, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and John Collins. He brings a positive attitude and familiarity with winning, and he’ll also bring his 7-foot-5 wingspan and all of his high-powered finishes — third overall in dunks in 2018-19).

For all intents and purposes, the Hawks’ 2019-20 season is over. But their future looks even brighter now than it already did.

Memphis Grizzlies

While the HEAT are the higher-profile winners of this deal, the Grizzlies got a pretty big victory, too. The Grizzlies added Justise Winslow, a 23-year-old guard/forward who averaged career highs in points and assists last season before struggling with injuries this year. His defensive prowess and newly-discovered offensive versatility will blend beautifully with the existing young and dynamic core. He can handle most positions and he’ll complement Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. perfectly with his selfless, team-first attitude. Further, Winslow is class personified and he’ll work his butt off in Memphis – just like he’s done in Miami.

Remember, Winslow shot 27.6 percent over 1.5 three-point attempts per game in his rookie season — and he already bumped that up to 37.5 percent on 3.9 attempts last year alone.

All they had to give up was a player that had no interest in joining the team (Andre Iguodala), along with Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill. Although the veteran pair were major influences in the Grizzlies’ locker room, the long-term benefits far outweigh any short-term drawbacks.  If Winslow can overcome his lower back injury quickly, Memphis will be light years ahead of where we expected them to be.

Better, they already have the makings of a dangerous eighth seed in the Western Conference this season too.

Miami HEAT

The HEAT added a significant weapon to their roster on the eve of the deadline — but will it be enough? They filled a need for a versatile wing in Andre Iguodala, an incredibly skilled defender and someone that can also initiate the offense. Beyond that, the HEAT added Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill into the deal as the night got longer. Creatively, Pat Riley and his front office prevented the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers from swooping in on Iguodala, even signing him to a team-friendly extension with a team option for 2020-21. So not only did the HEAT improve, but they kept a pivotal piece away from a team they’d likely have to face in the NBA Finals – if they make it that far.

If that’s not enough, Miami also created additional salary cap flexibility by moving Dion Waiters (signed for $12.65 million in 2020-21), James Johnson (player option for $16 million in 2020-21) and Justise Winslow ($13 million in 2020-21 with a team option for $13 million in 2021-22), while bringing in three guys on expiring contracts or for whom they hold a team option. They’ve just catapulted themselves into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes this summer if they’d like, or they could wait to add one of the numerous franchise-altering free agents in 2021 to a core of Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Bam Adebayo. Either way, yikes.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Things looked bleak for Minnesota very recently.

Just 24 hours ago, actually. Karl-Anthony Towns spoke about all the losing he’s done in his career. Honestly, if you squinted hard enough, it might have even looked like a preface to a trade request.

But situations change quickly in the NBA, especially around the trade deadline. The Timberwolves unburdened themselves of Andrew Wiggins’ very pricey contract, swapping it along with a top-three protected 2021 first-round pick and a future second-round pick for D’Angelo Russell. And just like that, the Timberwolves’ future is looking up.

It’s not all about Russell. Wiggins has underwhelmed in his five-and-a-half years in Minnesota. Despite all of his talent, he’s been incredibly inefficient. He’s never posted a PER of more than 16.5  — of note, 15 is the league average for every NBA every season and Giannis Antetokounmpo posted the highest PER ever in 2018-19 of 32.5 — and he’s never had a positive Value Over Replacement Player in any season, while also failing to rise above the ranks of a subpar three-point shooter either (33.2%).

Although the pairing might not result in immediate victories, trading Wiggins (and his bloated contract) for a budding star that’ll keep the current star happy is an undeniable step in the right direction.

Honorable Mention

New York Knicks

The Knicks don’t quite qualify as winners.

They didn’t trade for any franchise-altering players, nor did they add any highly-promising draft picks. However, what the Knicks did accomplish was taking a long, hard look in the mirror and reaching the conclusion that change has to start from within — well, nearly all the way. They parted ways with Steve Mills, the former president of basketball operations. In short, Mills had been the team president from 2003-08 before reconnecting with James Dolan and the Knicks from 2013 onward. Even shorter, the overall record for his most recent tenure in New York is a league-worst 178-365. Mills was involved in the hiring of Phil Jackson, the re-signing of Tim Hardaway Jr. and the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas (as well as the events leading up to it).

Beyond that, Mills recommended the Knicks hire Isiah Thomas in 2003 and he oversaw an organization found guilty of a hostile work environment in 2007. Needless to say, it was long overdue.

In replacing Mills, Dolan followed the relatively new trend of handing the keys to the kingdom over to a super-agent. In this case, it’s Leon Rose and William “World Wide Wes” Wesley of CAA. Rose has lots of incredible connections, presumably understands the game from a player perspective and, most importantly, is a fresh face from outside of MSG.

But that’s not all, folks!

In one of the least surprising deals of the day, New York traded Marcus Morris to Los Angeles in a three-team deal that netted them Maurice Harkless, the Clippers’ 2020 first round pick, the rights to swap 2021 first round picks and a future second-rounder. This wasn’t quite the deal that was rumored just minutes before the deal became official, but the important part is that the Knicks collected another pick for an expiring player that probably wasn’t re-signing next year. Overall, that’ll give New York as many as eight first-rounders in the next five years and four in the next two.

A new front office and more picks for them to make, not bad. For the Knicks, who have had very little to celebrate of late, it’s a(nother) new beginning.

And for everybody else mentioned above, they’ll hope it’s the start of something great, too. Whether they’re chasing rings or stuck in the rebuilding mud, they left their mark on a hectic NBA Trade Deadline. Not all that enter the fray come out on top; but the Hawks, Grizzlies, HEAT, Timberwolves and Knicks all head into the All-Star break feeling better about both their immediate and long-term futures.

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ICYMI: Atlantic Division

To kick off our new “ICYMI” series, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco breaks down what you might have missed from the Atlantic Division this season.

Ariel Pacheco

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Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re introducing a new series called “ICYMI” where we’ll fill you in on some of the NBA’s biggest storylines that you may have missed, division by division. Today, we’ll focus on the Atlantic Division. 

So far, the Atlantic has been arguably the most competitive division in the league. If the playoffs started today, all five teams in the division would at least make the play-in game. But what’s gotten those teams to that point? Who or what might have flown under the radar? Let’s take a look.

Chris Boucher: Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate

After a cold start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have started to figure it out, winning 5 of their last 7 games. And a huge part of that success has been due to the rise of Chris Boucher.

In just 23.7 minutes per game, he is averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds to go along with 2.2 blocks per game. He’s also shown touch from beyond the arc, shooting 45.3% from three-point range on almost four attempts a game. On the year, Boucher also has 4 double-doubles.

Boucher has provided a much-needed spark for the Raptors. In fact, while Nick Nurse has been reluctant to do so, many have been clamoring for Boucher to start. Still, as a starter or off the bench, Boucher has done more than enough to mask the loss of both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. And doing so has placed him squarely in the middle of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.

Is Immanuel Quickley the Knicks Point Guard Of The Future and Present?

The Knicks entered the season with a conundrum at the point guard position. Former Lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have both disappointed while Elfrid Payton, a proven but flawed NBA rotation player, has only exacerbated the team’s issues, especially their need for spacing.

Enter Immanuel Quickley, a rookie out of Kentucky that has not only shown the ability to shoot, but also defend and facilitate at a high level and has developed a floater game that has become his signature.

There’s no question that Quickley is currently the best point guard on the Knicks’ roster. While his 11 points and 2.6 assists per game might undersell his play, lineups with RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson that feature Quickley have outscored opponents by 20 points, albeit in just 30 total minutes. That same lineup with Payton in Quickley’s place have been outscored by 6 points in 371 minutes. Quickley is simply a better fit.

While the Knicks point guard situation in the last decade has been lousy, the Knicks may not have only found their point guard of the future, but of the present as well. 

Doc Rivers, the Tobias Harris Whisperer

After a disappointing year, Tobias Harris is in the midst of a bounce-back season. This should come as no surprise, however, with Doc Rivers now at the helm. Harris played some of the best basketball of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers with Rivers as his head coach. Now, reunited in Philadelphia, Harris’ play has surged once again.

Harris has been an uber-efficient scoring option for the first place 76ers, averaging 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on a 61.5 true shooting percentage. Rivers, meanwhile, has done an excellent job of putting Harris in the best position to succeed. With Brett Brown, Harris was used more as a floor-spacer and spot-up shooter, something that Harris is certainly capable of — he’s shot 45.8 percent from three-point range this season — but doesn’t exactly suit his game. But, under Rivers, Harris has attacked the basket and has been far more decisive with the ball in his hands. It also helps when Harris is shooting a scorching-hot 45.8 percent from three-point range.

Where other coaches have faltered, Rivers has seemingly unlocked Harris’ ultimate ability and, with the type of player he has shown himself to be, Harris might just be enough to push Philadelphia to a title. He’s certainly got them in the conversation.

Jeff Green’s Role in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden hurt their defense and their depth significantly. They’re betting on sheer star power and their new powerhouse offense to get them far in the playoffs.

They will need role-players to step up and knock down shots, however. Jeff Green has done just that.

Shooting 48.2 percent from three, Green has been playing a bunch of his minutes at center. And, with how the roster is currently constructed, the team may rely on him to play that spot throughout the season. Green, of course, is no stranger to the situation, having played the very same role with the Houston Rockets last season. 

Since the Harden trade, he’s averaging 33 minutes per game. Green has also scored in double figures off the bench in 7 straight games. He’ll continue to play a major role for the Nets as the season goes and, if he can continue to perform at this level, Brooklyn will have someone in the rotation beyond the big-three that they can trust.

Be sure to check back throughout the week as we break down what you may have missed from the other divisions.

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NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer

Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.

Bobby Krivitsky

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For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.

In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.

The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.

Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.

Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them. 

That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game. 

Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.

While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.

 

As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.

That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.

Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.

But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.

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NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte

No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.

Chad Smith

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Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.

Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.

But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.

While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.

With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.

Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.

The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.

Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.

Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.

As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.

The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.

It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.

Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.

The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.

He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.

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