Monday morning, Jack Winter started Basketball Insiders’ newest series titled Trade Targets, where he looked at the best players that could potentially be on the trade market when the fateful Feb. 7 deadline arrives.
Today, we take a look at the Northwest Division. Before we get to it, we need to set the stage. With the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, every single team in the Northwest came into the season aiming to make the playoffs. Since the season began, everyone’s seasons have been pretty topsy-turvy.
Up until the last few weeks, there were red flags everywhere concerning the Utah Jazz’s season outlook. Now, there’s red alarms everywhere concerning Utah’s potential. Coming off their run to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ injury-plagued roster has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning some heads early on. Then, those heads instantly turned back after a miserable December. The Denver Nuggets are the one team that’s looked like a great team from the get-go, but it’s odd that they managed to keep things afloat while Nikola Jokic got himself into game shape.
The one team that’s shown consistency has oddly been the one team that didn’t have much current aspiration to begin with — Oklahoma City. With the season entering its halfway point, teams are going to look wherever they can to add to their playoff hopes. The Northwest Division has quite a few of those.
If you’re familiar with our guys up in the Northwest, then you probably know who’s going to show up on here.
Let’s just get this out of the way — this is going to be very Thunder-centric because they could very well dominate the trade buzz from here on from now until the deadline. If we’re being honest, they’ve taken over the rumor mill ever since the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul swap, so seeing their name in any new buzz shouldn’t send any shockwaves.
We should rename the Thunder, “The Oklahoma City Clash” because the title of OKC’s season right now is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Even though the plan reportedly has been to trade away what they can to start fresh, they have a likable winning team on their hands.
They have all the makings of a squad who would give any contender fits in the playoffs. Yet, as much of a fun story that they’ve been, their play hasn’t deterred the front office from their original objective. Their most recent loss at the hands of the LeBron James-less and Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers served as a good reminder that they’re not going anywhere near a title.
From the looks of things, Oklahoma City is going to cut ties with all of its best players not named Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. To evaluate this fully, we have to do this in order from most expendable to least expendable. Usually, that starts with the player whose contract is the closest to expendable
Danilo Gallinari — $22,615,559
Gallinari’s return to full health is one of the stories that doesn’t get enough attention around the league. Over the years, we’ve forgotten about what he can do on the court because of both his prolonged injury history and playing for irrelevant Denver teams between Andre Iguodala’s departure and pre-Nikola Jokic.
He had quite the resurgence with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, and that’s only continued since playing for the Thunder. While Gallo has not been able to maintain the same efficiency he had in LA last season — averaging almost 20 points on 46/43/90 splits — his numbers this season, 18.3 points on 43/40/90 splits, should make him a desired asset on the market.
Plenty of teams can use a feared scorer like Gallo. His scoring abilities won’t make him an alpha dog but a very respectable secondary scorer. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix, and, for some reason, Boston, have expressed interest in Gallinari and for good reason. His ability to score from just about anywhere can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
The only qualm is the expiration date. Teams don’t usually pay top dollar for an expiring deal. As good as Gallinari is, OKC shouldn’t expect much of a haul for him since he’ll be looking for a new deal six months from now. Then again, their ship already came in from the deals they made last summer, so they won’t lose much sleep over it.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s best option might be just to wait it out until the summer then work out a sign-and-trade with Gallinari. That’s what Denver did back in 2017, and it got them Paul Millsap. Presti doesn’t have to get a Millsap-type to cash in on Gallo. He just has to add to an already strong foundation of assets.
Steven Adams — $25,842,697
Adams has been through it all with the Thunder. He was there when they came within inches of returning to The Finals. When they almost upset the Warriors. When they lost Kevin Durant. When Russell Westbrook had his MVP season. When Paul George came to town. When Carmelo Anthony followed. When the team bowed out in disappointing fashion. When they somewhat blew it up.
Adams has been there to witness it all.
Now, it looks like his time might be up in OKC. What’s somewhat sad about this is that Adams has been a good soldier throughout all the turmoil. He always kept his head up and did his job no matter what changes he had to go through with the Thunder. That’s one of his more subtle appeals. Adams is a presence in your locker room.
The main appeal to the New Zealander? He’s pure beef in the frontcourt. The guys clogs up the paint. Any team who needs an upgrade in the frontcourt will get its money’s worth. This season, he’s putting up a respectable 12/10, as well as putting up his usual fantastic rim protection. Adams is currently is surrendering a respectable 54.2 shooting percentage at the rim. Should he make his way to a contender, he can change the equation when defending the post.
The only teams who have been linked to Adams have been Sacramento and Atlanta. Neither team exactly fits the contender profile, but their youth movement could be a suitable change of pace for Adams, who’s only 26. It wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but NBA fandom would prefer to see him on a contender again.
Dennis Schroder – 15,500,000
It’s depressing that on his second team, Schroder is again playing the perfect role for him — the very overqualified backup point guard — on a team that again is facing its final days. It’s not his fault that much like how it was in Atlanta, there isn’t much use for him now in Oklahoma City.
Much attention has been given to OKC’s three-point guard lineup containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Schroder. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander get the most attention for that because one is a star veteran while another is a star on the rise. Not enough is being put on Schroder, which honestly is kind of unfair.
The three of them together are plus-29 when they share the court, which has the highest net rating among any Oklahoma City three-man lineup that has logged 200 minutes or more. If you don’t think Schroder has a lot to do with that, check out the net rating of the next five three-man lineups.
Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-22.2
Chris Paul-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-20
Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-19.5
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-17.2
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-16.9
Seeing a pattern?
For the duration of his entire career, Schroder’s developed a reputation for being the league’s best backup point guard. On his next team, wherever that is, Schroder should slide in just fine whether if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Let’s just hope he stays there when that happens.
Chris Paul — $38,506,482
*Hot Take* Chris Paul is still an elite player.
He’s still an excellent floor general. He’s still capable of taking over games. He’s killing it from mid-range. He’s still a reliable three-point shooter. He still plays great defense. He’s no longer the very best in the league — if he was, Oklahoma City would probably keep their squad together — but his play this season has been so good that just about everyone in the league is begging for his services to be put on a contender.
It’s just the elephant in the room that’s been there since last year. As his game continues to age, his contract further plummets as an albatross. There is some draw to that, though, when you look at what he’s still able to do. He’s very available right now. Oklahoma City will do just about anything to get off his deal. As bad as that contract is, Paul has plenty of playoff experience on his belt, and he’s even proven from his time in Houston and Oklahoma City that he can adjust accordingly as his prime dwindles.
The options are limited. Only teams like Miami and Dallas have the expendable contracts to acquire Paul. Those teams have been better than advertised, yes. Are they winning a championship with their current squads? No. Does acquiring Paul change that? It’s possible. Of course then, they have to consider cap flexibility and all, which is hard to give up. This writer has also written about where he thinks CP3’s ideal team would be.
Even if he’s badly overpaid, a player with as much talent as Chris Paul can basically be had without having to exchange any valuable assets. If getting him on your team gives you a championship window, then what does it matter how much you have to pay him for the next two years?
Robert Covington — $11,301,219
The Wolves are at a crossroads right now. They could roll with this crew if they’d like. They can fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot, and maybe even get one. Doing so would make the season a success. It would probably lead to a sweep in the first round, but expectations were low coming into this season. They should be proud of themselves if they make the playoffs.
Or, they can punt on the season. Is it worth fighting that hard for such little reward that is the last playoff spot? If they decide to tank, there’s only one other team in the Western Conference that’s all but out of the playoffs right now — the Golden State Warriors. The opportunity to increase your lottery odds has never been bigger.
If they choose Option B, then Robert Covington easily becomes one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. RoCo has one of the most desired skillsets a team vying for a championship could want. He’s an All-NBA Defense alum and has shown that he can’t be left wide open from three.
Covington’s already been in a fair amount of trade rumors. The worse Minny plays, the likelier they are to trade him because a win-now veteran like Covington doesn’t have a place on a team like that. Someone like him should be put on a team that’s fighting for more than just a playoff spot.
The upside for the Timberwolves is, because of what he does and because of how cheap his contract is, Covington should fetch some good value back. For the Timberwolves, he might be better as an asset than as a player.
Malik Beasley — $2,731,714
It’s not often you see a productive player on a rookie contract get mentioned among the more valuable trade targets. If all the buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets and Beasley is true, then we’ve got a potential steal in the works.
After taking a leap in his third year as a pro, Beasley’s seen his minutes take somewhat of a dive this season. Going from an average of 23.2 minutes to 16.7 shouldn’t come as a welcome development for Beasley. He established himself a long-range threat last season, shooting 40.2 percent from three. While his minutes and point average have declined, Beasley’s ability to stretch the floor has not wavered, as he’s still shot 38.6 from deep on the season.
It may only get worse. Michael Porter Jr’s development is starting to get some great results. He and Beasley don’t play the same position, but as Porter gets more minutes, more players in the active rotation are going to have their minutes adjusted to make room for him. Beasley might just be the odd man out.
If that turns out to be the case, expect teams in need of a three-point shooter — or really, anyone trying to win it all — to come calling Denver. They’d be foolish to trade Beasley to a rival, so don’t be shocked if they trade him somewhere in the east if it comes to that.
He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it’s not like the Nuggets are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they trade him, it means they don’t see him as a building block going forward. If they don’t, then they clearly see value in him.
There was some temptation to put Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore on this list, but at this point in time, if they were to get traded, teams that would trade for them would pull the trigger more for matching contract purposes than to acquire their talent.
The race to the championship should only get tighter as the season goes on. If trade season plays a major role in shaping up who wins the championship this season, don’t be too shocked if the players in the Northwest Division have something to do with it.
NBA Daily: Is Stephen Curry the MVP?
Given the prolific season Stephen Curry is having, despite the Golden State Warriors being ninth in the Western Conference, does his impact make him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season?
In the aftermath of Klay Thompson suffering an Achilles tear that ended his season before it began, no one would have blamed Stephen Curry for prioritizing his preservation through the 2020-21 campaign.
Instead, despite the Golden State Warriors lacking the necessary talent to become a title contender, Curry’s doing everything in his power to get them into the playoffs.
The two-time league MVP is on pace to win the scoring title for the second time in his career. In a recent road loss against the Boston Celtics, Curry put up 47 points, becoming the second player in Warriors history to score 30 or more points in 10-straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain.
In his last 11 contests, Curry’s averaging 40 points on shooting splits that aren’t supposed to be possible at the game’s highest level. Even though he’s hoisting 14.3 attempts from beyond the arc per game, he’s making them at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s taking 23.4 shots from the field but still seeing the ball go through the hoop 54.1 percent of the time.
The context of how Curry’s producing those prodigious numbers makes them even more impressive. He is the only scoring threat on Golden State who defenses need to concern themselves with — stop Curry, win the game; it’s that simple, at least in theory it is.
Another layer of what makes Curry’s prolific scoring so impressive is the energy he’s exerting to do so. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Curry’s running 1.43 miles per game on offense, which is the sixth-most league-wide. And what that figure doesn’t fully capture is that while Curry has a lightning-quick release and is masterful at creating the sliver of daylight he needs to get his shot off, it takes a significant amount of energy to do that once, let alone throughout a game.
Even though Curry’s already the greatest shooter of all time, he’s taken the most lethal part of his game to new heights. From 2015 when the Warriors won their first NBA championship to 2019, a stretch in which they reached the finals every year, step-back threes accounted for just eight percent of Curry’s shooting profile from beyond the arc. But this season, Curry knew it would be more challenging to create shots for himself, which is why he’s doubled that figure to 16 percent and he’s knocking down 51.5 percent of his step-back threes, per NBA.com.
Curry’s also putting more pressure on opponents from further away from the hoop than he has in years past. According to NBA.com, from 2015 through 2019, five percent of his threes came from 30 to 40 feet. This season, shots from that distance account for 10 percent of his three-point attempts. Just like when defenses double team him out of a pick-and-roll, Curry forcing teams to defend him from further out is another way for him to create 4-3 opportunities for his teammates.
After that loss against the Celtics, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s “at the peak of his powers.” Though he’s not just putting his talents towards individual production, he is the primary reason Golden State’s firmly in the play-in tournament. The Warriors currently reside ninth in the Western Conference. They’re one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and two back of the seventh-ranked Dallas Mavericks.
As impressive an individual season as Curry’s having and as vital as he’s been to his team’s success this season, the reality is the Warriors haven’t won at a high enough level for him to win Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his career. Currently, Nikola Jokic is the leading MVP candidate. While it’s fair to point out the Denver Nuggets aren’t even in the top three in the Western Conference, Jokic ranks first in player efficiency rating, win shares, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He’s averaging 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
If Jokic misses enough of Denver’s remaining games, someone could usurp him for the right to win MVP. In that scenario, Curry would have a chance to become the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, but he’d have to sway voters from giving it to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s in the midst of a career season, ranking second in player efficiency rating, eighth in win shares and fourth in box plus/minus. He’s averaging 29.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Curry ranks sixth in player efficiency rating, seventh in win shares and is second in both box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He has a case for MVP, but Jokic and Embiid are capping off career seasons while leading their respective teams to a higher level of success. Yes, their teams are more talented and there probably isn’t enough weight put on how valuable an individual is to his team, but the reality is the MVP typically goes to the best player on a top team. Furthermore, that argument also applies to Jokic, who’s the lone All-Star on a team with a better record.
Not naming Curry this season’s Most Valuable Player doesn’t mean his prolific production isn’t appreciated. Nor should it get taken as a sign elevating his team, somehow finding ways to become a more dangerous shooter and investing as much energy as he has into a season that won’t end with a championship isn’t garnering respect from the NBA community. That includes fans whose favorite team doesn’t reside in the Bay Area.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals
In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.
It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James.
With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.
However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.
The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.
Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.
Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.
While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury.
Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.
Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.
After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.
The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.
As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.
NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West
With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.
With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.
Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed.
The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.
Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In
Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11
The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.
Likely Play-In Teams
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8
On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12
The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help.
Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13
The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament.
San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7
The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.
Outside Looking In
New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11
The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14
The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch.
The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.
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