With the February 6 trade deadline less than a month away, teams around the league are gauging their rosters and their positioning to figure out which direction they need to go. Some teams are solidly in the playoffs. Some are right on the bubble and others are a sinking ship.
Kyrie Irving finally returned to action this week after missing the last 26 games for the Brooklyn Nets. They had been up and down without him, but his presence was felt during his magnificent return. Being able to solidify a position of strength is important, and the Nets can attest to that even after Spencer Dinwiddie elevated his game. There are four other guys with looming returns this month who could ultimately shape the landscape of the playoff race.
Two of these players have already played in games this season. One is set to make his season debut after suffering a brutal injury last year. One of them is a young phenom ready to take the floor for the first time in his NBA career.
Getting these players back on the court will obviously give their respective teams a boost heading into the second half of the season. Some will jump right in but others will need time to get acclimated to new teammates and/or simply getting back into game shape. Regardless, these four players will have a big impact on their team’s success in the coming weeks.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
The biggest mid-season addition to any team this year comes in Indiana with Victor Oladipo. The Pacers will finally have their All-Star guard back on the floor for their January 29 game against the Chicago Bulls. That will be just over one full calendar year from when he suffered a devastating quad injury.
Indiana has had an outstanding season to date, considering the overhaul of its roster in addition to the absence of its franchise player. They have a 25-15 record entering tonight’s matchup in Minnesota and are in position for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Getting their dynamic weapon back will be a great boost, but integrating him may take time.
Expect the Pacers to ease Oladipo back into things. The process of getting him back to elite form has many complications, but the end result is what really matters. The ideal scenario for Indiana would be for Oladipo to return to his old self after the All-Star break as playoff positioning heats up. The Pacers are incredibly deep, and their trio of Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis provides a promising future, should they stay healthy.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
The player generating the most buzz in this group resides in New Orleans. The fan base has been salivating at the opportunity to see their shiny new franchise player, Zion Williamson, and that moment is just days away. Everyone has been itching to see what Zion can do with the kind of talent that David Griffin has surrounded him with. Having guys like Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and J.J. Redick shows that they intend to win games now.
Heading into tonight’s slate of action, the Pelicans are currently just 3.5 games out of the playoffs. Looking at how their season began and taking into consideration the fact that Zion hasn’t even played a game yet, it shows the type of makeup this team has. New Orleans could easily sell off parts and pieces as they build for the future, but that is not how they are approaching things.
There is still an unknown factor that plays into all of this, but should Zion stay healthy, this franchise is sitting in a great position. Adding a generational talent like Zion would lift the ceiling for any team. With Holiday’s sustained impact and Ingram’s breakout season, the Pelicans have an opportunity to really open some eyes in the second half of the season.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
The playoffs may be out of the question right now, but if things continue going south and they are unable to recover, the Timberwolves might be feeling pressure to do something with their franchise superstar. Towns has missed 14 consecutive games and the team has been shaky (at best) without him. The good news is he will finally return to the floor tonight.
Andrew Wiggins started off the season on a tear but has truly plateaued over the last month. He did miss four games due to an illness, but the fact is he has suffered a major drop off as of late. Minnesota’s lineups are constantly changing and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of team chemistry at the moment. The Timberwolves are 15-24 (5th in the division) with a pair of games against the Pacers coming up.
Towns only missed a grand total of five games over the course of his first four seasons. His last game was December 18 as his left knee has been an issue. He will make his return tonight against Indiana, but he and the Wolves will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the season as they fight to make a run for the playoffs.
Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
Perhaps the most intriguing player in this group is veteran guard Mike Conley. Conley was expected to put the Jazz over the top after they acquired him last summer. He was supposed to be the difference-maker that would provide the experience and playmaking on offense that Utah has so sorely lacked over the years. Unexpectedly, Jordan Clarkson has been more of a spark to Utah’s offense than Conley.
Utah underwhelmed until Conley went down with a hamstring injury. Joe Ingles was struggling until he joined the starting lineup. Since then he has flourished, shooting 51 percent from three-point range. He has been a big part of Utah’s red hot run. Utah has won 15 of its last 16 games and its only loss was a three-point contest in Miami.
The Jazz have had the top-ranked offense during this stretch, and having Donovan Mitchell running the point along with Ingles has been a big reason why. Utah’s defense continues to be spectacular with Rudy Gobert anchoring the paint and protecting the rim. The real key here is the pairing of Rudy and Conley.
Conley has spent essentially his entire career playing with pick-and-pop bigs like Marc Gasol and Jaren Jackson Jr. Obviously Gobert does not have that skillset in his game, which complicates that pick-and-roll pairing. Figuring out how to use Conley once he returns will be vital to Utah’s success. Fortunately for Utah, Quin Snyder is more than capable for figuring out how to solve that puzzle.
NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 1/21/20
Michael Porter Jr. has forced Mike Malone’s hand in Denver, scoring so well that the redshirt rookie must see more playing time. As a result, he enters the conversation for most-impactful bench player in the league. Douglas Farmer revisits Basketball Insiders’ Sixth Man Watch.
Unlike most other NBA awards, the Sixth Man of the Year can be won with only half a season’s worth of impact. That is an innate wrinkle to a conversation about players coming off the bench, anyway. So while most the league obsesses over defense, MVP-worthiness and postseason position jockeying, there’s another important award that has begun to heat up in a big way. Heading into the trade deadline and winter months can make or break many chances here, so check the standings, statistics and storyline of all mentioned below.
That said, and to kick things off, it may be unlikely, but a young player forcing his coach to play him more due to a blossoming scoring run can thus enter this conversation.
Michael Porter Jr. — Denver Nuggets
Porter has reached double digits in 7 of Denver’s last 12 games, including averaging 16.8 points in the last four games. At this point, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone has no choice but to play the redshirt rookie more often.
Michael Malone: “Guys like Michael, Malik and Mason off the bench. … How valuable were those minutes for Michael Porter?”
Malone said Porter is going to play every night moving forward.
— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 17, 2020
Porter’s emergence has included shooting 44.8 percent from three in the last 11 games, and 40.6 percent beyond the arc on the season. While his defense remains questionable — not a shock for a player in his first year — and his assist numbers are practically non-existent, Porter’s ability to stretch the floor around franchise cornerstone Nikola Jokić fills a need Denver has struggled with for years.
If he continues grabbing rebounds with the same frequency as he has of late, tracking down 14 on Monday — and 8 and 10 in a back-to-back this week — then Porter’s strengths will inarguably outweigh his weaknesses. A second-half surge filled with double-digit scoring efforts will gain notice, and deservedly so.
Derrick Rose — Detroit Pistons
Now that the Pistons are actively shopping Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin is sidelined for the year, Rose is once again the best player on an NBA team. Yet, he continues to come off the bench.
Being the best player on a team finally embracing a long-needed rebuild may be a backhanded compliment, but it is Rose’s reality, nonetheless. Across Detroit’s last eight games, he has averaged 24 points per night, cracking 20 in all of them and in 10 of the last 11. On top of that, Rose is averaging 6.3 assists per game in the last seven.
Maybe his bench role is a version of load management for one of the league’s most injury-crossed players. Perhaps it is an acknowledgment of Rose’s inefficient shooting as he has needed 18.6 shots per game to reach these recent marks. It might be the byproduct of a quiet tank. Whatever the reasoning, it keeps the Pistons’ most consistent player out of the starting lineup.
As the rebuild gains momentum, Rose’s $7.7 million deal for next season may be palatable for a team chasing a low playoff seed. Detroit cannot expect to get too much in return for the 31-year-old, but anything would probably be more than anticipated when the Pistons signed Rose.
Dennis Schröder — Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s not just that Oklahoma City is in the No. 7 spot out West or that it is five games ahead of the lottery. It’s that the Thunder are as close to the Utah Jazz at No. 4 as they are to missing the playoffs. This may not have been the rebuild expected, but it is one welcomed by the small market, and Schröder has made himself an indispensable piece of it.
His on/off rating of plus-12.8 ranks in the 97th percentile among point guards, per cleaningtheglass.com — something even more impressive when realizing backup point guards often suffer diminishing statistical returns due to the reserves they typically play with. Still, Oklahoma City outscores its opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions including Schröder.
He obviously benefits from playing alongside Chris Paul. Without Paul, Schröder’s net rating is minus-4.0, but when playing with the star point guard, the Thunder outscore opponents by 16.7 points per 100 possessions.
As long as Oklahoma City intends to make life miserable for the rest of the Western Conference, and indications are that will extend past this season, then keeping Schröder and Paul together is in the Thunder’s best interest, even if one of them is stuck to the bench to start games.
Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers
Even for the walking bucket known as Sweet Lou, averaging 24.8 points across a six-game span the last couple of weeks stood out. He shot 53.8 percent from the field during the stretch, including 50 percent from beyond the arc. Career 35.0 percent 3-point shooters are not supposed to find stretches that scorching.
Unless, of course, they are Lou Williams.
What may have stood out even more, though, were the 37 assists Williams dished out in those six games. That fits right in line with his season average of 6.2 assists per game, but that marked career-high remains the most surprising part of yet another stellar season from the 14-year veteran.
Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers
Naturally, many of those Williams-tossed assists continue to land in Harrell’s hands. By just about every advanced metric, Harrell has been the second most important player to the Clippers’ season, behind only Kawhi Leonard — Paul George’s extended absence admittedly colors this gauge. Los Angeles is better on both ends of the court with Harrell involved than with him on the bench. Only Leonard’s absences are more noticeable on both ends, statistically speaking.
Porter’s rise may have pushed the Nuggets past the Clippers in the standings for the moment, but Harrell has a substantial lead on him in the race for this piece of Sixth Man hardware.
NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Pacific Division
David Yapkowitz takes a look at what teams and names are generating buzz in the Pacific Division in Basketball Insiders’ Trade Targets series.
The NBA Trade Deadline is a couple of weeks away. Here at Basketball Insiders, we’ll be breaking down which teams should be looking to make a move and which players could — and maybe should — have a new uniform by February.
In the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers have established themselves as being among the league’s elite. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should stand pat as they both could stand to improve their rosters.
The Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings are both entrenched in a battle with five other teams for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Realistically, the Suns have a much better chance as they are not too far behind the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently hold the eighth spot. But Sacramento is only two games back in the loss column. There could be a player out there who can bolster their playoff chances, but is it worth it?
The Golden State Warriors are clearly out of the playoff picture, and they have some veterans on the team who they could move to playoff contenders and perhaps net a draft pick.
Here’s a look at the teams and players in the Pacific Division who could be active leading up to the trade deadline.
1. Los Angeles Lakers – $120,604,780
Relative to the rest of the league, the Lakers are middle of the pack when it comes to team salaries. Not bad for a team widely considered to be one of the favorites to contend for a title. Outside of last night’s debacle in Boston, they’ve been playing very well and recently had a big road win against the Oklahoma City Thunder without LeBron James or Anthony Davis.
There isn’t anyone on the team whom they should move necessarily. Kyle Kuzma has had his name come up in trade rumors, but the Lakers should keep him if possible. What the team needs is a point guard who can break down defenses and hit the open shot. If they can trade for one and manage to keep Kuzma, the better. They should inquire about D.J. Augustin in Orlando; he certainly fits the bill.
2. Dario Saric – $3,481,986
Saric was part of the big draft-day trade that netted the Minnesota Timberwolves the sixth overall pick (Jarrett Culver) in the draft. He had shown a lot of promise to that point and looked to be a nice addition to Phoenix’s young core. He’s since seen inconsistent minutes in the rotation and doesn’t quite appear to be in the Suns’ future plans. He’s since returned to the starting lineup, but the Suns will have to make a decision on him.
He probably has some value around the league as a stretch big man who crashes the glass and could certainly help some teams. He’s still only 25 years old. The Suns are knocking on the door for the eighth spot in the West, and perhaps Saric could be part of a package that nets them a player to solidify their playoff hopes. It’s worth a shot for a team that could certainly benefit from a postseason appearance.
3. Los Angeles Clippers – $130,766,746
The Clippers went all-in on a championship run for this season and have the payroll to back it up. Injuries have given them an inconsistent lineup throughout the season, but when they have been healthy, they’ve definitely looked the part.
Where they could stand to improve is also by looking to add a true point guard who can handle the ball and run the offense. Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams are great at what they do, but neither is a true point in that sense. They should also inquire about Augustin, and since you never know what Sacramento is going to do, they should place a call about Cory Joseph as well.
4. Dewayne Dedmon – $13,333,334
It’s public knowledge by now that Dedmon wants out of Sacramento. He was recently fined by the league for publicly stating that. He was initially thought of as being a great pickup for the Kings this past summer, but he’s fallen in and out of the rotation and his numbers have been down across the board.
He can certainly help quite a few teams out there. To this point, he’s been a solid stretch big who protects the paint and rebounds well. His former team, the Atlanta Hawks, has been mentioned as a possible landing spot. He’s probably a prime candidate to be moved at the deadline, but you never know with the Kings.
5. Alec Burks – $1,620,564
In a season that’s now become a developmental one for all the young players on the Warriors’ roster, Burks stands out as one of the lone healthy veterans who has turned in a solid campaign thus far. He’s dealt with injury issues in the past, but has proven to be healthy and able to be a solid perimeter scorer off the bench.
His name has come up already in trade chatter, and he could certainly help some playoff teams looking for instant offense in the second unit. The Warriors probably can’t expect too big a return for him, maybe a second-round draft pick. Or they could opt to keep him and see how he’ll fit next season when everyone is healthy. But if they’re looking to free up more minutes to play the youth, he’s a likely candidate to be moved by the deadline.
As the days leading up to the trade deadline continue to pass, more and more trade chatter will likely emerge. Rumors run rampant this time of year, and it’s important to remember that they are just that, rumors. Ultimately we won’t know until the deadline is actually here, but it doesn’t look like the Pacific Division will have any earth-shattering moves this trade deadline.
NBA Daily: Title Contenders Should Covet Derrick Rose
After rejuvenating his career over the past four years, Chad Smith explains why now is the time for a contender to make a move for Derrick Rose.
Every season, simply put, there are teams that fail to live up to expectations. Whether they are the fans’ expectations, the organization’s or our own, teams will consistently fall short for whatever reason. Often times it can injuries or team chemistry that are to blame. In the case of the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons, both of those would apply.
After a successful return to the playoffs last season, the Pistons were seemingly on the verge of taking the next step. If the then-injured franchise player in Blake Griffin returned to his All-Star level of play, they appeared to have the parts and pieces to make it happen. Unfortunately, Griffin’s campaign only consisted of 18 games before he opted for season-ending knee surgery.
After missing the first ten games, there was plenty of concern permeating through Motown. Even when Griffin returned to the court, it was evident that their star player just wasn’t right physically. As the losses mounted, so did the speculation that Andre Drummond was going to be dealt before the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
The market has gone quiet on Drummond’s potential suitors, but the Pistons do have one more strong trade chip that they can and should play. That would be Derrick Rose, a former MVP and a saving grace for the franchise this year. Halfway through this season, the point guard has already put up some monster stat lines.
In his first season in Detroit, Rose has played just about every role for the team. He has started games, filled in after injuries to Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard, took over the scoring load and has played off the bench whenever needed. Right now Rose finds himself as one of the leading candidates for Sixth Man of the Year in many’s books around the league.
Rose has had plenty of experience in each of these roles throughout the course of his 11-year roller-coaster career. The Chicago kid was selected with the top overall draft pick by his hometown Bulls — where, of course, he earned Rookie of the Year. He elevated the Bulls back into championship contenders in the Eastern Conference. After the devastating injuries zapped much of his athletic ability, many people considered his career to essentially be finished.
After unsuccessful stops in New York and Cleveland, Rose was given a serious second chance by former head coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. The three-time All-Star re-invented himself as a member of the Timberwolves over the next two seasons. By resurrecting his career — and despite his lingering off-the-court issues — he won the hearts of many fans as he had become one of the best feel-good stories in the league. While he understood his value as a franchise player was no more, he did not let that become a roadblock to what the rest of his career could be.
Last year Rose played 51 games for the Timberwolves and finished with an average of 18 points per game. Better, he has increased that this season in Detroit, while also having more steals, blocks and assists. Moreover, his average of six assists per game right now is the most since his 2011-12 season in Chicago. Rose’s shooting efficiency numbers are up all across the board as well — his 55 percent from inside the arc and 88 percent from the free-throw line marks are both career-highs.
After signing multiple minimum contracts, Rose earned himself a two-year deal with the Pistons worth $15 million this past summer. He will be owed over $7.6 million of that next season, which is still considered a bargain for any team that covets him. There are several teams that could use this Rose 2.0 version player, including the title contenders.
Pistons owner Tom Gores has said that he is open to an extensive rebuild if that is what it takes. With the injuries and the probability of moving Drummond, the next order of business should be finding a new home for Rose. Dwane Casey won’t like losing his two best players, but he understands the return value for each is probably as high as it will ever be.
Finding the best fit for the 31-year old guard is interesting. Neither team in Los Angeles seems idealistic, as the Clippers already have a solid backcourt and scoring options off the bench. Playing alongside LeBron James didn’t work out well in Cleveland, while the Lakers will want to surround their star players with shooters. Assuming the Pistons would want draft picks in return, there isn’t much there from either of those teams either.
There isn’t a clear fit in the loaded backcourts in Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City — plus, Utah has already waived Rose once before. Staying in the Eastern Conference may be his best opportunity.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the clear class of the East, who hold a 38-6 record at the moment. They have been dominant, but acquiring Rose may come at the cost of losing George Hill, who has been fantastic for them off the bench this season. That being said, he would be a tremendous option for when Giannis Antetokounmpo needs a break. His scoring and slashing should keep their dynamic offense in full throttle.
Heading to the Miami HEAT would be another intriguing scenario. The obvious question would be the fit next to Jimmy Butler, as the two had issues playing together in Chicago. Toronto might be a sneaky team to monitor here, but Masai Ujiri may have something bigger up his sleeve. Boston doesn’t seem likely at all. Indiana is not likely either, as they have a nice 1-2 punch with Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo who is set to make his season debut in one week.
That leaves Philadelphia as the last true contender in the Eastern Conference — but one of that has displayed an interest in Rose already, nonetheless — and perhaps the worst fit of them all. Yes, their biggest need is clearly shooting and it would be a difficult pairing with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid clogging up the lane. On the other hand, it would allow him to propel their second unit when those two are not on the floor. It would give the 76ers another ball-handler as well and could even allow Simmons to play off the ball as a rim-runner off of ball screens.
For seven seasons, it was Rose to the rescue in Chicago. After all that he has given during his time in Minnesota and Detroit, it is now time for someone to rescue him.