NBA Saturday: Who Will Have a Bigger Role?
Now that the NBA’s trade deadline has passed, several players seem poised for an increased role either because their team freed up more minutes for them or because they joined a new team that will use them more. Let’s take a look at some of the individuals who will likely play a bigger role going forward.
Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder traded D.J. Augustin to the Denver Nuggets as part of their package for Randy Foye, which means Russell Westbrook and Payne are the only point guards remaining on Oklahoma City’s roster. This shows how much trust the organization has in the rookie floor general, who was the 14th pick in this year’s draft. Payne has basically stepped into the role vacated by Reggie Jackson last February when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons. The 21-year-old has appeared in only 37 contests this season, averaging just 12.2 minutes per game, but that’s because he started the season outside of the rotation. Now that he has earned a bigger role over the last month and a half, those numbers will increase significantly. He has played his way into an important spot in the rotation for Oklahoma City and he’ll be a key contributor moving forward. Payne spreads the floor with his shooting (39.7 percent from three-point range this season) and he has shown he can heat up regularly. He could become an X-factor for the Thunder come playoff time.
Marcus Thornton, Detroit Pistons: On Thursday, the Houston Rockets traded Thornton and Donatas Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Joel Anthony and a 2016 first-round pick. Thornton was playing 18.8 minutes per game with the Rockets and averaging 10 points this season. The 28-year-old has a reputation for providing instant offense off of the bench and he should continue to do that with the Pistons. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will continue to start at shooting guard for Detroit, but his groin injury prior to the All-Star break showed that the Pistons desperately needed to improve their depth at the position. With Jodie Meeks out (he has appeared in just two games this season due to a fractured foot) and Darrun Hilliard unable to lock down a spot in the rotation, the Pistons had to play Stanley Johnson out of position at the two when Caldwell-Pope was unavailable. With Thornton in the mix and Meeks recently returning to practice, it seems shooting guard depth will go from being a glaring weakness to a big strength for Detroit.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic: The Magic were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline and the moves they made could lead to a bigger role for Gordon, who just had his coming out party during the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend. The fourth overall pick in last year’s draft is averaging just 21.8 minutes per game and he has started in only 11 of the Magic’s 51 games this season. With that said, his minutes have increased quite a bit over the last month and a half, and he was moved into the starting five. With forwards Tobias Harris and Channing Frye no longer in Orlando, Gordon should continue to play big minutes and his role might expand even more. This season, the 20-year-old is averaging 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 46.5 percent from the field. Since becoming a starter, Gordon has averaged 9.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. Gordon is still pretty raw and he’s far from reaching his ceiling, but it’s becoming clear that he can make an impact for the Magic right now as they try to make a playoff push.
Markieff Morris, Washington Wizards: This has been a rough year for Morris, but a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs so he can return to form. The Phoenix Suns parted ways with Morris, sending him to the Wizards for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a 2016 first-round pick that is top-nine protected. This season with the Suns, Morris was playing only 24.8 minutes per game (his lowest average since becoming a starter) and he appeared in just 37 games. His minutes increased in recent weeks because Phoenix was showcasing him for other teams, and he responded by averaging 20.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and one steal in the month of February. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said he expects Morris to become the team’s starting power forward at some point, and it seems likely that his minutes will be more consistent in Washington. Morris’ per-36-minute stats for this season (16.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals) were right around the same level that he played at during the previous two years, which suggests he could do well if given an increased role in Washington.
Shelvin Mack, Utah Jazz: The Jazz badly wanted to trade for a veteran point guard to improve their backcourt, which currently consists of Raul Neto in the starting lineup and Trey Burke off of the bench. (Dante Exum, the Jazz’s usual starter, is out for the season due to a torn ACL). The Atlanta Hawks traded Mack to the Jazz for a second-round pick, and the 25-year-old should see his playing time increase. Before the trade, he appeared in only 24 contests for the Hawks while averaging a paltry 7.5 minutes per game. This could be a good situation for Mack, whose $2,433,334 salary for next season is non-guaranteed. Mack and Gordon Hayward played together in college at Butler and they’ll reunite in Utah. The Jazz had trade talks about other point guards such as Atlanta’s Jeff Teague and Houston’s Ty Lawson, but they ultimately decided to acquire Mack to provide a short-term fix rather than give up significant assets for a bigger name (which makes sense since they still view Exum as their point guard of the future). They’re hoping Mack can step up and play at a high level as they battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Anderson Varejao, TBD: The Cleveland Cavaliers traded Varejao to the Portland Trail Blazers in the three-team deal that brought in Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic. Shortly after the trade was finalized, the Blazers waived Varejao. The 33-year-old big man will be an unrestricted free agent once he clears waivers on Sunday. He can’t return to Cleveland due to NBA rules, but he’ll have his pick of other contenders. So far, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder have been linked to Varejao and will likely express interest, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. In Cleveland, there was a logjam in the frontcourt so he was buried on the depth chart behind players like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. In fact, he appeared in just 31 games and was averaging only 10 minutes per game prior to the trade. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to figure out which situation is best for him and it seems likely that he’ll join a team that can offer him playing time as well as the chance to contend. While his future remains up in the air, Varejao’s next team will likely play him more than the Cavaliers were this season.
Which of these players will thrive with more playing time? What other players are ready to take on an increased role? Leave a comment below.
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