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NBA Daily: Time To Buy

As the Trade Deadline approaches, certain teams will be looking to improve their roster on the quest for an NBA title. Quinn Davis breaks down the buyers at this year’s deadline and the options they may have available.

Quinn Davis



After the final whistle sounded on the NFL season Sunday night, a new sound arose: The sound of trade buzz throughout the NBA universe.

With just mere days until the trade deadline, the rumors are swirling at gale force as teams try to get an edge on their competition. Certain teams will be making calls tirelessly to find that one piece that could propel them to a championship. Others will field those same calls hoping to gather draft capital and young pieces for the future.

In this piece, the focus will be on the buyers. Here are a few teams that should be looking to improve their title chances at the deadline.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers lead things off as an obvious buyer heading into the deadline. Their whacky and huge roster coupled with championship aspirations put them in the market for nearly every available shooter and shot-creator.

The Sixers have gone 8-9 since dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Christmas and seemingly staking a claim as one of the league’s titles favorites. The main culprit for the underwhelming play has been a lack of consistent shooting, injuries and poor shot creation in the half-court.

They are 28th in the league in scoring directly from a pick-and-roll ball-handler and last in the league in scoring from the roll-man, per They are also 25th in the league in scoring out of isolation.

These numbers will likely be even more of an issue come playoff time when defenses take away actions and teams are forced to rely on perimeter freestyling. Last season, Jimmy Butler took the reigns down the stretch in the playoffs. If nothing changes, the Sixers would be relying on Tobias Harris in that role with a heavy dose of Joel Embiid post-ups.

With those facts in the mind, Derrick Rose would be a good fit. Rose runs the pick-and-roll at the second-highest frequency in the NBA and the Pistons score 0.94 points per possession on those plays. That’s good for the 75th percentile in the league, per Rose has also shown his isolation chops this season, with the Pistons scoring 1.15 points per possession when he isolates, good for the 92nd percentile in the league.

Another intriguing name is Rose’s teammate, Luke Kennard. Kennard is not given the same share of ball-handling duties, but he has had success in those opportunities. The Pistons have scored 0.96 points per possession in the pick-and-roll with Kennard.

The added benefit of going after Kennard would be his ability to fill two roles in one. He could be asked to create offense and also operate as a spacer when paired with Simmons thanks to his 41 percent three-point shooting. Kennard is also a bit cheaper than Rose and under contract through the 2021-22 season.

If the Sixers can’t swing a deal for either of the Pistons, they may target a floor-spacing forward like Marcus Morris or Davis Bertans. Either way, the Sixers will almost certainly make a win-now move come Thursday.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are the next team that will do whatever it takes to get to a title. The Bucks have the best record and net rating in the league by a sizable margin, but some losses to playoff teams and last year’s playoff exit should have them determined to keep improving the roster.

The first place to look is at the guard position. During the regular season, both Eric Bledsoe and George Hill have had success running the offense. Their net ratings are very similar when operating with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court. With the rise of Donte DiVincenzo, the Bucks have three solid guards that they could look to fill the rotation down the stretch.

Bledsoe is the most expensive of these three. His salary combined with his brutal playoff performance last season could have the Bucks seeking out offers involving the point guard. Using Bledsoe’s contract in a deal opens the door for the team to go after a big name. Someone like Jrue Holiday would be very intriguing in Milwaukee and could give them that extra juice to win the championship.

That said, it would be very hard for Milwaukee to scrounge the pieces together for a big fish. Bledsoe is not highly sought after and they don’t have a young piece that would make a lot of teams bite. They will likely look to either use Bledsoe or a package multiple players to find one more scorer for the rotation.

Marcus Morris comes to mind as a potential fit, as does Danilo Gallinari if they can put the money together. They could also look to add a more defensive-minded wing to the rotation like Robert Covington or Andre Iguodala.

The Bucks have been the best team in the league thus far, but if last year proved anything, that doesn’t matter when it goes to best-of-7. They should be looking to buy as the 6th of February approaches.

3. Houston Rockets

With Daryl Morey at the helm, it is expected that the Rockets will be in the mix every season. This year, with contention in mind and a roster in need of a jolt, it is especially likely that there will be some action down in Texas.

There are already reports circulating from none other than Adrian Wojnarowski that the Rockets have engaged a few teams on Clint Capela. Capela would reportedly be used to gather assets for the acquisition of a wing — and duck under the luxury tax penalties — but whether this would be ruled as buying or selling is really anybody’s best guess.

The obvious names that come to mind here are Robert Covington and Andre Iguodala. Covington will certainly cost more. Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Timberwolves are asking for two first-round draft picks in return for the former All-Defensive asset.

With the Boston Celtics being one of the teams potentially interested in Capela, a three-team trade could emerge here. The Celtics have young players and draft picks that could be sent to Minnesota, who would in return send Covington to Houston and Capela up north to don the green and white.

Outside of moving Capela, the Rockets have little options to improve their roster. They are tight on draft capital and most of their players outside of the starting five are on minimum salaries. Tucker is making $8 million, but his defense and willingness to play off-ball for 48 straight minutes make him invaluable to their operation.

4. Miami HEAT

Down in South Beach, the HEAT have managed to stay near the top of the conference with only one true star coming into the season, Jimmy Butler. Bam Adebayo has since taken a leap, but outside of that, they have received large contributions from multiple young and previously unknown players.

While the HEAT are a nice story and playing very well, they should look to add one more piece if they want to seriously contend this season. The team is currently a perfect 8-0 in games that went to overtime and has been out-performing their expected win total by three games, per Cleaning the Glass. That is the third-highest difference between actual wins and expected wins.

The HEAT could attempt to go after a third star to pair with Butler and Adebayo, but getting there will be tricky. Holiday is a name that comes up often but it seems unlikely that the Pelicans would trade him barring a huge offer. The conversation around Holiday would likely need to start with Tyler Herro being put on the table. The HEAT love Herro and think he is a crucial piece for years to come, so a trade there seems out of the question.

The most likely scenario is the HEAT try to use Justise Winslow to find one more piece to add to this rotation. Unfortunately, Winslow’s value is tough to gauge. He is still just 23 years of age and has shown flashes of strong two-way point-forward play. Howeer, Winslow also has had issues with injuries and inconsistency throughout his short career.

If a team thinks Winslow would be a nice piece to add to the mix, his $13 million dollar salary could be the ticket the HEAT need to add some additional scoring punch. A player like Morris once again comes to mind, as does Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Pat Riley always has a few tricks up his sleeve — so watch out for the HEAT to jump into the mix for numerous players over the next few days.

Those four teams should certainly be looking to improve for this season as the deadline approaches. Each team has high hopes and could use another player that acts as the final puzzle piece.

They will not be the only buyers as other teams will be manning the phones in search of the right deal. Most notably, this would include the two Los Angeles teams and the Celtics, who each have their own lofty goals for the season.

While there may not be any stars on the move this season, this could be a very active trade deadline as many teams believe they have a chance to hoist the trophy. The race to the 2020 NBA finals starts now.

Quinn Davis is a contributor for Basketball Insiders. He is a former collegiate track runner who currently resides in Philadelphia.


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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca



The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John



It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz



We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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