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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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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

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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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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

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

David Yapkowitz

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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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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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