Bench players may not inspire the biggest headlines during the chaos of the trade deadline, but they are part of just as many rumors, if not more, as the NBA’s superstars. This year, though, the best bench players were only a part of rumors, as the few names on this list all season that could have been moved instead stayed put. Nonetheless, one of this past week’s trades could very much impact the race for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Buddy Hield — Sacramento Kings
The hot-shooting guard cannot actually win this honor since he has already started 44 games this season, but his recent stretch coming off the Kings’ bench deserves recognition, nonetheless. Since Sacramento head coach Luke Walton sent Hield to the bench — a public airing of in-house drama that has little other effect given Hield still closes most games — the four-year veteran has averaged 23.1 points per game while shooting 51.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Hield’s playing time has fallen off in this stretch, logical when coming off the bench, averaging 28:24 in the eight games, but he has certainly made it count. Most notably, Hield poured in 42 points in an overtime victory at Minnesota the night after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Hield channeled Kobe’s closing mentality with 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Kings back from a 22-point deficit, not missing a shot in those 12 minutes.
The only other player to score 20 or more points in a fourth quarter without missing a shot? Kobe.
Derrick Rose — Detroit Pistons
The Pistons made a trade; it just didn’t include Rose. Losing Andre Drummond for little in return should set up Rose to only improve on his 18.5 points per game, as someone has to put up shots for Detroit, and Rose has never been shy about tackling that duty. The 31-year-old has already been shooting 15.1 times per game, a personal high tracing back to his last season as a starter in 2016-17 with the New York Knicks.
There is plenty of reason to expect Rose’s volume to increase further. He has averaged 17.1 shots per game since the calendar flipped to 2020. To his credit, he has shot 51.1 percent from the field in those 16 games, perhaps not the most efficient scoring but proficient enough for a team desperate for offensive production.
There is also plenty of reason to doubt such continued use, as Rose has missed the Pistons’ last four games with a hip injury. If Detroit has an intention to tank toward better lottery odds, limiting Rose’s minutes may be a part of it, though trading him would have been a clearer indicator of such uncompetitive wants.
Dennis Schröder — Oklahoma City Thunder
Quite simply, Schröder played too well for the Thunder to trade him. In the last nine games, Schröder has averaged 24.1 points per game along with 5.6 assists. Such a run is not unprecedented for someone who averaged 19.4 points and 6.2 assists across 2017-18, but Schröder has never been an exemplary marksman. That is, until this outburst, when he has made 51.1 percent of his shots from deep (24-of-47), taking 5.2 threes per game.
It is no coincidence Oklahoma City has gone 8-1 and charged into the sixth seed out West. With Schröder playing this well, the Thunder would have jeopardized a playoff run by trading him.
Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers
With Darren Collison opting not to come out of retirement, not even to join the Los Angeles Lakers as most expected, the biggest threat to Williams’ role should pass. At that point, he can focus on rebounding from a recent cold spell, shooting a paltry 35.1 percent from the field in the last 11 games. This is not the first rough period of Williams’ season: He started it by shooting 40.9 percent across the Clippers’ first 10 games.
Given Williams has dealt with multiple poor-shooting bouts this year, his 41.0 field-goal percentage makes sense and would mark a four-year low for him. It also shows how well he has played when not struggling.
Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers trading for Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks may halt Harrell’s seemingly-inevitable march to some deserved hardware. Los Angeles has reason to worry about facing bigger opponents; for all his rim-running, post-up qualities, Harrell still stands only 6-foot-7, and he is not known for his defensive intensity.
Morris, meanwhile, is an aggressive 6-foot-8 forward not afraid to play physically against anyone, including the likes of Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić and Steven Adams, all of whom should be awaiting the Clippers in the playoffs.
Harrell may have already done enough in 53 games to lock up the Sixth Man of the Year. Averaging 18.9 points and 6.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting warrants such praise, especially for one of the NBA’s best teams, but the arrival of Morris could diminish Harrell’s work in the postseason.
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