The 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2020. While a number of NBA franchises are still vying for a playoff spot, plenty of teams have already begun to shift gears, putting themselves in the best position for the draft.
But there are a number of complications that hinder the approach for cellar-dwellers – most notably, draft debt. While trading away multiple future draft picks and/or including pick swaps is commonly accepted as unwise, it’s also unavoidable in a number of instances. The Los Angeles Clippers had to include five future firsts to procure Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder — without them, there was no deal to be had.
The same goes for the Houston Rockets, who parted with two future picks (and the option to swap picks on another two separate occasions), in their pursuit of Russell Westbrook.
Sometimes, it’s an unfortunate – yet unavoidable – risk, one required of talented teams looking to put themselves over the top. And, of course, the downside is that those players prove an awkward fit, the acquiring team is left to put the pieces together (or, even, admit defeat and move the player to another new team on the rise).
But what could be the downside for teams hunting for that draft capital?
Well, in fact, there are plenty. The draft itself is an inexact science, one based on intangibles and luck. But there’s another layer: potential versus realized value. And it’s nearly as unpredictable as the draft itself.
Draft picks are arranged based on standings. If Team A agrees to trade Player A to Team B for next year’s unprotected first-round pick, Team B’s success suddenly has a major impact on Team A’s future. Typically, teams looking to add future picks consider the future success of their trade partners when dealing with their picks. But what if the trade partner outperforms expectations? That teams pick is now less valuable and the odds that their trade partner selects a top-tier prospect is significantly less.
With that being said, let’s first identify all of the owed 2020 first-round picks and the likelihood that they change hands this June. Next, we’ll call out three takeaways from the imminent draft debt:
Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round draft pick to Atlanta – lottery protected through 2021. In 2022, it conveys as a 2022 second-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick. Fate: Likely to change hands
Cleveland – 2020 first-round draft pick to New Orleans via Atlanta – top-10 protected in 2020. It conveys as 2021 and 2022 second-round picks if it doesn’t change hands in 2020. Fate: Unlikely to change hands
Denver – 2020 first-round draft pick to Oklahoma City – top-10 protected in 2020. Fate: Likely to change hands
Golden State – 2020 first-round draft pick to Brooklyn – top 20 protected in 2020. If it does not change hands, it becomes a 2025 second-round pick. Fate: Highly unlikely to change hands
Indiana – 2020 first-round draft pick to Milwaukee – lottery-protected in 2020 and through 2025, at which time it becomes an unprotected first-round pick. Fate: Highly unlikely to change hands
Memphis – 2020 first-round draft pick to Boston – top-six protected in 2020, becoming an unprotected first-round pick in 2021 if it does not change hands. Fate: Likely to change hands
Milwaukee – 2020 first-round draft pick to Boston via Phoenix – top-seven protected in 2020, becoming an unprotected first-round pick in 2021. Fate: Very likely to change hands
Oklahoma City – 2020 first-round draft pick to Philadelphia – top-20 protected in 2020 and 2021, becoming 2022 and 2023 second-round picks if it does not change hands. Fate: Unlikely to change hands
Philadelphia – 2020 first-round draft pick to Brooklyn – top-14 protected in 2020, 2021 and 2022, becoming 2023 and 2024 second-round picks if it does not change hands. Fate: Likely to change hands
Utah – 2020 first-round draft pick to Memphis – top-seven and bottom-15 protected in 2020 and 2021, becoming top-six protected in 2022, top-three protected in 2023 and top-one protected in 2024. If it does not change hands by 2024, it becomes 2025 and 2026 second-round picks. Fate: Unlikely to change hands
Takeaway 1: Boston appears set to add three-2020 first-round picks – but none as high as they’d hoped
The Celtics have done a splendid job of accumulating first-round draft picks through trades. They have made 10 first-round selections in the last five drafts — and that trend continues in 2020.
But future draft capital is only theoretical until a selection is made. At times, picks lose value even before they’re made. For example, no future pick had been viewed as positively as the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 pick owed to Boston. The Kings famously outperformed even the most bullish of expectations last season, ending the year in the ninth spot in the West with a 39-43 record – good for the 14th pick. It’s always nice to add another lottery pick, but when you’re expecting a top-five pick – which is approximately where it was projected entering 2018-19 – the 14th pick feels like a consolation prize at best.
The 2020 Grizzlies pick was presumed to be equally valuable as Memphis was expected to struggle with a young core. Most experts exited them to either 1.) receive a top-six pick – thus, changing the pick to an unprotected and even-more-valuable 2021 first-round pick – or 2.) transition a 2020 pick in the 7-10 range. The same kind of bad luck couldn’t strike in back-to-back seasons, right?
Unfortunately for Bostonians, that appears to be exactly what’s happening. Contrary to pre-season projections, the Grizzlies appear well-ahead of schedule thanks to rookie Ja Morant and sophomore Jaren Jackson Jr. They are currently hanging on to the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference and the 14th-best record in the league. And while the draft lottery factors into pick protections, odds that Memphis jumps to a top-six pick is quite slim. So it appears that instead of adding a top-10 pick, the Celtics will instead add a mid-first-rounder.
But when viewed in totality, it’s not all bad in Boston. The Celtics will also add Milwaukee’s 2020 first-round pick, which has laughable top-seven protection considering that the Bucks possess a three-game lead on the Lakers for the best record in the NBA. That means that Boston will have their own pick (likely in the 20-25 range), Milwaukee’s pick (likely 29 or 30) and the Memphis pick (likely in the 13-17 range).
The Celtics may not want to bring on three rookies with guaranteed salaries, but they could package a combination of all three in for a higher pick. Or they could go big game hunting this season and swap some combination of first-round picks and dead salary for players like Marcus Morris or Robert Covington. Either way, the Celtics should be active with their picks, be it at the trade deadline of in June.
Takeaway 2: Golden State set to add major asset in June (or maybe sooner) thanks to pick protections
Half of the 2020 first-round picks owed appear set to change hands this year. Golden State’s isn’t one of them – but it was supposed to be. The Warriors included top-20 protection well before Stephen Curry went down with a hand injury that may have ended his 2019-20 season. The idea was that adding D’Angelo Russell was far better than keeping their 2020 pick.
But with their injuries, the Warriors are on pace to finish with one of the three worst records in the entire league. And while the 2019 draft lottery change makes it less of a certainty that a bottom-three record ensures a top-three pick — it is a virtual certainty that the Warriors land a top pick. That means they’ll add a valuable draft asset (or whomever they can add in exchange for the pick) to a core of Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and either Russell or whomever they return for him. That is a scary core capable of dominating the league for another few seasons — or more.
Much like the San Antonio Spurs — who benefited from an MVP-caliber player going down with a season-ending injury just over 20 years ago (David Robinson missed 76 games in 1996-97) — the Warriors appear poised to benefit greatly from the timing of Curry’s (and to a lesser extent, Thompson) injury. While the league continues to tweak its rules to even the playing field, it appears that the rich really do get richer — at least in this instance.
Takeaway 3: Brooklyn’s lack of a 2020 first-round pick will sting even more this offseason
In an attempt to clear additional salary cap space in order to sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn swapped Allen Crabbe, the 17th pick in the 2019 draft and their 2020 first-round pick for Taurean Price and the Hawks 2020 second-rounder. Brooklyn smartly attached a 2020 lottery-protection, but with the Nets currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and with the teams beneath them (Detroit, Orlando, Chicago and Charlotte) being a step back in terms of talent, the Nets should hold off the competition. That means that the Nets should qualify for the playoffs and will, therefore, forfeit their 2020 first-round pick.
Qualifying for the playoffs provides the team with tons of teachable moments. But it also means that Nets will be unable to add a young and talented player on an affordable deal to a veteran team in need of role players. Since the Nets already committed $140.2 million in 2020-21 – well above the estimated 2020-21 salary cap – the Nets have one less way to add talent for next season and beyond. If Kyrie Irving is correct in his recent assessment of the Nets needs, it will be difficult for them to add the requisite pieces needed to win.
Including future picks in trades has led to lots of interesting scenarios in the past. Dealing away future draft picks is always dangerous, but it clearly has deeper and more complicated implications than is often assumed. Sure, a nondescript mid-to-late first-rounder doesn’t sound too valuable, but All-Stars have been selected well after the lottery. Unless adding a generational talent and/or solidifying a championship-caliber core, teams should pretty obviously avoid swapping future first-rounders. But for the aforementioned situations mentioned above, we can only wait and see for now.
NBA Daily: What We Forgot
With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.
With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.
Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.
But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.
Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal
Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.
Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.
Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.
The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.
Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done
What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.
Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.
Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.
In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.
The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.
Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.
Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.
Maturity Issues Loom Large
Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.
Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.
After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.
Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.
Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.
But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.
NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks
Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.
Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.
So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.
Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.
But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.
Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.
Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.
But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.
So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.
He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.
Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.
But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.
Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.
Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.
That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.
But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.
But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.
The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.
NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key
Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.
The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure.
Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders.
Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.
Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them.
Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll.
Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.
Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well.
Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.
The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA.
Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.
As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.