NBA Trade Deadline: General Chaos, the Sixers and Suns

With so much craziness happening yesterday, we figured we’d give you a two-for-one special, featuring the record levels of trades and the epic tank job by the Sixers. 

Harrison Chase: 

The 2015 NBA trade deadline was the busiest trade deadline ever for the NBA. All in all, 37 players changed teams, along with 7 first round picks and four second round ones (per Business Insider). The 37 players traded is by far the largest amount ever, with the previous high being 29 way back in 2005 (per basketball-reference’s transaction page). The seven first round picks traded yesterday is also the most ever, and is an increase of infinity percent from the last two trade deadlines, when no first round picks were traded. This flurry of activity is actually in line with the historical increase in activity on the trade deadline. Despite a general feeling that the recent trade deadlines have been quiet, they have still been relatively busy compared to those even twenty or so years ago. However, what was unexpectedly high was the number of first round picks that exchanged hands. Recently, teams have been hoarding those precious picks “like Ron Swanson hoards his buried gold“, after years of not realizing the full value of those draft picks. Below is chart of the total pieces moved on the trade deadline each year since 1987, with the red portion representing players, green being first round draft picks, and purple being second round picks.

NBA trades 1987-2015

As you can see, there has been a fairly steady increase in the amount of assets dealt, although it has plateaued off the past few years. This year marks a huge increase in action, perhaps some of it stemming from the projected jump in the salary cap in near future. Interestingly enough, the second most active deadline (for players at least) was in 2005, a year before the new collective bargaining agreement would come into action – and a year before the salary cap would jump by over 5 million dollars, a huge increase at the time. The fact that the cap is projected to jump by a lot again may not be a coincidence – as my colleague Will Ezekowitz pointed out, as teams have more cap space (or projected cap space) they have more flexibility and better absorb contracts and make trades work.

Julian Ryan:

Amidst all of the craziness of the NBA trade deadline day, nothing heated up my friends on our group chat as much as Sam Hinkie. The Sixers are taking on JaVale McGee’s contract? Oh wait they’re getting a pick (also huh – that guy has two capital letters in both his names). The Sixers are getting rid of McDaniels for that guy who was undefeated with Murray State until he wasn’t?? Oh wait they’re getting a pick. But when MCW was initially announced as traded for Isaiah Thomas my diehard Sixers roommate just exploded: “All of our players are just assets – that’s no way to run a team in my opinion” followed swiftly by “oh my god we’re not even getting Thomas this is insane ha this is nuts”.

Let’s take a look at those moves in turn. McGee is owed the rest of his 11.25 million this season and 12 million next season. The Sixers are not going to be competitive in either of those years so the facts that RPM rates him as below replacement level of -2.0 for this season and last and that he projects below that level going forward are not a concern. He’s also an athletic big man who not so long ago did athletic big man things so it’s not impossible he will improve. The key point is Philadelphia is so far below the salary floor (and would have to pay out that salary anyway) that they essentially get the first round pick (which they keep if OKC goes on a late season tear, otherwise it’s for 2016) attached to McGee for free. Great move Hinkie.

Isaiah Canaan looks like a replacement level guy with some upside. He was a great scorer in college and has been a solid offensive player in the pros. McDaniels looked like a downright steal at 32nd in the draft early on in the season, making rookie top 20 ranking lists. He’s regressed a bit since then but still is likely the better project moving forward. This move is likely because of McDaniels’ weird contract with KJ looking to leave Philly as soon as possible, whereas he may be happier in Houston now…and of course yet another second round pick. If McDaniels was going to leave anyway, why not grab another pick? Fine move Hinkie.

Dropping reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams will be a tougher pill to swallow for Sixers fans. In return they get the Lakers first round pick top-5 protected (top 3 next year) via the Suns with some chance of getting it this year and a solid chance of getting a lottery pick next year (barring the Kevin Love-Marc Gasol-healthy Kobe Bryant coalescence that will never happen). Honestly that seems like a good haul. The Sixers have been trying to trade MCW since the draft last year and evidently their metrics aren’t enamored with his 4.2 turnovers per game and 25.6% from three this season. MCW is a big point guard with upside, but given he doesn’t feature in their long term plans grabbing a pick this good (and losing more games this season) definitely fits Hinkie’s MO. Solid move Hinkie.

Will treating his players like assets to be traded come back to haunt Hinkie when they do start going after players? Maybe. But for now, renting out cap space and hoarding picks make a lot of sense for the franchise still several years away from winning.

Austin Tymins:

As the NBA trade deadline approached, many suspected the Phoenix Suns would trade one of their three starting-caliber point guards. At the end of the day, there was only one left from the original triumvirate, Eric Bledsoe. The Suns traded away five current players in two of the largest trades of the day. Let’s break them down:

The Suns traded Goran and Zoran Dragic to the Miami Heat for a few bench players that will likely get cut/waived (including Danny Granger) and two first round picks. One of the picks is for 2017 and the other is for 2021, which apparently suggests its acceptable to trade picks that will materialize six years in the future. This is a classic case of Pat Riley not caring about draft picks, and is part of the reason the Heat seemed like a reasonable trade partner for Dragic in the first case.

When the Dragic trade rumors started flying, many Suns fans took solace in the fact that they could still cheer for his younger brother Zoran. As my friend eloquently stated, Zoran would have some “similarly-sized shoes to fill as the Suns point guard”. However, Dragic the younger was also shipped to South Beach meaning his glorious 13 minutes and 6 points will be sorely missed.

Goran Dragic is very clearly an elite PG in the NBA and quite likely wasn’t receiving enough playing time on the Suns. In addition, as 538 pointed out, Dragic was suffering from the “usage rate-efficiency tradeoff” in which he didn’t get enough touches to display his skill set in the smaller sample size. As Dragic explained before being traded, “Last year was great. This year it’s different,” he said. “… Standing in the corner, it’s not my game.”

No matter how you look at it, Dragic appears to be a different player than the one that landed on the third team NBA list last season. Both Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas were leading Goran Dragic in RPM (3.66, 1.35, -.97) and in WAR (6.9, 2.77, 1.53). In addition, Dragic was third of the three guards in usage rate this season. Bledsoe’s usage rate was 23.2%, Thomas was 24.6% and Dragic had only 20.6% usage. With a move to the Heat, you shouldn’t be surprised to see his usage rate climb to the 25-27% range which is similar to guards like Portland’s Damian Lillard and Dallas’s Monta Ellis.

In addition, Dragic is an excellent attacking guard who shoots 71% at the rim, which happens to be an even higher percentage than LeBron James. This attacking style was key in his 20.3 PPG last season, but that stat has dropped to 16.2 this season. His offensive rating has also plummeted, from a Steve Nash-esque 119 to an Aaron Affalo-style 111. Even with this drop in offensive efficiency, he is one of only two guards to shoot over 50% from the floor this season. Hint: the other one is currently chasing a shooting record and has the last name Korver.

The Suns also traded Isaiah Thomas in a multi-team deal that netted Brandon Knight and Marcus Thornton for the Suns. To get this, they gave up Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee, and the Lakers’ first round top-5 protected pick. Knight is averaging 17.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, and 40.9% 3P% as the leading scorer on the playoff-contending Bucks.

Before the trade the Suns had no players shooting over 40% from three, which is nearly essential in the new-look NBA. After the trade deadline, the Suns replaced two slash and dash point guards with two first round picks and one perimeter-shooting point guard in Brandon Knight. It’s also hard to say that the Suns had a midseason fire sale, and is probably more accurate to say they simply repositioned themselves laterally for the homestretch. Even if the trades work to the desired effect, the tie for 8th seed in the Western Conference with Oklahoma City may be hard to maintain, especially after the Enes Kanter trade.

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