The last six months have been marked by blockbuster trades and player movement, unlike any offseason we’ve seen before. Going back to the trade deadline, when the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, eight of the 30 best players in the NBA have switched teams. And in every case, they joined at least one player who was also in the top-30.
Some of those were free agent acquisitions, and some of them were by trades. When such trades are made, we tend to give our initial reactions and grades. Too often, though, we fail to come back and re-evaluate those initial instincts to see if we were right or wrong. Frankly, sometimes trades initially deemed bad work out, and those we thought were great, well, flop. Such is the case with the early returns this season.
To put it bluntly, we the masses and media got some things wrong. So let’s take a look at some of the recent trades based on the early season results.
The Jimmy Butler Trade
The Chicago Bulls dealt their only star player to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night, along with the draft rights to No. 16 pick, Justin Patton in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen.
At the time it was severely panned. None of the players who were brought back seemed like someone you could build around, and that should be the goal in a trade like this.
The reality of it isn’t quite as bad as we thought, though. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the Bulls are good or anything. The Bulls’ offense, relative to league averages, is currently the fourth-worst in NBA history (keeping in mind that offensive rating only goes back to 1973-74).
However, Dunn definitely looks better than he did last year, boosting his player efficiency rating from 8.1 to 11.0. Granted, that’s still not very good, but he’s showing promise that he could evolve into a legitimate rotation player.
More importantly, Markkanen appears to be the real deal. He’s shooting 35.1 percent from deep, 54.7 percent from 2, averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game. As well, he’s second among all NBA rookies with 50 minutes played in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. His defense is particularly encouraging in that it’s not discouraging. He was billed as a guy with a butter shot, but a one-trick pony. He has proved to be much more well-rounded than advertised.
And the Bulls haven’t seen LaVine suit up yet, as he’s still recovering from his ACL surgery on his left knee.
The Timberwolves have been thriving with Butler, even if his numbers have been down a bit. If the season ended today, they would be the No. 4 seed, and they are tied with the Spurs for the third-best record in the West. They look to end their streak of 13 seasons without making the playoffs, which is the longest in the NBA.
Updated Grades – Bulls: C-, Timberwolves: B+
The Paul George Trade
When the Pacers sent Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Damantis Sabonis, the consensus was that the Bulls trade for Butler didn’t look so bad now. Sabonis was a so-so rookie, and Oladipo was nothing but a bloated contract. It was the scam of the century!
A month into the season, though, things don’t look quite so bad. Oladipo has arguably been just as good as George this year from a per-game perspective:
And from an advanced stat perspective, Sabonis is right there with both of them.
That’s not to say Sabonis, or even Oladipo, is better than George, but it certainly demonstrates that this has not worked out nearly as bad for the Pacers as virtually everyone initially believed. They are closer to competing for a playoff spot than the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Life gave them lemons when George asked out, and they made lemonade.
The Thunder did plenty well on this trade, as well. George, in combination with Andre Roberson and Steven Adams, has made the Thunder an elite defense, second only to the Boston Celtics in defensive rating right now.
They have had their stumbles, though, particularly in the clutch. Because of those struggles, they own a 6-7 record, and if the playoffs started today, they wouldn’t be in them — much less the contender many projected them to be.
Updated Grades – Pacers: B+, Thunder: B
The Carmelo Anthony Trade
The Thunder didn’t finish dealing with Paul George. They added Carmelo Anthony afterward sending Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a future second-round pick for his services.
The Knicks were supposed to be absolutely horrible this year. They are not. They might be the most shocking team of the early season, going 7-3 after an 0-3 start. They’re not a threat to win the title, but this was a squad many expected would challenge the Bulls for worst team in the NBA.
Instead, they could legitimately make the playoffs. Part of that has been Kanter’s surprisingly decent play on defense. Opponents are shooting 10.4 percentage points below their season averages when he’s the closest defender within six feet of the rim.
Part of that, though, is addition by subtraction. Without Anthony there to muddle up the offense, Kristaps Porzingis has had a chance to shine, and his unicorn horn has positively sparkled this season.
He’s averaging 29.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his true shooting percentage is 59.8. His PER is 28.8. He leads the NBA in usage percentage at 35.8. He’s been an absolute one-horned equestrian stud.
On the other side of this deal, Anthony has had limited impact for the Thunder, and arguably what little there has been is negative. OKC’s net rating is 3.2 points better when he’s on the bench than when he’s on the court, according to NBA.com.
His RPM is minus-0.61, which is 56th out of 89 power forwards compared with Patrick Patterson’s (minus-0.29). So, it seems the Thunder traded away Kanter and McDermott, depleting their bench in the process, just so they could downgrade at the starting power forward.
He’s also a big part of the reason the Thunder are struggling in the clutch. When there are five or fewer minutes left in the game, and the score is within five points, he has a 20.9 percent usage and his true shooting percentage is a meager 45.0. The Thunder have a 149.8 defensive rating, a 98.6 offensive rating and a minus-51.2 net rating. His rebound percentage is just 10.3 and his assist percentage is zero.
If he’s not offering scoring, passing, rebounding or defense in the clutch, what is the point of having him in there?
Anthony isn’t the player he once was. This deal was questionable at the time, but it’s even harder to swallow now.
Updated Grades – Knicks: A, Thunder: D
- The Chris Paul trade his hard to digest right now because he’s only played one game. We’ll have to re-visit this one later. For now, suffice to say that the Houston Rockets are better than they were last year even though he’s only played one game. A part of the hidden value of the Paul trade was getting players like Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to sign on for less than they could have made elsewhere for the chance at a ring. That is paying off.
- The Los Angeles Clippers seem to be weathering the loss well as Blake Griffin steps into the role of “the man.”
- The Kyrie Irving trade has certainly worked out far better than anyone expected it to for the Celtics with Kyrie even garnering some MVP mentions. However, the Cavaliers have sputtered a lot as Isaiah Thomas has yet to play. So, for the same reason, we’re not evaluating Paul yet, we’re not going to grade this one.
- The Boston Celtics don’t seem like they’re going to have any regrets trading down to get Jayson Tatum. Though, we still have to wait on making any determinations about the Philadelphia 76ers trading up for Markelle Fultz.
- Finally, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets seem like they should be happy about the Brook Lopez for D’Angelo Russell swap, even if Timofey Mozgov is going to drive Nets fans right off the sanity cliff before the season is over.