Shouts out to Bill Simmons on his old trade value column (RIP). It was a yearly tradition to read as an introduction to one of the most interesting discussions in the NBA. It’s unfortunate he no longer writes one, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t still get to engage in this discussion. I changed some of his original rules, but most of them are the same; I added a couple to give context for how players are ranked.
1. No rookies – If they haven’t played a full season, then we aren’t ranking them. Plenty of future trade value columns for them to appear in.
2. Salaries matter – Would you rather pay Bradley Beal $81 million for the next 3 years or Donovan Mitchell $12 million for the next 3 years? Also of note: free agent salaries are going to be my best guess, where applicable. So even though unrestricted free agents could (basically) go anywhere they want, and thus have no trade value, I’m including them here.
3. Age matters – Would you rather have Marc Gasol for the next five years or Steven Adams for the next 15?
4. Hypothetical NBA Rule Change – Pretend any player can be traded straight up for any other player without consequence (other than their salary and performance, obviously). So if Team A tells Team B, “We’ll trade you Player X for Player Y straight-up,” does Team B make the deal or not?
5. Concentrate on degrees – For example, I don’t think the 76ers or Bucks would trade Embiid for Giannis. But the 76ers would at least say, “Wow, the Greek Freak is available?” while the Bucks would say, “There’s no effing way we’re trading Giannis.” That counts in the scheme of things.
6. List is in reverse order, Nos. 50 to 1 – So if Klay Thompson comes in at No. 16, players 1 through 15 are all players about whom the Warriors would probably say, “We hate giving up one of the Splash Bros, but there’s no way we can pass up that deal.” And they wouldn’t trade him for any player listed between Nos. 17 and 40.
JJ Redick – He’s a free agent, so we don’t yet know what his contract will be, but he’s coming off a career season at age 33 so there is a wide range I could see. I’d guess he’s going to get offered something similar to the 1-year/$23 million deal he got last year, but he might choose to try and chase a ring on a cheap deal. Assuming he takes the money he’s earned, he’ll get paid a lot for a 34 year-old shooter.
Eric Gordon – He has 2 years/$27.5 million left on his deal, which is a great value for what he provided this season. He had a career-high eFG% on more than 14 shots per game, but let’s not pretend he was thrust into a difficult role on this team. I’m not sure there’s more than a few other teams where he’d be as successful as he’s been for the Rockets.
Kyle Lowry – He makes more than $64 million over the next 2 seasons. That’s an awful lot to pay an aging point guard who has shown signs of decline, can’t seem to step up during the postseason, and doesn’t have the size to be anything more than an average defender. He was probably the toughest to leave off, but I think that just speaks to the depth and quality of the point guards in the NBA right now.
Derrick Favors – How old do you think Derrick Favors is? 32? 33 maybe? He’s 26 freaking years old! Hard to believe as he’s been in the league since the NBA/ABA merger. Seriously though, he has a good chemistry with Rudy Gobert and showed solid leadership in bringing the Jazz together for their end of season run. He’s a free agent, and would be a solid pickup for any team and shouldn’t cost too much. I’d guess somewhere around $15 million per season. If he can continue to develop his shot and become a capable 3-point threat, that would be a steal.
Paul Millsap – It was a rough transition to Denver for Paul Millsap. He missed 44 games due to injury, and didn’t look quite like himself upon his return. He still isn’t league average from deep, but he’s at least capable. He can overpower smaller wings, and blow past big men, all while being a stud defender across multiple positions. He’s guaranteed $30 million next season with another $30 million team option for 2019-20. That’s not cheap, but when Millsap is playing well, he’s worth every penny.
Myles Turner – There is only one year left on his rookie deal, and it’s a big one for Turner. After a promising rookie season and stellar sophomore development, he regressed a bit last season. He is excellent on the defensive end, and has shot well as he’s moved more of his offensive production to the outside. But that also meant moving away from the inside dominance that he flashed over his first two seasons. He plays an important role for the Pacers, but they need him to contribute more on the offensive end. If he takes an expanded role and can combine his inside dominance with the ability to stretch bigger defenders, he could push the Pacers to the next level.
“Young, high-floor wings that will probably never be much more than that”
50. Harrison Barnes
49. Andrew Wiggins
48. Khris Middleton
47. Gary Harris
46. Otto Porter
45. Brandon Ingram
These six players are all arguably pretty interchangeable. Harrison Barnes is the most proven, Otto Porter is the currently the best, and Andrew Wiggins has the highest upside. Those three also have the worst contracts of the bunch. Wiggins makes almost $30 million per season for the next 5 years, Porter makes $27 million per season for the next 3, and Barnes makes $24.5 million per season for the next 2. Khris Middleton, Gary Harris, and Brandon Ingram are cheaper at $13 million per season for 2 years, $19 million per season for 4, and $6 million per season for 2, respectively.
Barnes and Middleton are the oldest in the group, but have been solid in increased scoring roles. Though neither offer much hope to ever become stars, they’re capable as very good role players. Wiggins has an offensive prowess rare for a player as young as him, even with his regression splitting the ball with Jimmy Butler. He’s athletic enough to be a great defender, but seems lost and hasn’t improved enough to make him anything more than a liability on that end. Harris had a spectacular season, but like Wiggins, he still struggles a bit defensively. Porter doesn’t have the offensive skill-set of those two, but he shot 44% from deep and is a great wing defender across multiple positions.
Ingram has an extremely high ceiling, but he hasn’t developed as much as Lakers would have liked over his first 2 seasons, and there’s no guarantee he becomes much better than average on either side of the floor. Being on a rookie scale gives him the least risk of the group, so he gets the nod slightly over Porter.
44. Jamal Murray
43. Zach LaVine
Jamal Murray had a solid breakout second season. He’s become a reliable scorer, and is one of the rare players who actually increased his efficiency as he increased his minutes and usage. He’s awful defensively, but if he lives up to his scoring potential, that won’t matter.
LaVine took on a larger role, and started to get his athleticism back after his injury. He could be a legitimate star, as he’s one of the most athletic players in the league. He still can’t defend, but when he’s locked in, he’s shown flashes of 2-way star potential. He’s eligible for his rookie extension this season, but it’s hard to say what he’ll make. It will likely be in the $20 million per season range, which could be a steal.
42. Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball can’t shoot and his family is a circus. Don’t let that fool you: this kid is a stud. He’s already an incredible defender, which is usually the hardest skill for rookies to adapt to. He sees the floor well, which more than makes up for his limitations as a shooter. And ironically, yes, he’s better than Carmelo Anthony.
“The Aging Bigs”
41. Marc Gasol
40. Kevin Love
39. Al Horford
38. LaMarcus Aldridge
Marc Gasol continues to be a great player, but he’s 33 and has 2 more years at $25 million per season. Based on his style, I don’t think he’s in line for a big dropoff in production, but he showed signs of slowing down this year, and I’m not sure that contract won’t look pretty ugly by the time he turns 35. Still, he’s a solid piece for any contender.
Kevin Love remains underrated despite his lack of defensive ability. He works hard on both ends, and the Cavs have actually been better defensively in the playoffs when Love is on the court. He’s got the same contract as Gasol, but is 4 years younger.
Al Horford was a tough placement. If you think the defensive identity of Boston is predicated on Horford, you’d be right. If you think his success is mostly due to being in the arguably best situation in the league, you might also be right. He delivers a lot of leadership as shown by this playoffs, but he makes $29.5 million a year for the next 2 seasons, and can’t really create his own shot. Of course with Boston getting Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back next season, he doesn’t need to.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the other side of the same coin as Horford. Where Horford is an excellent defender and solid on offense, Aldridge is an excellent scorer and solid on defense. Even with Horford’s uptick in the playoffs, Aldridge’s advantage on offense outweighs Horford’s defensive superiority.
“The Young Bigs”
37. Lauri Markannen
36. Clint Capela
35. Steven Adams
Lauri Markannen had an excellent rookie season, and showed the scoring chops of a legitimate first-option. He’s still inexperienced, and it showed on defense, but he’s long and athletic and should be fine on that side of the ball. Give him a year to develop and the “baby Dirk” moniker might not be so far-fetched.
Capela is a MIP finalist, and he deserves to be. The Rockets were unstoppable with him on the floor this season, and though he’s in a great situation, he also adapted perfectly to the Rockets style. He’s almost unguardable in the pick and roll with Harden or Paul, which is exactly what they use most.
Adams is crazy good and crazy underrated… and just kinda crazy. He had the second most offensive rebounds in the league this season, and would have been up there in total rebounds if
he didn’t let Russell Westbrook stat chase he was the guy who grabbed their easy defensive rebounds. He should be in line for a role increase, and provides much more than the Thunder use him for.
34. John Wall
33. Kemba Walker
32. DeMar DeRozan
31. C.J. McCollum
30. Bradley Beal
29. Jrue Holiday
This is the group of max(ish) contract players who need to play their best to be worth what they’re getting paid. These are all players I’d consider really good secondary players, but need additional stars to win. Kemba Walker is the only one who doesn’t play with another current all-star, and he’s the only one who didn’t make the playoffs. These players are all very good, but can’t carry a team alone.
Wall is arguably the best of the group, but the Wizards played pretty damn well in his absence and he’s got the massive supermax contract on the book that pays him $188 million over the next 5 years, including $46 million in his age 32 season. If he plays to his potential he’s worth it, but that could get ugly fast. Walker doesn’t have the upside that Wall has, but he’s an all-star caliber point guard with a cheap contract for another season. After next season at $12 million, he will get a big raise to the max or near-max, but he’d be a great addition to any contender.
DeRozan, McCollum, Beal, and Holiday are all different versions of the same player. Guards who can handle the ball, score, are decent on defense, have shown flashes of taking games over, and make $26-28 million per season for the next (about) 3 years (DeRozan has a player option for the 2020-21 season and Holiday has a player option for the 2021-22 season).
DeRozan was better than McCollum this season, but he’s two years older and still can’t shoot from deep. McCollum’s biggest issue is he plays with Lillard who shares his strengths, but also shares his weaknesses. Beal is the best shooter of the bunch, and this season he played 82 games and showed sustained bonafide playmaking ability he only teased in his first 5 injury-riddled seasons. Jrue Holiday, similarly, played 81 games, and stepped up his game to new heights, after a 4-year stretch of missing at least 15 games each season. He’s the best defender of the bunch (yes, even better than Beal) and if he plays the way he did this postseason, the contract he signed last summer was a no-brainer.
28. Devin Booker
Devin Booker is the younger version of the group above. He has one year left on his rookie deal before – more than likely – signing his max extension. He’s an elite scorer and playmaker, and as he learns to better navigate pick and rolls (and if his teammates ever improve and begin to take some of the burden off him) he’ll be unstoppable. He’s a liability on defense, but he’s not as bad on that end as his reputation suggests. He gets burned, but most stars have teammates shifting the defense to help – Booker doesn’t. He plays with a group of other young players who don’t yet know how to play defense in the NBA. He’ll get there, and when he does – watch out.
27. DeMarcus Cousins
26. Kyrie Irving
Cousins and Irving had similar seasons. Both played well for a successful team, got injured, and watched their teams succeed without skipping a beat.
The Pelicans even were arguably better without Cousins. The additions of Nikola Mirotic and Emeka Okafor along with better play from E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Rajon Rondo probably had more to do with that than losing Cousins, but it’s still concerning. That being said, he’s a legitimate scorer and playmaker, has extended his range to shoot from deep, and is a great defender when locked in. He might not be able to lead a team by himself, but he’s still damn good. His problems off the court are well-documented and he will cost a max contract going forward. Plus he’s a 7-footer coming off an achilles tear, which is… not great. But don’t overthink it. If he regains even 90% of his athleticism, he’ll still be a dominating force. He’s worth the max. Period.
Irving has watched his team get all the way to the Conference Finals without him. Don’t let that fool you – they’re still better with Irving. He is significantly better than Terry Rozier, despite what Celtics Twitter might tell you. He’s a better scorer, rebounder, playmaker, and despite all the criticism I’ve piled on him in the past, he’s a better defender too. Prior to his trade to Boston, Irving had been nothing more than awful on the defensive end throughout his career. With the structure in Boston, he vastly improved and showed he can be a capable defender (or at least not a turnstile) when engaged. Ainge knows this, and Kyrie isn’t going anywhere.