2018 NBA Trade Value Column – Part 3

For Part 3 of the 2018 NBA Trade Value Column, I will be ranking the top NBA players in terms of trade value. This will follow the same rules as Part 1 (Honorable Mentions and 50-26) and Part 2 (24-10). If you missed Part 2: CLICK HERE. If you missed Part 1, or just want to take a look back at the rules: CLICK HERE

Wannabe Unicorns

9. Nikola Jokic
8. Kristaps Porzingis
7. Karl-Anthony Towns

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Nikola Jokic is not just the most creative, but the best passing big man in the league. Maybe even in league history. And he’s not just a passer. There are only a handful of players in the history of the NBA who are in the 50/40/85 club (shooting 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point, and 85% from the free throw line). Before last season, only Larry Bird joined the 50/40/85 club while racking up 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. Jokic finished his season 0.1 FG%, 0.4 3P%, and 1.5 ppg away from joining Bird. Yes, he’s in legendary offensive territory, and he’s still getting better. When Jokic plays, his team is 8 points better per 100 possessions on offense alone. For reference, the difference between the Warriors offense and the Mavericks offense this season was 7.3 points per 100 possessions.

On defense, Jokic is one of those players where analytics just don’t match the eye test. Based on the numbers, he’s one of the best defenders on the Nuggets, and has been since entering the league. Don’t let this fool you – he’s not. Much of Denver’s success (not overwhelming success – they were 6th worst defensively) on defense was keeping Jokic in easy spots with other players covering for his weaknesses. He was abhorrent defensively during his first 2 seasons. Last season, he improved to be, well, still pretty bad. Jokic has slow feet and still sometimes gets lost on the court, but he’s cut down on his needless swiping at the ball and doesn’t draw as many bad fouls. Even with his defensive shortcomings, the type of offensive production he brings overcomes any drawbacks anyone could ever have.

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Kristaps Porzingis was famously booed when he was drafted 4th overall in 2015 by the Knicks. I think Porzingis is the one who should be booing Knicks management. They’ve surrounded him with nothing but garbage since he arrived. Sure, he played with Carmelo Anthony during his first two seasons, but Melo was already a shell of his former self by that time, and the rest of the roster hasn’t improved since he left. This season, after Porzingis tore his ACL, the Knicks finished 7-27 (after a 22-26 start with Porzingis). You would think the Knicks would have a lot of cap space because their only good player is still on his rookie deal, right? Guess again. The Knicks owe Lance Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Enes Kanter, Cortney Lee, and the ghost of Joakim Noah a combined $74 million next season. They have no cap space to sign anyone of value (even if they could convince someone to play for that disaster of a owner), so it looks like Porzingis is stuck.

Fortunately for Knicks fans (and unfortunately for Porzingis) he will likely stick around after his rookie contract. He seems to love New York, and the Knicks can offer him more money on an extension than any other team. He deserves every penny. Porzingis is one of the few big men in league history who can shoot from deep and protect the rim. He’s a perfect pairing for nearly any PF, as he can run an offense or play off the ball, and still anchor the defense. Porzingis is an elite shot-blocker, using either or both hands. He has natural instincts, and his ability to recover after a jump to jump again is rare. Hopefully, the Knicks can fix their issues before they waste any more years of his talent.

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I mentioned earlier (while praising Jokic’s offensive ability) that before last season only Larry Bird joined the 50/40/85 club while scoring 20ppg and grabbing 10rpg. Well someone else joined during last season: Karl-Anthony Towns. Even if you removed the rebound requirement, only 10 players in history have done that, and Towns had the best FG% of all of them. Not only does Towns have a plethora of post moves, a soft touch around the rim, and the ability to power through opponents, but he also has better handles than you’d expect from a big man. Offensively, he’s basically Hakeem Olajuwon if he was born today and learned to shoot 3s.

“If it weren’t for that meddling defense.” -Towns, probably. Defense has been a nagging problem for Towns since he entered the league. He seems like he should be a solid defender – he’s got quick feet, gets a good amount of blocks, and when he’s focused, he’s shown signs of being a great perimeter defender. But those types of defensive stops don’t happen as often as they should for Towns. Instead, he makes simple mental mistakes that lead to easy scores. He frequently doesn’t realize his man has post position until it’s too late, he’s almost always late rotating, and he jumps too often at pump fakes (which gets him into foul trouble). Over the past season, especially when playing alongside Taj Gibson, he’s tightened up some of those mistakes, but hasn’t made as much progress as many had hoped. If he ever does take the leap defensively, the league better watch out.

Offense-First MVPs

6. James Harden
5. Steph Curry

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James Harden is unguardable. Finding yourself in a 1-on-1 situation guarding Harden must be one of the scariest basketball situations to be stuck in. If you play perfect defense, James Harden will hang 30 on you, burn down your house, collect the insurance money, take your mother out for dinner, eurostep around the check, crumple up her phone number, hit a step-back 3-pointer with it, and walk away doing the cooking motion. probably still score, and not in a respectful way. He’s arguably the best offensive player in the league, and despite all of the meme-able defensive lapses, he’s been significantly improved defensively over the past 2 seasons. Harden didn’t need to become anything more than passable on defense, but he’s actually become a good defender. He’s stronger in the post than opponents expect, and he’s usually in good help position. What’s not to like?

But if we’re being honest – I don’t like Harden’s game. He flops a lot (successfully), uses the ridiculous up-and-under move where the defender doesn’t even move their arm yet somehow still fouls him, commits (uncalled) traveling violations half the time he does a step-back, and is generally awful to play against. The thing is, his style works. He’s one of the most efficient players ever, and his team succeeds because of it. He reminds me of an unfair video game character (Michael Vick in Madden ’04 anyone?) and the friend that will only play if they get him – sure, you beat me, but is that even fun?

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What more can be said about Steph Curry? He redefined the NBA as much as any player in history. In the 2011-12 season, teams attempted an average of 18.4 3-pointers per game. In 2017-18, teams attempted 29. Maybe this change isn’t solely Curry, but he’s pace to destroy every single career 3-point record there is. Currently, Ray Allen holds the career record for 3-pointers made with 2973. Curry will likely surpass 4000 by the end of his career. Through their first 9 seasons, Curry not only made a staggering 643 more triples than Allen, but he did so in 32 less games while shooting nearly 4% better from deep. Additionally, Curry is almost assuredly going to become the all-time playoff leader in 3-pointers starting next season! It took Allen (who’s currently also the all-time playoff leader) 171 playoff games to make his record 385 triples. It’s taken Curry 90 games to make 378. He’s quite simply the greatest shooter in the history of basketball.

Curry has never been a great defender, but he’s aware of his physical limitations and almost never makes a mental mistake on that end. He’s a good rebounder for a guard, which helps create faster transitions which he and the Warriors excel in. Basketball IQ and shooting are two skills that usually don’t decline much as aging players lose their athleticism. Curry will still be pulling up from deep for a long time to come, and I can’t wait to see the records he breaks as he continues collecting rings. Hopefully his lack of a Finals MVP will keep him motivated.

The GOAT

4. LeBron James

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Somehow the greatest player of all time keeps getting better. Of his 13 total seasons, 2017-18 was in the top 5 for points, rebounds, assists, blocks, FG%, and 3P%, including career highs for assists and rebounds. He scored the most points and had the most assists he’s ever had in the playoffs, while making it back to the NBA Finals for an absurd 8th straight season. If you judge Michael Jordan against his peers and LeBron James against his, then MJ still has an argument for GOAT. If you want to judge who is better at basketball, then there’s only 1 answer, and it’s no longer Michael Jordan.

How many years left does this alien/machine/monster have left in the tank at 33 years old? That’s the big question. Some might argue this ranking is too high. If LeBron plays another 3 years at this level and slowly declines after that, this is probably too low. For someone who famously spends a ridiculous amount of time and money on his body, I’m not betting against him. LeBron at this level gives any team a shot at a championship. That’s something few others in history can guarantee, and something many teams would give anything for.

The Unicorn

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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If Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t one of your favorite players, he should be. He’s one of the most unique players ever. He’s 6’11” with a 7’0″ wingspan, and has the ball-handling and finesse of a point guard mixed with the strength of a power forward. You only need to see Antetokounmpo do a euro-step one time to realize how crazy of an athlete this man is, and how fun he is to watch. He’s a great defender across any postition, and his length and athleticism allow him to create a lot of turnovers. He’s averaged more than a steal and a block every season he’s been in the league, and even that undersells his importance as a defender.

Every season Antetokounmpo has been in the league, he’s increased his points per game by at least 4. He’s the only person ever to do this over 5 seasons. And the most incredible part – he might do it again next season! He’s increased his FG% every season as well, and scored 26.9 points per game last season without having a reliable jumpshot! That is unheard of in today’s NBA. And if you didn’t know, he’s got plenty of time to work on his shot – Antetokounmpo is only 23 years old. Yes, it’s fair to say he’s more than lived up to the ‘Greek Freak’ moniker.

The What-If

2. Kevin Durant

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Kevin Durant might be the least respected all-time great in NBA history. Nobody can deny how talented Durant is. He’s an excellent defender, and he’s uniquely gifted scoring the basketball. He averaged 27.1 points over his first 11 seasons, including 10 straight seasons scoring at least 25 points per game. But even after leading the Warriors to back-to-back championships while earning back-to-back Finals MVP awards, Durant still has an asterisk next to his success. Even after another season in the 50/40/85 club (his 3rd such season) most people don’t seem to care because he took the easy way out to win a title.

I’m not here to convince you to like Durant’s decision (I don’t) or tell you that it’s better for the NBA (it’s not). We should realize that he’s never been the best player in the NBA. (Yes, I understand he won the MVP in 2014, but there’s a difference between MVP and best player). He’s been the second best player in the league for nine seasons. He’s probably the greatest player of all time to never have been the best player in the league. I’m here to say we shouldn’t forget the star we loved. Durant was the perfect underdog! And let’s remember what it felt like to root for him as an underdog, rather than solely as the Golden State juggernaut he manufactured. Do I wish he’d go to a new team to increase parity in the league? Absolutely. But I’ll continue to watch and be amazed either way. He has a few years of his prime left to take over the mantle as the best player in the league. If he doesn’t get there fast, he’s going to miss out on his opportunity…

The Brow

1. Anthony Davis

AD Yell

Anthony Davis is the best big man in the game since Shaquille O’Neal. The only difference is Davis is a better defender and can shoot. He only recently turned 25, but he’s already on pace to be one of best players of all time. Rarely can you find a player who is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) candidate every season, while also carrying the load on offense. There’s only been 4 players in history who have won both and MVP and DPOY awards. If I had to bet, I’d say Anthony Davis will make it onto that list. In fact, if I was forced to bet, Anthony Davis is the only player in the league I’d bet on to win multiple MVPs going forward. That’s about all you need to know to understand why he’s ranked 1st on this list.

I started part 1 of my Trade Value Column by paying homage to Bill Simmons. It feels right to go out on a similar note. So let’s play one of his favorite games. I’m going to list 3 players stats (per game) over a single season:

Player A: 31.7PER, 28.4pts, 14.8 rebs+asts, 2.8 stl+blk, 3.0TO, shooting 48.9%/34.4%/78.0%

Player B: 28.9PER, 28.1pts, 13.4 rebs+asts, 4.1 stl+blk, 2.2TO, shooting 53.4%/34.0%/82.8%

Player C: 31.2PER, 33.6pts, 12.0 rebs+asts, 3.5 stl+blk, 3.0TO, shooting 52.6%/37.6%/84.8%

Can you guess who the players are?

Player A is 24 year-old LeBron James in his 6th NBA season. Player C is 26 year-old Michael Jordan in his 6th NBA season. Player B is 24 year-old Anthony Davis in his 6th NBA season. Sheesh.

 

 

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