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Welcome to a new cast of trade candidates.
Additionally, regardless of your trade targets, this is a juncture in the season where I would consider moving players on teams destined for the draft lottery. Teams that tank down the stretch are brutal for fantasy playoff reliability, so the thought of moving on from Pistons or Bulls or Wizards always creeps into my mind. This is more pertinent for veterans than young stars, however, as teams are still looking to evaluate talent down the stretch.
Let's dive in.
Trade For: Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Jalen Brunson leads the league with 8.2 minutes of possession time per game. The ball being in his hands for 23.0% of his time on the court is a concrete metric to determine a fantasy floor, and it places Brunson just ahead of Luka Dončić, Trae Young, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton, in that order.
Brunson isn't in a buy-low spot. He’s averaging 27.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists while making 4.0 threes per game and shooting 51.0% from the field across New York's last 10 games. He boomed for 42 points in a win over Detroit on Thursday. However, despite his awesome production, he still isn't perceived in the same realm as the aforementioned names — but he should be. His usage and ball dominance in the Knicks' offense is elite. Brunson’s pull-up scoring is yielding 11.6 points per game, second only to Dončić. Brunson is burying 43.8% of 4.2 pull-up threes per game, which has been a catalyst of his career-best 47.2% clip from beyond the arc overall. Additionally, his pull-up repertoire should be sustainable and consistent since it's done on his own accord, as opposed to a stylistic decision by the Knicks.
Brunson’s 5.5 assists per game functions as a separator from the aforementioned cast of players. In terms of potential assists (which is better for determining how often players set up assist opportunities for teammates), Brunson’s 11.1 potential assists are well below Dončić (16.0), Young (18.5), Ball (14.1) and Haliburton (19.8).
I would part with two-to-three quality contributors to acquire Brunson. Waiting for a more suitable buy-low juncture could also be wise, but he’s a priority target to slot in as a top-three player on your roster.
Trade For: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Given his inclusion in the above stats as well as the 32.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.4 steals on 49.1% shooting across his last nine games before being injured Nov. 26 against Orlando, Ball was supplying superstar production in his fourth season.
Ball is set to be re-evaluated any day now, so the buy-low window before a new medical update being released is extremely small. It went under the radar that Ball shed his walking boot at Charlotte’s practice Monday, although he still had a noticeable limp. Nonetheless, it's an excellent sign of progress for Ball one week removed from his latest ankle incident. There is a real downside to ankle injuries derailing his career — a la, fears surrounding Stephen Curry over a decade ago. Ball’s injury is the same ankle he fractured last season, but no structural damage occurred last week. His timeline for return is still unclear, but he would be a booming addition to any fantasy squad if he can return to health down the stretch.
There is certainly risk since my prognosis is mostly speculation. Additionally, it’s also in Charlotte’s best interest to operate with an extreme abundance of caution given Ball’s recurring ankle troubles. Nonetheless, there are positive signs that Ball’s injury might not be as serious as it could have been, so fantasy managers in a position to gamble should inquire.
Trade For: Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Robinson has been quiet of late, averaging 5.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks over his last five contests. His defensive presence makes the stats less quiet, but a six-block performance against Charlotte on Tuesday balloons his recent production. There is some boom-and-bust involved, but the 25-year-old is playing a career-high 29.9 minutes per game while grading as the second-best offensive rebounder in the league behind only Andre Drummond.
Robinson is a niche fantasy asset given his lack of scoring, but he excels at his strengths and is at a favorable buy-low juncture. Format-dependent players operating in atypical roles, such as Saddiq Bey sans Jalen Johnson, are the types of assets I would part with in exchange for Robinson.
Trade Away: Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers
Since transitioning to a bench role, Westbrook has delivered versatile but underwhelming production, averaging 8.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 38.5% shooting over the Clippers’ past nine games. He’s been better of late, pounding the glass en route to 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 23.2 minutes per game in his last five appearances.
His rebounding prowess and two-way energy are components that the Clippers lack on a nightly basis, so evaluating his future is tougher than it seems. Still, I find it more likely that the Clippers lean into James Harden-themed basketball as the season progresses, prioritizing shooting — which isn’t Westbrook’s forte. Even on his unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, Westbrook has posted just 6-for-28 shooting thus far. Additionally, the Clippers rank seventh in defensive rating, so ramping up the offense is the priority.
Trade Away: Kelly Oubre, Philadelphia 76ers
Oubre (ribs) is set to return Wednesday from a multi-week absence following a scary incident in which he was struck by a vehicle in early November. Oubre will likely slot in as Philadelphia's starting small forward immediately, even if he's on a minutes restriction as he returns to game shape.
Oubre is averaging an enticing 16.3 points and 5.1 rebounds through his eight appearances this season, and his athleticism will reintroduce a new dimension to a 76ers’ wing cast, which is currently manned by Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and Patrick Beverley.
That being said, I’m viewing his return as an opportunity to flip him in part of a larger package. He doesn’t carry much stand-alone trade value, but he should be perceived as a sell candidate now or shortly as opposed to a role player who can step up for your fantasy squad down the stretch. Despite his status as a 20-point scorer last season, Oubre hit just 29.0% of 169 guarded catch-and-shoot threes, while also converting just 56.2% of his shots at the rim, which ranked in the bottom-third of all qualifiers in 2022-23.
His volatility and pure-scoring nature do lead to a high ceiling at times, and Philadelphia will benefit overall from his scoring punch, but it's hard to imagine the league's second-best offense bending to incorporate a heavy dose of Oubre. Also, the inefficiencies he displayed in Charlotte's high-octane offense last season could persist; there are reasons why he was unsigned until training camp. However, in leagues where efficiency isn’t a factor, Oubre’s fantasy candidacy is solid, and he’s a worthy roster piece.