The NBA trade deadline is imminent, and we've already seen our first big move. In the early hours of Wednesday, Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic were dealt to the Sixers for Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler and four draft picks (two first-rounders). More on that deal's impact on Tobias later. It's shaping up to be a wild deadline, and I wanted to gain perspective by looking at what's transpired in previous seasons. How many players changed teams on the actual deadline day? How did those players fare with their new teams, from a fantasy perspective? Is the earlier deadline (as of 2017-18) having a noticeable impact?
Don't forget that we also have a six-part series previewing the trade deadline for each NBA Division. There's also a deadline-specific podcast, and you can find it all via these links:
Phew. Assuming you didn't get sidetracked by all that content, let's forge ahead with a look at what happened on deadline days for 2018, 2017 and 2016. After that we'll come back around to what's already happened in 2019 and what the recent past can show us about fantasy values at the deadline. The numbers below come from NBA.com and should be all-inclusive, but I make no guarantees.
Trade Deadline Snapshots
Total players traded on Feb. 8, 2018: 28
Not all transactions are trades, of course, and this deadline also featured some rest-of-season signings (Greg Monroe, Kyle Collinsworth) and some guys getting waived (Isaiah Canaan, Willie Reed, etc.). Nevertheless, there were still 28 players who changed teams in a single day in the NBA. The sheer volume of deals is often what makes it fun, even if there aren't blockbusters. Last year the headliners were Isaiah Thomas, Elfrid Payton, Larry Nance Jr., Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Emmanuel Mudiay and Rodney Hood. Not exactly a group that carried owners to fantasy glory -- more on that below. Their collective absence on former teams probably did more good than their performance with new teams.
As with the Tobias Harris deal this year, there are always trades soon before the actual deadline day. In 2018 that included the Bulls trading Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans on Feb. 1 for a trio of soon-to-be-waived veterans and a better draft pick. It allowed New Orleans to patch over the absence of DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) last season, at least temporarily, but now it's possible Mirotic will be moved again at the deadline.
The Pelicans have zero incentive to win games at this point and Mirotic can sign elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent in the summer, so they might as well extract something for him while they can. It was reported recently that the Bucks are "believed to be looking at" acquiring Mirotic. New Orleans is also "exploring" trade talks involving Julius Randle, but they've reportedly shown "no interest" in trading Jrue Holiday. Then again, the same thing was said about L.A. and Tobias!
Total players traded on Feb. 23, 2017: 22
The trade deadline for the 2016-17 season was later, as had been the case prior to 2018 -- it fell on Feb. 23. The difference in 2017, compared to 2018, is that more significant deals went down just before to the deadline -- 10 players changed teams in the three days prior. That included the trade sending DeMarcus Cousins and Omri to New Orleans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and two draft picks. Even more big trades went down within 10 days, during which Mason Plumlee, Jusuf Nurkic, Serge Ibaka and others swapped jerseys.
On deadline day itself, the biggest names among the 22 players dealt were Lou Williams, Nerlens Noel, P.J. Tucker, Taj Gibson...and that's about it. We'd already seen the mega-deal go down with Cousins, so these were more like aftershocks. Deron Williams was also waived by Dallas on this day, leading to an inglorious stint with the Cavs and de facto retirement ever since.
Total players traded on Feb. 18, 2016: 19
The caveat for 2016 is that, again, a bunch of trades went down in the days before. On Feb. 16 alone, in fact, seven players (including Tobias Harris, from Orlando to Detroit) changed teams. On deadline day itself, the biggest names included Markieff Morris and, well, it wasn't exactly a blockbuster deadline. A handful of big-name players were expected to be traded, including Kevin Love and Dwight Howard, but nothing came of it.
Pre- and Post-Trade Fantasy Values (and Tobias Harris)
Let's now look at some key players from the deadlines we've been discussing, to see how they fared before and after trades (I'm including guys dealt just prior to the deadline). You could pull stats from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference and run the numbers yourself, but I turned to the inimitable Basketball Monster for the splits below. They make it particularly easy to get past-year values and I recommend looking at them if you haven't already. You'll notice that I'm lenient with these names, for two reasons. First, there weren't a ton of high-profile names. Second, I wasn't initially positive who was relevant and who wasn't. Did Joel Anthony have specialist value in early 2016? Was D.J. Augustin doing anything worthwhile then? Let's find out. (Values are 9-cat ranks per BballMonster.)
|Larry Nance Jr.||2018||94||90||4|
That is a decidedly mixed bag. Jusuf Nurkic has been the poster child for deadline-day winners, erupting as a fantasy asset after being traded from Nikola Jokic's shadow into a starting job for Portland in 2017. The flipside of that deal was Mason Plumlee going to Denver, where he fell from a top-100 guy to just having borderline value in 9-cat. It's as pure an example of 'opportunity-based' value as you're going to find. More minutes and touches led to a spike in value, and vice versa.
The same occurred for Buddy Hield when he went from New Orleans to Sacramento. Suddenly, he was averaging nine more minutes per game, putting up more shots with his coach's full confidence, and as a result he found his groove after a brutal start -- he leapt from 39.3% shooting with the Pelicans to 48.0% with the Kings. This list really drives home a simple message. If you think a guy will have a better role (increased minutes, fewer benchings, higher usage, better offensive system, etc.) then by all means grab him when he's traded. They don't have to be stars, either, as we saw with Terrence Ross in 2017 and D.J. Augustin in 2016.
Not all players fare well with mid-season deals, of course, for a variety of reasons. It's not always easy to absorb an entirely new system on the fly. Sometimes roles are cut and sometimes players just never find their comfort zone -- Lou Williams in 2016-17 saw his minutes increase with Houston, but his efficiency sank like a stone. Elfrid Payton played about the same number of minutes with Orlando and Phoenix in 2017-18, but he went from shooting 52.0% from the field to 43.5%. And those are guys whose actual role, measured by minutes and usage, didn't get any worse.
That simple notion is also why I'd be nervous if I owned Tobias Harris in any leagues this year. He goes from being the alpha in L.A.'s offense to at best a second or third option behind Joel Embiid. We've already seen Jimmy Butler grudgingly accept a smaller role as a Sixer, with dips in his scoring (-2.3), triples (-0.5), rebounds (-0.4), assists (-0.5) and steals (-0.4). He's also getting to the line less often because Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are so often the point of attack, which has cut into one of his primary virtues as a fantasy player.
The good news is that Harris is efficient, and his fantasy game doesn't rely on sheer volume. Still, it's difficult for me to envision his scoring and rebounding not taking a hit in Philly even if his adjustment proves to be a smooth one. He does have that working in his favor -- he's been a chameleon after trades without a noticeable decline in production. That ability will be put to a strenuous test in the coming months. For a full treatment of the Tobias deal and everyone else involved (Boban, Mike Scott, Chandler, Shamet and Muscala) head to our always-updated player news!
2019 Deadline and Beyond
The trade deadline is typically followed by a spate of players being waived, so fantasy owners' careful attention shouldn't end on Feb. 7. Teams are accounting for new acquisitions and roster needs, clearing out unnecessary veterans or unproductive prospects, and preparing for the season's final stretch. A team like Phoenix this season might waive Jamal Crawford if they don't trade him, for instance, since they won't need/want him on the court. And by waiving them before Mar. 1, veterans can sign with contending teams per CBA rules.
This is how many players were waived within four days of the deadline:
These waived guys are typically more impactful in deep leagues, but owners should think critically when they occur. Crawford may not help you if he signs with the Bucks as backcourt depth, but his departure would open 16-20 extra minutes for the likes of Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton. If Matthew Dellavedova is waived by Cleveland, it should directly benefit Kobi Simmons and newly-acquired Wade Baldwin -- both young guys on a tanking/rebuilding team. The list goes on.
As for which trades will be coming? There are still some gray areas. Teams with a realistic shot may not want to abandon playoff hopes (and potentially undermine their fan base), causing them to pursue a more moderate path. The Magic, for instance, are the No. 11 seed but just 3.5 games out of the No. 8 spot. If the deadline were on Feb. 25 this year and they were 6.0 games out, would they be more likely to part with Terrence Ross? What about Nikola Vucevic?
Despite some uncertainty about buyers and sellers, and the trades we've already seen happen, it certainly feels like there will be a rush of deals at the deadline proper. Enough bad teams have already decided their course of action that and a guy like Taurean Prince could spark a behind-the-scenes bidding war in the right circumstance. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the block, the Wizards are receiving inquiries about Otto Porter, the Knicks could trade anything that moves, and that's just a sampling. Buckle up.