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2016 Oklahoma City Thunder trade value extravaganza

2016 Oklahoma City Thunder trade value extravaganza


February 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm (CT): The event horizon in the NBA trade landscape. It’s the deadline by which teams can make moves to get better, get worse, or, almost unspeakably, do nothing and hope for the best.

Bill Simmons, previously of the irreplaceable Grantland, wrote at least one good thing a year, and that was his annual NBA Trade Value column. Some of it was insightful, most of it was irreverent, but if anything it created a conversation about the players who had the highest trade value in the NBA. With the 2016 NBA trade deadline looming, I thought it would be fun to examine and rank the trade value of all 15 Oklahoma City Thunderans.

Before I get to it, let me lay some ground rules. “Trade value” is a nebulous concept, and nebulous concepts don’t lend themselves well to rankings. That being said, when I say “trade value,” what I’m talking about is, “who would be the most attractive trade bait?” As a result, more than just being good matters. For example, salary situation plays a role (i.e., Enes Kanter with three years plus a player option at $17 million+/year has a very different value than Mitch McGary on the rookie scale with one more year plus a team option). And importantly, each NBA GM might assign wildly different values to each player depending on team need, so this is an educated guess, or, more likely, one man’s rambling thoughts that have little basis in reality.

And now, without further ado, the 2016 Oklahoma City Thunder Trade Value Extravaganza.

15. Josh Huestis. Huestis is under team control for three more years (after 2016) at a team-friendly price (Heustsis is owed about $4.6 million over the next three seasons). The NBA’s first domestic draft and stash, however, has yet to appear in an NBA game and is a regular on Oklahoma City’s D-League team, the Blue. In his second year, Huestis’s D-League stats show little improvement. A caveat, Huestis’s role on an NBA team would be very different than his role on a D-League team, but even still, Huestis has struggled–he’s shooting just 27% from three on almost 6 attempts per game and boasts a negative (-0.1) DBPM rating. For a guy that was drafted with hopes of being a value 3-and-D guy, his development as that type of player seems stuck in neutral. All this to say, despite two key benefits contractually (control and price), I’m not sure the rest of the league sees a ton of value in Huestis, and his only value on a trade would be as filler.

14. Nick Collison. This ranking is driven mostly by the fact that Collison is the de facto face of the franchise (apologies to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook). Notwithstanding Collison’s decline into old age and stuff, if anyone calls, Sam Presti would most likely say, “I’d rather trade you my mother for a trade exception and cash considerations.”

13. Steve Novak. Novak was traded to the Thunder to make salaries match. His role with the Thunder would be to make salaries match on any prospective trade. Novak also has an expiring contract, but he makes an insubstantial $3.75 million this year–not exactly the expiring contract teams clamor for. That being said, he’s earned a reputation as a good teammate, so if the Thunder want to make a move and need about $3.75 million in salary to add to a deal, the prospective trade partner might say, “Novak, I’ll take that guy.”

12. D.J. Augustin. This season, with the emergence of Cameron Payne, Augustin’s role has transitioned from backup point guard to emergency point guard. However, a PG needy team might think that the addition of Augustin could bolster their bench. Augustin is a solid three-point shooter (39% from three) and he’s a good distributor, but his defense is a major liability. So Augustin’s value wanes between “potential bench asset” to “salary match guy,” which is enough to earn him a higher ranking than Novak.

11. Andre Roberson. Roberson is without a doubt the Thunder’s best defender. He’s also, without a doubt, the Thunder’s worst three-point shooter who takes three-point shots (sometimes). With high volume guys like Durant and Westbrook and third-bananas like Serge Ibaka, Roberson has a very defined role on the Thunder, and one that might not necessarily translate across the league. He’s an institutional player, a guy that the team probably loves to have, but that other teams probably say, “I can find a Roberson anywhere.” He is good enough defensively to make a team feign interest in acquiring him.

10. Kyle Singler. Singler’s massive 5 year, $25 million contract turned some heads (the last year is a team option). Some thought it was a value play that would pay off as the cap rises, but others thought it was a massive overpay to a role player who is pretty limited in his role. And, early in the season as Singler was carrying a negative PER, it was really looking like a blunder to commit multiple years to a guy who’s terrible. Fortunately, Singler has progressed more toward the mean (he’s up to 31% shooting from three), which has enhanced his trade value considerably. Singler is kind of a wing-version of Collison. He’s a glue guy who does the little things. He might play 15 minutes and do nothing except grab a rebound or hit a three, but he’s not going to use possessions and cause any problems. Plus, as a career 37% three-point shooter, and sufficient size to defend multiple possessions adequately, Singler is a good player to have on the bench. Some enterprising GM might take a look at the 4 years left on Singler’s contract and say, “I can guarantee myself 4 years of Kyle Singler at only $5 million a year? YES, PLEASE.”

9. Anthony Morrow. Morrow is elite at two things: shooting threes and posting on instagram. As Billy Donovan has favored players with multiple skill sets (e.g., Singler and Dion Waiters), Morrow has found himself accumulating as many DNP-CDs as three-point shots (slight exaggeration). But let’s stop for a minute and remind everyone in the world who’s reading this post (so, at least a handful of people in Oklahoma City and at least two in New Zealand) that Morrow is really, really, really, really, good at shooting threes. He’s a career 43% shooter. He has a high, incredibly fast release. He simply cannot be left undefended from beyond the arc. You don’t think every playoff team would love to have an Anthony Morrow on the bench come playoff time?

8. Dion Waiters. Sometimes when Waiters goes 1-9 for 2 points in 35 minutes, I remind myself of two things: first, Sam Presti gave up a first-round draft pick for Waiters, and second, Donovan is playing Waiters 35 minutes. The fact that Presti gave up a first-round draft pick (albeit a late one) is proof positive that Waiters has trade value. Then you have Donovan playing Waiters big minutes, including regular minutes to close games. It’s clear, the Thunder think Waiters is a useful player. I just can’t fathom that the Thunder would invest this much in a guy that every other team looks at and says, “Nope.” And that is why I think Dion Waiters has trade value.

7. Mitch McGary. McGary’s value lives solely off of last season’s results. McGary appeared in 32 games last year, averaged 15 minutes, and put up some numbers–6 points, 5 rebounds, on 53% shooting. McGary even managed to garner a 16.6 PER rating, which would put him in the ranks of “above average player.” This season, McGary is firmly stuck on the bench, a member of the “it’s a blowout, and we aren’t going to play our rotation guys so you guys play” lineup. But with two years under team control after this year for less than $3 million total, McGary is certainly a tradeable asset. I’d even go so far as to say he’s the most likely to be traded.

6. Enes Kanter. Last summer, Oklahoma City matched the Portland Trailblazer’s “nuclear option” max offer sheet for Kanter. It led to the very odd situation of having three guys on max contracts (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Kanter), one of which would be coming off the bench and playing inconsistent minutes. With a mammoth contract at more than $17.5 million per year with 2 guaranteed years after this PLUS a player option after that, Kanter’s value is stunted not only by the size of the contract, but the additional 20% trade kicker and no-trade clause for one year. That being said, Kanter is an elite offensive player, and arguably top 5 at the center position in the NBA, which is why he has the 14th highest player efficiency rating in the league. But as good as he is offensively, he almost as bad defensively, ranking 2nd to last in DRPM among centers in the NBA. Kanter at #6 in these rankings is more a shot in the dark than anything else. Sure, some are going to look at his offensive ability (and his impressive performance against the Golden State Warriors as Exhibit A) and think that he’s absolutely worth $17.5 million per year. Others, though, will look how easily opponents seem to score when he’s in the lineup and decide his positives don’t outweigh his negatives.

5. Cameron Payne. After lighting the world on fire with his first handful of games as the backup point guard, Payne has regressed a little. He’s had some nice performances, and some wretched ones (cough, Warriors game, cough). But overall, Payne has already cemented himself as a key player, contributing solid three-point shooting (40%), passing (2.1 assists per game), and smart basketball (less than 1 turnover per game). Plus, in just the first year of his rookie-scale contract at an average of just over $2 million per year, Payne is by far the Thunder’s most attractive trade piece, among players they would maybe, possibly consider trading. That being said, he’s proven himself valuable, he’s on a cheap contract, and he fits well alongside Westbrook–the Thunder would be kind of crazy to trade Payne for anything less than an instant-impact player.

4. Steven Adams. Has Adams made “the leap”? It’s a question I asked myself when writing this article. Yeah, his box score stats are about the same as last year on a per-game basis. On the other hand, the advanced stats love Adams. The Thunder post a 97.1 defensive rating when he’s on the court, best on the team (last year it was 102.9). He ranks 20th in DRPM so far this season among centers (last year he ranked 31st). He has a PER of 14.36 (last year it was 14.14). His TS% has skyrocketed from 55% last season to 61% this year. So while his box score numbers are pretty flat compared to last year, everything he does is more efficient and has more impact than last year. The bummer is that he is under contract for just one more year after this, and his value is escalating fast. But this analysis is somewhat of moot because the Thunder probably have little appetite to trade him. Fit matters immensely to this team, and he fits exactly what the Thunder want and need from a starting center. Unless there is a five-alarm fire that only a Steven Adams trade can extinguish, he is virtually untouchable.

3. Serge Ibaka. Continuing with untouchable players, Ibaka is another guy who the Thunder would refuse to trade. He fits well, a player who can erase mistakes on the defensive perimeter (of which there are many), space the floor with midrange jumpers and threes, and grab offensive rebounds. After this year, the Thunder have Ibaka on the books for one more year at a steal of a price–$12.25 million. Now, I have noticed some Thunder fans claiming Ibaka has regressed (and yeah his scoring and blocks are down this year), but even if he has, it’s slight and a part of it has been Ibaka’s learning curve to first-year coach Billy Donovan’s schemes. Which leads me to the all-important conclusion: Ibaka is not a part of any trade discussion, but if he was, he would command a hefty price that is eclipsed by only two players.

2. Kevin Durant. Wait, what? Durant at #2? Among the free agency bonanza that Durant’s final year has created, the idea of a 1-year contract has come through the mist as a most-likely option. Signing for a max contract this summer would only net Durant 30% of his team’s cap, a nice number but by no means as high as it could be (or probably should be). But sign a one-year max contract and then wait until the summer of 2017? Durant would then be eligible for 35% of the team’s cap because he would have 10 years of service under his belt. With a projected cap in excess of $100 million, that’s a massive payday with immense financial security. We’re talking a contract that would approach $200 million, if he signs for five years. Now, all that noise is tertiary to the reason I have him #2. He’s #2 because he’s in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Would all 30 teams take Kevin Durant now? Certainly, but the fact that he could leave you almost as soon as you get him is the slight difference between him and #1.

1. Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, unlike Durant, is under contract for one more year. After last season’s performance that was worthy of MVP consideration, Westbrook has vaulted himself into the top 5 among current NBA players (don’t argue with me), and even though Durant is still the better overall player, Westbrook has closed the gap considerably. Not only that, but Westbrook’s relentless attitude has him on a rising trajectory–I mean, the guy, now in his eighth year in the NBA is visibly improving. Any trade conversation that involves Westbrook would be met with immediate scorn by Presti and Westbrook would command the highest price of any player on the roster.

If you’ve made it this far, either by actually reading the semi-organized collection of letters above or by simply scrolling down to see who’s #1, I want to TL;DR things a little. If reading this makes you feel a little depressed about trade scenarios involving the Thunder, you should. The Thunder don’t have a lot of trade bait. They don’t even have a first-round pick to send until, at the earliest, 2020.

In Durant’s final year, the masses are desperately wondering if the Thunder could bring one or more impact players at the deadline to compete with the historically-good Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. But the answer to that is probably a no. That’s not to say trades aren’t being discussed, but without valuable assets that the Thunder can afford to give up, the potential trades are more of the, “Uh, okay” variety. Which, at 40-14, the same record through 54 games as the Thunder team that went to the NBA finals, maybe isn’t the end of the world.