The new year is near, which means trading season is here. Superstars set to hit the free-agent market in the summer, like Paul George, or good players stuck on bad teams, like DeAndre Jordan, will surely occupy most of the attention in the daily rumor mill until the February 8 trade deadline. But there are several under-the-radar players that could use a change of scenery. Here are five that I’d set my sights on, along with 10 even deeper-cut players worth considering:
Tyreke Evans, Grizzlies
When Evans was awarded Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in 2009–10, how did you think his career would play out? You probably weren’t expecting him to average an inefficient 15.4 points per game through the next seven seasons. But Evans, who signed a one-year deal with Memphis last summer, is suddenly performing like the player you might’ve imagined.
Evans is averaging an efficient 18.4 points this season while scoring in a variety of ways: pick-and-roll, screens, handoffs, and isolations. His playmaking out of the pick-and-roll, in particular, makes him enticing for teams thirsting for a backcourt boost.
Evans has shot an unsustainable 46.2 percent on 3s off the dribble so far this season, but settling into the high-30s, like he has during his past two injury-riddled seasons, is acceptable. He’s a threat to attack the rim, or rise above screens and drain shots, like in the clip above. But Evans doesn’t need a screen to score.
Whether it’s against a wing defender or a big on a switch, Evans has been a menace on isos. So far this season, he’s scoring an efficient 1.2 points per possession in isolations, per Synergy, which ranks in the same range as Victor Oladipo.
It will be interesting to see if Evans can translate his recent success to the playoffs, considering he’s appeared in four postseason games in his entire career. The odds are there will be some regression, either now in the regular season, or later in the playoffs.The larger concern might be his injury history. Evans underwent three right knee surgeries in the span of nine months that kept him on the shelf for almost a year. He has only missed one game this season because of a sore hip.
The Grizzlies won’t blow it up (though they should consider it), but Evans could be a classic sell-high player that nets them a valuable asset. The Cavaliers gave up first-rounders the past two seasons for Channing Frye and Kyle Korver, and the Rockets gave a first last season for Lou Williams. Evans could be even better than those dudes. His expiring contract makes him a rental, but he’s only 28; if his early-season performance is real, he could theoretically be a piece for now and the future.
Dario Saric, 76ers
The Sixers are flooded with frontcourt talent. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have the upside of all-time greats — if Simmons learns how to shoot and if Embiid stays healthy. Robert Covington is raining 3s and defending at a high level. My favorite player, Richaun Holmes, is finally getting minutes; so are veterans Amir Johnson and Trevor Booker.
Then there’s Dario Saric. The second-year forward averaged 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists over his last 30 games as a rookie, and that strong play has carried into the 2017–18 season. Saric is an important part of the team. He receives a healthy dose of minutes (30.4) and shots (11.3). His 3-pointer is still developing (33.1 percent this season) and his defense is still shoddy, but at only 23, Saric has won a championship and an MVP award overseas, and is getting chances to better himself on a similarly young roster. There’s not much to complain about.
But Saric’s role fails to maximize what was arguably his greatest strength entering the draft: playmaking. It’s a shame we don’t see more games like last Thursday against the Raptors, when he dished out nine assists, and made some juicy passes that resulted in bricks.
Saric is just as skilled of a passer as Nikola Jokic, whose own deft passing makes him a nightly highlight reel. Saric just doesn’t get enough reps to show his passing consistently, which is neither his fault nor the Sixers’. There’s simply more talent ahead of him. Saric’s best position on defense is power forward, which is the spot reserved for Ben Simmons. Even if coach Brett Brown were to take the ball away from T.J. McConnell in the second unit, Markelle Fultz will need those reps once he returns.
It’s possible Saric will be resigned to functioning as an auxiliary playmaker. But if I were the general manager of a team that could give him the keys to do more with the ball, I’d give Bryan Colangelo a ring.
Nerlens Noel, Mavericks
Let’s play a game. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of these three Mavericks? (I’ll share mine.)
1. Mark Cuban?
2. Dirk Nowitzki?
This glorious moment from Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals:
3. Nerlens Noel?
The fact my brain, and maybe yours, immediately associates Noel with a halftime delicacy says it all. Noel reportedly denied a four-year, $70 million contract offer this past offseason, and later signed a measly $4.2 million qualifying offer. Then he fell out of Rick Carlisle’s rotation. Now he’s out at least until the beginning of the new year after surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb. In three-plus seasons, Noel has gone from the sixth overall pick to a fringe player on a bad team. I honestly feel bad for the guy, but his struggles aren’t solely a result of his choice in food — he’s an undisciplined defender, he’s a subpar rebounder, and he can’t score outside of the interior. It’s not as if Noel’s game has blossomed and he’s not playing. He simply hasn’t gotten much better.
But Noel is still only 23, and his situation shouldn’t be overlooked. The Sixers were tanking his first two seasons; then, his role was shaky before being traded to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut’s contract, and a fake first-rounder. Noel has never known what it’s like to win in the NBA. Maybe it’d take the right environment to turn him loose.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Friday that the Lakers spoke to the Mavericks about swapping Julius Randle for Noel, though talks fell apart when Noel underwent surgery. A few weeks earlier, an unfounded rumor began circulating that Noel, a client of Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports, was “plotting ways” to play with LeBron James. Noel escaping from Carlisle’s hot dog stand only to lure LeBron to L.A. would certainly take the cake.
Lou Williams, Clippers
You already know what Lou Williams can do. He’s the same ol’ baller today for the Clippers that he was 10 years ago, when he was 21 and a sixth man playing behind then-31-year-old Andre Miller. Now 31 himself, Williams is scoring 20.7 points per game while shooting 39.9 percent from 3, both career bests. He has already dropped more than 30 points seven times this season, proving he can still provide the type of spark that can keep his team in games.
The tough part is weighing the good Lou Will provides against everything else. He’s an average playmaker and a minus defender. And while he’s a proven scorer in the regular season, the playoffs have been a different story. In 52 career postseason games, Willaims is averaging 11.2 points on 43.4 percent from 2 and 25.4 percent from 3. Statistically, that puts him on par with Rodney Stuckey.
A team that could use some scoring punch off the bench, like the 76ers or Wizards, could trade for Williams and hope his playoff numbers were a result of a small sample size.
Nikola Vucevic, Magic
After running out of coal, Santa Claus started giving out DVDs of Orlando Magic games, per sources. If you can bear to watch them, it’s probably because of starting big man Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic was averaging 17.4 points on career-highs in scoring efficiency after extending his range to the 3-point line until he fractured the second metacarpal in his left hand on Saturday night. The Orlando big man is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks, which puts him back on the court, barring any setbacks, right after the trade deadline.
The young, retooling Magic just got even uglier. Prior to the injury, they were forced to utilize Vucevic in what is effectively a featured role, even though he’d actually work best as a sixth man capable of beating up on less talented second units. Even as is, Vucevic proved to be a tough cover.
The 27-year-old big man is shooting just 34.3 percent from 3 this season, but he’s enough of a threat to warrant attention from defenses, which creates space in the paint. He can attack a rotating defender off the dribble and finish around the rim with either hand, or go to work in the post in mismatch situations. He runs the floor hard, making him a natural fit for teams that like to play at a fast pace. The Swiss 7-footer has also improved his passing and is posting a career-high 19.0 assist percentage.
“I know, more than anybody, that this team has taken some big hits and has been through a lot,” said Vucevic last month, Orlando’s longest tenured player. “I really think I’m the guy who wants this team to win the most, and right now, all we can do is keep fighting.” The talk is nice, but Vucevic wasn’t happy when Magic head coach Frank Vogel brought him off the bench last season. If a team is interested in acquiring Vucevic so that they can plug him in once he’s healthy, they’ll need to be sure he can buy into a reserve role. Not to mention that he’s also a subpar rebounder and defender who frequently fails to contest pull-up jumpers, alter layups, stop the ball handler from penetrating the paint, or stay on his feet.
But situation matters. Orlando has revolving doors on the perimeter that make life hell for all their bigs. Even Bismack Biyombo, a plus rim protector, looks lost at times. Vucevic gets crossed over when he extends out to cover the perimeter, but when he’s engaged, like in Orlando’s win last month against Oklahoma City, he does his job.
It’s easier to come off the bench for a winning team. Vucevic hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2011–12, when he was a rookie with the 76ers, and even then he played just three minutes of a second-round blowout game. Now that he’s developed, it’d be interesting to see him playing with an appropriate offensive workload and better defenders by his side. Vucevic, who is under contract through next season, isn’t good enough to help the Magic win, but he could be good enough to provide the bench punch that a playoff team needs.
Other Names to Watch
Cedi Osman, Cavaliers: The focus is on the 2018 Nets first-round pick any time trade ideas involve the Cavs. The reality is they’re unlikely to include the pick unless it’s for a superstar. If the Cavs do swing a deal to bring in more immediate help, Osman (or even center Ante Zizic) is the player to target. Osman is a baller who grinds on defense, makes smart passes, and drains open 3s.
Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks: He hit 48.3 percent of his 3s, but a left tibia stress reaction has sidelined him since late November. Dedmon, who has a player option for next season, should be back ahead of the deadline. If he keeps hitting 3s, I’d look to snatch him if I were running a team that needed a defensive big man.
Tyson Chandler, Suns: Chandler is like the nonshooting version of Dedmon. He’s more proven, more consistent, and a better interior finisher. The problem is he costs twice as much ($26.6 million over this season and next), but he could be worth it considering he only has one more season left on his deal.
Willy Hernangomez, Knicks: It’s weird how Hernangomez has gone from a nightly fixture in New York’s rotation to a nightly DNP-CD. Willy needs to improve his defensive communication and fundamentals, but the ability is there for the 23-year-old to be a rotation player in the near future.
Furkan Korkmaz, 76ers: The fact Korkmaz is shooting 18.8 percent from 3 in the G-League and NBA combined is worrisome, but he was a 42.1 percent shooter from 3 the past three seasons in Turkey with Anadolu Efes and Banvit. I’d bet on him figuring out his shot, and maximizing his skills as a playmaking wing.
Justin Patton, Timberwolves: If Tom Thibodeau decides that he needs veteran players to fill out his bench, Patton is the player to poach from his roster. Patton, the no. 16 overall pick in 2017, is super raw, but he has the skill set of a two-way, modern big man. The 20-year-old could be worth the wait.
Malik Beasley, Nuggets: Beasley is buried in Denver behind the likes of Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Emmanuel Mudiay. But he’s a 21-year-old wing with 3-and-D upside. He grinds on defense. He makes the right play offensively. If his shot develops, he’ll be a longtime pro.
Sterling Brown, Bucks: Much like Beasley, Brown projects as a 3-and-D wing. I’d want Brown as a throw-in as part of any deal with Milwaukee. Would the Bucks really balk when asked for a rookie that barely plays?
Guerschon Yabusele, Celtics: Yabusele is the hidden gem among the Celtics’ pile of assets. He’s an athletic, muscular big who can shoot 3s and dribble well with the upside to defend multiple positions.
Mario Hezonja, Magic: Hezonja is right up there with Jahlil Okafor as the bust of the 2015 draft. But he’s only 22 and has shown glimmers of what once made him such an enticing prospect. As an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason, he’d be a low-risk addition for a team looking to roll the dice.