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Which Trade Deadline and Buyout Moves Will Be Most Impactful for NBA Contenders?

Now that All-Star week has come to a close, it’s time to look ahead to the stretch run and how players like Andre Iguodala, Marcus Morris, and Jeff Green could shape this season’s playoff race

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

We are officially 60 days away from the start of the NBA playoffs, and now that the dust has settled on the trade deadline and the buyout market is starting to cool, the season’s finish line is in sight. To prepare for the stretch run, let’s look at some of the players who were added to contenders at or just after the deadline, and how they could shape this playoff race. Instead of ranking their potential effectiveness or fit within their new teams, I have decided to pay homage to one of the greatest deadline acquisitions of our time and give each player a number on the Rasheed Wallace Scale. After all, his addition did help lead the 2004 Pistons to a title.

Andre Iguodala, Miami Heat

Like most, I expected Iguodala to go back to the West Coast and end up with one of the L.A. teams, either via trade or the buyout market. Then again, it seems I have violated a cardinal rule of the NBA: never underestimate Pat Riley’s desire to go for it. Riley went to Memphis with a can’t-miss offer and landed one of the league’s more coveted veteran players. But what does Iguodala have left in the tank? And is it more than what Justise Winslow—who was sent to the Grizzlies as part of the trade—could have given Miami?

Iguodala is 36 years old, and yes, I’m now the 100th person to tell you that. But let me also counter that by saying two things: First, Iguodala hadn’t played basketball in more than half a year, and as we’ve seen this season with LeBron James, that kind of layoff can sometimes be exactly what a player needs to feel revitalized. And second: Throughout his career, Iguodala has routinely flipped a switch come playoff time and become an all-important cog for title teams. Many of Iguodala’s box scores won’t impress, but if he knocks down a key 3 in the final seconds of a game, or locks down an opposing player in crunch time, everything will have been worth it. Iguodala wasn’t acquired for his raw numbers or even the consistency he could bring. His value is in the little moments that lead to a win. And Riley and Co. are assuming that the Heat are good enough already to be a position where Iggy’s best traits can take center stage.

Sheed Scale: 7/10

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers

Well, it took less than two games for Morris to show his most Morris self to his new team:

Morris is always ready to scrap, and that attitude is part of what makes him valuable—along with his scorching-hot 3-point shooting this season (43.2 percent), and his two-way versatility as a stretch 4, of course. The Clippers knew what they were getting when they gave up a pick and Moe Harkless’s expiring contract to get him from the Knicks, but there is also danger in relying too heavily on Morris and his trick-or-treat game.

Still, the change in franchises alone should reinvigorate Morris. He could be very valuable for a Clippers team that hasn’t found its groove yet despite its 37-18 record. Doc Rivers’s group isn’t exactly pulling a Rockets, but the team’s best lineups will continue to be the small-ball outfits that feature Morris and Montrezl Harrell at the 5. This would make for a particularly fascinating matchup against the Lakers, who often play Anthony Davis at power forward. The Lakers wanted Morris too, but the Clippers got him—and they’re betting that he’s the final piece of their championship puzzle. They’d just better hope he doesn’t get ejected before he can help them.

Sheed Scale: 8.5/10

The Rockets’ (Small) Motley Crew

While Russell Westbrook and James Harden are out here posing for iconic GQ cover shoots, Daryl Morey is busy swiping every 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-8 player he can find. After punting on the Clint Capela experience and trading for Robert Covington, Morey and the Rockets have doubled down on versatility by adding Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll this week on the buyout market. That gives the Rockets 13 players who stand between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8; only Bruno Caboclo, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Tyson Chandler (who barely play) are taller!

Covington is already making an impact by hitting 3s and opening up lanes for Westbrook. And while Green and Carroll aren’t exactly dead-eye shooters, they can get hot and win you a random game in March. Those two could also help out on the defensive end, especially if P.J. Tucker gets into foul trouble or, frankly, needs a break. The Rockets are 15th in the league in defensive rating right now and top-5 in offensive rating. By unlocking more space for Westbrook and Harden, they’ll almost surely keep up the latter. And their newfound depth combined with their radical shift in philosophy could help the team achieve its ultimate goal: becoming a true contender.

Sheed Scale: 8/10

Alec Burks, Philadelphia 76ers

I know what you’re thinking. Alec Burks? In this economy? But the Sixers are starved for ball handlers, shot creators, and just guards in general, so for them, this marriage makes sense. Burks isn’t going to wow anyone—he never really has—but he does exactly what the Sixers need. This team has been disjointed all season, in large part because Philly doesn’t have a true point guard. Now, though, Burks could fill that role even if his talent level doesn’t quite equate with the rest of this team. In a best-case scenario, Burks is the kind of player that can make it easier for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to play together.

Burks doesn’t just handle the ball competently; his 37.5 3-point percentage on 4.7 attempts per game in Golden State this season would be good for second-best on the Sixers behind catch-and-shoot revelation Furkan Korkmaz. If this works out, Burks could help the Sixers find stability. But Burks does have a ceiling, and I suspect that his impact is only going to make Sixers fans realize just how badly they need a competent point guard.

Sheed Scale: 6.5/10

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

OK, this might be cheating, but Oladipo may as well be considered a midseason addition to a playoff team. After missing most of the season while recovering from knee surgery, Oladipo is back. So far he’s played seven subpar, sub-30-minute games, and it appears that it will take time for him to not only find his personal rhythm, but also to fit into a team that has been humming along without him thanks to coach Nate McMillan, Malcolm Brogdon, and All-Star Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo is a ceiling-raiser, though, and even though the runway from now until the playoffs is short, he could help turn the Pacers from the team none of the top-3 squads in the East want to play to the team that could actually beat one of those front-running squads in a series.

Sheed Scale: 7/10