The Athletic’s senior writer and NBA Draft expert Sam Vecenie is answering your questions ahead of the NBA trade deadline. Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length. For Sam’s thoughts on Myles Turner’s new deal, the Suns’ future and more, check out Part I of this mailbag.
Could O.G. Anunoby really put a team like New Orleans or Memphis over the top and almost guarantee a championship? — @PeterJewett
In a conference as tightly packed as the West, I don’t think any move could “guarantee” a championship. But if the Raptors decide to put Anunoby on the market, he’s the biggest swing player who could impact the title race. And I believe the teams who would get the most out of an Anunoby acquisition — much like Milwaukee’s acquisition of Jrue Holiday in 2020 — are the ones closest to that title race.
Anunoby is the league’s most versatile defensive force on the perimeter. I use the word “versatile” purposely, given that there are so many important defensive roles and styles. Guys like Holiday defend guards better. Guys like Bam Adebayo are switchable in ball-screen actions and can force significant problems for offenses. Draymond Green is probably the best communicator and defensive leader. Jaren Jackson Jr. is probably the best overall force in help defense. But Anunoby is one of a handful league-wide who can slide across the positional spectrum in on-ball matchups and be impactful.
There is no one better at guarding big wing shot creators one-on-one. He’s enormous at 6-foot-8 with a near-7-foot-3 wingspan. He’s also turned into a tremendous team defender who uses his length to wreak havoc rotationally as well as force turnovers. Anunoby has the third best defensive EPM rating in the league. He’s top 20 in ESPN’s RPM metric defensively (seventh among wings). And those on-ball settings against the best big creators become even more magnified in the playoffs.
At 25 years old, I wouldn’t sleep on his offense either. He’s always been a good catch-and-shoot guy and has made 38 percent of his 1,041 3-point attempts since 2019-20. The numbers say he’s been stagnant since the 2020-21 season, averaging about 16 to 17 points per game, but there have been incremental improvements each season in the way he drives to the rim and how he’s started figuring out how to use his physicality and balance on that end. His footwork and handle in ball screens is better The significant thing holding him back at the moment is his pull-up shooting. He’s made just 96 of his 314 pull-up jumpers over the last two years, according to Synergy. Typically, it’s because his feet get a bit mixed up in his load-up, and it can lead to some trajectory inconsistency. He has clear touch, though, and he has the ability to get where he wants on the court, as you’ll see on this drive against Dejounte Murray. When he puts his shoulder into someone in one of these isolation situations, there’s really nothing a non-big defender can do.
If Anunoby averages 17 points, six rebounds and two assists while playing elite-level defense for the next five years, that’s worth multiple first-round picks, given that he’s on a bargain contract (the team acquiring him would get him for the rest of this year and have him locked in at $18.6 million next year). But if that ability to become an isolation wing scorer keeps improving, then his value goes through the roof, and we could see him become something like a 22-point per game player. It’s rare that wings this young, who are this good already and have a bit of tangible upside, hit the market.
Anunoby does have an injury history, however. Last year, he suffered a hip pointer and a fractured finger that forced him to miss time. He’s missed time with various calf injuries, wrist sprains, an eye contusion and an emergency appendectomy. Nothing has been serious in the NBA, but he did tear his ACL at Indiana and break his wrist in high school. There is some small consternation across the NBA about being the team that will be asked to shell out a significant nine-figure contract to him. All of this is why it makes more sense for a team with established stars to be the one to acquire him. And particularly, I think there is a real case this is the player Memphis has been waiting for to hit the market.
Inside Pass: What Shams is hearing about the Raptors and trade talks around the league
The Grizzlies are set with their backcourt of the future in Ja Morant and Desmond Bane. Jackson is locked into a sweetheart contract as one of the best young bigs in the NBA. The thing they’re still looking for is their bigger wing of the future who also fits this timeline of competitive 22- to 25-year-old stars. Anunoby fits the timeline and the need. Memphis is also well-positioned to go deep into the luxury tax moving forward. Owner Robert Pera is one of the richest owners in the NBA and has proven a willingness to spend large sums of money to acquire draft capital. I don’t think he’d have an issue paying Anunoby with this group.
Memphis has all of its own picks, plus a potentially valuable Warriors pick next year. It also has an interesting group of young players such as Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Santi Aldama, Jake LaRavia and David Roddy. The Pelicans can make a similar case that Anunoby would be very valuable for them as a wing defender between Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, but I think the positional need could end up making Memphis a bit more viable. Could something like Williams, Danny Green and two unprotected first-rounders work for Anunoby? That’s pretty close to the price Milwaukee paid to get Holiday (essentially two future unprotected first-round picks and two pick swaps), the deal I’m using most as a precedent for this one. Holiday was also a defense-first guy who profiles best as a No. 3 offensive option and was similarly more of a “put you over the top” guy who plays perfectly next to star players. He was a bit better at the time than Anunoby, but he was four years older and had just one year remaining on his contract when that deal got done as opposed to the two playoff runs that an acquiring team would get Anunoby for.
For this to make sense for Toronto, the Raptors would need to decide they want to take a step back and build a different style of roster around their two true building blocks, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. If the Raptors want that, cashing in now on Anunoby before you have to pay him makes some sense. He’s the guy on the roster they could get the most for, and the one whose value is probably a bit lessened by playing on a team that isn’t competing at the top of the league. Plus, paying him may limit your options in terms of acquiring guys who make sense around Siakam and Barnes.
I’m not saying I agree with this case, by the way. I would keep Anunoby if I were Toronto, unless the Raptors know something we don’t about his injury history. But that’s at least how you can rationalize moving him.
Should the Nuggets trade Bones (Hyland)? — @vamosvikingos
I’m not opposed to them moving Hyland necessarily — he’s a creative scoring guard with warts, and those guys aren’t untradable — but I don’t think he’s necessarily the problem with Denver’s bench units either. The Nuggets aren’t that deep. Bruce Brown is really the only guy off the bench for them whom I trust. Hyland has real defensive issues. Zeke Nnaji has been OK in spurts. There’s a chance Christian Braun gets there by the end of the year. But it would behoove the Nuggets to make some moves on the margins to help their depth.
Particularly, I’d look to upgrade two things. First, it would help the team to get a defensive-minded backup point guard or wing who plays unselfish basketball. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brown have to do a lot of work right now on the defensive end. The team is middle-of-the-pack on defense overall, but any one good defender leaving the court has a substantial negative impact, according to PBPStats’ data. Without KCP on the court, the Nuggets have a 118.5 defensive rating. Without Aaron Gordon, they’re at 117.3. Additionally, the team’s bench units have been a nightmare on defense. Lineups with Hyland on the court have an absurd 122.4 defensive rating. In part, that’s because he’s played about one-third of his minutes with DeAndre Jordan, who can’t play at the NBA level anymore on that end. Even lineups with Hyland and without Jordan give up 121.1 points per 100 possessions. Things have been better since Nnaji assumed the role, but it’s unclear if he’s the long-term answer. The second thing they should go out and acquire for a cheap price is a backup center. Someone like Mason Plumlee, who has experience in this system, would be a substantial upgrade. HoopsHype’s Mike Scotto recently mentioned the Nuggets showed interest in Naz Reid. Maybe they go after a buyout guy.
The Nuggets have every reason to go for it. They’re at the top of the West, and the buyer moves they need to make aren’t unrealistic. They also have what could be a potentially valuable trade exception from the Monté Morris trade to the Wizards last year. It’s worth $9.125 million, almost the perfect amount to go out and acquire an answer to one of these holes. Two issues, though: First, the team is deep in the tax, and any acquisition will cost a lot of cold, hard cash for ownership. Second, the team can only trade one future first-round pick, its 2029 first. The four first-round picks on rookie-scale deals on the roster (Hyland, Peyton Watson, Braun and Nnaji) could be valuable to some teams, but it does limit their flexibility.
Two names come to mind at that lead guard spot that potentially fit what Denver could use. The first is Washington’s Delon Wright. He was terrific as a backup last year in Atlanta, defended at a high level, moved the ball and knocked down timely shots. He has a deal for about $7.8 million this season and $8.2 million next season. But Washington is in a perpetual state of trying to win 38 games, so I’m not sure the Wizards will even look to move Wright.
The other is Alex Caruso, but it similarly feels like the Bulls have tried to pour water on Caruso as a potential trade chip. The Chicago Sun-Times talked to an organizational source who said, “Their asking price has been so astronomical that it all but confirmed … that Caruso is untouchable.” Why the Bulls, a team clearly not a contender, down a future draft pick, plus lost last week to the Hornets and the Tyrese Haliburton-less Pacers, would choose not to cash in on a guy who might be the most popular role player target on the market is beyond me. But that seems to be the reality a week ahead of the deadline.
Who should Oklahoma City target, if not this year, then next? A wing and a post? The third of a “big three”? — @ChrisAnstey13
A great question from a friend, 7-foot Australian legend Chris Anstey. I’ll just say this from the jump: I’m skeptical Oklahoma City is going to be particularly active at the deadline — at least in terms of a move involving significant assets.
This is another front office that tends to do a very good job of keeping their dealings in-house, but I don’t see them as likely to make a consolidation move. The Thunder are relatively limited at the deadline by the immense amount of dead cap space they currently have occupying their sheet for players such as Kemba Walker, JaMychal Green, David Nwaba and others. Those deals worked out great for Oklahoma City in terms of procuring draft capital, but they create some real constraints. Because of that capital and because that dead cap space clears up this offseason, they’re going to be extremely well-positioned for a consolidation trade for a star down the road.
Having said that, allow me a bit of wiggle room to suggest something I see as entirely unlikely but is a move I would look into if I were in Sam Presti’s shoes. My favorite target for the Thunder right now is Atlanta forward John Collins. He’s only 25 years old, and he’s under contract for at least two more years. It’s exceedingly difficult right now to get a deal done for him because of the Thunder’s trade limitations, but he makes a world of sense for the team as a building block for the present and the future. Even with his downturn in play this season, I’m a big fan of Collins and think he fits ideally with this Thunder core.
John Collins (Alonzo Adams / USA Today)
Collins is one of the best pick-and-roll scoring bigs in the NBA. He’s a terrific rim-runner with great vertical pop and the ability to finish at an elite level. This season, Collins is making 70 percent of his shots at the rim. The problem is the Hawks are only generating four of those per game for him, a wildly low number, because Collins doesn’t fit in Atlanta anymore.
To space the floor properly, the team has to use Clint Capela as its primary pick-and-roll partner for Trae Young and Dejounte Murray because Capela isn’t a threat to score or pass outside of 5 feet. That results in a lot of possessions in which Collins is just kind of camping out. He’s only averaging 1.6 field goal attempts per game this year as a roller, and about one-third of those are pick-and-pop attempts, per Synergy. It’s what the team has to do, but it’s not the way to get the most out of Collins. And to be clear: Collins has been better with Young on the court throughout his career, but he’s not just a creation of Young, either. Since 2018-19 per PBP Stats, in minutes without Young on the court, Collins averages 29.5 points per 100 possessions on a 59.5 true shooting percentage. In minutes with Young, Collins averages 27.1 points on a 64.1 true shooting percentage. Get him with a guard who will feed him in ball screens, and Collins will thrive. But he’s proven he can be efficient and dangerous with lesser options too. You just need to put him in the right spot.
Enter Oklahoma City. With how the Thunder are building, Collins would be in a perfect situation. With players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey to run ball screens with, he’d find easy shots. His one weakness as an offensive player — assuming you believe his shooting bounces back to its previous norms, where over the last three years he’s made 39 percent of his 531 attempts from 3 — is that he isn’t the best playmaker or passer. In Oklahoma City, he’d be surrounded by playmakers. The Thunder have made it their goal over the last few years to prioritize drafting guys with elite positional size, great feel for the game and terrific positional skill. Think Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. What they don’t really have is a tried-and-true play finisher at the rim in the frontcourt; Collins can be that guy. Last season, he was the league’s most efficient player as a roller among the 44 players league-wide with at least 100 possessions in that setting. The year prior, he was in the top 10, and in 2020-21, he actually led the league in points per game as a roller. This skill set didn’t just disappear. He just hasn’t been able to utilize it in Atlanta.
Additionally, Collins is the exact player I would want next to Holmgren. Their games complement each other well. Collins can be the roller out of ball screens, and Holmgren can space the floor as a shooter, lead the break in transition with his ballhandling ability and play in some high-low actions that get creative with Collins’ cutting ability. Additionally, Holmgren’s rim protection is exactly what Collins needs next to him, and Collins could manage some more physical matchups for Holmgren over stretches early in his career to reduce wear-and-tear. It’s hard to find guys like Holmgren who would bring out the best in Collins’ game.
How he fits in the future is what matters most for Oklahoma City, but I wouldn’t sleep on how he’d help in the present either, given that the Thunder are right in the Play-In Tournament mix. The Thunder are the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA right now. Collins would come in and immediately give that a boost. He’d also really rebalance the team’s lineups, as OKC is regularly starting Kenrich Williams as a de-facto center. I love Williams’ game and adore him as a role-playing building block, but he gets a lot more use out of his skill set at the four. On top of that, Collins’ playoff experience and willingness to work would benefit the young Thunder core.
Functionally, unless the team was willing to move Lu Dort, this is tough to do at the deadline. I don’t see that happening, so I don’t see this happening right now. Also, I’m skeptical Oklahoma City will go down this road, given the team’s propensity to value ball skills and playmaking. But what if another deadline passes and Collins is still a member of the Hawks? And as The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported, the price tag on Collins does not seem unreasonable. If the team that gets him positions him properly, it’s likely theat franchise gets a good player at a discount. Plus, the team gets very flexible in terms of potential consolidation star trades starting this summer, and Collins could limit that a bit. But I don’t see Collins’ contract as a liability if he’s in the right situation, and Oklahoma City would almost be the perfect one to see him thrive.
Is there a player who isn’t getting a ton of buzz right now who could be moved and make a real difference for a contender? — @AndrewDBailey
Josh Hart is an interesting wing get for a contender if the Blazers look to shake things up. He has a strange contract where he makes about $13 million both this year and next year. But next year is essentially a mutual option. He has a player option that he has to make a decision on first; if he exercises it, the deal becomes non-guaranteed for the team that has him.
His style of play seems suited to the playoffs outside of one flaw. Hart has started for the Blazers this season, taking on tough defensive assignments on the wing and sometimes in the backcourt. He’s a fearless driver and slasher, shooting over 50 percent from the field in each of the last two seasons, and is a killer defensive rebounder who crashes the glass with reckless abandon and is willing to put his body on the line to get loose balls, providing a ton of energy and hustle.
But he passes up 3s all the time. It’s bizarre. He’s cut his 3-point volume in half, taking only two per game after averaging over four attempts over the course of his career prior to this season. This possession is a perfect encapsulation of who Hart has been this season. He gets an offensive rebound off a Lillard miss, finds Lillard cutting to the rim, then goes out to spot up and space the floor, gets the reversal from Simons and doesn’t shoot the open 3. He drives instead and gets swatted.
If I had the choice between Hart and someone like Jae Crowder — two wings on relatively similar salaries who are on deals that could be seen as expiring this year — I’d rather bet on Hart figuring out that he should shoot 3s again. Over the course of his career, he’s right around the 35 percent mark and has never been this averse to taking them before. What are the Blazers looking for to move Hart? That seems unclear. But all of the teams looking for tough wings who can defend, from Cleveland to Atlanta to Phoenix to Sacramento to everyone else, should at least make a call.
What do you think the Hornets can get for Mason Plumlee and Kelly Oubre? — @Al_Smoove
The Hornets should be looking to sell at the deadline to try to pick up as many assets as possible.
Plumlee has been underrated this season as an offensive player. His newfound left-handed midrange jumper has gotten the headlines, but he’s been an incredibly efficient finisher, a tough rebounder and has done his usual high-IQ playmaking out of the high-post and off dribble-handoffs. The problem is he’s on an expiring contract and has enough issues defending at the rim and in space that it’s likely an acquiring team won’t see him as an impact playoff player. I don’t think Charlotte would get much more than a couple of second-rounders for him. Having said that, I wonder if there is a conversation to be had between Charlotte and Plumlee around extending him for one more year at around the $8 million to $10 million mark before trading him.
Mark Williams has shown flashes, and I like him as a long-term defensive prospect, but Plumlee for one more year would provide insurance for the team in the middle and allow Williams time to keep developing. Plus, it’s not so onerous that you would hate it if he becomes a backup next year. He’d still be trade-eligible if something came along, and I don’t really see a 32-year-old center with defensive worries getting that much per year on the open market this offseason. It might be a situation that suits both parties. If they can’t come to that agreement or if the team can find a better insurance option for next season, I would move Plumlee for what I can get and be happy.
The Hornets’ run of bad luck continued with Oubre tearing a ligament in his left hand four weeks ago after his strong scoring run to start the season. Charlotte hasn’t updated his status in a while after initially stating he would miss four to six weeks. Most of Oubre’s value comes as a scorer, and I feel like it would be relatively difficult for any team to feel confident trading a first-rounder for him given that he’s on an expiring contract and is recovering from a torn ligament in his shooting hand. A deal with him is probably going to have to be on the more creative side if the Hornets want to return value for Oubre.
If Charlotte does decide to move on from Plumlee at the deadline, could a Knicks-Hornets deal involving Oubre for Isaiah Hartenstein and Reddish work? Hartenstein is signed for another season but isn’t a fit in New York’s offense after a breakout season last year with the Clippers. He’d fit much better in Charlotte as a passer and playmaker in on-ball actions with LaMelo Ball and would provide some insurance at the position at a cost that isn’t all that onerous next year ($8.2 million). The Hornets would also get to take the flier on Reddish and potentially allow him to get some of the playing time he desperately needs, as mentioned above. For the Knicks, they’d get off the Hartenstein contract for next season and also take a chance on a player with an expiring contract who could help them off the bench during a playoff run. That feels like a win-win.
(Top photo of O.G. Anunoby: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)