Biggest Individual Winners from NBA's Trade Season so Far
The winter trade winds have been awfully quiet around the NBA of late. Rumors are still swirling from time to time, though few would mistake the handful of transactions executed thus far for a landscape-shifting flurry.
The Association has seen just five swaps involving players and/or picks since the start of the 2013-14 season. Of those five, only two—Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings and Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers—could garner anything close to "blockbuster" status.
And even that seems like a stretch in each instance.
Don't expect the action to ramp up much before the Feb. 20 deadline, either. The strength and depth of the 2014 draft class has general managers everywhere hoarding their picks and, as a result, leaving the proverbial skids dangerously devoid of grease.
This isn't to suggest, though, that the movement on the market (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) hasn't been felt in any meaningful way. On the contrary, a significant swath of players has thus far been touched by the ripple effects of these maneuvers.
With that in mind, let's take a look at those who've benefited from the action and inertia alike on this year's trade block.
Rudy Gay's second change of scenery in as many seasons has clearly done him much more good than did the first. In his first 22 games since joining the Sacramento Kings in early December, Gay averaged career bests in points (20.3), assists (3.0) and field-goal percentage (.528) while taking his fewest shots (14.7) and playing his fewest minutes (34.7) since his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Not bad for a guy who'd been widely panned as an inefficient volume shooter prior to arriving in California's capital.
To be sure, the Kings haven't exactly transformed into a juggernaut of any sort with Gay in the lineup. They won just nine of their first 22 games of the Rudy Gay era, not including the three they lost while Gay sat with an Achilles injury.
But victories against Miami, Minnesota, Portland and Houston (twice) point to a team that's actually better off with Gay. According to NBA.com, Sacramento has scored upward of five more points per 100 possessions when Rudy's played while giving up a half a point fewer on the other end.
In Gay, the Kings have themselves an athletic wing scorer who, surprisingly enough, has helped to balance out the talents of DeMarcus Cousins down low and Isaiah Thomas at the point.
And he could continue to do so for years to come.
Speaking of Thomas, the diminutive point guard has benefited handsomely from the seven-player swap that brought Rudy to Sactown.
Playing next to Gay has been great for Thomas' efficiency at the point. According to NBA.com, Thomas has shot better from the field (45.2 percent) and from three (40.9 percent) with Gay on the court while averaging more assists (7.7) and fewer turnovers (2.6) per 36 minutes.
But the biggest boon to Isaiah's game has come courtesy of a peripheral part of that trade: Greivis Vasquez's move to Toronto. With Vasquez out of the picture, Kings coach Mike Malone had little choice but to slide Thomas into the starting lineup.
So far, Thomas hasn't let his coach down. He's averaged a resplendent 21.3 points and 7.2 assists since returning to the top of the depth chart at the point. Moreover, the Kings have been slightly stingier on defense when Thomas has played, though their mark with him on the floor (106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) would rank as the third-worst in the NBA.
Still, Sacramento's problems with stopping the opposition are hardly Thomas' alone. More importantly, it's clear that the Kings are better off with him serving as a starter and that he, in turn, is making the most of the opportunity.
So far, that Toronto-Sacramento trade has graded out as a win-win of surprising proportions. The Raptors, for their part, went 18-9 through their first 27 games in the aftermath of that transaction, which didn't cost either participant a single draft pick.
With Gay gone, DeMar DeRozan has taken over as Toronto's go-to scorer on the wing. Since Rudy's departure, DeRozan has averaged 22.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Atlantic Division leaders, with two 30-point games and a 40-point explosion tallied therein.
The L.A. native is still shooting in the low 40s from the field but has undoubtedly stepped up his all-around game in support of a now-surefire playoff contender. For his efforts, DeRozan was picked by the Eastern Conference coaches to represent the Raptors at the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Which, in itself, would be reason enough to single out the 24-year-old as a winner of the trade season to date.
Kyle Lowry just missed out on joining DeRozan in New Orleans, though the fact that he was even in the discussion to be an All-Star should register as a trade-related win in his book.
To his credit, Lowry doesn't seem concerned about the "snub." "I'm going to keep grinding no matter what, All-Star or not," he told TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "I'm always going to work hard & continue to be the best player I can be."
Lowry has been solid all season for the Raptors but, like DeRozan, has taken his game to another level since Gay went away. The stocky point guard has chipped in 18.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting a superb 43.1 percent from three in 36.1 minutes per game post-Rudy. For the most part, those numbers far outstrip the ones he posted when Rudy was still in Toronto (14.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, .364 from three), even though he's actually playing slightly fewer minutes now than he did then.
Rudy, though, isn't the only reason for Kyle's rise. He can also thank Raptors GM Masai Ujiri for demanding as much as he did for Lowry—and all of Lowry's rumored suitors for not obliging. Had Lowry been sent to the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets or the Golden State Warriors, he may well have been relegated to backup duty, albeit for (likely) playoff participants.
Instead, Lowry's gotten to strut his stuff for a Toronto team that's all but ticketed for its first postseason appearance since 2008.
And as an unrestricted free agent this summer, Lowry couldn't have picked a better time to come of age in the NBA.
With Lowry out of the picture, the Golden State Warriors opted instead to strengthen their backcourt by acquiring Jordan Crawford from the Boston Celtics on Jan. 15.
It's tough to tell whether Crawford's presence has directly benefited any of his new teammates; Golden State's just 3-4 with him in the rotation, and Stephen Curry, the player Crawford was brought in to spell, has barely seen his hefty minutes load budge in that span.
There's no denying, though, that Curry has been abnormally awesome—even by his standards—since Crawford landed in Oakland. Those first seven games have seen Steph pile up 29.3 points, 8.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from three.
For that, Golden State fans should be thankful that Crawford has seemingly sparked another impressive run by Curry, wittingly or otherwise.
When Courtney Lee first joined the Memphis Grizzlies in early January, he seemed to be little more than a guy who could fill the gap in the backcourt until Tony Allen returned from injury and provide a much-needed dose of perimeter shooting throughout.
But with the way Lee has played since leaving Boston, one can't help but wonder whether Allen might be the one relegated to backup duty down the line. The journeyman combo guard has scored 14 points a game on a scorching-hot 55.3 percent shooting from the field and 41.9 percent from three.
According to NBA.com, Memphis has been significantly better on both ends of the court when he's been in the game. His marksmanship has helped the spacing-deprived Grizzlies to spread the floor on offense, while his length and athleticism have made him a pesky contributor on defense.
In essence, Lee has been everything Memphis had hoped Quincy Pondexter would be before he went down with a season-ending injury—and more. It's no wonder, then, that the Grizz have won nine of 10 with Lee in the starting lineup.
The Houston Rockets were in similar need of no worse than a stopgap for their own starting five. They spent the wee weeks of the 2013-14 season in search of a full-time starter at power forward, dangling Omer Asik (and Jeremy Lin) to fill their need therein.
But GM Daryl Morey failed to find a satisfactory deal for Asik the first time around, and while he may yet send his two pricy backups packing, he needn't do so to bring back a "stretch 4."
For that, he can thank Terrence Jones. The second-year forward out of Kentucky first rose to the top of Kevin McHale's depth chart of "Guys to Play Next to Dwight Howard" and hasn't slipped since. Jones' overall numbers as a starter (12.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.2 combined steals and blocks, 52.7 percent shooting in 30.5 minutes) may not pop many eyes or turn many heads, but they reflect just how steady he's been.
And he's only getting better. Jones has upped the ante in January, to the tune of 15.8 points (on 54.9 percent shooting) and 9.5 rebounds, with two 20-plus-point games and a career-high 36-pointer thereabouts.
The Rockets might still seek out a more proven option at power forward in anticipation of what could be a promising playoff push. But if Morey opts to stand pat, he won't likely be disappointed by what Jones brings to the table.
Who else has benefited from the NBA's in-season "hot stove"? Let me know on Twitter!