5 Young NBA Players Who Need a Trade

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 1, 2022

5 Young NBA Players Who Need a Trade

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    Obi Toppin (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Patience can be critical for the development of a young NBA prospect, but sometimes patience isn't enough.

    Sometimes, a change of scenery is needed for these players to get the sink-or-swim chance they've been denied in their current digs.

    From congested rosters to ill-fitting systems and every reason in between, the following five up-and-comers appear in dire need of a deal to finally take flight.

James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets

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    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    James Bouknight was the 11th player selected in the 2021 draft. By the completion of his first big league complain, he ranked 40th among his draft classmates in minutes played at just 304.

    Injuries weren't the issue, and while he hardly set the world on fire during his brief run (34.8 percent shooting, minus-7.1 box plus/minus), the sample size was too small to blame his lack of floor time on performance. He also had a sideline spat with then-Hornets skipper James Borrego, but it didn't seem like anything big enough to impact Bouknight's playing time.

    So, what went wrong? Well, Buzz City never cleared a spot for Bouknight. LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier comprised the starting backcourt. Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas saw action as backup point guards. Cody Martin and Kelly Oubre Jr. chewed into the available minutes at the 2. Bouknight was squeezed out of a regular gig he never had the chance to earn.

    That won't necessarily change going forward. Sure, Smith and Thomas are gone, but with Bouknight's limitations as a passer—he is programmed to think scoring at all times—he may not get a look at lead guard, anyway. The wing rotation has opened a bit without Miles Bridges, but Oubre and Martin might soak up the available minutes.

    Bouknight needs touches and floor time to carve out his NBA niche. Borrego never offered either, and there's no guarantee new (and old) Hornets skipper Steve Clifford will. While Charlotte surely won't look to dump a recent lottery pick for pennies on the dollar, Bouknight might need a ticket out of the Tar Heel State to get on track.

Kira Lewis Jr., New Orleans Pelicans

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Don't be fooled by New Orleans' 46 losses this past season. The Pelicans' roster is loaded.

    Loaded to the point that you may have forgotten all about Kira Lewis Jr., the 13th overall pick from 2020.

    Now, there is some out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomena working against him, as his 2021-22 campaign was abruptly closed in early December by a torn ACL in his right knee. As the proverbial insult to injury, Lewis' absence wound up opening the door for Jose Alvarado to not only crack the rotation but ultimately average their seventh-most minutes in the postseason.

    Lewis' injury may be in the past, but his roadblocks to a rotation role are present as ever. CJ McCollum handles the starting point guard duties, while Alvarado and Devonte' Graham could both see ample action behind him. And that says nothing of the possibility of the Pelicans exploring more with jumbo looks that have Zion Williamson or even rookie Dyson Daniels running point.

    Where does this all leave Lewis? Well, in a potentially awful spot as the Pels face a late October deadline to decide whether to pick up his fourth-year team option. Doing so would require a leap of faith, since he hasn't been able to show much through two seasons (1,245 minutes across 78 contests) and could miss training camp while continuing to work his way back from injury.

    He's still just 21 years old and an absolute blur with the basketball, so he shouldn't have trouble attracting suitors. For him to get the developmental minutes his game needs, though, one of those suitors must convince the Pels to part with him.

Kenyon Martin Jr., Houston Rockets

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Unlike some of the other players on this list, Kenyon Martin Jr. hasn't been denied a chance to showcase his skills. He was the 52nd player selected in 2020 and ranks 14th in that draft class in minutes played (2,724).

    The 21-year-old has intrigued almost every time he's been called upon, too. His explosive athleticism jumps off any streaming screen, his rolls out of pick plays are electric, he has all of the physical tools to be a hyper-versatile on-ball defender and he has enough vertical pop to protect the paint.

    Oh, and he has canned 95 triples at a 36 percent clip. Plus, while you wouldn't label him as a playmaker, he can make simple reads and has a quick enough first step to ditch defenders off the dribble.

    He looks, frankly, like the exact kind of a player a rebuilding team like the Rockets should want to keep around as long as possible. And maybe that's how they feel. However, they complicated his present and future with the team by loading up the frontcourt with other young players, like incoming rookies Jabari Smith Jr. (No. 3 pick) and Tari Eason (No. 17).

    That's why Martin requested a trade out of Space City ahead of the draft, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. It's why Martin should remain interested in a relocation.

    Between his age, athleticism and two-way potential, he should be someone's priority. Considering the Rockets have other, higher-profile prospects in the same position group, it doesn't seem like they'll be that someone.

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    How good is Obi Toppin?

    Pose that question to 100 NBA fans, and you might elicit 100 different responses. The fact that Toppin, the No. 8 pick in 2020, appears nowhere near establishing his identity should have him searching for the nearest exit out of Madison Square Garden.

    He has played just 1,913 minutes across his first two NBA seasons. For context, 104 players logged more minutes in 2021-22 alone; eight of them were rookies.

    There's a reason the 'Bockers haven't utilized Toppin much, and it's unrelated to performance. Rather, the blockade goes by the name of Julius Randle, New York's second-highest-paid player and the Association's minutes leader over this stretch.

    Theoretically, Randle and Toppin could play together, but anchoring a small-ball lineup with those two is "considered unappealing to the organization," per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Plus, the Knicks don't really need help at the center spot with Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims all on the roster.

    As long as Randle is around—his contract runs through 2025-26 (although the final season is a player option)—it will be tough for Toppin to see the floor. He needs a better opportunity to showcase what he can do, particularly since he has been plenty productive when given the chance (19.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 threes and 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes last season).

Coby White, Chicago Bulls

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Bulls don't need Coby White.

    They might like him—they were big enough fans to spend 2019's seventh overall pick on him—but there's a reason every fake trade involving Chicago mentions White.

    He is a score-first guard on a squad with several superior scoring options who are higher up the food chain.

    His scoring punch is powerful (career 17.5 points per 36 minutes), but Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic have more knockout power. So White's point production will never impact this group the way Lonzo Ball's passing or Alex Caruso's energy can. With Ayo Dosunmu, Dalen Terry and Goran Dragic all around, the Bulls could send off White without missing a beat.

    That's not a knock on him, by the way. He just had his best shooting season from close range (66.1 percent inside of three feet) and from long distance (38.5). His defense and decision-making have continually grown. He has shown a ton during his first three seasons, and he hasn't turned 23 yet.

    Saying all of that, his future in the Windy City is very much up in the air. If he doesn't sign an extension this offseason—from a different front-office group than the one that drafted him—then restricted free agency awaits next summer. Given Chicago's backcourt depth, it's hard to see the franchise wanting to commit major resources to keeping White.

    White "has been on the trade block for the last year," per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, who added that the Bulls "have no intention of extending him." White is, as Cowley put it, "the ultimate insurance policy" in Chicago.

    White could be so much more somewhere else.


    Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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