Ranking Top 10 Buy-Low, Sell-High NBA Trade Candidates

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

Ranking Top 10 Buy-Low, Sell-High NBA Trade Candidates

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    Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe are two of the NBA's best sell-high and buy-low trade options, respectively.
    Spencer Hawes and Greg Monroe are two of the NBA's best sell-high and buy-low trade options, respectively.USA TODAY Sports

    As the 2014 NBA trade deadline draws closer, a number of teams will aim to take advantage of market-value fluctuations.

    For a variety of reasons, some players haven't quite lived up to expectations during the 2013-14 season. Whether it's inexperience, knuckleheadedness or poorly constructed rosters, a number of buy-low players could be on the move in the coming weeks as their teams make a desperate playoff push.

    Conversely, certain teams will likely peruse the trade market from now through Feb. 20 in an attempt to sell high on overachieving players. They'll be seeking to cash out on said players before their respective trade values begin plummeting back to Earth.

    To identify the NBA's top buy-low and sell-high trade candidates, I compared each player's current per-game statistics to his ESPN preseason fantasy basketball projections. It’s admittedly not an exact science, but it gives a sense as to which players are vastly exceeding or falling short of expectations.

    From there, I considered each player’s perceived value, contract situation and likelihood of being moved by the trade deadline to come up with these buy-low and sell-high rankings. I've also listed potential destinations for each player based on current trade rumors and/or potential fit.

    Note: All projected 2013-14 per-game stats come from ESPN's fantasy basketball projections. All salary information comes from Spotrac. Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics come from either Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats. Stats and records are current through Jan. 24.

5. Buy Low: Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 14.7 PTS, 9.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, 51.1 FG%

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 14.2 PTS, 8.7 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.4 BLK, 50.5 FG%

    If we're going just by future All-Star potential, Greg Monroe should be the No. 1 "buy low" available on the trade market in 2014.

    Based on per-game stats alone, the Georgetown product appears to have regressed somewhat in his fourth NBA season. After averaging 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2012-13, he's down to 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game this season.

    Here's the thing, though: This downfall wasn't altogether unexpected. Once the Detroit Pistons signed Josh Smith in free agency during the 2013 offseason, Monroe was the most likely candidate to eventually get squeezed out of the rotation.

    Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks admitted as much to MLive.com’s David Mayo on Jan. 13, saying he preferred playing Smith at the 4 alongside either Monroe or Andre Drummond at the 5. Considering Drummond’s gargantuan potential, Monroe appears to be the odd-man out in Detroit.

    The big man's contract situation—he’ll be a restricted free agent in July—also somewhat diminishes his trade value. Still, as noted by Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster, "talented young big men who can score on the block, pass incredibly well and clean the glass don't come available all that often," which makes him a potentially intriguing asset on the trade market.

    Potential destinations: Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards

    Honorable mentions: Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets; O.J. Mayo, SG, Milwaukee Bucks; Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF, New Orleans Pelicans

5. Sell High: Trevor Ariza, SF, Washington Wizards

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 8.3 PTS, 4.2 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.3 BLK, 41.1 FG%, 1.0 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 13.9 PTS, 6.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.9 STL, 0.3 BLK, 44.0 FG%, 2.3 3PM

    In all likelihood, the Washington Wizards will make at least one major move between now and the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Small forward Trevor Ariza appears to be the team's best sell-high trade bait.

    Ariza is vastly exceeding expectations in his 10th NBA season. He's averaging career highs in rebounds (6.1), steals (1.9) and made three-pointers (2.3) per game, and is tying the highest player efficiency rating (16.2) of his career.

    His contract expires at the end of the 2013-14 season, so this next month will be the Wizards' last chance to cash in on Ariza before potentially losing him in free agency for nothing. Seeing as the team signed Martell Webster to a four-year, $22 million deal during the 2013 offseason and drafted Otto Porter with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ariza's long-term future in Washington appears tenuous at best.

    As noted by Bullets Forever's Mike Prada, the forward's 2013-14 salary ($7.7 million) lends itself to a number of trade scenarios. "He can be combined with others to go after a high-salary player," Prada suggests, "or he can be used to pursue multiple lower-salary players."

    Per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, Washington is "planning to pursue" Detroit forward/center Greg Monroe, either via trade or free agency. The financials of a direct Monroe-for-Ariza swap wouldn't work, but if the Wizards agreed to send a future first-round pick (2016 or later) while taking back Chauncey Billups, the Pistons should listen.

    Potential destinations: Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors

    Honorable mentions: Anderson Varejao, C, Cleveland Cavaliers; Evan Turner, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers; Gerald Green, SG, Phoenix Suns; Josh McRoberts, PF, Charlotte Bobcats

4. Buy Low: J.R. Smith, SG, New York Knicks

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 16.7 PTS, 4.4 REB, 2.7 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.3 BLK, 41.5 FG%, 1.9 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 12.0 PTS, 4.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.2 BLK, 36.9 FG%, 2.1 3PM

    J.R. Smith appears to be the NBA's most confounding buy-low trade candidate.

    In 2012-13, the last year before his previous contract expired, Smith averaged a career-high 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 42.2 percent from the field. This season, fresh off signing a three-year, $18 million deal, he's averaging 12.0 points and 4.2 boards on 36.9 percent shooting.

    Basically, he appears to be the quintessential example of a recently published University of Missouri study that found evidence of a "contract-year syndrome." In short, the researchers discovered that after signing a new contract, NBA and MLB players almost always slumped "below their pre-contract-year baseline."

    The New York Knicks have "become increasingly frustrated with Smith's on- and off-the-court transgressions," per ESPN New York's Ian Begley and Marc Stein, and have begun exploring potential trade scenarios for him. (The whole "untying opponents' shoelaces" incident didn't exactly help matters.)

    The Knicks won't get fair value for him, but they could be so fed up that they're willing to sell for 30 cents on the dollar.

    As noted by B/R's Jim Cavan, Smith "is a talented basketball player who, in the right situation and with healthy mind and body about him, can be a valuable contributor on a good team—even a contending one." Any team desperate for bench scoring could easily acquire the mercurial guard on the cheap this next month, but his recent antics slightly diminish his buy-low potential. 

    Potential destinations: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets

4. Sell High: Arron Afflalo, SG, Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 13.4 PTS, 3.1 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.2 BLK, 45.2 FG%, 1.2 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 20.3 PTS, 4.4 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.0 BLK, 46.7 FG%, 2.0 3PM

    If the Orlando Magic intend on locking up a top-five pick in the 2014 draft, they'll have to sell high on shooting guard Arron Afflalo in the next few weeks.

    Afflalo struggled during his first season as the Magic's No. 1 offensive option in 2012-13, averaging 16.5 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and only 30.0 percent from three-point range. He turned things around this season, however, averaging a career-high 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 46.7 overall and 42.7 percent from deep.

    ESPN's Tom Haberstroh believes Afflalo's scorching play in 2013-14 merits his first-ever All-Star berth (subscription required). "Of the 19 qualified players averaging 20 points this season, only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George and James Harden can match Afflalo's true shooting percentage (58.3 percent)," Haberstroh notes.

    Orlando is giving the "stiff-arm" to potential Afflalo suitors for now, per ESPN's Marc Stein, but a 2014 first-round pick may be enough to change the team's mind. Back in December, Grantland's Zach Lowe suggested the Toronto Raptors might attempt to pry Afflalo from Orlando by structuring a deal around sophomore Terrence Ross.

    Given the dearth of quality 2-guards in the NBA, Afflalo's trade value should be sky high at the moment. Since the Magic will likely be rebuilding for the next few seasons, don't be surprised if they cash out on the 28-year-old as the trade deadline draws closer.

    Potential destinations: Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors

3. Buy Low: Maurice Harkless, SF/PF, Orlando Magic

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 13.0 PTS, 5.5 REB, 0.9 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.0 BLK, 45.3 FG%, 0.6 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 6.7 PTS, 2.9 REB, 0.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 46.7 FG%, 0.5 3PM

    Let's stay right in Orlando for our next buy-low candidate, second-year forward Maurice Harkless.

    The Magic pilfered Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from the Philadelphia 76ers in the four-team Dwight Howard megadeal back in August 2012. While Vucevic appears to be in the team's long-term future at center, Harkless hasn't been able to carve out a consistent role in Orlando's rotation this season (he's seventh on the team in terms of minutes played at 21.8 per game).

    Considering the Magic have zero chance of making the playoffs this season, the sophomore's regression in playing time comes as a bit of a surprise. He played 35.7 minutes per game after the 2013 All-Star break, averaging 13.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.9 three-pointers while shooting 46.3 percent from the field.

    Orlando appears intent on developing Tobias Harris as its long-term starting 3, limiting Harkless' ceiling. The St. John's product voiced his displeasure to the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz in December, saying that he was "obviously not happy" about his decreased playing time.

    Considering his extremely affordable contract (roughly $1.9 million in 2014-15 and $2.9 million in 2015-16), he's an ideal buy-low candidate for a team willing to invest developmental time into a young small forward.

    The only reason he doesn't rank higher here? Orlando might not be ready to give up on him just yet, despite his recent lack of minutes.

    Potential destinations: Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans

3. Sell High: Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 12.0 PTS, 4.4 REB, 6.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.3 BLK, 40.8 FG%, 1.5 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 16.2 PTS, 4.2 REB, 7.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.2 BLK, 43.3 FG%, 2.5 3PM

    Kyle Lowry was a lock for the sell-high list even before he notched a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 24.

    The Toronto Raptors point guard is on an absolute tear this year, averaging a career-high 16.2 points and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and a career-high 40.1 percent from deep. He's tied with Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Calderon and Indiana Pacers forward Paul George for seventh in the league in made three-pointers per game (2.5).

    Throw in across-the-board career highs in PER (19.7), true shooting percentage (.581) and effective field-goal percentage (.534), and you've got the recipe for an ideal sell-high candidate.

    Lowry also has an extremely affordable $6.2 million expiring contract, which should open a number of trade options for Toronto.

    That expiring contract could end up limiting the Raptors' return in a trade, however, as teams may shy away from giving up valuable assets for a potential five-month rental. And per ESPN's Marc Stein, the Raptors "appear to be growing increasingly comfortable with the idea" of keeping Lowry all season.

    As the trade deadline grows closer and the offers become sweeter, Toronto's front office could easily pull an about-face on that stance. Given the beaten-down state of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors would still likely make the playoffs even if they did trade their starting floor general.

    Potential destinations: Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks

2. Buy Low: Anthony Bennett, SF/PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 12.9 PTS, 7.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.8 BLK, 48.5 FG%, 0.8 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 2.4 PTS, 2.3 REB, 0.2 AST, 0.4 STL, 0.1 BLK, 25.9 FG%, 0.1 3PM

    When the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, it was a move with the present in mind. They passed up long-term projects like Nerlens Noel in favor of a player who would theoretically help with their playoff-or-bust push.

    Bennett threw a wrench in that plan, however, by having the worst rookie season (so far) of any No. 1 pick in the past two-and-a-half decades. As noted by SB Nation's Drew Garrison, Bennett's PER (0.8) is more than 10 points lower than the next worst, owned by 2000 No. 1 pick Kwame Brown.

    In mid-January, the rookie told The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer that he'd be open to a stint in the NBA Developmental League, but the Cavs reportedly have no interest in sending him down, per The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade. Cleveland coach Mike Brown wants to keep Bennett around the team to have him practice and learn from his veteran teammates.

    With Bennett struggling so immensely and the Cavaliers in win-now mode, tanking teams would be wise to inquire about his availability.

    Acquiring the rookie on the cheap could pay dividends in the long run, and letting him run amok for 30-plus minutes a game would only help a team's tanking aspirations this year.

    Even if Bennett never lives up to the expectations of a No. 1 pick, he can't be this bad for the rest of his career. The Cavaliers, who sit two games out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, simply may not be in a position to wait for him to blossom.

    Potential destinations: Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz

2. Sell High: Jodie Meeks, SG, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 8.4 PTS, 2.3 REB, 0.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.1 BLK, 39.8 FG%, 1.6 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 14.2 PTS, 2.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.0 BLK, 45.0 FG%, 2.2 3PM

    Of all the sell-high candidates featured here, Jodie Meeks is the one whose value could depreciate soonest.

    Once Kobe Bryant returns to the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup, Meeks stands the most to lose. He's shooting 44.5 percent and averaging 1.19 points per possession when not playing with Kobe, per NBAWowy.com, but he only shot 41.9 percent and averaged 1.00 points per possession alongside the Mamba.

    It's no coincidence that Meeks is averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (2.9), assists (1.8), steals (1.3) and made three-pointers per game (2.2), not to mention field-goal percentage (.450). With Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar sidelined, the Lakers need someone to pick up the backcourt slack, and Nick Young can't shoulder the load by himself.

    Kobe could be returning in the coming days, however, which could greatly diminish Meeks' trade value right as trade season kicks into high gear. If the Lakers truly want to embrace tanking this season for a potential top-five draft pick, they'll need to show Meeks the door soon after Bryant returns.

    Los Angeles won't land a stud in return for Meeks; after all, he's posting a career-high PER (13.6) that's below the league average (15). If the Lakers can swindle another team desperate for bench scoring into a future first-round pick (think 2015 or 2016), that's a trade that could help them in both the short and long term.

    Potential destinations: Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers

1. Buy Low: Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 8.2 PTS, 9.8 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.1 BLK, 53.8 FG%, 0.0 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 4.4 PTS, 6.8 REB, 0.4 AST, 0.2 STL, 0.4 BLK, 47.2 FG%, 0.0 3PM

    Seeing Houston Rockets center Omer Asik atop the buy-low list shouldn't come as a surprise.

    When the Rockets acquired Dwight Howard in free agency this past summer, Asik knew his time in Houston was coming to a close. He reportedly asked for a trade in November, per the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, but the team couldn't pull off a deal by its self-imposed Dec. 19 deadline, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

    Now, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, the Rockets reportedly expect to keep Asik past the trade deadline and beyond. "Teams that are tanking don't want him to make them better and winning teams want to steal him," a rival general manger told Berger.

    Then again, the sudden about-face could be a ploy by Houston to drive Asik's trade value up. After all, opposing teams would have all the leverage with the Rockets' front office if they knew Houston intended on moving Asik by the deadline no matter what.

    The fourth-year center hasn't played a game since Dec. 2 due to a thigh bruise, which further limits his trade value. The $15 million he's owed next year also isn't helping matters.

    In his only full season as a starter (2012-13), however, Asik held opposing centers to a just-above-league-average PER of 15.1, via 82games.com. Given the number of teams that need defensive-minded centers and the Rockets' previous desire to move him, the big man is the ideal buy-low candidate this February.

    Potential destinations: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers

1. Sell High: Spencer Hawes, C, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    Projected 2013-14 per-game stats: 10.1 PTS, 6.9 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.3 STL, 1.3 BLK, 46.6 FG%, 0.3 3PM

    Actual 2013-14 per-game stats: 13.8 PTS, 8.8 REB, 3.5 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.4 BLK, 47.1 FG%, 1.6 3PM

    The Philadelphia 76ers have three potential trade candidates currently on their roster, but Spencer Hawes leads the way in terms of being a sell-high option.

    By trading Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans on the night of the 2013 draft, the Sixers effectively waved a white flag on the 2013-14 season. From that night forward, the season had two main purposes: developing their young players (namely Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel) while showcasing their veterans (Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young) to boost their trade values.

    To date, they've been successful with both parts of that mission. Hawes is posting career highs in points (13.8), rebounds (8.8), assists (3.5), steals (0.7) and made three-point field goals (1.6), along with three-point shooting percentage (.410).

    The big man remains somewhat of a sieve defensively, but he's proven capable this season of stretching the floor. That shooting ability draws centers away from the rim and out of their comfort zone, opening up driving lane for Hawes' smaller teammates.

    With his $6.5 million contract expiring following the 2013-14 season, the trade deadline will be the Sixers' last chance to receive something for him before he reaches free agency.

    Given the way the 25-year-old Washington product has broken out as a poor man's Chris Bosh, expect Philadelphia to actively pursue a trade for him over the next few weeks.

    Potential destinations: Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder