NBA Metrics 101: What Players on the Trade Market Are Really Worth
It's easy to get confused during the season of NBA trade rumors.
Carmelo Anthony is on the block, and surely he must be worth a king's ransom! He has, after all, played on the All-Star team in nine different seasons.
Nikola Mirotic might be moving from the Chicago Bulls, and every team could use a stretch 4! Jahlil Okafor was the No. 3 pick less than two years ago, so the Philadelphia 76ers better be shopping him for something special!
But not all assumptions are true when the rumor mill is spinning.
Players' values are in constant flux, and this season has already revealed plenty about their current and future levels. That's why we're turning to the numbers to properly identify not only where the key contributors stand, but also what they're really worth on the trade market.
To be clear, we're only interested in players firmly linked to rumors produced by verified news-breakers. Teams must be actively shopping them, which rules out players such as Nikola Vucevic who are involved in one-off reports. Speculation about trades isn't a qualification for entry here either.
Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, New York Knicks
Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Carmelo Anthony is a man who seemingly must be evaluated in extremes.
Some choose to focus on his drawbacks, primarily highlighting his woeful defensive abilities and lackluster distribution tendencies. To them, the 32-year-old forward is one of the NBA's most overrated players and can no longer help his team win.
Others home in on his scoring ability, propping him with his terrific mid-range shooting—44.9 percent on twos longer than 10 feet—and shot-creating abilities. They typically think it's a travesty he wasn't included in the 2017 All-Star Game and maintain that he remains a superstar.
The truth, as it so often does, rests between the two polar opposites.
Whether because of Father Time or the putrid situations the New York Knicks have thrust him into, Anthony no longer offers the impact of a superstar. The Knicks' net rating even dips five points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, which is presumably one of the reasons he remains on the trading block, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix.
But Anthony still possesses a marketable set of skills. Few players can post a 54.3 true shooting percentage while scoring 23.2 points per game—just 17, in fact. The list dwindles further when they're asked to serve as a clear-cut featured option and create all but 31 percent of their two-pointers.
The Knicks should still be holding tight for a substantial return. Without factoring in star power, Anthony's game, even at this stage of his career, remains worthy of a substantial return. Think a first-round pick and some youngsters with potential, especially if he's thrown into a more advantageous situation.
Wilson Chandler, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
The Denver Nuggets don't need more first-round picks—hence their willingness to pair an opening-round selection in the loaded 2017 NBA draft with Jusuf Nurkic in the deal for Mason Plumlee—but they could still use perimeter talent. Dribble penetration has been a huge issue in the Mile High City, particularly because it's exposed the rim-protecting weaknesses of the interior defenders.
Chandler won't return a three-and-D stud at this stage of his career, as he's 29 years old and no longer in his athletic prime. But his versatility and willingness to fill so many different roles still lend him value.
He's capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop, taking advantage of smaller defenders with his physicality and bursting by bigger stoppers. Only 46.3 percent of his two-pointers are assisted—an abnormally low number for a player who spends time at the 4 and doesn't often operate out of the post.
Most of Chandler's advanced metrics make him look like an average (or slightly below-average) contributor. But that's partially because his role has been so inconsistent and occasionally overextended him to account for some of Denver's weaknesses.
Perhaps that's why he supposedly wanted out.
"According to two people with knowledge of Chandler's situation, the player who came to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal six years ago wants to be traded," Sam Amick reported for USA Today. Although Chandler subsequently denied those rumors, per the Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, they make even more sense with Plumlee and Nikola Jokic likely to sometimes share the court.
If Chandler does get freed from his current role, Denver should pursue a player like Andre Roberson in return—a legitimate defensive stopper who's far from establishing himself as a core building block.
Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Denver's return would be a bit greater if Danilo Gallinari were on the move.
As ESPN.com's Marc Stein recently reported:
League sources say Danilo Gallinari is a prime Nugget to watch between now and the deadline. The Raptors and Clippers are among the teams said to be monitoring Gallinari's availability, amidst a growing belief that Denver is prepared to move him, given that the Nuggets anticipate that Gallinari will bypass the final season of his current contract (valued at $16.1 million) and join [Paul] Millsap on the open market, and they don't plan to spend big to retain the Italian.
It will indeed take plenty of cash to retain Gallinari since he remains one of the NBA's more talented offensive forwards.
ESPN.com's offensive real plus/minus (ORPM) places the 28-year-old at No. 10 among his positional peers, sandwiched between Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. NBA Math's offensive points added (OPA) slots him behind only 36 players, regardless of position.
Gallinari can put the ball in the basket, and he remains quite adept at drawing whistles. Though his knack for baiting opponents into fouls doesn't receive nearly as much attention as others' skills (cough, James Harden, cough), it can't be overlooked that it takes him, on average, fewer than two field-goal attempts to earn a trip to the stripe.
Competitive teams know they can get more out of Gallinari by making him a secondary scorer, even if he's been miscast as a No. 1 option in Denver. Because of that, the Nuggets should be looking for future first-round picks and young contributors with two-way potential.
They can't ask for the farm, but Gallinari is by no means a cheap acquisition candidate.
Serge Ibaka, PF, Orlando Magic
Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.6 blocks
Note: This was written before the Toronto Raptors traded Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. Instead of viewing this as a prediction, think of it now as a summary of what the Raptors are getting.
To acquire Serge Ibaka this offseason, the Orlando Magic had to ship off Ersan Ilyasova (subsequently traded to the Philadelphia 76ers along with a protected first-round pick for Jerami Grant), Victor Oladipo (a promising combo guard) and Domantas Sabonis (the No. 11 pick of the 2016 NBA draft) to the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the Magic end up dealing him, they should expect a comparable package in return.
Ibaka should fetch a promising young rotation player, a solid veteran and a first-round pick, given his age and skill set. He's only 27 years old and is having a fine season in Orlando, thriving as he anchors the defense and shoots a career-best (not including his 1-of-2 showing as a rookie) 38.4 percent from downtown.
In fact, by many metrics, he's having a better year than he did before the first trade:
|Season||TS%||PER||RPM||BPM||TPA (prorated for 2016-17)|
"League sources say the Magic are fielding calls from a handful of teams on Ibaka as the deadline approaches, amid undeniable concern that retaining the Congo native in free agency come July will prove much trickier than initially anticipated," ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports. "Sources say Toronto and Miami are among the Eastern Conference teams that have expressed interest in Ibaka this month."
If the Toronto Raptors end up making an offer, expect it to be in the ballpark of a first-round pick, Terrence Ross and Jared Sullinger for Ibaka's services.
Brandon Knight, PG, Phoenix Suns
Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
"[P.J.] Tucker and out-of-favor guard Brandon Knight are widely regarded as the most 'gettable' Suns," ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in late January, and it's not hard to see why the Phoenix Suns would be so eager to part ways with their downtrodden point guard.
We won't sugarcoat here. Knight has been flat-out terrible while suiting up in the desert.
His player efficiency rating of 12.4 is rather telling since that's a stat that typically rewards volume shooting. Even though scoring serves as Knight's lone marketable skill at this stage of his sinking career, he's still posting a below-average mark. That's what happens when you can only shoot 39.4 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from downtown.
Once Knight's woeful defense is included, things go from bad to worse.
Only seven players have fared worse in NBA Math's total points added (TPA), and just two of them (Jeff Green and Matthew Dellavedova) have more than two years of professional experience. ESPN.com's real plus/minus (RPM) slots Knight ahead of only Semaj Christon and Brandon Ingram among all 445 ranked players.
If the NBA gave out an LVP award, Knight would be a front-runner.
However, his age and offensive skill set—granted, many of the purported skills are lying dormant—mean a team will have to pony up more than he'd be worth in a vacuum. Knight could still return a young player and a second-round pick or a heavily protected first-round selection. If that's offered, the Suns should accept in a heartbeat.
Nikola Mirotic, PF, Chicago Bulls
Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
How do you value a stretch 4 who can't shoot?
Nikola Mirotic's appeal rests in his ability to stretch the court for the Chicago Bulls. In previous seasons, he's proved quite adept at hitting both pull-up and spot-up jumpers from beyond the arc, especially thriving when he was able to set up on the right wing and wait for an above-the-break opportunity.
But his shot has disappeared in 2016-17:
Mirotic has made marginal strides as a defender—ESPN.com's DRPM has him rising from 0.73 to 1.42 this season—but he remains nearly unplayable when he can't find twine. The Bulls have other players who can fill his shoes in other areas.
Now, Chicago has to make a tough decision.
"But [the Bulls] don't like what they're hearing back on [Mirotic] either," an anonymous source told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, who reported the Bulls were interested in moving the 26-year-old. "Then again, that's a [front office] that tends to overvalue its assets."
The hard truth is that while mired in his season-long slump, Mirotic shouldn't draw offers more valuable than second-round picks from even the most myopic general managers.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
It's no secret Jahlil Okafor has had a rough NBA experience.
Talented as he may have looked at Duke, his plodding, ball-stopping style hasn't been compatible with modern NBA offenses. That's why he's fared better on defense than the scoring end throughout his two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, even though that runs counter to everything the world thought about him.
|Season||Offensive Points Added||Defensive Points Saved||Offensive Real Plus/Minus||Defensive Real Plus/Minus|
Simply put, he's been one of the NBA's worst rotation pieces.
"So is Okafor consigned to irrelevance?" FiveThirtyEight's Kyle Wagner asked. "When a leading offer for a recent blue-chip lottery pick seems to center around Alexis Ajinca and a future draft pick, the league may have spoken on how it views a player of Okafor's talents."
At this point, the Sixers should feel lucky to get that much back, even if there's plenty of time for him to turn his career around.
Okafor has just been that bad.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.