5 Potential NBA Trade Deadline Steals
Penny-pinching NBA executives are in luck.
With Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline fast approaching, the market is rich with potential bargains. While sellers will try everything in their powers to maximize the value of outgoing assets, there always seems to be a transaction or two that carries below-market costs.
Uncovering potentially discounted deals isn't easy. But there are ways of sniffing out which trade candidates are underpriced. Untapped abilities, contract situations and overcrowded markets can lead to talent changing hands at a reduced rate.
These are not the best players available, but rather those with the greatest odds of outperforming their respective price points.
Malik Beasley, Denver Nuggets
The 19th selection in 2016 has played sparsely, buried behind Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Will Barton. It's little surprise that The Athletic's Michael Scotto reported the Denver Nuggets have made Beasley available as they go upgrade-hunting ahead of what could be a furious playoff push.
With fewer than 650 minutes on his career ledger, Beasley's trade market is tricky to gauge. He looks like a potential three-and-D wing with explosive athleticism, a package that should interest most of the league. He's unproven, but maybe that mystique inflates his price. He might not be known to casual fans, but the guess is he has enough front-office admirers that Denver won't bite on low-ball offers.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
If Brooklynites haven't dubbed Harris "The Revelation," they're doing nicknames all wrong. Brought in as a developmental project before last season, the 6'6" sniper has rarely missed his target. Harris boasts a 39.4 percent three-point conversion rate from since start of 2016-17, a top-30 rate among gunners with 400-plus attempts over that stretch.
He's a one-category contributor, but contemporary clubs love that category. They'll also appreciate his small $1.5 million salary and lack of financial commitment beyond this season. That probably means there's enough interest to keep his cost from reaching bargain status, especially when the Brooklyn Nets don't have to deal him.
Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
By trade or release, Muhammad is anxious to find his ticket out of town, league sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. On a related noted, Muhammad has logged 44 minutes total in the new year, effectively demolishing whatever trade value he may have accrued before the calendar change.
The 25-year-old feels less like a clearance item than a posting on the "free stuff" section of Craigslist. Even still, he's not a surefire steal. His Bird rights won't travel with him, per ESPN's Bobby Marks, so there's no advantage to adding him now, especially if a buyout is a real possibility. Besides, as a non-distinguished defender and distributor, he's basically an inside-the-arc scoring wing—a dinosaur in today's game.
Justin Patton, Minnesota Timberwolves
Savvy trade-value vultures are circling the Gopher State and waiting for the Wolves to chase a quick-fix option for their broken bench (23rd in net efficiency, worst among the West's top seven seeds). If Minnesota feels it must move, its limited assets might demand at least listening to offers on Patton, the 16th player selected last summer.
It would be dangerously shortsighted on the Wolves' behalf, and it would almost assuredly cost too much to label the deal as larcenous. But it's worth a phone call to find out, especially for anyone rostering one of Tom Thibodeau's former favorites. Patton has yet to make his NBA debut (foot surgery slowed everything down), but he's loaded with two-way, modern-big-man potential.
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Prior to last season, Winslow divulged his plans of becoming Miami's next franchise player. But injuries and inconsistency have hampered his rise, and ESPN's Zach Lowe recently referred to Winslow as one of the Heat's best realistic trade chips. It's hard to imagine them cutting bait so quickly—especially considering what they passed up to get him—but he's not always the easiest fit on their roster.
"It just seems as if James Johnson and Justise Winslow wind up as an either-or proposition," Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote.
If it comes down to Johnson or Winslow, that decision may already have been made via the four-year, $60 million pact Johnson inked last summer. But it's probably not that simple. Winslow's playmaking is an asset in this positionless offense, and his defensive versatility fills one of today's top needs. There could be so much more to his game if his shot comes around, but the Heat would factor that potential into their asking price.
5. James Ennis, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies haven't reached the everything-must-go point, but they should be one of the deadline's most active sellers.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are on the wrong side of 30. Chandler Parsons' repeat knee problems might be aging him in dog years. Collectively, that trio will cost over $78 million next season and even more in 2019-20 if Gasol picks up his player option. Oh, the Grizzlies are also careening toward their worst winning percentage in nearly a decade.
Shakeups need to come fast. Luckily, Tyreke Evans' resurgence has given Memphis a trade chip attractive enough to warrant a first-round demand, a source told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. But as long as wing shoppers are browsing through Bluff City, they should give James Ennis a look.
The 27-year-old swingman is shooting career-bests of 49.8 percent from the field and 88.7 percent at the line. He's also clearing 38.7 percent from distance since the start of 2015-16, and he's striped a solid 37.9 percent of his corner threes this campaign. His explosive athleticism makes him an asset in the open court, where he's been a 96th-percentile finisher on transition plays (1.45 points per possession).
"I'm definitely confident playing this way, just running," Ennis said earlier this season, per Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "... I'm a high-energy player. I've got to bring that every night."
Ennis isn't the model of consistency, but his physical tools suggest he could be. In addition to electric hops, he has a near-7-foot wingspan jutting out from his 6'7" frame. He can defend multiple positions, and he rarely takes shots that he shouldn't—over 80 percent of his career attempts come from either within three feet or outside the arc.
His size/skill mold is rarely made available on the cheap. But as of January, its cost was just "at least one second-round pick," a source told Scotto.
4. Marco Belinelli, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks finally dove into rebuilding mode, but their veteran collection shows they're still in the shallow portion of asset-accumulation.
Don't expect that to last much longer. Atlanta views Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and Kent Bazemore as expendable and "is pushing to unload veterans and gather more draft picks and young players," per Wojnarowski.
If you were constructing a pick-up roster from that trio, Belinelli's would be the last name called. But that's part of the reason he has trade-theft potential, as he lacks the recognition of the higher-profile gunners on the market. To wit, Atlanta is only seeking "a high second-round pick" for the well-traveled marksman, a source told Scotto.
That's a reasonable bullet to bite for a 31-year-old journeyman who has flaws but also possesses a potent three-point stroke (career 37.7 percent) and a willingness to launch (career-high 7.3 attempts per 36 minutes this season). He's also a cagey shot-creator and capable of draining defense-bending pull-up triples (38.5 percent).
His limitations prevent him from playing major minutes, but that's shown in his price point. He's donned eight different jerseys over his 11-year career and typically hit the ground running in new locales, so a midseason change should be easy to navigate.
"Belinelli, as an expiring contract (at approximately $6.6 million for this season) with a marketable skill (shooting), could be intriguing for a number of teams, especially if placed in a limited role that would hide his obvious defensive limitations," Brad Rowland wrote for Peachtree Hoops.
3. Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks
What do you call a rim-running 7-footer who protects the paint, survives defensive switches on the perimeter and splashes threes at a 38.3-percent clip? Usually, you'd say "unicorn." But in the case of Dewayne Dedmon, there's more reason to think the answer is "bargain."
His venture into 2017 free agency drew a surprisingly tepid reception. Granted, he wasn't uncorking long balls back then—he had one career attempt at that point (23 makes now). But he was coming off a campaign in which he ranked second among centers in defensive real plus-minus and posted career-highs in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage.
So, it was surprising to see him go unsigned through the early portion of the market's opening and settle on a two-year, $14.1 million deal in Atlanta (player option for 2018-19).
While Dedmon's perimeter addition should make him more attractive, an overcrowded crop of available centers won't help his value. The Hawks are trying to trade him, per GiveMeSport's Mark Deeks, and all center-starved contenders should take note.
Dedmon won't cost nearly as much as DeAndre Jordan (in terms of trade) or Tyson Chandler (in terms of salary). Unless Atlanta is married to the idea of moving forward with Dedmon—doubtful given his age and redundant skills with rim-rocking rookie John Collins—this has significant steal potential.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't regularly ringing the Hawks, they're doing it wrong. Put Dedmon at the middle of that 28th-ranked defense, and suddenly the Cavs have made a shrewd move to attack their biggest weakness without costing themselves precious offensive spacing.
"What [Dedmon] lacks in brute force and size, he makes up for with length," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote. "He snags rebounds before they begin their descent, his arms go on forever when contesting shots at the rim and he's comfortable rotating into space."
2. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
See if this sounds like an intriguing target: 23-year-old 2014 top-10 pick, more efficient than ever, steadily ascending in what's becoming a breakout year. Oh, and said rising prospect has posted 15.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per night since the start of January, a stat line only four players cleared last season.
Surely clubs are lining up to pay top-dollar for that player, right? Not at all, actually. In fact, fourth-year forward/center Julius Randle's trade market sounds as cold as it gets. The New Orleans Pelicans tried to get him with only overpriced, injured center Alexis Ajinca and a second-round pick, league sources told The Athletic's Michael Scotto.
Granted, Randle's value has always felt lower than his numbers say it should. While he has enough tools to play as a small-ball big (playmaking, switching on defense), he lacks the most desired ones (outside shooting, interior defense). He's also due a new contract this summer, and clubs could be apprehensive about paying him major money when his flaws are so apparent.
"The question is: How good can a team built around Randle at center be defensively?" Kevin Pelton wrote for ESPN.com. "Randle rarely blocks shots and fouls at an above-average rate for a center, a bad combination of skills. ... The best role for him might be as an offensive anchor of a second unit, along the lines of how Enes Kanter played with the Oklahoma City Thunder."
Those are long-term concerns, for sure, but they also edge Randle closer to the clearance section. And that's such a rare place to find players this young and this skilled, particularly ones with a pedigree like his.
The puzzles he presents in free agency and roster construction cost him the top spot on our rankings, but his ceiling is higher than the players' beneath him and he might not cost any more than they do.
1. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
Almost every element common in discounted deals is present with Derrick Favors and the Utah Jazz. His contract is expiring. He's a poor fit alongside franchise anchor Rudy Gobert—their offensive rating together would rank 29th (100.9)—since both belong on the interior. Plus, Favors doesn't sound too bothered by his name getting thrown around again.
"If it happens it happens, if it don't it don't," Favors said, per Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. "It really don't make no difference."
Despite Favors' public apathy, he should welcome a trade out of Utah and away from Gobert.
Favors is a center in today's NBA and maybe an upper-level one. He shoots a blistering 75.3 percent inside of three feet. Favors also yields just a 55.0 percent conversion rate at the rim, fourth-best among high-volume interior defenders.
Favors is miscast in Utah. When he's not playing with Gobert, Favors' field-goal percentage jumps from 47.4 to 58.0, and his per-36-minute numbers spike in points (13.2 to 17.2), rebounds (7.4 to 10.0) and blocks (0.6 to 1.4).
Favors is also only 26 years old, either in the prime of his career or still climbing toward it. And yet, Lowe called it "unlikely" Favors would even cost "a low first-round pick." His skills are more defined than Randle's, and it's easier to build around what Favors does best. But since he's a little older and farther removed from the spotlight, he might cost less (both now and in free agency) than our second-biggest potential steal.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.