Promising NBA Youngsters Who Could Be Traded for a Star
Differing timelines and priorities keep NBA trade talk churning. A player's value is relative, often depending on where his team falls in its growth trajectory.
Broadly, stars are more useful to teams with a win-now focus, while rebuilding squads prioritize up-and-comers they can develop. So, naturally, when an organization with an established star has to consider trading him, the return packages often feature youngsters. Losing a big name usually means a reset is coming.
But they all have the ability to become stars.
The catch is, they might have to be traded to prove it.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Since roughly a week after Anthony Davis' trade request in late January, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been a constant presence in trade rumors.
Though it may seem like he's no longer among the league's brightest young stars, that's far from the truth. Sure, Tatum's second full season failed to meet the expectations he set with a brilliant 2018 playoff run, but that bar was always artificially high. His second year, despite the shroud cast over it by a Celtics team struggling with chemistry throughout, featured several signs of growth.
Tatum shot more threes than he did as a rookie and upped his rebound, assist and usage rates while cutting his turnovers.
Until the Duke product did so last year, no player's age-20 season had ever featured per-36-minute averages of 18.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals with a 37.3 percent conversion rate from deep. So if you're still of the mind that Tatum disappointed as a sophomore, it might be time to recalibrate—especially since he also progressed defensively.
Stardom isn't just realistic. It still feels likely.
As a bonus, Tatum seems comfortable assuming a star's mantle. Back in February, Brian Windhorst said on ESPN Radio (h/t HoopsHype), the "gossip" was that Boston's promising wing was open to a trade because it would give him a chance to be the face of a franchise. Of course, if a deal eventually sends Tatum to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, it would probably also pair him with Zion Williamson, who might have a better claim to that title.
Still, any deal sending AD to Boston almost has to be centered around Tatum, a developing star whose shine remains undimmed.
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Another possible centerpiece in an Anthony Davis trade, Brandon Ingram showed last year that he was on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Overall, the third-year forward averaged 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists on career highs in usage percentage (23.2 percent) and true shooting percentage (55.5 percent). Those numbers would probably be enough to portend the 21-year-old's stardom on their own, but Ingram's closing flurry really made things exciting.
After Feb. 1, he averaged 22.5 points with a 52.0/41.7/75.7 shooting split. Granted, that sample included just 11 games because Ingram's season ended abruptly with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) diagnosis in his right arm. But for a player with so much untapped talent, it's easier to view those short stretches as signs of a breakthrough.
This wasn't a 10-year veteran catching a hot streak. This was a gifted high-lottery pick with obvious tools figuring out how best to use them.
Defensively, Ingram remains frustratingly ineffectual. A 6'9" wing with good feet and a 7'3" wingspan should be hoarding steals, yet the Lakers forward finished the year with a ridiculously low 0.7 percent steal rate that ranked in the fifth percentile among wings.
Spun positively, that just means Ingram has even more room to improve. And if his offensive growth last year offers any hints, we should probably expect him to take a step forward defensively in 2019-20.
Ingram might not be on Tatum's level as a complete prospect, but he's more than promising enough to headline a massive trade package for Davis.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have avoided the luxury tax since 2005-06, and though their glut of free agents creates flexibility that might allow them to extend Domantas Sabonis without breaking that streak, we should at least agree that Indiana is careful about how it allocates resources.
So while Sabonis—who last year became the first player to average at least 14 points and nine rebounds in under 25 minutes per game—clearly seems ready to succeed in a larger and better-paid role, the Pacers might be wise to flip him for an asset that could help them shore up an area of weakness rather than add to a position of strength.
Myles Turner already has his extension, and he's among the best interior defenders in the league—one who also happens to stretch the floor effectively on offense. If he ever ups his three-point volume, he'll become a two-way threat like few others. That Indy already saw fit to hand him a four-year, $72 million extension before the 2018-19 season began (which looks like a steal after Turner led the league in blocks as a 22-year-old) suggests the center of the future is presently in place.
Sabonis, 23, could start for plenty of teams. He'd work particularly well with the Memphis Grizzlies, who have Jaren Jackson Jr., a player with defensive potential that could exceed Turner's. More than that, Jackson profiles as a more versatile frontcourt weapon than Turner. His facility in switching schemes should allow him to excel at power forward.
Defensively, Sabonis is a pure center. So is Turner. That's why the fit in Memphis should be cleaner than the one in Indiana.
If the Pacers want to spend on an area of need, they could do so by making Sabonis the key piece in a trade for Mike Conley, who'll collect $67 million over the next two seasons once he inevitably picks up a $34.5 million early termination option for 2020-21.
Conley would add veteran savvy and top-end defense at the point while also taking the playmaking pressure off Victor Oladipo, who might need to ease into things upon returning from a ruptured quad next year.
Sabonis is a luxury in Indiana, but he'd become a vital piece for the rebuilding Grizzlies. Meanwhile, Conley could fill a void for the Pacers—if they're willing to pay him what he's due.