We are speeding towards the All-Star break and right in the middle of the active trading period in the NBA. It’s just past the halfway point and the lines between contenders and pretenders become clearer by the day. A midseason trade can change a team’s fortunes and make them more competitive or it can clear space for future moves if a team decides it wants to punt on the season. It is also a good time to take inventory on the season to date and decide if contenders should stay put and sharpen what they do best or if they need to sacrifice assets to truly compete.
Justin Kirkland and Felix John-Baptiste return to discuss the state of the NBA in the latest Big Facts or Fake News?
1. A D’Angelo Russell/Ben Simmons trade would make both teams better.
Kirkland: Big Facts. I’m not sure that this trade would happen but I believe the Sixers at some point will either break up the Simmons/Embiid combo or wish that they had. Both stars could benefit from more floor spacing and Russell would be a great fit offensively for a 76ers team that can get cold especially during times where Embiid isn’t on the floor.
The Warriors would no longer have the defensive issues that a Curry/Russell backcourt would present and would be adding an All-NBA level defender in Simmons who’s versatility on both sides of the ball would be a perfect addition to the ball moving philosophy that Golden State employs.
Simmons has the higher ceiling of the two and I think Philadelphia will keep trying to figure things out with what they have for at least one more playoff run, but this trade would unlock their offense.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. This is genius in theory. A scoring point guard capable of getting others involved goes to the contender that has the big man to own the paint. On the other hand, the pass-first point-forward goes to the team who will be getting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back in the near future.
I’m not sure the Sixers would be giving up Simmons for Russell straight up; it would likely take some more pieces and/or draft assets to complete it. While it sounds good in theory, realistically this wouldn’t happen.
2. Trae Young should be an All-Star.
Kirkland: Fake News. Young is one of the game’s special passers and scorers and is has the numbers of an All-Star (28.8 points, 8.5 assists) but it has meant nothing for the win-loss column of the league-worst Atlanta Hawks who have managed only 10 wins this season. The numbers are a big part of being an all-star and I think he will get there anyway but team success should play a larger role in all-star consideration. If he makes it and someone like Kemba Walker doesn’t I would consider that a snub.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. Find me the last time the third-leading scorer in the league didn’t make the All-Star game. It for sure hasn’t happened for at least the past 20 seasons. For a second-year player to practically almost average 30 points per game is quite astounding. Yes, the win-loss record doesn’t quite live up to the hype. But were they really set up to succeed in the short term?
John Collins was suspended for 25 games for violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program. I’ll bet my money on that team record looking different had he been able to play. Young is just doing his part the best way he knows how…scoring!
3. The Houston Rockets need more in order to contend for the title.
Kirkland: Fake News. The Rockets have more than enough talent and depth to compete with the league’s best on a nightly basis. Their problem is that they live and die by James Harden hitting incredible shots. That is okay for the regular season but this brand of basketball becomes an eyesore in the playoffs when teams devote more energy to making Harden’s looks tougher than usual. Harden has a significant drop off in the playoffs where his efficiency averages drop across the board in the face of tougher defenses with a game plan. The Rockets need to incorporate more ball movement so that they have a second act beyond four guys standing around waiting for the Beard to save the day.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. The Rockets’ core guys are well equipped for the long haul, but I question their depth. Ben McLemore and Daniel House Jr. won’t quite cut it for a long playoff run. If I were Houston, I’d look into trading for someone like Marcus Morris who can fill the defensive switchability need as well as the three-point shooting need on a nightly basis. Not to mention, Morris isn’t scared of any competition, well shown in his Eastern Conference Finals matchup with LeBron two seasons ago.
4. Andre Iguodala will be traded before the deadline.
Kirkland: Big Facts. Memphis has patiently twiddled their thumbs and held Iguodala as bait while the West’s title hopefuls established the hierarchy for the first half of the season. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching and one of these teams will certainly pull the trigger and add the 15-year veteran as an additional wing defender and proven winner for their playoff campaign. Memphis wants a pick and/or promising young players in return and will get that price from someone sooner or later.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. To put it simply, what else is Memphis waiting for? They’ve played their hand by standing pat until the deadline, indicating that they weren’t going to just give him up for nothing. However, at this point, there’s no reason to hold onto him and miss out on assets that can help the franchise in the future. Iguodala will be in the uniform of the highest bidder very soon. Stay tuned.
5. The return of Zion Williamson will push the Pelicans into the playoff conversation.
Kirkland: Fake News. Zion will come back to plenty of coverage and scrutiny but we need to have guarded optimism. Coming back off an injury in the middle of the season is an uphill battle, especially for a rookie with the vaunted expectations that Zion has. The Pelicans are only 4.5 games back from the 8 seed and Brandon Ingram is in the middle of a breakout year. There is reason to believe Williamson’s return will give New Orleans an extra dimension on both ends. It might, but I don’t think Zion will be consistently himself until next season. The Grizzlies, Spurs, and Blazers are all better suited to grab the final few playoff slots than New Orleans is currently.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. Technically speaking, aren’t the Pelicans already in the playoff conversation? They currently sit just 3.5 games back of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies. With half the season to go, I can see them making up that deficit in due time. However, Zion hasn’t played a regular-season minute and they will likely ease him into the flow. The goal should be to get him up to game speed while testing him out in different matchups. They will be exciting to watch, but the playoffs are unlikely.