Over a third of NBA basketball fans think player movement is more interesting than actual games in the NBA.
This totally scientific* research came from a quick Twitter poll I threw up (*This was not scientific), wherein 35 percent of respondents checked that option.
Maybe being in the middle of trade season influenced those results. Maybe it didn’t. Player movement in the NBA really is fascinating. And for Utah Jazz fans, it should be especially interesting this year.
General manager Dennis Lindsey has preached patience and financial flexibility for years. And practicing what he’s preached has put his team in a unique position to pounce on several possibilities.
Few (if any) teams have as many players who are both on expiring contracts and capable of helping a team right away. So, if the likes of the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, etc. are truly looking to be sellers at the deadline, Utah might be a logical buyer.
But which players on the trading block actually make sense for the Jazz? The Athletic’s Tony Jones reported that the team has interest in Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter and Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley. Let’s take a look at those two, and others who play for teams that might be interested in the cap flexibility Utah can offer.
Most of the suggestions here will be as much (or more) about fit as they are about talent, but that’s especially true of Porter.
This season, Derrick Favors is posting a 3.5 Box Plus-Minus, 31st in the NBA among players with at least 500 minutes. Porter is at 0.4 and 113th place. If you stretch that out over the last three seasons, Porter has a big edge. Five years, and it’s about even. But picking any of those time frames might be arbitrary.
Ultimately, the question is which of the two would fit better with the Jazz.
Utah’s plus-9.1 points per 100 possessions (91st percentile) when Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert are on the floor this season. It’s dead even (50th percentile) when Favors and Gobert are on the floor. And Crowder’s playing four more minutes per game than Favors.
We have about a full season’s worth of sample since the Crowder trade, and it’s become abundantly clear that the Jazz function best with a smaller combo forward next to their All-NBA center.
So, if you could get a full 48 minutes of that style, why wouldn’t you go for it?
Porter’s having a down year, but that may just be because the Wizards have been a mess. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaging 16.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.1 threes, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals and .118 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, with a .605 True Shooting Percentage and a 3.2 Box Plus-Minus.
Those are strong numbers, and they’re significantly better than Crowder’s over the same span. Theoretically, 28 minutes of Porter and 20 minutes of Crowder at the 4 gives the Jazz full games of that Crowder/Gobert dominance. And that might be a conservative estimate, considering the potential upgrade from Crowder to Porter.
Now, the obvious cons here are Porter’s contract and the fact that Favors is having maybe the best individual season of his career.
Porter has one guaranteed year in 2019-20 and a player option in 2020-21. If he played out both seasons, the Jazz would have to pay him nearly $56 million after this one. And his yearly figure will eat up about a quarter of the salary cap.
And again, Favors has been a monster in his limited role.
But free agency is always a gamble, especially in a market like Utah, which almost never attracts the attention of big (or even mid-tier) free agents. Teams like the Jazz are pretty much forced to build through the draft and trades. And all that flexibility Utah has accumulated isn’t worth a darn if it’s never used.
Losing Favors would hurt, but 48 minutes of combo-forward play next to Gobert could take the Jazz to another level.
I’m contractually obligated (to myself) to share one of my favorite Kevin Love highlights whenever I talk about him possibly coming to the Jazz:
I’ve never even lived in Utah. I have little to no personal pride in that place. But there’s a five-time NBA All-Star whose favorite U.S. city is right down the road (OK, interstate) from Vivint Smart Home Arena. That’s an exceptionally rare set of circumstances.
Love isn’t quite as good a fit as Porter. He’s five years older, on a much more onerous contract and currently adding to an already troublesome injury history.
But, in Love’s final season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he put up an 8.4 Box Plus-Minus. Only 29 players in NBA history have had eight-plus Box Plus-Minus seasons. There have only been three such seasons in Jazz history: Andrei Kirilenko’s 9.1 in 2005, Karl Malone’s 8.5 in 1997 and Kirilenko’s 8.2 in 2004.
Of course, Love isn’t magically getting back to that level if he’s traded to Utah, regardless of the spiritual healing powers of his favorite city. But, let’s say he splits the difference between that and what he did in a somewhat stifled role next to LeBron James. That’s a consistent 20-10 guy, one who can also give you a couple threes per game at nearly 40 percent from deep.
This option is certainly a step down defensively from Favors or Porter. And it’s a much bigger gamble cap-wise with Love under contract for nearly $30 million in 2022-23. But again, in terms of pure talent, this just isn’t something the Jazz have traditionally been able to get in free agency.
Contract and injury concerns can be found here as well. He’s set to make almost $70 million over the next two seasons. And in the three prior to this one, he averaged fewer than 50 appearances.
But he’s only missed one game this season, and the difference between him and Ricky Rubio would have the potential to drastically change the Jazz.
Here’s each over the last three seasons:
- Conley: 23.2 points, 7 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 threes, 1.5 steals and .135 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, .576 True Shooting Percentage, 3.8 Box Plus-Minus
- Rubio: 15.1 points, 8.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 threes, 1.9 steals and .082 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, .532 True Shooting Percentage, 0.8 Box Plus-Minus
Remember how good George Hill was during his lone season with the Jazz? If Utah could get that, and possibly even a little more, out of the point guard spot for the next two and a half seasons, it’d have to at least consider it.
If the Jazz can’t land any of those bigger names, are there other possibilities on this year’s trade market?
- Dennis Smith: There has been a lot of chatter around the Dallas Mavericks point guard, but he still has a lot of developing to do before he’s a reliable NBA point guard and the Jazz are in a win-now window.
- Tim Hardaway: Yours truly advocated for this one a couple months back. I’m not quite off the idea yet, but I’m closing in on accepting my L. I do still think there’s a world in which you get the 2016-17 version of Hardaway, start him at the 2 next to point guard Donovan Mitchell and you have something. It’s just the hyperdrive would need to be repaired before we could travel to that world.
- Kent Bazemore: If Bazemore’s three-point shooting hadn’t fallen off a cliff this season (32.7 percent), this one might be more interesting. At 29, he’s also older than you might think.
- Enes Kanter: Haha