Thursday, February 19th will go down as one of the most stunning 24-hour periods in league history. All signs pointed to a quiet trade deadline, but oh was the forecast wrong. We laughed, as the worthless Alexy Shved was acquired by the hopeless New York Knicks. We cried, as Kevin Garnett’s corpse was traded back to Minnesota for his NBA farewell tour. And fans of several teams danced with happiness after filling huge areas of need.
Let’s take a look deadline deals that “really tied the room together,” turning good teams into legitimate title contenders.
Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City
The Thunder get a big upgrade at center after finally riding themselves of Kendrick Perkin’s dead weight. I’m not sure if it’s Perkins totally bricks-for-hands, permanent scowl and unpleasant demeanor, or that I watched him and Serge Ibaka dismantle the Spurs in Game 4 of the 2012 WCF, but I’ve always had a healthy disdain for Perkins. The acquisition of Kanter immediately improves the completeness of the Thunder’s starting lineup.
The Jazz believed in Kanter strongly over the years, choosing to trust in his development while letting veteran big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap leave in free agency. Kanter has been quietly improving for several years now, and his offensive arsenal is nicely polished at this point in his career.
The biggest element that Kanter will bring to the OKC offense is offensive versatility that should create additional spacing. Kanter’s strength is catching the ball on the block or short corner and driving baseline. He is also a strong ball handler for his position- he can catch the ball on a pick-and-pop, force a run-out on his mid-range jumper, and then take it to the rim and finish with ease.
Kanter’s ability to stretch the floor and keep defenders honest outside of the paint should create more driving lanes than a slow, stationary Perkins. This is crucial for a team that thrives on getting slashers Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant into the lane.
Outside of his league-average scoring ability from inside the paint, he’s also an effective scorer from the left block, where he’s shooting 42% for the year. Add in decent percentages from the top of the key and the right wing, and defenses are forced to respect Kanter’s shot from various spots on the floor.
Kanter has also been a serviceable rebounder this year, pulling down almost eight per game, including three offensive rebounds. His production on the boards compares favorably to Steven Adams, the hard-nosed second year center Kanter will share minutes with.
Where Kanter struggles is on the defensive end. He doesn’t offer much in terms of blocks, averaging only 0.3 per game. This season, he’s allowing opponents to shoot over 60% on shots from six feet or closer. However, Kanter should benefit from playing alongside human fly-swatter Serge Ibaka and the rest of the Thunder, who rank in the top ten in defensive efficiency (100.6 points per 100 possessions).
Overall, I see this move being a game-changer for the Thunder. Along with the additions of floor spacing shooters like Steve Novak and Kyle Singler, this Thunder bench has more depth than any other team in the Durant-Westbrook era.
Arron Afflalo to Portland
The importance of this acquisition cannot be understated in my opinion. The Trail Blazers are an exciting young team, and their core of Lillard and Aldridge stacks up with anyone in the Western Conference. The only thing holding this team back is depth. As highlighted in my preview of last year’s Spurs-Blazers series, Portland’s core four all averaged over 40 minutes per game in last year’s playoffs.
Afflalo is essentially a Wes Matthews clone. Both have good size for their position at 6’5″, are hard-nosed defenders, and excel at knocking down open looks from deep. Although his shooting from outside is down a bit this year, Afflalo is just one year removed from scoring over 18 points per game and shooting over 40% from deep.
With Afflalo in the wing rotation, the Blazers have more flexibility and won’t need to rely as much on young players like CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe. This is especially important given Nicolas Batum’s struggles this year. After averaging 13 points per game on 46% shooting last year, he’s come crashing back down to Earth this year. Most notably, he is only making 28% of his 4.4 three point attempts per game.
If Batum is still struggling come playoff time, Portland can go small and rely on Afflalo to provide solid minutes in crunch time. For now, expect him to provide a big boost to one of the West’s thinnest second units.
Goran Dragic to Miami
In my opinion, the Phoenix Suns botched the handling of their exciting guard duo of Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The feverish pace these two brought to the game was exciting to watch, and would have grown into a playoff-caliber backcourt if given a chance. Instead, they brought in shoot-first Isaiah Thomas last offseason, muddying the distribution of playing time between the three players and creating a disgruntled Dragic. In the end, Bledsoe is the only one who remains in Phoenix.
This situation was a godsend for the Heat, who were desperately in need of a floor general to spark their offense. This tweet from ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh says all you need to know about the state of the Heat point guards this season:
Needless to say, the point guard spot atrophied during LeBron’s run in Miami. With LeBron serving as the primary ball handler, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole weren’t asked to do much beyond standing in the open spot and hitting open jumpers.
While both players had some meaningful playoff moments for the Heat, neither player really possesses the ability consistently get to the rack or create open looks for teammates. I have a feeling that playing in a diminished role for so many years hindered Chalmers’ development and confidence. Take a look at his shot chart for this year.
Enter Dragic, one of the league’s more aggressive slashing point guards. He averages over seven drives per game, and he finishes at the rim at an exceptional rate for a point guard. He’s also a stronger shooter from outside than either of the Heat’s previous options.
Dragic’s presence should keep the Miami offense afloat on the nights where D-Wade’s knees need rest. It’s a shame Chris Bosh is out for the year with a blood clot, because Miami’s starting five was shaping up to be one of the best in the East. This season aside, the Heat are positioned strongly to be a playoff threat for the next several years.
Other potential high-impact acquisitions
- Amare Stoudemire to Mavericks. Can Amare carry the second unit for 15 minutes a night during the playoffs?
- Isaiah Thomas to Celtics. I think his alpha dog personality fits in Boston, giving them the aggressive scorer they need to close out games.
- Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks – in the long term. MCWs efficiency stats are pretty horrible at this point.