February 12, 2022
NBA Trade Deadline Madness
The 2022 NBA trade deadline was every bit as busy and exciting as fans would hope. Beginning on February 4th, there were 16 trades made, including one three-team and one four-team deal. Several current and former All-Stars found new homes. Here’s a look at what to expect from some of the significant new additions.
Ben Simmons, Seth Curry to the Brooklyn Nets
The James Harden for Ben Simmons swap between the Nets and the 76ers marked one of the truly monumental trade deadline deals in recent history. In exchange for Harden, Philly received Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first round picks. With all the drama settled, both teams are built to seriously contend for a championship in 2022.
The trade comes amidst a massive skid in Brooklyn. Losers of 10 straight, the Nets have dropped all the way to 8th in the Eastern Conference standings. The arrival of Simmons will go a long way towards righting the ship. Throughout his career, Simmons’ unique skill set has presented challenges with regards to finding the right pieces to fit around him. On paper, the Nets might just be the perfect landing spot for the three-time All-Star.
Playing with two elite perimeter creators in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will allow Simmons to contribute more as a screen setter rather than a ball handler, taking advantage of mismatches on switches, attacking the rim on the short roll and kicking out to the Nets’ crop of lights out shooters. Less offensive responsibility will also allow Simmons, who is one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league, to maximize his impact on that end of the floor. During the 10-game losing streak, the Nets defense has surrendered an abysmal 1.10 points per possession, which for the season would be dead last in the league by a considerable margin.
Simmons’ tremendous passing ability and quick decision-making pairs best with elite shooters, and the Nets full-strength roster has plenty of those. Including Curry, Brooklyn has 8 different players averaging over a point per possession in spot up situations. Patty Mills has been one of the most efficient shooters in the league this season, scoring 1.30 points per attempt with a 64.5% effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot jumpers. Curry, Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge are not far behind, scoring 1.21, 1.18 and 1.14 respectively on catch and shoot attempts. The Nets are also awaiting the return of Joe Harris, perhaps the best shooter on their roster, for Simmons to set up.
Simmons and Curry built an especially lethal rapport during Curry’s first season in Philadelphia in 2020-21. With Simmons off the floor, Curry scored just 0.88 points per possession on spot-up, no dribble jumpers. With Simmons on the floor to create better looks, that number jumped to a scorching 1.61 points per possession. For reference, the 0.88 points per possession would be good for 281st in that category this season, while the 1.61 mark would lead the entire league.
While the Nets’ big three of Harden, Irving, and Durant did not work out as they hoped, playing just 16 games together in total, the arrival of Simmons, Curry and Drummond should still put them in the top tier of contending teams. The Eastern Conference is loaded with talented and well-built rosters, but if Simmons fits into the Brooklyn unit as well as he projects too, the Nets may still be the team to beat.
Domantas Sabonis to the Kings, Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers
Another blockbuster deal of the 2022 trade deadline involved the Indiana Pacers sending two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and a second-round pick to the Kings in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson. Both teams were expected to be active at the deadline, but this deal still sent shockwaves throughout the league and will have major implications for both franchises moving forward.
Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers
NBA fans were left perplexed by the Kings’ decision to trade Haliburton to Indiana. The 21-year-old has been playing the best basketball of his very young career over the past several months, averaging 17.3 points and 9.4 assists in his last 24 games. Over that span, he scored an efficient 1.02 points per possession and shot 43% from three. That type of production from such a young player is typically a signal of budding stardom.
But the Kings pulled the trigger on trading Haliburton anyway, and he’s primed to excel in an expanded role in the new-look Pacers’ offense. Playing alongside one of the highest volume point guards in De’Aaron Fox meant Haliburton’s usage on offense was relatively limited in Sacramento. With the Pacers shedding a lot of their offensive volume, Haliburton should step right into a role as a primary ball handler.
The most encouraging evidence that Haliburton is ready for such a role lies in his pick and roll production. Haliburton is already one of the best passers out of the pick and roll in the league. He’s creating 10.6 scoring chances per game for his teammates out of the pick and roll, a number that trails only Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Chris Paul and James Harden this season. Over the last 24 games, his teammates are scoring 1.08 points per possessions off passes from Haliburton’s pick and roll ball handling as his vision and low turnover rate had an obvious impact on the Kings’ ceiling in the half court. This should pair well with Pacers big man Myles Turner, who is scoring 1.16 points per possession as a roll man, and sharpshooters like Hield and Chris Duarte.
The next evolution in Haliburton’s game will be creating more offense for himself out of the pick and roll, but he’s shown plenty of signs that he’ll take that step soon. He’s shown promising flashes scoring opportunistically in isolation situations, averaging 1.18 points per possession, good for 3rd in the league among the 75 players with 50 or more isolation possessions this season. He’s already an elite jump shooter, both off the dribble, where he scores 1.10 points per possession, and in catch and shoot situations, where he shoots an effective field goal percentage of 60%.
Haliburton is a unique young talent and has perennial All-Star potential in Indiana.
Domantas Sabonis to the Kings
If you’re going to trade a premier young player like Haliburton, you better be getting something great in return. Domantas Sabonis is great. Time will tell how well Sabonis fits with the Kings roster, especially alongside center Richaun Holmes, who the Kings elected to keep through Thursday’s deadline. However, Sabonis’ production over his career in Indiana speaks for itself. He’s averaged over 18 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists per game in each of the last three seasons.
Sabonis will bring some versatility to an offense that has been dominated by De’Aaron Fox possessions so far this season. Before trading for Sabonis, the Kings generated only 2.8 scoring chances from post-ups, which ranked 28th in the league. Sabonis himself has averaged 2.8 scoring chances out of the post this season, a number that’s down from 4.2 post-ups last year. In his first game in Sacramento, he used 5 possessions going one-on-one on the block.
Domantas Sabonis & Jeremy Lamb came up HUGE for the @SacramentoKings in their debut! #SacramentoProud@Dsabonis11: 22 PTS, 14 REB, 5 AST@jlamb: 14 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 2 BLK pic.twitter.com/CpAww1N1R7
— NBA (@NBA) February 10, 2022
Introducing this new element could be crucial in improving a Kings offense that currently ranks 20th in the league in overall efficiency. Not only can Sabonis create for himself out of the post, he’s also an exceptional distributor from the low block. This season, Sabonis’ teammates are scoring 1.13 points per possession when he passes out of the post. Combine that with his ability to be a perfect pick and roll partner for Fox as his 1.33 points per possession as a roll man ranks 8th in the league (min. 20 possessions), and the Kings could see some immediate improvement despite the loss of Haliburton.
CJ McCollum to the Pelicans
The Portland Trail Blazers were one of the most active teams at this year’s deadline, with their biggest move being dealing guard CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans. McCollum had been a cornerstone of the Blazers organization for the entirety of his nine-year career, so his departure, while expected, is certainly significant.
The Pelicans paid a hefty price for the 30-year-old guard, sending Nickeil Alexander-Walker (later traded to Utah), Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, and three draft picks to Portland. Even so, McCollum is a proven commodity, a talented scorer and playmaker who has averaged over 20 points per game for seven straight seasons. He’ll be an important piece to the Pelicans’ pursuit of a playoff spot in the west, adding offensive firepower to a team that has gotten very little of that from its guards this season.
The primary offensive options at guard for the Pelicans have been Alexander-Walker and Devonte Graham, both of whom have struggled to produce efficiently. The Pelicans have the 27th ranked offense, largely because they rank 27th in points per possession by pick and roll ball handlers and 30th in points per possession off isolations. Graham, who handles 26% of the Pelicans’ pick and rolls and is one of 40 players with over 250 pick and roll possessions this season, scores just 0.77 points per such possession. Alexander-Walker and Brandon Ingram have been only slightly more efficient at 0.80 and 0.85 points per pick and roll possession respectively, and other Pelicans like Satoransky and Kira Lewis Jr. have struggled mightily in pick and rolls as well.
Pelicans’ fans can rejoice, as McCollum is one of the best pick and roll operators in the league. Among the 52 players who have at least 200 pick and roll possessions this season, McCollum’s 1.02 points per possession ranks 5th. He’s shooting an exceptional 55.3% effective field goal percentage out of the pick and roll. McCollum is also a proven playmaker and should be effective setting up the Pelicans’ array of solid roll men, a group that will eventually include Zion Williamson. On the season, Jonas Valanciunas, Jaxon Hayes and Willy Hernangomez have combined to score 1.27 points per possession as roll men. McCollum also adds a pull-up shooting threat that has been lacking in New Orleans this year. The Pelicans rank dead last in efficiency on all jump shots off the dribble, while McCollum scores 1.00 point per possession on dribble jumpers and has been among the best in the league in that category for years now.
So much of modern NBA offense relies on being able to create efficiently out of ball screens, and the Pelicans’ struggling offense just got a big boost in that area with the acquisition of McCollum. A fully healthy unit of Graham, McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Williamson and Valanciunas could absolutely make some noise in the Western Conference play-in tournament and beyond.
Caris LeVert to the Cavaliers
On Monday, the surprise team of the season added another key piece to the puzzle, with the Cavaliers acquiring guard Caris LeVert from the Pacers. They didn’t have to give up any rotational players in the deal, as the price for LeVert was guard Ricky Rubio, who suffered a torn ACL in December and is on an expiring contract, a lottery-protected first round pick, and two second rounders.
For the Cavs, LeVert fills a need for another perimeter shot creator and go-to offensive weapon. In spite of their success, Cleveland has been plagued by major and minor injuries, especially at the guard positions. In addition to the Rubio injury, the Cavs lost fourth-year guard Collin Sexton to a torn meniscus just 11 games into the season. Sexton was expected to be the primary offensive engine alongside first-time All-Star Darius Garland. A season ago, Sexton was one of the highest usage players in the league. Rubio filled in nicely, relieving some of the offensive burden carried by Garland and supplying leadership late in games, but when he went down, the need for additional shot creation became apparent.
LeVert will give a significant boost to the Cavs’ offense on the perimeter both on and off the ball. For several years now, he has proven to be an effective scorer, averaging over 18 points per game for three straight seasons. He’s been efficient operating out of the pick and roll this season, with his 0.96 points per possession ranking in the top 12 among the 52 players with at least 200 pick and roll possessions. His three-point efficiency hasn’t been great, but that’s largely due to the number of threes he’s attempting off the dribble. In catch and shoot situations, which he should find more of when he’s playing alongside Garland, LeVert is shooting an effective field goal percentage of 58%.
Cleveland’s offense has struggled with Garland off the floor this season. Since Rubio’s injury, the Cavs have scored just 0.97 points per possession with Garland on the bench, a number that would rank 25th for the season. LeVert’s ability to be the focal point of the second-unit should fill that void. Adding another offensive weapon to a team that already has the league’s second-ranked defense should make for a dangerous combination come playoff time.
Sam is a member of Synergy Sports’ Strategy Team, working on new initiatives and content that expand Synergy’s brand awareness and fan engagement. You can follow him on Twitter @squad209.