Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Three players who can help contenders at the deadline


While we’ve all constantly heard big names like Ben Simmons and James Harden included in trade rumors over the last few weeks, it’s more likely that the players who are traded will make an impact around the edges. It’s exciting to think about Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal in new uniforms, but typically, it’s the role players who are on the ones most often swapped.

As such, we’ve surveyed the league to find three of the most intriguing players who could realistically be soon on their way to a new destination once the deadline arrives. Each of these players projects as someone who could have a positive impact no matter where they wind up.

Derrick White (San Antonio)

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If the season ended today, the San Antonio Spurs would miss the playoffs. However, not all hope is lost considering that they’ve gotten amazing productivity out of their backcourt duo of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.

So it’s no surprise that, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, rival teams are calling the Spurs to inquire about White. One potential suitor for White is the Atlanta Hawks, per Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.

The main reason why the Hawks are such an interesting fit for White is his defense. Among all players who have defended at least 20 shots at the rim so far this season, per PBPStats, the two players who have allowed the highest field-goal percentage both play in the backcourt for the Hawks: Lou Williams (90.9 percent) and Trae Young (87.1 percent).

However, it’s really hard to score against White near the basket. Opponents are currently shooting just 50.4 percent against White at the rim, which ranks sixth-best in the league among those who have defended as many shots as he has in that zone. It’s also the best mark among non-bigs, trailing only players like Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetkounmpo.

White is actually contesting more shots per game (7.3) than big men including Bam Adebayo, Wendell Carter Jr. and Jusuf Nurkic. Watch the way he defended Jayson Tatum and you’ll see the way he contributes to his team:

Another reason why the Hawks make sense is because Atlanta has the least efficient transition defense in the league this season, which is an area in which White can immediately help. Opponents are averaging 1.9 fewer points per 100 possessions in transition when White is on the floor relative to when he is not, via Cleaning the Glass.

Meanwhile, also per CTG, White’s block percentage ranks in the 99th percentile among players at his position. His block percentage has never finished below the 97th percentile relative to his position.

On the offensive side of the floor, White is currently one of the league’s leaders in percentage of passes that were an assist. This suggests great playmaking instincts and a willingness to be deferential, which will help him play alongside another high-volume guard, no matter if it’s Young or a guard who plays for a different suitor.

The Spurs almost never make trades, especially not during the season. You won’t find many examples outside of Nando De Colo (2014) and Brent Barry (2008). However, they bucked that trend by recently trading Bryn Forbes — perhaps they would be willing to do it again.

Eric Gordon (Houston)

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

One player who could do tremendous good for a contender is Houston Rockets veteran Eric Gordon, who would be incredibly helpful for a team looking for 3-point shooting.

The 33-year-old wing is shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc so far this season, which is the second-best mark of his 13-year professional career thus far. Gordon is one of the game’s most elite catch and shoot players, shooting better than all but just four players in the Western Conference (minimum: 100 attempts) so far this season.

If he gets an open catch-and-shoot opportunity, it’s highly unlikely that he misses. So if he goes to a team that already has a solid offense, he can provide a wonderful addition to their spacing.

One of the reasons why he is having so much success, however, is because he is playing significantly more on the ball this season than he has in the past. Gordon is averaging far more dribbles and seconds per touch than he did in his 2020-21 campaign.

When taking pull-up jumpers, Gordon currently has the best effective field goal (minimum: 60 attempts) in the NBA. That means he has what it takes to potentially provide value as a spark plug scorer who can create his own bucket off the bench, too.

Gordon’s effective field-goal percentage on self-created field-goal attempts is nearly identical to his eFG% on assisted attempts. In fact, viaPBPStats, his eFG% on all self-created attempts (60.9 percent) currently ranks as the second-best in the league (minimum: 70 attempts) as well.

The veteran has scored at least 30 points in two different games since December and he has seven games with four or more three-pointers made.

Our own Michael Scotto reported the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the potential suitors for Gordon’s services and the Rockets are seeking a first-round pick in exchange. However, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko and ESPN’s Tim MacMahon have both reported that Houston is currently more likely to keep Gordon than to trade him.

Kenrich Williams (Oklahoma City)

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

To understand the impact Kenrich Williams has for his team, let’s simply take a look at how the Thunder have played when he is on the court. Oklahoma City has been outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions so far this season, which ranks as the second-worst mark in the Western Conference.

However, when Williams appears, Oklahoma City has actually outscored opponents by 1.94 points per 100. Their defense allows 12.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when he is playing relative to when he is not, the team forces turnovers significantly more often when he’s not compared to when he isn’t, and opponents are also shooting marginally worse both at the rim and on 3-pointers when he is on the floor.

Williams has shown he can guard the ball handler or the big man when defending the pick and roll and he is an excellent hustle player, too, which can help a team significantly down the stretch.

Among those who have logged as many minutes as he has so far this season, only two players (Kyle Lowry and Garrison Mathews) have taken more charges per 36 minutes. He is also the type of player who will never let a possession die, gladly doing whatever it takes to record more and more offensive rebounds to help give his team second-chance opportunities:

Meanwhile, for the second season in a row, according to Cleaning The Glass, Williams’ assist percentage ranks in the 80th percentile or better among forwards. For the third season in a row, meanwhile, his assist-to-usage ratio (which measures how often a player gets an assist relative to how often he had the ball) ranks in the 90th percentile or better among players at his position.

This suggests Williams is the kind of low-usage player who can slot in well to a lineup without needing the ball while still having a positive impact on the game.

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the asking price for Williams is currently set at a first-round pick. Williams has said he would like to retire as a member of the Thunder but if the organization can net yet another first-round pick for his services, it’s hard to imagine they pass it up.

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