[Reader Mail]: Introducing the 2021 NBA Addition by Subtraction Team

@stebettheo writes: What teams do you think would actually improve by getting rid of some of their current rotation players?

Eric/HoopsDistillery: Great question! Some teams are less than the sum of their parts due to a player or two who seem to drag themdown. This can sometimes be intentional in the case of James Harden’s tantrum to be traded out of Houston, and other times unintentional, like in the case of Nicolas Batum in Charlotte, where he was lulled to sleep by the ‘white-noise machine’ of constant losing, roster turnover, with huge paychecks rolling in.

So without further ado, my 2021 NBA Addition by Subtraction team:

  • Eric Bledsoe, New Orleans Pelicans- *This years 2021 Jeff Green ‘Fooled You Once, and I’ll Fool You AgainTM‘ Award Winner*
  • Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
  • Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
  • Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings
  • Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Devonte Graham, Charlotte Hornets
(photo courtesy of https://www.thebirdwrites.com/)

When thinking about why some players would help their teams by getting out of town, I would break it into these categories:

  1. Team cancer/Team Distraction/Chemistry Disruptor (the Dwight Howard category): Marvin Bagley’s Dad
  2. Irrational confidence causing them to avoid deferring to the actual stars on the team: Will Barton
  3. Needs a Change of Scenery (due to lack of PT, bad chemistry with team or maybe bad luck with never-ending injuries): Kevin Love, Marvin Bagley, Aaron Gordon
  4. A logjam at one position makes them expendable and if you don’t trade them, they can turn into a Category 1 player: Devonte Graham
  5. Something may be wrong mentally, after failing so many times that the player lost their mojo and can no longer contribute consistently: Eric Bledsoe

Jeff Green ‘Fooled You Once, and I’ll Fool You Again’ Award WinnerTM: Eric Bledsoe

Will Barton – Will Barton scores. Will Barton seems like a good teammate. Will Barton tries. But in the end, he may be too confident for his own good, always very happy to take more shots in a game than Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic, or Jamal Murray–each of whom are capable of scoring 40-50 points on a given night-and at a high percentage. And to his credit, the Nug’s Biggish 3 seem totally fine with him taking on the load on offense at times, maybe out of respect for his veteran presence and Coach Mike Malone’s democratic offense. Whatever the reason, its not good and takes its toll on the Nuggets because the result on some nights is losing. Yet, due to their lack of depth this year they’ve had to go with it even though they’re clearly better when a stingy defender who is complimentary on offense, like Gary Harris plays SG. When he scores 25 on a high shooting percentage, everyone is happy, but then there are all the games where he takes too many shots, but just keeps on chucking and they lose. Note: This may be called the Lou Will award in the future. Barton, at least, was better coming off the bench as an offensive sparkplug, but even then, I’m not sure I consider him a 16-game player due to his very average defense and irrational confidence that blocks his on-court awareness. He would look better on a losing team, firing away, and putting up big stats like Houston or Detroit in my opinion.

Aaron Gordon – Gordon has now asked for a trade, after getting fed up with the carousel of roster moves and coaches in Orlando–not to mention the never-ending trade rumors. He still views himself as one of the top players in the league. He’s not, of course, but he is certainly valuable with his decent shooting and versatility on offense and defense which teams drool over as they think about building up their roster up to withstand the eventual wars that will be fought against LeBron, Kawhi, KD, and Giannis. His game should jump up a level with a change of scenery a la Gordon Hayward in Charlotte this year, and Portland, Miami, and Dallas should probably take a hard look. But assuming he does play well at his next destination, it seems almost inevitable that he’ll be asking for a near max contract which may scare off some teams. At least he’s not a Klutch client…yet.

Kevin Love – As one of the last remaining Cavalier from the 2016 championship run, Love has had a never-ending flow of injuries, frustration with the youth movement (see over-shooting of SexLand), and complaints about his inflated contract. Yet, he has much more to contribute than being a glorified cheerleader, with his high percentage shooting stroke and his elite rebounding gene. His game could come back alive for a Toronto, Dallas, or Boston.

Devonte Graham – Sadly, Mr. Graham happened to be on a team with LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, both of which are better than he is and fit better together as a starting due in the Hornets backcourt. He has a great contract, but will be a restricted free agent this offseason and we’ve all seen this type of situation before where a surplus of solid players at one position put them in a tough position where they either have to pay up in order to keep the asset, then figure out what to do with them later or trade them away immediately to avoid any chance of them becoming a team cancer when they become bitter due to the lack of playing time. In the Hornets case, needing help at center, now is the perfect time to package Graham with a veteran (and/or draft pick) to grab a Myles Turner type player.

Marvin Bagley – What seems like a never-ending streak of bad luck with injuries seems to be the one of the few consistent things in Bagley’s career, along with the ongoing dysfunction, roster and front-office turnover of the Kings. And now all his the love from the fans (and Sacramento car dealership endorsements) are going to De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. He desperately needs a change of scenery to get a fresh start and be in a place where the front office, team, and fans believe in him enough to pump up his confidence once again, so he can fully utilize the advanced skill set he showed at Duke, and in small blips during his time in Sacto. Charlotte, OKC and Cleveland all seem like interesting options where he can stay out of the spotlight and get a lot of reps.

Do you have questions that need to be answered? Feel free to send them to hoopsdistillery@gmail.com

[Trade Talk]: A Lesson Learned From the Hayward/Bagley Conundrum

Gordon Hayward. Marvin Bagley. Boston Celtics. Sacramento Kings. 4 things that don’t have too much in common at first glance. But if we take a closer look we see that Bagley and the Kings may be facing a similarly challenging situation to the one Hayward and the Celtics had to confront.

Hayward, after being a prize free agent signing by the Boston Celtics in 2017, was set up to be the 2nd option behind PG Kyrie Irving on a revamped roster that was destined for a Championship run. Five minutes into his first game as a Celtics, he broke his foot landing on a failed alley-oop attempt and was out for the rest of the season. By the time he came back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had moved up in the pecking order, and Hayward still had to ease back into form. At the start of the 2019 season, Hayward finally was playing like his old self and with Kemba Walker in the fold, Kyrie and Al Horford out, and Tatum and Brown continuing to improve. Fast forward a few months Hayward suffers a broken hand and misses six weeks, derailing any momentum he had, only to return and sprain his ankle in the 1st round of the playoffs versus Philadelphia. Coming back from each those injuries, he suddenly became the Celtic’s fourth or fifth offensive option–even behind Marcus Smart in many games, whose production had improved post-World Championships.

Similarly, Bagley has had an injury-riddled first 2 years in the league, only having played 75 games, and never quite been able to stay on the court long enough to get into a rhythm on what was looked like an up-an-coming Sacramento Kings squad along with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. In Bagley’s rookie year he started 65 games and was normally 2nd option on offense behind Hield. But fast forward two years and a lot of underachieving, roster churn in typical Kings fashion, and the emergence of Fox offensively–plus lucking into Tyrese Haliburton in the draft, and Bagley is now 5th option all of a sudden, playing only about 25 minutes a game and little to none in crunch time. Needless to say he is quite displeased. And so is his father.

What is the lesson to be learned from these parallel stories of highly skilled players who suffered from so many injuries and were unable to fulfill the lofty expectations that their franchises and fans had for them: *Sometimes a change of scenery is necessary for all*. Exhibit A: Hayward who signed a huge deal with the Charlotte Hornets this offseason, even with the Celtics offering to pick up his player option for $34.1 million in 2020-2021, immediately went back to looking like Gordon Hayward of old, back as 1st option on a young Hornets squad desperately needing leadership and playmaking, and in the first 12 games is averaging 22/5/4. And his usage rate is back up to where it was when he left Utah (see usage splits below from NBA.com).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

So what will the Kings do? Have they learned this lesson from having watched it with Hayward and move Bagley while he still has some value? Will they stubbornly keep him and hope he accepts his role knowing the backlash they will receive if he is jettisoned after having chosen him over Hall-of-Famer Luka Doncic? Will teams want to trade for Bagley with the baggage he may bring in addition to knowing his rookie deal will be up soon?

Bagley has a lot of talent and may just need a change of scenery to reemerge as a high quality starter in the league, and teams like Charlotte, Washington, Dallas, San Antonio and Oklahoma City all look like candidates who have the trade capital and incentive to make a deal for the young PF/C.

What trade would you like to see? Here’s a couple I liked via TradeNBA: