There was a LOT of movement in this year’s NBA Draft. All in all, 39 of the 60 picks were made by a team other than the one who originally was supposed to choose in that slot, including the prior trades that affected this draft. 28 of those, by my count, moved during the draft, with some of them moving multiple times. I believe the longest path belongs to No. 57, used to choose Jordan Bone from Tennessee, which was originally owned by the Denver Nuggets, was traded to Milwaukee (as a top-55 protected second-rounder) in 2017, then moved to New Orleans in the Nikola Mirotic acquisition in February, then thrice on draft night – first to the Atlanta in the De’Andre Hunter trade, then to Philadelphia in the Bruno Fernando trade, then to Detroit for cash and a future second-rounder from Miami, which is also top-55 protected. It was a night full of trades and movement up, down, in, and out of the draft.
With so many trades shaking up the draft, it was a really interesting night to calibrate exactly what trading up in the draft is worth and how much a team has to pay to do so. For example, the Grizzlies had to pay essentially nothing to move up from No. 23 to No. 21, but the move up from No. 24 to No. 20 cost the 76ers No. 33 in the draft. The same thing was evident further up the draft, as the Hawks paid a massive price to move up from No. 8 to No. 4, yet all it took for Minnesota to move up from No. 11 to No. 6 was parting with Dario Saric, who is entering the last year of his rookie scale contract and isn’t clearly a starting-level player in the NBA.
Those last two trades are the focus of this column, but the one thing the 2019 NBA draft crystallized is that there’s very little in the way of agreed-upon pricing for moving around in the draft. Teams have their own evaluations of various players and the best front offices are able to extract every last bit of value, while others are willing to move some of their best assets for little return or don’t have a good idea of what their assets should be worth on the market.
The trade gates opened with New Orleans shopping the No. 4 pick they received (or will receive, maybe) in the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. At this point, it’s not clear whether the Pelicans’ trade with the Atlanta Hawks will be completed as an entirely separate deal, a part of the Hawks’ trade to acquire Allen Crabbe and No. 17 with the Brooklyn Nets, a part of the Davis trade, or even a four-team deal including everything that’s moving around between the clubs. The more teams involved in the deal, the more things have to move around, as the teams would have to satisfy the touch rule with the other teams in the trade, but there’s a way to make it work as three separate two-team trades, two separate trades (one two-team, one three-team), or one large four-teamer.
The implications of doing it one way or the other are largely based around the traded player exceptions each team can generate in the deal, which may not be of interest to the teams involved – all four of the teams involved are looking to use cap space this summer, which would mean they’re going to renounce any trade exceptions to maximize their space. As a result, I think it makes the most sense to structure this as three two-team trades, with New Orleans and Los Angeles completing their trade separate from Atlanta and Brooklyn, then the Pelicans and Hawks coming together to finalize their transaction using the pieces they obtain from Los Angeles and Brooklyn. This way, there’s no need to satisfy the NBA’s touch rules in three- or four-team trades and everybody can go their separate ways and renounce whatever trade exceptions they do generate to maximize their cap space.
I wrote about the Hawks’ side of the Hunter trade for Peachtree Hoops on Friday morning. They paid a large cost to move up four spots and grab their guy, but Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk has never been shy about going against the grain to make a trade to get a guy he targeted as a value pick in the draft. Hunter fits what they’re building perfectly as a shooter and defender with just enough upside as an individual creator to give the coaching staff a player to mold for the future.
From the Pelicans’ point of view, they were able to take full advantage of a team with a particular target in mind. It wasn’t the only time they did so during the night, though this package was much larger than the one they got for their pick at No. 39, which they traded to Golden State for two future seconds and cash, with the Warriors apparently fearing that Alen Smailagic would not fall to them at No. 41. David Griffin didn’t just focus on his own draft board and evaluating the players involved for the Pelicans’ purposes; he had a great idea of how his picks were valued on the league-wide market and which players the other teams were targeting, allowing him to extract as much value as possible in these trades. It’s almost becoming a cliche at this point, but Griffin really has done a wonderful job in his few months at the helm for New Orleans.
In this move with the Hawks, the Pelicans picked up No. 8, No. 17, No. 35, a 2020 protected first-rounder from Cleveland which will almost assuredly be two second-round picks, while sending back No. 4, No. 57, a future second-rounder, and dumping the contract of Solomon Hill. The future second-rounder, at this point, is a little unclear – the Pelicans have a bunch of future seconds and it has yet to be determined publicly which pick that’s going to be.
For New Orleans, that’s a hell of a haul to move down four spots in the draft, even with the known premium that comes with the top picks. Essentially, moving Hill’s contract is nearly worth a first-rounder on its own, considering he makes $12.8 million next season and is unlikely to provide much more than a minimum salary’s worth of value on the floor. Picking up No. 17 adds another first-rounder to the Pelicans’ coffers, as well as making out way ahead in the second-round picks, as they moved up 22 spots in the second round and added a pair of future seconds that look like they will be quite high, as Cleveland is still in the very early stages of their rebuild. The future second that they sent to Atlanta might be good as well, but even if it’s in the top ten of the second round, New Orleans is getting back a pair of picks that should be in the same range, so they made out ahead there as well.
What the Pelicans did with their extra picks on draft night was a little hit-and-miss; the Jaxson Hayes pick at No. 8 was dubious considering his fit with Zion Williamson long-term and his relative lack of versatility on both ends of the floor. Hayes is a rim-runner and will fit in perfectly with their transition attack with his ability to sky for lobs, but that archetype of player isn’t necessarily one worthy of a high draft pick like No. 8, even in a draft relatively low on star talent. I had Hayes at No. 15 on my board, which was created for an in-a-vacuum team, rather than the Pelicans’ specific needs. For New Orleans in particular, I think I would have Hayes even lower than that, with a number of wings and guards ahead of him who fit better with the long-term outlook of the team.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker was one of my favorite picks of the draft at No. 17; I had him at No. 13 on my board and really like the secondary playmaking he can bring to the table. His size will allow him to fit into a switch-heavy system the Pelicans can employ with their other strong, long defenders, pretty much any lineup combination with Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and Williamson should be able to switch well enough to make things work. Alexander-Walker can fit into a switching defense, hit an open three, and has enough secondary playmaking chops to replace either Ball or Holiday in bench lineups without losing too much. He’s in a strong situation in New Orleans, where Alvin Gentry will be able to get the best out of him.
A good example of the opposite approach from Griffin’s can be found just two picks later at No. 6, which the Phoenix Suns sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for No. 11 and Dario Saric. While there’s a larger premium placed on the higher picks in the draft, it’s impossible not to compare what New Orleans got to move down four spots from No. 4 to No. 8 with what Phoenix got to move down five spots from No. 6 to No. 11. New Orleans got two first-round picks worth of value in No. 17 and moving Hill’s contract, plus three good second-rounders in exchange for one bad second and one unknown second, while Phoenix got…Dario Saric, a borderline starter at the power forward position who is going into the final year of his rookie scale contract before needing a raise in 2020-21. It’s night and day between the two, particularly because Phoenix is still building toward a competitive future and could absolutely use some future picks to give them cheaper talent on the roster as Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton become more expensive over the next few years.
There wouldn’t have been a deal out there for No. 6 that mirrored the haul New Orleans got for No. 4, but for Phoenix to pass on Jarrett Culver and Coby White, two players who could have helped them going forward, to move back in the draft and pick up very little for their trouble, was probably the worst move of the draft. The Suns compounded this by drafting Cameron Johnson at least 10 spots higher than he likely would have gone, but that doesn’t necessarily go into the calculus of the trade at the time they made it.
The draft and evaluating trades can be incredibly difficult, but the difference in front office experience between New Orleans and Phoenix showed up in a huge way between Nos. 4 and 6 in Thursday’s draft. Griffin knew that the Hawks wanted Hunter and would be willing to trade the farm for him, whereas Phoenix took a far-below-market deal to move No. 6. The idea of trading down made sense in this draft, but getting so little in return was a particularly poor move from the Suns, whereas the Pelicans likely got more than market value for No. 4 in a relatively flat draft.