Over the last decade, the value of a big man who can shoot from outside has exploded. Gone are the days when teams had two 7-footers patrolling the paint on both ends of the floor – the modern contender has no more than one big man in the middle and the floor as spaced as possible on the perimeter. The “power” in “power forward” is almost entirely gone, giving way to stretch forwards who can provide shooting from outside. The new 4 is something of a larger wing, rather than a smaller center.
With that in mind, here are a handful of stretch forwards who should be gettable for a team looking to strengthen that area of their roster for a playoff run or are looking to build with one of these players toward the future:
Williams makes $15 million this year, which could make it difficult for a contender to match his salary without giving up a quality role player in return, but he’s a strong option for any roster that struggles with spacing. He’s a high-level floor spacer without necessarily being a full-fledged shooter – the difference there is that he’s mostly a standstill catch-and-shoot threat, rather than someone who will take volume shots off movement or in pick-and-pop. He has decent footwork in pick-and-pop situations, but the usage there has been low this season with the Hornets, which indicates that it’s not a strong point in his game.
That difference matters, particularly for teams at the top of the league who are looking to find the last piece to put them over the top for a championship. Acquiring a guy who can space the floor and stretch defenses for their ball handlers can be important, but it would be outside of his scope to expect him to make plays as a shooter coming off screens or dribble handoffs. Still, as a floor spacer off the bench, teams could do worse than Williams.
The key differentiator for these players is what else they bring to the table. Shooting can come and go, as we saw with Nikola Mirotic in Milwaukee last year, but if a player has other skills on which he can fall back, it helps mitigate the downside risk of acquiring him with the playoffs in mind. In that vein, Williams is a threat in the post and plays solid, if unspectacular, team defense. He’s adept at getting into the post against switches and in favorable matchups, a skill that could be amplified in a playoff setting, where teams switch more often than in the regular season.
Because Williams is mostly a standstill shooter, teams will sometimes try to go small against the Hornets and defend him with a smaller guard. He can punish those matchups in the post, but doesn’t need to hijack the offense to do so; if he doesn’t get the ball on a quick duck in, he’ll space out to the corner. Against switches in screening actions, he’ll walk a point guard down to the block and use his size and strength to score. He’s nothing special as a playmaker from these spots and working through Williams in the post against a normal matchup is not a key to success for any team, but that extra bit of offensive versatility helps add value in a playoff series.
Defensively, Williams is by no means a playmaker, but he can adequately hold up at both big man positions. Nobody is going to have a top defense with him at the 5, but the extra value he can bring as a floor spacer on the other end of the floor mitigates what he gives up defensively in that spot. He’s played more center the last two years than ever before, which is due in part to his declining lateral quickness on the perimeter and the modernity of James Borrego’s approach in Charlotte.
His best defensive trait is between the ears – Williams is a smart defender who knows the scouting report and reacts accordingly when he’s out there. When playing the 5 against Rudy Gobert, watch how he sees that the handoff is going to Joe Ingles, which means he needs to be at the level of the screen in order to take away an easy three-pointer:
These plays are strewn through every Hornets game. He internalizes the defensive scouting report really well, forcing players in the correct direction consistently, helping when he can afford to do so, and generally making a positive impact on his team’s defense.
There are areas in which Williams struggles. Unfortunately, those are some of the most high-profile aspects of defense, particularly when he’s at the 5. He’s a non-factor at the basket, both as a rim protector and rebounder. Players have no fear going into the paint against him and he can be easily pushed out of the way by opponents going for an offensive rebound.
Overall, Williams would be a good pickup for a team desperate for some floor spacing at his position, but he might not be quite good enough (and too expensive) for the absolute top tier of teams.
Unlike a number of other players on this list, trading for Love would not a short-term rental by any means. With three years and more than $90 million owed to him after the 2019-20 season, he represents a long-term commitment with short-term on-court value. He’ll be 32 before the start of the 2020-21 season, so any team acquiring him better have a plan to compete in the very near future. Already lacking athletically, his mid-30s will likely not be kind to him, the evidence of which we’re already seeing defensively. He is essentially the worst of both worlds on that side of the floor – not quick enough to defend modern 4s and not big enough to protect the rim as a 5. The Cavaliers used to get away with having him out there by trapping way out on the floor in screening actions, which got him away from the rim, but he can’t recover quickly enough to make that plan work either.
The result is a one-way player who still has an elite offensive skill – he can shoot off movement as well as any big in the league – but who might not be able to stay on the floor in the biggest moments of a playoff series. Versatility is the name of the game these days and Love’s inability to defend really sinks his value in a playoff setting.
Add in an onerous contract that stretches until 2023 and the fact that Cleveland doesn’t need to be in a rush to get off his salary and it’s hard to imagine Love will get moved at the deadline.
After four straight DNP-CDs as of this writing and nearly four weeks since he logged more than 20 minutes in a game, Olynyk seems to have fallen out of Miami’s rotation altogether. The return of James Johnson fills the Heat’s need at the backup power forward position and the recent signing of Chris Silva to a standard contract gives Erik Spoelstra enough firepower among the big men to move Olynyk in a trade for a perimeter player to help balance out the roster.
To other teams, Olynyk should have some value, though the extra year at $13.2 million for 2020-21 (he has a player option, but he’ll almost certainly opt in) will scare off general managers who don’t want to make that sort of commitment. In terms of what he brings on the floor, Olynyk is mostly a standstill shooter who can knock them down at a good clip but is otherwise limited offensively. He doesn’t get as much credit for his work as a playmaker, though – he’s good in the DHO game with Miami’s guards and does well as the connective tissue of an offense. In soccer terms, he’s a good ball progressor; not someone who always makes the final pass, but keeps the ball (and the defense) moving.
Olynyk doesn’t have a lot of length to play the 5 in drop schemes in pick-and-roll, but he can be used in a more aggressive trapping scheme. He’s absolutely not a stopper against opposing 4s, but he can hang with less capable forwards and even matches up with some offensively-challenged guards, which puts his teammates in more advantageous matchups elsewhere.
The best all-around offensive player in this group, Gallinari would likely fetch the highest price for his services. As of now, he’s unlikely to move on from Oklahoma City, who are in a fight with Dallas for the six seed in the West playoffs and have generally played well beyond expectations to this point. A versatile shooter and scorer, Gallinari is undoubtedly a positive on his 22.6M expiring salary this season and would clearly command a first-round pick from a team looking to acquire him for the stretch run of the season.
As good as he is offensively, there should be a lot of concern among the top teams about how he’ll hold up defensively in the deeper rounds of the playoffs. He doesn’t rotate well as the weak-side baseline defender in pick-and-roll and has none of the traits you’d want from a small-ball center defensively. Teams can usually go to a small-ball look if the guy playing the 5 at least has something he can hang his hat on defensively, but Gallinari really doesn’t have anything going for him in that department.
If it’s not a contender moving for Gallinari, who would it be? Oklahoma City is already in that next tier down as a team fighting on the edge of the playoffs, so unless another team in that range wants to go all in on securing a playoff berth and is willing to move a first-rounder to do it, perhaps the Thunder would hold onto Gallinari and try to bring him back in the offseason.
The Thunder aren’t averse to taking on salary this year, either, despite being in the repeater tax and not entirely competitive at the top of the league. Perhaps a middling team doesn’t want to part with a first-rounder to grab Gallinari, but Oklahoma City could take some extra salary back from that team to sweeten the deal.
Finally, a shooting big who can actually defend! In fact, it’s perhaps a bit unfair to Baynes to label him a “shooting big who can defend”; he’s more like a “defensive big who can shoot”, a characterization that puts his skills in the correct order. Unlike everybody else on this list, Baynes is a true center capable of protecting the rim, playing in multiple defensive schemes, and adds the shooting on the other end of the floor to make him a strong value for a team looking to contend this season.
Phoenix had a wonderful start to the season, but have since dropped off. The rest of the West has dropped with them, however, and they’re still just three wins out of the playoff picture. The Clippers, among other teams, have interest in Baynes, but as long as the Suns hang around the bottom of the West playoff picture, they’re less likely to want to move him.
Bjelica has lost a step athletically, which limits his production on both ends of the floor. No longer an elite movement shooter, he’s still a knockdown standstill shooter, which has a ton of value. He’s big enough to play either big man position and hold up well enough, though he’s clearly a negative defensively.
At just $6.8 million for this season, his contract would be easy to match in a trade, plus he comes with a $7.2 million non-guarantee for next season, if things really work out between Bjelica and his new team.
Perhaps the crown jewel of trade season, Bertans has put together an unbelievable season from beyond the three-point line. He’s one of the very best shooters in the league and likely the best available before February 6, if Washington gets the first-round pick they have to be after for his services.
Already one of the league’s best shooters coming into this year, Bertans has added an even deeper range on his shot and the ability to rise and fire over just about anybody. No longer is he deterred by defenders closing out on him; if he can get a look at the rim, the ball is going up and, most likely, going in. Smaller defenders stand no chance against him – even when they’re right in his jersey, he’ll fire away anyway, catching them by surprise.
He’s more of a positive defensively than most shoot-first big men, though it’s hard to tell in the context of Washington’s offense-first-and-offense-only roster construction around him. He’s not a playmaker defensively, but he can be a quality part of a team scheme should he move to a team that values that end of the floor.
Bertans’ contract will expire this offseason, but any team trading for him will inherit his full Bird rights to re-sign him over the cap, a strong advantage for contending teams that are already capped out. He’s better than anybody a team could sign with the mid-level this summer, so parting with an asset ahead of time to get the chance to convince him to stay might be worthwhile for a team at the top of the league, on top of the value he’ll provide the rest of the year and into the playoffs.
Kuzma represents a younger option for teams not quite in contention but looking to get there in the next several years. Despite having an outsized reputation due to his status as a Laker, Kuzma has some legitimate offensive upside to explore and could develop into a poor man’s version of Gallinari with the right development.
He has some shot selection issues and the three ball isn’t nearly where you’d want it to be for him to be a key cog on a contender right now, but he can put the ball in the basket when he gets going and even flashed some improved playmaking at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. That passing element has completely abandoned him so far this season, though his role has shifted as well to being a true shoot-first stretch forward.
The gap between Kuzma’s reputation and his actual standing in the league is vast, but he can still make an impact on the right team and has a lot of positive trade value if the Lakers decide to move him for shorter-term help. Los Angeles is desperately missing another playoff-level creator, which is part of what makes his backward slide as a playmaker more disappointing, and unless they convince Darren Collison to be that guy for them, they may dangle Kuzma to nab that perimeter ball handler and passer.