The paint-bound big man is going out of style in the NBA, but those players aren’t truly extinct. Sure, it’d be great if a defensive big man could also space the floor, but there aren’t many of those players, which means front offices have to compromise in order to find the best mix of skills to put together on their roster. As the trade deadline approaches, here are a handful of non-shooting anchors who might be on the market and could have a significant impact on the playoff race:
Adams is the best anchor big man who might be available this year, though Oklahoma City’s fantastic first half of the season might change the Thunder’s plans with respect to their man in the middle. He makes $25.84 million this year, which may be just as much an impediment as Oklahoma City’s willingness to move him, since matching salary that high takes a minimum of $20.59 million in outgoing salary from a team acquiring him. There aren’t a lot of contenders who can match that sort of salary without giving up significant parts of their rotation; as good as Adams is, his skillset is more of a luxury in the modern NBA than an absolute necessity, particularly at that price. He does have another year under contract for $27.53 million, which likely isn’t an asset in a vacuum but would be treated as such to the right team.
Still just 26 years old, Adams could be one of the centerpieces of a building team moving forward, which opens his market significantly. He’ll come with full Bird rights in 2021 and a team acquiring him should feel good about his long-term outlook – he’s never missed significant time with an injury and even a four-year contract starting in 2021 would only take him through his age 32 season. The extra year on his contract and Oklahoma City’s competitive position in the Western Conference may make Adams a more interesting trade target in the summer, but teams who can send expiring money back to Oklahoma City to make the trade work should kick the tires on him in these next two weeks.
After a rough start to the year in which he looked a step slow, particularly on the defensive end, Adams has turned his season around and is now having one of his best all-around campaigns of his career. His box score stats are up from previous years with a career-high PER, though that might have more to do with the exit of Russell Westbrook than anything else. Adams has always been one of the league’s best rebounders, but never got the credit he deserved in the box score because his job in the Oklahoma City scheme was to box out for Westbrook to kickstart the fast break on as many opponent misses as possible. With Westbrook in Houston, Adams is free to clean the glass himself and he’s doing a marvelous job of it – the Thunder’s defensive rebounding rate when Adams is on the floor is just as elite as it was last year and he’s personally grabbing a ton of them.
Adams’ finishing at the rim has reached a career high as well, as he’s putting in 70 percent of his attempts inside of four feet. His little right-handed floater/hook shot is as dangerous as ever – when he can’t get all the way to the rim, he’s as good as any player in the league at hitting a short one-handed jumper from eight feet out.
In a more egalitarian Thunder offense, he’s even taking on some playmaking responsibilities. Dribble handoffs are a bigger part of Oklahoma City’s offense than in previous seasons and Adams is often the hub around which everything orbits. He’ll throw a backdoor bounce pass where appropriate and still sets his normal bone-crushing screens in the DHO game. He’s flashed a bit more short roll playmaking than in years past, as well.
On the other end of the floor, Adams has always been able to anchor an elite defensive unit. Oklahoma City has him laying back in the paint in most ball screen actions and he’s one of the league’s top rim protectors. Perhaps more important than that is his effect on opponents’ shot selection – Thunder opponents take just 29.57 percent of their shots at the rim when he’s in the game, compared to 33.86 percent when he sits and a league-wide average of about 32 percent. Only three teams (Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and Orlando) allow a lower overall at-rim frequency than Oklahoma City does when Adams is on the floor.
Given Oklahoma City’s massive war chest of future draft picks, it’s unclear what they’ll want for Adams. He passes the Mike Conley test – despite being a negative-value contract in a vacuum, he’ll command a positive return in a trade due to the rarity of his skillset on both ends of the floor and fit on a wide variety of teams. His age and contract status might make him a larger part of Oklahoma City’s future than Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari, as he’s young enough to be a part of the future with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and all those future draft picks at the helm. Still, there should be a slew of teams calling the Thunder to inquire about his availability, from rebuilding teams in Atlanta and Charlotte to playoff contenders in New Orleans to title contenders in Boston and the Clippers. Those final two would have a very difficult time matching salary for Adams in a trade this season, however.
Unlike Adams, Drummond is clearly available. Detroit has been trying to move him for more than a month, to no avail. It seems the Pistons think that Drummond also passes the Conley test and should command a first-round pick despite his negative-value contract, but the fact of the matter is that he’s not nearly as good as Adams and comes with a less certain contract status. He makes $27.09 million this year and has a player option for $28.75 million next year, but all indications are that he will opt out and test unrestricted free agency in order to lock up more guaranteed money, even if it comes at a smaller annual value. Any team trading an asset for him would want some assurances that he’ll re-sign, but once they do trade that asset, then he has a much more powerful negotiating position, as it is always a bad look for a front office when they trade an asset for a player and watch them walk away that coming summer.
Drummond’s a generational rebounder, regardless of teammate quality and situation. He’ll single-handedly turn a bad rebounding team into at least average, if not better. The issue is that rebounding is his only elite skill and there are other guys who can give a team that sort of production for less than a third of what it costs to have Drummond on the books. He’s never anchored an elite defense in Detroit and the Pistons have actually been better on that end of the floor without him more often than not throughout his career.
Not the nuclear athlete he was earlier in his career, Drummond doesn’t command the paint on either end of the floor anymore. He doesn’t have the basketball IQ to make up for the deteriorating athleticism, either. Opposing guards aren’t scared to venture toward the rim when he’s the last line of defense like they used to be and he’s never been particularly great at stopping those shots from going in when the ball does get to the rim.
That waning athleticism hurts him on the offensive end as well – he’s no longer a high-flying lob threat in pick-and-roll and operates with a more ground-bound game than he used to. He’s improved tremendously as a ball handler and playmaker over the years, though he still sports a sky-high turnover rate and routinely tries to push the envelope with his ball handling. A high-usage big with low efficiency who would likely not be the fulcrum of an offense on a good team, it’s difficult to see exactly what his role would be on a contender other than playing in the dunker spot, cleaning up the offensive glass, and catching the occasional lob when he has the space to really load up.
A lower cost option that Adams or Drummond, Favors is on a $17.65 million expiring contract that will see him hit unrestricted free agency this summer. His market will be an interesting indicator as to whether the Pelicans are buyers, sellers, or neither at this year’s trade deadline – will they have enough information about their team with Zion Williamson to accurately assess which players are keepers and which aren’t? Williamson will make his debut later today (as of this writing), so it remains to be seen whether Favors and the other New Orleans veterans will fit the new world order.
Since returning from some early-season injury issues and the death of his mother, he’s been on a tear, though he missed Monday’s game against Memphis with a back issue that would need to be closely monitored by any team trading for him. Even with his strong play on both ends since returning to the lineup in mid-December, he’s likely not a big part of the Pelicans’ future, as Jaxson Hayes was just drafted in the top ten to play center and they’ll want to play some small ball with Williamson in that spot as well. He’ll be 29 this summer and while it’s certainly very possible that he’ll be back on a short-term deal with New Orleans, they may look to move him for an asset this summer to a team who values his full Bird rights more strongly than they do.
For teams looking toward the future, Zubac could be a really interesting option. The Clippers are clearly in win-now mode and while he does help them do that, they may be looking for an upgrade that spot in their rotation with the playoffs in mind. Perhaps it makes more sense for them to try to acquire a shooter with what they can put on the table in a trade, but if the Clippers make Zubac available at some point in the next two weeks, a young team would do well to snap him up.
He makes $6.5 million this year and a total of $28.5 million over four years, with a team option on the final year to boot. If it doesn’t work out, a team only owes him about $14.5 million for the next two years or could find a new home for him this summer or at next year’s deadline. Matching salary on that small a number isn’t particularly difficult, but a trade that only sends Zubac out from the Clippers runs into the opposite problem – because they’re so close to the tax, they don’t get the normal benefit of being able to acquire nearly twice as much salary as they send out. In a trade that would put them over the tax, Los Angeles could only bring back up to $8.20 million in a deal, which could limit their options as the deadline approaches this season.
A low-usage, high-efficiency big man, Zubac lives on the offensive glass, on little dumpoffs right at the basket, and in the pick-and-roll game. He has no range to his shot and little versatility to his overall offensive impact – no team would be throwing him the ball in the post or letting him operate as a playmaker from the elbows. What he does, he does well, and he doesn’t often venture outside of that sort of limited role offensively. A team with a slew of other creators would have no trouble with his lack of usage, though perhaps that’s also a reason why the Clippers chose to retain him this summer.
Zubac is nearly always at the helm of an elite defense, even dating back to his time on the purple and gold side of Los Angeles. He’s not a consistent deterrent at the rim but he protects the rim well when the ball gets there – the Clippers can play a defensive style that funnels ball handlers into the paint when he’s on the back line to use his size and protect the basket. That rim protection doesn’t come at the cost of the defensive glass, either; the Clippers and Lakers were always very strong defensive rebounding teams when Zubac was on the floor.
There aren’t a lot of teams in the market for sub-elite Anchors these days. It seems to be a bit of feast or famine market in that sense. Teams either are willing to pay top dollar for a top defense-first big man or they’re willing to try to scrap it together with two or three guys making smaller money and putting more of their resources toward the perimeter. Still, there’s a place in the league for these players, and even if some of them are overpaid on their current contracts, they can be useful to a team with title aspirations.