With the NBA trade deadline about a week away, rumors are heating up. This year’s trade deadline figures to be more unique than most, as the glut of teams jockeying for separation in the Western Conference and flattened lottery odds combine to muddy the waters about who will be buyers and who will be sellers.
One group of teams is abundantly clear, though: there is a crop of several teams atop the standings whose title windows are clearly open this year. Those franchises could be looking to add a veteran piece for the stretch run of the season, providing a little more depth to the roster while also bringing experience to the table — one of those intangibles that coaches tend to trust in the playoffs.
As these teams are currently situated, there are young players in the rotation doing their best to uphold a positive impact. The decisions made to acquire a veteran at the same position relate very clearly to how reliable that young player is in the eyes of their own franchise. If there’s a sense they’ll have their minutes trimmed or cut entirely within a postseason series, then it almost feels like a necessity to make a move before February 9th. Conversely, not making a trade could be a boost of confidence to the youngster and show a great deal of faith that the team has in him.
From Milwaukee to Memphis and Boston to Denver, we check out the first or second-year pros in the rotation who could find themselves squeezed out of minutes, replaced, or traded altogether before the deadline simply because their current teams are in win-now mode.
Santi Aldama, Memphis Grizzlies
The 30th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Spanish-born Santi Aldama has been a bright spot for the Grizzlies this year. Thrust into the lineup at the start of the season due to the Jaren Jackson Jr. injury, Aldama played 39 minutes on opening night and announced his arrival as another heralded case of development within the Grizzlies organization. He started the first 14 games of the season, averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game. His perimeter skill at his size is truly outstanding; he can pump fake and drive around smaller wings, finishing with craft.
Jackson’s return pushed Aldama to the bench and diminished his minutes a tad, though he’s maintained a stable hold in the rotation as the backup 4-man behind Jackson. The Grizz seem uninterested in trying out a frontcourt pairing that utilizes both Jackson and Aldama as twin seven-footers with perimeter skill. According to Cleaning the Glass lineup data, the two have only played 39 possessions together on the season (for what it’s worth, the minutes have been absolutely dynamic from a statistical perspective).
Rotations shorten in the postseason, and both Jackson and Steven Adams are firmly entrenched in the rotation and could see their minutes expand. Rumors are out there about the Grizzlies being interested in adding a bigger wing like OG Anunoby, and the addition of a bigger wing could add a small-ball lineup for Memphis that would allow them to matchup more clearly with the Golden State Warriors and other guard-centric teams.
Aldama has played well enough to keep a spot in the rotation, and the Grizzlies are always wary of not over-extending Jackson’s minutes — even in the postseason. But Memphis is ripe for a consolidation trade with a ton of young assets, and if they make an aggressive move to add a bigger wing to the fray, Santi’s playoff minutes could get crunched.
MarJon Beauchamp, Milwaukee Bucks
Despite being 33-17 and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t yet played at full strength. Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis have both been hurt and missed prolonged periods of time, and we’ve barely seen the Bucks firing on all cylinders. Their goal is to get healthy for the playoffs ... and potentially add another defensive stopper on the wings to pair with Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Grayson Allen gets picked on defensively, Wes Matthews is aging fast, and Pat Connaughton has some limitations. The other wing they have is rookie MarJon Beauchamp, whose game is mostly up-and-down in transition. He’s hitting an adequate 32% of his 3-pointers and playing solid defense, but the postseason is a much slower game that doesn’t allow for transition play as often and puts pressure on the weakest options on the floor to produce.
Jae Crowder has been rumored to be a target for the Bucks, and the trade chip of Serge Ibaka almost makes it certain that Milwaukee will make some sort of move. Beauchamp is playing 15 minutes a night and would almost certainly lose many or all of those minutes in a postseason series if Crowder is around and everyone else is healthy. He’s proven good enough for the Bucks to not trade just yet, but this may not be his year to make a positive postseason impact.
Sam Hauser, Boston Celtics
No team is deeper than the Boston Celtics. They have starter-quality players all over, including reserves like Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, and Derrick White (White has started 43 games this year, but likely moves to the bench in favor of Robert Williams in the playoffs). That’s a talented eight-man rotation, and only leaves sparse room for a few other players to have a very small role.
The Celtics have long coveted a shooting specialist who can hold up on the defensive end. Hauser, the second-year pro out of Virginia, has proven to be a really effective shooter. In 14.6 minutes per game, he’s sniping 39.1% of his triples. He has a vital role to play in minutes next to Jayson Tatum with Boston’s bench minutes, adding floor spacing around their star player.
In the playoffs, teams are relentless about targeting a weak link defensively. Hauser could have a target on his chest in his minutes. He will get a chance to prove himself in earlier rounds of the postseason, but by the conference semifinals and finals, we should know more about whether Hauser still has a role to play.
Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
The current top seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets have an elite starting five, headlined by the two-time reigning MVP. Their bench is, however, really devoid of defensive talent. They don’t have a backup center who can anchor them nor guards who stop players at the point of attack. The Nuggets are 7.3 points per 100 possessions worse on defense when Jokic leaves the floor than when he’s on it, much more of an indictment on their bench defense than a testament to Jokic’s rim protection.
There are multiple ways to attempt to address that problem. One is to go out and get a new backup big man. Many targets should be available on the trade block and could provide valid depth for the Nuggets. The other way is to get better point-of-attack defenders on the perimeter who can make up for the lack of second-unit rim protection while also being solid contributors if asked to play alongside the joker.
Enter second-year guard Bones Hyland, the trigger-happy captain of Denver’s second unit. Bones has been an offensive revelation this year, averaging 12.3 points per game. His pull-up shooting and late-clock creation have been a catalyst for the Nuggets second unit this year:
But Hyland leaves a lot to be desired on defense, and the Nuggets appear comfortable in shopping Bones around to see if they can get a better postseason fit for their roster. Hyland is a good, young player and still has a great deal of appealing potential. He’s also one of the only young pieces the Nuggets can use as a trade chip to get a major upgrade to their second unit, so it makes sense that he’s floated out there in trade scenarios ahead of the deadline.
Ultimately, the Nuggets could choose to keep Bones and continue to play him about 10-15 minutes per game in the playoffs. His scoring and 3-point shooting will translate. But the Nuggets do need to do something to address their bench, and if one of their additions is for another backcourt piece, we could see certain matchups that move Bones more toward the bench.