With the Thunder currently on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, it’s almost time to start making decisions about the roster. Chris Paul has played excellent so far, but will a team be willing to take on his contract? Most likely not. Danilo Gallinari once seemed like the logical trade candidate, but has Dennis Schröder’s strong play throughout the season changed the league’s perception of him? With the Thunder set up for the long-haul, who are some players they should be targeting at the deadline if they choose to trade away some key contributors?
I’m not talking about trading the farm for young superstars like Karl Anthony-Towns or Ben Simmons, but more along the lines of trades like the Orlando Magic (Markelle Fultz) or the Suns (Kelly Oubre Jr.) pulled off last season. Acquiring young players who have struggled with injuries, haven’t been able to get minutes, or just haven’t lived up to their draft position, can be another way to build. The Thunder seems to love reclamation projects1. Can Sam Presti find his new Jerami Grant?
Up to this point in his NBA career, Mo Bamba has not lived up to his draft status. Currently only averaging 15 minutes a game, and earning fewer minutes than Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch, Bamba could possibly be on the table if the Magic want to make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference. The oft-injured center is still only 21 years old and possesses immense physical tools (7’10 wingspan), although that hasn’t yet translated on the court. He’s shooting a measly 38.1 percent on layups this season and has struggleD finishing down low, especially through traffic. Throughout Bamba’s first 75 games of his career, he’s averaged a measly 6.1 points and 1.3 blocks on 53.5 percent true shooting.
Bamba would be a great piece for the Thunder to acquire as they should have a few pieces that could interest the Magic such as Chris Paul, Schroder, Gallinari, and their multitude of first-round picks. With Vucevic given a 100-million dollar guaranteed deal last offseason, Bamba could be on his way out in Orlando.
Another player from the 2018 NBA draft, Zhaire Smith has been a total bust for the Sixers thus far. After appearing in only six games his rookie year and undergoing foot surgery and thoracoscopy, Smith has started this season in the G-League playing for the Delaware Blue Coats. After 12 games he’s sitting on a 13/4/2 slash line on an impressive 60.2 percent TS. However, Smith’s defense and athleticism are his most intriguing attributes. He has yet to develop an effective dribble, especially when creating his own shot or distributing for others.
An issue Zhaire is facing is that he primarily played power forward in college yet he’s primarily played shooting guard in his limited minutes at the NBA level[/footnote]Editor’s note: I hear Roberson bells pealing.[/footnote]. Standing at only 6’4 205, can he put on more weight/strength in order to become an effective four, or can he develop the perimeter game suitable for guards in today’s NBA?
The Sixers could certainly use another ball handler or effective shooter on the perimeter, which is why players like Schroder and Gallinari come to mind in trades for Smith.2
Erik Horne of The Athletic recently said in one of his answers for a recent Q&A that the Thunder had interest in trading for Malik Beasley last season to play alongside Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Now, a year later, could the Thunder perhaps revisit those talks? Beasley is a 23-year-old shooting guard who has shot 39 percent from three in his career. Last season was the best of his career, as he averaged 11/3/1 on 59.9 percent TS in only 23 minutes a night as a member Denver’s deep bench.
Off to a slow start this season, could the Nuggets trade the soon-to-be RFA to strengthen their roster for the playoffs? The Nuggets will have a hard time matching any contract offered to Beasley, so dealing him would be the logical solution. Question is, are the Thunder willing to match an outside offer for the young guard once free agency hits?
Let us know some non-star players you would like to see the Thunder target at the deadline in the comments.