The Whiteboard: Steph Curry’s slump and Zion’s trade value

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports /

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On Wednesday night, Stephen Curry put up his second-straight stinker, shooting 5-of-24 from the field and 1-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 17-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks. That followed a 3-of-17, 1-of-10 on 3s performance against the Miami Heat. It was just the fourth time in his career Curry has had back-to-back games with eight or more 3-point attempts where he made less than 20 percent of them.

A two-game cold streak isn’t that concerning, in and of itself, but it’s part of a larger shooting slump. In the eight games since Curry broke Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record, he’s shooting 34.7 percent on 3-pointers and 36.4 percent on long 2-pointers. Stretch it out another eight games and include the lead-up to him breaking the record and you have a 16-game stretch with Curry shooting 34.7 percent on 3s and 27.0 percent on long 2s.

At least some of the difference could be attributed to a change in his shot profile. Over the first 19 games of this season, slightly fewer of his attempts came off the dribble or were tightly and very tightly defended. But the differences are small and Curry is a player who has, historically, seemed to be immune to little things like “defenders” and “shot difficulty.”

Even the best shooter in NBA history is liable to go through a rough patch here and there but this is extended and one of the longest cold shooting streaks we’ve seen from Curry in recent memory. For right now, the Warriors have the luxury of waiting for some progression to the mean — they’re 11-5 in Curry’s last 16 games and are still tied with the Phoenix Suns for the best record in the league. But if there’s something underlying going on — a nagging injury or some tweak in mechanics they’d be wise to do whatever it takes to help Curry smooth it out before the playoffs start.

Which teams would actually trade for Zion Williamson?

You can take the Pelicans announcement yesterday — Zion Williamson will be continuing his rehab away from the team — at face value. They worked hard to make it seem like an insignificant announcement but it’s hard to ignore the context, the twists and turns of his injury recovery and the ongoing rumblings that he doesn’t want to be in New Orleans anymore.

Until the moment he actually makes a trade demand, it would be hard for the team to justify trading a player of his caliber. But given the direction things are heading, they should absolutely be quietly exploring what the trade possibilities are, if for no other reason than due diligence.

The first question is which teams would actually be interested in trading for Zion. In a vacuum, he has to be one of the most appealing building blocks in the entire league. He is just 21 and has already demonstrated himself to be one of the most devastating offensive forces in the league. And that’s without any presumed development as a shooter, defender or creator which could put him in legitimate MVP territory.

But given his injury history — he’s played 85 of a possible 182 games since entering the league — trading for him has to be seen as a big risk. In addition, his rumored dissatisfaction with the Pelicans should give pause to plenty of small market or rebuilding teams who could risk trading for him and finding themselves in the same position of trying to convince an unhappy star that they offer the best potential for building a career and legacy.

Based on those two factors alone you would probably knock out a dozen teams as trade possibilities but the list gets even slimmer if you start to consider what it might actually take to convince the Pelicans to make a trade.

The Pelicans would almost certainly favor a trade package built around draft picks and young talents as opposed to veteran stars, even if they decide to keep Brandon Ingram and try to rebuild from the middle instead of blowing it all up. That might knock out hypothetical partners like the Trail Blazers (Lillard), Wizards (Beal), Lakers (Westbrook), Pacers (Turner or Sabonis). Of the teams that could build a package of picks and young players — Kings, Thunder, Timberwolves — most seem like they’d be taking on the same kind of small market pressure as the Pelicans.

But that does leave a few interesting possibilities:

New York Knicks: The Knicks are rumored to be Zion’s preferred long-term home but they don’t necessarily have an ideal trade package to offer. Julius Randle likely won’t be that appealing to the Pelicans because of his regression and massive contract extension and the Knicks would clearly like to hold onto RJ Barrett. A package like Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and a pair of first-round picks might be enough, especially if the Pelicans feel their leverage slipping, but the Pelicans could be choosing between that and some more appealing offers.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have a loaded roster at this point and shaking up continuity for a team already on the rise would be a tough choice. But Zion’s age puts him on the same career timeline with Trae Young and taking a small step back now for a brighter future might be worth it. They don’t have the same cache of draft picks as the Knicks but they could offer John Collins, Cam Reddish or De’Andre Hunter, either Onyeka Okongwu or Jalen Johnson and a future pick.

Houston Rockets: The Rockets have young talent with a few more question marks but they have a wealth of draft picks to make up for it. They could conceivably offer something like Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and two or three future first-round picks to push their offer over the top.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been reluctant to realistically entertain the idea of trading Jaylen Brown but given how rough their season has been and the scarcity of players like Zion Williamson becoming available they might have to reconsider. Something like Jaylen Brown and a pair of first-round picks could be a deal that gives both sides a lot to think about.

Of course, this is all hypothetical until Zion is back on the court and/or makes his long-term intentions clear. But the odds of him smashing defense in a Pelicans uniform two or three years from now feels increasingly unlikely.

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