The Whiteboard: Playing their way off the NBA trade market

Nov 14, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) looks towards the basket against Golden State Warriors shooting guard Jordan Poole (3) during the first quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 14, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) looks towards the basket against Golden State Warriors shooting guard Jordan Poole (3) during the first quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Winning streaks for teams like the Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz have changed who might be available on the NBA trade market.

We entered this NBA season with what seemed like a pretty clear view of which teams might be racing for the bottom of the standings and a chance at presumed No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama. But teams like the Utah Jazz (10-5), Indian Pacers (6-6) and San Antonio Spurs (6-8) have been much more competitive than expected which could have a big impact on which players are available on the NBA trade market later in the season.

Which thriving players could be playing their way off the NBA trade market?

Buddy Hield, Indiana Pacers

I mentioned Hield two weeks ago in a separate piece about Myles Turner and the persistent trade rumors involving the Lakers. It seems likely the Pacers will continue to explore trade possibilities for Turner considering he’s an expiring contract and his comments to Adrian Wojnarowski were a pretty clear indication that he’d like to be moved.

But Hield is in a different boat with another year left on his contract and, although the Lakers rumors require Hield and Turner to be packaged together, there’s no reason they have to be a package deal for other teams. The Pacers could hold onto Hield for now and theoretically trade him this offseason or even at the deadline next year if they want to avoid losing him for nothing.

Hield has been fantastic for the Pacers, averaging 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting above 40.0 percent from beyond the arc for the first time since the 2018-19 season. But, most importantly, his shooting has provided excellent scaffolding for the Pacers’ backcourt of the future, taking plenty of pressure off Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin. The Pacers have posted a positive point differential and scored at a rate of 119.6 points per 100 possessions when those three are on the floor together.

This is just one possession but look at the way the gravity of Hield pulls Kyle Kuzma toward the wing, opening a lane for Mathurin to back cut.

Considering how important the development of Mathurin and Haliburton has been for the Pacers, and how much easier Hield has made things for them, it might be worth holding onto Hield a bit longer.

Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz

Markkanen has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season, averaging a career-high 21.8 points per game on a career-high 63.1 true shooting percentage. For the past few seasons, Markkanen has been relegated to serving mostly as a spot-up shooter but 48.7 percent of shots this season have come within 10 feet of the basket, by far the most of his career.

He’s shooting just 34.4 percent from beyond the arc but his outside shot still needs to be respected by the defense. More than a quarter of Markkanen’s possessions are still coming out of spot-ups but he’s been much more aggressive about attacking closeouts, putting the ball on the floor and getting himself closer to the basket.

Makkanen has gotten a lot stronger over the years and adding that strength to his combination of size, mobility and touch has made him a much more versatile scorer and he’s shooting 65.4 percent within 10 feet of the basket.

The Jazz have Markkanen under contract for two more seasons after this one at a very reasonable rate and he’s still just 25 years old. This season has not gone the way they were expecting and with every win they pick up, it’s going to be harder and harder to justify trading him.

Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs

Is the most likely of this trio to still get traded, both because he’s on an expiring contract and the Spurs risk losing him for nothing this offseason, and because San Antonio seems like the most likely of these three teams to lean into the race for the No. 1 pick as the season goes along. But what Poeltl has done to start this season fo the Spurs is at least making the decision a bit more complicated.

Poeltl has long been an above-average defender, someone in the Brook Lopez mold whose

Poeltl is averaging a career-high 3.6 assists per game this season and has become increasingly useful as a hub from the elbows, helping the Spurs’ ball-handlers find space for curls and driving lanes in the middle of the floor. He’s averaging 8.1 elbow touches per game, also a career-high, tailing only Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis in the league this season. Poeltl is nowhere near their level as a passer but he’s become very effective in this role.

Poeltl still doesn’t put much pressure on the defense as a shooter or a threat to put the ball on the floor that far from the basket and he passes off his elbow touches at one of the highest rates in the league. But this new wrinkle to his game could make him an even more appealing trade target to teams like the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Lakers or Clippers.

However, his work as a screener and facilitator has also been important for the development of young players like Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell — they have posted effective field goal percentages of 51.1 and 60.0, respectively,  on shots after a pass from Poeltl.

If the Spurs think they can convince Poeltl to re-sign at a reasonable price and decide it’s a more advantageous team-building path to let their young talent compete, unfettered, in the most supportive environment possible, it might make sense to just keep the big man.

— Ian Levy

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— Josh Wilson

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