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Grading impact of NBA trade deadline deals as seasons veers toward playoff stretch drive

Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been more than a month since the NBA trade deadline, and we have a solid sample size to analyze which deals had the most significant impact. It was one of the busiest and most profound deadlines in decades. There’s even an argument that the Kevin Durant trade was the most significant trade deadline in NBA history, certainly within the last 30 years.

After the Durant trade occurred shortly after midnight on the morning of the deadline, there was a flurry of activity. However, once the dust settled, the Western Conference saw some notable upgrades, while the Eastern Conference didn’t make any significant moves that bore new

Big names like Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, James Wiseman, D’Angelo Russell, Bones Hyland, Rui Hachimura, Mike Conley, and Jakob Poeltl were all moved. But there were plenty of smaller, subtler moves that went under the radar but had profound impacts on their new homes. We’ve pinpointed the five trades besides Durant and Irving, which had the most significant influence on the acquiring teams.

Josh Hart to New York Knicks

We’ve covered the immediate charge Josh Hart gave the Knicks upon his arrival. After Durant to the Phoenix Suns, Hart was the second-best deadline deal. He has brought two-way play the team desperately needed off the bench. He’s the prototypical Tom Thibodeau player, as someone capable of defending multiple positions, switching onto star offensive players, shooting threes at a high clip, rebounding at a high level, and coming up clutch when needed.

But it’s not just the stats where Hart has excelled (59 percent from three and 72 eFG percent since joining the Knicks). He has also brought vocal leadership sorely needed on a roster filled with mostly players who let their game speak for themselves.

Once Hart came on board, the Knicks rattled off nine wins, beating the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Utah Jazz. Hart wasn’t the main or only reason they won nine straight, but his intangibles and glue-guy mentality helped solidify their previously timid crunch-time antics. They stopped blowing leads and started maintaining runs. The Knicks are now streaking at the perfect time going into the playoffs, where Hart will guard the opposing team’s best players while in the game.

Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell to Los Angeles Lakers

Before the deadline, every metric and player profile was on the Lakers’ wish list. They seemingly covered all their bases when they acquired Jarred Vanderbilt and D’Angelo Russell in a three-team trade.

Vanderbilt has given the Lakers their best perimeter defender in years, with his ability to guard all five positions, including the opposing point of attack and the perimeter. He is currently second on the team in defensive box plus-minus (3), second in steals percentage (3), and fourth in PER (15.5). The Lakers have a 107.6 defensive rating, the best mark in the NBA since the trade deadline.

Vanderbilt has allowed the Lakers to pair Anthony Davis with a defensive-minded big who is athletic and quick enough to form a formidable defensive frontcourt and cover Davis when he sits without giving up size and acumen. He has shown immediate chemistry with Davis, in particular, since joining the team. Vanderbilt is the prototypical tall (6-foot-8) and wingspan (7-1) teams are trying to load up on. If his three-point shot can begin falling in the mid 30’s percentile, he could be a cornerstone for the Lakers moving forward, acting as a Swiss Army knife on both sides of the floor.

James Wiseman to Detroit Pistons

This season, many around the league were ready to call the former second-overall pick a bust. But since being traded to Detroit, James Wiseman has shown flashes of the potential that made him a top pick coming out of Memphis. Through 11 games, he is averaging 13.2 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game, and 1.2 blocks per game, all career highs. With the Pistons, Wiseman is hitting 68.8 percent of his shots within eight feet, as he has been the beneficiary as the roll man in pick and-roll sets with Jaden Ivey, an athletic, attacking guard. Those numbers should be even better when Cade Cunningham returns from surgery next season. For now, Wiseman and Ivey have developed into the team’s best pick-and-roll duo, averaging 1.13 points per possession.

There are few duos with elite athleticism running P&R, making both serious threats rolling toward the basket. In just a short sample size, we’ve seen Wiseman, who stands at 7 feet tall, leverage his size and agility to dash towards the painted region and block his opponent before executing his increasingly effective left hook shot.

Wiseman’s massive size and broad stature have also helped Detroit rank third in offensive rebounds at 13.3 per game and eighth in total rebounds per game (46). With a fully-healthy roster next season and a guaranteed Lottery pick onboard, the Pistons should finally be able to shed their bottom-of-the-barrel status for the Play-In tournament.

Mikal Bridges to the Brooklyn Nets

The level of talent in the NBA has never been higher. This has made the trade packages for stars filled with high-ceiling young players who instantly recoup some of the scoring punch vacated by existing stars. We have seen that with Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler filling in nicely for Rudy Gobert in Utah, and now Mikal Bridges appearing to be a future star for the Brooklyn Nets. Bridges was one of the league’s best 3-and-D players in Phoenix as a fourth option. In Brooklyn, he has shown he has another level to his game.

Since arriving, he’s averaged 25.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, .509 FG percent, 49 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Bridges looks like the future of the Nets. Bridges’ emergence reminded NBA fans of James Harden and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander when they were traded as role players to new teams before emerging as stars. His coming out party was in the Nets’ 28-point comeback against the Celtics, where Bridges dropped 38 points, shot 59 percent from the field, and grabbed 10 rebounds. The craziest part? He’s doing it in fewer minutes with the Nets (34.3 minutes per game) than he was playing with the Suns (36.4 MPG).

Josh Richardson to New Orleans Pelicans

In just four years since the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans have amassed one of the best young cores in the NBA and a treasure chest of draft picks. With Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, and Brandon Ingram, they have three All-Star-caliber players to pair with their endless athletic wings and two-way guards. If the Pels are missing anything, it’s shooting. They currently ranked 19th in three-point percentage, 21st in three-point makes, and 27th in three-point frequency.

They picked up 29-year-old Josh Richardson, a 6 ‘6 veteran guard with a 36-percent career shooting percentage from three. With the Pelicans, he’s already shooting the third-highest amount of threes per game in his career at 4.6 per, showing he understands the assignment. He also brings defense, as he’s gifted with a 6’10” wingspan, athleticism, and quick hands.

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Through nine games with the Pelicans, his average stands at 2.6 steals per game (SPG) and 0.8 blocks per game (BPG). As a secondary or tertiary ball-handler, he’s solid in controlling turnovers and decision-making, maintaining a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.97-to-1, a commendable figure for a two-guard. With the Pelicans finishing many games with McCollum at point, Richardson has a chance to finish alongside him at the two, providing his three-point percentage rises to the consistency of his defense.

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo