And in the blink of an eye, the NBA is already a quarter of the way through the season.
Early season surprises have either leveled off or proven they’re for real.
The true contenders have started to separate from the rest of the field, while the rebuilders are settling on the bottom.
With the playoff contenders starting to become more clearly defined, the trade-deadline buyers also become more clear.
Teams will use early-season performance to determine where they need to improve the roster.
To determine who is most likely to be traded we will first identify the teams most likely to be buyers and their needs.
NBA Teams to be Buyers
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing cancellations to a handful of teams, not everybody has played the same amount of games.
However, for the most part, teams have played at least 20 games so far.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets are the top 3 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, and Los Angeles Lakers are the top 3 teams in the Western Conference.
The NBA standings through Monday's action. pic.twitter.com/vPCreUuNSt
— NBA (@NBA) February 2, 2021
All 6 teams have title hopes, so we will focus on their needs for this exercise.
The Lakers don’t have any pressing needs.
They are the defending champions who clearly haven’t missed a beat even with the short offseason.
Brooklyn has the most obvious need as their defense is porous at best.
DeAndre Jordan isn’t anchoring a championship-caliber defense anytime soon, and they will need to fix that to make real noise.
The 76ers and Clippers both could use a backup offensive-minded guard.
Utah and Milwaukee could both use some added depth and offensive firepower, but they aren’t vital.
And all playoff teams could always use more shooting.
With that, let’s get started.
1. Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose has been a popular name in trade-rumors for over a year now.
The 32-year-old point guard is playing for one of the worst teams in the league in the Detroit Pistons who are clearly at the start of a rebuild.
He has had somewhat of a career resurgence lately, averaging 18 PPG in back-to-back seasons on better than 48% shooting from the field.
While he is no longer talented enough to be a starter on a playoff team, Rose is a great option off the bench.
He has the ability to attack off the dribble and get his own bucket against the second-unit defenses.
However, he doesn’t come without concerns.
Rose has been dealing with a left-knee injury this year which has held him out of 5 games.
He is also only shooting 33% from deep after converting 31% of his looks last year.
Teams still value veteran leadership and solid point guard play off the bench.
The Clippers, 76ers, and Nets should all be interested in acquiring his services.
— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) January 26, 2021
2. George Hill
George Hill was apart of this summer’s trade that sent Jrue Holiday to the Bucks.
This was somewhat surprising as Hill was a valuable contributor to the Bucks for his solid defense and perimeter defense.
He is a veteran with championship experience from his one year with the Cavs that teams should value.
Hill is a career 38% shooter from deep on more than 3 attempts-per-game.
This includes last season that saw him convert a whopping 46% of his 3’s.
He has cooled off slightly this season but is still tickling the twine to the tune of 39% on 4 attempts-per-game.
And he has the Oklahoma City Thunder sitting at 8-11 during a season many saw them contending for the worst team in the league.
Similar to Rose, Hill can provide solid offense and defense off the bench while leading the second-unit.
Given he is a better shooter and defender than Rose, all of the contenders should be interested in George Hill for the right price.
George Hill had minor surgery on his thumb today and will be reevaluated in 4 weeks.
The trade deadline is March 25. Despite the injury, expect several teams to be interested in Hill.
Hill has been important offensively + defensively for OKC.
The good news: more Theo Maledon.
— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) February 2, 2021
3. PJ Tucker
At first glance, it may not look like PJ Tucker is a likely trade candidate.
He has started all 19 games this year while averaging nearly 31 MPG.
But look closer, and it makes logical sense for the Rockets to deal the 35-year-old forward.
Tucker is in the final year of his contract and has already voiced his displeasure with not getting a new deal.
Trading away superstar James Harden indicated they want to retool and move forward with a new direction.
The Rockets should prioritize adding draft capital and Tucker is their best bet at getting some valuable picks in return.
PJ is a career 36% shooter from deep and is hitting at a career-best 40% this season.
His ability to space the floor on offense is valuable in today’s age.
Tucker is also as versatile as they come on defense.
Listed at 6’5″, 245 lbs, he is strong enough to hang with most NBA centers, which allows him to play the 5 on occasion.
However, he is quick enough to also guard wings and forwards.
I just wanna show this really impressive defense by PJ Tucker right here.
He's matched up with Dame on the perimeter, stays glued to him, and intercepts the dump-off pass to Kanter after the contest by Gordon. That's not easy pic.twitter.com/pQ1zHLUC5r
— Disney Gary Clark (@Itamar1710) January 29, 2021
Title contending teams can never have enough 3-and-D wings.
The fact Tucker can also play the 5 makes him all the more valuable.
Brooklyn is an obvious destination as he could play the 5 to help solidify the defense of the otherwise offensively-gifted starting five.
The Bucks could also look at him to help shore up what has been a below-average defense this year.