ESPN released its NBA Real Plus-Minus projections earlier this week along with a revealing primer by Kevin Pelton. Let’s take a look at the Real Plus-Minus rankings for fantasy insights and opportunities in light of the upcoming trade-deadline.
Dennis Schroder is ranked 21st in ESPN’s first Real Plus-Minus rankings for the 2019-20 season with a 3.18 RPM. It’s still early and things can change, but this is a stark contrast to Schroder’s 2013-2014 season when he had a -8.3 rating for the Atlanta Hawks. Why is this relevant? Schroder plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, a surprise playoff contender after trading both Paul George and Russell Westbrook—this is what happens when Chris Paul is on your roster. A playoff birth would be a small bright spot after a devastating loss of talent, but it would also be a bit counterproductive. The Thunder are draft rich after a series of trades this summer and are moving toward a full rebuild. The only thing preventing a full-scale tear down is the veteran stabilization of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder.
Schroder is having a solid season in the real and fantasy-NBA. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 0.7 steals, while shooting 46.8 percent from the field (which would be a career high for a full season), 34.1 percent from three, and 83.1 percent from the free-throw line. A stat-line that is good for 107 in total value and 134 in per-game value according to Basketball Monster. His positive RPM suggests he’s playing well in a way that helps real basketball teams, which should bolster his trade market. Of all the players on the Thunder roster, Schroder and Gallinari are the most likely to get traded. Chris Paul’s albatross of a contract makes him untradeable (for now) and Steven Adams plays a devalued position with a not insignificant contract himself.
I’m not smart enough to predict how Schroder’s production might change once he’s traded, it’s obviously dependent on which team he’s traded to, but you should at least be aware that it’s a possibility. Schroder might be a hold either way. It will probably be difficult to convince opposing players that Schroder will put them over the top in the playoffs or make a massive impact in future seasons, but stay vigilant.
Danilo Gallinari is ranked 162 in RPM, which is a little surprising given his offensive efficiency. His low evaluation, I think, speaks to how much of a negative he is on the defensive end— -0.48 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. You need not worry about a change in scenery cratering Gallinari’s value, as long as he’s shooting the three well and getting to the free-throw line he’ll be just fine. We’re nearing a season and a half of good health and hyper efficiency for Gallo, who is ranked 53rd in per-game value at Basketball Monster with a stat line of 17.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 0.7 steals, while shooting 42.6 percent from the field, 39 percent from three, and 90.9 percent from the line. The crazy thing is, Gallo’s shooting is down compared to last season, which should only remind you how potent he was in 2018-19.
Efficiency Among Dysfunction in New York
Marcus Morris might be THE player to watch during trade season. Why? He plays for the lowly Knicks and is currently afforded all kinds of playing time and shot-selection leeway. Morris is playing the second-most minutes of his career (32.1), taking the most (14.2 FGA), and making the most (6.1 FGM) shots of his career, while shooting a career best 47.7 percent from three and 86.1 percent from the free-throw line. He’s throwing up a stat-line of 18.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 0.9 steals. Morris is making 2.8 threes a game compared to 1.9 threes a game last season. His production lands him at 75 on the RPM leaderboard, but he plays for the Knicks so that might be an even more impressive feat than the number implies.
Morris’ 2019-20 season and contract are the archetypes for a player you want to acquire in a trade. He’s on an expiring contract in the middle of a career year. Best case scenario, you ride his hot hand to a few extra playoff wins or series wins; worst case scenario, he’s unable to produce the same level of efficiency in more limited minutes and you move on in the summer or sign him to a lesser deal due to his late season struggles. Morris is well-aware of this reality, he knows he’s having a potentially outlier season and has already made it known he does not want to be traded. Why would any rational thinking human being WANT to play for the Knicks, you ask? Because if he keeps up his ridiculous three-point shooting a big pay-day is waiting for him in the summer. He could be one of the top targets in a weak free agent class. Being traded doesn’t automatically eliminate that as a possibility but it does add new variables—new team, change in minutes, change in role, more pressure to make shots, more pressure to play sound team-oriented defense.
If you even get a whiff of Morris being traded to a team with the potential to make noise in the playoffs, selling-high is your move. Fantasy is all about volume and it’s hard to see Morris getting this kind of volume anywhere else. Morris is currently the 57th ranked player according to per-game value this season. Last year, in a slightly reduced role, he finished the season as the 113th ranked player by per game value according to Basketball Monster.
Bertans for Three
Davis Bertans checks in at 29 on the RPM rankings and is a natural trade candidate for the same reasons as Marcus Morris—shooting the lights out on an expiring contract. Bertans has entered the Steph Curry echelon of shooting statistics by getting up 8.6 three-point attempts a game, making 4, and shooting 46 percent from three in the process. In 2015-16, Curry shot 11.2 threes, made 5.1 of them, and shot it at a 45 percent clip. And that insane parallel is a large part of why the Wizards are hesitant to trade Bertans. He’s still fairly young at 27 and fits perfectly alongside Beal and Wall. On the other hand, he’ll be an unrestricted free-agent coming off a career year in a weak free-agent class. He could be in line for a massive pay raise and I don’t know if you know but the Wizards have two large contracts already on the books.
A Bertans trade would have to be a slight dampener on his fantasy value. The Wizards aren’t winning anything this year and their all offense style of play keeps Bertans on the floor and jacking. If he were playing for higher stakes, would he get the same freedom, would he lose minutes because of defensive deficiencies? Bertans is currently -1.52 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, worst of any player in the top 30 of Plus-Minus rankings. In fairness, he plays for the Wizards, one of the worst defenses in the league and in a better environment last season he was a slight positive at 0.43 DRPM. Bertans is a shooter, as pure as they come, but a slight drop in volume is likely to follow if he’s traded, but he’s still a hold if he’s on your roster. He was 34th in RPM last season, which suggests he’s just good. Outside of the Spurs constricted system, he’s showing all he’s capable of.
Potential Consolidation Trades
Christian Wood will not be getting traded and, due to his contract, it’s unlikely Blake Griffin will either, but in the event of a Griffin trade, Wood would be in line for a massive bump in minutes. Wood is ranked 20th by RPM, one spot below Ben Simmons. Wood is not nearly as good as Simmons, but it does make you think. Could Wood be heading toward a breakout next year or even later this season? Wood is averaging 9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks, while shooting 61.7 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three, and 63.5 percent from the free-throw line in 15.4 minutes per game this season. Per 36 minutes, Wood is averaging 21.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2 blocks. Even if Griffin was traded, his actual production would probably fall somewhere in the middle of these two stat-lines, but the per 36 numbers illustrate that there is more to be mined from Wood’s play.
Of the two high-priced veterans in San Antonio (Aldridge and DeRozan), LaMarcus Aldridge is the one more likely to remain in San Antonio next season. His contract for 24 million was fully guaranteed by the Spurs in advance of the June 29, 2020 deadline for that decision. If the Spurs want to keep him they’ve earned some good will by guaranteeing his contract and he has the lower salary—DeRozan’s player option is for 27 million next season per Spotrac. But this bit of the article isn’t about either of the veterans. If Aldridge is let go or his minutes are scaled back, Jakob Poeltl would stand to benefit the most.
RPM ranks Poeltl at 32. While some players are strongly positive in one of Offensive or Defensive Real Plus-Minus and slightly negative in another, Poeltl is slightly positive in both (1.44 ORPM and 1.31 DRPM). He’s big and smart and plays the Spurs system well. Poppovich has a long track-record of getting solid production from unheralded big men. Poeltl is the latest chapter in that epic. Poeltl may always be a player who is more useful for his real team than fantasy teams, but some offensive development could certainly boost his fantasy prospects.