Fantasy hoops: Who would benefit from NBA deadline trades? staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN NBA Insider Kevin Pelton and ESPN Fantasy's Jim McCormick and Joe Kaiser.

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday, and there is no shortage of trade buzz circulating. Name a player you recommend stashing in fantasy leagues for the next couple of days because there is a good chance he will benefit from a trade -- be it a swap involving him or a teammate.

Kevin Pelton: Juancho Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets. Most of the rumors circulating about the Nuggets have them potentially trading a forward -- either Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari -- for draft picks instead of players who would help now. While it's possible Denver could add a veteran forward too, given the Nuggets are currently eighth in the Western Conference and trying to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans for the final playoff spot in the West, I think they're likely to turn the spot over to Hernangomez after his strong recent performances as a starter.

Most notably, Hernangomez had 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors last Monday, making six 3-pointers in nine attempts. It's not realistic to expect that kind of production (or the 43 minutes Hernangomez played with both Chandler and Gallinari unavailable) on a regular basis -- Hernangomez followed it up with three points in 32 minutes during the last game before the All-Star break. Still, his minutes and value would have a good chance of improving after a Denver trade.

Jim McCormick: This is even more appropriate given the trade deadline in standard ESPN basketball leagues is Wednesday at noon ET -- as speculation is required this time of year. As Philly beat scribe Derek Bodner notes, the 76ers' Nerlens Noel leads the NBA in steal rate, albeit in limited minutes. If the team can find a buyer for Jahlil Okafor by Thursday, we can expect steady minutes for Noel, even when Joel Embiid returns, for the duration of the campaign. We can also expect Embiid to continue to rest on the back leg of consecutive games, affording Noel a starter's share of opportunity every third game or so.

Over the past five games, Noel has been brilliant in transition and capable in the pick-and-roll phase, with 12.2 points on 68 percent shooting in this recent sample without Embiid active. Most importantly, he's averaged 2.6 steals over his past five games. Few players can provide Noel's blend of blocks and steals -- among the scarcest stats in fantasy basketball -- thus he's a worthy speculative addition amid the trade buzz circulating.

Joe Kaiser: Okafor will probably never be a fantasy star, because he doesn't block enough shots or distribute as well as many other centers in the league. He's also not a big rebounder. But if he lands on the right team and averages 30-35 minutes a night, Okafor has a chance to round into a Brook Lopez-type center whose best asset is scoring. Remember, he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes a game as a rookie in Philly last season.

With DeMarcus Cousins now in New Orleans and Jusuf Nurkic now in Portland, the question is which teams might still be interested in Okafor. Boston has been linked to him, but it's hard to imagine Okafor doing much better on a team that already has a proven center in Al Horford and a go-to scorer in Isaiah Thomas. Minnesota and Milwaukee could be two others to watch; as Pelton pointed out recently, both of those teams make sense because they have shot-blocking bigs (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns) who could play the four to pair alongside the offensive-oriented Okafor.