Smith-Waiters Trade Analysis

By: Ravneet Singh

We are almost a third way into the NBA season, and we have our second blockbuster trade of the year first reported by Yahoo. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks have all been disappointing this year, so a trade made sense for all of them. Let’s break the trade down for each team and see which teams benefited the most.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Received: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, 1st Round Pick (protected from OKC)

No offense to Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, or whoever gets chosen with their 2019 second-round pick, but Dion was the largest asset the Cavaliers gave up. The former 4th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft hasn’t lived up to his potential. He has never been labeled as an efficient shooter, but this year he is shooting a career low from the field and from three-point land. In return they get another notoriously known “chucker” in J.R. Smith. He’s not shooting much better than Dion, but we’ve seen Smith be quite successful off the bench when he won 6th man of the year, averaging 18.1 points per game. Where Smith is more effective is in catch and shoot situations, rather than just pulling up on isolation shots. His catch and shoot field goal attempts consist of about 35% of his shots, while his pull-up field goals take up 47% percent of his shots, per NBA.com. This is surprising, because his effective shooting percentage is 9% better in catch and shoot situations. If he could lower his pull-up shots and spend his time spreading the floor, then the team will be better off.

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Iman Shumpert is currently dealing with a dislocated shoulder injury that should keep him out a few more weeks. Once he is back he could be the biggest factor in this trade for the Cavaliers if they give him enough time. During his first two years he was known as a very good perimeter defender. However, injuries and the demise of the Knicks have put his defense abilities to question. Defense has been an issue for this Cavs team from the very start of the season, and if Iman can regain that defensive form he once had in the beginning of his career then it could benefit the team plenty.

There are a lot of issues in Cleveland right now: LeBron’s injury, no true center, poor rebounding, and having a below average defense to name a few. This trade could possibly fix the last problem slightly if Iman can play defense like he used to. This trade does add about $4.5 million in salary cap. Shumpert’s contract is not guaranteed next year, so if he doesn’t pan out that’s $2.7 million off the books. Smith will most likely take his player option for $6.4 million next year, which is about $1.3 more than what Waiters would have cost. In summary, the difference between Smith and Waiters will be negligible, so Iman and the potential first round pick will be the biggest rewards for the Cavs.

Grade: B-

Oklahoma City Thunder

Received: Dion Waiters

Perry Jones, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, and Jeremy Lamb. That’s not a bad bench to begin with. In fact, it is probably the best bench OKC has had since losing James Harden.  Add Dion Waiters to that bench, and it just got better. The question is how much better, since he’s shooting career lows from the field. This also means the guard position of the Thunder just got much more crowded. Jackson and Morrow have played quite well this year, and even though Lamb has shown improvement, he’s likely the odd man out. Andre Roberson will likely lose minutes too, but he may keep his starting job.

For the first time in the Thunder’s history under Clay Bennett OKC is over the luxury tax limit. In retrospect they probably wish they had gone over back when they had a chance to resign James Harden, but that ship has sailed. I’ll be surprised if OKC will be over the cap by the end of the year, however. Bennett is just not one of those owners who likes to spend. That being said, they don’t have many assets to unload and save them money with the exception of Kendrick Perkins, who has about $9.1 million on the books. In that case, the Thunder would likely have to unload Perkins with a young prospect like Jeremy Lamb.

Dion is one of those players who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Add him into a team with two players with very high usage and it doesn’t seem like a perfect fit. Durant and Westbrook take up 70% of the team plays when they are on the floor. However, this team does run of BUNCH of isolation plays, so he could do well when Westbrook or Durant are not on the floor. That doesn’t happen very often when those two are healthy, which hasn't been often. Overall, OKC may not end up giving very much for a low risk player. The protected first round pick will likely turn into two second round picks if OKC makes the second round of the playoffs this year. If Waiters doesn’t play well, then there are plenty of other guards on the team that can step up. If he does play well, then it makes them that much stronger of a team.

Grade: C+

New York Knicks

Received: Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, 2019 2nd Round Pick (from CLE), Lance Thomas, CAP ROOM

Unloading contracts in a rebuilding process is always a good thing. It is not easy to get rid of players who are known to be inefficient. That’s what they did when they got rid of J.R. Smith. They are essentially saving around $6 million this year and $6.4 next year with his contract. That’s not a horrible contract, but definitely not a pretty sight for a team that is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Although they gave up Iman Shumpert, they get a 2nd round pick and take a step closer to the rebuilding process.

Smith leaving could improve the development of Tim Hardaway Jr. He hasn’t been the most consistent player, but giving him more minutes will at least give him a shot start for the rest of the year. In fact, Hardaway is one of only five players who are under contract for next year. That’s only about $35 million in salaries. Hence, they will have about $35-$40 million in cap space and gives Phil Jackson plenty of room to spend in FA during the summer.

Trading Smith and Shumpert and letting go of Samuel Dalembert means that the Knicks have embraced tank mode, and they will be fighting for that bottom spot in the East. The question now remains about Carmelo Anthony. Should the Knicks shut him down for the season? Probably. In fact the sooner, the better. Even the greatest players start slowing down after playing so many games. Just look at LeBron earlier this year.

Grade: B

Typically trades don’t always make sense for every side. In this case, it makes a lot of sense for each team. The two struggling teams that will like make the playoffs mixed things up a bit in search of something different. The team that won’t make the playoffs unloaded some money, so that they can spend big this summer (or at least try to).