Unfortunately, there tends to be more smoke than fire at the NBA trade deadline. After weeks of posturing, whispering and speculating, all those big names that are bandied about end up staying put. Some deals always get done, and some of those deals have a lot of impact. Carmelo Anthony was an in-season pick-up for the Knicks back in 2011, and his name again seems to be in the news a lot. Just two years ago, the Celtics sent Marcus Thornton and a first-round pick to the Suns for Isaiah Thomas. Oops.
Deadline deals that are actually consummated all have one thing in common: the departure of the headliner in those trades opens up a hole on the team he leaves. That hole has to be filled by someone, whether it's a reserve hoping for just such an opportunity, or an incoming player. We'll focus on the former today by selecting some of the names that have popped up in the NBA rumor mill lately. Assume they end up being dealt.
Of those left behind, who stands to benefit?
Going out: Carmelo Anthony
Anthony's no-trade clause will keep him in New York if he wants to stay in New York. However, if the Knicks' losing ways don't wear him out, Phil Jackson's on-going Tweet war just might. If Anthony were to be traded, the ripple effect on the Knicks would be enormous. Not only does Anthony lead the Knicks in minutes, but he's taken 305 more shots than anybody else on the roster. Because of the likely salary-matching issues with making an Anthony deal work, the Knicks would almost certainly be getting a significant contributor back.
Only three players in the NBA have taken more shots than Anthony. None of those three -- Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, and James Harden -- are going to be coming to New York. So there would be opportunities galore opened up on the roster.
Stepping in: Mindaugas Kuzminskas
Lance Thomas, once he recovers from concussion problems, is ostensibly behind Anthony on the Knicks' depth chart. However, an Anthony trade that doesn't net a scoring small forward would create an enormous opportunity for the surprising Kuzminskas.
As it is, Kuzminskas' per-unit production has been solid for a first-year NBA player whose playing time has been up and down.
However, he's settled into a pretty regular role since Thomas went down. For the season, his 13.1 shots per 36 minutes ranks fourth on the Knicks and he's been New York's highest-volume 3-point shooter.
The hope would be that on a Knicks team without Anthony, the offense would be built off of a Kristaps Porzingis/point guard foundation. That would open up plenty of chances for a wing, and if Kuzminskas could improve his efficiency by playing off that duo and build his rhythm with more stable minutes.
Or ... maybe Jeff Hornacek just goes with Thomas for the defense. Boring.
Going out: Emmanuel Mudiay
It would be a shocker to see the Nuggets ship out their 2015 lottery prize point guard during his second season. But it's happened before -- just ask Michael Carter-Williams -- and Mudiay's name has been floated in the whisper-sphere. While he's only 20 years old, Mudiay hasn't progressed much during his sophomore campaign, with a PER of 10.3 that ranks 227th among 280 qualifying players, per basketball-reference.com.
The fact of the matter is that shot-making point guards are more crucial than ever in the NBA, and Mudiay is more of a shot taker than a shot maker. That is the very reason why Carter-Williams was Rookie of the Year one season and on his way to Milwaukee the next. His .450 true shooting percentage over his first two pro seasons is easily the worst of the 262 players who have taken at least 500 shots during that span.
Stepping in: Jamal Murray
The Nuggets lead the cluster of eight teams with losing records in the West -- the Little Eight, as we'll call them. The winner of the Little Eight gets a playoff spot and the honor of playing the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the postseason. At least people would be watching!
That said, the Nuggets have missed the playoffs in each of the three seasons since they dumped George Karl as head coach, and a postseason slot would mark progress. Under Mike Malone, the Nuggets have progressed in a lot of ways, at least on offense, where Denver ranks eighth in the NBA in efficiency. However that offense has been 3.5 points per 100 possessions better with their starting point guard off the floor, per NBA.com/stats.
The easy and likely more comfortable call for Malone in the wake of a Mudiay trade would be to turn the position over to veteran Jameer Nelson for the stretch run. And, frankly, that's what would probably happen. Yet the more compelling decision would be to hand the keys of the offense to the rookie Murray, who has played off the ball for the majority of his court thus far.
Murray is already averaging more points on a per-minute basis than Mudiay, and his .505 true shooting percentage, while below average, far outstrips what Mudiay has put up so far in his career. And according to 82games.com, Murray's assist rate per 48 minutes as a point guard (7.1) is about the same as Mudiay (7.2).
Murray has also really been coming on recently. Over his last seven games, Murray has averaged 20.9 points per 36 minutes on a .577 true shooting percentage.
Going out: DeMarcus Cousins
The Kings have been adamant that Cousins won't be traded, though he's been a fixture in the rumor mill for a few years now. Cousins was just hit with the 10th suspension of his career this week and while he's clearly one of the best players in the league, the Kings sit 11 games out of .500. They are part of the Little Eight pack, chasing the Nuggets, but if Sacramento misses the playoffs again, it will be the 11th straight season without a postseason appearance. That stretch would encompass the entirety of Cousins' seven-year career. He may not be headed to New York, but maybe he'll be headed somewhere.
Stepping in: Willie Cauley-Stein
If the Kings were able to land a primary scorer, or two, in a Cousins trade, the center position would be wide open for second-year pivot Cauley-Stein. That assumes that Kings coach Dave Joerger would opt for the upside of Cauley-Stein over the more steady play of veteran Kosta Koufos.
Cauley-Stein's playing time has been up and down, much to his chagrin.
But it's been up lately and he's responded, averaging 19.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes while hitting 60.5 percent from the floor. He's shown progress in his second season, upping his usage rate from 13.2 to 18.8 with barely a dent to his high rate of efficiency (.582 true shooting percentage).
The Kings have been 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cauley-Stein on the floor. (The offensive on-off numbers are ugly, it should be noted.). Sacramento's on-court defensive efficiency with Cauley-Stein on the floor is 107.0; with Cousins, it's 110.4.
Sure you can chalk some of that up to playing off the bench, but his defensive RPM (plus-0.58) is better than Cousins (plus-0.48).
Alas, Koufos has outperformed them both in that regard (plus-2.83, eighth among centers). Did we mention Cauley-Stein's upside?