If the Cleveland Cavaliers dangle the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected first-round pick they acquired from the Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade in an attempt to upgrade their roster before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, they'll be offering an asset that is perhaps more valuable than some think.
The Brooklyn pick has gotten somewhat of a bad rap for being not quite as valuable as once perceived. The result of a not-terrible Nets team (at 19-35, Brooklyn's record is eighth worst in the NBA) is that the Cavaliers, or whoever eventually owns the pick, won't have the most lottery combinations come May. The reality, however, is that the selection still has quite a bit of upside.
ESPN's Basketball Power Index projects the Nets' original selection to have an average draft position of 5.6 with a 25 percent shot at landing in the top three and even an 8 percent shot at the top pick overall. All of that matters and has to be baked into the calculation of the pick's value, even if it's a moving target.
The current projections are only a little worse than they were when the Cavaliers acquired the pick last offseason. Heading into this season, BPI projected an average draft position of 5.1 and gave the pick a 33 percent chance of landing in the top three.
The Nets have a remaining strength of schedule that is about average, and BPI projects them to go 10-18 the rest of the way.
Here's another way to think about the pick currently under the Cavaliers' control: by multiplying the probability (per BPI) of the Nets' earning each specific pick by that pick's value in Kevin Pelton's NBA draft pick trade value chart. By that method, Brooklyn's selection has a projected trade value of 2,342 points, which is actually worth somewhere between the No. 4 and No. 5 overall pick. Why the discrepancy? Because the trade value chart appropriately considers that the correlation between pick value and pick number is not linear (the difference in value between the first pick and second pick isn't the same as between the second pick and third).
Therefore, this more accurately weights the value of what the Cavaliers control by considering the upside possibility of the pick. Granted, that sort of transformation would be true for any mid-lottery pick, but it still helps to give a sense of the pick's true worth.
To put it another way: According to Pelton's calculations, the pick would be expected to be worth around $18 million in total surplus value. That surplus value calculation includes the possibility of performance by the player beyond his rookie deal, which is part of the value of a draft pick.
As much as we'd like it to be, BPI isn't omniscient. So it's useful to look deeper to see if there are any reasons to believe the Nets' performance going forward will be any different than what the model predicts. And in this case there are a couple ... but these fly in both directions.
On one hand: Spencer Dinwiddie (himself the subject of trade rumors) has emerged in a major way this season (he currently ranks ninth in RPM among point guards), and simply given his lack of pedigree and previous performance, his level of play seems subject to at least some regression. We can see a little of that in his 3-point shooting, where he appears to have benefited from some shooting luck.
Dinwiddie is shooting 9.6 3-pointers per 100 possessions (up from 3.6 a year ago), and though his actual rate of conversion on those shots is down to 33.1 percent, there's reason to believe that number is actually inflated. According to quantified Shot Making, a Second Spectrum statistic that measures the difference between a player's effective field goal percentage (eFG) and his expected EFG percent given his quality of shots and shooting ability, Dinwiddie ought to be a few points lower than where he is based on poor shot quality and his shooting history. The same metric suggests Brooklyn G Joe Harris has been fortunate in his 3-point shooting as well.
So whether Dinwiddie comes back to earth, gets dealt or the Nets start to play D'Angelo Russell more in his stead (which would likely be a downgrade compared to what Dinwiddie has been so far), it's probably safe to assume their point guard play will drop off. On the other hand, the Nets have had shooting luck swing against them for other players, like Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe. Perhaps their drop in shooting rates is due to an increased role, but the same could be said for Dinwiddie. In all, it's hard to view the Nets' shooting luck so far this season as much more than a wash.
But in addition to BPI and other on-court factors, there are some other, less quantifiable factors that are helping the pick in question keep its value. First, the emergence of players like Trae Young means that the top tier of prospects in the upcoming NBA draft may have expanded to about seven players. One could imagine that in the preseason the Cavs, then anticipating a top-three pick, fell in love with Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. Now they could still end up using that same pick on Porter Jr., even if that pick ends up being No. 6 or No. 7.
Of course, plenty can still change, but at least at this point the seventh overall pick, for example, looks more valuable than it was presumed to be a few months ago. That's some downside insurance for the pick in the event that the Nets don't take a turn for the worse in the home stretch or the pick doesn't move up in the lottery.
On the flip side, the fact that the Nets' lack of a first-round pick gives them no real reason to tank (while other teams do) is a small mark against the pick's value.
So if Cleveland does decide to move the pick in hopes of squeezing out one more championship, whom would the Cavs go after? Pelton already has you covered on that topic.
Just know that based on their current performance level, the Cavaliers have just a 3 percent chance to reach the NBA Finals again, per BPI. If they make a deal to try to improve those odds -- and the Nets' pick is included in the price -- they'll be giving up an asset of potentially significant consequence.
Ben Alamar contributed to this story.
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