Forward Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, point guard Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and shooting guard Victor Oladipo of the Houston Rockets are the only three players who could make a real difference in the NBA’s title race likely to be available at this year’s trade deadline.
There are other players who could possibly be moved who would greatly help contending teams, such as Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins, New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball and Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, but none have the potential impact of Lowry, Gordon or Oladipo.
For teams trying to win a championship, trade deadline acquisitions are usually moves aimed to put a good team over the top with the acquisition of an exceptional player. None of the three guys I’m talking about are superstars, but all of them can be the final piece to turn a playoff team into a bona fide title contender. All of them have attributes that make them valuable with, but more importantly, without, the ball.
Let’s start with Kyle Lowry since his case as a title-shifting player is most obvious. Lowry is a six-time All-Star, an NBA Champion with oodles of playoff experience and a terrific team player. On offense, he is well-rounded and can be trusted with the ball in a tight spot. Lowry can score on his own, averaging 17.6 points per game this season, but he can distribute the ball as well, averaging 7.4 assists per contest.
Lowry can be a stabilizing presence in any offense while also not dominating; his usage rate is 21.9% this year, the third most on the Raptors behind point guard Fred VanVleet and power forward Pascal Siakam. Lowry has played with other stars his entire career, which has forced him to learn how to impact the game off-ball as well: Lowry shoots 39% from three. His offense can be a big boost to any team needing steady point-guard play.
And then there is the rest of his game. While his size — only 6’0”, roughly seven inches shorter than the average NBA player — limits who he can guard, he is always capable of checking opposing guards. In addition, Lowry has always been a high motor player; he is 35 years old and leads the entire league in charges drawn.
Possibly most important, Lowry is a great leader. On a team where he is a complementary piece, he can bring more value than almost anybody else based on professionalism and leadership alone. So, while a team is taking a risk by trading for a 35-year-old in the final year of his contract, Kyle Lowry can be the third-best player on a team that wins the title this year. While they likely do not have the assets to pull it off, the Los Angeles Clippers would be a perfect fit for him. The Philadelphia 76ers would benefit hugely from adding the Philadelphia native as well.
Next up is Gordon. While Lowry has played in countless playoff series, won a title and is an established star; none of those accolades apply to Gordon, who is 10 years Lowry’s junior. The case for Gordon has to do with the idea he is limited by his current team and his skill set is tailor-made for the modern NBA. He has wasted away on a middling Magic team for the first six-plus years of his career, yet he is now at the center of trade talks. It is easy to see why.
Gordon is a big, versatile forward known for his otherworldly athleticism. While he will never be the offensive engine for a good team, he has a helpful offensive skill set. Gordon averages 14.6 points per game and has shown flashes of perimeter shooting and playmaking this season. Gordon is averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game; while he normally will not initiate the offense, it is always helpful to have additional playmakers. He is also shooting a career-high 37.5% from three this season. It is hard to see that holding, as he is 33% from beyond the arc for his career, but even if he regresses to the league average, that is a benefit. His real value comes on the other end of the floor.
Gordon has never been a lockdown defender, but his size — he stands at 6’8” — and athleticism make him an intriguing piece for playoff teams. He is a solid rebounder, almost averaging seven per game, and FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor metric paints him as a helpful positive on defense. While he has never been dominant on that end of the floor, good teams can shape him into a defensive force. With the right coach and scheme, I agree. There are few in the league with his combination of size, lateral movement and bounce.
A good coach should be able to unlock his talent, but there is risk involved. Lowry has been in the league for 15 years and his success is a sure thing, while there is uncertainty involved with Gordon because of his lack of playoff experience and his need for a good coach and defensive scheme. Regardless, I think teams like the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets would be hard-pressed to find someone who could help their team more as a third or fourth option, which is why I believe Gordon can swing the title race.
The third and final player is someone who has already been traded once this season: Victor Oladipo. Since his All-NBA season in 2017-18, Oladipo has been injured more than he has been healthy, making it tough to gauge his trade value. But even if he is never as good as he was then, he can still certainly help out a contender.
This version of Oladipo is not as good a shooter or overall scorer as he used to be, but he would still provide tremendous value as a third option. While he is shooting only 41% from the field and 32% from three, he is doing so on a terrible Houston Rockets team that recently hit a 20 game losing streak. This means he often has to take bad shots when his team cannot create anything else. Even though he has been inefficient, the offensive juice is clearly still there; Oladipo is averaging 21.2 points and 5.0 assists per game, and he still seems capable of getting to the rim when he wants to. As a complementary piece, that is hugely valuable.
And that is not even taking his defense into account. Even on a team struggling to get stops, the former Indiana Hoosier still averages 1.2 steals per game and has a +1.8 defensive rating according to FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor. His quickness, toughness and active hands allow him to check some of the league’s better guards with decent success. With all the incredible guards in the NBA today, that skill is helpful to have in the playoffs.
Like Gordon, though, there is risk involved with Oladipo. He is injury prone and in the final year of his contract, meaning he may be only a rental. Even so, many teams could use Oladipo’s mix of scoring, playmaking and defense. The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks are the two teams that could utilize his skillset the best.
While it is possible none of these players get traded by Friday’s deadline, they should. Contenders should be taking swings on these three players. Lowry has a championship pedigree and is a hugely helpful point guard. Gordon can help on offense and potentially be a stalwart defender. Oladipo just needs something to play for again — and to stay healthy. There may be three trades at the deadline or there may be 50, but unless one of these three players is involved, the trades will probably not make a fringe contender into a team that can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this summer.
Tim Brennan is a first-year in the McDonough School of Business. Around the Association appears online every other week.