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January 14, 2019

NBA Trade Rumors: Does Dennis Smith Jr.'s availability impact Markelle Fultz market?

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We're still waiting for an update on Sixers guard Markelle Fultz, weeks after the second-year player was ruled out indefinitely with thoracic outlet syndrome. But while we wait for Fultz and his jumper to get right in the darkness, a fellow member of the 2017 NBA Draft class is reportedly on the market.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Dallas Mavericks are in pursuit of a Dennis Smith Jr. trade, with Woj claiming the Mavericks are "escalating discussions" in advance of February's trade deadline.

That makes a good deal of sense for the Mavericks, who have found themselves a wunderkind in Luka Doncic. Since they now have a player who is more effective with the ball in his hands than DSJ and could use it there as much as possible, exchanging Smith Jr. for better-fitting parts makes some sense. That goes double if Smith Jr. is bristling at playing second fiddle to Doncic.

On first glance, the Mavericks' desire to move Smith Jr. doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Sixers or Fultz. Unfortunately, it's the teams that appear to be interested in Smith Jr. that bring this all back to Philadelphia.

Phoenix and Orlando, the two suitors listed in Woj's report, have been mentioned as possible destinations for Fultz for as long as there have been credible trade rumors attached to his name. They are obvious fits on many levels, with both having a dire need for a point guard upgrade. Orlando has been mentioned in a lot of fake trades with the Sixers, with Terrence Ross and his expiring contract popping up quite frequently in poorly-constructed trade machine screenshots.

If one of these teams decides to take the plunge on Smith Jr., they are almost certainly out of any discussions for Fultz moving forward. Smith Jr. would be billed as the "point guard of the future" at either stop, and we've already seen what it looks like when Fultz is put in more of an off-ball role. Spoiler alert: it's not great.

So Smith Jr. (who averaged 15.2 ppg as a rookie and has actually produced more efficiently this season) being available hurts Fultz's value before we dive into a lot of specifics. Detroit is the only other team that has been credibly reported as a Fultz suitor so far, and if a market of three dwindles down to two, there are not many teams for the Sixers to play off one another to extract max value.

And that's before we acknowledge what a price being set on Smith Jr. does for the rest of his class, particularly other guards from it. This part is currently an unknown, but Smith Jr. has been a significantly more useful player to date than Fultz. That doesn't mean he's perfect (and I'm personally not a huge fan of what I've seen), but in a lower usage role this season his effectiveness as a shooter has improved at basically every level, his free-throw rate has improved, and even his defense has picked up a little bit (from a low starting point, in fairness).

Fultz may have entered the league with a much better pedigree, but the teams that don't acquire Smith Jr. would be totally justified in looking at Fultz and thinking they should have to give up much less to get him. Smith Jr. has plenty of theoretical upside without the numerous concerns surrounding Fultz. A young point guard like DSJ becoming available hurts the seller's market for point guards, because if you're one of the few teams in the league that needs one, odds are you're inquiring about Smith Jr. before anyone else.

The closer we get to the trade deadline without even an update on Fultz, the more unrealistic it seems that they'll be able to move him before the deadline. If they do, it certainly won't be for anything of consequence, and that'll be tough to swallow given how costly the trade was they used to acquire him in the first place.

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