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June 10, 2024

What can the Sixers get in a trade for the No. 16 overall pick?

What does recent history tell us about the trade value of a mid-first round NBA draft pick?

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De'Anthony Melton 6.10.24 Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, the Sixers used their first-round pick -- No. 23 overall -- to acquire De'Anthony Melton from the Memphis Grizzlies. Could they pull off a similar move later this month?

The Sixers own the No. 16 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, which begins in nearly two weeks. Many have suspected that, given the team's win-now timeline, Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and his front office will look to move the pick — especially if it is in exchange for a veteran contributor.

Ahead of the trade rumors that will certainly escalate over the next couple of weeks, it would be wise to take a history lesson of sorts in hopes of understanding the true value of a mid-first round draft choice. Using all draft day trades over the last half-decade as a barometer, here is the best way to approximate how much the Sixers can extract in a trade should they choose to move this selection:

Trading down

The most common form of trade during any draft is one where a team uses an additional asset(s) to move up in the order as they target a player they likely would not be able to select otherwise. Trading down may be harder to do in this year's draft specifically, as draft boards seem to be wildly different from team to team. But there is almost always movement of some kind, and sitting in the middle of the first round without an obvious choice, the Sixers could move down the board, pick up an additional draft pick or two — either another one later in this draft or one in a future draft — and select a player later on.

There is no uniform formula to determine what draft picks are worth in the NBA. Some have tried to create draft pick value charts similar to the ones that have been popularized in the NFL, but they are not relied-upon nearly as much from a public perspective. 

Teams' willingness to trade up or down (or lack thereof) is determined by far more than their scouting reports of certain prospects: some teams consolidate assets because they have a roster crunch coming; some have such poor depth that they feel inclined to move down just so they can have more throws at the dartboard.

Over the last five drafts, there have been a handful of teams who traded down from the general region of the draft that the Sixers are in this month:

Team, YearPick(s) tradedReturn
Celtics, 2019No. 20No. 24, No. 33
Jazz, 2020No. 23No. 27, No. 38
Wizards, 2021No. 22No. 31, Aaron Holiday
Knicks, 2021No. 21No. 25, future 2nd-rounder
Timberwolves, 2022No. 19, future 2nd-rounderNo. 22, No. 29
Celtics, 2023No. 25No. 31, two future 2nd-rounders

Just about anybody behind the Sixers on the board could make theoretical sense as a trade-up team at No. 16 using their next-highest selection and a future draft pick or two. But right now, one team does stand out as particularly sensible option should the Sixers go that route.

The New York Knicks have three picks in the top 40 — No. 24, No. 25 and No. 38 — and, with a win-now mindset similar to that of the Sixers, could look to avoid bringing three rookies into training camp. The Sixers could trade No. 16 and No. 41 to New York for No. 24 and No. 25, allowing the Knicks to nab whoever they believe to be the best player remaining on the board and the Sixers to add two potential contributors to their currently-thin roster.

Trading out

This is a bit of an unconventional route in the NBA, but one that has gained steam over the last few years. Teams have dealt first-round picks — and not just ones at the very back-end of the first round — without receiving any present-day picks in return, typically allowing them to collect multiple future first-round choices.

On its surface, this may seem like a silly concept for the Sixers: why would a team attempting to win a championship in the near future trade a draft pick for future selections rather than choosing a player who could potentially contribute if they fail to move the pick for a win-now veteran?

Teams who make these sorts of moves oftentimes are doing it so they can gear up to make a major trade down the line. Look at the Knicks, for example, who between similar draft day trades in 2021 and 2022 accumulated four future first-round picks. Those moves set the table for them to trade for OG Anunoby — and still have more than enough picks left in their back pocket that they could swing another significant deal this summer if the right target emerges.

In 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder made this exact decision from the exact same spot — they had the No. 16 pick that year, and sent it to the Houston Rockets for two future first-round picks. Of course, it all depends on the right team having the right prospect in mind, but the precedent is absolutely there.

The Sixers hope to sign a star-caliber player in free agency this summer, but if they strike out, their most likely pivot would be trading for one. A deal like this could help facilitate such a move.

Trading for an established player

If the Sixers do trade No. 16, one would imagine that this is their preferred route. They traded No. 23 to the Memphis Grizzlies (along with the then-injured Danny Green) to De'Anthony Melton in 2022 — taking advantage of Memphis' ensuing roster crunch — and it was a roaring success. Many have assumed that, armed with an even higher selection, Morey could pull off a similar deal two years later.

For two reasons, this appears to be much more difficult than one might anticipate.

In the last five drafts, the Melton trade was the only one in which a team sent a non-lottery pick for a player without any additional assets of value being in the deal (when the Melton deal happened in 2022, Green was on an expiring contract and had already been ruled out for the vast majority of the following season). The Melton situation was a unique one in which the Grizzlies were running out of rotation spots on a team with remarkable depth, and was willing to part with a young contributor to kick the can down the road and trust their player development system.

Additionally, the Sixers only have one player who is under contract for next year on what one could loosely describe as a "medium-sized" contract: Paul Reed, who is scheduled to make just over $7.7 million in 2024-25, and their largest trade exception is only worth about $6.8 million. If the team traded Reed and No. 16 on draft day, they could only take back around $9.7 million in salary. The vast majority of high-caliber rotation players either exceed that price point or are young players on rookie scale contracts who are not available for trade.

The Sixers could, in theory, agree to a trade on the day of the draft but not actually execute the trade for more than a month as they abide by the technicalities of the salary cap. Once a first-round pick signs their rookie scale contract, they are ineligible to be traded for 30 days. So, the Sixers could agree to a trade involving No. 16, draft a player on their trade partner's behalf, sign that player to his deal and execute the deal 30 days later. But all of that work only adds about $4 million to the total salary they are sending out. This method would allow the Sixers to take back approximately $14.8 million in salary. That widens the field of potential trade candidates by a bit, but in the eyes of some, potentially not by enough to make it worth going through all off the aforementioned trouble.

Morey is as active as any NBA executive when it comes to working the phones, and he will exhaust all possible options when it comes to trading No. 16 between now and June 26. Will anything actually come to fruition? Time will tell.

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