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Diamonds in the rough: three trade targets to bolster Atlanta’s depth

A few under the radar players the Atlanta Hawks should target as trade season gets underway

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With most players who signed contracts during the off-season eligible to be traded on December 15th, the NBA’s unofficial “trade season” is officially underway. For Atlanta, while their offense has been in a good place to start the season (4th in offensive rating), their defense has not (27th in defensive rating), and their recent schedule coupled with Jalen Johnson’s wrist injury have exposed their lack of depth at the forward positions. Below are three players that could help the Hawks in these areas — with a few, less fleshed out trade ideas thrown in at the bottom.

I also wanted to mention that all trade offers below are “opening offers”. This is not to be confused with a “final offer” that might get a deal for one of these players over the line, but simply what I believe is a low level offer that would at the very least get the conversation started with the team on the other end of the phone. Cool? Cool.

Alright, let’s get into it.

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

Aaron Wiggins

Aaron Wiggins* is the extremely rare player who appears to have improved every year, yet, through no fault of his own, has seen his playing time diminish in each of his three seasons in the NBA. Such is life on a Thunder team with so much young talent that head coach, Mark Daigneault, is scraping the bottom of the bowl to find minutes for a 6-foot-6, (soon to be) 25-year-old forward, that is averaging 15.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per-36 minutes*, while shooting 60.3% from the floor and 47.8% from three this season. Must be nice.

*aka the other “A. Wiggins” in NBA 2K

** Wiggins is playing just 12 minutes a night for OKC, and for reference, De’Andre Hunter is currently averaging 17.4 points, 5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per-36 minutes.

Table from basketballreference.com

The 55th overall pick in the 2021 draft is part of a crowded front-court rotation in Oklahoma City, with Lugentz Dort and Jaylen Williams entrenched as the starting 3 and 4, newly signed Kenrich Williams settling in as the back up 4, and recent lottery selections, Cason Wallace and Ousmane Dieng, chomping at the bit for more playing time. Add in the fact that the Thunder’s draft cupboard is still overflowing with assets*, and it’s tough to envision Wiggins being a major part of the team’s long-term plans.

*OKC is projected to have 2 first-round picks in the 2024 draft, and at least 4 more (!) in the 2025 draft

Wiggins doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective on offense, with over half of his points coming off of cuts, and spot-up attempts this season. He’s shooting 35.7% on catch-and-shoot threes for his career, and has improved in this category in each of his three seasons in the NBA. At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, he’s a versatile defender, is active in the passing lanes, and has shown the capability to guard 1-3* on the defensive end of the floor. Defense is about athleticism, effort, and smarts, all tools that Wiggins has in abundance.

*He’s even stolen time guarding 4’s this season, per BBall Index

#’s from nba.com/stats
#’s from nba.com/stats (accurate as of 12/15/23)

Wiggins is making just under $2 million this season, and has a team option at a similar number for the 2024-25 season. As I mentioned in the intro, Atlanta lacks reliable depth on the wings, and Wiggins would provide the team with solid offensive production, and a more defensive minded option than what they currently have on their bench.

Opening Offer: 2024 MIA 2nd-round pick (protected 31-50), 2025 MIN 2nd-round pick (absorb salary using the John Collins trade exception) for Aaron Wiggins

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Trendon Watford

After going undrafted out of LSU back in 2021, Trendon Watford has done an admirable job carving out an NBA role for himself over the past two-plus seasons. Standing at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Watford was a bit of a “tweener” entering the league and split his minutes between the 4 and the 5 positions across 110 games (22 starts) during his first two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. Now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, he has been playing at the 4 more often, and has posted respectable* “per game” averages of 7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2 assists on 52.1% shooting from the field and 29.4% from 3 in just under 15 minutes a night this season.

*Though the turnovers-per-game number (1.1) is a touch high

table from basketballreference.com

Watford has a quirky offensive game. He doesn’t take too many threes, and his outside shot is a bit of a question mark at this point. That being said, while he isn’t exactly a high-flier*, he is a solid finisher when he gets to the rim, hitting around 68% of his shots within four feet for his career. Interestingly enough, the sweet spot for Watford on the offensive end is floater range**, a unique trait for a player of his size. Last season he knocked these shots down at a 55% clip, the ninth highest mark amongst all forwards and bigs who attempted at least 100 floaters, per cleaningtheglass.

*He’s recorded just 15 dunks in his NBA career

**Shots between 4-14 feet from the rim

#’s from cleaningtheglass.com which does not account for stats accumulated in garbage time

Additionally, while Watford typically plays the 4 or 5 on offense, he is more than capable of putting the ball and the floor and making a play for himself or others. He has a high basketball IQ, is posting an assist percentage of 17.8% this season*, and even saw a few minutes at the 1 when the Nets were short on ball-handlers earlier in the year.

*A mark which ranks in the 86th percentile amongst bigs this season, and in the 83rd percentile amongst forwards, per cleaningtheglass

Here he is being guarded by Joel Embiid in transition, and realizes that he is occupying the attention-span of Philadelphia’s primary rim protector. He spots Nic Claxton’s beeline to the rim, takes a dribble, then threads a pass into the heart of the 76ers defense for an easy slam.

In this clip from last season, he gets the ball on the wing and attacks the close-out before the defense can shift. With his defender backpedaling, he passes and screens for Drew Eubanks on the opposite wing, who cashes in the *rubs eyes* 12-foot skyhook. Whoah.*

*Were you expecting to see a Drew Eubanks skyhook today? No you were not.

Here he sees his old pal Eubanks sagging off of him, so goes into a dribble handoff with Bridges, who drops in the mid-range jumper.

These clips not only show off Watford’s playmaking panache, but exemplify his ability to consistently create open shots for his teammates — despite not being the most dangerous scoring threat on the floor.

It should be noted that Watford’s primary value comes on the offensive end, and he does have his flaws on the defensive end of the floor — he’s a touch slow, and lacks the vertical leaping ability to consistently impact shot attempts at the rim — however for me, his size and basketball IQ alone would make him an intriguing fit on the Hawks.

Ever since Jalen Johnson went down, Atlanta has lacked a player who can both score and create for others out of the short-roll. Though Watford has been used on the perimeter more often this season, his mid-range proficiency and playmaking ability make him an ideal candidate to be used in a 1-4 pick-and-roll.

Watford just turned 23 years old, is making a little over $2 million this season, and will be a free agent next summer. Given that Brooklyn has a plethora of options at the 4 in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale, there’s a chance that he can be acquired for a minimal price.

Opening Offer: Opening Offer: 2027 LAC 2nd round pick (absorb salary using the John Collins trade exception) for Trendon Watford

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Matisse Thybulle

Matisse Thybulle has established himself as one of the game’s premier perimeter defenders during his time in the NBA. Despite receiving only 20 minutes of playing time a night, the former first-round pick has routinely ranked near the top of the league leaderboard in steals per game, has never finished outside of the top-3 in steal percentage*, and has been named to the NBA’s All-Defense team twice.

*Percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while he was on the floor.

#’s from basketballreference.com

Still, despite his obvious talent on the defensive side of the ball, Thybulle fell out of favor in his first NBA stop in Philadelphia as his lack of offensive production tended to sandbag the offense and made it difficult to play him consistently, particularly in the postseason when the stakes were raised. Last season, Thybulle’s playing time fell to a career-low 12 minutes per game for the 76ers, and he was dealt to Portland at the trade deadline, providing him with a fresh start for a team in dire need of his defensive skill-set.

Thybulle started in all 22 games he played in for the Blazers last season, played nearly 28 minutes a night, and while he was hardly featured on offense any more than he had been in Philadelphia, his three-point percentage improved from 32.5% (on 2.1 three-point attempts per game) to 38.8% (on 3.9 attempts per game) — just enough to no longer make him a liability on the offensive end. This season, Thybulle has played in all 25 of Portland’s games (12 starts), continues to be tough as nails on the defensive end, and is shooting 40.9% from three (on 3.9 attempts per game).

table from basketballreference.com

From the Hawks’ perspective, Thybulle would provide the team with a top-notch perimeter defender who doesn’t need the ball at all on offense*, yet is capable of knocking down a wide-open three pointer. Though Thybulle — at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds — is a bit undersized to blanket wings such as Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, or Jayson Tatum, he would be the obvious first choice to guard Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, or Damian Lillard in a postseason matchup.

*His 11.2% usage rate during his rookie season was the highest of his career

The issue with Thybulle is that since his primary value lies in guarding the opposing team’s best guard, he should probably be on the floor when the other team’s best guard is playing in the first place — which means that more often than not, he has to be on the floor with his team’s starting unit. Though there are ways to stagger the rotation so that a bench player plays with the starting group a bit more, this could pose some significant questions in a close game if the team is forced to choose between their best perimeter defender or one of their more offensive minded starters*.

*Aka the PJ Tucker conundrum

In Atlanta’s case, both Trae Young and Dejounte Murray simply have to be on the court in crunch time, which means that one of them will have to guard the other team’s 3 if the Hawks are going to maximize Thybulle’s value by having him guard their opponent’s top guard, likely putting the Hawks in another tough spot defensively. Still, there is certainly value in having a defensive ace on your bench, and once Jalen Johnson returns from injury, a bench unit featuring one of Young or Murray alongside Thybulle, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey and Onyeka Okongwu is a tantalizing prospect.

While it’s likely too early to completely forget about Thybulle’s offensive struggles in Philadelphia, his perimeter defense would be a welcome sight for an Atlanta team that can use all the help they can get on that end. Additionally, the Hawks love to jump the passing lanes to spur their transition offense*, and seeing as Thybulle is a ball magnet on defense, I see this skill translating particularly well if he were to be dealt to Atlanta.

*Per cleaningtheglass, the Hawks’ defense has forced turnovers at the 7th highest rate in the NBA this season, and the team is turning steals into transition opportunities at the highest rate in the league.

Thybulle has a unique contract situation in that he received a 3-year, $33-million offer sheet from Dallas this past summer as a restricted free agent. Portland opted to match the offer, which means that Thybulle has veto rights over any trade that he is a part of for one-year, and can’t be traded until January 15th, 2024. The deal also includes a 15% trade bonus, and a player option in the third year.

Given that the Blazers are in full-on rebuild mode, they will likely be looking to flip their veteran players for young prospects and draft assets as the trade deadline nears. Acquiring Thybulle would be a win-now move to help plug the holes in the Hawks’ shoddy perimeter defense.

Opening Offer: Patty Mills, AJ Griffin, 2024 MIA 2nd-round pick (protected 31-50) for Matisse Thybulle and Toumani Camara

The Maybe’s

(remaining contract)

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Jordan McLaughlin

(1-year/$2.32 million)

Speaking of defensive minded guards, Jordan McLaughlin is a low-cost option who is currently on the outskirts of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rotation. Standing six feet tall, Mclaiughlin is on the smaller side for an NBA player, however he is an excellent decision-maker (career 4.27 assist-to-turnover ratio) with a knack for being in the right place at the right time on defense (career 2.6% steal percentage).

In Atlanta, McLaughlin would provide the team with a ball-handler capable of running the offense for their second unit. Obviously as currently constructed, the Hawks have two guards who primarily play on the ball, however if the team wanted to explore running Murray and Young off of more off-ball screens in a similar fashion to Bogdan Bogdanovic (example play below), McLaughlin would help them do that, while providing more stout perimeter defense than a player like Patty Mills.

Opening Offer: Garrison Matthews for Jordan McLaughlin

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Daniel Gafford and Corey Kispert

(3-years/$40.2 million for Gafford)

(2-years/$9.4 million for Kispert (team option for 2024-25))

Clint Capela has been a fantastic member of this team, and is probably the team’s best overall defensive player. That being said, he will be turning 30 next year, is making $42 million over this season and next, and is approaching the final year of his contract in 2024-25. With Onyeka Okongwu inking a 4-year, $64 million deal last summer, Atlanta appears to be ready to hand over the reins of the starting center position to their young big man sooner rather than later.

Daniel Gafford is just 25 years old, is on a solid contract for the next two seasons, and is averaging 10 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 25 minutes a night for the Washington Wizards in 2023-24. Nearly all of his offensive damage is done in the restricted area, as evidenced by his 70.4% career field goal percentage, and he is a capable finisher out of the pick-and-roll. Though there are some question marks around his ability to hold up as a defensive rebounder, Gafford is a big body (6’10”, 234 pounds) who could give Atlanta another option to throw at some of the more physical 5’s in the league (Jokic, Embiid, healthy Steven Adams) who typically give Okongwu trouble.

Corey Kispert was the 15th overall pick in the 2019 Draft who is best known for his outside shooting ability. Though he got off to a bit of a rocky start from the perimeter early on in his career (35% from three on 4.2 three-point attempts per game as a rookie), he has shot 41.5% on 5.2 three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons. And has started to show off his passing skills as of late, upping his assist percentage from 5.5% last season to 9.2% in 2023-24. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Kispert has a strong frame and should be capable of holding up against opposing team’s 2’s and 3’s (positions), potentially setting him up for a lengthy career as a ‘3&D’ wing.

Washington is another team that is in full on rebuild mode and could be looking to stockpile draft assets and solid veteran players that will take up a good amount of cap space, set an example for their younger players, then eventually be dealt to a contender for more draft assets and young players. If the Hawks are exploring trades for Capela, they could do a lot worse than Daniel Gafford and Corey Kispert.

Opening Offer: Clint Capela, 2024 SAC 1st-round pick (top-14 protected) for Daniel Gafford and Corey Kispert

Disclaimer: All stats in this article are from either basketballreference.com, nba.com/stats, cleaningtheglass.com, or basketball-index.com. Contract numbers are from spotrac.com