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Stat of the Week: midseason trades

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In this edition of SOTW, we delve into the art and science of an NBA trade during the regular season.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade deadline is often a point of excitement for most NBA franchises and fan bases. Deadline deals provide insight into what is on a particular team’s checklist for the rest of the season. The idea of introducing new blood into an organization excites many fans as well.

Many franchises dream of making “the big deal,” but how often do trades like that actually happen? How often do trades themselves happen?

Regular Season Transaction History

Season Total # of trades High profile players traded
2001-02 7 Ron Artest, Joe Johnson, Tim Hardaway
2002-03 5 Ray Allen, Gary Payton
2003-04 17 Rasheed Wallace, Stephen Marbury
2004-05 23 Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury
2005-06 15 Ron Artest, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Francis
2006-07 8 Allen Iverson
2007-08 18 Pau Gasol, Jason Kidd, Shaquille O'Neal
2008-09 28 Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson
2009-10 19 Antawn Jamison, Tracy McGrady, Stephen Jackson
2010-11 20 Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas, Baron Daris
2011-12 22 Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Andrew Bogut, Nenê
2012-13 16 James Harden, Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick
2013-14 18 Luol Deng, Rudy Gay
2014-15 24 Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson
2015-16 14 Tobias Harris, Markieff Morris, Channing Frye

In total, 254 regular season trades have been made during the last 15 years, for an average of 16.93 trades per regular season. There are heavy outliers of course, but the league is certainly trending higher in terms of the number of trades made during the year. The number of trades has trended from the low teens to the low twenties over the past decade.

With the trade deadline nearing and only two trades completed, there are likely to be at least another 15 trades or more between now and the trade deadline on February 23rd. The real question many NBA fans are asking is how many high profile players will be traded. Going back through the last 15 years, the answer is: not many.

A total of 45 players were traded that I would call “high profile” guys. This is a vague category, but it encompasses what amounts to a quality starter or better on all 30 teams. Players like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were traded, but on average, only three of these players are moved per season. This could be adjusted to four players per season over the last five years, but the fact remains that they are still infrequent moves.

Last season, the major pieces moved were Tobias Harris, Markieff Morris, and Channing Frye.

Player Team W/L % before trade Team W/L % after trade Change
Tobias Harris .500 .607 +.107
Markieff Morris .462 .567 +.105
Channing Frye .736 .621 -.115

While the Cleveland Cavaliers actually got worse with Frye in tow, they were still an elite team. The real story is how much of an improvement two middling teams made when they made a trade for a high profile player. Both the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards improved by leaps and bounds with the addition of another legitimate starter. While the Pistons capitalized on a questionable move by the Orlando Magic, they still had to take a chance, and it paid off.

How this impacts the Nuggets

Paul Millsap has been on and off the trade market the last two weeks, and the Nuggets are a team rumored to be after him. If the price is right, the move makes a lot of sense. Because very few players of Millsap’s caliber become available for trade during the season, the Nuggets can’t be picky if the goal really is to win games. There are very few players below the “superstar” category of a Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul that fit the Nuggets better than Millsap does, and Nuggets fans should rejoice if he joins the team, depending on the price.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that a deal simply may not happen for a Millsap-type player. A trade that goes down may be as simple as exchanging end-of-the-bench players, or as extreme as moving a veteran for draft picks. Regardless, trends in trades over the last few years would say that the Nuggets will make a move. Tim Connelly’s transaction history points to the Nuggets making a move as well. Nuggets fans had better be ready for some changes at some point. With unfilled expectations and questions for the future of the franchise, I would say a trade is nearly guaranteed.