NBA trades are one of the most anticipated events in the entire year, when two teams shake up the playing field in unexpected ways. Trade rumors are highlighted and retweeted and circulate across the globe. The trade deadline is nearly akin to a national holiday as fans hold their breath in anticipation of something huge and exciting.
Sometimes their suspense is met with blockbusters, the sorts of trades that see Carmelo Anthony or James Harden floating to another team. But those trades are uncommon, not only because of a limited amount of stars but a limited amount of options in finding a deal that works for both teams.
The trades that can and do happen are those involving role players, where teams with differing needs can find a move that works for both sides. This is the sort of move that happened Thursday, as the Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks kicked off the trade season with a rotation of bench big men.
Story with @WindhorstESPN: Milwaukee has reached an agreement in principle to trade Miles Plumlee to Charlotte for Roy Hibbert/Spencer Hawes— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 2, 2017
The Milwaukee Bucks sent center Miles Plumlee to Charlotte, in exchange for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes. To fill the extra roster opening, the Hornets then signed center Mike Tobey from the Greensboro Swarm.
How will Plumlee fit into what the Hornets are doing on both ends of the court? And was the move a smart one financially, both now and moving forward? Will the Plumlee-Zeller family reunion finally take place?
The Fit On Offense
Miles is the oldest of the three Plumlee brothers, each of which went through Duke on their way to roles of varying levels in the NBA. The second brother, Mason, has carved out a starting role for the Portland Trail Blazers, while third brother Marshall Plumlee is clinging to a deep reserve role for the New York Knicks.
Miles has carved out a career thus far despite bringing little skill to the floor when his team has the ball. Plumlee has never attempted a three-pointer for his career, and shoots just 56 percent from the line.
Where Miles does excel is in the margins, applying a high basketball I.Q. with a stout frame and a large amount of hustle. Plumlee is among the action on every loose ball, pulling in 3.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes over his career. For a Charlotte team that doesn’t scheme for offensive rebounds, having a player who can add extra possessions without committing extra players is a valuable asset.
Plumlee sets hard screens on and off the ball, another trait head coach Steve Clifford will appreciate. He plays angles well, knowing how to run down the lane during a pick-and-roll, something players like Hawes and Frank Kaminsky do not have knack for. Underrated athleticism allows him to finish such plays well as the role man.
Hibbert was a crater on offense for Charlotte, and with Plumlee filling in his minutes primarily the Hornets will not see a drop off, and may see an improvement. If Plumlee can generate chemistry with his new guards, he can be a concrete wall with which Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions can elude defenders and get open space to work with.
Hawes brought offensive creativity and spacing to the Hornets’ arsenal, but his inability to defend was too large of a weakness for coach Clifford. Plumlee may not bring the offensive upside, but he is absolutely not a weakness on the other end.
The Fit On Defense
Defense is where Plumlee butters his bread, not because he is an elite rim protector but because he doesn’t make mistakes. He plays smart team defense, something that could not be said for either Hawes or Hibbert. While Hibbert was still an elite rim protector, he struggled to defend in space, and Hawes had all the stopping ability of a revolving glass door.
Plumlee rates out as one of the 30-best centers in defensive real plus-minus, well behind Charlotte starter Cody Zeller but ahead of both Hawes and Hibbert. That is in spot minutes this season for the Bucks, so there’s reason to think he can have at least a similar impact in a more consistent role in Clifford’s scheme.
One of Plumlee’s strengths is his ability to defend the pick and roll by dropping back and staying between the ball-handler and the rim, while still keeping position to block an easy pass to the roll man. While he is not fleet of foot enough to switch onto the perimeter, few centers are - and Hibbert certainly wasn’t.
The biggest advantage to slotting in Miles Plumlee will be the lack of glaring mistakes. Plumlee is without any major defensive weaknesses as the center in Clifford’s conservative scheme, and he will work hard to learn the playcalls and how the rest of the team works around him.
The Fit Financially
This season the money comes close to evening out for the swap. Together Hawes and Hibbert were making $11.34 million, while Miles Plumlee is making $12.5 million this season on the first year of a four-year, $50 million contract.
Moving forward is where the balance shifts, as the Hornets are on the hook for the remainder of Plumlee’s salary while Milwaukee has only Hawes’ $6 million player option on its books moving forward.
On the surface, $12.5 million annually for a backup center aging into his thirties seems a steep price to pay. It could certainly turn out that way in the seasons to come, as Plumlee goes from an above-average reserve to league average as he loses his athleticism.
But Charlotte is locked into their core for the next three or four seasons, including contracts for Nic Batum and Marvin Williams that may look equally bad near their completion. With no avenue for cap space this summer, Charlotte flipped expiring assets for a legitimate backup center.
The reality for this season was that Charlotte needed to upgrade its bench, and it seems likely they did so. Plumlee is a minor addition, but it gives the Hornets more ammunition to arrest their dive and hang onto their playoff spot - ahead of the lurking Milwaukee Bucks.