There are few more dangerous corners of the internet than the world of the NBA Trade Machine. Go ahead, search for that phrase on Twitter. You’ll find some dark, twisted ideas that should never have been conceived, much less seen the light of day.
And yet, we’re all guilty of it. My attempts to send Al Horford and now Tobias Harris out of Philadelphia look like the scribbled notebooks of a tortured cop chasing a serial killer. It’s a dangerous act in fitting a square peg into whatever damn hole it can conceivably be twisted and turned into.
College basketball, obviously, does not lend itself to this line of thinking. There’s no contracts or salary cap, plus players can transfer or head to the NBA on their own time. That’s not going to stop me though. I still want to switch on the part of my brain that loves NBA trades and point it in the direction of college hoops. The resulting mess is the three trades below, which I think make all six teams better this year or in the future.
Giorgi Bezhanishvili from Illinois to Michigan State for Gabe Brown
This was the idea that started this entire concept. Giorgi Bezhanishvili is too good of a player to be a back-up center. It’s nice for Brad Underwood that he has an excellent insurance policy if and when Kofi Cockburn gets into foul trouble, which given the way referees have handled Cockburn (with total confusion and uncertainty) feels likely to happen in a big game this year. Illinois occasionally plays both bigs, but always feels clunky and slow with that lineup on the floor.
Yet in a world where players could be traded, Bezhanishvili would have more value as a trade piece. He’s a capable scorer on the block, can anchor a defense, and rebounds his position. He should start for someone!
Meanwhile, Illinois has a hole in its lineup at the forward position. Underwood essentially has a seven-player rotation. Cockburn and Bezhanishvili are centers and the other five players who play more than half of Illinois’ available minutes are 6-foot-5 or shorter. This leaves Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois’ most important offensive player, guarding well above his height and weight. Let’s trade Bezhanishvili for a forward who can guard power forwards without clogging up the Illinois offense.
You don’t have to look far to locate Gabe Brown at Michigan State, staying within the Big Ten. Both he and Bezhanishvili are juniors, making this feel like an even more fair trade. Brown is a career 37 percent shooter from 3-point land, making 47 percent of his looks from long range this year. He’s also stuck in a lineup that’s full of players his size that guard the same positions. With Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford, Joey Hauser, and Malik Hall all playing forward, Brown feels expendable for Sparty. They acquire Bezhanishvili to patrol the paint, an upgrade from 6-foot-8 Thomas Kithier or playing Hauser at center.
Kansas sends David McCormack to Arizona State for Alonzo Verge
Kansas has a bit of a problem with its roster construction this year. Bill Self’s four best players are between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-8, all playing primarily on the perimeter. Interchangeable, position-less basketball can be a beautiful thing. It’s certainly not something Self takes to readily. He’s always preferred to play two traditional big men, favoring a high-low attack on offense. This year, without that in his disposal, some have taken to calling this his “Billanova” phase:
Despite his team’s make-up, Self has largely resisted the temptation to go further into position-less-ness. For about 16 percent of Kansas’ minutes (per KenPom), Self has been willing to try lineups with 6-foot-8 forward Jalen Wilson as the nominal center on the floor. That has been Kansas’ most efficient lineup this season. With starter David McCormack on the floor at center, Kansas has been noticeably worse. McCormack’s offensive rating, a measure of the team’s performance on possessions “used” by a player, is just 85.3, easily the lowest of any Kansas starter. His Box Plus Minus Metric, which shows if the team is outscoring opponents or being outscored per 100 possessions, is -4.5. A starter on a top ten team should not have a negative effect on his team!
I don’t think McCormack is a bad player. He’s just being shoved into the wrong role with a team that’s better built to spread out and run. So let’s send him out west to Arizona State.
Senior Alonzo Verge leads the Sun Devils in usage rate but can’t seem to find the right role. He doesn’t start every game and does not fit next to Remy Martin, another ball-handling guard.
McCormack comes to Tucson to do what he does well: set screens and rebound. Martin would love a big bodied center like McCormack to work with in the pick-and-roll. McCormack would be better served catching lobs and pocket passes than he is hoping for a post touch at Kansas. He can attack the offensive boards for Arizona State, one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in Division I.
At Kansas, Verge becomes the nominal point guard, allowing Marcus Garrett to attack more effectively off the ball and expound more of his energy on the defensive end, for which he was awarded National Defensive Player of the Year last year. Bill Self can take a deep breath, play five-out, and let his skilled perimeter players feast in open space.
If you think Arizona State is getting the short-end of this deal, keep in mind: McCormack is a junior and Verge is set to graduate.
Kentucky sends Devin Askew and Cam’Ron Fletcher to Seton Hall for Myles Cale
If you’re a Kentucky fan reading this, you just jumped out of your chair, screaming that you’d do this deal in a heartbeat. Let’s break it down a little further to show why it also makes sense for Seton Hall.
Askew has really struggled for Kentucky so far this year, but there is some much needed context to his issues. Askew reclassified to graduate high school early and join this Kentucky team. He turned 18 years old in July of 2020. Realistically, he should be a high school senior. It’s showed on the court. Askew has been over his head trying to operate Kentucky’s offense against a formidable schedule.
Askew started the season with four multi-turnover games and has averaged 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes this year. A turnover rate over 30 percent is troubling. It’s worse when coupled with sub-40 percent field goal and missing 10 of his last 13 three-point attempts during Kentucky’s six game losing streak.
Those struggles occurring during a pandemic-affected season to an 18-year old on a team with no shooting whatsoever don’t damn Askew to life as a bust. He was the top ranked point guard in his recruiting class, prior to reclassifying, for a reason. It’s a decent bet for a mid-tier program like Seton Hall to bet on. Add in a lottery ticket on Cam’Ron Fletcher, a top 100 recruit who John Calipari recently sent away from his team for publicly complaining about playing time, and Kevin Willard is receiving two players who could help bridge his program to a new era.
The current Pirates are laden with upperclassmen, including Myles Cale. The four-year contributor is a strong defender and a knockdown shooter, which Kentucky desperately needs. Cale makes winning plays for Seton Hall, though his contributions could be replicated by two transfers on the Seton Hall bench. Junior Takal Mason comes to Newark from Canisius, where he scored 16.9 points per game as a sophomore, even while shooting an ugly 27 percent on more than 200 attempts from long range. He’s a better shooter than that indicates, especially if given Cale’s minutes and opportunities.
More importantly, Seton Hall is also now home to former Harvard star and Ivy League player of the Year Bryce Aiken. He scored 16.8 points per game in his illustrious career at Harvard and is too talented to be underutilized by Seton Hall. So far this year, Aiken has not started a game while recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in November. Seton Hall’s December 23 win over Georgetown was Aiken’s first meaningful playing time, when he battled through an uncharacteristic 1 of 9 shooting night. As he returns to form, Aiken will require more minutes and more shots.
So Seton Hall moves off of the lower floor of Cale to the high ceiling of Aiken in order to secure Askew and Fletcher for future years.
Kentucky, meanwhile, finally has a veteran leader and a shooter who can stretch the floor. The Wildcats are only making 4.29 shots outside the arc per game, 10th lowest in the nation. Kentucky’s 25 percent on 3-point attempts? Also 10th lowest in the nation. Kentucky has four players who have tried 10 or more 3-pointers this year. Of those four, only senior Davion Mintz has made more than a quarter of his attempts, at a middling 35 percent himself. Freshman BJ Boston and Terrence Clark are a combined 10 for 54 from long range.
Bad shooting leads to bad spacing which leads to clogged offense and more bad shooting. It’s a vicious, self-propelling cycle. A knockdown shooter like Cale would open up more driving and passing lanes for the entire team.
Kentucky gets a senior to propel a run to the NCAA Tournament. Seton Hall gets two young players and a shuffle in its rotation that could make the Pirates even better this year. A win-win for both sides.
What do you think? Would you do these trades? Have any ideas of your own? Leave a comment or tweet them to us @PalestraBack!
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.