This is the fourth entry in our series breaking down the major trades of the 2022 offseason. As opposed to giving out grades, this series will explore why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a draft-day swap between the Sixers and Grizzlies…
On the night of the 2022 draft, the Sixers traded the No. 23 pick (David Roddy) and Danny Green to the Grizzlies in exchange for De’Anthony Melton. Unfortunately, Green suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee during Philadelphia’s season-ending Game 6 loss to Miami in the second-round of last season’s playoffs, so he’s likely to miss a significant part of the 2022/23 season, if not the entire year.
The Sixers’ perspective:
Why were the Sixers motivated to trade their first-round pick for a bench player?
For starters, there’s a lot of variability with first-round picks, especially as you get down into the 20s. The likelihood of the No. 23 pick becoming an immediate contributor on a team with championship aspirations is pretty slim.
As an example, look no further than Philadelphia’s last couple first-round selections, who showcase the inherent risk involved in trading a first-rounder, as well as that aforementioned variability.
In 2020, the Sixers picked Tyrese Maxey at No. 21 overall. He had a decent rookie season, appearing in 60 games (15.3 MPG) with averages of 8.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG and 2.0 APG on .462/.301/.871 shooting. You could see his speed and ability to get to his shots, and his free throw percentage was encouraging, but it wasn’t exactly predictable what would happen with him last season.
In year two, Maxey exploded onto the scene as an emerging star, appearing in 75 games (74 starts, 35.3 MPG) with averages of 17.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 4.3 APG on .485/.427/.866 shooting. Maxey went from a trade chip to the Sixers reportedly viewing him as basically untouchable in the span of months, finishing sixth in the Most Improved Player Award race (I personally had him second behind Desmond Bane and had no qualms with anyone who thought he should’ve won).
By contrast, the Sixers selected Jaden Springer with the No. 28 pick in 2021. Springer appeared in just two regular season games as a rookie last season, spending the majority of the season in the G League with Philadelphia’s affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats (he also made five cameos in the postseason). In 20 regular season games with the Blue Coats, he averaged 14.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.5 APG and 1.7 SPG on .470/.241/.651 shooting.
Springer, one of the youngest players in his draft class, is still just 19 years old (he turns 20 in September), but he looked rough around the edges in Summer League action and doesn’t seem close to contributing at the NBA level anytime soon. This isn’t a personal knock against Springer, it’s just an example of the roll of the dice that comes with drafting any player.
Melton, on the other hand, is a more proven commodity, and he was reportedly coveted by teams around the league. Now entering his fifth season, Melton is still only 24 years old, so it’s not like he’s a finished product by any means, but he’s shown he can be a productive player at the NBA level.
A big part of what made Melton such a hot commodity on the trade market is his defense. Although he stands just 6’2”, Melton has a 6’8” wingspan and is one of the better guard defenders in the NBA. I’m not a big fan of using advanced stats for measuring defensive impact, but they almost universally love Melton on that end of the court.
A very good athlete who plays with physicality, lots of energy, and a knack for the ball, Melton gets plenty of deflections (2.8 per game), steals (1.4) and blocks (0.5) for a guard. In fact, he was one of the league leaders at his position in all of those categories on a per-minute basis (he averaged 22.7 MPG last season).
He’s also an outstanding rebounder (4.5 RPG) who likes to push the pace in transition. Those are hugely beneficial attributes for a Sixers team that ranked 29th in rebounding and 25th in pace last season.
Melton should be an excellent complement next to Maxey or James Harden, or even both. Harden tends to play better defensively against bigger players, so allowing Melton, who is a far superior defender than either of his new backcourt mates, to defend the opposing team’s best guard sounds good on paper.
He’s an immediate and major upgrade over both Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz defensively, and a better offensive player than Matisse Thybulle. Those were Philadelphia’s three primary backup guards at the end of last season.
Melton will earn $8.25MM next season and his $8MM salary in 2023/24 is partially guaranteed at $1.5MM, so he’s on a reasonable contract and is eligible for an extension this offseason, though Philadelphia might want to take a wait-and-see approach before making that decision.
There are a few other things worth noting about Melton’s acquisition. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey actually drafted Melton with Houston back in 2018 prior to attaching him to Ryan Anderson in a salary dump move, so Morey has been familiar with the guard’s game dating back to his lone college season with USC.
Melton was basically treated as a non-shooter during his first couple of NBA seasons, making just 29.4% of his three-pointers in that time, but he has improved drastically in that area over the past two seasons, shooting 38.8% from deep on much higher volume. Being able to space the floor around Joel Embiid is vital for Philadelphia’s offensive flow and spacing, so while Melton can run hot and cold, he should get plenty of open looks.
Finally, Melton is a combo guard, and because Harden, Embiid and Maxey control the ball so much, the fact that Melton will be an ancillary player instead of a primary ball-handler is an added benefit. That’s not to say he’s bad at playing the point, it just isn’t his main strength.
The Grizzlies’ perspective:
If Melton is such a solid young player, why were the Grizzlies willing to deal him? Why not just keep him?
Memphis is one of the few teams in the league that has a luxury of riches at multiple positions, and backcourt depth is perhaps the team’s greatest strength. Led by starters Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies had Tyus Jones, Melton, John Konchar and Ziaire Williams vying for minutes at guard (Williams also spent a lot of time at forward last season and could open the season there due to Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury and Kyle Anderson‘s departure to Minnesota in free agency).
Melton’s strengths weren’t necessarily redundant among that group of players — he was the best defender of the guards — but moving him clears additional minutes for his former teammates. Jones re-signed with Memphis as an unrestricted free agent on a two-year, $30MM deal, and the Grizzlies later gave Konchar an extension (Williams was a rookie last season and still has three years left on his first NBA contract).
Melton also saw his role reduced and his offensive production decline significantly in two consecutive postseasons, averaging just 5.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG and 1.4 APG on .333/.266/.667 shooting in 15 career playoff games (16.9 MPG). That may have contributed to Memphis’ decision to move him.
Acquiring first-round picks isn’t easy, but GM Zach Kleiman has been consistently aggressive in dealing for them in his tenure, and he got an experienced college player in Roddy, a forward built like a linebacker (6’5″, 252 pounds) with a unique skill set. He had an excellent junior season for Colorado State, averaging 19.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG and 1.1 BPG on .571/.438/.691 shooting in 31 games (32.9 MPG).
There’s no guarantee that Roddy will turn into the level of player that Melton is, but as I said, there was a minutes logjam in the backcourt, and Roddy’s contract will pay him just shy of $13MM over four years, compared to the $16.25MM ($9.75MM guaranteed) Melton will earn over the next two.
Both financially and as long-term upside swing, it was an understandable gamble. If Roddy makes the type of leap that Maxey was able to in his second year, it could look like a home run. Only time will tell.
As previously mentioned, the Grizzlies also acquired Green, though his future with the team is far less certain. One of the most reliable 3-and-D players in the league over the past decade, hopefully Green will be able to make an NBA return and eventually go out on his terms. At 35 years old, it’s hard to say how much he has left in the tank, but he has had a great career, winning three championships with the Spurs, Raptors and Lakers.
In the meantime, he’s a good veteran to have around for a young Memphis squad, and mid-size contracts like his $10MM expiring deal are always useful for trade purposes even if he doesn’t wind up making any on-court contributions this season.