Choices on the Move: 23 Years of Draft Trade Precedent

The NBA’s offseason player movement machine is always in high gear right around the draft, but it’s already poised to be a wild June. On an otherwise sleepy summer afternoon, the market square opened on Sunday a trade for star guard Bradley Bealand now there’s noise, like another 2-time All-Star could switch teams this week.

And honestly, we’re just getting started. The NBA Draft is often the hottest day of trade activity of the entire year.

Elections — and the immediacy of the draft process — add urgency to getting things done. In June, teams are as aware as ever of their shortcomings, plus the change in the salary cap gives them options on how to execute a deal. Also, ever-changing player movement rules have taken some of the fun out of free agency by making it harder to poach difference makers the old-fashioned way. Increasingly, the path to adding top talent is putting the right pile of assets in front of their established teams.

But the most important thing is that right now, this week, these choices are attached to something Tangible. Choices are worth more these few days of the year because they are not just vague promises of future value; right now these picks mean an opportunity to get that guy. And that guy is often worth more to one team than another.

Going back to 2000, there have been 130 first-round picks acquired in draft-adjacent deals. That’s 130 times a team has either moved up in the draft or bought in an extra first-round pick in a deal that was made on draft night or in the immediate ramp-up to draft night. These 130 deals should tell us a bit about the market value of draft picks and the costs associated with buying up or moving up in draft order.

A few caveats:

  • The survey below only includes drafts of adjacent agreements. Trades for Andrew Wiggins and Rudy Gobert are not included because they happened well after the draft and had more to do with the free agent period and star movement. Trades involving future picks (like the 2004 deal that brought Gordon Hayward to the Jazz in 2010) are not included because picks have a different value as far-flung assets than they do right before the draft.
  • Each draft has its own thresholds and perceived drop-off points, so it’s best to look at the aggregate and ignore (to some extent) odd outliers.
  • Where possible, this research tries to account for where salary motivated a particular player’s inclusion, but it’s difficult to remember 30 teams’ exact financial situation at every point in the past 23 years.

With that in mind, let’s see what we can learn from 23 years of trade history adjacent to the draft – both about the general nature of pick trades and about potential Jazz impact in a draft where Utah owns #9, #16 and # 28.

Move-Up offer

Of the 130 first-round picks acquired in draft-adjacent deals over the last 23 years, 49 involved a team improving their draft position by adding some type of asset to an existing first-rounder -selection. Let’s start with 24 move-up trades where the highest pick achieved was a lottery pick.

Draft adjacent move-up trades involving a lottery pick, 2000-2022

Moving up a single spot is cheap enough, which makes sense when you consider the dynamics behind that conversation. For the team right in front of you to be willing to deal with you, they have to tacitly tell you that they’re not as interested in your goal, so there’s a little less impact than if they help you jump a bunch of other teams . Cash or second-rounders have historically been enough to move a single spot.

Beyond that, it’s a bit scattered. Most lottery jumps were 2-6 spots and involved at least one other first-round pick or high-level rotation talent. Even the funky-looking ones fall into the basic pattern: The Blazers probably shouldn’t have been able to go from #4 to #2 (AND get a second) just by adding Viktor Khryapa to the deal, but on the On the other hand, Khryapa was a recent first-rounder himself, coming off a 21 mpg season and still on a rookie deal. It’s kind of like adding a 1st to the deal if the team on the other end of the phone believes that guy.

The bigger jumps become a little more obvious. No one made a bigger jump in the lottery than the 2017 Jazz, who went from #24 to #13, and backup big man (also still on a rookie deal) Trey Lyles was the only skid killer. For the 2010 Thunder, a late first and a willingness to absorb an aging “Mo Pete” (he would play four more NBA games after that trade) was enough to move 10 spots from #21 to #11 as the Hornets tried to take steps to become more competitive.

Move-up trades outside of the lottery were a bit more flexible: Second-rounders are usually enough to get it done, or at most it was a heavily protected No. 1 or rotation-level talent that helped a team slide forward.

Draft adjacent move-up trades outside the lotto, 2000-2022

Jazz influence. If the Jazz are interested in moving up from #9 or even #16, it should be quite realistic given the large amount of excess picks. On the other hand, if they wanted to move back from #9, history says you’ll probably only get a single extra 1st or something of similar value. It also might not take a ton to move up from #28 if someone they like slips into the 20s, or they could potentially pick up a second themselves by moving back a bit from that spot.

Player trades involving draft-adjacent pick movement

In about one-third of the trades in this sample, the first-round pick acquired at or around the draft was involved in a trade primarily involving players.

Here are examples of lottery:

Player-focused lottery trades made around the draft, 2000-2022

Some of these are also technically move-up trades, but we’ll list them here instead. If a team trades a lottery pick for e.g. All-Star Jimmy Butler and a middle infielder, their primary target probably wasn’t the pick.

With few exceptions, entering the lottery with a trade centered around a player means you’d better give up a star (higher in the lottery) or at least an entry-level talent (back in the lottery). Some of these – like the Memphis deal for #10 Ziaire Williams – were part of such a large multi-player trade that it’s hard to work out the exact value of each asset, but you still see the general rule at play here. Teams generally don’t give up lottery picks for role players.

Just outside of the lottery, you’re still usually looking at starters or high-end reserves to acquire a pick, but as you move deeper into the draft, it’s not uncommon to see picks in the 20s moved for a rotation guy, or used to that even the value in a trade involving players at the same level on both ends — like when LA and OKC traded starting guards in 2020.

Player-focused draft picks trades outside the lottery, 2000-2022

Jermaine O’Neal was just one season removed from a streak of six All-Star appearances when he was moved to the #17 pick, but he had missed half a season and was in precipitous decline. Outside of that exception, it was mostly solid starters or good/cheap reserves that drew non-lottery firsts.

Jazz influence. That suggests the Jazz don’t need to be super lucky to land a non-lottery No. 1 for the likes of Kelly Olynyk or Jordan Clarkson (if the latter took over), but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My information says the Jazz did not tender a No. 1 pick to Olynyk at the deadline, and Clarkson’s contractual future is uncertain.

Going the other way, this story seems to indicate that the Jazz could get a high-level starter for their #9 pick or a solid rotation piece for #16 or #28 – but this is probably the wrong time in their trajectory to add wind -now pieces instead of taking shots focused a few years out during the long period of team control that comes with rookie contracts.

Options for other assets

Teams often get firsts in draft-adjacent deals by using other “stuff,” but if you’re looking to get into the first half of the draft, you’d better call with a future 1st as part of your offer.

Draft nearby trades involving future/other assets, 2000-2022

History says that outside of player trades and promotion deals, you have to offer a future 1st or cap relief to get higher than around #24. From #24 on, you can often find a deal for 2nd and/or cash, like in a famous Jazz deal where they acquired a 3-time All-Star for #46 and some skrillah.

The other part of this research is how these trades for future firsts often go badly for the “seller”. In two-thirds of the cases where a future pick was the primary move, the future asset ended up being the same or worse in terms of draft position.

It will be interesting to see how new salary cap realities affect the trade value of late firsts. Teams used to sell these fairly easily (or use them to stash international drafts) because of the guaranteed salary attached to even late first-timers. But as finding cheap ways to fill out a roster becomes even more important, taking a shot there may increasingly be considered a risk worth taking. In six of the past nine drafts, no team has traded a 26-30 pick immediately around draft night.

Jazz influence. It is highly unlikely that the Jazz trade #9 or #16 just for a future first.

There are some interesting questions about #28. The Jazz will apparently bring back three second-year players next year, so drafting three more rookies could overload their player development coaches in a way worth thinking twice about.

Getting some seconds might not be a bad option here. I’ve heard the Jazz might want to take some seconds this year when they own other teams picks because it means they can throw protection at them like the Lakers did with their own 2027 pick traded to the Jazz . For example, if they owned another in 2025, they could trade the best of Cleveland/Minnesota that year while adding insurance if one of those picks ends up in the top four. It would still be a pretty valuable asset if the Jazz find themselves bidding on a star at some point.

Drafts are a strange currency, and never more so than this particular week. The Jazz have picks in several different draft areas, so they can sniff around a lot of options in terms of trading up, down, out or potentially even in if they feel the need to pounce because a guy is there.

When that happens, this is a handy guide to what value you can reasonably expect to see on either side of a trade involving a first-round pick.

  • Draft

    17 May 2023

    There were no wild surprises in the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night. There was a slight reshuffle in the top five…Read more

  • Draft

    25 July 2022

    Championship teams require several elements to come together. Good ownership, good management, good coaching and good talent….Read more

  • Draft

    24 June 2022

    The 2022 NBA Draft was full of activity, with 27 of 30 NBA teams participating and picks and prospects being traded back and…Read more

  • Draft

    30 July 2021

    Early Thursday night, Tony Jones of the Athletic tweeted that while the Jazz were open to moving the #30 pick, they were…Read more

Leave a Comment