Grading the Nikola Mirotic trade for the New Orleans Pelicans

Nikola Mirotic New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Nikola Mirotic New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans shipped off Nikola Mirotic to the Milwaukee Bucks just before the trade deadline. What letter grade does the move deserve?

While the New Orleans Pelicans opted to wait until the offseason to make the big Anthony Davis trade, the team did jumpstart the inevitable rebuild process yesterday by making a couple of moves before the NBA trade deadline. One of these moves involved sending away power forward Nikola Mirotic to the Milwaukee Bucks. The details were as follows:

The obvious takeaway from this trade is that the New Orleans Pelicans managed to haul in 4 second round draft picks spanning from 2019 to 2021. These picks will likely all be near the middle or end of the second round, but any way you slice it, getting 4 draft picks for a player on an expiring contract is respectable.

We’ll see what the Pelicans decide to do with all of these picks, but they could be used in future trades to acquire more young players, or could potentially be packaged together and swapped with a different team for a better draft pick.

Of course, the Pelicans could also opt to hang onto all four picks and hope they strike gold with at least one of them. In recent years, players like DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green, Marc Gasol, and Nikola Jokic have all been drafted in the second round. Picks this late in the draft obviously are less likely to return valuable players than most first rounders, but occasionally, teams hit the jackpot.

As for the two players that the New Orleans Pelicans returned in this deal, Jason Smith is the less impactful. He’s played 199 games for New Orleans already between the Hornets and Pelicans spanning 2010-2014 and was a starter in 62 of those contests.

However, over the last couple years, the nearly 33-year old Smith is averaging under 10 minutes per game and isn’t contributing much in general. His contract expires after this season, so he was likely included just to get the salaries to match in the trade.

Stanley Johnson is the more intriguing piece that the Pelicans returned for Nikola Mirotic. Johnson was a lottery pick in 2015 when he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons 8th overall. He was touted as a great defensive prospect that needed to polish up his offensive game.

Unfortunately, Stanley still struggles on offense now nearly 4 years into his NBA career. While he’s shooting a career high nearly 49% on 2 point shots this year, he’s never averaged double digits points in a season and is a poor shooter from long range despite chucking up nearly 4 attempts per game in 2018-2019. Still, his improving 2 point and free throw percentages showthat the 22 year-old still can improve.

Thankfully, Johnson does add value on the defensive end of the court. This season, he ranks 13th in the league among small forwards in Defensive Points Saved (DPS), putting him above players like Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, and Otto Porter in this area, in fewer overall minutes that these other guys to boot. That’s encouraging, especially combined with the positive Defensive Plus/Minus and Defensive Win Shares he’s graded out at his entire NBA career.

If Johnson can bridge the gap between his defense and offense, the New Orleans Pelicans could have scored a diamond in the rough through this transaction.

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Nikola Mirotic was a valuable player for the New Orleans Pelicans, but with the team rebooting in the wake of the Anthony Davis situation, the front office thought it was the right time to cash out on his expiring deal. It’s always better to return assets on a player if possible instead of letting him leave for nothing in free agency, so the Pelicans did well to secure 4 draft picks and a young defensive stopper in Stanley Johnson.

Overall Grade: B