Here’s a look at the top poachables in the NBA right now — guys who are showing signs and worth targeting but don’t currently have a clear path to minutes.
There are a group of players in the NBA that I call the poachables. They’re guys who are, for one reason or another, kind of buried on a team’s bench, but have real, definable skills and seem like they could not only handle, but deserve a larger role than the one they have at the moment. That’s what this post is about. My favorite potential poachables in the NBA.
We’re calling these guys the Montrezl Harrell All-Stars, because this is exactly what seemed like the case with Harrell himself in Houston. Harrell was wildly productive during limited minutes in those two seasons, averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block per 36 minutes with strong advanced numbers: 18.0 Player Efficiency Rating, 0.166 win shares per 48 minutes and a 65.6 true shooting percentage. Since getting to L.A., he’s done all of that on an even larger scale.
We’re not asserting that any of the players on the list below are the next Harrell — just that if a team out there wants to give them the opportunity to be, there’s a decent chance they might be rewarded for their faith.
D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee Bucks
I know the Milwaukee Bucks are a 27-4 juggernaut, but remember last year, when D.J. Wilson entered the rotation amidst injury issues in late December and proceeded to ball out for two months, only to be summarily benched after the All-Star break and disappear from the rotation entirely in the playoffs? Wilson averaged 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block per 36 minutes last season, while also shooting 35 percent from 3 and playing strong defense across several positions, often in wide-open space. He’s getting less floor time this season but he’s still packed 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes into that time.
Wilson is a former No. 17 overall pick on a loaded team with a crowded rotation and a coach who doesn’t seem interested in getting him into the mix. He doesn’t turn 24 until February and he has already shown a versatile skill-set and the ability to defend at a high level. Someone should be trying to poach him.
Christian Wood, Detroit Pistons
I teased this on Twitter over the weekend: Wood is my single favorite poachable in the league right now.
Among players aged 25 or younger who have qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard, there are currently 18 players averaging at least 0.100 wins shares per 48 minutes; 14 players with a PER of 15 or better (i.e. above league average); 10 players with a true shooting percentage of 0.600 or better; nine players with a usage rate between 20-25 percent; five players with a total rebound rate of 18 percent or higher; and ONE player on all five of those lists: Christian Wood.
He’s playing only 15 minutes per game off the bench for the Pistons, but he’s packing a ton of production into that time: 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes, while shooting 62 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3, averaging 6.6 free-throws per 36, and carrying a 21.3 percent usage rate, 68.0 true shooting percentage, 23.7 PER, and 0.192 win shares per 48 average. And while he only played about 250 minutes for the Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans last season, Wood produced in jarringly similar fashion to what he is doing this year.
He also ranks ninth in the entire league in FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, contributing 7.1 points per 100 possessions above a league-average player to Detroit’s offensive and defensive performance this season. And he only recently turned 24 years old. There’s still plenty of time for a breakout.
Cheick Diallo, Phoenix Suns
Cheick Diallo didn’t play much during his three years in New Orleans (12.6 minutes per game), but he’s actually somehow playing even less (9.5 per game) with the Phoenix Suns despite only having Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in front of him at center.
During his limited time with the Pelicans, Diallo packed 15.6 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes into his time on the floor, with a 61.6 true shooting percentage and and a fantastic 29.1 percent defensive rebound rate. He’s been even more productive in Phoenix, averaging 21 and 10 per 36 with a 73.4 true shooting percentage and a still very strong 24.6 percent defensive rebound rate. He’s cut down on the mid-range chucks and is almost exclusively shooting from the immediate area around the rim, and that’s helped his efficiency greatly.
He’s very obviously a dependent player on offense who doesn’t create much for himself or others (though his assist rate is up for the third consecutive season, a promising sign), but finishing as well as Diallo does around the rim while acting as a vacuum on the glass is pretty damn valuable, and easily translatable across larger minute loads. (The Suns have also been better with Diallo on the floor than off this season, the first time in his four-year career that’s been the case.)
Chris Clemons, Houston Rockets
Chris Clemons has not played very much. Let’s get that out of the way quickly. He’s been on the floor for only 164 minutes this season, just north of eight per game.
But his production during that time is pretty rare. Run a Basketball-Reference search for age-25 and under players who have: played at least total 100 minutes but fewer than 20 minutes per game, used between 20-25 percent of their team’s possessions, taken at least 40 percent of their shots from beyond the 3-point line, and connected on at least 39 percent of those attempts, and the list is just two players long: Allonzo Trier and Clemons. Also, in the four games where Clemons has played at least 15 minutes, he has made at least half of his shots and scored at least 16 points in all of them. That’s at least pretty intriguing.
Malik Beasley, Denver Nuggets
Malik Beasley was the No. 16 pick back in 2016 and was legitimately really good for the Denver Nuggets last season, but the lack of injuries to rotation players compared to last year has cut into his playing time. (Beasley’s getting 15.7 minutes per game with seven DNPs compared to 23.2 per game while playing in 81 of 82 contests last year.) He’s now working on his second consecutive season knocking down at least 40 percent of his 3s on more than seven attempts per 36 minutes. He can handle the ball a bit and do an admirable job of defending either guard position. Considering he turned down an extension prior to the season, Beasley should be eminently gettable as we approach the trade deadline.
Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls
Denzel Valentine is another former first-round pick seemingly on the outskirts of his team’s rotation, and he also happens to be playing pretty damn well this year. He missed the entire 2018-19 season due to injury but has returned a better player, ratcheting up both his usage rate (career-high 21.7 percent) and true shooting percentage (career-high 57.1) in a limited role off Chicago’s bench. Valentine’s progression as a shooter points the way toward an obvious role as a 3-and-sort-of-D guy, as he made 35.1 percent of his triples as a rookie, 38.6 percent as a sophomore, and is now at 41.3 percent in his fourth season. Valentine’s 26 years old so there may not be much more room left for him to develop; but everyone could always use more shooting, and the Chicago Bulls seem to have a plus shooter just sitting there behind Kris Dunn on their bench.
Tony Bradley, Utah Jazz
Like most of the guys on this list, Tony Bradley has not really played very much this season. He’s been on the floor for only 166 minutes across 19 games. But that’s already 101 more minutes and seven more games than he had played during his first two years in the league.
Bradley has some fantastic per-minute numbers (16.7 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per 36), strong rebounding rates on both offense and defense, and really, really good rim protection numbers. Per Second Spectrum, opponents have made only 45.1 percent of their shots when Bradley was within five feet of both the shooter and the rim. He’s obviously not going to get much time ahead of Rudy Gobert, but with teams always looking for strong rim protection and rebounding from a low-usage big man, he makes for an interesting target.