Trade Grades: Nikola Mirotic Makes Perfect Match for Bucks’ System

Milwaukee made a playoff-minded upgrade going into Thursday’s deadline, acquiring Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans in exchange for four second-round draft picks, Stanley Johnson and Jason Smith. The Bucks are loading up, the Pelicans are restarting, and it’s a deal that makes sense for both parties. This is technically a three-team deal that involves Detroit—the Bucks and Pistons agreed to swap Johnson and Thon Maker on Wednesday, and bringing in the Pistons here facilitates the deal’s legality as Johnson’s salary could not otherwise be combined. Let’s break it down for Milwaukee and New Orleans.

Bucks: A

In the past 24 hours, Milwaukee has effectively turned Thon Maker and Jason Smith into Mirotic, which, of course, is an enormous win. The Bucks are already rather menacing in the Eastern Conference, and Mirotic’s consistent shooting and ball-moving skills are an ideal match for their system. This could amount to a rental, with Mirotic on an expiring contract, but he’s a proven player who immediately bolsters the Bucks’ rotation, as an upgrade on Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson in the frontcourt. Averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, Mirotic should slide into a big role right away and could, in theory, be a player Milwaukee seeks to retain. In terms of timing and fit, this is a home run, and they did it without having to sacrifice a first-rounder.

All in all, this is great work by the Bucks’ front office to flip an unhappy young player (Maker) into an impact addition for their playoff run, second-round picks be damned. It’s a bit of capital to give up, but this is how Milwaukee should be operating, greasing the wheels for a deep playoff run and continuing to show Giannis Antetokounmpo that they are serious about putting a winner around him. The cost here is minimal, the optics are strong, and the Bucks get better. Not much to nitpick here. Milwaukee couldn’t afford to stand pat, particularly as Philadelphia raised the stakes with Tobias Harris, and their overall savvy here is commendable.

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Pelicans: B+

Reports indicate that the Bucks will receive four second-round picks as the primary return in this deal. SI’s Jake Fischer reports two of those picks are the Wizards’ 2020 and 2021 seconds (both of which could end up as useful selections in the 30s based on Washington’s trajectory). The other two selections reportedly are Denver’s 2019 second-rounder (which will in all likelihood come at the very end of the draft) and the Bucks’ own 2020 second-rounder. This is a pretty respectable haul for Mirotic and initiates the Pelicans’ rebuild nicely, and although they’re not adding any surefire draft value, it beats losing him for nothing.

It will be interesting to see what New Orleans does next, with an Anthony Davis deal looking unlikely as the 3 p.m. deadline nears, but the thought process behind this deal is solid. Moving Mirotic was imperative based on the Pelicans’ situation, and the picks plus a free look at Johnson, who they can extend the qualifying offer this summer if they choose, is a decent play. Smith’s deal is expiring. The Pels will go into the summer with a cachet of picks and cap flexibility, plus whatever they end up getting for Davis. It’s a solid start.

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