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Bill Simmons Values Ibaka Over Harden in Annual Trade Value Ranking

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Bill Simmons offers up his annual Trade Value Ranking double-post today. First up is his extensive explanation of how and why he ranks players the way he does, including a number of honorable (and dis-honorable) mentions.

NBA Trade Value, Part 1 | Grantland

Up first are the players ranked from 50 through 27, and not surprisingly, a few Thunder players show up in this list: James Harden and Serge Ibaka. If you are familiar with the Thunder's overall finances, the mere mention of the two in the same sentence should send shivers down the collective spines of the Thunder faithful. Why? This is why.

Both Harden and Ibaka were selected in the same draft, so they both have contract terms that expire in 2014. A year before that, they both will be eligible to become restricted free agents. Ergo, sometime next season, the Thunder are going to have a big decision on their hands on what to do with both young men.

How does Simmons rank them?

33. James Harden
Even if it's about eight spots too high, I'm using this year's "I Know This Is Weird, I Just Like Him" immunity idol on him.14 Just know that, as a Celtics fan, it's hard to watch Harden without thinking of the days before the Perkins/Green trade, when Sam Presti sucked Danny Ainge in with the old, "I know we were talking about Harden for Perkins all week, and I know you were banking on the deal happening, and I know you already cleared the deal from your end with Doc and everyone else, but the more I'm thinking about it, I just can't do it ... what about Jeff Green?" move. A Boston buddy of mine described it perfectly: It was like Costco drawing you to the store with a "50 Percent Off All Televisions!" sign, then picking out a state-of-the-art TV and going to pay, only to have them tell you, "No, no, that deal only counts for last year's models." Only at that point, you're already in the store and ready to buy something. Only bad things can happen after that.


28. Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka
The best stage for a rising young star: That "new car smell" phase when you haven't been paid big money yet (but it's coming), you go for too much in every fantasy auction, your rookie cards are worth twice as much as they should be, you're measured by your potential (not the actual results), everyone remembers your good games/moments (and not your bad games/moments), you're playing in the right situation for the right team, you're undeniably overvalued ... only nobody cares, because you'll have these moments/sequences/games that make people say, "That dude is GOING places."

A few more comments after the jump.

  • Here is one explanation for seeing Ibaka ranked slightly ahead of Harden - you have to take into consideration how Simmons has set up his rankings. "1. Salaries matter. Would you rather pay Kyrie Irving $5.1 million a year or Tony Parker $12.5 million?" So the fact that Ibaka makes considerably less money for the next two seasons factors in plenty. The disparity is by way of the fact that the rookie salary scale is fixed and Harden was drafted #3 while Ibaka was drafted at #24.
  • We know, straight from the horse's mouth, that the new league CBA is set up to prevent teams like the Thunder from stockpiling talent over the long term. Said David Stern: "People are saying to Miami, ‘Well, you’re going to have a decision to make with respect to one of your big three...And they may say the same thing to Oklahoma City, and that’s a good thing. That means you’ve arrived and you’re out there being competitive." What is chilling is the fact that Stern said this about TWO players and a third getting left out. The Thunder already have their two players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Where does that leave Harden & Ibaka, both whom could morph into All-Star level talents?
  • What is each player's upside? Harden is arguably the second-best 2-guard in the entire Western Conference (behind only Kobe Bryant). He manufactures points in an amazingly efficient manner. For example, against the Suns, Harden scored 30 points off of 8-12 shooting. He is a competent floor general, runs the pick and roll better than anyone active on the roster right now, and can finish at the rim with the best of them.

    Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka is young, raw, still learning how to communicate in the United States, and has posted some of the silliest stat lines from a power forward we have seen, well, ever. Take a look at his game log. In the month of February alone, he recorded three games where he had double-digit blocks, including one where he actually had a triple-double. In his last game out, he recorded 18 points and 20 rebounds (9 offensive). Even if Ibaka never fully realizes the potential that oozes through his blood, a 17-12-4 season is entirely within the realm of possibility. Furthermore, he is building a reputation as one of the best shot-blockers in the game, and as Bill Russell once famously said, "The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot."
  • Which player is worth more to this Thunder team? This is where the discussion becomes even more murky. The Thunder are being built to contend for championships for a sustained period of time. What is worth more to them? Is it a high IQ shooting guard who operates as the perfect division between the water and fire that is Durant and Westbrook, the guy who never gets rattled, makes and takes big moment shots, and galvanizes the fanbase? Or is it the guy who has the potential to alter the course of games without even taking a shot, a guy who can get so much better that it is beyond comprehension how good he could become?
  • From a pure economics standpoint, the market may be the ultimate arbiter for who stays and who goes. Harden is an on-the-cusp all-star who does a lot of things very well, but you can see now how he is going to fully form as a complete player. In 8 years, he is more or less going to be the same player that he is today, except just better in all regards. Ibaka though, you cannot even see his ceiling. Because of this, the market may place a higher premium on him and be more apt to pay for it. If the Thunder allow each player to go into restricted free agency, I predict that it is Ibaka that will garner the most interest, which could price him outside of the Thunder's budget.
Just like in the NBA draft, the debate is the same - do you pay for the sure thing or for upside? In a year's time, Thunder fans will find out.