Trade Grades: Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards Swap Guards

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The Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards agreed to overhaul their backcourts by coming to terms on a deal ahead of free agency. Who won the deal?

Trade Grades: Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards Swap Guards

Terms of the Deal:

Denver gets: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (shooting guard), Ish Smith (point guard)

Washington gets: Will Barton (shooting guard), Monte Morris (point guard)

Denver Nuggets Grade: B

This is the latest installment in a busy offseason for the Denver Nuggets. They let Tim Connelly leave his position as general manager to become the president of the Minnesota Timberwolves. They traded JaMychal Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the no. 30 pick in the draft, ensuring they wouldn’t owe Green over $8 million during the 2022-2023 season. Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, despite an estimated worth of $10.7 billion, continues to make sure the team avoids the luxury tax at all costs. Caldwell-Pope and Smith will be free agents in 2023, while Barton and Morris are signed through 2024. Smith also makes over $4 million less this season than Morris. 

Luckily, this trade helps the Nuggets on the court as well as in the wallet. Caldwell-Pope immediately becomes Denver’s starting shooting guard. He’ll be able to chase Stephen Curry around screens and stay in front of Donovan Mitchell as he barrels towards the rim. Caldwell-Pope hasn’t shot below 38.5% from three since 2019, and Nikola Jokić should gift him the easiest shots of his career. Denver needs Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. healthy to place Caldwell-Pope in the right offensive role. The uncertainty surrounding Murray’s recovery from a torn ACL makes the downgrade from Morris to Smith worrisome. If Murray misses significant time again the Nuggets will struggle without a ready-made replacement available.

Washington Wizards Grade: C-

This trade does fill a need for Washington, assuming Bradley Beal re-signs with the team as rumored. Washington needed to add a point guard after trading Spencer Dinwiddie (and Dāvis Bertāns) for Kristaps Porziņģis last season. Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. was a Denver assistant before the 2021-2022 season and is familiar with Morris and Barton.

Morris has been in the league for five seasons and is firmly established as one of the best backup point guards in the league, but is underqualified to start. Since Jokić is essentially Denver’s point guard, Morris hasn’t been asked to set up teammates like other point guards. Per Cleaning the Glass, he assisted on just 20% of his teammates’ made shots last season, lower than all but 10% of the league’s point guards. Considering Washington has no perimeter defender to replace Caldwell-Pope, they paid a large price to upgrade at backup point guard.

Barton is a solid scoring wing, but he’s spindly, making him a better fit at shooting guard. That’s Beal’s position, and the Wizards have a number of young wings taken with recent lottery picks like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, and Corey Kispert. Their no. 10 pick in this year’s draft, Johnny Davis, plays shooting guard as well, and it’s hard to see how Barton fits into this mix. Perhaps Washington is planning to play Beal more at point guard this season, with Morris as his backup and the young players teaming with Barton on the wings. That would be an intriguing look for a team that hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2018.