At the 2016 NBA Draft, a few trades occurred, and some others were agreed upon that for salary cap purposes only were fully finalised two weeks later. This is all normal.
Quite a few of these trades involved draft picks, picks for both that year and the future, and quite a few of those draft picks were first rounders. This is also normal.
The perceived value of them, however, was abnormally inconsistent.
#12 pick Taurean Prince was traded by the Utah Jazz in a three team deal that netted them George Hill straight up.
#13 pick Georgios Papagiannis was combined by the Phoenix Suns with #28 pick Skal Labissiere and 2014 #27 pick Bogdan Bogdanovic, then shipped to the Sacramento Kings for #8 pick Marquese Chriss.
#20 pick Caris LeVert was traded by the Indiana Pacers, along with a future second round pick (protected 45th through 60th from 2017 to 2022 and only thereafter unprotected, thereby almost certainly ensuring the pick will be a high second rounder), to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Thaddeus Young.
#21 pick Malachi Richardson was traded by the Charlotte Hornets to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Marco Belinelli.
And finally, #31 pick Devonta Davis and #38 Rade Zagorac pick were combined by the Boston Celtics and sent to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for a 2019 first round pick, protected through the first eight picks.
In summation, the #12 pick had seemingly enough value to obtain a very high quality starting point guard in the prime of his career, while the pick immediately after it had to be packaged with two other first rounders just to move up five spots in a weak draft. Similarly, while admittedly packaged with a likely decent second rounder, the #20 pick was deemed sufficiently good to get Young, a valuable and versatile contributor in the prime of his career with at least two years to run on his contract, whereas the pick below it yielded only Belinelli, a journeyman backup shooting guard on an expiring contract who, while fine, is demonstrably less effective than Young as an NBA player, and who was coming off of the worst season he has had since his rookie campaign.
Notwithstanding the oddness of some of those trades – we see above the unlikely situation whereby Sacramento made off with tremendous value, while Memphis clearly wanted the immediacy of Davis’s few minutes to forego the fact that 2019 is the year their Grit and Grind core will have pretty much run its course, and that is the best year for them to have picks in – the inconsistency of their yields despite being traded at the same time speaks to a wobbling value of first round picks in the NBA, one that is increasingly difficult to determine.
Come draft time, however, a first rounder has leverage. Or at least, it seems that it can do on that pick’s date of reckoning, the draft night on which it goes from asset to player rights.
The trade of Chriss speaks to one thing that seems to crop up every year. If a team really, really wants a player, and is not convinced that that player will fall to their own draft selection (whether that fear be justified or not), any team picking a few spots before them can agree to pick that player - or take a calculated gamble and pick that player in the hopes that a future trade will be forthcoming – and then dangle them.
In wanting to trade up, Phoenix had little to no leverage; in knowing they wanted that, Sacramento could be quite demanding, and seemingly were. This practice is fairly common, or at least not that uncommon. The Boston Celtics once allegedly offered six picks to the Hornets for the 2015 #9 pick that eventually became Frank Kaminsky. But Charlotte resisted that package and kept the pick (which Boston supposedly would have used on Justise Winslow instead) in favour of taking Kaminsky for themselves. Boston’s love for one player was somehow worth six picks, yet Charlotte’s love for one player was somehow worth even more than that. Seemingly, on draft night itself, and when specific players are on deck, immediate first round draft picks are ridiculously precious.