Koufos is coming off of a significant sophomore slump that saw his PER cut in half (from 15.2 to 7.7). In his rookie season, he was a key bench contributor for a playoff calibre Western Conference team aged only 19; in his sophomore season, however, Koufos lost his spot to Kyrylo Fesenko and played only 5 minutes per game. He's still young, still big, still skilled in the post and still able to shoot. But last season was a nothing season for him, and he could use a good show in summer league to win back some favor.
Counting the game in which he played only 9 minutes and got hurt as one in which he didn't play (which seems fair), the Grizzlies are 7-5 with Gasol in the lineup and 5-11 without him. Considering that Gasol is both the reigning defensive player of the year and a nightly triple-double threat, this is no surprise. No one can replace a player that good, even if they do have one of the league's best backups at that position (and in Kosta Koufos, the Grizzlies do). Ewing Theory anomalies notwithstanding, a team can't offset the loss of a star, and the Grizzlies are feeling his irreplaceable loss in all facets of their game. That much is unavoidable.
[...] Memphis made one of the steals of the summer in acquiring Koufos. Taking advantage of Nuggets' upheaval, the Grizzlies acquired a legit starter for the cost only of an inferior backup (Darrell Arthur) and a very late pick in a weak draft. It was a perfect move that benefitted the team in the short term, filled a specific need, upgraded the talent level and, in light of Koufos's age, helped the future too. It was the type of deal that would help a good team stay good.
Regardless of how much stronger the center position is than the common narrative on its weakness would have you believe, productive fives are still the most valued commodity out there. And when you've got three when you only need two, you deal from the position of strength to concurrently fill one of your weaknesses. This is what the Nuggets intended to do this summer when they traded Koufos to the Grizzlies, receiving in exchange backup power forward Darrell Arthur and the rights to draft-and-stash big man Joffrey Lauvergne.
In theory, the Nuggets dealt an excess asset to fit a more pressing weakness. However, both of those criteria are subject to scrutiny. Importantly, the word "backup" in that description of Arthur is doing rather a lot here. Arthur is a decent player, indisputably, but he is also an average to decent backup at a position where that is not too hard to come by. Arthur helps a team on both ends of the court, but not hugely - he is a solid placeholder until the star player returns after the timeout, and not capable of much more than that.
The same is somewhat true of Koufos, a quality player, but a fringe starter in light of the aforementioned league-wide depth at the center position, and certainly only a backup in Memphis behind the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. But if you're trading a backup for a backup, you should be sure you're getting the better backup. Put simply, Koufos is better than Arthur, by a noticeable amount. This is true of both his value as a player and his value as an asset. Not only has Arthur yet to produce any season of the quality that Koufos did last year (8.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 17.2 PER), but he is also one year older and with a much greater injury history. By no performance metric did Denver upgrade in this swap, and Lauvergne does not offset it. And ultimately, rather than balance their roster, they only further unbalanced it.
[...] Memphis now has one of the best centers in the league (Marc Gasol) and one of the best backup centers. And all it cost them was a highly replaceable player that they needn't even look outside to replace, given the presence of the incumbent Ed Davis. Denver, meanwhile, now has a whole at center and a glut at power forward that will be asked to mask it. And that's all they have to show for the loss of what should have been a great trade asset.
Note: Non-US teams that the player
has played for are, unless stated otherwise, from the top division in
that nation. If a league or division name is expressly stated, it's not
the top division. The only exceptions to this are the rare occasions where
no one league is said to be above the other, such as with the JBL/BJ League
split in Japan.