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The NBA saw one of its wildest, most expensive spending sprees during this offseason’s first few weeks of free agency.
Lost in the shuffle of moving superstars such as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker were the savvy veteran acquisitions of the teams that couldn’t attract top-tier targets. Those franchises instead made judicious moves involving players who can outperform their contracts.
Which of those unheralded pickups will produce the most significant effect and stir regret from their competitors?
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The Washington Wizards acquired Davis Bertans in a three-team deal this offseason via trade exception from the San Antonio Spurs. He has one year and a manageable $7 million remaining on the two-year, $14.5 million deal signed last offseason.
The 6’10” Bertans will be the starting power forward and give first-round pick Rui Hachimura time to develop.
Bertans, 26, is the long-armed floor-spacer the Wizards desperately needed. The franchise is short at the 3 and 4 positions with just CJ Miles, Troy Brown Jr. and rookie Admiral Schofield available to spell Bertans. He shot an impressive 42.9 percent from three last season on 4.4 attempts in just 21.5 minutes per game, good for sixth in the NBA.
A useful player in San Antonio, Bertans was traded to create space to sign Marcus Morris, who later reneged on his deal with the Spurs to sign with the Knicks. Bertans’ workload will increase in Washington, and he could lighten the scoring burden on Bradley Beal while creating some much-needed space for the group.
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It’s difficult to classify a player who earned a guaranteed $85 million contract as underrated, but Malcolm Brogdon qualifies as just that.
Last season, the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year shined with a net rating of 10.7, good for fourth among all guards in the NBA who played 40 games or more. Brogdon became the eighth player in history to join the 50/40/90 club with averages of 50.5/42.6/92.8 percent shooting from the field, three and the free-throw line, respectively, putting him in the company of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash.
Brogdon was also one of the NBA’s most efficient isolation scorers, posting a 94th-percentile value of 1.463, per BBall Index, which should help ease the burden of Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner.
The Indiana Pacers will become much more dynamic offensively with him, and he should form one of the more dangerous backcourts in the NBA alongside Oladipo.
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Ed Davis can’t seem to stay in one place for long. When he suits up for his sixth squad in eight seasons, he will back up two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with the Utah Jazz.
Utah made the difficult choice to trade eight-year veteran Derrick Favors to the Pelicans, utilizing that cap space to sign Bogdan Bogdanovic. But the Jazz still had a hole behind Gobert, and they did a nice job filling it with Davis on a two-year, $10 million contract.
Davis’ statistics don’t jump off the page. He’s never averaged double digits in scoring or rebounding and hasn’t averaged more than 24.6 minutes per contest in his nine-year career. But he is one of the NBA’s best defensive anchors when he does play.
In just 17.9 minutes per game, Davis submitted the NBA’s second-best defensive real plus-minus (4.13), trailing only Gobert and finishing with the fifth-best defensive rating among centers. Davis is a board machine, too, finishing second in rebounding per 36 minutes. He was also fourth on the offensive end.
Although he has his scoring limitations, Davis still grades out as an A in roll gravity—described as a player’s ability to pressure a team defensively through screen setting and rolling—and an A-minus finisher, per BBall Index.
The Jazz did about as good a job as they could have in replacing Favors at a fraction of the cost.
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Derrick Favors’ numbers regressed during Rudy Gobert’s ascendance. After averaging 30 or more minutes per game for three successive seasons from 2014 to 2016, Favors averaged 23.7, 28.0 (Gobert missed 26 games) and 23.2 the past three years.
In New Orleans, Favors will be a starter—with only Jahlil Okafor and rookie Jaxson Hayes to spell him—and he should see his workload increase on both ends. With just one year and $16 million remaining on his pact, he’s a low-risk option. If he doesn’t fit into the long term plans, he’d become valuable as an expiring contract nearer the deadline.
“As a selfless, 27-year-old elite rim protector, with what we believe is untapped offensive potential, he is just entering his prime,” Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin said. “We believe he will be a vital piece of our nucleus moving forward.”
Offensively, Favors is one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers, as he shot over 58 percent in 2018-19, including 72.2 percent at the rim and 68.5 effective field-goal percentage inside 10 feet. Favors finished with an A grade in finishing, roll gravity and offensive rebounding, according to BBall Index.
Defensively, most of the accolades in Utah went to Gobert, and for good reason. Still, the Jazz were better when Favors occupied the court without Gobert. Favors was also No. 1 in the NBA in defensive rating among centers (101.6), compared to Gobert, who posted a 103.6.
Favors also finished 10th in the NBA in challenged shots in 2018-19 per 36 minutes, two spots ahead of Gobert. Favors was fourth in defensive real plus-minus among power forwards, 18th in the NBA overall.
The Pelicans have found their elite defensive anchor, and if Griffin and the team can unveil Favors’ “untapped offensive potential,” the Pelicans may have secured the most underrated pickup of 2019.
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Missing out on Kawhi Leonard in free agency was a costly blow to the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2019-20 title hopes.
But landing the other prominent Toronto Raptors free agent was about the best compensation they could have hoped for.
Danny Green is exactly what the Lakers needed alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The team had plenty of ball-handling and scoring between James, Davis and Rajon Rondo. What L.A. needed was a selfless offensive player who could hit from deep.
That perfectly describes Green. On top of being the league’s second-finest three-point shooter in 2018-19 (45.5 percent), he did it with a usage rate of just 13.9 percent. Of his 198 converted three-point shots in 2018-19, 91.4 percent were assisted, making him the perfect complementary spacer.
His offensive rating (117.7) was second to only Stephen Curry’s, and he was first in the NBA among shooting guards in real plus-minus and 13th among all positions. The Raptors, in turn, were 13.7 points better per 100 possessions with Green on the floor.
Defensively, Green was also effective while taking on opponents’ best backcourt scorers, as the Raptors were 3.9 points worse per 100 possessions without him. He should do an excellent job of mitigating Rondo’s lapses, just as Jrue Holiday did for the Pelicans in 2017-18.
And at just two years and $30 million, Green doesn’t clog their books long term should Davis exercise his right to explore free agency in 2020.
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Ricky Rubio found the perfect landing spot with the Phoenix Suns, and though he didn’t come cheaply at three years, $51 million, he’ll give the squad precisely what it’s been searching for.
Rubio’s never shot above league average from three-point range, which was 35.5 percent in 2018-19, and he has finished below a 40 effective field-goal percentage in three of his eight seasons.
But the Suns don’t need the veteran point guard to be a shooter. They need a facilitating, pick-and-roll ace who can help their young lottery picks succeed. Rubio finished seventh in assists per 36 minutes among guards who played 60 or more games. He also finished in the 97th percentile in points generated by assists.
Rubio isn’t a slouch on the defensive end, either, sitting 18th among guards in defensive real plus-minus. The floor general-slash-point preventer also finished 2018-19 13th among all guards in defensive rating.
Rubio will significantly improve the Suns on both ends with his talent and veteran intelligence and will develop a unit that finished 28th and 29th in offensive and defensive scoring in 2018-19.
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Tomas Satoransky got a three-year, $30 million payday from the Chicago Bulls, and for good reason.
He may slide into the starting point guard role while rookie lottery pick Coby White learns the NBA ropes. Either way, he’ll flourish in his fourth season after a productive campaign alongside Bradley Beal with the Washington Wizards.
Satoransky only averaged 6.6 and 5.3 shots per game in the past two seasons, respectively, but made the most of them with effective field-goal percentages of 58.5 and 54.5 percent—including three-point percentages of 46.5 and 39.5. Satoransky also became an above-average facilitator, finishing 11th in assist ratio.
Capable of defending three positions thanks to his size, the 6’7″ Satoransky finished 10th among shooting guards in real plus-minus—though he’ll likely play next to Zach LaVine, who will occupy that spot with the Bulls.
With LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls and Satoransky may compete for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
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Danilo Gallinari may have been an afterthought for the Los Angeles Clippers this offseason, but the Italian sniper quietly had a productive—and relatively injury-free—season in 2018-19.
It seems like he’s been in the league forever after infamously getting booed on draft night in 2008 when the New York Knicks took him sixth overall, though he only just turned 31 in August. He is firmly in the prime of his career.
All Gallo has done is produce in the NBA, and last season he put up career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (6.1) and field-goal percentage (46.3). That’s on top of being a knockdown free-throw shooter (90.4 percent) and three-point marksman (43.3 percent) on high volume for each.
In OKC sans Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari may up his numbers across the board should his health hold up like it did last season for the most part (68 games at 30.3 minutes per night).
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Less than one month after they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Toronto Raptors lost arguably the NBA’s best player in Kawhi Leonard—and Danny Green along with him.
Never one to stand pat, Raptors president Masai Ujiri signed a player many haven’t heard of to a three-year, $4.2 million contract.
That’s because Matt Thomas might be the world’s best shooter. He shot 44.5 percent on three-point attempts as a senior at Iowa State on 5.7 attempts per game and has only improved since.
Synergy Basketball tweeted, “Thomas was arguably the top jump shooter outside of the NBA last season, posting an eFG% of 82% on catch and shoot jump shots including 99% when left unguarded.”
Bottom line: If Thomas is open, he doesn’t miss.
At just 25 years old, Thomas shot 48.5 percent last season with Valencia Basket on 4.5 attempts per game. Granted, that didn’t come against NBA defenders, but that would make him the league’s best shooter by a fairly significant margin. Joe Harris shot an incredible 47.4 percent last season on 5.1 attempts per game, while Green finished second at 45.5 percent among players who took three or more shots per contest.
Thomas may lack NBA-level athleticism and could find himself off the floor because of his defense, but he should enter his name in the conversation regarding the game’s best point specialists.
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The Indiana Pacers were forced to pivot away from Bojan Bogdanovic when the Bosnian swingman earned a rich four years and $73.1 million from the Utah Jazz in the opening hours of free agency.
But general manager Chad Buchanan already had his replacement in place after adeptly adding TJ Warren, formerly of the Phoenix Suns, nearly two weeks prior. The deal may have been a salary dump for the Suns as they cleared out space to acquire Ricky Rubio and re-sign Kelly Oubre Jr., but Warren neatly fills out the Pacers’ depth chart and spaces the floor at a position of need.
Warren’s primary value comes beyond the arc, where he shot better than all but seven qualified players in 2018-19 with a cool 42.8 percent on 4.2 shots per game.
“Three-point shooting is a major part of NBA basketball,” head coach Nate McMillan said on May 1. “I would like to see us get more attempts.”
Warren will grant improvement to that area of need. After averaging 18 points and four rebounds during his final year in Phoenix, he can boost an Indiana offense that finished last season 18th in offensive rating.
Warren also gives McMillan flexibility after he spent much of his first four seasons at the 3 but shifted to the 4 full-time in 2018-19. He can start at small forward or be the first player off the bench to spell Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis.
“We need some creation,” president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said on May 1. “We need a guy who can break down a defense.”
The Pacers can use Warren’s shotmaking to threaten defenses that make them pay by attacking the closeout in the pick-and-roll. They’ll feature no shortage of offensive options when he occupies the floor. Between him and Malcolm Brogdon, they added two of the best creators and three-point shooters on the market.
And by absorbing his three years and $35.3 million, they did so at an efficient price.