Over the offseason, the transactions that received the most attention were moves like LeBron James and Kevin Love to Cleveland, Pau Gasol to Chicago, Chandler Parsons to Dallas and Luol Deng to Miami among others. These acquisitions made headlines, and understandably so since they involved marquee players joining talented teams.
However, there were many other solid moves that flew under the radar at the time, but ended up being key transactions that have made a big impact this season. Here are 10 offseason additions that were underrated and are looking very smart today:
Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks – Coming off of a down year with the New York Knicks in which Tyson Chandler missed 27 games and was less productive even when he was healthy, the big man being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t seen a huge move. He wasn’t even the most talked about Chandler to join the Mavs, as Dallas’ biggest acquisition of the summer was signing Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets and that transaction overshadowed their other moves. However, the 32-year-old center has been excellent for Dallas so far this season, delivering one of the best seasons of his NBA career. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 68.3 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA and is a career-high for him). Chandler’s 22.3 efficiency rating is by far the highest of his career, as his previous high was 18.9. He has been outstanding thus far and it certainly seems like the Mavericks got the better end of the trade with the Knicks, considering they only had to give up Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and a pair of second-round picks.
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets – When the Houston Rockets decided not to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks and failed to steal Chris Bosh away from the Miami HEAT, Daryl Morey was criticized and the Rockets were deemed one of the losers of the offseason. Without Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin entering this season, Houston’s roster seemed to have less talent and depth than last year’s squad. However, that hasn’t been the case. The Rockets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and their depth is a big reason for that since they continued winning even after injuries to starters Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley. Trevor Ariza has been huge for the Rockets, averaging 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals while providing excellent perimeter defense. Houston hasn’t missed Parsons because Ariza has been so productive, and his four-year, $32 million deal allowed the Rockets to keep their cap flexibility (while matching Parsons’ deal would’ve capped them out). Ariza has been a great fit alongside James Harden, who has elevated his game and entered the Most Valuable Player conversation. When the move was made, some people felt that Ariza would be a step down from Parsons and that he’d come back down to earth after playing so well in a contract year last season with the Washington Wizards. Instead, his numbers are virtually identical to last year’s and he has been an important piece for the Rockets. Houston’s offseason didn’t go exactly as they hoped, but Morey’s back-up plan has worked nicely.
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic – When the Orlando Magic traded Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier, the deal was widely regarded as a win for the Nuggets. Many people felt that Orlando should’ve gotten more for Afflalo, especially since the team was rumored to want a first-round pick in exchange for the veteran shooting guard. Now, after seeing Fournier thrive so far this season, it seems that the criticism was unwarranted and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing. Fournier has been outstanding for Orlando, emerging as the team’s starting shooting guard and having the best year of his career. He is averaging 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and .6 steals – all of which are career-highs. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point range. Meanwhile, Afflalo is putting up almost identical numbers in Denver: 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .4 steals, 43.1 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three. Afflalo can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Fournier has one more year on his deal and then he’ll enter restricted free agency, so Orlando can match any offer he receives. It’s also likely that Fournier’s best basketball is still ahead of him since he’s only 22 years old. It seems that Hennigan traded Afflalo at the perfect time and added a key piece to the Magic’s young core, just like when he traded J.J. Redick in the final year of his contract to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris.
Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors – During Lou Williams’ two-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, the scoring guard was limited by injuries and never played to his full potential. His time in Atlanta ultimately ended with a trade to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for John Salmons’ non-guaranteed contract. This move now looks like a steal for Toronto, as Williams has returned to form and looks like a serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate once again. He is averaging 14.6 points off of Toronto’s bench, which is the second-highest scoring average of his 10-year NBA career. Williams is looking much more like the player who was a key contributor for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in his career than the player who struggled on the Hawks. This year, Williams has a 20.6 efficiency rating, which is a career-high. Toronto really needed to improve their bench scoring and Williams has helped them do that, emerging as their third-leading scorer and stepping up when DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin injury. The trade for Williams was overlooked since he hadn’t been very effective over the last two years, but it was an excellent move that’s paying off for the Raptors, who are the top team in the Eastern Conference. Considering it only cost them Salmons’ contract (which was subsequently waived) and they also landed prospect Lucas Nogueira, the deal looks extremely lopsided in Toronto’s favor.
Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings – When the Kings decided to let Isaiah Thomas leave as a free agent and sign Darren Collison to a three-year deal worth $16 million instead, the front office was largely mocked and questioned. Thomas had put up impressive numbers for the Kings and wanted to stay in Sacramento, while Collison had previously struggled when used as a starter on the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. However, Sacramento liked what they saw from Collison last season as a reserve on the Los Angeles Clippers and felt comfortable handing him the reins to their team. The 27-year-old has rewarded their faith in him by having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals – all of which are career-highs. While the decision to go with Collison over Thomas could’ve blown up in the Kings’ face, especially since Thomas was a fan favorite in Sacramento, Collison has played well and done a solid job running the team.
Rasual Butler, Washington Wizards – Two years ago, Rasual Butler was out of the NBA. He was training at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles, working out alongside draft prospects and overseas players to stay in shape. He sat out the entire 2012-13 season since no NBA team showed interest in signing him, and then decided to play in the Orlando Summer League in an attempt to show that he could still make a difference for an NBA team. He suited up for the Indiana Pacers’ summer league squad, and he earned an invite to the Pacers’ training camp. There, he played his way onto the final roster on a non-guaranteed deal and ultimately stuck with the team for the entire season. He appeared in 50 games with Indiana last season, averaging 2.7 points. Even though his numbers didn’t jump off of the page last season, he played well enough to get signed by the Washington Wizards this past summer. Now, with an increased opportunity in Washington, Butler has taken full advantage and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 10.8 points off the Wizards’ bench while shooting an amazing 52.4 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from three-point range. He has earned the trust of his teammates and has emerged as a veteran leader for the team since he’s in his 12th season in the NBA. Butler has bounced around the league throughout his career, playing for seven teams and often playing a limited role, but he has been a huge contributor for the Wizards and helped them emerge as an elite team this year. Butler has been one of the best stories of the 2014-15 NBA season, going from being out of the NBA to becoming a key contributor for a contending team.
Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls – The Bulls spent the offseason courting Carmelo Anthony and signing Pau Gasol, so it’s no surprise that the addition of Nikola Mirotic didn’t receive a ton of attention. Many Bulls fans had been patiently waiting for Mirotic’s arrival since Chicago acquired him in a draft-night trade back in 2011, and the team finally managed to bring him to the U.S. this summer with a three-year deal worth $17 million. Nobody was sure what to expect from Mirotic in his first NBA season since the Bulls had a loaded frontcourt and Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for giving rookies a lot of minutes, but the 23-year-old has been excellent so far. He is averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and .8 blocks in 18.3 minutes per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point range. He has had a number of very impressive games, including a 27-point, eight-rebound outing against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he went 6-6 from three-point range and a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Mirotic’s 18.8 efficiency rating is by far the highest among all rookies (the next best is Jusuf Nurkic at 14.2). He’s also leading all rookies in estimated wins added at 1.9 (with the next highest being K.J. McDaniels at .6). Mirotic is getting some Rookie of the Year consideration, which is incredible considering this class was supposed to be stacked with stars and Mirotic’s signing barely got any attention when it happened over the summer.
Chris Kaman, Portland Trail Blazers – Last season, one of the biggest issues with the Blazers was their bench. The team had one of the best starting lineups in the league, but there was a significant drop off when their starters exited the game. Portland’s general manager Neil Olshey realized this and focused on improving their depth over the offseason, signing veteran contributors Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Both players have performed well this season, but Kaman has really stood out. The 12-year veteran signed a two-year, $9.8 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed in the second year and he has been worth every penny thus far. Kaman has been excellent for the Blazers, averaging 9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes per game. He has even gotten some Sixth Man of the Year consideration early in the season due to his strong play. With Robin Lopez out several weeks with a broken hand, Kaman has become even more important for Portland and has seen his minutes increase on some nights. With an improved second unit, the Blazers have emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. They currently have the second-best record in the league, behind only the Golden State Warriors.
K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – McDaniels is the only 2014 draft pick on this list, but he qualifies since he is a new addition. The 2014 NBA Draft featured one of the most hyped up classes in years, with potential stars like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker who had been on the NBA radar since they were 15 years old. However, most of the lottery picks in this class have either been hurt (Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, etc.) or disappointments so far. That has opened the door for a player like McDaniels to shine and receive Rookie of the Year consideration. McDaniels was the 35th overall pick in the draft, going to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. He was projected as a lottery pick in Basketball Insiders’ mock drafts, but slipped due to some poor performances in pre-draft workouts. This season, McDaniels has averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal. He has led all perimeter players in blocks per game this season, and he has emerged as an excellent two-way player for Philadelphia. He is certainly making some teams regret passing on him and has been a pleasant surprise for the 76ers in a season where they haven’t had much to be excited about. For more on McDaniels’ excellent rookie season, check out this recent Basketball Insiders article about him.
Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder – While some contending teams decided to make drastic changes over the summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to stand pat for the most part. They brought back their same core and their biggest acquisition was the signing of Anthony Morrow to a three-year, $10.03 million contract. The move didn’t get much attention, but Morrow has emerged as a key contributor for the Thunder and really made an impact on the team this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and one steal in 25.8 minutes per game for Oklahoma City. He’s shooting 41.1 percent from three-point range on nearly five attempts per game, which spreads the floor for the Thunder and prevents defenders from leaving him to help on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 29-year-old also stepped up when Durant and Westbrook were injured, delivering a 28-point performance in a win over the Boston Celtics last month and scoring in double figures 14 times this season. Morrow is having one of the best seasons of his seven-year NBA career and was a nice under-the-radar signing. He should be even more productive once Durant and Westbrook are completely healthy, as he’ll likely get plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities.
High-Performance Mindfulness: What Players Can Learn From Brandon Ingram
By implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice, Brandon Ingram may be ahead of the game. Jake Rauchbach dives in.
For younger players, maybe one of the most important elements of successful progression is their ability to mentally and emotionally self-manage.
Throughout a career, and as the stakes increase, the amount of external variables that a player is faced with processing can multiply exponentially both on and off the court.
For players with effective and leverageable skill sets for clear decision-making, as well as mental and emotional self-management, this is a valuable asset. However, for many, it can be like a trial by fire. This means that habits picked up through a career to cope can be either supportive or destructive.
However, players who have the foresight to employ proactive self-management tools — before the volatility of life hits — have a leg up on overall well-being, and with on-court performance.
Brandon Ingram, who is still only 22 years old, helps to shed light on how important it is to have mental and emotional processes in place.
Ingram, who is having a career-best year in New Orleans, averaging 25.4 points per game on 49% shooting, experienced ups and downs during his time with the Lakers.
Whether through proactively seeking out mental skills or by picking them up along the way, BI has seemed to find a process that works for him. He also seems to have found an understanding of how important it is to train these internal habits.
“People around me, they can give me talks, they can tell me what to do, but if I don’t have the right mentality, then nothing good is going to happen for me because I’m not going to be confident,” Ingram said.
As one of the younger up and coming players in the league, it is no coincidence that Ingram learned early the importance of implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice. He employs this tool both in the morning and at night after practice.
Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics
As neuroscientists like Dr. Joe Dispenza are now showing, the differentiating factor in human potential may be the ability to harness thought and emotion. In his Wall Street Journal bestseller, Becoming Supernatural, Dispenza provides several studies showing how these two variables are being shown to directly affect the up or down-regulation of the human gene. Meaning, for every thought or emotion that is produced in the body, there is a corresponding chemical reaction. Each one of the reactions, whether positive or negative, either up-regulate or down-regulate the gene. This is especially true for longstanding thought patterns.
According to neuroscience, Ingram, through his Daily Gratitude Practice, may be positively influencing more levels to his game than he consciously realizes. Players like Ingram who can entrain to higher mental and emotional habits can positively influence physiology and performance.
Conversely, a player with chronic and ingrained negative thought and emotional patterns, such as depression, often produces volatile or underwhelming on-court results. On a psychosomatic level, their mental and emotional states are affecting their physiology and performance.
A player like Ingram, who self admittedly went through many ups and downs, has been able to stabilize and hit his stride this season with the Pelicans. What about the players that have not been able to right the ship?
A deeper understanding of how mindset and emotional states affect a player’s physiology and performance can help us understand what is going on under the hood.
Player Development tools that do this can work to reshape long-standing mental and emotional patterns. Furthermore, providing players with a systematic way of shifting well-being and performance upwards can provide alignment.
Energy Psychology – Player Development
As discussed in previous columns, Energy Psychology – Player Development works on the habit level of the player to remove mental and emotional barriers that inhibit peak performance and overall wellbeing.
Based on Dispenza’s neuroscience findings, when holding all else constant, there seems to be real evidence to show that a player’s thoughts and emotions are the drivers behind overachievement. With this, EP methods help player’s upshift mental state, physiology and performance by neutralizing subconscious blocking thoughts and emotions.
Whether by the player proactively implementing these techniques or through standardized programs set up by the team, working in this fashion goes much deeper than just getting up shots.
Younger Players & The G-League
Ingram is ahead of the curve in regards to implementing elements of consistent mental skills training into his everyday routine. Other players should take heed.
For younger players still on their rookie contracts — or those just coming into the league — support like this may be a deciding factor in how they move throughout the rest of their career.
The G League also may be an ideal proving ground. A proactive mental performance initiative could provide players still trying to solidify an opportunity for an added skill-set. This could provide a leg-up, not only on the court once that call-up opportunity does come.
NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 12/6/2019
A Washington sharpshooter joins the ranks of the league’s best reserves, but the Sixth Man conversation still focuses on Los Angeles in Douglas Farmer’s opinion.
In this update on Sixth Man of the Year candidates, one name must be bid farewell. Unexpected to begin the year but increasingly expected in recent weeks, Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham has played too well to keep coming off the bench, most recently shining with 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting from deep Wednesday. In a lost season for the Hornets, Graham’s emergence may be the brightest silver lining, hence his starting their last 13 games.
A similar fate is set to befall another name below in the absence of an injured superstar, but technically speaking, that Brooklyn Nets guard has not started half his team’s games yet, so he remains in this listing one more time …
5. Dāvis Bertāns — Washington Wizards
Bertāns’ recent shooting spurt has not brought the Wizards many wins, but it has led to him reaching double digits in eight of their last nine games, including four instances of 20 or more points. During that stretch, Bertāns has hit 47.5 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, the type of shooting that earns notice.
At this point, he is averaging only 13.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, numbers that may not bring out the checkbook this summer, but if Bertāns keeps at his recent pace, his contract year should elicit a worthwhile payday. That would be true in any summer, but even more so in an offseason devoid of many pertinent free agents like 2020 should be.
4. Dwight Howard — Los Angeles Lakers
No. 39’s numbers have not taken off, and they will not, but this space will continue to trumpet Howard’s impact because it has been surprising and quietly important. Even beyond his counting stats — 7 points and 7 rebounds per game — playing fewer than 20 minutes per game will keep Howard from broader recognition for most of the season.
In the Lakers’ 12 wins by 10 or fewer points, Howard has totaled a plus-38. As long as Anthony Davis stays healthy and Los Angeles is the title favorite, Howard’s contributions should not be diminished, even if he is not the prototypical sixth man candidate.
3. Spencer Dinwiddie — Brooklyn Nets
When the Nets face the Hornets tonight, Dinwiddie’s nominal bench status will be in the rearview mirror for the foreseeable future. Through 21 games, he has started 10, fitting the sixth man qualification by one role night. With that distinction, his 20.8 points and 5.8 assists per game place him firmly in this conversation.
If he will have started half Brooklyn’s games by the end of the day, then why include him between Howard and a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner? Because when Kyrie Irving returns from his extended absence (shoulder injury), Dinwiddie may return to the bench and skew his games off the bench back to the majority of his action.
That effect combined with Dinwiddie keeping the Nets steady and in the East’s top half without Irving is a unique combination of a contribution.
2. Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers
Death, taxes and Lou Williams. He has broken 20 points in 14 games this season with two more cracking 30, averaging 21.1 points per game. That was to be expected, even with his slow start to the year. The 14-year veteran is a metronome of a bucket-getter.
His 6.3 assists per game, however, are on pace to be a career-high. While that may not have been anticipated, this will be Williams’ fifth year in a row raising that average. Those dispersals have not shorted Williams’ scoring, as everyone knows. That is all to say, the league’s ultimate sixth man, maybe its best ever, has improved as a complete player in the latter half of his possibly interminable career.
1. Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers
At some point this year, this biweekly Sixth Man listing may need to become a one-man testament. Harrell is rendering the preceding four nominations moot. His 19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game are impressive, but his pivotal role with the Clippers is even more deserving of lauds.
His 29.7 minutes per game are fourth for Los Angeles — a category Williams actually tops — and his plus-156 leads the Clippers handily, with only Kawhi Leonard’s plus-144 within 60 of Harrell. Yes, Harrell’s on-court impact in Los Angeles rivals Kawhi Leonard’s, despite one of them coming off the bench in 20 of 22 games and the other being the reigning Finals MVP.
The season is still in the early aughts — but some classic and new frontrunners are here to stay. For now, we’ll have to see how Paul George, Kyrie Irving and others ultimately impact the leaders on this list, but the Sixth Man of the Year race has only just started to heat up.
NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT
Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.
209 wins, 202 losses.
That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.
Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.
Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.
But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.
Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.
Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.
Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.
Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.
While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.
This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.
All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.
Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.
The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.
Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.
After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.
Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?
The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?
That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.
They have Butler now. They have their star.
Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.