With September finally here and the opening of training camp right around the corner, most teams have the rosters that they’ll go into the season with. Sure there might be a few shuffling roster spots here and there. Someone could have a wildly impressive training camp and end up beating out someone with a guaranteed contract. But for the most part, nothing major will likely happen between now and the start of the season.
Each year, there is always a couple of free agent moves that sort of fly under the radar. Players that perhaps were signed to minimum contracts and end up outperforming their respective deals. Players who perhaps entered the season with few expectations, but ended up becoming an integral part of the rotation.
Before the season actually starts, there might be a key veteran or two that end up signing cheap, but as of right now, here’s a look at some of the more underrated free agent moves of the summer. Each of these players signed a one-year deal, or close to it, at or near the minimum. Each of them could end up playing a key role for their team this season.
1. Troy Daniels – Los Angeles Lakers
Since he’s been in the league, Daniels has consistently been one of the NBA’s better marksmen from three-point range. He’s never shot under 36 percent from behind the arc throughout his six-year career. Last season in Phoenix, he shot 38.1 percent from three. The Lakers do have quite a few guards and wings on the roster, and Daniels seems like one of the odd man out in the rotation. But with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the court, shooters to spread the floor are a major necessity. Daniels can certainly do that and don’t be surprised if he ends up playing a bigger role than initially intended.
2. Alec Burks – Golden State Warriors
It wasn’t that long ago that Burks was considered one of the key young pieces of the Utah Jazz core. Unfortunately for him, he was hit badly by injuries since then and the Jazz finally gave up on him this past season when they traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland then traded him to the Sacramento Kings where he was buried on the bench, but not before his brief stint in Cleveland reminded everyone what the Jazz initially saw in him. In 24 games with the Cavs, he averaged 11.6 points per game, his highest output since the 2014-15 season, while shooting 37.8 percent from three. With the Warriors bench depleted, Burks has the opportunity to come in, revive his career, and be a key factor right away for an elite team.
3. Wesley Matthews – Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon, who was a key player on both ends of the floor, to the Indiana Pacers this summer. They’re hoping that Matthews will be able to replicate some of what Brogdon brought to the floor. Brogdon was tough defender capable of guarding multiple positions. Throughout his career, Matthews has been among the league’s better perimeter defenders, albeit dealing with both age and injuries. On the offensive end, Brogdon shot 42.6 percent from three. Matthews is a career 38.2 percent three-point shooter and shot 36.9 percent with the Pacers last season. The Bucks have Finals aspirations, and Matthews’ contributions might play a key role in whether they reach that goal or not.
4. Trey Burke – Philadelphia 76ers
When the Sixers lost T.J. McConnell to the Indiana Pacers, finding a backup point guard was a must. They may have found the answer with the signing of Burke. Burke was a former lottery pick who found himself out of the league after his rookie contract was up. A strong G League performance earned him a call-up from the New York Knicks, and he’s established himself as a capable point guard off the bench. In Philly, he’ll be asked to help run the second unit and provide an offensive spark at times. McConnell might have been the better playmaker, but Burke once averaged 5.7 assists as a rookie — he’s capable of being a facilitator. Solid bench play is a must for teams with Finals hopes, and Burke could help solidify this contender’s bench.
5. Justin Patton – Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s highly unlikely that the Thunder make the playoffs this season. It remains to be seen what they do with Chris Paul, but a lottery finish is likely in the cards for Oklahoma City. With that said, development now becomes the objective for the Thunder. When he was drafted, Patton was an intriguing prospect who looked like he could develop into an elite interior defender with offensive versatility. Instead, injuries took a toll on him and he’s only suited up in four total NBA games. At a minimum deal with only partial guarantees, it’s essentially a low-risk, high-reward move for the Thunder. Best case scenario, he ends up fulfilling some of his potential and becomes a key member of OKC’s future. Worst case, he doesn’t and the Thunder cut ties with him without any major financial burden.
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