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NBA PM: 10 Underrated Moves That Are Paying Off

A look at 10 offseason moves that initially flew under the radar, but are looking very smart now.

Alex Kennedy profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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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.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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