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NBA PM: 8 Underrated Free Agent Signings

Alex Kennedy gives his list of this offseason’s most underrated free agent signings.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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This summer, many of the NBA’s top free agents decided to re-sign with their respective teams. LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Dwyane Wade and many others chose to stay put rather than join a new franchise.

With that said, there were some big-name players who changed teams. LaMarcus Aldridge and David West signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Greg Monroe decided to bolt to the Milwaukee Bucks. Wesley Matthews inked a max deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Monta Ellis landed with the Indiana Pacers. Rajon Rondo joined the Sacramento Kings. These were among the moves that received the most attention this offseason, and understandably so.

However, there were many other notable acquisitions that seemed to fly under the radar a bit. Today, let’s take a look at what, in my opinion, were the most underrated signings of the NBA offseason.

Mo Williams to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Most of the Cavaliers’ offseason moves involved re-signing their own players, but they did make one big addition in Williams. The agreement was finalized in the first week of free agency when everyone was still focused on the big-name players, so the move didn’t get as much attention as it should have. However, Williams will make Cleveland much better next year and his contract is a bargain. He will make $2,100,000 in year one and $2,194,500 in year two (although he does have a player option for the second season). Remember, Williams averaged 14.2 points and 6.2 assists last year during his stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets. He will be an excellent sixth man for Cleveland, and he gives the Cavs a reliable back-up behind Kyrie Irving should he sustain another injury. Not to mention, Williams showed that he can still be very effective as a starting point guard last season; in 33 games as a starter, he averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 assists. Rather than having to rely heavily on Matthew Dellavedova again, Cleveland now has a veteran floor general to run their second unit and step in for Irving if necessary. Williams’ game fits with the Cavs too since he can knock down open shots and he has chemistry with LeBron James from their first stint together in Cleveland.

Amir Johnson to the Boston Celtics

Johnson is one of the more underrated big men in the NBA, so it’s no surprise that his two-year, $24 million contract with the Celtics didn’t get more attention. Johnson will certainly improve Boston’s frontcourt by producing on both ends of the court and doing the little things that make a team better, but he’s a great signing for financial reasons as well. His deal is actually a steal since only the first year is guaranteed. The Celtics will pay Johnson $12 million this season, and then his $12 million salary the 2016-17 campaign is completely non-guaranteed. That gives Boston some options: they can keep him for a second year, waive him to shed salary or – and this is perhaps most attractive – trade his non-guaranteed deal to another team. Johnson’s contract could be a valuable trade chip for Boston next summer, giving the Celtics some real flexibility (especially since they have a ton of first-round picks and young players to package with Johnson’s deal). This was a terrific move for Boston for a ton of reasons – on and off the court.

Gerald Green to the Miami HEAT

Green agreed to his deal with Miami around the same time as Amar’e Stoudemire, which may have been why his signing didn’t generate much discussion. Miami deserves credit for landing Green and Stoudemire at $947,276 apiece. It’s not a huge surprise to see Stoudemire sign a bargain contract since he has shown signs of decline in recent seasons and is at the point in his 13-year career where he just wants to win. But it was somewhat of a shock to see the 29-year-old Green settle for the minimum considering he’s in his prime. Last season, Green did see his role diminish with the Phoenix Suns as he averaged 11.9 points in just 19.5 minutes per game. It was a down year compared to the season before, when he had the best campaign of his career (averaging 15.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 28.4 minutes and shooting 40 percent from three-point range). It seems he’s betting on himself with this contract, as he’s hoping to play well enough with the HEAT to land a more lucrative contract next summer. This could work out well for Green, especially since he should be a good fit with the HEAT and will certainly have a chance to carve out a significant role. He’ll likely be the team’s sixth man, and he could even start a bit given Dwyane Wade’s tendency to rest and miss games. Green and Stoudemire were high-value additions for Miami who should improve the team’s depth.

Bismack Biyombo to the Toronto Raptors

Biyombo and the Raptors agreed to terms on a contract very early in free agency, yet I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It just doesn’t make sense that Toronto was able to get the 22-year-old big man for just $2,814,000 this season (followed by a $2,940,630 player option for the second year). This summer, crazy contracts were handed out left and right (Aron Baynes inked a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Detroit Pistons!), but Biyombo will make less than $3 million this season. This is an absolute steal for Masai Ujiri. Yes, Biyombo hasn’t lived up to the expectations of being the No. 7 pick in 2011, but he has been a good rim protector and that alone is worth what Toronto is paying him. Over his first four years in the NBA, he averaged 1.6 blocks in 21 minutes per game. Also, consider how he’s looked when he’s gotten more minutes: In 21 games as a starter last season, he averaged 6.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 27 minutes. His stats per-36-minutes were 8.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. The point is that Biyombo has put up solid numbers and remains an intriguing project since he’s just 22 years old. He has struggled on the offensive end and he does need to get more comfortable on the floor, but it’s way too early to give up on him. He can still help a team as a shot-blocker, especially on a $2,814,000 salary. This was one of my favorite contracts of the summer since it’s a low-risk, high-reward move that could really pay off for Toronto.

Al-Farouq Aminu to the Portland Trail Blazers

Most of the headlines surrounding the Blazers’ offseason had to do with the team moving on without almost all of their veterans (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Steve Blake, etc.) and building around Damian Lillard, who signed a five-year extension. However, Portland general manager Neil Olshey deserves credit for acquiring a number of talented young players who complement Lillard’s game. Aminu stands out to me as a great addition since he is a very talented two-way player who will do a solid job defending and rebounding. He did a good job with the Dallas Mavericks last season, and it’s worth noting that he’s still just 24 years old, so he may still have untapped potential. The last time we saw Aminu, he was putting up very impressive numbers in the Mavericks’ first-round series against the Houston Rockets. Even though he came off of the bench in three of the five playoff games, he was one of Dallas’ best players as he averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, two steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range. His excellent play in the postseason should increase his confidence and it seems like the starting small forward job is his to lose in Portland. This is a great opportunity for Aminu and the a terrific pick-up for the Blazers.

Brandan Wright to the Memphis Grizzlies

After losing Kosta Koufos to the Sacramento Kings, the Grizzlies responded by signing Wright to a three-year deal worth $17.1 million. This is great value for Wright, especially compared to some of the lucrative contracts that big men received this offseason (again, Aron Baynes got a three-year deal worth $19.5 million!). Wright bounced around last season, playing for three different teams (the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns). This caused his stats to drop a bit, but he was still a quality role player. The 27-year-old is known for shooting a high percentage from the field (hitting 64.2 percent last season and 67.7 percent the year before) and protecting the rim (averaging 1.3 blocks in 19.3 minutes last season and limiting opponents to 49.5 percent at the rim). He’s also very good in the pick-and-roll. Wright is a favorite in the advanced analytics community. Last year, he was ranked seventh among all power forwards with a 20.44 player efficiency rating (a stat that was created by former ESPN analyst John Hollinger, who is now the Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball operations). Wright knows his role and embraces it. He’ll take high-efficiency shots at the rim, hustle on defense and do the dirty work. He should fit right in with Memphis’ “grit-n-grind” style and produce as a reserve.

Sonny Weems to the Phoenix Suns

Weems inked a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the Suns. The 29-year-old was a pretty good role player with the Toronto Raptors several years ago, but he chose to spend the last few seasons playing overseas in Lithuania and Russia. He was actually the first NBA player to sign overseas during the NBA lockout in 2011 and then decided to stay there until now. Last time Weems was in the NBA, he averaged 9.2 points off the bench for the Raptors. Now, he has entered his prime and his game has really expanded thanks to his stint in Russia. He was considered the best wing player overseas and was one of the highest-paid Americans playing abroad. In fact, Phoenix actually signed Weems for less than the $3 million salary he would’ve earned with CSKA Moscow this season had he not opted out. While playing in Russia, Weems really improved as a shooter; he hit 40.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season, which is a huge jump from the 24.1 percent he shot in his first three NBA seasons. All signs point to Weems being a significant contributor on a good contract for the Suns.

Wesley Johnson to the Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers had a very busy offseason, making splashy additions like Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce and Josh Smith as well as re-signing DeAndre Jordan to everyone’s surprise. Because they made so many moves, the addition of Johnson at the veteran minimum ($1,100,602) seemed to go largely unnoticed, but it’s a very solid pick-up. Johnson has a player option for the second year and he’s a virtual lock to opt out next summer. Still, adding Johnson on what’s essentially a one-year deal further improves the Clippers’ bench, which was their biggest weakness last season. Suddenly, L.A. is looking incredibly deep, which is a scary thought for other teams since their starting five was one of the best in the league last season. Johnson hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with being the No. 4 pick in 2010, but he has developed into a solid perimeter defender and pretty good three-point shooter. Last season, Johnson averaged 9.9 point and 4.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game with the L.A. Lakers.

Which offseason additions stood out as underrated to you? Leave a comment below.

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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