Free Agent Signings I Liked and Disliked

Here’s a recap of some of my favorite and least favorite signings of the off-season. I avoided all max and near-max player analyses. Moreover, I didn’t include examples of good players re-signing on hometown discounts (e.g. Dwight Powell and Lance Thomas) or Warriors examples (e.g. Zaza Pachulia and David West).

Note: These rankings are in no particular order

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1. Joe Johnson (two-years, $22 million), Utah Jazz 1711733

Following the move to Miami, Joe Johnson rediscovered his shooting stroke and became a lethal weapon out of isolation and dribble jumper situations. He shot 30-for-56 (53.6%, 97th percentile) off of dribble jumpers in the half court with Miami, per Synergy. Meanwhile, he also shot 15-for-28 on isolations in that time (53.6%).

Utah has a ton of nice pieces, but they don’t necessarily have closer on the roster. Johnson proved he has something left in the tank in Miami and on a Utah team that’s overwhelming with length and height, Johnson brings them a proven crunch-time offensive weapon who won’t need to play more than 10-20 minutes per game to earn his contract (Worth mentioning: his deal declines in year two.)

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2. Jerryd Bayless (three-years, $27 million), Philadelphia 76ers

hi-res-50fb5e3010b4a6b443ff1d69e74a5e69_crop_northBayless makes a lot of sense for Philadelphia. He’s one of the league’s best catch-and-shoot marksmen (77-for-167, 46.1% last season, per Synergy), so he’ll be able to play on or off-ball, depending on how comfortable Brett Brown is with handing PG responsibilities to Ben Simmons. Philly’s spacing will be suspect in nearly every lineup, so having Bayless on the court should alleviate some burden.

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3. Jared Dudley (three-years, $30 million), Phoenix Suns gyi0060562634-0

Dudley’s a tremendously efficient offensive player (he rated above the 90th percentile in nearly all shooting categories last season, per Synergy). Moreover, he plays a valuable role on the floor as a 3/4 and adds a respected voice to the young locker room. He clearly has an interest in building something special in Phoenix, where he originally broke out as a starting-caliber player.

It’s also worth mentioning that Dudley’s contract is declining.

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4. Langston Galloway (two-years, $12 million /PO for 2nd year), New Orleans Pelicans

This struck me as one of the best bargain deals of the off-season. Galloway will likely opt-out for more money next summer, as there’s a player option in the second year of this contract.  galloway6

Still, Galloway has a clear NBA role as a plus-defender on the wing. He has 3-and-D capabilities, though the 3 component is still a work in progress. Regardless, he shoots right around the league average from deep (34.4%) and he has sound mechanics and a quick release, which should lead to a nice progression as he matures.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 5.57.03 PM.pngGalloway does play out of control on occasion, but that came with the territory in New York for much of last season. He really hustles on defense. Moreover, his handles and court awareness came along nicely.

Interesting, Galloway rated as an “Excellent” post defender in 51 post-defense situations. This could be an interesting trend to follow going forward:

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I expect him to find freedom and success under Alvin Gentry, after constriction to the triangle in New York.

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5. Boban Marjanovic (three-years, $21 million), Detroit Pistons

usa-today-9022479-0The league’s mysterious Goliath will instantly give Detroit the most physically imposing frontline trio in the NBA. I think Marjanovic and Aron Baynes are somewhat redundant, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stan Van Gundy field offers for either guy going forward. Both are on affordable contracts so they should have value on the trade market. Because Marjanovic shoots free throws well (76.3%), he’s a nice compliment to Drummond.

He ranked in the 99th percentile for offensive efficiency last season, averaging 1.169 Points Per Possession. Also worth noting: 24.4% of his possessions ended in Free Throws, per Synergy. For 10-16 minutes per game, Marjanovic is quite effective and affordable.

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6. Anthony Tolliver (two-years, $16 million) / second year non-guaranteed,  Sacramento Kingsdetroit-pistons-qa-anthony-tolliver-708e894394ce4eac

I didn’t love all of Sacramento’s moves but snagging Tolliver on a low-risk deal makes a lot of sense. He’s a proven two-way role player in this league. Not only does he defend his position adequately but he also interestingly rates as one of the best post defenders in the entire NBA (though it’s admittedly a small sample size of only 46 possessions), per Synergy.

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He should fit in well as a backup in Sacramento. He compliments Demarcus Cousins on the floor nicely.

Tolliver hit on 48.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts (79 FGA) in 2016. I think Boogie’s interior presence will create open opportunities for Tolliver as a spot-up shooter on the wing:

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7. Garrett Temple (three-years, $24 million), Sacramento Kings

USA TODAY SportsKnown primarily as a stopper, Temple’s a steady (but perhaps slightly overrated) defender. He rates in the 68th percentile for NBA players in P&R defense but below average in virtually every other category on Synergy (which has always been suspect in evaluating defenders). Even still, he’s long and he hustles, so he’ll have value as a wing defender going forward.

Last year was also promising for Temple’s offensive future, as he attempted three times as many 3’s than in any season before. He shot 34.5% on 258 attempts from deep so while he’s not necessarily a marksman, he’s certainly an adequate 3-and-D player for the bench. At $8 million annually, I think that’s a good snag.

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8. Festus Ezeli (two-years, $15.2 million / 2nd year non-guaranteed), Portland Trail Blazers 

festus-ezeliI’m not a huge fan of Ezeli, but in a market in which Timofey Mozgov and Miles Plumlee are earning $13-16M annually, I find it hard to believe that Ezeli will earn just $7.6M annually in Portland. The Blazers needed rim protection and Ezeli certainly provides them with an anchor on the inside. This adds somewhat to Portland’s logjam in the front court, but adding an experienced soon-to-be 27-year-old like Ezeli on a bargain contract seems like a no-brainer.

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9. Courtney Lee (four-years, $48 million), New York Knicks

pi-nba-charlotte-hornets-courtney-lee-042716-vresize-1200-675-high-12Joining a team where the ball will be dominated by Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee should provide above-average floor spacing (38.5% from deep for his career) and defense without commanding significant usage. Lee has always thrived on competitive teams, so I think the price was right here.

Lee is coming off of a half-season with Charlotte in which he converted on 52-of-123 (42.3%) jump shots. Four years is a lot of time to commit to a player who’s about to turn 31. Still, he’s been remarkably healthy throughout his career (he’s never played fewer than 71 games in a full season) and New York is trying to win now.

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10. Matt Barnes (two-years, $12 million), Sacramento Kings

matt-barnesDave Joerger raved about Barnes’ effort last year in Memphis and the two clearly worked well enough together to give it another try in Sacramento. Barnes has been chronically underpaid throughout his career and if he wasn’t such a loose cannon off the court, I suspect he would’ve earned more money elsewhere in this market. Everywhere he goes, he seemingly becomes a vital cog in the team’s starting lineup by season’s end.

His shooting fell off a bit last season (31.4% from deep) but he still hits on open catch-and-shoots (37.6% last season) and offers underrated versatility as a distributor on offense (11.7% assist percentage) to compliment his noted length and toughness on defense.

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11. Leandro Barbosa (two-years, $8 million / 2nd year non-guaranteed), Phoenix Suns

20140828_095156_barbosa_400I imagine nearly every team would’ve signed up for Barbosa at $4 million annually at the start of Free Agency. He showed in the playoffs that he’s still an effective offensive weapon out of the catch-and-shoot and he was one of the leaders in Golden State’s locker room over the last two seasons. Between Barbosa, Dudley, and Tyson Chandler, the Suns have three strong veteran leaders for a young locker room.

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12. Seth Curry (two-years, $6 million), Dallas Mavericks

seth-curryI love this deal for Dallas. Why not take a chance on Curry? Synergy shows that he’s one of the better offensive creators in the NBA (1.06 points per possession) and while his defense remains a weakness, he’s already proven himself as an elite spot up shooter (49.2% on 65 FGA in 2015-16):

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For $3 million annually, this is exactly the low-risk, high-reward proposition that more guard-starved teams should’ve pursued this summer. Now, let’s see if Curry can develop into a reliable off-the-dribble shooter like his brother.  _________________________________________________________________

13. Brandon Jennings (one-year, $5 million), New York Knicks

nba-trade-rumorsI interpret this signing as a hedge from Phil Jackson. In his eyes, the chances that either Derrick Rose or Brandon Jennings has a decent season is reasonably high. At worst, Jennings is a league-average three-point shooter (34.5% career) who can take care of the offense in a backup role. It’s also worth mentioning that despite his general struggles in Orlando, Jennings looked quite strong shooting the ball in spot-up opportunities (17-for-36 in catch-and-shoots). It’s a small sample size, but it’s certainly encouraging for New York.

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14. 15. 16. Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton (1-year, veteran minimums), LA Clippers

Not much analysis to provide here… Simply put: the Clippers enjoyed the spoils of being a fringe championship contender in this free agent market. All of these veterans are competent role players who should bring interesting depth and experience to LA. No risk for Doc Rivers, but certainly potential for a high reward.

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Signings I disliked (again, no particular order):  

1. and 2. Luol Deng (four-years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four-years, $64), Los Angeles Lakers 

f114aa72dc217751e2fd2619632226e9_crop_northI understand the Lakers’ desire to add veterans to the mix. I just think both of these deals run too long and cost too much. Deng might have something left in the tank after an impressive second-half of the season in Miami. Still, I think he’s worth closer to Joe Johnson’s two-year, $22M deal than Kent Bazemore’s four-year, $72M contract.

Deng thrived as a small-ball 4 in Miami. After all, he still rates well as a jump shooter and finisher in transition. Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 11.13.06 AM

However, on Los Angeles, there doesn’t appear to be much room for Deng at the 4. They’ve recently invested first round picks on Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. And while Randle or Nance could theoretically play the 5 in a hyper-small offense, the Mozgov signing signals that LA has little intention of playing that way.

timofey-mozgov-tim-fuller-usa-today-sportsThe Lakers seemingly paid Mozgov on the merits of his 2015 season.  They either fully disregarded Mozgov’s surgery last off-season or believe he’s fully healthy. His clear regression in productivity last season with Cleveland indicates the former. He struggled mightily to defend the pick-and-roll in 2015-16 after defending it adequately in 2014-15. Moreover, he just turned 30. We’ll have to wait and see how he ages in these next four years.

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With Boban Marjanovic (a similar player) signing in Detroit for less years and less money annually, I’m led to think this Mozgov deal was an overpay. Why not wait for the market to settle and then make a trade for a cheaper contract like Aron Baynes or even take a stab at Greg Monroe?_________________________________________________________________

3. Jon Leuer (four-years, $42 million), Detroit Pistons

635798629531416248-1Leuer is a dynamic offensive player with strong shooting, passing, and ball handling abilities for a big man. In this sense, he compliments Andre Drummond quite nicely.

However, he’s a below average defender who often struggles to close out on shooters. He has nice length and above-average lateral quickness for a player of his size so he could conceivably turn himself into a valuable weapon on defense. Still, he’s not the most enthusiastic defender and is often targeted by opposing teams (44.4% of his defensive possessions included his man setting a pick, per Synergy):

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I think I’d rather have Anthony Tolliver in this backup stretch-4 role for Detroit. And that’s ignoring Tolliver’s cheaper contract and shorter deal.

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4. Miles Plumlee (four-years, $52 million), Milwaukee Bucks

*This is the only player re-signing that I wanted to include in this summary. 

pi-nba-miles-plumlee-22415-vresize-1200-675-high-70The most surprising thing about this re-signing is that Plumlee isn’t even represented by Excel Sports Management! Sure, he’s a solid pick-and-roll option in short doses on offense and offers enough size and athleticism to provide rim protection on defense. Still, he looks out of shape in general, often struggling to stay on the court for long stretches of time.

Why not wait for a rival team to sign Plumlee to an offer sheet and then decide to match? Just a hunch but I don’t think $13M was his market value. There must’ve been some politics involved here.

Moreover, unless the Bucks trade one of their big men, I just don’t see this team having a role for Plumlee down the road — especially once Thon Maker is ready for NBA minutes.

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5. Evan Turner (four-years, $75 million), Portland Trail Blazers

0537345001454764483_filepickerColor me skeptical about Turner’s fit with the Blazers, as he seemingly needs the ball in his hands at all times to be effective on offense. I’m Interested to see how Terry Stotts uses him.

Will Turner handle the ball and force Lillard and McCollum to play off-ball? Will Turner commandeer the second unit? He turned the ball over on 25% of his transition possessions in 2015-16 (per Synergy) so he doesn’t seem to fit in Portland’s up-tempo offense very well. Forever a suspect shooter, Turner hit on just 24.7% of his catch-and-shoot attempts in the half court last year:

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I think Portland would’ve been better suited going after a player like Jared Dudley, Joe Johnson, Matt Barnes, or even Garrett Temple — all of whom signed for significantly less money.

Synergy rates Turner as an “excellent” defender but the eye test has never really impressed me with Turner’s defense. I think playing alongside Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, and Amir Johnson last year made him look more competent on that end than he actually is. Let’s see if he can maintain that “excellent” rating as the team’s presumed perimeter stopper.

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6. D.J. Augustin (four-years, $29 million), Orlando Magic

9_augustin_nuggets_lm_150222_2For all of Orlando’s curious signings this off-season, this one frustrates me the most (ignoring the Jodie Meeks trade). Augustin is a replacement-level backup at best. Why commit four years to him, even if $7M is considered “negligible” under this new salary cap?

When healthy, C.J. Watson is arguably the better fit for Orlando’s roster already. Augustin rates as one of the worst defenders in the NBA (allowed 1.048 PPP on defense, 4th percentile per Synergy). Even if Orlando believes they have enough defensive versatility to compensate for keeping Augustin on the floor, it’s not like Augustin is a lights out shooter (career 37% from deep).

This signing lacks creativity. I would’ve preferred to see them sign either a Seth Curry or a European PG like Thomas Heurtel for half the cost. Better yet: Orlando could’ve waited until the trade deadline to absorb a backup point guard on a perceived “bad contract” and taken an asset back as compensation.

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7. Arron Afflalo (two-years, $25 million) Sacramento Kings

gettyimages-499665832-e1449720109932Arron Afflalo’s stats indicate that he’s still an effective 3-and-D option. He shot 38.2% from deep last season. Not bad!

But upon further investigation, Afflalo’s split-stats indicate some troubling signs. For example, he shot over 50.5% from deep in his team’s wins, but just 30.3% from deep in his team’s losses.

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Afflalo could be a useful role player on a good team. However, when the going gets tough for his team, Affalo becomes a chucker. Going to Sacramento seems like a nightmare situation. He believes he’s still a lockdown defender, though he routinely gets beat off the dribble.

One place Affalo still succeeds offensively is in the post – where he shot 69-for-130 last year (53.1%). However, on a team with Demarcus Cousins occupying the paint’s real estate, I don’t think Affalo will see as many back-to-the-basket possessions.

The second year in this contract is non-guaranteed, so it’s not a total disaster. I just don’t care for the fit.

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