Honorable Mention: Golden State Warriors
Players Acquired: Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher
Players Lost: None
Golden State didn’t acquire anyone game-changing, but why would a team that went 16-1 in the post-season want to change anything about their game? All three of Golden State’s main additions figure to pan out as quality signings. Antics aside, Nick Young is coming off a season in which he averaged 13.2 points per game and shot 40.4% from three. Only five other players matched Young on those numbers and his seven three point attempts per game: Ryan Anderson, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Kyle Lowry, and Stephen Curry. Omri Casspi had no structural stability as he recovered from injury this season as a member of three different organizations, but is in the same boat as Young with a very solid line of 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 2015-16 with 48.0% shooting and 40.9% shooting from three. Only Kawhi Leonard met that entire set of criteria and Casspi’s 4.0 threes per game as well in 2015-16, and only Otto Porter did that this past season. Jordan Bell figured to be a steal after Golden State bought him from Chicago in the 2nd round. Bell figures to be a defensive hustler as a poor man’s Dennis Rodman.
More importantly than anything, however, was the Golden State was able to keep everyone from their historic championship season. That’s seven re-signed free agents who all played important roles for the team last year.
5. Houston Rockets
Players Acquired: Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute, P.J. Tucker, Tarik Black, Isaiah Hartenstein, Zhou Qi, Shawn Long, Tim Quarterman
Players Lost: Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer
Houston got Chris Paul, and they replaced their role players lost in acquiring him with possibly better versions of them. Paul is obviously an NBA Superstar. He turned around the Clippers organization, and now with James Harden under Mike D’Antoni, there’s no telling what he’ll do in Houston. There’s a case to be made whether Houston can now contend with Golden State. Its back-court of Paul and Harden (25.6 win shares) beats Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (19.7 WS.) In the front court, Houston now has Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and even Shawn Long as versatile defensive wings who can minimize the damage Kevin Durant and Draymond Green‘s tremendous versatility imposed on the rest of the NBA. At the five, Clint Capela is better than any center Golden State has, and both Nene and Tarik Black have been successful in bench roles recently. Zhou Qi, the 7’2″ prospect out of China showed he could shoot the three well in summer league, and had some mobility to add to it.
The bottom line is that Houston took a roster that already beat the Warriors at their own game on offense (14.4/40.3 for Houston vs. 12.0/31.2 for Golden State, threes per game,) and they added better shooters and defenders. Lou Williams, Pat Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell will all be missed, but consider their loss to be the equivalent of taking a step backwards to take two forwards.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Players Acquired: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, Justin Patton
Players Lost: Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, Omri Casspi, Nikola Pekovic, Jordan Hill, Lauri Markannen
There are some concerns about Minnesota’s floor spacing, but Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal brought up a good point in his recent article: NBA Metrics 101: Projecting 2018 Playoff Teams If NBA Ditched East-West Format
When evaluating the new-look starting five of Teague, Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng/Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns, shooting jumps out as an immediate concern. But it’s not as bad as initial indications may lead you to believe, because those guys are actually better in catch-and-shoot situations than their overall numbers from downtown indicate:
- Teague: 37.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes
- Butler: 40.2 percent
- Wiggins: 40.6 percent
- Dieng: 42.9 percent
- Towns: 39.3 percent
Aside from shooting, which is an evidently overblown issue for Minnesota, the Timberwolves upgraded big time. Jimmy Butler finished 3rd among all NBA players in win shares last season behind Rudy Gobert and James Harden. The two-way superstar joins 2014 #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins to create a wing duo that averaged a combined 47.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game in 2016-17. Although I remain a fan of Ricky Rubio and the strong effects of his presence on a basketball court for a given team, Jeff Teague is an upgrade at the point. Teague is coming off an underrated season in which he finished with 15.3 points,7.8 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game and 8.1 win shares for the season. Only John Wall, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden did that last year.
Taj Gibson is the perfect 3rd big to have in the rotation with Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Gibson, fresh off a solid 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 51.5% shooting season, thrived under Thibodeau in Chicago, usurping Carlos Boozer as the best four on the team early on. The jury is out on Jamal Crawford’s fit with Minnesota, but he is an upgrade over Tyus Jones and Brandon Rush at both back-up guard spots, and Jimmy Butler can slide over to the three when Andrew Wiggins needs a spell. Crawford averaged 12.3 points per game last season. Justin Patton is a interesting prospect out of Creighton. The 6’11” big man has good potential, but will be sparingly used this season under the historically rookie non-friendly Tom Thibodeau.
The losses aren’t considerable, especially for a youth oriented team like Minnesota that lost the 5th overall pick in 2016 Kris Dunn, the 13th overall pick in 2014 Zach LaVine, and the 7th overall pick in 2017 Lauri Markannen. Butler, Teague, Gibson, and even Crawford are all much better than those prospects are now, however, and it would be shocking to any of them develop into players half as good as Butler.
3. Boston Celtics
Players Acquired: Gordon Hayward, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin, Daniel Theis, Jayson Tatum, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizic, Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird,
Players Lost: Avery Bradley, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey, James Young, Gerald Green
It’s a good time to be a Celtics fan. Fresh off a Conference Finals appearance as the Eastern Conference’s number one team with a young roster that is still improving, the Celtics added an all-star Gordon Hayward, replaced their pricey role players Avery Bradley, Jonas Jerebko, and Amir Johnson with cheaper but of similar level Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris. Jayson Tatum is literally a top three pick in an already impressive 2017 draft class (see: summer league,) and he’ll have the luxury of developing his Carmelo Anthony/Tobias Harris style of play behind all-stars like Al Horford and Hayward. So too will “France’s Draymond Green:” Guerschon Yabusele, and other former first round picks Shane Larkin and Ante Zizic from Europe this past season.
Yes, the players they lost were important, but even without considering the fact that they acquired EIGHT players who didn’t even play in the NBA last season, the 2016-17 win share total of the players they acquired (17.3) STILL beats that of the NINE NBA players they lost (16.4.) That doesn’t even factor in the magical Brad Stevens effect that maximizes every player’s performance and output. Get excited Boston.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Players Acquired: Markelle Fultz, Furkan Korkmaz, Amir Johnson, J.J. Redick
Players Lost: Shawn Long, Gerald Henderson, Sergio Rodriguez, Tiago Splitter
Those who trusted the process are about to see some massive return. 1st overall pick Markelle Fultz joins last year’s first overall pick Ben Simmons, who didn’t play a minute last season, on a team that played >.500 basketball with a healthy Joel Embiid. Those three players could all be a league MVP within the next 10 years based on their scouting and potential. The J.J. Redick (42.9% 3P, 4.8 win shares) and rookie Furkan Korkmaz creates a perfect supporting cast of some three and D pieces including Robert Covington (12.9 ppg, 3.2 Defensive WS,) Timothe Luwawu (21 years old,) and Justin Anderson (8.5 ppg, 46.3% FG,) as well as a floor general in T.J. McConnell, and talented big men Jahlil Okafor, and Richaun Holmes.
Bryan Colangelo and Sam Hinkie have created a roster that is perhaps the most enviable in all the league in terms of outlook in 5-10 years. Even this season, Philadelphia is poised to make the playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference and some increased luck in the health department.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Players Acquired: Paul George, Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, Terrence Ferguson, Dakari Johnson
Players Lost: Taj Gibson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
In an off-season with all of the aforementioned teams simply killing it in free agency, the gold medal still goes to Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of the three players they lost, all were upgraded. Victor Oladipo, who is overpaid to begin with, put up just 10.8 points on 34.4% shooting in the playoffs, and Sabonis had two points per game and not a single field goal in his two post-season game appearances. In comparison, Paul George averaged 28.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per game as defensive targets of LeBron James and the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Gibson will be missed, but Patterson is the better fit. Not only is Patterson younger by four years, he also is coming off a season in which he shot 37.2% from three to a team in dire need of shooting. Raymond Felton, even in older age, is an upgrade at point over Semaj Christon and Norris Cole. He averaged 6.7 points per game in a crowded Clippers back court with Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick. Dakari Johnson dominated summer league with 18 points on 56.9% shooting in 27.5 minutes per game, and Terrence Ferguson (6’7″) is a great three and D prospect in future years.
Oh, and they did this while retaining defensive ace Andre Roberson. Now that Oklahoma City has a reliable 2nd scorer again, expect the Thunder to win at least 53 games and get a top five seed even in an improved Western Conference this season.