What NBA Teams Improved the Most in Free Agency?

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIJuly 14, 2012

What NBA Teams Improved the Most in Free Agency?

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    Several teams have been on the offensive thus far trying to improve their rosters by acquiring free agents. The Phoenix Suns tried to put themselves back into the playoffs by signing Goran Dragic and having Eric Gordon sign an offer sheet.

    The Los Angeles Lakers put themselves on a new title track by grabbing Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal.

    Generally, it's been teams that are already good connecting on big acquisitions. The Lakers made the biggest splash by getting Nash.

    The Indiana Pacers became the Miami Heat's main challenger in the East by retaining Roy HIbbert and George Hill and acquiring under-the-radar free-agent big man Ian Mahinmi in a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

    Following is a ranking of the teams that have made the biggest strides by acquiring free agents, either through signings or sign-and-trade deals.

4. Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat needed someone to be a substantial contributor besides LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

    They found that guy when they signed Ray Allen.

    Allen will play a significant role for a Heat team that had only those members of the Big Three averaging double figures in scoring.

    Even though Allen doesn't have the legs he once did, he's still got game. He still hits better than 45 percent from the field, better than 90 percent from the line and grabs a steal per game.

    Allen will be a difference-maker from beyond the arc for a Heat team that was 10th in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage, while taking more threes than just seven teams. He was fourth in the league, shooting at a career-high 45.3-percent clip.

    He'll help space the offense with his outside shooting, as 47.5 percent of his shots came from downtown.

    Another acquisition who will help spacing is Rashard Lewis. Lewis has been plagued with injuries the last two seasons, but he'll find a way to be relevant in Miami by contributing his outside shooting ability for 15 to 20 minutes per game.

    The Heat will likely lack a true center in the lineup, but that starting five—with James, Wade, Bosh and Allen—will still be a daunting one.

3. Indiana Pacers

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    One can't underestimate the improvement the Indiana Pacers made by re-signing two key players in Roy Hibbert and George Hill and picking up two helpful reserves in D.J. Augustin and Ian Mahinmi.

    Retaining Hibbert was the difference between being in the Eastern Conference finals and being stuck in first-round elimination range next season. Hibbert is a very special center. He's long, athletic and quick for a big man. The Georgetown product is a fantastic shot-blocker, a strong rebounder and a capable scorer.

    He truly has a unique skill set that, while not qualifying him for the maximum salary he received, makes him valuable.

    Hill came up big for the Pacers at the end of the season. He rose to the starting point-guard position towards the end of the regular season and continued in that role in the playoffs. He averaged an impressive 13.5 points per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field in the playoffs.

    His jump in scoring helped make up for poor shooting from Danny Granger.

    The signing of D.J. Augustin brings the true point-guard presence that the Pacers have lacked. Augustin averaged more than six assists per game the last two years. He had a strong, 38.9-percent assist rate in 2011-12.

    How many minutes Augustin will play is hard to tell, since Hill just entered the starting role towards the end of the regular season. Augustin will help facilitate the offense in a way that Hill doesn't.

    Acquiring Mahinmi put a real backup center behind Hibbert. In his first year playing significant minutes, Mahinmi was a huge helper. He averaged 4.7 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per game. His per-36-minute average was a nice 9.1 rebounds. He was a reliable shooter, hitting 54.6 percent from the field.

    Also, he restrained his tendency to foul, committing 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes, down from 7.7 per 36 minutes the previous season.

    He'll strengthen the Pacers rotation, ensuring quality play in the second unit.

    By retaining two promising young players and adding two solid backups, the Pacers helped their chances of challenging the Heat deep in the playoffs.

2. Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks made one of the best moves that could be made in free agency by signing Lou Williams.

    Williams is an up-and-coming scorer who could turn into a premier producer. He was stuck on the Philadelphia 76ers bench the last two years but was able to shine by scoring more than 20 points per 36 minutes in each of the last two seasons.

    His production last season couldn't be overstated. He averaged 14.9 points per game and scored in double figures in 53 of 66 games. In 14 of those games, he scored 20 or more points.

    The Memphis native is also a solid ball-handler. He turned it over on 7.2 percent of possessions, eighth best in the league. Also, he had a 3.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

    Adding Williams while trading Joe Johnson maintained the team's scoring level while making the team younger. Williams is six years younger than Johnson and has all of the scoring capability that Johnson does. Williams has had a higher per-36-minute scoring average the last two years.

    Also, letting Kirk Hinrich sign with the Chicago Bulls was addition by subtraction. Hinrich started 31 of his 48 games—far too many for someone at such an advanced stage of his career—playing a dual point-guard role with Jeff Teague.

    Hinrich had become an ineffective shooter and ball-handler. He shot just 41.4 percent from the field and had a lame 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio. He produced a meager 100 points per 100 possessions.

    Letting the Kansas product walk was also key in helping the team get a bit younger and more efficient.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Acquiring Steve Nash, the biggest name among point guards on the free-agent market, was a game-changer for the Lakers.

    Before acquiring Nash, the Lakers weren't quite strong enough to get to the NBA Finals due to their heavy reliance on Kobe Bryant and limited playoff contributions from other stars.

    Now, the Lakers appear to be capable of winning a title once again.

    Nash can take the reins from Kobe as the player running the offense. By doing so Nash can get Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol more and better opportunities. He can get the ball to Bynum with better timing than Kobe could.

    As for Gasol, Nash will help him maximize his offensive skills as he moves further past his peak. Nash will help Gasol draw out to catch entry passes. Also, he'll be able to involve Gasol in more pick-and-roll opportunities.

    How Nash's relationship with Kobe plays out will be interesting to see. The two-time MVP point guard may defer to Kobe at some times and may overrule Kobe's demands to push the offense in his direction.

    At any rate the Lakers will be tough competitors once again, giving the Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money in the race to win the West.