Ranking the Best 2022 NBA Free Agency Signings so Far
Does the 2022 NBA offseason transaction tumult slowing to a drippy, drabby crawl have you down? Perhaps even analyzing reports from sketchy Twitter users claiming to have a source close to Kevin Durant's third cousin's best friend's mother-in-law just to feel something, anything, at all?
I get it. And that's why I've come bearing a much-needed distraction: an early, yet definitive, ranking of the best free-agency signings so far.
This pecking order will be cobbled together from the perspective of the Association's teams. Please do not confuse this as anti-labor or whatever. Every NBA player is underpaid or getting exactly what they're worth in my book. This is merely a pat on the back for squads that signed players to deals I consider a steal.
Rankings will be determined by weighing both contract terms and the fits of these new partnerships. Veteran minimum deals are fair game but must meet a higher threshold of potential upside for inclusion, since it's tough to actually miss on these signings. (*Sighs in the Miami Heat sending a "delegation" to recruit Udonis Haslem.*) Put another way: The Chicago Bulls bagging Goran Dragic (vet minimum) and Andre Drummond (unspecified exception) doesn't quite fit the spirit of this exercise.
And with that, we're off!
8. Isaiah Hartenstein, New York Knicks
Contract: Two years, $16 million
Isaiah Hartenstein's performance with the L.A. Clippers last season would typically demand more prominent placement within this exercise. He was, unequivocally, the best Sixth Man of the Year candidate about whom we didn't talk nearly enough.
His rim protection verged on impenetrable. He doesn't have the same hot-footed quickness as former teammate Ivica Zubac, but he's not working with schleps-through-the-mud speed, either. Opponents shot 47.5 percent against him at the basket—the stingiest mark among 163 players to contest at least 150 rim attempts.
There may be even more offensive value to plumb from Hartenstein. He's not the most soaring of vertical threats, but he can catch and finish lobs off rolls to the basket. His touch away from the rim remains intriguing. He's not what you'd term a floor-spacer, but while with the Clippers, he canned 14 of his 30 three-pointers (46.7 percent) and found nylon on almost 59 percent of his floaters (55-of-93).
Role clarity is the lone roadblock separating Hartenstein from top-three-signing territory. The New York Knicks just paid Mitchell Robinson and have Obi Toppin, Julius Randle and Jericho Sims. Taj Gibson survived the team's salary-dumping extravaganza ahead of Jalen Brunson's arrival, as well.
Yours truly would feel better about moving Hartenstein up the ladder if the Knicks could be trusted to get more creative with their frontcourt rotations and partnerships. They can't be. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has so far been reluctant to prioritize spacing up front and still can't quit Gibson.
Including Hartenstein at all, though, is an admission New York will consider futzing and fiddling more often this season. You don't sign Brunson if you're not prepared to give him space to operate in the half-court, and Hartenstein is the only 5 on this roster who can potentially stretch the floor without torpedoing the defense.
7. Donte DiVincenzo, Golden State Warriors
Contract: Two years, $9.3 million (2023-24 player option)
Donte DiVincenzo's price tag reflects an extended decline in player, one fueled predominantly by a left ankle injury he suffered during the 2021 playoffs. But his time capably filling gaps at both ends for the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks wasn't that long ago.
Plus, the Golden State Warriors have experience optimizing perimeter players with undefined or ebbing value. They just helped turn Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. into some of the offseason's most sought after free-agency targets.
The same can happen for DiVincenzo if he stays healthy. As I wrote about his fit with Golden State at the time of his signing:
"Peak DiVincenzo can shape-shift depending on the lineup. He will spearhead fast breaks after grabbing defensive rebounds, dart in for passes from the corners and skedaddle around longer defenders when attacking the basket. Milwaukee even used to buy spot minutes with him at point guard. He's best served playing off others, but he has more pick-and-roll orchestration ingrained into his game than GP2.
"Golden State's defense still would have been better off bringing back the latter. But DiVincenzo, while less of an eclipse, provides plenty of functional optionality. His hands are agents of disorder; he contests routine passes and busts up possessions from behind while shuttling between both guard spots and some wing assignments."
Hanging within the Warriors rotation will demand DiVincenzo handle more off-ball shooting reps. That shouldn't be an issue. He was always an opportunistic slasher, and he downed 42.2 percent of his spot-up triples on meaningful volume after getting traded to Sacramento and shot 38.7 percent on catch-and-fire threes in 2020-21. If that efficiency holds into next season, the Warriors may have just stumbled into the absolute best bargain of free agency.
6. John Wall, L.A. Clippers
Contract: Two years, $13.3 million
Throwing the entire mini mid-level exception at John Wall is not without risk for the L.A. Clippers. He has serious knee and achilles injuries in his rear view and only played 113 games over the past four seasons.
But Wall's recent availability—or lack thereof—isn't as damning as it seems. Last year's absence had everything to do with a player and team unable to find common ground on his role and nothing to do with his physical health.
Rewind to 2020-21, and Wall was actually pretty effective through 41 games with the Houston Rockets. His efficiency from the floor declined, but he maintained the overall on-ball acceleration for which he's famous and leveraged that speed into his usual dose of table-setting, trips to the foul the line and even rim frequency.
Stepping into a more specialized role with the Clippers should only help. They don't need Wall to play 35-plus minutes or appear in every game. They need situational rim pressure and an offensive steward for half-court possessions that bog down. He can provide both.
Granted, this iteration of Wall will need to work away from the ball more often. The Clippers can stagger his minutes from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but part of this signing's appeal is the chance for a fully healthy, near-peak Wall operating in tandem with two superstars.
5. Otto Porter Jr., Toronto Raptors
Contract: Two years, $12.4 million (2023-24 player option)
Signing Otto Porter Jr. for what amounts to less than mini-mid-level-exception money is a home run for the Toronto Raptors. And not solely because he embodies their type: a player who stands between 6'7" and 6'9" with a seven-plus-foot wingspan.
Toronto needed more reliable shooters. Porter qualifies by their standards. He converted 37 percent of his treys last year on 5.6 attempts per 36 minutes. He doesn't give the Raptors much on-ball juice, despite what he glimpsed immediately following his trade to the Chicago Bulls in 2019, but they no longer caps-lock need that from their non-stars. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes give them enough primary-creator options, and OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. loom as secondary off-the-bounce alternatives.
Capping Porter at around 25 minutes is probably a must given his checkered health history. The Raptors can work within those confines. Any extra depth, at all, will be a boon for their frontcourt starters.
Porter can also feasibly spell Anunoby, Barnes or Siakam on defense. (Offense doesn't matter, because you know head coach Nick Nurse will inevitably deploy guard-less combinations in which OPJ is something like the 2.) He shouldn't spend heaps of time on ball-handling 2s and 3s, but his length will do in a pinch, and he has the general bigness to rumble with girthy 4s and some 5s.
Sticklers will notice the player option gives the Raptors limited control over Porter's future. That's not the end of the world. Besides, he reaaaally wanted to sign in Toronto. He'll no doubt give the Raptors a chance to use next year's non-taxpayer mid-level to keep him, cap sheet-willing, if this partnership pans out.
4. Amir Coffey, LA Clippers
Contract: Three years, $11 million
How no one tried poaching Amir Coffey from the Clippers is beyond me. They have a surplus of wing-types, and while the restricted free agency process can be prohibitive for outside suitors, beating this offer wouldn't have even tied up a team's bi-annual exception.
Coffey played a critical role for the Clippers once they were decimated by injuries. His defensive workload was decidedly above average. He switched across the 2, 3 and 4 spots and guarded plenty of pick-and-roll orchestrators.
While he didn't play the highest-volume offensive role, the Clippers did saddle him with spot-initiation duties and the license to attack, methodically, going downhill. He finished the season draining 37.8 percent of his threes and 54.2 percent of his twos, including a 53.3 percent clip on drives.
Depth-chart logistics render it difficult to stick Coffey any higher. A healthy Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, Marcus Morris Sr., Terance Mann and Nicolas Batum are all ahead of him in the wing hierarchy, and head coach Ty Lue will give ample court time to Reggie Jackson and newly-signed John Wall.
Contributing in smaller doses is right up Coffey's alley. More than that, he gives the Clippers flexibility to explore wing-for-big trades using one of their larger salaries that other teams wouldn't even consider.
3. T.J. Warren, Brooklyn Nets
Contract: One year, $1.8 million
T.J. Warren appeared in just four games over the past two seasons while dealing with a left foot injury. Without knowing the specifics on his medicals, projecting his value to the Brooklyn Nets is partially a stab-in-the-dark exercise.
Still, this is a zero-risk, all-reward flier—and not just because the Nets are imploding, painfully and slowly, right before our eyes and must view even the faintest silver linings as crowning victories.
Bubble T.J. Warren will live in NBA lore forever, but his performance at Disney World wasn't completely out of left field. He averaged 19.8 points per game while downing 57.5 percent of his twos and 40.4 percent of his triples through 67 appearances in 2019-20—a blend of efficiency and volume unmatched by anyone else. Warren also routinely tackled some of the toughest on-ball assignments. Malcolm Brogdon was the only other Indiana Pacers player who tallied more time versus No. 1 options, per BBall-Index.
Career years don't always portend new normals. And Warren has missed a loooot of time. But his scoring in 2019-20 is hardly an outlier, and both his three-point stroke and defense improved upon joining the Pacers in 2018-19.
It doesn't matter how unlikely Warren is to actualize his best-case outcome. That it's even on the table for the veteran's minimum is absurd. And Warren fits whatever type of roster the Nets roll out next season—someone who brings a track record of creating for himself but also turned into a 40-plus-percent three-point shooter off the catch in Indy.
The only downside for Brooklyn: If Warren returns to anything resembling previous form, it'll be hard-pressed to keep him beyond next season.
2. Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors
Contract: Three years, $25.5 million ($22.5 million guaranteed)
Big-man markets are always wonky and unknowable entering the summer. Even by those standards, though, Kevon Looney's deal is highway robbery by the Warriors.
Mitchell Robinson got $15 million annually from the Knicks. JaVale McGee received almost as much guaranteed money from the Dallas Mavericks....and a player option...at the age of 34. Mo Bamba is also getting about as much guaranteed money ($21 million)...over just two years.
I'm not sure who needs to hear this, but Looney is more valuable than all of these fellow bigs.
Cling to the potential of Robinson and stretchiness of Bamba if it makes you feel superior. Looney is still only 26 years old and was just no worse than the Dubs' fourth-most valuable player in the freaking NBA Finals. And his utility is not situation-specific. He is ubiquitous on the glass, knows how to navigate tight spaces clogged by other non-shooters in the half-court and, somehow, doesn't get enough credit for his ability to hold up on switches eons away from the basket.
Maybe this is a personal choice by Looney. He has won three wings with the Warriors and is guaranteed a spot in their starting lineup. But the partial guarantee on Year 3 suggests this deal is, at least somewhat, the byproduct of the market.
And if that's the case, shame on the damn market.
1. Bruce Brown, Denver Nuggets
Contract: Two years, $13.3 million
Bruce Brown is the perfect signing for the Denver Nuggets. They needed to load up on rangier defenders after overworking Aaron Gordon into oblivion last season and are getting perhaps the most complementary stopper on the market for the mini mid-level exception.
Pessimists will harp on Brown's potentially thorny offensive fit. He drilled 40.4 percent of his long balls last season, but over two-thirds of those looks went entirely uncontested. That's fine. Defenses aren't suddenly going to cover him like he's Stephen Curry. He will get those same left-alone opportunities in Denver.
Some skepticism is fair. Brown was a career 29.8 percent shooter from deep on extremely low volume before last year. But he has progressed as a screener and passer out of dives to the baskets. The Nuggets will have ample use for him alongside Nikola Jokic regardless of how well or poorly he fares from long distance.
The defensive returns, meanwhile, stand to be massive for Denver—who also added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope via trade. Brown logged almost equal time against 1s, 2s and 3s last season while more than dabbling in reps against 4s and some 5s, according to BBall Index. His malleability dramatically increases the variety with which head coach Michael Malone cobbles together lineups, and there's a chance he goes down as the most valuable defender on one of the West's premier contenders.