NBA Teams That Improved Most During 2022 Offseason

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 15, 2022

NBA Teams That Improved Most During 2022 Offseason

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    The 2022 NBA offseason featured a tidal wave of player movement. On top of the draft, dozens of players changed teams by way of trades and free agency.

    And a handful of squads undoubtedly improved.

    To determine who moved the needle furthest in the right direction, we consulted Dunks and Threes' estimated wins. For a baseline, we sorted each team by total 2021-22 estimated wins added (the total from incoming players minus the total outgoing).

    But that only covers past production. Determining which teams improved most takes plenty of prognostication, which always requires subjectivity.

    With stats, potential team fit and a healthy dose of subjectivity taken into account, here's a look at the teams that improved most this offseason.

    But first, a word on the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans. All three should be better in 2022-23, but that's because of improved health from stars like Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Zion Williamson. None of those players were acquired this offseason, so we've omitted them here.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Incoming: Jerami Grant, Gary Payton II, Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker

    Outgoing: Joe Ingles and Eric Bledsoe

    The Portland Trail Blazers are likely hoping to look back on 2021-22 as a gap year.

    Damian Lillard played only 29 games before undergoing abdominal surgery. Jusuf Nurkic played only 56 games. And the Blazers traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers and send CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the February trade deadline.

    Now, they enter 2022-23 with Lillard and Nurkic healthy and newcomers Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II ready to lend support.

    After spending two years as an alpha scorer with the Detroit Pistons—where he averaged 20.9 points on 16.1 shots per game—Grant is returning to a role more suited to his game. With defenses focused on slowing down Lillard, he should experience a bounce-back to the kind of efficiency he had in Oklahoma City and Denver.

    Grant also provides more size and defensive versatility than McCollum did. Meanwhile, Payton was one of the best and most important defenders on the Golden State Warriors last season. His cutting and corner three-point shooting made him a plus on offense as well.

    In 2021-22, Golden State's plus-minus was significantly better when Payton played with Stephen Curry than it was when Curry played without him. Don't be surprised if he makes a similar impact on Lillard.

    If Shaedon Sharpe lives up to his top-10 pick status earlier than expected, the Blazers could be back in the hunt for a playoff spot in 2023.

Boston Celtics

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    Incoming: Malcolm Brogdon, Danilo Gallinari, JD Davison and Mfiondu Kabengele

    Outgoing: Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Daniel Theis, Juwan Morgan and Malik Fitts

    The Boston Celtics just made the NBA Finals with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, their two best and most important players, firmly in the pre-prime portions of their careers. This offseason, they added a starting-quality guard in Malcolm Brogdon and a high-end role player in Danilo Gallinari in exchange for one player who was consistently in the rotation (Daniel Theis).

    If Brogdon can stay healthy—a big "if"—Boston will have one of the best guard rotations in the league with him, Brown, Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard.

    During his three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Brogdon averaged 18.9 points and 6.3 assists while providing versatile defense. Lineups with him, Smart, Brown and Tatum will have a potentially unparalleled combination of playmaking, shooting and switchability.

    Although Gallinari is entering his age-34 campaign, he's still a reliable floor spacer. Over the last four seasons, he's averaged 16.0 points and hit 40.8 percent of his three-point attempts. Boston is a great spot for the twilight of his career, where he'll likely have a healthy portion of his looks created for him.

    The Celtics already had one of the best rotations in the NBA. Bolstering it as thoroughly as they did this offseason makes them one of the title favorites in 2022-23, and that's without even considering the Kevin Durant question.

    Earlier this summer, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that Boston had offered a package that included Jaylen Brown for KD. Those talks haven't led to a trade yet, but Charania dropped another nugget in his report on Durant issuing an ultimatum to Brooklyn's front office this week.

    "The Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat remain the most significant candidates to acquire Durant, sources said, with Boston’s package centering around All-Star forward Jaylen Brown seen as a viable deal," he wrote. "Durant has grown close with Boston coach Ime Udoka in recent years after Udoka spent a year with Durant as an assistant in Brooklyn and later with Team USA for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."

    Whether such a trade makes long-term sense for the Celtics is a topic for another day, but adding him to Tatum now would only solidify Boston's position as a title front-runner.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Incoming: Dejounte Murray, Frank Kaminsky, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, AJ Griffin and Tyrese Martin

    Outgoing: Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, Delon Wright, Gorgui Dieng and Sharife Cooper

    Adding Dejounte Murray alongside Trae Young will be one of the NBA's wildest experiments in 2022-23.

    If you add assist percentage and usage percentage from last season, those two ranked fourth and second, respectively. Divvying up touches, shots and playmaking opportunities between them may not be easy.

    But if they can figure it out, the Atlanta Hawks now have an absurd amount of passing ability, not to mention the best defender with whom Young has shared a backcourt.

    In 2021-22, Murray averaged 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He ranked in the 95th percentile in Dunks and Threes' estimated plus-minus, one of the most trusted catch-all metrics among NBA executives.

    Adding him, a little wing depth (necessary, given the departures of Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari) and a floor-spacing 5 in Frank Kaminsky to Young (who was in the 98th percentile in EPM) should have this team back in playoff contention right away.

New York Knicks

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    Incoming: Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Trevor Keels

    Outgoing: Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson and Kemba Walker

    It's been sad to witness the quick and thorough decline of Kemba Walker, but his departure alone probably helps the New York Knicks a bit. Last season, they were minus-9.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and plus-3.0 when he was off.

    Replacing his minutes (and then some) with Jalen Brunson should raise the Knicks' ceiling and floor.

    Brunson's postseason elevated Brunson's profile throughout the league, but he had been producing in non-Luka Doncic lineups for two years. Since the start of the 2020-21 season, Brunson has averaged 22.3 points and 7.5 assists per 75 possessions to go with a 58.3 true shooting percentage with Doncic off the floor.

    Plugging him into the Knicks' starting five should create good shots and instantly help one of last season's most disappointing units.

    Brunson wasn't the only upgrade whom the Knicks acquired, though. They also signed Isaiah Hartenstein, who was quietly one of the league's most productive centers last season.

    Hartenstein ranked in the 93rd percentile in EPM and averaged 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions along with a 66.4 true shooting percentage. New York now has one of the best backup bigs in the NBA, and he and Brunson are both under the age of 26.

    Losing the experience of Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson and the production of Alec Burks hurts a bit, but the Knicks more than made up for it even if they don't trade for Donovan Mitchell.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Incoming: De'Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., Trevelin Queen and Julian Champagnie

    Outgoing: Danny Green and DeAndre Jordan

    The P.J. Tucker signing might have gotten more publicity—and he can certainly help in the short term—but the Philadelphia 76ers' real coup this summer was the trade for De'Anthony Melton.

    Philadelphia sent Danny Green (who may miss all of the 2022-23 season with a torn ACL) and the draft pick that became David Roddy for Melton, who's sixth in the NBA in steal percentage over the last two seasons.

    He's far from a one-trick pony, though. Over the same span, Melton has hit 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts and showed off some decent facilitation chops as well.

    Best-case scenario, Melton will be a Matisse Thybulle-level defender who can also move the needle on offense. Worst-case, he's a ball hawk whom defenses at least have to be aware of on the perimeter.

    Meanwhile, Tucker had a huge bounce-back campaign in 2021-22 after seemingly bottoming out in the 2020-21 regular season. (He was solid that postseason, though, and the world champion Milwaukee Bucks' playoff point differential was better with him on the floor.). If he can provide average defense and a 40-plus three-point percentage, he'll be a helpful piece.

    The Sixers will likely call upon Danuel House Jr. to do the same. The last time he was on a Daryl Morey-assembled team, he averaged 9.7 points and shot 37.3 percent from deep over his three full seasons with the Houston Rockets.

    Surrounding James Harden, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris with as much three-and-D ability as possible makes sense. That's exactly what Morey did this offseason.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Incoming: Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, Wendell Moore Jr., Josh Minott and A.J. Lawson

    Outgoing: Jarred Vanderbilt, Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie, Walker Kessler and Leandro Bolmaro

    There was a hefty and understandable amount of hand-wringing over the price the Minnesota Timberwolves paid for Rudy Gobert (four draft picks, one incoming rookie and multiple role players), but it's hard to see how it won't help in the short term.

    Over the last six seasons, Gobert was first leaguewide in total blocks, second in rebounds, second in true shooting percentage and fourth in win shares (behind only James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic).

    Over the same stretch, the Utah Jazz were plus-9.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-0.9 with him off. Utah had the best defense in the league despite getting little help on that end from perimeter players. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves' defense ranked 26th during that span.

    Gobert's arrival adds instant credibility on that end of the floor, and it isn't hard to imagine how he'll fit with Karl-Anthony Towns. With Gobert rolling hard to the rim and KAT spacing the floor, opponents will constantly be picking their poison against that frontcourt.

    But Gobert wasn't the only addition who should help Minnesota in 2022-23.

    Kyle Anderson is one of the game's more unique playmakers and a defensive stalwart himself. Playing either KAT or Gobert with Anderson at the 4 will be an interesting wrinkle.

    Austin Rivers adds some toughness to the perimeter defense, and Bryn Forbes can swing a quarter with his three-point shooting.

    Losing multiple rotation players is nothing to sneeze at, but Minnesota almost certainly raised its short-term ceiling.

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