New Acquisitions Who Will Prove NBA Pundits Wrong
NBA free agency is about cashing out, adding talent and proving doubters wrong.
We're here to focus on the latter part.
Doubters could come in the form of depressed free-agent markets or below-value contracts. Or they could be more obvious criticisms sent forth throughout the digital realm.
Either way, these five 2019 free agents are perfectly positioned to quiet their critics during the upcoming campaign.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic entered this summer with size and length. They needed shooting and an upgrade at point guard.
So, when they opted for more size and length by adding Al-Farouq Aminu, analysts were predictably perplexed. The Ringer's D.J. Foster slapped an "F" grade on the three-year, $29 million deal, one of just two failing grades among his 41 assessments.
The sentiment is sort of understandable, as Aminu, a career 33.7 percent shooter from distance, probably does nothing to address Orlando's weaknesses. But the evaluation is too harsh. The 28-year-old is a steal at an annual salary shy of $10 million—he was 65th in ESPN.com's real plus-minus—and he'll help strengthen what the Magic do best.
Orlando booked last season's playoff drought on the strength of its dramatic defensive improvement, rocketing from 20th to eighth in efficiency. Slot Aminu alongside the likes of Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, and this defense suddenly has top-three potential.
The Magic can now shape-shift to combat offenses of all sizes. Need a supersized lineup to combat the jumbo starting five of the Philadelphia 76ers? Throw all four aforementioned stoppers out there together. Need versatility and the ability to switch every spot? Plug Aminu, Gordon and Isaac into an interchangeable frontcourt.
Aminu may not bring much to the offensive end—he's cracked double-digit points in one of his nine NBA seasons—but he could contribute there by what he does on defense. He can defend four different spots (or five against small-ball groups), meaning he can take on the opposition's toughest assignment and ease some of the burden on Gordon and Isaac so they'll have more energy on offense.
"You'll see him all year from guarding [James] Harden to guarding power forwards to guarding KD [Kevin Durant]," former ESPN analyst, and Aminu's coach at Wake Forest, Dino Gaudio told Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. "He can guard all of those guys because of his length [and] his lateral quickness."
Jordan Bell, Minnesota Timberwolves
When the Golden State Warriors purchased the 38th pick of the 2017 draft and spent it on Jordan Bell, the consensus was the-then champs had a steal.
Two years later, the bouncy big man should again be listed among the summer's most larcenous acquisitions.
Bell oozes potential out of his 6'9" frame, both as a hyper-versatile defender and a vastly underrated playmaker. And somehow, the rest of the Association still let the Minnesota Timberwolves bring him to the Gopher State on just a one-year, minimum pact.
He seems less overlooked than simply forgotten. While his sophomore campaign lost some of his rookie year's luster, his situation would've been tough for anyone to navigate, let alone someone in just his second professional season. The Dubs overcrowded the frontcourt, and as a result, Bell was never sure if he'd play 20 minutes, five minutes or not at all.
His stats decreased, but not to an alarming degree. He still showcased his potentially special combination of shot-blocking and distributing that make him a fascinating frontcourt partner for Karl-Anthony Towns.
Through two seasons, Bell owns career per-36-minutes averages of 4.0 assists and 2.4 blocks. For context, only the following four players have averaged three assists and two rejections for their careers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Bill Walton and Joel Embiid.
Bell never had the chance to bring his best in Golden State. He should get it in Minnesota. His above-the-rim finishing and slick passing will both make life easier on Towns, as will Bell's ability to erase the big fella's mistakes as a weak-side shot-blocker. That's the baseline for his contributions, and the ceiling stretches as far as he's able to spread his wings.
"The Warriors was a great opportunity, I loved it, it was great, but I just want to be a better basketball player and keep growing," he told Basketball Insiders' David Yapkowitz. "I just wanted to go somewhere else so I can grow and expand my game."
Alec Burks, Golden State Warriors
It took the Utah Jazz seven-plus seasons to give up on Alec Burks, whom they drafted 12th overall in 2011 and later inked to a $42 million extension.
The rest of the NBA apparently lost faith a lot quicker. He was traded twice during the 2018-19 campaign and then found only minimum money available to him this summer.
You know what they say about another team's trash, right?
Golden State may have struck a gold mine with the player selected one pick after Klay Thompson. If Burks can put his injury problems behind him—he's made 64 appearances each of the past two seasons after making 100 total the previous three—he's proved he can be a double-digit scorer, an above-average sniper and a secondary playmaker.
Before his medical maladies kicked in, Burks looked the part of a lottery pick in his breakout third season. He averaged 14.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from distance. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but only 15 players hit each of those marks this past year.
He has popped more recently than that too. Over 34 games with last season's Cleveland Cavaliers, he tallied 11.6 points, 5.5 boards and 2.9 dimes while converting 37.8 percent of his long-range looks.
He could grab a prominent rotation spot with the new-look Warriors, perhaps even cracking the starting lineup as long as Thompson is sidelined by his torn ACL. Given the firepower around him and the freedom he'll have in this offense, Burks could be more efficient than ever and comically underpaid on a one-year, veteran-minimum contract.
DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers
Last summer, he shocked the hoops world by taking a one-year, $5.3 million deal with the Warriors. This time around, he settled for even less, getting just $3.5 million from the revamped Los Angeles Lakers.
"You look at the kind of contract he got last summer. You look at the kind of contract he got this summer. The league is basically saying we're out on DeMarcus Cousins," Ben Golliver said on the Open Floor Podcast.
It's an atrocious stance for teams to take.
If he regains his mobility—he was making progress before the postseason setback—he could be the most underpaid player in the league.
Post-injury Boogie remained a handful and then some. His per-36-minutes averages included 22.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.9 steals. His 109 offensive rating was a new career high, and his 102 defensive rating matched his third-lowest. His 21.4 player efficiency rating ranked among the top 35, and his .151 win shares per 48 minutes were the second-most he had ever contributed.
Now, he's another year removed from his Achilles injury, back alongside Anthony Davis and playing with possibly the best playmaker he's ever had in LeBron James. All arrows should be pointing up for Cousins, other than his salary.
D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors
Golden State faced the prospect of losing Kevin Durant for nothing but instead flipped him in a sign-and-trade for D'Angelo Russell.
That's a former No. 2 pick who just blossomed into an All-Star during his breakout season. Russell's 2018-19 stat line was essentially a string of career highs, including 21.1 points, 7.0 assists and 2.9 three-pointers.
The Dubs found a big-time talent, but that's not how the hoops world treated it. Rather, they've cast Russell as merely an asset, a trade chip to be cashed in at a later date.
To be clear, he plays a different game than Golden State typically has under coach Steve Kerr. Russell nearly finished more plays as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season (920) than Golden State did as a team (995).
But why does this have to mean this relationship can't work? Why can't Russell's arrival be the next step in the Warriors' evolution? Why can't he adjust his game to better fit this scheme? While everyone else rushes to judgment on this, Golden State general manager Bob Myers is rightfully preaching patience, per Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group:
"We didn't sign him with the intention of just trading him. We didn't even see him play in our uniform yet. Yet a lot of people already have us trading him. That's not how we're viewing it.
"... So much of our sport at least and other sports is what are you doing next? We have to figure out what we're doing now. That applies to a guy like D'Angelo, where there is speculation we're moving him. We haven't even seen him play. We haven't seen him play with some of our core players. We don't know until Klay comes back how that fits. I'm just happy we got a young player that has a lot of upside."
A Russell-Stephen Curry backcourt looks monstrous on offense, and the duo will only grow harder to contain once Thompson returns. Russell might lose a little volume from last season, but his efficiency and three-point shooting could both soar to new heights. He could breathe new life into this team without ever nearing the trade market.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.