The NBA's Most Underrated Offseason Pickups
The NBA offseason was dominated by the movement of stars, and for good reason: Jimmy Butler, Mike Conley, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, D'Angelo Russell, Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook all changed teams this summer.
But for any of their teams to achieve success, they will need help.
Star power is not enough to compete in the NBA, and the smartest teams recognize that.
The following offseason moves, while perhaps lost in the shuffle of larger-scale player movement this summer, may prove to be valuable, either right away or down the road. Whether it's affordability, upside, or even just a good fit, all of these players have the ability to make a positive impact for their respective clubs.
Kent Bazemore to the Portland Trail Blazers
While Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless aren't elite, the Portland Trail Blazers will miss both of them. If nothing else, each player could knock down open shots and defend multiple positions.
Without Aminu and Harkless around, Portland will likely start either Zach Collins (who should be a center) or Anthony Tolliver (a one-trick pony) at power forward.
Kent Bazemore doesn't solve Portland's size issues at forward, but he does cover several of the holes left by Aminu and Harkless.
Bazemore is a competent shooter who can defend multiple positions with his 6'5" frame and 7'0" wingspan, and he should thrive in a low-usage role next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Plus, Portland only had to give up Evan Turner to get Bazemore, and that is an easy win for them given both Bazemore's perfect fit in the modern NBA and Turner's rather hefty contract.
The Blazers aren't the most talented team in the West, but smart acquisitions like Bazemore could give them one of the most well-constructed rosters in the conference and position them for continued success.
Willie Cauley-Stein to the Golden State Warriors
When Golden State general manager Bob Myers hits moves on the margins—like he did when he signed Willie Cauley-Stein to a two-year, $4.5 million contract this summer—you remember the Warriors' recent success is far from a series of serendipitous accidents.
Bringing in Cauley-Stein is a no-lose move for the Warriors. They needed to shore up their frontcourt depth after the departures of DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Bell, and Damian Jones, and the 2015 No. 6 overall pick should help.
Cauley-Stein never quite took off in Sacramento, in part because of a lack of team structure. That won't be an issue for him in Golden State, though.
Stephen Curry and D'Angelo Russell are the clear shot-creators, which will free up the former Kentucky Wildcat to play to his strengths. Cauley-Stein will get to rim-run on offense and complement Draymond Green on defense, which should help him thrive in a limited role.
If Cauley-Stein begins to freelance too much, the Warriors can bench him for Kevon Looney.
Losing Kevin Durant was unquestionably a huge blow to the Warriors this summer. But betting low on high-ceiling talents like Cauley-Stein is the perfect way to stay in deep playoff contention.
Seth Curry to the Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks are not realistic championship contenders this year. Instead, they're focused on building around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The Mavs landed a perfect complement to their star duo when they signed Seth Curry to a four-year, $32 million contract this offseason.
Curry, a career 43.9 percent three-point shooter, drilled 45.0 percent of his triples last year (third-best in the league). The Mavericks, meanwhile, didn't have a single rotation player shoot above 39 percent from deep.
Curry's constant off-ball movement and ability to rise up from anywhere will open up space for Doncic to run the offense. He should be a major asset to a Mavericks team that ranked 27th in three-point percentage last season (34.0).
Lineups featuring Delon Wright or Jalen Brunson, Curry, Doncic, Porzingis and Dwight Powell will be able to run defenses ragged and create perhaps one of the NBA's most high-energy, fun teams.
Dewayne Dedmon to the Sacramento Kings
Dewayne Dedmon might not live up to the three-year, $40 million contract that he signed with the Sacramento Kings this summer. But with the Kings looking to snap a 13-year playoff drought, his mentorship could be invaluable.
Dedmon plays within himself, spacing the floor and rim-running on offense while protecting the basket on defense. That makes him an excellent fit next to Marvin Bagley III, who is not a good three-point shooter or shot-blocker but does most other things well.
Dedmon could take away playing time from Harry Giles III, Sacramento's other budding young big man. However, Giles is entering only his third NBA season, and he has a troubling history of knee injuries dating back to high school.
It makes sense for the Kings to slowly bring Giles up to starter-level minutes over the course of the season. Dedmon will be a good stopgap option in the meantime.
He may be overpaid, but Dedmon will make a positive impact on the Kings both now and in the future. He's low-maintenance and versatile enough to contribute to winning right away, and his presence will enable Sacramento's young stars to continue developing and eventually become stars in their own right.
Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets
Jerami Grant is perhaps the perfect missing piece for the Denver Nuggets.
Grant bloomed into an effective complementary piece during his time in Oklahoma City, and he averaged a career-best 13.6 points while shooting 39.2 percent from three-point range last season. He also ranked above Kevin Durant, Khris Middleton and Otto Porter Jr. (among others) in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
Since Andre Iguodala's departure in 2013, Denver has lacked a switchable forward—someone who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter with ease. Grant will fill that role and solidify what may be the most talented roster in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets are teeming with stars and high-upside young players such as Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. But they also might have the league's best supporting cast with Grant, Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, Mason Plumlee, Jarred Vanderbilt and Michael Porter Jr.
Trading for Grant was Denver's only non-draft move of the summer. But in a league where big-name player movement now rules the day, continuity might mean more than ever.
Adding a perfect-fitting role player to cover up several remaining weaknesses might put Denver over the top in the West.
Maurice Harkless to the Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are among the betting favorites to win the NBA title this year for several reasons.
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they arguably have the best Big Two in the league. They have a dynamic pick-and-roll duo in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench. Throw in sharpshooter Landry Shamet and defensive bulldog Patrick Beverley, and L.A. has the foundation of a top-tier rotation.
The Clippers didn't stop there, though. Before Leonard announced his free-agent decision, L.A. acquired Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick to help facilitate the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade.
Harkless has been a starter for most of his career, and as such will be overqualified as a seventh man. He has posted a positive plus-minus rating per 100 possessions in each of the last four seasons and ranked 12th among small forwards last year in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus.
But Harkless is such a luxury for the Clippers that when he plays alongside Leonard, George and Beverley, he might be the Clippers' fourth-best defender. Between those three and the St. John's product, who is 6'9" with a 7-foot wingspan and moves like a guard, L.A. easily has the best perimeter defense in the NBA.
For many years, Klay Thompson had the best situation in the NBA. He was an All-Star for the Warriors yet escaped blame when they lost because he didn't run the offense. With Golden State falling back to the pack and Thompson out for most of the season, that situation is up for grabs, and Harkless might be in position to take it.
Justin Holiday to the Indiana Pacers
In mid-July, Justin Holiday signed a one-year, $4.8 million deal with the Indiana Pacers, and that contract is one of the steals of the summer.
Holiday isn't significantly worse than current-day Trevor Ariza, who the Kings will be paying $25 million over the next two years.
The Pacers will likely be without Victor Oladipo for part of next year, and they'll require plenty of help to make up for his absence. Just two years ago, Holiday ranked tied for 19th among small forwards in defensive real plus-minus, outpacing the likes of Paul George, and that was for a Bulls team that was never a playoff competitor.
On a competitive squad featuring other dynamic defenders like Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner, Holiday's 7'0" wingspan and high motor will make a real difference.
The Washington product can also help out on offense. Since he won't be a focal point, his main responsibility will be to shoot the ball when it's passed to him. Holiday has struggled with his efficiency over the past few seasons, but he did make 40.8 percent of his wide-open threes last year.
Alongside Brogdon, Turner, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Warren and eventually Oladipo, Holiday will likely get good looks with regularity this year and provide Indiana with a valuable two-way bench option.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the Toronto Raptors
The Brooklyn Nets' rotation became crowded this summer with the additions of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple, so they decided it was time to part ways with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in free agency.
The 2015 No. 23 overall pick will now get a fresh start in Toronto, where he joins a Raptors team searching for an identity after Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green departed in free agency.
The Raptors figure to build around Pascal Siakam, this year's Most Improved Player, moving forward. But unless he develops into a full-blown superstar, he'll need a great supporting cast to cover up his deficiencies.
Backup point guard Fred VanVleet and wing OG Anunoby deserve expanded roles, but Hollis-Jefferson can figure into Toronto's next era as well. The Arizona product is a relative non-threat on offense, but he is a great rebounder and defender in the right circumstances.
If Hollis-Jefferson develops into even a mediocre scoring option, he'll have a place in the NBA for a while. Raptors front-office gurus Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster gave him a one-year minimum deal to see whether he can unlock that upside in Toronto.
Evan Turner to the Atlanta Hawks
It's taken Evan Turner a while to find his niche in the NBA.
After getting pigeonholed as a primary scorer in Philadelphia and a short dud of a stint in Indiana, Turner went to Boston in 2014-15, where Brad Stevens seemingly unlocked his true calling as a reserve ball-handler. He later settled into that role in Portland, too, before the Blazers traded him to the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.
Unlike those other resets, this one seems to be starting off on the right foot.
The Hawks seem to realize Turner is best suited to play as a backup point guard, as he's a bad shooter who struggles off the ball. As such, he's currently listed as Atlanta's reserve floor general behind Trae Young.
Turner led a successful bench lineup in Portland that featured Seth Curry and Zach Collins, among others. If he can make that unit hum, imagine him feeding the likes of Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and John Collins.
Delon Wright to the Dallas Mavericks
Whereas Seth Curry is a tremendous boon to the Mavericks' offense, Delon Wright will be an effective fit on both ends of the floor in Dallas.
The 6'5" point guard is big for his position, so he'll be able to switch between assignments on defense. That should help spare Luka Doncic from covering the toughest opposing guards on a night-to-night basis.
Wright may be even more useful on offense.
He never got the chance to be a full-time starting point guard as he toiled away behind Kyle Lowry in Toronto. But after the Raptors traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies, the 2015 No. 20 overall pick took off.
Across 26 games in Memphis, Wright averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals in 30.8 minutes per game. He also recorded his first three career triple-doubles in the Grizzlies' last four games of the 2018-19 season, showing off the full range of his skill set.
Wright is a fine shooter, but he shines even more as a passer. His height helps him see angles and movement that most point guards can't. He should thrive alongside Doncic, as teams are now prioritizing having multiple proficient playmakers on the floor at one time.
While Wright might not be an elite shot-creator, Doncic should help to highlight his strengths and marginalize his weaknesses.