NBA Teams Already Regretting Their 2020 Free-Agency Pickups
Expectations don't always line up with reality, and that's as true in NBA free agency as anywhere else.
Even this early in the 2020-21 season, buyer's remorse is real.
To the surprise of many (myself included), neither the Charlotte Hornets nor the Detroit Pistons will appear here. Gordon Hayward has been effective, and he's a big reason the Hornets have been so much fun to this point. Jerami Grant's Pistons aren't any good, but he's silenced doubters who were sure he couldn't thrive in a bigger role.
Regret may come for the Hornets and Pistons eventually, but it's nowhere to be found at the moment.
That isn't the case elsewhere, as the following teams should already be questioning their additions in 2020 free agency.
The Atlanta Hawks got part of the process right, shrewdly acquiring veterans to address last season's main shortcomings: backcourt defense, secondary playmaking and a lack of non-Trae Young shot-creation.
So far, the results have been a disaster.
That isn't necessarily Atlanta's fault, as the lack of production from those new additions is entirely because of injuries. With that said, all four of Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo are at least as notable for their checkered health histories as they are for their on-court production.
Gallo, who's played only two games, is out for several weeks with an ankle injury. He's averaged 26 games on the shelf over the past six seasons, and that's after missing the entire 2013-14 campaign with a torn ACL.
Bogdanovic missed 23 games over the past two years, and he just went down with a fractured knee Saturday. He has no timetable to return for now. Dunn, who's missed at least 14 games in each of the past three seasons, hasn't played at all yet. He has had ankle surgery, though. Finally, Rondo's balky right knee has limited him to a grand total of 31 minutes of action to this point. He hasn't surpassed the 50-game mark in either of the last two campaigns and has fallen short of 70 every year since 2015-16.
There's absolutely a luck element to injuries, and the Hawks deserve credit for aggressively finding void-filling pieces that made perfect sense in their idealized rotation. But they didn't exactly prize durability in their signings, and it has come back to bite them.
Tristan Thompson is helping the Boston Celtics on the offensive glass, which is the absolute minimum they likely hoped for when signing him for the mid-level exception. Thompson has always been among the league's best generators of second-chance opportunities, and he's doing that for Boston in the early going.
Having now complimented the 29-year-old big man, we can dig into the rougher stuff.
Opponents are feasting at the rim with Thompson in the game, getting to close range more often and converting at alarming rates. Inside six feet, players are hitting 74.4 percent of their shots with Thompson as the primary defender. That's the fifth-highest hit rate allowed in the league among players who've defended at least 40 total attempts. Among bigs, only Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and Marvin Bagley III have been worse deterrents.
Boston's defense craters with Thompson and Daniel Theis on the floor, which isn't what you'd expect from an old-school two-big lineup. Those are supposed to struggle on offense but lock down the lane and suppress opponents' scoring. That hasn't happened.
Thompson isn't a floor-spacer, and he has long struggled to score efficiently in general. If he isn't helping the interior defense, it's hard for him to make a positive impact.
Jeff Teague looked fantastic in the early going, but he's been unproductive outside of some hot, low-volume three-point shooting. Kemba Walker's return can't come soon enough.
The Toronto Raptors' struggles feel like they stem more from subtractions than additions*, even if those are really two sides of the same roster-building coin. It's as if Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol took some indefinable quality with them when they left—corporate knowledge, maybe, or championship experience—and neither Aron Baynes nor Alex Len has been able to find what's missing.
Also, neither new big man has been productive on the floor. Maybe we should have just kept it simple and started with that.
Baynes, bounced from the rotation after seven games, hasn't shown the three-point stroke he developed over the last two years. He's at 18.8 percent from deep and has been one of the NBA's most negatively impactful players on both ends. Quick and dirty summation: His minus-8.7 box plus/minus is second-worst leaguewide among players who've logged at least 100 minutes.
Len has gotten some reps in Baynes' place, but he hasn't been much better.
It's a good thing holdover Chris Boucher has taken a step forward. Without him, Toronto's center position might be the most hopeless in the league. A downgrade was inevitable with the Raptors losing two key vets, but nobody expected the free-agency replacements to be this bad.
*Fatigue following two deep postseason runs and the difficulty of playing home games in Tampa Bay can't be ignored, either.
Davis Bertans has shot it well by normal standards, but his 36.0 percent conversion rate on threes would be a career low if the season ended today. When you give someone a five-year, $80 million contract and further cave by adding an early termination option on the final season, giving Bertans all the power in the team-player relationship, you hope to see more than that.
Specialists—especially the highly paid variety—need to be special.
Still, Bertans' minutes coincide with the best point differential among all Washington Wizards rotation players, and his gravity has been a key driver of the team's top-five offensive rating. He's probably overpaid, but Bertans isn't the main reason Washington should be feeling some buyer's remorse over its free-agent moves.
Although Robin Lopez and Raul Neto aren't cap-cripplers on one-year deals at $7.3 and $1.9 million, respectively, they haven't been of much help in the early going.
Lopez typically juices a team's defensive rebounding success, but his impact on that end has barely been noticeable this year. Because Thomas Bryant, who's now out for the season with an ACL tear, is such a defensive minus, many of Lopez's early on-off numbers on that end look better than they have a right to—and they aren't even all that good. Washington has been outscored by 9.9 points per 100 possessions in Lopez's floor time, the worst figure on the team among players who've seen at least 150 minutes of action.
Neto is close behind at minus-9.0, and that's despite shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 42.4 percent on threes. Opponents are crushing the Wizards defense six ways from Sunday, but they've found scoring particularly easy with Neto on the floor.
Bertans, Lopez and Neto aren't the problem in Washington. A lack of defensive accountability, head coach Scott Brooks' strange lineups and Russell Westbrook being a massive drag on both ends are the real issues. But the Wizards' offseason signings aren't producing solutions, either.