Five Favorite Free Agents - East (9/9/16)
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West but I am not an astronomer so the sunset of this two-part series is the Eastern Conference. Last week, we covered my favorite free agent signings in the West for this upcoming season. Stripping away all the salary cap minutia and worries about future seasons, the focus for these lists is basketball (with some of my own values strewn in there). This week, we will examine my five favorite offseason signings by teams out East.
Al Horford | Boston Celtics
To everyone's surprise, not even Tom Brady could secure a signature from top prize in free agency this year, but Al Horford is a nice consolation prize for Bean town. While Horford is not the top-tier superstar Celtics fans hope awaits them at the end of the rainbow opposite their pot of golden assets, Boston compromised and invested in a veteran All-Star big man – legitimizing its front court. Since trading Kevin Garnett, the Celtics have relied upon a rotation of one-dimensional players in the front-court – guys like Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger. Horford is the all-around complete, two-way talent to match the Swiss-army knife identity of the Boston backcourt. Just combining his ability to stretch his range to three while guarding opposing centers and protecting the rim at an above average level is enough to make Brad Stevens' mouth water, not to mention his elite finishing ability and playmaking skills. Slotting him at either power forward or center, Boston can extract not only the full value of its now complementary frontcourt specialists, but also its true small-ball potential.
What is also interesting about this move are the particulars of the teams involved. The Hawks and the Celtics were similar in many ways beyond having the same record last season – playing similar styles on both ends. On defense, they forced a lot of turnovers and gave up a lot of offensive rebounds – at the exact same rate. Offensively, both teams favored pass-heavy ball movement and reliance upon assisted baskets to score. Outside of Horford, the biggest difference between the two teams was performance trajectory. Essentially, Al Horford got off the descending Atlanta elevator at the 48th floor in order to catch the Boston elevator on its way up. I envision a seamless transition that should pay dividends immediately for the Celtics on their ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Dwyane Wade | Chicago Bulls
Unlike his former running mate LeBron James, Dwyane Wade the only franchise he's ever known to little or no fanfare – perhaps because no one seriously believed he would leave Miami. In similar fashion to James, however, Wade is returning to his hometown with intentions bigger than basketball. When Wade was growing up in Chicago, he remembers the violence and the murders – the same violence and murdering that occurs in the city to this day. For Wade, being back in Chicago means a message of peace and togetherness and searching for solutions to the systemic issues that plague the streets of his home. It's unclear what his role on the court will be. In many respects, while not a ‘true' point guard, Dwyane Wade is an upgraded replacement to Derrick Rose – Wade actually had a higher assist rate than Rose last year, along with a higher true shooting percentage and more discretion when it came to firing bricks from downtown. But, the signing of Rajon Rondo puts a wrench in that idea, not to mention making for an interesting backcourt. Perhaps Wade, Rondo, and Butler will compete over who will shoot the fewest three-pointers this season. Flash may not be who he used to be athletically – only 36 dunks last season – or efficiently scoring the ball – shot a career low 45.6 percent from the field in 2016 – but he is still a star. Back home, with championships already won, Wade is steering the light of his stardom away from the basketball court, and I applaud him for it.
Matthew Dellavedova | Milwaukee Bucks
NBA champion (!) Matthew Dellavedova has quietly developed real NBA skills behind his public perception – kind-of-almost-certainly dirty hustler, getting by on guts and effort alone. Did you know that Dellavedova shot 46% on catch and shoot three point shots last season – better than Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson? Were you aware that he was one of 13 players to defend over 400 pick and rolls and finished fifth in points per possession allowed amongst those – alongside the likes of George Hill and Chris Paul? Not bad for the undrafted Australian. Clearly the man is a worker with a great attitude, the perfect types of players you want if you are trying to build a playoff team.
For Milwaukee, I'm sure they picture Delly fitting into a similar role as he did next to LeBron James – alongside another freakishly athletic point forward with a tentative jump shot, Giannis Antetokounmpo. No one is saying Giannis is anywhere the near the playmaker LeBron is (yet) but the ability of Delly to slide off the ball on offense while picking up opposing point guards on defense gives Milwaukee the freedom to see if Giannis has that potential. Bringing in Delly along with Mirza Teletovic this offseason – two unimposing athletes – signals to me that Milwaukee may be moving away from its aggressive helping defense to a more traditional scheme as they look to rebound from a bottom ten defensive performance.
Joakim Noah | New York Knicks
His time in Chicago had expired. Joakim Noah is coming off perhaps the most miserable season of his career. He played in just 29 games and posted career lows across the board – that is except for his defense and his passing. Amongst centers who played at least 20 minutes per game, the former Defensive Player of the Year had the highest defensive rebound percentage on contested rebounds, according to player tracking data on NBA.com. Additionally, the Bulls defensive efficiency improved by over 5 points with Noah on the floor. On offense, Noah finished with the highest assist rate among centers in the league. A now healthy Noah is a great fit for a Knicks team that struggles defending and passing the ball. You may remember a couple of years ago, when Carmelo Anthony was a free agent, Chicago tried to bring Melo to the Bulls. Now, with the additions of Noah and Derrick Rose, the Knicks have brought the Bulls to Melo. Although these oft-injured veterans are not the players they used to be, this season we will get a glimpse of what could have been in Chicago – get excited Knicks fans (or perhaps not).
Jeremy Lin | Brooklyn Nets
Five years can feel like an eternity, but that is how long it has been since the whole world caught Linsanity. From Harvard to global sensation to NBA journeyman, Jeremy Lin is no stranger to paying dues and earning respect, a familiar grind to his former assistant and now head coach, Kenny Atkinson. Nets fans hope that returning to New York City can help Lin rekindle the magic, but it is his special bond with the new head coach that should have fans excited for the latest development in the Jeremy Lin saga. Not since his glorious days with the Knicks has Lin been given primary playmaking duties – an opportunity he will have to the fullest on the Brooklyn reclamation project. Coming off a strong playoff performance in Charlotte where he elevated his usage while cutting down his turnovers and closed meaningful games, Lin is poised to once again dazzle the world – except this time, it won't be a surprise.