NBA Free Agency '17: Under-The-Radar Grades

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Monday July 10th, 2017

Head still spinning from after the crazy start to 2017 NBA free agency? Ours too. With so many new contracts being handed out, it's easy to miss some of the player movement this off–season. Here's a roundup of grades for under–the–radar moves in free agency so far.

Dirk Nowitzki: Two years, $10 million with the Mavericks

Not a minor deal by any means, but a minor development. Nowitzki’s new contract with the Mavericks was a function of preference. All the two sides had to settle was what figure Dirk would be willing to accept. Unsurprisingly, Nowitzki – who has left money on the table on pretty much every contract he’s ever signed in the NBA – agreed to incredibly team-friendly figure. Some of the room Nowitzki’s small deal opened up was already used to acquire Josh McRoberts (along with a future second-round pick) from the Heat. What’s left helps keep Dallas flexible. Part of what makes Dirk’s contract situation so exceptional is that he’s been willing to work with the team nearly every summer to find out what the franchise needs. Any option in his deal is effectively mutual; when the Mavs have needed Nowitzki to decline an option for the sake of some creative salary cap work, he has obliged. You can’t put a price on that kind of good will.

Grade: A+

Andre Roberson: Three years, $30 million with the Thunder

The risk with players like Robinson – who have both incredible, specific strengths and notable, significant weaknesses – is that they sometimes demand to be paid for their best qualities. Roberson is one of the best wing defenders in the league. He’s also more versatile, at 6-7, than other perimeter stoppers; the option to play Roberson as a power forward on offense is always on the table, even as he cross-matches defensively to check opposing shooting guards. It’s his shooting that kills him. Roberson is the painful breed of wing whom opponents will dare to shoot. They see a 26% career three-point shooter and start to conjure options for matchup control and zoned help. Having Roberson on the floor changes the way an opponent can defend, just as having him involved fundamentally changes what strategies in coverage have been available to the Thunder.

This contract reflects that. Roberson is compensated for the fact that he should be an All-Defense candidate over the life of this deal while still leaving Oklahoma City enough room to address his weaknesses. Teams trap themselves when they break the bank for one-way players. This represents a far more moderate approach that suits the Thunder, as constructed, quite well.

Grade: B+

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Bojan Bogdanovic: Two years, $21 million with the Pacers

Indiana is idling. Trading Paul George has parked the franchise somewhere in between development and playoff contention, considering that one of the two players acquired (Domantas Sabonis) isn’t quite ready for a big NBA role and the other (Victor Oladipo) hasn’t yet proven that his game can pay off at high usage. Enter Bogdanovic, who plugs in as a placeholder while the Pacers figure things out. Both the cost of his deal and its length are perfectly reasonable for a streaky scoring wing. It simply doesn’t get Indiana much of anywhere in the grand scheme of things due to the broader limitations of its roster.

Grade: C+

Vince Carter: One year, $8 million with the Kings

Not only does Sacramento have young talent across the positional spectrum – now it has experience, too. Carter is an easy fit in every regard. His game is as well balanced as a 40-year-old’s possibly could be, in part because his shooting and passing ability work alongside most any group of teammates. A young group, in particular, can benefit from Carter’s play while learning from his example. The Kings aren’t quite set in terms of star prospects, but signings like this one leave the next stage of the team’s progression in good hands. 

Grade: B

Tyreke Evans: One year, $3.3 million with the Grizzlies

As if Evans’ ball-dominant game weren’t complicated enough, his body and its breakdowns through injury have made him completely unreliable as a basketball player. Evans has played a combined 65 games over the past two seasons. That alone put him in range for this kind of flier, and the Grizzlies, in particular, are in need of high-upside plays wherever they can find them. 

Grade: B

Milos Teodosic: Two years, $12 million with the Clippers

NBA teams have made overtures to Teodosic for years, but until now had never managed to pry him away from top European clubs. Age was undoubtedly a factor in his decision; Teodosic, now 30, only had so many chances left to satisfy a curiosity in how his game might translate to the NBA. He comes to the Clippers at a fascinating time. Chris Paul leaves behind a playmaking void that Teodosic is uniquely qualified to fill. Some of the results, particularly alongside players who seek out open lanes as well as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, will be spectacular. But in signature Teodosic style, he will naturally offset some of the good he does offensively with limited and sloppy defense. L.A. is actually in fairly good position to shield him between Patrick Beverley’s defensive range and Jordan’s potential help, making this a fair trial run for how Teodosic would fair in a different sort of competitive setting. A smart move by both parties.

Grade: B+

Mike Muscala: Two years, $10 million with the Hawks

Muscala was a good enough reserve (and, at times, an in-game alternative to Dwight Howard alongside Atlanta’s starters) to run it back with the Hawks. This is a nice figure for a near-seven-footer who can finish well enough, defend competently, and knock down spot-up threes when called upon. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer seems to trust Muscala to execute his offense, which is no small thing. Bigs often want to linger in spaces they think will help their team. Muscala keeps it moving, which together with his shooting helps to grease the wheels of a motion system. 

Grade: B

Nick Young, one year, $5.2 million with the Warriors

As outlined here, Nick Young makes a lot of sense for Golden State. He can be an extremely effective catch-and-shoot player—he shot over 40% from three last year—and he should be able to feast on the open looks provided by his All-NBA teammates. Young gives the Dubs a scoring option off the bench, which is a luxury for a loaded team, but makes him a nice addition nonetheless. Young is more polished offensively than guys like Pat McCaw or Ian Clark, and he'll likely be a little bit more consistent than Andre Iguodala, who had some shooting struggles last year.

For Young, the deal makes too much sense. He gets an opportunity to play for a championship. And next year, he can re-enter the market after having proven he can be a serious contributor on a title-or-bust team. It's not quite the reclamation project Javale McGee was, but Young is in a similar position to elevate his career to a new level.

Grade: A-

Patrick Patterson, three years, $16.4 million with the Thunder

This is a bit of a steal for Oklahoma City. Patterson is a rangy forward/small-ball center who can guard multiple positions, and he should slot nicely into the Thunder's frontcourt. Patterson will provide what the Thunder so desperately lacked last season: spacing. He can sit in the corner while Russell Westbrook and Paul George work offensively, launching threes when the defense is sucked in. The worry with Patterson is how he faded against top competition last season. His postseason play left a lot to be desired, and that's likely why OKC was able to nab him for the taxpayer mid-level exception. (Patterson may have gotten a huge deal if he was a free agent last off-season.) Still, it's an obvious move to make for the Thunder, who are re-making their team the right way around Westbrook.

Grade: B+

Omri Casspi, one year, $2.7 million with the Warriors

The rich get richer. Omri Casspi is a skilled, 6’9” forward who is a little bit better than his journeyman career would suggest. Casspi is an able shooter who can move the ball well and switch a little bit on defense, which means he's a great fit for the Warriors. With Young and Casspi, Golden State should have a little more scoring oomph off its bench next season, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league. Casspi doesn't have an incredibly high ceiling, but he's a high-floor player who is absolutely worth a signing at the minimum. In a league-wide arms race, the Warriors are doing a great job of filling out their own roster.

Grade: B

Jodie Meeks, two years, $7 million with the Wizards

Washington's bench was putrid for most of last season, then was marginally better after adding some pieces at the trade deadline. Asking Jodie Meeks to save that bench could be a bit of a stretch. Meeks has put together a fine career in the NBA, but recently his impact has been offset by injuries. Meeks has played in only 99 games the last three seasons, including 30 for Orlando last year. If he's not in the lineup, he won't do much to help Washington's reserves.

When healthy, Meeks is a valuable floor spacer and reliable shooter. He's hit 37.6% from three-point range in his career, consistently excelling from downtown. This is a low-risk, decent-reward signing for the Wizards.

Grade: C

Ben McLemore, two-years, $10.7 million with the Grizzlies

Ben McLemore is headed to Memphis after four seasons with Sacramento. There's a lot to like about this move for the Grizz. McLemore, a former No. 7 pick, is still only 24 years old, which means he likely has some untapped potential. David Fizdale extracted every drop of production from his young players last season, and stands to do the same with McLemore, who flashed some talent in his time with the Kings. And Sacramento hasn't exactly been a nurturing environment for young players, so the change of scenery could help McLemore turn around his career on a team desperately in need of some youth.

Still, it says something that the talent-starved Kings didn't bring back McLemore to their young, rebuilding team. Maybe McLemore is the latest player to revive his career outside of Sacramento. But it's equally possible he was a castoff for a reason.

Grade: C+

Justin Holiday, two years, $9 million with the Bulls

After a nonsensical off-season a summer ago and a poor return in June's Jimmy Butler trade, this is actually a fairly shrewd signing by Chicago's front office. Justin Holiday wasn't a game changer for the Knicks last season, but he appeared in all 82 games, adding a little athleticism on the perimeter and just enough shooting (35.5% from three) to keep the defense mostly honest. Holiday played in 27 games for the Bulls in 2015–16, so the team knows very well what they're getting in him. At 28, Holiday likely won’t take his game to new heights from this point forward. But on a rebuilding team that needs depth all over the roster, Holiday is worth a two-year, low-salary flier while the rest of the team grows.

Grade: C+

Darren Collison, two years, $20 million with the Pacers

The Pacers had a glaring hole at point guard after Jeff Teague left in free agency, and Darren Collison is a nice stopgap who won't play above his head during Indy's rebuild. Collison can get the Pacers into their offense and then out of the way of Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner. The short deal means the Pacers can clear up cap space when they're more ready to contend, and if Collison is a total flameout, the second year is reportedly only a partial guarantee. Collison won't be in the way of any of the young players Indy wants to develop, and he'll provide a steadying force during a year of transition.

Grade: B-

Tony Snell: Four years, $44 million with the Bucks

Chicago had seen enough from Snell to give up on him completely last season, flipping him to the Bucks for the maligned Michael Carter-Williams. By season’s end, Carter-Williams gave little to a team trotting out the most dreadful rotation of point guards in the league while Snell offered solid minutes in Milwaukee’s upset bid against Toronto. Snell plays a simple game. He waits on the weak side for catch-and-shoot jumpers, in part because he doesn’t have the handle or shake to do much creating. That’s just fine for a team like the Bucks. If Snell can shoot as he did last season (40.6% from 3) while progressing defensively, he’ll more than justify this contract. Two-way wing play—even in its less dynamic forms—comes at a premium. — Rob Mahoney

Grade: B-

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Cristiano Felicio: Four years, $32 million with the Bulls

This seems a tad rich for a player with some natural talent but little consistent feel. Players like Felicio are among the most difficult to project. For a 24-year-old big to average 11 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes is not insignificant. That said, Felicio’s game at this stage lacks the kind of cohesion that would inspire confidence. A strong roll and finish might be followed by out-of-position defense. A hustle block could lead into a floating, noncommittal offensive possession. Felicio doesn’t play in a way that makes clear he knows where to be and what to do in most instances—qualities that come with experience, no doubt, but that also draw on something innate. There are worse sins than overpaying slightly for a young center with room to grow, but this deal expresses a confidence Felicio’s play hasn’t yet earned. — Mahoney

Grade: C-

Patty Mills: Four years, $50 million with the Spurs

As the natural landing spots for free agent point guards dissipated, it seemed increasingly likely that Mills would end up right back in San Antonio. Some fits make too much sense to break. The Spurs know exactly what Mills is (and isn’t) and love him for it. They rely on his quick-trigger offense to carry bench units and keep defenses honest. Mills, in turn, is protected defensively by versatile teammates and a sound system. Everything about his role in San Antonio suits him. There time may soon come for Dejounte Murray to play a bigger part in the Spurs’ rotation, but having Mills locked in assures Gregg Popovich experience and continuity for the next four years. — Mahoney

Grade: B+

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Shaun Livingston: Three years, $24 million with the Warriors

Or, better yet: Livingston’s deal, as clarified by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, is guaranteed for only $18 million. Livingston could have chased a bigger deal but didn’t, preferring instead to earn in championship equity. Who could blame him? Livingston might not be as essential to the Warriors as fellow free agent Andre Iguodala, but the flexibility of his game aligns perfectly with Golden State’s operations. Steve Kerr leans on smart, fluid athletes to make good decisions. Livingston is reliable in that way whether he’s creating off the dribble, working the post, switching to compete against a big, cutting backdoor, playing the passing lanes or making a timely swing pass. If Livingston ages well, he could end up retiring a Warrior, loaded with jewelry—an amazing end for a player who made good on some rotten injury luck. — Mahoney

Grade: B

Jose Calderon: One year, $2.3 million with the Cavaliers

This trade doesn’t exactly move the needle for Cleveland. The Cavs have struggled to find a backup point guard since (gulp) the departure of Matthew Dellavedova, and Calderon isn’t the answer. Calderon may be able to hit some open threes thanks to the gravity of LeBron, but he’s a minus on the defensive end, and it’s hard to imagine him playing with any sort of pace. In the regular season, Calderon should be mostly passable if he’s not playing any more than 15 minutes per game. In the playoffs? He will become a liability, especially if another Finals matchup with the Warriors is in the cards. Cleveland doesn’t have many options as a capped-out team, but the Cavs desperately need to improve their player development if it means trusting guys like Calderon to be in the rotation. I’d be shocked if Cleveland doesn’t add another point guard at some point during the season. — Rohan Nadkarni

Grade: D+

David West: One year, $2.3 million with the Warriors

David West is coming back to the Warriors on a veteran minimum deal for the final season of his career, reports David Aldridge. West was more than just a ring chaser last season, his first year in the Bay. He was counted on as a backup big during both the regular season and playoffs, and he played reliably in about 13 minutes per game. West wasn’t asked to play a big role, particularly with the emergence of Javale McGee, but he provided some bulk in the paint and meshed well with the Warriors’ stars. West won’t make or break the Warriors, but he’s a great locker room guy who is far from washed. — Nadkarni

Grade: B

Langston Galloway: Three years, $21 million

This is a sneaky good pickup for the Pistons. Galloway is a solid defender at his position who can also shoot the three—over 36% for his career, including 39% from last season. Detroit desperately needs players who can shoot reliably from outside, with its not-quite-knockdown perimeter players failing to provide adequate spacing for Andre Drummond. Galloway could quickly begin stealing minutes from Reggie Jackson, whose tenure with the Pistons has grown increasingly tumultuous. Galloway isn’t the type of guard who will hijack the offense, and with Luke Kennard also in the fold, the Pistons could really revamp their guard rotation. — Nadkarni

Grade: B+

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Amir Johnson: One year, $11 million with the 76ers

Another high-priced, one-year deal similar to the one Philly gave J.J. Redick. This is a good move for the Sixers. Johnson doesn’t hurt their future flexibility in any way, and he’s a capable rotational big who can play forward or center. The issue with Johnson will be his health. He looked considerably slowed down by the end of last season, and he also struggled keeping up against some faster lineups. Still, he provides Philly’s young players with a veteran presence in the locker room, and he won’t asked to be play outside of his means. — Nadkarni

Grade: C+

Michael Carter-Williams: One year, $2.7 million with the Hornets

MCW gets another year to prove he should stick around in the NBA. Carter-Williams had a rough season with the Bulls in 2016–17, posting career-low averages across the board as he was hampered by injuries. The final memory of his season was getting run off the court in the playoffs by the Celtics. Carter-Williams is a fairly useful defender, but he can’t shoot, which negates much of the impact he makes on the other end. And unlike Andre Roberson, you can’t ask Carter-Williams to shut down an opposing team’s best player Still, it’s a low risk move for the Hornets, who also have Jeremy Lamb and rookie Malik Monk in the guard rotation. MCW likely won’t be a major factor in whether the Hornets are ultimately successful. — Nadkarni

Grade: C-

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