Top understated signings of free agency
The NBA’s free-agent period is a torrent, with its fury and volume overwhelming all but the most prominent signings. But those minor moves lost in the flood are important in addressing needs, completing rotations and playing a part in the subtler aspects of team construction. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best understated signings of the offseason — each short on glitz, but clever and cost-efficient. (Click here for a list of the best available free agents.)
Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers (three years, $10.2 million)
Barnes is a loud player with a relatively quiet game — so muted that his re-signing has likely gone unnoticed amid a busy Clippers offseason. And while it’s fair that he would be overshadowed by the likes of Chris Paul, Doc Rivers and J.J. Redick, Barnes’ return is a big get for L.A., given the team’s available resources. After using their most tradeable asset (Eric Bledsoe) to acquire Redick and Jared Dudley, the Clippers had only the mid-level exception (worth $5.2 million) to spare with several gaps left to fill. That they were able to split the mid-level between Barnes (on a contract with a partially guaranteed third year, no less) and backup point guard Darren Collison was a coup under the circumstances, particularly considering what the Clippers stood to lose with Barnes’ potential departure.
A steady spark and pesky defense made the 33-year-old Barnes one of the better bench players in the league last season and the Clippers’ best wing defender. Barnes even shifted over to guard big men at times with mixed results, though he battled doggedly and made up for his height and weight disadvantage with persistence and length. He’ll have to do more of the same next season with the Clippers’ roster light on serviceable big men.
Barnes should also add seamless offensive value from as many as three different positions. He may not be a consistent shooter, but Barnes is such an intuitive cutter that he doesn’t create any concern for spacing; opponents who leave him unguarded will pay by his darts down the baseline, which tend to generate easy buckets (courtesy of Paul’s assists) and timely offensive rebounds. Barnes’ contributions were subtle enough to make him attainable at this price, and L.A.’s rotation should be all the better for it.
Will Bynum, Detroit Pistons (two years, $5.7 million)
Though Bynum, 30, isn’t a three-point shooter and stands on the wrong side of his physical prime, this is still a cut-rate deal because of his remarkable success as a pick-and-roll practitioner in a pick-and-roll league. Bynum, who averaged 18.8 points and 6.8 assists per 36 minutes last season, made life easy for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe by slipping past the first line of defense and into the lane. He figures to do the same for Josh Smith next season as the Pistons build out their offense and look to space the floor more effectively. That’s great news for Bynum, who did some fine work off the dribble despite most often sharing the court with only two league-average shooters:
Nate Robinson, Denver Nuggets (two years, $4.1 million)
This is a ridiculous price for a prolific shot creator, a value buy that obliterates any concern over Robinson’s baggage. To embrace Robinson’s volume scoring is to embrace the possibility of his self-destruction, but Denver simply doesn’t stand to lose much by selectively making use of all that the 29-year-old can offer. While the Bulls had to rely on the 5-foot-9 guard for better or worse in Derrick Rose’s absence, the Nuggets can turn to him when in need of his services and lean on the steadier hands of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller when Robinson goes cold. Robinson’s high-wire act, then, becomes very manageable, particularly at the pocket-change price of the biannual exception.
To get a basic idea of the bargain Denver struck here, take a look at Robinson’s shot chart compared to that of Monta Ellis, who received a three-year, $24 million deal from Dallas (via r/NBA).
Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls (two years, $6.5 million)
Dunleavy’s pliable all-around game is a tailored fit for the Bulls, who have long needed shooters who can also contribute as offensive facilitators. Dunleavy converted 42.8 percent from three-point range last season for a Bucks team that was a bit of a mess offensively. Playing off of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings isn’t as easy as it ought to be, but Dunleavy did well under the circumstances and helped make some order out of chaos. His shooting will help space the floor more for a healthy Derrick Rose, and while Dunleavy isn’t a strict point forward type, his ability to put the ball on the floor without risk of disaster and make smart passes will be a nice alternate offensive route when Rose is trapped or off the floor.
Dunleavy, 32, has yet to play for a winning team in 11 seasons. He was unable to fulfill expectations in four and a half years with the struggling Warriors, was shipped to the Pacers just in time to miss out on Golden State’s “We Believe” run and jumped to the Bucks before Indiana’s ascent. (He made the playoffs with the 37-45 Pacers in 2010-11 and the 38-44 Bucks last season.) Playing for a surefire contender should be a delightful change of pace.
Dorell Wright, Portland Trail Blazers (two years, $6.1 million)
Portland has been aggressive in seeking to upgrade one of the worst benches in the league. The Blazers drafted guard CJ McCollum, nabbed forward Thomas Robinson when the Rockets were intent to give him away, sneaked into the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade to land center Robin Lopez and struck a fantastic deal with a free-agent wing in Wright. Spot-up shooters are valuable in a league that hinges on floor spacing, but the greater prizes are those who possess other skills, too. Wright fits that mold, as he’s positionally flexible, accurate from beyond the arc, a solid positional rebounder and better than expected when driving to attack a rotating defense.