Checking on the NBA’s Ten Largest Offseason Signings
This summer NBA teams spent a lot of money to re-sign their own free agents and to get a handful of players to change teams. A month into the 2021-22 season, it’s time to check in on how some of this summer’s big signings are working out.
Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers
4 years, $176 million
The Clippers knew what they were getting into when they inked Leonard to a four-year, max contract. He was never expected to play early in the year, and Leonard may not end up playing at all this season. He’ll get as long as he needs to recover from his knee injury while the Clippers try to remain safely in playoff position.
The Clippers have been just fine, however. They’ve gotten off to an 8-5 start behind some stellar play by Paul George. If Leonard can return late in this season, it’ll be a bonus for LA’s playoff run. If not, that’s fine. This was always about 2022-23 and beyond for the Clips.
John Collins – Atlanta Hawks
5 years, $125 million
The Hawks season has gotten off to the start they hoped for. Atlanta recently snapped a six-game losing streak, and they sit at 6-9 on the season. You can’t really hold any of that against Collins though.
Collins’ offensive stats are down a tic, but that seems to be more about his role in Atlanta’s offense than his own skills. Collins is shooting 56.7% from the field and 39% from behind the arc. He’s also shown some signs of being an improved passer. This was a good signing at the time, and looks just as good now.
Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns
4 years, $120 million
Phoenix wisely structured the 36-year-old Paul’s deal to protect themselves in case the point guard’s play dropped off. Paul is doing everything to make sure those concerns remain unfounded.
Paul is currently leading the NBA in 10.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He’s also scoring 14.2 points per game on good shooting efficiency. Oh, and the Suns are 10-3 and look like a Finals contender again. Money well spent now, and Phoenix is still protected down the line as well.
Jarrett Allen – Cleveland Cavaliers
5 years, $100 million
When the Cavs spent $20 million a year on a center after just drafting Evan Mobley, it looked a little odd. When Cleveland added Lauri Markkanen late in free agency, while still retaining Kevin Love, it looked like insanity to have so many big on the roster.
Now? Allen looks like he’s paid fairly and the big-ball Cavaliers have been an early-season surprise at 9-6. Allen is holding down the backline of the defense, while averaging career-bests nearly across the board. $20 million annually should be fine, especially when the cap goes up in the later years, and it looks fine in the near-term as well.
Norman Powell – Portland Trail Blazers
5 years, $90 million
The Trail Blazers have scuffled to a 6-8 start, but none of that can be put on Powell. It’s more of a factor of Damian Lillard really struggling to get going, and the team adjusting to Chauncey Billups’ new schemes.
Powell has had no issues on offense. His scoring is down just a touch from his final year in Toronto, but he’s shooting the ball better than ever. At 17.1 points per game on 50/45/81 shooting, Powell is well worth the $15.5 million he’s getting this season. The later years, when Powell is past age 30, could look a little rough, but guards have tended to age well in Portland.
Duncan Robinson – Miami Heat
5 years, $89.9 million
Miami’s big offseason has come together nicely. The Heat are off to an 9-5 start. And that’s with Robinson really struggling to get going.
Robinson is taking more shots than ever (10.5 FGAs and 9.2 3PAs per game), but he’s not knocking them down. Robinson is hitting just 33% from behind the arc so far. That’s not going to cut it, but it probably won’t continue either. Robinson’s track record, albeit a short one, says he’ll rediscover his shot eventually. Considering how much of the offense is built around his shooting bending the defense, the Heat hope that will happen sooner rather than later.
Kyle Lowry – Miami Heat
3 years, $85 million
Lowry has energized the Heat with his playmaking and his defense. Lowry’s ability to push the ball has helped a somewhat limited Miami offense steal some easy baskets. Defensively, Lowry has fit in as well as expected, despite those expectations being quite lofty.
It’s shooting and scoring that are worrisome for Lowry, both now and for the future. Lowry has had some trouble creating separation to get his jumper off. Given that he’s 35 years old now, that’s something that might not come back. That would be fine, if Lowry could transition to being more a spot-up shooter. Unfortunately, Lowry is shooting just 30.6% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers. Maybe it’s just a slump. If not, that’s concerning for the $58 million Miami owes Lowry for the two years after this one.
DeMar DeRozan – Chicago Bulls
3 years, $81.9 million
A lot of crow might be getting prepared on behalf of DeRozan and the Bulls. Not only is DeRozan off to a wonderful start, but the Bulls are 10-4 as well.
For some frame of reference: DeRozan is averaging 26.1 points per game, which would be the second-best mark of his career. He’s also grabbing the second-most rebounds per game of his career at 5.6. His assists are down, but that’s a function of Chicago running the offense through multiple players. And it’s still a relatively low volume (2.3 attempts per game), but DeRozan is hitting 36.7% from behind the arc. If the 32-year-old can keep this up, his contract goes from bad/questionable to good/great.
Lonzo Ball – Chicago Bulls
4 years, $80 million
As integral as DeRozan has been to the Bulls good start, Ball’s impact has been less clear. His defense has been fine. His playmaking is ok, if muted a bit due to having to share the load with so many others. It’s everything else that doesn’t look great.
Ball is shooting just 38.4% from the field. That would be offset by his very good 41.6% from behind the arc, if Ball would just limit his shots to three-pointers. Ball is shooting a poor 57.1% at the rim, but 14% of his shots are coming from there. He’s also been pretty bad in the mid-range, despite keep that volume relatively low. At this point, Ball should stick to the perimeter, where he would be a terrific 3&D-plus player, because of his ability to handle and pass the ball.
Tim Hardaway Jr. – Dallas Mavericks
4 years, $75 million
If Hardaway’s play continues this way, the Mavs are going to be glad they made his deal a descending one. Hardaway has struggled to get going thus far, but that hasn’t held Dallas back during their 9-4 start.
Hardaway is averaging 14.2 points per game, which is lowest mark of his Mavericks tenure. His field goal attempts per game have also fallen off, as Dallas prioritizes getting others more looks, especially Kristaps Porzingis. The other factor there is Hardaway is hitting just 40.4% of his shots. He’s also dipped to 37.1% from behind the arc, after a couple of years of flirting with 40% from deep. If Hardaway can’t turn it around, Dallas will look smart for structuring his deal the way they did, but that won’t keep it from being a cap-clogger.
Evan Fournier – New York Knicks
4 years, $73 million
We’re giving you a bonus here, since Kawhi Leonard doesn’t really count. After a hot start, the Knicks have slipped a bit. Some of that might be put on Evan Fournier’s shoulders, as his play has left a lot to be desired on both ends.
The hope with signing Fournier (and Kemba Walker too), is that his offensive play would offset his defensive deficiencies. The other hope was that Fournier’s fall-off in his numbers in Boston could be explained by a lessened role in the offense. Instead, Fournier continues to look like an average offensive player that is being overpaid. To date, he’s knocked down just 41.3% of his shots overall and 36% from behind the arc. His assists are at levels not seen since his early-Orlando days. For New York to be the team they hope to be, they need Fournier to be better than this. Otherwise, it will look really smart that the Knicks have a team option in 2024-25.