Under-the-Radar Signings Already Paying Big NBA Dividends
While there were some massive trades that changed the landscape of the NBA this offseason, the free-agent market was unusually calm. Maybe that's because there wasn't a lot of top-tier talent available, or maybe it was something else entirely.
Are teams finally starting to get smarter and abstain from spending big cash in free agency? Perhaps not entirely, but it did seem like there were a lot more smaller, cheaper signings this year than the usual diet of obnoxiously large deals.
Although it's still early, a select few of these under-the-radar offseason acquisitions are paying big dividends for their teams already.
For the sake of this list, we'll look solely at free-agent signings and not include draft picks, trade acquisitions or waiver claims. We'll also rule out any big contracts (like Al Jefferson's) and any smaller deals that received a lot of hype at the time of the signing (like Mike Dunleavy's). This list is strictly for the signings that flew under-the-radar.
All stats are accurate as of Friday, Nov. 15.
DeJuan Blair, F/C, Dallas Mavericks
When DeJuan Blair signed with the Dallas Mavericks for a one-year deal worth less than a million dollars, it barely registered on the Richter scale.
Blair had been buried on San Antonio's bench for quite some time, and interest in him around the league seemed to have thinned out entirely.
The fit for Blair in Dallas looked curious as well. You don't see an awful lot of centers who are 6'7", but Blair has played wonderfully next to Dirk Nowitzki, and the pairing is quickly becoming the NBA's new odd couple.
Blair has always had a knack for cleaning the glass, but this season he's putting up a whopping 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes to go along with 15.3 points per 36 minutes. Although there have been challenges defensively, Blair has held his own much better than anticipated, and he's quickly become a valued member of the frontcourt rotation in Dallas.
That will happen when you post a PER of 22.5 through eight games. Dallas looks like it got a real steal here; big men this productive aren't supposed to come this cheap.
Mike Miller, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
We'll sneak Mike Miller in here, mainly because no one thought he'd be producing this well so early.
Miller's playoff reputation speaks for itself, but so far he's been one of the lone bright spots in a gloomy start for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Miller is shooting his usual ridiculous percentage from behind the arc (50 percent), but he's also averaging pretty big minutes again (24 per game) and putting up rebounding and assist totals like he did in his first stint with the Grizzlies.
If Miller can just stay reasonably healthy and nurse that troublesome back, he should be a fantastic complementary player in the postseason for Memphis. As it stands right now, though, he's had to be one of the best players on the floor for Memphis, and he's delivered.
Anthony Morrow, G, New Orleans Pelicans
Plenty of teams have kicked the tires on Anthony Morrow, but he just couldn't seem to stick anywhere for long.
When the sharpshooting wing signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, who already have plenty of players in the backcourt, not many expected to Morrow to get playing time.
But instead of being an afterthought, Morrow has established himself as a valuable rotation player early on. Per 36 minutes, Morrow is hitting 3.4 three-pointers on an absurd 60 percent shooting with 17.7 points to boot.
Morrow has always been one of the league's very best shooters, and New Orleans has done a nice job covering up his deficiencies elsewhere and putting him in pure scoring situations.
While he won't be able to keep up this torrid pace, Morrow's career true shooting percentage of 57.2 percent rivals some of the league's very best shooters. It was only a matter of time before he found his way back into a rotation, but it was hard to predict it would be in New Orleans.
Marco Belinelli, G, San Antonio Spurs
It seems simple. Put a shooter with underrated passing and creating abilities in San Antonio's system, and watch the numbers pile up.
Although most seemed to view the San Antonio Spurs' decision to replace Gary Neal with Marco Belinelli as a lateral move, Belinelli has proven to be a much better all-around player and a sneaky good defender after spending time with Tom Thibodeau in Chicago.
Early on this year, Belinelli is averaging a career high in assists and rebounds per 36 minutes, and he's shooting a blistering 50 percent from behind the arc while providing valuable minutes.
The Spurs' roster looked vulnerable on the wing in terms of depth going into the regular season, but Belinelli's play early on is changing a lot of people's minds. Still just 27 years old, Belinelli could have a bright future ahead of him in an offensive system that accentuates his skills.
Corey Brewer, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
There was a concern that Corey Brewer wasn't a good enough shooter to mesh with the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves roster, but those concerns have melted away early on.
Brewer's 35.5 percent three-point mark may not raise a ton of eyebrows, but that's a career-high that feels sustainable considering the fact that he's taking the majority of his looks from the corner, where he's traditionally been much more effective.
Aside from the improved shooting, Brewer has been great defensively, using his long arms to cause turnovers and pester the opponent's best scorer every night. With Kevin Martin taking care of most of the wing scoring, Brewer has been able to slot into a role that fits him perfectly.
It doesn't hurt that Minnesota is playing at the league's fastest pace. There might not be a better player in the NBA at releasing on the break than Brewer, and with the league's best outlet passer in Kevin Love and a point guard who will always find him in Ricky Rubio, Brewer is in basketball heaven in Minnesota.
While there are multiple names that probably warrant mention on this list early on, here are a few of the better free-agent signings that were slept on this offseason.
For the New York Knicks, Pablo Prigioni has been ridiculously efficient offensively (71.4 percent true shooting percentage) and is still playing incredible defense on ball-handlers.
Jordan Farmar is turning the ball over a little too much, but he's added some nice athleticism and defense to a backcourt lacking those things almost entirely. Keep an eye on him with Steve Nash out.
Omri Casspi emerged out of nowhere in the preseason, and he's been a surprisingly good stretch 4 for the Houston Rockets early on this season. He's not getting beaten up defensively like you might think.
Vitor Faverani came hot out of the gates, but he's slowed down a bit as of late. Still, a real big body and shot-blocking presence is something the Boston Celtics badly needed up front, and he's filling the void.
C.J. Miles came back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and so far he's showing that last year's great perimeter shooting wasn't a fluke. He's a great scorer off the bench to have around.
Dorell Wright hasn't played a ton of minutes behind Nicolas Batum for the Portland Trail Blazers, but he's been excellent when he has. Expect Terry Stotts to find a way to get him on the floor a little bit more often if this keeps up.
Tyler Hansbrough has helped provide some solid rebounding and toughness off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, and he's making me eat some crow after calling Toronto's bench the worst in the league this season. He's been very solid.