Who are the hidden gems of NBA Free Agency so far?

Who are the hidden gems of NBA Free Agency so far?

Tristan Thompson, now of the Boston Celtics, guards former teammate LeBron James.
Tristan Thompson, now of the Boston Celtics, guards former teammate LeBron James.
Image: (Getty Images)

This is not to guarantee that every single one of these esteemed gentlemen will be awesome, nor are these the only signings who fit the ‘under-the-radar’ bill. Rather, these are several guys who should thrive in their respective new homes. When looking back a year from now, 1) Hopefully, we will have had a completed NBA season with minimal if any COVID interference. And 2) Hopefully the slugging percentage of this isn’t that of Jose Altuve this past season. Also: We’re focused on free agents and not trade acquisitions, though, that will be for a different story.

Your briefing is complete. Enjoy.

Host: Ain't Hard To Tell Podcast (@AHTTPodcast) | Founder: Side Hustle, digital series | 18x Film Festival Selectee | Award-Winning Content Creator | Video Game player | Puerto Rican |

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2 / 9

Kris Dunn, G, Atlanta Hawks via Chicago Bulls

Kris Dunn, G, Atlanta Hawks via Chicago Bulls

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Evin Gualberto, who is a fantastic YouTube sub for fellow basketball nerds, has a highlight video showcasing just how defensively exceptional Dunn is. The 26-year-old combo guard — who even played a bit of small forward for the Bulls — signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Hawks, the second being a player option, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Dunn is in Atlanta, like Rajon Rondo, to take pressure off of All-Star guard Trae Young, though in a different way. Rondo is there to share backcourt responsibilities in a mentoring, playmaking, and championship experience teaching role beside the soon to be third-year dynamo. For Dunn, he’s there strictly for his defense first, and everything else second mentality.

Steals are a hugely imperfect metric for measuring defense, but Dunn led the entire NBA in steals per 36 minutes at 2.9 one season ago, as well as steal percentage at 3.8, while the next closest — DeJounte Murray — stood at 3.1. In the entire NBA, only Giannis Antetokounmpo (4.1) had a better defensive box plus/minus than Dunn at 3.1, meaning he led all guards.

He’s exactly the complimentary piece Young needs in an attempt to mask his ineffective defense from the previous two seasons.

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3 / 9

Avery Bradley, G, Miami Heat via Los Angeles Lakers

Avery Bradley, G, Miami Heat via Los Angeles Lakers

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Let’s stay on perimeter defense with someone who’s been one of the best at it over the course of his career. Ten years in, and turning 30 in just a few days, Bradley’s been one of the NBA’s elite perimeter defenders since his early Boston Celtic days. Pat Riley already loves him, too.

This past season, he was thought of as someone the Lakers missed in The Bubble, given not only his astute defense, but his passable offense, where he shot 44.4 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three, and 83.3 percent from the line; all adding up to 8.6 points per game as a starter for all but five of his 49 appearances. And 36.4 percent from three is also Bradley’s career three-point rate.

In a season where Bradley is coming off a career-high plus/minus per 100 possessions (+7.6) and a championship-winning team, the 6-foot-3 combo guard joins the defending Eastern Conference champs, who sorely lacked a defensive-minded, ball-handler hounding, back-alley style of guard that so fits Heat Culture.

He may start alongside possible future All-Star Tyler Herro in the backcourt, which may effectively function similar to the aforementioned combo of Dunn and Young. Though they were commonly hurt by other guards, the Heat had the sixth-best defensive three-point percentage at 34.7 last year, and Bradley was the NBA’s best individual at defending the three, with opponents hitting just 25.7 percent from deep when guarded by him.

Bradley’s agent Charles Briscoe told Shams Charania that the deal is for two years and worth $11.6 million, with the second year being a team option to preserve the Heat’s grand 2021 offseason plan.

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4 / 9

Christian Wood, F, Detroit Pistons via Houston Rockets

Christian Wood, F, Detroit Pistons via Houston Rockets

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The journeyman turned late-season Pistons breakout star gets three-years and $41 million in whatever the next incarnation of the Rockets are.

After being undrafted out of UNLV, Wood spent time with the 76ers, Hornets, Bucks, Pelicans, and Pistons, as well as in the G-League. Wood never earned regular minutes until he joined the Pels for the final eight games of the 2018-19 season, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds on 53.3 percent shooting in a late-season showcase that would’ve made Earl Barron, MarShon Brooks, and JaKarr Sampson grin from ear to ear.

With the Pistons last year, it wasn’t until December 26 when Wood began playing over 20 minutes on a consistent basis. Most notably, it was his January 22 through March 11 stretch of ball that made him one of this year’s most intriguing free agents. The 25-year-old, 6-foot-10 stretch-four averaged 19.7 points, and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field, over 40 percent from three, and 77.4 percent from the line on nearly six attempts per game.

Despite COVID ending Wood’s season, he did enough to secure life-changing money and will be a fixture on the Rockets, with or without James Harden and or Russell Westbrook under new head coach Stephen Silas.

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5 / 9

Tristan Thompson, C, Boston Celtics via Cleveland Cavaliers

Tristan Thompson, C, Boston Celtics via Cleveland Cavaliers

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This is exactly what the Celtics need from a basketball perspective. Sure, Celtics fans are already nervous about the Kardashian angle of this. Sure, the Celtics had another two or three ‘almost’ deals in both the draft and free agency. And sure, the Celtics haven’t made the splashy move some foresaw prior to this offseason, but Thompson is the perfect center to complement their core of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Daniel Theis, last year’s starting center, will also return to the roster for 2020-21.

During his most noteworthy stretch of NBA basketball — 2014-17 with the Cleveland Cavaliers before a reduced role on the lesser 2017-18 contender version, and LeBron James’ last season — Thompson asserted himself on a perennial challenger, and one-time champion, in the East. He was a constant double-double threat, who later became an integral NBA Finals double-double threat, who has since evolved into a true double-double guy, albeit on a much lesser team.

Thompson averaged 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds over his last two seasons, while also hitting 9-of-23 threes in 57 games last season, by far the most of his career. A 52 percent career shooter from the field, Thompson’s rebounding and defense will be a dire interior need for the Celtics who are looking to compete in a crowded conference a year removed from losing just before the NBA Finals. Gordon Hayward’s departure will only make way to further develop Brown and Tatum, and if Walker is healthy, the Celtics should have another deep playoff run this coming season.

Thompson is signed for two years and $19 million. By the way, Jeff Teague, whom the Celtics also signed, could’ve made this list as well.

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6 / 9

Derrick Jones Jr., F, Portland Trail Blazers via Miami Heat

Derrick Jones Jr., F, Portland Trail Blazers via Miami Heat

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DJJ is such an unbelievable dunker that after just seven NBA appearances, he was already in the NBA dunk contest. Although he lost, he made up for it in 2020, though, with the help of Dwyane Wade, some would say …

But he’s long become more than just a human highlight reel you hope gets a fastbreak once a game. It’s a testament to both the Heat organization — who signed him after the Suns let him go — and Jones Jr.’s own work ethic that, after going undrafted, he’s earned his two-year, $19 million deal with Portland.

Though, he’s still at or under 30 percent from three, DJJ’s game has grown to a much more well-rounded stage, where he carved out a rotation spot for much of the Heat’s NBA Finals run until he was phased out toward the end, largely due to the implementation of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. Jones Jr. was fourth in defensive three-point percentage at 27.2 and also shot nearly 53 percent from the field while scoring a career-best 8.5 points per game. He also ended the season with 4.4 win shares, by far the best of his career.

With Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood returning, along with the addition of Robert Covington, all of which will also accompany the unknown variables of what next steps Gary Trent Jr., Zach Collins, and Nasir Little do or don’t take, there’s no telling how much DJJ will play, but he should be a vital rotation performer early on at the very least. If so, he’ll be very effective on the defensive end, especially alongside Covington, and in a lineup that could also easily include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.

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7 / 9

Harry Giles, F, Portland Trail Blazers via Sacramento Kings

Harry Giles, F, Portland Trail Blazers via Sacramento Kings

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Given everything I just said about Portland’s rotation in relation to Jones Jr., there’s no true way to know if Giles will see consistent minutes right away, if at all. However, as someone who has covered high school and college basketball for years, the hype around “what could be” for Giles still holds even as he’s only on a one-year prove-it deal with Portland.

Just four years ago, by many accounts, Giles was the top high school basketball player in the country, over players like Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, and Markelle Fultz. Just before his sophomore year of high school, he tore his left ACL and MCL and subsequently tore his right ACL in the first game of his senior season. He also had knee surgery early on while at Duke, which delayed his debut for two months.

In 26 games at Duke, where he was limited to 300 total minutes of play, Giles was an end-of-the-rotation guy who only played 20+ minutes one time. He was still drafted 20th overall by the Kings in 2017 but was ostensibly redshirted until beginning his NBA on-court career in 2018. However, he had his fourth-year option declined last October, which is never a good sign for first-round picks, and only managed to play in 104 games these last two seasons; averaging 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-11 22-year-old may never live up to the BallIsLife phenomenon he became several years ago, but he has shown enough flashes — and by the way, has decent production given his career minutes — to make you ponder whether he’ll stay healthy enough to be an essential contributor. In Portland, getting minutes will be tough, but it’s an organization that should, unlike Sacramento, put him in a position to evolve, whether it’s there or elsewhere following a trade.

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8 / 9

Myles Powell, G, New York Knicks via Seton Hall Pirates (rookie)

Myles Powell, G, New York Knicks via Seton Hall Pirates (rookie)

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It’s happened historically, but increasingly so with each passing year: Organizations are prioritizing youth over experience in many cases, affording more opportunities for undrafted rookies to become important NBA players. Nevermind John Starks, Darrell Armstrong, JJ Barea, Jeremy Lin, and the high end of what we’ve gotten historically out of guards in this mold, but in recent memory, there’s been an uptick in just how often we get the scoring-minded four-year college guards in particular.

In the last five drafts alone there’s been Quinn Cook in 2015, Fred VanVleet and Bryn Forbes in 2016, and Kendrick Nunn in 2018 (technically, though, he clearly rose to prominence this past season). Perhaps more than anyone else in this year’s undrafted class, Powell resembles the player most likely to become an actual contributor, and is in an ideal scenario where the opportunity should present itself.

Having been a Big East mainstay for four years, including being the conference’s Player of the Year of 2019-20, the 6-foot-2 Trenton, New Jersey kid is extremely familiar with Madison Square Garden. He should also familiarize himself with their guard depth, which, respectfully, isn’t impenetrable given the current NBA standing of the returning Elfrid Payton, the newly signed Austin Rivers, and the unknown of Dennis Smith Jr.

From an efficiency standpoint, Powell was actually better as a junior, though, his senior year did include his share of big shots, along with a regular-season championship, Seton Hall’s first in nearly 30 years. On resume alone, he was arguably the best undrafted college player from this class, and given the Knicks’ weakness at guard, Powell could have a chance to channel his Kendrick Nunn if he has a quality training camp.

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9 / 9

Host: Ain't Hard To Tell Podcast (@AHTTPodcast) | Founder: Side Hustle, digital series | 18x Film Festival Selectee | Award-Winning Content Creator | Video Game player | Puerto Rican |