The 2019/2020 NBA season starts today. Finally! After one of, if not the craziest free agencies in NBA history, the league has been completely shaken up.
For the first time since 2015, there are at least a dozen teams with a realistic chance of clinching the championship.
A plethora of superstars has chosen to switch teams this offseason, most notably perennial all-stars Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler. However, there have been several smart acquisitions made by teams around the league for less notable, but nonetheless very solid players that have gone somewhat unnoticed by mainstream media.
Here are my top three underrated free agency signings
Kelly Oubre Jr, Phoenix Suns
No, I have not just put him in here because he is Kelly Oubre Jr, the ‘finest’ player in the league.
Oubre joined the Suns during the trade deadline in February as part of a swap deal for veteran Trevor Ariza. From then to the end of the regular season, Oubre posted career-high numbers in ppg, rpg, apg and fg%. He averaged an impressive 18.9ppg and 5rpg in his 40 games for the lacklustre Suns whilst only starting 12 of them. Brining a much-needed intensity and culture change to Phoenix which star rookie Deandre Ayton publicly praised. He commented, “Energy-wise, he’s changed this whole team around. He’s making everybody embrace being family.”
Re-signing Oubre on a two-year deal worth a reported $30 million dollars is good value in today’s NBA for a promising young player. He is set to become a starter this upcoming season for the Suns and will likely be the third option behind Booker and Ayton. Oubre is a good scorer and competent shooter from distance, as well as being a skilled defender and reliable board grabber. His game has a little bit of everything the Suns are looking for and he possesses leadership qualities which they desperately need. Oubre could prove to be the piece needed to take Phoenix into their first playoffs since the 2009-2010 season.
2019/2020 prediction- 18ppg, 6rpg, 5apg
Enes Kanter, Boston Celtics
After losing reliable big man Al Horford to the 76ers, it was crucial that the Celtics picked up a centre. Enes Kanter is an interesting replacement. The 2011 3rd overall draft pick has enjoyed a solid NBA career with averages of 12ppg and 7.6rpg, but the consensus is that he could, or should just be that little bit better.
He is a skilled offensive threat with a good post-game and a career 78% free throw shooter, an impressive number for a big. The question surrounding Kanter’s game is his lack of defence and focus. Despite his height and strength, he has always been viewed as a weak defender, a player who loses focus and intensity when it matters most.
Alongside this, he’s off the court issues also raise concern. He has a well-documented feud with the leaders of Turkey, his native country. Kanter has publicly criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership and his autocratic rule which has resulted in Erdogan banning Kanter from returning to Turkey as well as arresting Kanter’s father.
Although signing Kanter is a risk both in basketball and political terms, it may prove to be the steal of this free agency. A two-year $10 million contract is relatively cheap for a proven professional with so much more potential to unlock. The Celtics have an excellent coach in Brad Stevens and a young team brimming with talent.
If Kanter can settle into the system and continue his improvement on defence that was evident in Portland during the playoffs, he could turn into an All-Star calibre player. Of course, he will never be an MVP candidate or a first-team all-NBA but these upcoming seasons in Boston could see him become a crucial part of a title-contending team.
2019/2020 prediction- 17ppg, 10rpg, 2apg
Josh Richardson, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have lost both Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick over the summer, two of their starters from last season. However, they have been able to secure Tobias Harris to a five-year deal, as well as capturing experienced big man Al Horford from the Celtics. Alongside these important deals, the 76ers also acquired Josh Richardson as part of the Jimmy Butler to Miami trade. The shooting guard is coming off the best season to date of his short career, averaging a career-high 16.6ppg alongside a strong 4apg. Richardson is the perfect replacement for Redick and his trade could turn out to be a masterstroke by the 76ers.
Richardson may not be as strong a shooter as Redick was, but he is so much more than just a catch and shoot player, something the former specialised in. He’s a good shooter both from mid-range and from behind the arc- but he is also great at creating his own shot and has natural playmaking ability. Slotting in alongside Simmons in the frontcourt, Richardson will be able to space the floor more than Redick did and this will help to give the team more offensive options- something the team struggled with last season come the playoffs.
He is also 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan and a tough athletic defender in his own right. Another one of his qualities however is his flexibility. Although predominantly a shooting guard, he spent time in Miami playing both small forward and point guard whenever needed by his team. This flexibility will further benefit a team that has several players with switchable positions, notably All-star Simmons.
On paper, Richardson is the perfect fit for Brett Brown’s team and this season could see him become a reliable starter on a championship-contending team.
2019/2020 prediction- 15ppg, 5rpg, 6apg