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As Summer League winds down and the NBA offseason questions funnel to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and, maybe, Donovan Mitchell, it’s time to step back and assess. As rosters look more set it’s easier to judge moves not just in their team context but how they matter relative to all the rest of the teams in the league.
A lot can change between now and October, but there three moves look like absolute slam dunks to me with new faces set to thrive in new places.
Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari are going to thrive for the Celtics
I’m cheating here right off the bat, rolling two players into one section but the success of Gallinari and Brogdon in Boston is going to be intrinsically linked and come for extremely similar reasons.
The Celtics starting lineup is likely to remain intact as long as everyone is healthy — Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams. That puts Brogdon and Gallinari onto an increasingly potent bench with Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard.
Last season the Celtics relied heavily on the individual creation abilities of Brown and Tatum, especially during the playoffs and even as the team moved towards a more egalitarian offense. There wasn’t much help on the bench where White, Williams and Payton were all best served as finishers or complementary creators, at best.
Gallinari and Brogdon both have the versatile skill to succeed in complementary roles, as spot-up shooters and weakside pick-and-roll pieces but they offer some on-ball creation juice that will add a lot of flexibility to Boston’s attack.
Brogdon was in the 87th percentile in scoring efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. His pull-up shooting fell-off a bit last season but he’s still very effective with crafty drives to the basket and he has career 46.4/37.6/88.1 shooting percentages. Gallinari is an excellent spot-up shooter in the frontcourt who can punish mismatches in the post and or by taking the ball out and attacking off the dribble.
Both players are at points in their career where age and injuries have shaved off a bit of their effectiveness. But in Boston, they’ll be playing fewer minutes, in more constrained roles and with far more complementary talent around them. The Celtics have had, sneakily, one of the best offseasons of any potential contender and Gallinari and Brogdon should thrive next season.
Nikola Jokic is going to love playing with Bruce Brown
It was easy to miss Bruce Brown last season, sharing the court with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on a team that was largely defined by its off-court drama. Here are some things you should know about him:
- He’s still just 25 years old and averaged 13.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes last season, on a 57.5 true shooting percentage.
- He made 40.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s last year.
- As a 6-foot-4 wing, he ranked in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. But he’s also a fantastic screener. Durant and Irving each received about two screens per game from him and the Nets averaged 1.33 and 1.23 points per 100 possessions when he screened for them.
- He was in the top 20 in the league in deflections per 36 minutes.
With Jamal Murray healthy and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the roster, Brown is likely to be in the second unit but as the first guard off the bench, capable of playing a variety of roles, on- and off-the-ball. He is an aggressive, versatile and pesky defender. He knows how to screen and find empty space playing off a star with serious gravity and he has much more on-ball creation skill than KCP.
He’s going to get a lot of easy buckets from Jokic. He’s going to make everyone else’s life easier on offense and he’s going to be a significant defensive upgrade over Monte Morris. The Nuggets are going to love him.
Rudy Gobert is going to transform the Timberwolves
It doesn’t matter that the first with Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be a bit janky. It doesn’t matter that he can be exploited in a playoff series or that some more aggressive creators seem to have figured out how to attack him in space. Gobert singlehandedly has one of the largest defensive impacts in the league and he’s going to be transformative for the Timberwolves.
Town only played 33.5 minutes per game last season which means Minnesota can plan on at least 15 minutes per game where the two centers don’t have to overlap. Both players could also plausibly reduce their minutes slightly without a drop-off in team results, keeping both guys fresher for the playoffs.
Gobert also has some familiarity playing with other bigs — over the last four seasons, he’s played 758 minutes (about 8 percent of his total minutes) playing with Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe, Ekpe Udoh, Ed Davis, Hassan Whiteside, Tony Bradley or Udoka Azubuike. It’s a somewhat random sample but the Jazz were plus-5.1 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, holding opponents to just 104.1 points per 100. And it goes without saying that none of those frontcourt partners have the perimeter skills or shooting ability of Towns.
It’s going to be an adjustment — particularly for Towns, who will have to spend a lot of time in other areas of the floor, and Anthony Edwards who may have to adjust to tighter driving lanes. But Gobert’s offensive rebounding and finishing offer other offensive benefits and when those guys feel the defensive impact and start winning it will make it a lot easier to sacrifice and step out of their comfort zones.
In short, it’s messy and different but Rudy Gobert is going to make the Minnesota Timberwolves sooo much better.
Other NBA stories:
We all react to subjective lists like NBA Power Rankings. But those reactions aren’t all equal. Should you subtweet the author or just QT, tagging a potentially aggrieved player? Matt Rutkowski has the answers, ranking the responses to Power Rankings.
This week, Above the Break looks at the suddenly red hot Las Vegas Aces, the problems with WNBA All-Star weekend, Teira McCowan’s re-emergence and more.