This article is part of our NBA Offseason series.
The last few weeks have been a hectic time in the NBA, leaving us with plenty to discuss. Let's take a look at narratives that have piqued my interest so far this offseason.
The Las Vegas Summer League was unquestionably a success, as, for the first time ever, all 30 teams participated. Aside from the obvious lottery picks who were able to showcase their talents, there were also a few unheralded rookies who turned some heads with their impressive play.
With the 46th pick in the draft, the Houston Rockets were able to snare De'Anthony Melton out of USC. The fact that he fell this far was a surprise and the Rockets secured themselves a potential bargain. Melton's efficiency from the field was certainly far from spectacular at just 38 percent. However, he led the team in assists with 4.0 per game while also providing 7.2 rebounds per game from the point guard position.
Obviously, Melton is not in the best spot in terms of being able to slide directly into the rotation but could still manage to carve out a role behind the likes of James Harden and Chris Paul. As with most rookie guards, Melton is going to have some issues with efficiency but it is his ability to defend both guard positions as well as switch out to the wing that could afford him some playing time. Across his five games in Vegas, Melton led all players with 3.0 steals per game. He is a great cutter who moves well without the ball and is an excellent out-of-position rebounder.
A positive to his situation is that he will not be forced into anything and should have time to work on certain areas of his game that could otherwise hurt his value. Paul is also not the most durable of players and will likely miss some time across the season which works in Melton's favor. Michael Carter-Williams was added to the roster which could cut into some of Melton's playing time although Carter-Williams, himself, certainly doesn't have a clean record when it comes to injuries.
Mitchell Robinson is another player who fell into the second round and was eventually nabbed by the New York Knicks with the 36th overall pick. Robinson's decision to opt out of his freshman season at Western Kentucky clearly impacted his stock, as teams clearly weren't willing to risk a first-round pick on the seven-footer. That risk could be something many teams live to regret if Robinson's numbers in Vegas are anything to go by. He led all players with 4.0 blocks as well as a staggering 6.2 offensive rebounds per game.
Robinson moves very well and gets up and down the court with ease for a player of his size. Enes Kanter opted into the final year of his contract, meaning Robinson's path to minutes as a rookie is a bit more complicated. Kanter. himself. is in line for a big season with Kristaps Porzingis still a long way from returning. That said, Kanter is not known for his defensive abilities. With no real shot blocker on the floor, Robinson could find himself on the floor a little more than first anticipated, especially as the Knicks appear likely to move into tank mode later in the season.
Another shot-blocker who could be in line for a nice season is Brook Lopez. The Lakers decided to let Lopez walk in what was somewhat of a questionable move given their lack of elite big man options. Lopez was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks, inking a one-year deal at the biannual exception of $3.3 million. This was a no-brainer for the Bucks, who have struggled to find any consistency at the center position over the past few seasons. They have run with a number of options, most recently John Henson and Thon Maker, who have both been serviceable but far from outstanding. Lopez, who averaged 1.5 three-pointers per game in just 23 minutes last season, will provide spacing that should allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to operate with four shooters on the floor, while also possessing a nice low-post game in his own right.
While the Bucks improved around the margins, the Indiana Pacers have quietly had themselves a very positive month, both in the draft and free agency. With the 23rd overall pick, they acquired a familiar name in Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of Jrue and Justin.
With Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in the fold, Holiday is unlikely to find himself in a major significant role this season. However, he appears to have inherited some of his older brother's defensive traits and also has the ability to facilitate the offense. Last season at UCLA, Holiday was easily one of the best all-around players in the country. He saw his scoring rise to 20.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting to go with 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. In the immediate future, Holiday will provide depth at the point guard position and and give the Pacers a long-term option with both Cory Joseph and Darren Collison set to hit free agency next summer.
Tyreke Evans has also joined the Pacers on a one-year, $12 million deal. He is essentially a replacement for Lance Stephenson, who moved to LA to join LeBron James and the Lakers. Like Stephenson, Evans will likely come off the bench but don't let that fool you into thinking he will have minimal fantasy value. Evans has shown his ability to put up significant fantasy value even in a sixth-man role. He finished last season as the 45th-ranked player, per Basketball Monster, in only 30 minutes per game with 19.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 5.2 APG. His ability to both score and facilitate make him a perfect fit for the second unit and chances are he finishes a lot of games.
Evans is a significant upgrade over Stephenson and will likely have his sights set on a long-term deal come next season, whether that's with Indiana or another team. Kyle O'Quinn was another low-key signing who provides energy off the bench on both ends of the floor. His value is going to be capped with the likes of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Thad Young all competing for minutes, so his impact will likely be felt more in reality than fantasy.
Doug McDermott is the only player the Pacers added on somewhat of a questionable contract. He inked a three-year, $22 million deal early in free agency and his projected role does not necessarily reflect that price tag. He should offer another scoring option in the second unit but his defensive upside is basically non-existent. McDermott has now played four seasons in the league and has career defensive numbers of just 0.2 SPG and 0.1 BPG. That being said, McDermott has shown he can be a solid knock-down shooter and perhaps he can turn things around now that he has some long-term security.
While the Western Conference has a ridiculous amount of depth, the Eastern Conference now has a few teams that have separated from the others and should find themselves safely in the playoff picture. The Toronto Raptors were a team I thought could potentially drop off this season – that was until the arrival of Kawhi Leonard.
DeMar DeRozan has three more years remaining on his contract with the third being a player option. He was just one year away from being eligible to sign a supermax contract and the Raptors' unwillingness to offer as such could have been a motivating factor in the trade. Neither player appears to be overly thrilled with the result of the trade, and how this plays out is going to significantly influence both teams' aspirations. All the politics aside, Leonard brings a new dimension to the Raptors and, if healthy, is unquestionably a significant upgrade, even if just for one season. He is coming off a lost season and will be out to prove that he has recovered from his quad injury and is still the elite fantasy option he was only two seasons ago.
Jakob Poeltl was also part of the package Toronto sent to San Antonio and could be a winner when all is said and done. Pau Gasol is 38 years old and saw a dramatic decline in his playing time last season. Poeltl was productive in limited playing time behind Jonas Valanciunas and could find himself with an increased role moving forward. Whether he starts or not remains to be seen. However, he should be able to carve out a nice role and he has already shown the ability to put up some low-end fantasy value in limited minutes. Poeltl is far from a must-own player but is worth keeping an eye on in standard leagues and targeting in deeper formats.