Friday, March 31, 2023

Knicks’ Kemba Walker, Bulls’ Lonzo Ball among five players poised for standout seasons with new teams

Most of the offseason is over with just a few minor trades and free-agent acquisitions taking place around the NBA. That means it’s time to look forward to the 2021-22 season and take a look at how some of those moves this summer could work out for teams when the games begin. More specifically, examine which players could have standout seasons after joining a new club. 

With so much player movement this summer, there were many names that could’ve made this list, but to keep it short and concise we narrowed it down to the top five who stand to impress the most with their new team. That could range from players who may be rounding back into All-Star shape, to those who will thrive in a new environment, either because they have something to prove or because they’re coming back from injury. In no particular order, here are five players who could have standout seasons on their new teams.

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Kemba Walker — New York Knicks

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-fitting offseason move than Walker signing with the Knicks. New York filled its hole for a playmaker and starting point guard, and Walker was in need of a fresh start. Statistically speaking, Walker’s two years spent with the Boston Celtics were productive, averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and a steal a game. But the expectations that came with signing Walker were never met in Boston, in large part due to his inability to stay healthy, as he played in just 68 percent of regular season games over the past two seasons. 

The Celtics also were never able to create enough chemistry between Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that showcased all three stars to the best of their abilities. That led Boston to trade Walker this summer to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who then bought him out of the remaining three years and $74 million left on his original contract. The stars then aligned perfectly for the hometown kid who attended high school in Manhattan to sign for a far cheaper two-year, $18 million deal with the Knicks.

With that chapter closed in Boston, a new opportunity in New York begins and if Walker manages to stay healthy, we could see the version of him from Charlotte, but this time with significantly better players flanking him. He’ll be the primary facilitator, and tasked with putting more points on the board than he was in Boston. Walker will also form a formidable duo with Julius Randle, who took a significant leap last season. 

After a year in which Randle was used to running isolation plays and taking spot-up jumpers — the latter of which he ranked in the 77th percentile in the league in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports — we could see him and Walker running more pick-and-rolls and, overall, a more creative offense under coach Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks severely lacked a playmaking guard, and, when healthy, Walker is among the best in the league, setting up a season in which we could see an offensive outburst from the four-time All-Star.

Lonzo BallChicago Bulls

Even though the New Orleans Pelicans severely underachieved last season, Ball had the best season of his career, and it was just the tip of the iceberg for the dynamic point guard. He spent the last two seasons fixing his jump shot, which resulted in him knocking down 37.8 percent of his 3s, while averaging 14.6 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds. 

He’ll be spearheading an offense that now features three All-Stars in Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan, so it’s safe to say the Bulls will have no issue putting points on the board. Chicago’s roster is built to highlight Ball as a facilitator, and with the number of offensive threats at his disposal, he’ll be able to get creative on that end of the floor. There are obvious concerns about how Ball will fit alongside LaVine and DeRozan, two guards who do the most damage with the ball in their hands. But DeRozan didn’t seem too worried about it at his introductory press conference with the Bulls, saying “it’s all gonna come together,” as the team builds chemistry. 

Fit concerns aside, another positive Ball will bring is improving Chicago’s transition offense. Last season, the Pelicans ranked eighth in the league in points in transition (21 points per game), in large part due to Ball’s ability to deliver passes with pinpoint accuracy to his teammates on the move and keeping New Orleans playing at a top-10 pace in the league. For comparison, the Bulls ranked 25th in the league in transition points (15 points per game) despite playing at a pace that ranked 13th in the league. Ball’s court vision and fast-paced play should help those problems in Chicago, and his performance may even get some All-Star buzz.

Dennis Schroder — Boston Celtics

No one fumbled the bag more than Schroder did this offseason after he turned down a four-year, $84 million deal from the Los Angeles Lakers. Whole weeks went by with no interest in the scoring guard, and he ultimately settled on a one-year, $5.9 million deal with the Celtics. Although he became the butt of countless jokes on Twitter during the height of free agency, it’ll serve as a lesson learned and could set him up for a big year with a ridiculous amount of motivation pushing him to silence all the laughs — and land a contract more to his liking.

Boston reportedly pitched the idea of coming off the bench behind Marcus Smart to Schroder, and although he prefers to start, as he told the Lakers he would be most impactful in the starting lineup, we’ve seen what he’s capable of as a spark plug off the bench. Schroder finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting during the 2019-2020 season when he backed up Chris Paul with the Oklahoma City +Thunder, where he averaged 19 points and four assists a night. He got the offense moving in Oklahoma City when there were droughts, and he’s an absolute pest on defense, giving Boston another tough defensive guard like Smart. 

If Schroder’s open and accepting of coming off the bench, it would be the perfect opportunity to show the rest of the league that he’s worth more than the $5.9 million the Celtics are paying him this season. He may even get some Sixth Man of the Year buzz again if he puts up similar numbers he did when he was on the Thunder.

Spencer DinwiddieWashington Wizards

A torn ACL in his right knee limited Dinwiddie to just three games last season, and he opted to sign a three-year, $62 million deal with the Wizards to join Bradley Beal in D.C. After spending a majority of his career coming off the bench, Dinwiddie will finally have the opportunity to be a full-time starter, which should be intriguing to watch. The last time we saw him as a starter, he was a fringe All-Star contender during the 2019-20 campaign where he averaged a career-high 20.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds. 

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to expect those numbers from him with the Wizards, and with a revamped roster Washington will field a more competitive team to surround Beal and Dinwiddie. His ability to get to the rim with ease and score in bunches will take some of the scoring responsibility off Beal, and it will force opposing teams to remain honest on defense with the two of them on the floor. He provides the same issues Russell Westbrook did with his below average 3-point shooting — he’s a career 31.8 percent shooter from deep — but with shooters like Beal and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the wings, his inability to knock down those shots may not matter much.

Overall, the Wizards are fielding a deeper team after trading Westbrook to the Lakers, which netted them Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell, and with the addition of Dinwiddie, Washington should be in the mix for a playoff spot in the East. 

Otto Porter Jr. — Golden State Warriors

There are few players in the league who have had as bad luck with injuries as Porter has for the past two seasons. He’s played just 122 games combined over that span of time, missing chunks of both seasons due to foot and back injuries, so it’s safe to say he’s overdue for a comeback. 

Before all the injuries started to pile up for Porter, he was considered a central piece to the Wizards’ future back in 2018 when he was averaging 14.7 points, 6.4 boards, two assists and over a steal a game. Washington even matched a four-year, $106 million offer sheet the Brooklyn Nets gave him back in 2017 just to keep him. But a year later he was traded to the Bulls, and three years later — after being dealt to the Magic — he decided to sign for the veteran-minimum contract worth $2.4 million to join the Warriors in free agency. 

If Porter manages to stay healthy, which he hopes is possible as he said during his introductory press conference with Golden State that his body is in “tip-top shape,” he can be an effective role player for the Warriors. His 3-point shooting — a career 40.2 percent marksman — will only give Stephen Curry more space to operate on offense and give him and Draymond Green another weapon to dish it to on the wing. 

Porter’s size is a plus, as he’s able to switch between both forward positions, which will allow coach Steve Kerr to get creative with the lineups he throws out there, and perhaps more importantly, he gives Golden State another capable wing defender to slot in beside Green and Wiggins. He may not get as many touches as he was accustomed to on other teams he played, but he has the potential to be an effective reserve for a Golden State team that hopes to get back to its championship ways this season. At the veteran minimum, Porter’s deal could end up being the most valuable when the season is over, and he could play himself into a more lucrative contract, too.

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