4 Mid-Season NBA Acquisitions Who Are Exceeding Expectations
When a team makes a move at the trade deadline or signs a recently bought-out player to its roster, it's important to temper expectations. Not every new acquistion is going to work out perfectly or magically solve all of a team's problems.
Fanbases often hope they're getting the best possible version of a player, but more often than not, they're getting a guy past his prime or on the downturn of his career (at least in the case of buyouts and most mid-season signings).
This year, though, a number of players have experienced a renaissance with their new teams. The sample sizes are small, but four guys in particular went from washed up or nearly out of the league to contributing in a big way to playoff contenders and playing arguably some of the best ball of their respective careers.
Joe Johnson is 34 years old and in his 15th NBA season. His career seemed to be winding down playing for the lowly Brooklyn Nets for the first half of this season, as he was averaging a 13-year low 11.8 points per contest in 57 games with the club, while shooting only 40.6% from the field. His 10.8 Player Efficieny Rating (PER) over that span was on pace to be the lowest of his career, as was his .023 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes rate.
When Johnson was bought out by the Nets near the end of February, many contending teams put themselves in the mix for the seven-time All-Star. Despite a noticeable dip in his overall numbers, "ISO Joe" was still hitting shots from long range at a decent clip (37.1% up to that point), was still effective at creating shots for himself and his teammates, and still possessed that clutch gene that many teams would kill to have on their squad come playoff time.
Ultimately, Johnson took his talents to South Beach, signing on with the Miami Heat. In his 13 games with the Heat so far, Johnson has averaged 14.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per contest while shooting the damn lights out with a split of 54.5% from the field, 53.3% from long range, and 81.8% from the charity stripe. The resulting True Shooting Percentage of 65.6% is Stephen Curry-esque -- in fact, it would place him second in the whole Association behind Curry's 67.2% if he qualified.
Regression will almost certainly hit, but as of now, Johnson is shaping up to be one of the best mid-season signings from any buyout period in recent memory.
Lance Stephenson was nearly an All-Star in Indiana, but he hasn't been anywhere close to that level since leaving the team in free agency in 2014.
As a member of the Charlotte Hornets last year, Born Ready was one of the least efficient players in the whole league. He shot 37.6% from the field, 17.1% from three-point range, and 62.7% from the free-throw line over 61 games, while registering a measly 8.8 PER and accumulating -0.9 Win Shares.
This year, with the Los Angeles Clippers, he could barely crack the rotation on a team starving for wing depth. He shot the ball better -- with a shooting split of 49.4% from the field, 40.4% from deep, and 70.0% from the line -- but he was only managing 15.8 minutes per game while racking up quite a few DNP-CDs.
It didn't seem like Stephenson would ever find a place where he'd fit in like he had in Indiana, but a deadline deal that sent him to the Memphis Grizzlies changed that. In 17 games with Memphis, Stephenson is averaging a career-best 15.1 points per game on 49.8% shooting from the field, while tossing in 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists in a healthy 26.2 minutes per contest.
The Grizzlies have a team option on Stephenson next season worth $9.4 million, and with his improved play of late and the rising salary cap, it suddenly might not seem all that crazy if they pick it up.
David Lee went from being an All-Star with the Warriors in 2012-13, to an All-Star snub in 2013-14, to out of the Dubs' rotation in 2014-15, to traded to the Celtics during the 2015 offseason for nothing more than Gerald Wallace (who hasn't played a game since the deal) and his expiring contract (and Chris Babb, I guess).
Lee was poised for a chance to redeem himself in Boston, but his defensive deficiencies kept him from carving out a spot in a crowded Celtic frontcourt, and many began wondering if the former lock for 20 points and 10 rebounds was washed up. In only 30 games in Boston, Lee managed to average only 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game, while shooting a career-worst 45.3% from the floor.
The Celtics bought Lee out after failing to find a suitor for him at the trade deadline, and the Dallas Mavericks picked him up once he cleared waivers. In 14 games of backing up Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia, Lee has rediscovered his mojo (and then some). He's averaging 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and a career-high 0.9 blocks in 19.4 minutes per game -- all categories in which he's posting the best per-minute rates of his career -- while shooting a blistering 65.3% from the field and 80.8% from the line. All of that combines to give Lee a very high Win Shares per 48 Minutes rate of .268, which would place him behind Stephen Curry (.324) and Kawhi Leonard (.282) for the third-best mark in the league if prorated over the full season.
Lee might never be an All-Star or even a regular NBA starter ever again, but he's helping the Dallas Mavericks hold onto a playoff spot, and that might earn him a decent new contract this coming offseason.
Fresh off being named the foreign MVP of the China Basketball Association, Michael Beasley signed a contract with the Houston Rockets on March 4th. Super Cool Beas hasn't been all that relevant as an NBA player for the last few years, but suddenly, he's an important rotation piece on a playoff-bound team.
When Beasley joined Houston, it wasn't very clear where he'd find playing time on a roster that was already giving minutes to four other power forwards in Terrence Jones, Josh Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, and Montrezl Harrell, but B-Easy has leapfrogged all of them in minutes per contest at 18.0 in his 10 games played in a Rockets uniform.
Over that span, Beasley is averaging 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks in that 18.0 minutes per game, with a shooting split of 53.6% from the field, 50.0% from long range, and 81.0% from the free-throw line. For an idea of how ridiculous those numbers are on a per-minute basis, his per-36 averages prorate out to 27.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.2 steals, and 1.0 block. The CBA MVP is basically playing like an NBA MVP.
Ok, not really, but still: his 23.5 PER would rank him in the top 15 in the NBA, right alongside a list of the league's best and brightest stars (and Enes Kanter). Small sample size be damned, Michael Beasley is having a very solid NBA comeback and is quickly looking like one of the best late-season acquisitions made by any team in the Association this year.