Which NBA Teams Improved The Most This Offseason

With the NBA Draft completed and Free Agency winding down, the NBA landscape has changed immensely. In the first month of the offseason, stars were traded, 2 billion dollars were spent, and teams have improved, but which have improved the most? Chicago Bulls Additions: G Lonzo Ball, G Alex Caruso, G Ayo Dosunmu, G/F DeMar Derozan, F/C Marko Simonović, C Tony Bradley Analysis: The Bulls started Free Agency with two splashy signings in former All-Star DeMar Derozan and Lonzo Ball, who will both slide directly into the starting lineup. They followed up quickly two underrated depth pickups in Caruso and Tony Bradley. The Bulls already had two score-first All-Stars in Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucević; adding Derozan and Ball will improve their passing which has been a glaring deficit in years prior. Derozan had a 31% Assist Percentage (Percentage of teammates shots the player assisted on,) ranking in the 100th percentile. Lonzo ranked in the 77th percentile in Assist Percentage despite the lack of spacing on the Pelicans this year. Last season the Bulls had an Offensive Rating of 111.1, ranking 19th in the NBA and scoring 110.7 points per game, ranking 21st in the League. The Pelicans had an Offensive Rating of 115.1 with Lonzo and 111.8 without him, netting in a 3.3 difference with Lonzo on the court. They also averaged 4.8 more points per game with him. The Spurs Offensive rating was 5.3 points higher and averaged 7.9 more points with Derozan playing. The Bulls' starting five projects: PG Lonzo Ball, SG Zach Lavine, F DeMar Derozan, F Patrick Williams, C Nikola Vucević. Lonzo Ball will move back to his more natural position at the Point, while Patrick Williams and Derozan will spend time at both Forwards spots. With Lonzo at the Point, the Pelicans outscored opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked in the 94th percentile for all Point Guards. The constant knock on Derozan is his poor perimeter shooting leads to a lack of spacing at times. The Bulls' lineup outside Derozan shot a combined 39.67% from 3 last year on over 24 attempts per game. Alex Caruso is a combo guard known for being an elite defender, ranking in the 97th percentile in points per possession and turnover percentage. He will be running the bench unit alongside combo guard Coby White, a natural scorer, making them an excellent fit. During the 2020 Lakers Championship run, they fared 6.6 points better with Caruso on the court. This past season, they were 5.2 points better with him on the court. In terms of WORP (wins over replacement player), this Free Agency the Bulls added the most with 7.6. After not making the playoffs last year, the Bulls have put themselves in contention to make a run in the Post-Season. Miami Heat Additions: G Kyle Lowry, F PJ Tucker, F Markieff Morris Analysis: The Miami Heat came into the off-season seeking a player who can get them back in the championship hunt. Shortly after the start of Free Agency, the Heat bagged point guard extraordinaire, former NBA champion, and perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry might be the missing piece they need to contend for a championship. After ranking in the top 90th percentile in Point Differential and Point per Possession in 5 of the last 6 years, Lowry had a down year in 2021. When analyzing his On Court/Off Court splits, Lowry still had a positive impact on winning. Offensively, the Raptors were 3 points better with Lowry on the court, despite the dip in his defensive numbers. The main reason for his regression could be that the Raptors were in a rebuilding phase, and his surrounding cast was less experienced. The Heat also signed PJ Tucker from the Bucks, who will add veteran leadership and hard-nosed defense. Last year, when Tucker played the Power Forward spot for the Bucks, they outscored teams by 10 points per 100 possessions. The Heats' starting five should consist of: Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, and Bam Adebayo. The lack of perimeter shooting in this lineup is not as great a concern as one might think. Notably, they re-signed Duncan Robinson, one of the league's most lethal shooters. The Heat often set off-ball screens and constantly have Duncan running around the perimeter. The gravity he attracts and the defenders he drags deep outside should help open the floor for everyone else. The addition of Lowry also adds valuable shooting depth. He shot nearly 40% last year on over seven attempts from 3. The Heat ranked second to last in Pace last season. Lowry, who consistently ranks in the low 20's in Pace should help speed up the Heat’s offense but still can play Miami's desired pace. The two starters the Heat are replacing had a combined BPM (Box Plus-Minus) of -1.5, a VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) of 0.9, and a total of 4.8 Win Shares. While Lowry alone has a BPM of 1.2, which was his lowest since 2010, with the pieces around him, he is likely to return to his historically high BPM. He also had a VORP of 1.3, which like last season’s BPM was his lowest since his 2010 season. If Lowry returns to his form, the Heat are in a great position to improve this upcoming year. Los Angeles Lakers Additions: G Russell Westbrook, G Kendrick Nunn, G Malik Monk, G/F Wayne Ellington, G/F Kent Bazemore, F Carmelo Anthony, F Trevor Ariza, C Dwight Howard Analysis: After LeBron's first-ever exit in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers made some major roster moves. A few days before the draft, arguably the biggest move of the offseason happened with LA parting ways with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and draft compensation in a trade for former MVP Russell Westbrook. After acquiring Westbrook and opting to give Talen Horton-Tucker a qualifying offer, the Lakers were over the cap and decided to let Caruso walk. The rest of their additions, therefore, had to be either veteran minimums or a mid-level exception. The Lakers project a starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Marc Gasol, although, I would opt to play Nunn, Monk, Ariza, or Melo over Gasol which adds shooting and defensive versatility with Davis sliding to the Center spot. As valuable as the Westbrook signing may be, the secret to the Lakers' success next season might be the bench players they added while working with spare financial resources. They added a mix of two-way players and some young shooters and scorers for the unit. Westbrook, when correctly utilized, can be one of the most effective players in the league. In his MVP year, he took nearly 30% of his shots from the restricted zone and had one of the highest VORP, Win-Share, and BPM's that year. This year, he shot only 19% of his field goals in that area which rendered him ineffective; therefore, many of his advanced statistics and efficiencies fell this year. The key for the Lakers will be perimeter shooting. The number of three-point attempts from Russell Westbrook negatively correlates to the number of wins. The Lakers will need Lebron and AD to be more consistent with their 3-point shot for their starting five to excel. The bench unit is stacked with capable shooters; Malik Monk, Carmelo, and Kent Bazemore shot over 40% last year, while Nunn shot it at a 38% clip. Mixing some of the bench players with the stars should work seamlessly and allow the Lakers to find the optimal lineup. This team that ranked 22nd in scoring and 24th in Offensive Rating should be looking forward to a marked improvement in this area this coming season. New York Knicks Additions: G Kemba Walker, G Evan Fournier, G Quentin Grimes, G Miles McBride, F Jericho Sims Analysis: The Knicks had a slow start in the offseason after missing out on CP3 and Lowry. They also made some puzzling trades of draft picks on draft night. On the heels of disappointment, however, they "stole" the Celtics backcourt. Last year, the Knicks ranked last in Pace and bottom 7 for points per game and offensive rating. Despite that, the Knicks were the 4th seed in the East. The addition of proven scorers Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker should address the Knicks’ shooting needs, an area where the Knicks were woefully ineffective last season. The Knicks starting lineup projects: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks replaced Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton with Walker and Fournier and now have four starters who average 15+ points per game and can all create their shots. Last season, Reggie Bullock shot 32% of his 3's from the corner, and over 97% of his made 3's off an assist. In contrast, Fournier, who will be the Knicks' best shooter, should get getting similar looks and score with higher efficiency. Last year, he shot an elite 57% from the corner; he also created his shot more often than Bullock, getting assisted around 7% less from 3-point range. Bullock was only a threat from 3, with over 70% of his field-goal attempts coming from there. Fournier's scoring comes from more spots on the court, making him more difficult to guard, and he will create great spacing for his teammates. Last year, he was in the positives in On-Court/Off Court for Boston and Orlando, showing that he can be valuable for non-playoff and playoff teams. The real surprise came when Walker was bought out of his massive contract and signed with the Knicks for 2 years 17.9 million. He gives the Knicks a presence they did not have last year. Walker can flat-out score, putting up 50+ points twice in his career. Last year Walker battled through injuries, and Boston was still 3.5 points better with him on the court. In 2 of the past five seasons, Kemba ranked above the 94th percentile in the On/Off Court point differential. In those seasons he was one of the primary scorers and playmakers. His style of play should draw defenses and create more open shots for his teammates, as Payton was unable to do. Last season Randle struggled with initiating offense for himself and others. With Kemba leading the offense, Randle should get more open looks and focus more on his game rather than orchestrating the offense. Defensively, the Knicks will again be a top 5 team under the coaching of Tom Thibodeau, a known defensive guru. If the Knicks two new starters can replicate their play from previous years, the Knicks should achieve even greater success this coming season. Sources: Basketball-Reference, ESPN, CleaningTheGlass, StatHead, RealGM, StatsMuse

Which NBA Teams Improved The Most This Offseason