Most Improved Teams in 2021 NBA Free Agency
NBA free agency is a great time to upgrade your team. Teams effectively manage their money to make smart moves to become championship contenders.
This offseason, some teams did that better than others and really put themselves on people’s radar.
Let’s look at the big NBA free agency winners for 2021 to see which teams improved the most.
When teams approach free agency, they usually take a quantity or quality approach. The Chicago Bulls went for both and it looks great on paper.
NBA free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, August 2. At 6:01 p.m. ET, Woj tweeted that Lonzo Ball agreed to a deal with the Bulls.
New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball is landing on a four-year, $85 million contract with Chicago Bulls in a sign-and-trade agreement, his agent and @KlutchSports CEO Rich Paul tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 2, 2021
Throughout the offseason, everyone knew the Bulls were targeting point guards and Ball was at the top of their list. People always viewed Ball as a gifted player, but there were doubts about his shooting ability.
However, Ball has shot 37 percent from three-point range over the last two seasons. He also averaged a career-high 14.6 points last season. His gifted passing ability will blend well with star Zach LaVine.
Then, the Bulls went to work on upgrading their depth by signing Alex Caruso.
Caruso was a fan favorite in Los Angeles. While he doesn’t fill up the stat, his impact is prevalent on the defensive end. In fact, Caruso had five votes for the All-Defensive second team last season. His defense should help a Chicago team that ranked 14th last season in points allowed.
Those two signings were big, but they were nothing compared to the final signing Chicago made.
Somehow, all they gave up for DeRozan was Thaddeus Young Al-Farouq Aminu, a first-round pick and two second-round picks. The first is top-eight protected, so Chicago had their bases covered.
DeRozan gives the Bulls their third All-Star with LaVine and Nikole Vucevic. DeRozan’s three-point shooting has always been an issue, but he more than makes up for it with his elite mid-range shooting and slashing ability.
You can criticize his three-year, $85 million contract, but he makes the Bulls better now.
We’ve seen for years how wide-open the Eastern Conference is. I don’t think Chicago is a championship contender, but they can compete with the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks for the five or six seed.
No one really talks about it, but the Miami Heat are always a consistent playoff team. They usually aren’t a championship threat, but they’re good enough that you can’t take them lightly.
Today’s Heat is better than the one that went to the NBA Finals just two seasons ago.
The Heat landed Kyle Lowry, the second-best point guard in free agency. While current point guard Goran Dragic has certainly done a good job, Lowry is definitely an upgrade.
Just look at their stats side-by-side last season.
|Stat||Kyle Lowry||Goran Dragic|
|Field Goal Percentage||43.6||43.2|
|Free Throw Percentage||87.5||82.8|
Lowry clearly gives Miami an upgrade at point guard. This could push them into championship contention.
Miami also did a nice job retaining Duncan Robinson, but I’m not going to go into that because the signing doesn’t improve the team.
The team was active elsewhere, bringing in these big names.
- Markieff Morris (PF)
- J. Tucker (SF)
- Victor Oladipo (SG)
Signing Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker was a pair of under-the-radar moves that I really liked.
Morris did struggle from the three last season (31.1 percent), but he is a career 34.1 percent three-point shooter. He’ll give the Heat a stretch four off the bench.
Tucker will likely start in front of Morris at the power forward position. Nothing about his stats stand out, but he is a glue guy who provides excellent defense. He played a big hand in the Milwaukee Bucks championship last season. He also shot 39.4 percent from the three.
Victor Oladipo is the final noteworthy signing for Miami. He only played four games with the team last season before rupturing his quad tendon. He’ll miss time this season, but he could provide Miami with a boost late in the season.
We can’t forget he is a two-time All-Star.
I believe Miami truly has a path to returning to the NBA Finals. They’ll probably finish as a three or four seed in the East but look out for them at playoff time.
Los Angeles Lakers
Call it the LeBron James effect. The Los Angeles Lakers had to have added more free agents than any other team this offseason.
We know the biggest move they made was trading for Russell Westbrook, but I’m not going to go into that because I want to focus on free-agent signings.
Where do I start? I guess we’ll lead off with their most eye-catching signing.
Everyone knows Anthony has great stats but he is reaching the end of his career. Last season he averaged a career-high, 40.9 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.4 points per game.
Melo is notorious for being one of the best players to never reach the NBA Finals, but latching on with the Lake Show could change that.
These next three guys are all similar in playstyle. Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, and Kent Bazemore are veteran options that should provide three-point shooting off the bench.
Here are their three-point shooting stats last season.
- Trevor Ariza: 35.0 percent
- Wayne Ellington: 42.2 percent
- Kent Bazemore: 40.8 percent
Dwight Howard is also back after spending last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Howard won the championship with Los Angeles in 2020. Los Angeles desperately missed his interior defense last season.
Just when you thought the Lakers were only bringing in veterans at the end of their career, they signed a pair of young guards.
Malik Monk has been a little disappointing in his four seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. However, he is coming off his best season, averaging 11.7 points on 40.1 percent three-point shooting.
Los Angeles surprised everyone when they managed to sign Kendrick Nunn on a cheap deal.
Kendrick Nunn is reportedly on his way to the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/Q1olr0uN6j— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 3, 2021
Nunn has exceeded expectations as an undrafted free agent. In his two seasons with the Miami Heat, Nunn averaged 15 points and 3.0 assists. He also shot 36.4 percent from three.
They also did a great job in retaining Talen-Horton Tucker.
The Lakers lost a lot of their depth in the Westbrook trade, but they did a great job replenishing all of it and then some.
As long as James and Anthony Davis stay healthy, the Lakers will have a great chance to win their second NBA title in three seasons.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are back! Well, not quite, but they’re moving in the right direction.
Following seven consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, New York overachieved last season and made it with a 41-31 record. While they lost in the first round, they definitely showed promise.
They went to work on retaining their core. At the guard position, the Knicks re-signed Derrick Rose and Alec Burks. Rose came over from the Pistons in a trade last season. In 35 games, he shot a career-high 41.1 percent from three-point range.
Burks has played for six different teams in his 10-year career. In his lone season with the Knicks, he provided great shooting off the bench. He shot 41.5 percent from three.
New York also brought back big men Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel. Gibson isn’t much more than a depth player, but Noel gave the team great minutes when starting center Mitchell Robinson went down early in the season. He was especially important for the Knicks defense.
Check out where Noel ranked in blocks per game.
- Myles Turner: 3.4 blocks
- Rudy Gobert: 2.7 blocks
- Nerlens Noel: 2.2 blocks
- Clint Capela: 2.0 blocks
- Chris Boucher: 1.9 blocks
He is a big reason why the Knicks ranked second in points allowed last season.
Now, let’s get into their outside free agent signings. The Knicks had to pay top dollar for Evan Fournier but he represents an upgrade over Reggie Bullock.
Fournier has averaged 18.5 and 17.1 points, respectively. He isn’t a star, but he’ll definitely give the Knicks a quality starter at shooting guard.
Just when you thought the Knicks were done in free agency, they announced the signing of Kemba Walker in a surprising move.
Walker wasn’t even a free agent, but the Oklahoma City Thunder bought out his contract.
His numbers did slip in two seasons in Boston, but he is still a top-tier point guard. His signing really improves the Knicks more than anyone else.
And to top things off, New York gave Julius Randle a four-year, $117 million contract extension.
Their success in the East hinges on Walker. If he reclaims his pre-Boston form, I think the Knicks can threaten the Milwaukee Bucks or Miami Heat for a three or four seed.
Other NBA Teams That Improved
- Golden State Warriors
- Washington Wizards
Golden State should be among the most improved NBA teams just with a healthy Klay Thompson coming back, but they also got better this offseason.
The Warriors drafted well, but they also brought back Andre Iguodala and also added more depth with the addition of Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter.
Another team that can be filed under the biggest NBA free agency winner honorable mentions has to be Washington.
They added a lot of depth with Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They also acquired Aaron Holiday in a trade with the Indiana Pacers. Their main free-agent pickup came when they acquired Spencer Dinwiddie in a sign-and-trade.
Washington’s depth gives them a better chance to pursue a playoff spot.
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