Early returns on 15 offseason additions, including Anthony Davis in L.A.
It’s become part-tradition and part-cliche: A player returns to the city in which he once played and receives a combustible reaction from the crowd, either positive or negative. It’s now Anthony Davis’ turn and you can best believe the celebration Wednesday night in New Orleans (9:30 ET, ESPN) won’t exactly be on a Mardi Gras level.
That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another: If the former home city is booing, it’s usually because you were great and they miss you, and in this particular case, both apply.
The player who demanded a trade from the Pelicans just days before last February’s deadline (it didn’t happen) and insensitively wore a “That’s All, Folks” t-shirt to his final home game last season will certainly hear it when he takes the floor with the Lakers. There’s a flip side, however: Davis is a smash hit in Los Angeles and, taking it a bit further, might be having the best debut so far among the swarm of top players who changed teams last offseason.
🔊🔛 @AntDavis23 bringing the passion in the paint! 🗣
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 26, 2019
It was an epic summer from both a numbers and notable standpoint, one that changed the NBA landscape and arguably was more interesting than anything else that happened in the 2018-19 season, including The Finals. Davis was one of the kingpins in the Great Jersey Switch when the Pelicans were essentially forced to send him to the Lakers and the impact on both franchises has been stark as expected: The Lakers own the NBA’s best record and the Pelicans are struggling as they weather the temporary loss of rookie Zion Williamson to injury and incorporate a roster of new players.
An argument could be made that Davis has been the best offseason acquisition from both a player and team standpoint. The Lakers are winning and Davis is producing, averaging 25.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. Of course, with the season not even 20 games old, this is a small sample size. But the standard of Davis has been set for others to reach or surpass.
Here’s a look at others who changed teams through trades or free agency and their impact so far — and not all have been for the better:
Sure, there’s always suspense whenever the Clippers issue their pre-game injury list to see if Kawhi’s name appears. But when he isn’t on load management or resting an aching knee, Kawhi has been everything the Clippers imagined: He’s averaging 25.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.5 rpg and 2.1 spg, supplying defense and inspiring teammates with his work ethic.
To paraphrase the great philosopher Drake: “He go zero to a hundred real quick.” When he returned after missing the first 11 games of the season due to summer shoulder surgery, George didn’t take long to reach peak level. Like, maybe a few seconds. George scored 70 points in his first 44 minutes and beat his former team, OKC, on the game-winning shot. The chemistry between him and Leonard is starting to bubble.
For those who are quick to say he isn’t Kyrie Irving, please clarify: from a talent or drama standpoint? Perhaps both are true and the Celtics are thrilled with the latter and more than comfortable with the former. The switch in starting point guards is benefitting Boston so far: Walker is averaging 21.1 ppg, shooting 38.9% on 3-pointers and getting zero eye rolls in the locker room.
He left a winning Philly team to awaken a Miami franchise. So far J-Buckets is rubbing off in a good way with the Heat by scoring (18.9 ppg), rebounding, defending the toughest opponents and inspiring his teammates. Of course, given his history of being quirky in his last three NBA stops, the only wonder is how long the good vibes will last.
More than a few NBA people were surprised how much the small-market Pacers paid (four years, $85 million) for a player who shared the point guard position in Milwaukee. And yet, Brogdon is already a solid value by keeping the Pacers in the hunt with premier overall play and making Indiana fans salivate about the backcourt tandem once Victor Oladipo returns from injury.
Celtics fans have another reason to be miffed, now that an injury will prevent Irving from suiting up in his return to Boston (7 ET, ESPN) and therefore denying the TD Garden the chance to express its feelings toward the traitorous star. Well, at least the Celtics are above the Nets in the standings, and Brooklyn — while appreciating Kyrie’s 28.5 ppg, 7.2 apg and 5.4 rpg — is craving the Other Addition (a guy named Kevin Durant) a bit more.
His numbers — from shooting percentage to scoring average to assists per game — are down across the board. To an extent, this can be expected once you ride shotgun with James Harden. And it’s not as if Russ is suddenly a slouch; he commands attention and continues to attack constantly. But at age 31 and with a game that’s fueled mainly by energy, is his best ball already in the rear view? Might be.
He probably has pole position for Kia Most Improved Player honors because it appears Ingram is about to have a career-changing season. Raise your hand if you thought he’d be No. 8 among NBA scorers at 26.1 ppg (on 50.6% shooting!). With minutes and shots suddenly plentiful in New Orleans, Ingram is making the most of this chance, much more than his fellow ex-Laker, Lonzo Ball. The question is how will Ingram adjust once Williamson returns and assumes the driver’s seat.
Yes, he’s still with the Warriors, and absolutely, he’s crushing it when healthy. In fact, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson perhaps done for the season, Russell is Golden State’s most proven generator of buckets. It remains to be seen, however, whether he’s just passing through San Francisco or if he’s projected as one-third of the Warriors’ three-guard rotation next season. And that all depends on if the Warriors’ front office feels D-Loading is part of the reloading plans.
Few managed to leverage themselves and cash in quite like Horford did last summer, when he navigated out of Boston and banked $109 million over four years with the Sixers. Since then, it’s been typical Horford: being a good teammate by complimenting Joel Embiid on the front line and providing leadership. Still, at his price, the Sixers need to cash in this year with a guy who turns 34 next summer before the inevitable slide begins.
He owns the longest last name in NBA history, but the curve on the back of his jersey isn’t as attractive as his learning curve. In Year Two of his career, the player formally known as SGA has nearly doubled his scoring average (now 19.3 ppg) and is giving OKC a player for the future. That’s important for a franchise that not only is rebuilding, but isn’t exactly on the wish-list of the game’s top free agents. Player development is key for the Thunder and SGA is their current pet project.
Since arriving from Houston in a forced deal, Paul has played the good soldier. He’s healthy, playing well at his advanced age and also mentoring the young players (including Gilgeous-Alexander). Still, deep within his competitive soul, being on a team in transition isn’t his idea of hoop heaven. CP3 yearns for that elusive title and it won’t happen in OKC anytime soon, but will a contender trade for an aging player on a massive super max contract? Likely, no.
He has been the outside shooter Utah craved, averaging 20.9 ppg on 45.9% shooting from 3-point range in making defenses pay for collapsing whenever Donovan Mitchell attacks the rim. Even better, with Joe Ingles still struggling (34.5% shooting), Bogdanovic’s range becomes even more important. He and Royce O’Neale are the only reliable deep threats for the Jazz.
His early struggles from the gate (37.3% shooting) have been the biggest surprise of all. It makes you wonder if Conley, after 12 seasons in Memphis, left his best there. Instead of sharing the load with Mitchell, Conley appears to be riding shotgun and embracing a supporting role instead. Nonetheless, the Jazz maintain confidence in Conley if only because the man has pride, works hard and is healthy.
Not quite scary, yet fairly decent so far (17.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) for the Hornets, who stunned the league by paying a premium price (three years, $56 million) for a backup point guard in Boston. Yes, even at that rate, he came cheaper than Walker. The Hornets are no better off in the standings so far with Rozier and have actually turned the team over to their young players here in the throes of transition.
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