Regrading 15 NBA offseason moves: Anthony Davis and Kemba Walker are home runs, Russell Westbrook not so much
Meanwhile, the Warriors and Heat have gotten great early returns on D'Angelo Russell and Jimmy Butler
This past summer marked a monumental shift in the historically unbalanced NBA landscape. Parity is the new order. Superteams are out. Star duos are in. By my count, there are eight teams entering play on Monday -- the Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, 76ers, Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets and Celtics -- that can realistically be considered championship contenders. Some fringe. Some top-tier. But all contenders if things were to break their way.
Then you have another group of teams that don't feel like true title contenders but are still really, really good and could become contenders with one trade. That would include the Mavericks, Raptors and Heat, maybe the Pacers depending on how Victor Oladipo looks when he gets back, and I'm not ready to give up on the Trail Blazers yet.
Almost all these teams made major moves this offseason, to varying returns so far. It's still really early, obviously, but at just past the one-month mark of the season, this feels like an appropriate time to take stock on, and regrade, 15 of the biggest moves from this past summer.
Anthony Davis to Lakers: A
The Lakers traded everything but LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and the name on their building for Davis, and it still appears they got a bargain. Davis has been phenomenal for the Lakers, who entering play on Monday have the best record in at 14-2 -- which is the best start to a season for any team LeBron has ever played for.
Davis is averaging over 25 points and eight boards, and he and LeBron already look like they've been playing together for years. When they run pick-and-roll, it's nearly impossible to defend. Davis has been great defensively, too. The Lakers gave up a lot to land Davis, no doubt. But he has made them an instant title contender alongside LeBron.
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George to Clippers: A
Both L.A. teams have clearly hit a home run with their biggest offseason moves. Kawhi is in the thick of the MVP race, and George has looked terrific in his six games back. The Clippers have been around a top-five offense all season even without George, but since George has been back the defense, which looked oddly average to start the season, is starting to look like the elite unit we expected it to be. When the Clippers are locked in and clicking defensively, with George back, they look almost impenetrable at times.
The Clippers gave up a sizable package to get George; Shae-Gilgeous Alexander has been impressive in Oklahoma City and looks like a future All-Star. But George got the Clippers Kawhi, and Kawhi and George together make the Clippers, arguably, the title favorite. This is one of the more obvious A grades ever.
Kemba Walker to Celtics: A
Walker has completely changed the feel around this Celtics team. They look happy again. In their underdog element. And they're playing phenomenal basketball -- 11-4 and No. 2 in the East entering Monday.
Walker's numbers don't look out of sight: 21 points, 4.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds on 40 percent shooting, but those numbers reflect a few bad games in a still relatively small sample size. He has had plenty of those Kemba games where he is the best player on the floor.
Besides that, it's about more than the numbers with this guy. Again, he has changed the whole feel around this team. It's almost impossible to describe the difference from a year ago when Kyrie Irving was the guy setting the tone.
Jimmy Butler to Heat: A
I had concerns about Butler going to the Heat. So far, I've been dead wrong. I thought it was too much to pay for a guy who will age badly, and that still may be true. But for now, Butler has been fantastic and he has the Heat looking like a solid top-four team in the East and perhaps one deadline move away from conference-title contention.
Butler is going out of his way to be a playmaker for Miami's younger, emerging players. Bam Adebayo. Rookie Tyler Herro. Feel-good story Kendrick Nunn. Through Sunday, Butler's 12.8 shots per game are a career low, and his 6.7 assists a night are a career high.
As a team, the Heat are assisting on over 65 percent of their field goals, which ranks second in the league. Butler is right in the middle of this ball movement. The Heat are also a top-five defense, with Butler leading the league at 2.8 steals per night. He's playing fantastic basketball, has by all accounts been a great addition in the locker room, and he gives the Heat -- who have money to spend coming up -- that superstar bait to potentially lure other stars.
Bojan Bogdanovic to Jazz: A
If you didn't watch the Pacers much, and you still don't watch the Jazz much, you have no idea how good Bogdanovic is. And I think he's gotten even better than he was in Indiana, where he was really good. Bogdanovic has gone for 30 and 28 points in two of his last three games. He's averaging over 20.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting just under 45 percent from three -- all career highs.
Bogdanovic is one of the best shooters in the world, but he's more than that. He's a legit three-level scorer. The Jazz run him off a lot of pin-downs for dribble handoffs, and he curls around and gets downhill after the handoff as seamlessly as anyone. And he is a STRONG finisher at the rim.
Adding Bogdanovic, along with Mike Conley, has provided Donovan Mitchell with a level of spacing he's never had in the NBA, that is going to be difficult to deal with come playoff time. The Jazz, even with just the 21st-ranked offense (which is strange), have won seven of their last nine, and entering Monday they sit at 11-5. They have the best defense in the league, and Bogdanovic is also a big part of that.
This was a fantastic pickup from both a fit and pure production standpoint.
Brandon Ingram to Pelicans: A
Another one I'm happy to say I was dead wrong about. I thought Lonzo Ball was the real prize in the Lakers-Pelicans deal for Anthony Davis. Don't get me wrong, Ball has still been really encouraging in the time he's been on the floor, but Ingram is just dominating.
Ingram was trending upward at the end of last season, and certainly getting out of LeBron's shadow and becoming a true focal point of the offense has unleashed another level of his game. Still, this is kind of nuts how great he's been. Ingram is averaging 26.1 points a game through Sunday, good enough for eighth in the league. He's shooting FORTY-SIX PERCENT (!!!) from 3-point range.
He's creating off the dribble with a tight handle. His shot selection has improved. Per Cleaning the Glass, 27 percent of Ingram's shots have been 3-pointers this season. Last year with the Lakers, 3-pointers only accounted for 11 percent of his shots. Ingram's long-mid-range shots, as a result, have fallen by five percent from last season.
Where he's doing work is in the short mid-range. His pull-up game off the bounce is nasty and he can score on a turnaround out of the post, too. He's also proving he can be a better playmaker than he's been in the past given the opportunity. Ingram is assisting on over 20 percent of the Pelicans' buckets, per Cleaning the Glass. Last year with the Lakers, he only assisted on 12 percent of his teammates makes.
Malcolm Brogdon to Pacers: B+
At the same time I'm giving the Pacers a B+ for snagging Brogdon, I'm giving the Bucks an F for letting him go. I still can't get over that. I know they paid Eric Bledsoe and they're a small market and all that. But the Bucks are on the cusp of a title, and Brogdon is the type of player who can push a team like that one way or the other. The Bucks only have Giannis, guaranteed, for this season and next.
Anyway, Milwaukee's loss is Indiana's gain. The Pacers officially landed Brogdon via sign and trade, but he was a restricted free agent and they got him simply because they were willing to pay him and the Bucks weren't. I still think they paid A BIT too much for him, which is why I can't give this a straight A grade, but Brogdon has been fantastic. A borderline All-Star. He's been turned loose as a scorer and has responded with almost 20 points a game, and he hasn't even gotten his 3-point shot going consistently yet.
Brogdon should be a great fit with Victor Oladipo when he returns, as he's a bit stretched as a true go-to player. But with Oladipo back in the lead spot and Domantas Sabonis -- another nice offseason signing -- and the rest of that roster filling in, the Pacers are a top-10 defensive team with a 9-6 record through Sunday. When your best player hasn't played a game yet, you'll take that, and Brogdon is probably the biggest reason for the early success in Indiana.
Ricky Rubio to Suns: B+
Same as Brogdon, I think the Suns paid A BIT too much for Rubio, who puts a ceiling on any team for which he plays a lead role come playoff time. But the Suns aren't contenders. They know that. So for their purposes -- namely putting a stable point guard in place to give the offense a foundation from which Devin Booker can rise up to his true potential -- Rubio has been a godsend.
When he doesn't play, you can see the difference. The Suns are 2-3 without him in the lineup (in one of those games they only scored 85 points against Boston). Rubio is averaging a really steady 12.1 points, 8.1 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night, and he's shooting better than 34 percent from 3, which is all you can ask of him.
The bottom line here is the Suns are a top-10 offense and a top-15 defense. They have almost the same net rating as the Rockets. Through Sunday, they are 8-8 and IN THE PLAYOFFS. Obviously it's early, but still, this is the surprise team of the season, no doubt, and Rubio's prints are all over it.
D'Angelo Russell to Warriors: B
The Warriors gave Russell a max deal. Some thought that was too much. Maybe it was. It was a unique situation where a team that hasn't had a lottery pick since 2012, and doesn't have any money to sign a big-name player, had a chance to add a 23-year-old All-Star they had no other means of acquiring. If they overpaid a bit, it's because, in large part, they had to if they wanted to infuse some truly youthful production next to the aging Curry-Thompson-Green core.
Russell also represents a potentially valuable trade chip, something the Warriors are also short on outside their three stars. With the way Russell has played so far, that stock has to be rising. He's averaging 24.3 points on 45 percent shooting -- both career highs -- entering Monday. He's already notched a 52-point game.
One league scout told CBS Sports he thinks Russell is "maybe the best pick-and-roll player in the league."
Maybe the Warriors keep him, and if they do, that's a lot of scoring punch to put next to Curry and Thompson next season. Or maybe they move him. If they go that route, they will also have the ability to attack the almost-certain lottery pick they're going to have this summer, and Russell and a lottery pick could presumably fetch one heck of a return.
Either way, the Warriors appear to be getting their money's worth. The only reason this isn't an A grade is the uncertainty of whether Russell can be a true championship player -- given his defense and need to control the ball -- if he sticks around.
Kyrie Irving to Nets: B
The Nets are just 4-7 when Kyrie plays. Small sample size or not, the question remains whether Irving can be the best player on a team that has elite expectations, or even a team that wants to get the absolute most out of itself. What's not in doubt, once again, is Irving's talent. Entering Monday, he's averaging 28.5 points and 7.2 assists -- both top 10 in the league.
Brooklyn's defense has been its biggest problem and Irving is not going to improve that much going forward. Ultimately, you can't really grade the Irving/Nets marriage yet because long term, he is not intended to be their best player. When Kevin Durant returns next season, Irving will be back to No. 2, where he was in the Cavs days, and we know he can star in that role and impact winning on a championship level.
Mike Conley to Jazz: B
The Jazz, as mentioned above, have won seven of nine and Conley, after a nightmare start to the season, is starting to come back around. He's averaging over 15 points and four assists and he's up to 36 percent from deep, which is a good number given the hole he put himself in to start the season.
Over these last nine games, Conley is averaging just under 18 points on 42 percent from 3. The old Conley was never going to disappear forever. This team/player fit still looks perfect. Conley does similar things for Donovan Mitchell that Ricky Rubio does for Devin Booker in terms of turning him loose as a scorer without the burden of having to run the offense full time.
Rubio, of course, did some of those same things for Mitchell during his time in Utah. It's just that Conley is better than Rubio, and his floor spacing and shooting will not hold the Jazz back come playoff time. I still love this addition.
Al Horford to 76ers: B-
It's been a mixed bag so far for Horford and the Sixers, who have been a solid defensive team (if not as dominant, at least not consistently, as everyone thought they would be). But the offense is still spotty and lacking floor spacers.
Horford is playing more on the perimeter to fit alongside Joel Embiid. He's obviously comfortable out there. He's a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, but this season he's under 33 percent on over four attempts a game, which is the most he's ever taken in his career. Horford can shoot, but you have to be careful planning your offense too much around him shooting. His 46 percent field-goal mark is a career low -- and a far cry from the 54 percent he shot last season.
The Sixers are still figuring things out. Ben Simmons' place in the half court is a perpetual hurdle to overcome. Horford is as smart as they come and he'll be big come playoff time as a defensive anchor when Embiid sits. He's proven he can at least marginally bother Giannis Antetokounmpo as an individual defender part of a larger scheme, and there's a good chance Philly and the Bucks match up at some point.
Russell Westbrook to Rockets: C
Are the Rockets even a smidge better with Westbrook than they were with Chris Paul? Not to my eye. Whatever they gain in the intangible impact of James Harden actually liking Westbrook they lose in Westbrook's inability to shoot. It's pretty much a wash in my opinion.
I remember arguing with my CBS Sports colleague and former NBA player Raja Bell this summer when he said Westbrook could be a 35 percent 3-point shooter. I disagreed. Strongly.
Bell believed that with Westbrook knowing what his role was going to be next to Harden, he would spend the whole summer in the gym working on shooting. I'm a cynic when it comes to that. Guys can become better shooters, sure. There are always exceptions people point to where a bad shooter becomes a good shooter. Kawhi Leonard is everyone's favorite.
But shooting is a born skill the same as anything else, and Westbrook is a bad shooter. He's been under 30 percent from 3-point range in five of the past six seasons. Entering Monday, he's shooting 23 percent from 3 and 41 percent overall.
You can see the influence of Houston's system in some of his shot selection; he's not nearly as quick to pull up for those five-dribble mid-rangers. He's looking for the kick-out passes if he can't get to the rim, but he's still out of control in a lot of situations going through the lane.
He definitely brings an attacking tempo to the normally methodical Rockets, and he's still putting up 22 points, seven rebounds and just under seven assists a game. But man, the shooting hurts. Teams are just leaving him without any concern to swarm Harden. Westbrook can be a penetrator in that space when Harden hits him with a release-valve pass out of traps, but again, he's out of control a lot and he simply can't make that wide-open 3-pointer teams are going to dare him to take.
This is going to be a problem in the playoffs.
Hassan Whiteside to Blazers: C
The Blazers have been perhaps the most disappointing team in the league, and while that's surely not all Whiteside's fault, he just doesn't do much to impact a winning team. Miami fans know all about this. His numbers look fine: 14 points, 12 rebounds a game. They look pretty good, in fact. And he's been impressive in certain games.
The lazy habits are still there, though. He's supposed to be a defensive anchor, but the Blazers' defensive rating stays right at 110 points per 100 possessions -- they rank as the ninth-worst defense in the league entering Monday -- whether he's on the court or not. Again, that's not all Whiteside. Letting Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless walk thinking Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood were going to bring the same defensive production was not smart.
Rebounding is Whiteside's best skill, yet the Blazers are dead-last in defensive rebounding.
Again, Whiteside is doing his part on paper. The guy averaging 12 boards a game can't get too much blame for a league-worst rebounding team. It's just that Whiteside's numbers never really translate to the team. It's not a huge deal. He's on an expiring contract. But Blazers fans were certainly more optimistic than this.
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