NBA off-season moves
Christian Wood #35 of the Houston Rockets reacts after his dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second quarter at Moda Center on December 26, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

A look back at the 2020 NBA offseason moves.

Is it too early to check in on the NBA’s off-season moves? Now that we’re around a third of the way through the season, we have ourselves enough of a sample size to make some pronouncements about an assortment of NBA topics: LeBron James is not human; the Jazz are contenders; Joel Embiid in fully weaponised; Minnesota will suck forever; the Magic…..exist.

Despite a short off-season, we saw a bunch of players change address over the break. Let’s look at some of the higher profile names. How have they fared? Has the truncated off-season affected them? How have they adapted coming out of bubble life?

Let’s start our round-up on those key acquisitions with arguably the biggest name amongst them.

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

Notable stats: 17.2 points, 8.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 49/37/97 shooting splits.

After a sluggish start for both player and team, Chris Paul and his Suns teammates have found their collective groove. The Suns are tied with the always injured/always surprising Blazers for 4th on the Western Conference.

On the season, Paul has maintained his numbers across the board from his single season in Thunder blue. He has slipped in scoring (by only 0.4 points), boards (0.3), and steals (0.4) but is dishing out more assists (8.2 up from 6.7) whilst keeping up his usual stellar shooting splits.

To be fair, a slow start was always on the cards for the 35-year-old. Changing teams – and roles, moving back to being the primary ball-handler – after coming out of a short off-season was always likely to have an effect on players, especially one as fastidious and exacting as CP3.

Now that he’s settled, Paul is having the desired impact on his young teammates. At long last, a first playoff berth since 2010 beckons for the Suns.

Russell Westbrook – Washington Wizards

Notable stats: 19.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 41/30/64 shooting splits.

It’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan in Washington. Trading for Westbrook (also re-signing David Bertans on big money – the Latvian has struggled so far) was supposed to be the signal to Bradley Beal that the team is committed to winning this season, in the hope that he would stick around. Whilst Beal hasn’t made any trade noise (publicly at least) this move must be testing his patience.

Westbrook is back in a primary ball handling role and as such his boards and assists have gone back to Oklahoma era numbers. Every other facet of his game has fallen away, however. His scoring has dropped to below 20 points per contest for the first time in a decade. His notoriously unreliable jumper has come back to the fore in a system with far less spacing than he enjoyed in Houston.

Most concerning for the Wizards is the fact that Westbrook’s ace – his ability to finish at the rim – has somewhat deserted him.

At age 32, with a laundry list of lower body injuries behind him, has Westbrook simply lost that explosiveness that made him who he was? The Wizards – and by extension Beal – certainly hope not.

John Wall – Houston Rockets

Notable stats: 20 points, 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 3P FG.

At the other end of the Westbrook trade is John Wall and the Houston Rockets, who have to be somewhat more satisfied with their harvest.

Despite missing 158 of a possible 231 regular season games over the prior three seasons, Wall looks almost as sprightly as he was at his best. The elevation isn’t quite there, but on the whole the agility, strength to play through contact, and the straight line speed are all intact.

After an enjoyable run after the James Harden trade, Houston have fallen away badly, losing their last seven contests. Wall, however, has been a shining light despite the form of his team cratering, averaging around 22 points, 6 assists and a steal over that span.

For many years, fans and pundits alike wondered how Wall would age if he didn’t improve his streaky outside shooting. To his credit, he seems to have used his time on the sidelines working on that exact part of his game. Wall is averaging a career high 2.1 deep makes at a perfectly respectable 35.9%.

Jrue Holiday – Milwaukee Bucks

Notable stats: 16.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.9 steals, 50/39/79 shooting splits.

With all the upheaval happening around them in the East, Milwaukee’s own marquee move has gone somewhat under the radar. Make no mistake, though: Jrue Holiday has fitted into this Bucks team hand-in-glove.

Holiday has given the team everything that the departed Eric Bledsoe provided at the point of the defense whilst delivering so much more at the offensive end of the floor. As is to be expected when moving from a fringe playoff team to a top end contender, Holiday’s scoring has dropped off a touch, though his efficiency has skyrocketed.

Holiday’s ability to knock down open shots – 45% on open 3’s; 39% overall – opens up so much room for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Holiday’s ability to finish out of the pick and roll also gives the Bucks more looks with Giannis as the screener, where he might be at his most dangerous.

Christian Wood – Houston Rockets

Notable stats: 22 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.93P FG, 56/42/68 shooting splits.

Last season in Detroit, Christian Wood put the league on alert with a fantastic six weeks before the league wide shutdown. He also had sceptics sounding the largest ‘small sample size’ klaxon they could muster. His off-season move to Houston was intriguing. On paper, the stretchy, shot blocking big was the perfect complement to James Harden. But was he that man we saw in February last year, or was he the enigmatic journeyman that spent five seasons bouncing around the basketball globe?

Houston’s gamble, so far, is paying off in spades. Wood flourished next to Harden and encouragingly has maintained his form since the trade before recently succumbing to injury.

As well as Wood has shot the ball, he’s shown excellent awareness attacking the close out and a soft touch around the rim.

Houston may not have themselves an out-and-out centrepiece in Wood, but they certainly have themselves a substantial building block as they look to regroup in the post-Harden era.

Jerami Grant – Detroit Pistons

Notable stats: 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 2.6 3P FG (at 38.7%), 5.4 FT (at 88.3%).

In the NBA off-season moves version of Sliding Doors, the flip side to Detroit not retaining Wood, was the signing of Jerami Grant. Though not a like-for-like replacement, he was symbolically seen as the man the front office chose to lead them in the immediate future.

Grant made a substantial bet on himself, not so much in monetary terms – Denver reportedly offered the same terms as Detroit – but that he could be more than a high energy garbage man. He backed himself to instead be The Man. So far, so good.

Grant is averaging career high numbers across the board as the #1 option in Motor City. Many questioned if Grant could maintain his efficiency in a higher usage role and at this stage he hasn’t missed a bet. At the charity stripe, Grant is shooting close to 20% (!) above his career success rate. Throwing in the extra attention defences are affording the 26 year old, his efficiency has in effect improved!

Perhaps the most important factor in Grant’s early success in Detroit is that he looks the part of franchise cornerstone. As well as maintaining his usual excellent defense, Grant is controlling the offense. His ability to get to the rim and either finish or draw fouls late in the shot clock is a classic superstar trait. He’s taking 1.4 deep shots off the dribble per contest, after taking a mere six (yes, six) all of last season.

This was a huge roll of the dice for inexperienced General Manager Troy Weaver. So far it’s worked a treat. One does wonder, though. What if Detroit had signed Grant AND kept Wood around?

Dennis Schroder – Los Angeles Lakers

Notable stats: 14.2 points, 4.3 assists.

After spending the early part of his career as a ‘not-quite’ lead guard for a ‘not-quite’ Atlanta Hawks, Schroder seemed to find a niche as a scoring 3rd guard with lessened defensive and play making responsibilities on an upstart Oklahoma City team. So how he would adapt to a) playing for a genuine contender and b) starting ,was going to be interesting viewing.

So far, the Schroder experiment is a qualified success. He’s played well as a secondary play maker alongside a starting five full of play makers, but his outside shot has regressed (currently 31.1% from deep) to his Atlanta pomp as many expected. Schroder has developed a lovely chemistry with Anthony Davis, which allows the Lakers offense to tick over well enough when LeBron James sits. Considering how dominant the Lakers are when LeBron plays, that’s really all the team need from Schroder at this point.

Though it would be nice if he could get closer to the 38.5% he shot from beyond the arc last season.

Montrezl Harrell – Los Angeles Lakers

Notable stats: 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds.

The Lakers other notable off-season addition was to steal their noisy neighbours spark plug centre. Like Schroder, there were questions surrounding Harrell. How would he fair without pick and roll dance partner Sweet Lou Williams? How would coach Frank Vogel use him?

The answer to the first question: just fine. The second? In so many different ways than he was used as a Clipper.

Harrell’s numbers are down, but that’s predominantly due to the fact that his minutes and especially his usage have dropped. Per possession Harrell is still putting up typical numbers.

What has changed is how Harrell accumulates those stats. Rather than a pure roller/finisher at the cup, Harrell has shown flashes of a face up game, taking advantage of his speed against bigger centres. He’s also – like Schodrer – developed a strong chemistry with Davis, who delights in play making from the elbow and finding a cutting Harrell.

Serge Ibaka – Los Angeles Clippers

Notable stats: 11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 37.7% 3P%.

The Clippers pivoted quickly in bringing in Serge Ibaka to replace Harrell. With the fazing out of the aging Lou Williams, Ibaka seemed a better fit for this Clippers team. His defense is of course streets ahead of the younger and smaller Harrell, though it’s on offense where the change been most obvious.

Even in his younger days, Ibaka was never a compelling rim runner. Rather he was an early version of the stretch five. His ability to step out and knock down shots gives the Clippers play making wings – both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard play at a deliberate tempo, which didn’t really gel with Harrell’s frenetic style – an option more in lockstep with their preferred pace.

As more of a complementary piece than he was in Toronto, Ibaka’s numbers have slipped. His impact, however, is obvious. In teaming with Ivica Zubac, Ibaka gives the Clippers a rim protecting presence across all 48 minutes. An underrated aspect of Ibaka’s defensive game is his ability to defend on the perimeter and his sometime preternatural ability to defend in space. That is turn allows both Leonard and George to be far more aggressive defensively. At the other end of the floor, his shooting is also giving George and especially Leonard more space to operate both at the hoop and in the mid-range.

The Clippers, like their cross-corridor rivals, can only truly judge their off season additions by their post season results. If the Clips make the finals, the move must be considered a success.

Gordon Hayward – Charlotte Hornets

Notable stats: 22.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 49/42/86 shooting splits.

Signing Hayward to that $120 million contract was one of the riskiest NBA off-season moves, no matter the lack of other options the Hornets had. At age 30 and with a recent history of devastating injures, there was no guarantee that Hayward still had the ability to be a first offensive option in him. Gladly, Utah era Hayward is back.

So far this campaign, the forward has been everything this young and fun Hornets team could have hoped for. Alongside unselfish rookie LaMelo Ball, Hayward has brought a passing ethos to Charlotte, making the Hornets one of the most enjoyable teams in the NBA to watch. He’s in career best form as a shooter, hitting at personal best clips from the arc and stripe (and on a career high attempts from three, to boot).

Whilst understandably not as athletic as his Utah prime, Hayward is finally – finally – looking all the way back to his best overall.

Of course, we could revisit this in two or three years and be singing from a very different hymn sheet. It is well within reason that this contract could age horribly. Considering, though, what both Charlotte fans and Hayward himself have been through in the past few years, let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride. Wherever it takes us.