This summer has been one of the most exuberant spending sprees in NBA history. With several high-profile players such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving changing teams in NBA free agency, the sport’s landscape was essentially encapsulated after a few drastic changes. Meanwhile, there were several under-the-radar signings which were glanced over.
Here are the five biggest steals of NBA free agency.
Stanley Johnson, Toronto Raptors
For the Raptors, the summer of 2019 will be remembered as the offseason in which they lost Leonard to free agency. But they did make some shrewd signings in the wake of Leonard’s departure, one of them being Johnson.
Agreeing to a two-year, $7.4 million deal with Johnson, the Raptors added a wing who may start from the get-go. Now, Johnson’s NBA career hasn’t gone as planned. He’s been inconsistent, struggled to hold onto a starting gig with the Detroit Pistons, and an inefficient shooter. But he plays with aggression offensively, can get inside, and has shown some defensive upside.
Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol will be free agents next summer, meaning this is likely the last hurrah for the Raptors veteran core. The torch will soon be passed to Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. In the meantime, the Raptors can still make the playoffs, but they’re also looking for starting fixtures beyond the two aforementioned players. On a short-term deal, Johnson is the ideal experiment for the Raptors, as a change of scenery could allow the former number eight pick to evolve.
Ed Davis, Utah Jazz
Davis makes his presence felt in the paint on both ends of the floor. He finishes through contact inside, is a reliable defender, and an aggressive rebounder. Last season he was one of the most productive rebounders in the NBA. Averaging a team-high 8.6 rebounds in just 17.9 minutes per game, he was a highly efficient force off the Brooklyn Nets bench.
With the Jazz, Davis will come off the bench. He’ll enter the game for center Rudy Gobert, or form a stout interior defensive duo with the big man when Bogdanovic or Joe Ingles is off the floor. The Jazz inked one of the game’s most underrated bigs to a two-year, $10 million deal. He provides depth and another talented player in Utah’s quest to win the Western Conference.
Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors
Losing Kevin Durant is a bummer for the Warriors, but they’ve done a great job filling voids on their roster and making phenomenal value signings in his departure, such as re-signing Looney.
Looney has spent his entire career with the Warriors and, for the most part, served as a backup center. But he has the skill set to start. He’s a steady rebounder, physical on both ends, and can play in the post. He’s a steady two-way player who takes what the defense gives and does the dirty work. He even played through injury against the Raptors in the NBA Finals.
Looney will be more productive next season, as he will likely be granted more playing time and a more offensively active role. At a three-year, $15 million deal, Looney is an outright steal for the Warriors and will only improve over the course of his contract.
Wesley Matthews, Milwaukee Bucks
After giving Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez a combined $230 million, the Bucks were forced to sign-and-trade guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers, leaving a hole in their starting lineup. They responded by agreeing to a two-year, $5.3 million deal with Matthews — which is an incredibly team-friendly contract.
While he has become a bit of a forgotten commodity, Matthews checks all the boxes for the Bucks. He’s a steady outside shooter, can shoot off the dribble, and a proven defender. The Bucks don’t need Matthews to chime in an overwhelming amount in the scoring department. If he plays to his strengths, that being sticking outside jumpers and playing tight perimeter defense, it takes pressure off Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Eric Bledsoe.
Matthews is a two-way player who provides veteran pedigree and fills a need for a Bucks team in contention.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors signed an athletic and productive young center to a two-year, $4.5 million deal. If that’s not a steal, then what is?
Over the last two seasons, Cauley-Stein was an essential aspect of the Sacramento Kings rebuilding efforts. Albeit his defense has come into question, he’s a physical specimen. Cauley-Stein flies above the rim, finishes relentlessly inside, and hits the boards at a respectable rate. In each of the last two seasons, the big man has averaged 11-plus points and seven-plus rebounds per game.
Given Looney’s presence, Cauley-Stein may very well come off the bench. But regardless of the Kentucky product’s role in head coach Steve Kerr’s rotation, he provides them with dependability and energy. He’ll hit the boards, be an ideal fit next to Draymond Green given their polar opposite offensive skill sets, and add much-needed depth. To sign a center of Cauley-Stein’s talent for a near-minimum salary is highway robbery.