Stars are going to be stars anywhere that they go. But outside the best of the very best, situation and role play an extremely important factor in how well players perform.
Andrew Wiggins is a quintessential example. Thought of as somewhat of a disappointment during his five-and-a-half seasons with the Timberwolves, Wiggins’ role changed after being traded to the Warriors.
Success soon followed — he was named an All-Star starter and developed into an essential two-way force during their championship run.
There are a lot of players like Wiggins floating around the league. Many never find that perfect spot to shine. But every year, there are a handful of players who find a better situation that leads to improved results.
Here are the players that could follow in Wiggins’ footsteps.
New Maverick Christian Wood is going to feast with Luka Doncic
Wood isn’t a perfect player, and teams have tended to focus more on what he can’t do than what he can.
The Mavericks will be his seventh team in seven years. He’s a somewhat lackadaisical defender. He’s always played on horrendous teams dating even back to his college days. He was completely off the national radar despite averaging 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Rockets last year.
All of that is about to change this season. Wood will finally play on a winning team — and a great one at that. He’s going to get a lot more shine because this Mavs team accentuates his strengths.
One thing that you can’t argue about Wood is that he’s a great 3-point shooter. He has knocked down 38 percent of his 3-pointers for his career. Those attempts weren’t particularly easy, either. Of the 179 players that took at least 100 open 3-pointers last season, Wood was 128th in the percentage of his 3-point attempts that were open.
Now, look at how the rest of Luka Doncic’s teammates ranked in that stat last year.
Going through the NBA’s tracking data this morning. Top 5 players whose 3’s are mostly open (min. 100 attempts), plus the % they shoot on them.
1. Royce O’Neale – 40.4%
2. Wes Matthews – 38.6%
3. Maxi Kleber – 35.7%
4. Reggie Bullock – 39.9%
5. Dorian Finney-Smith – 41.1%
—Steph Noh (@StephNoh) August 1, 2022
Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith all had some of the most open looks in the league last season playing next to Doncic. Wood should jump from 128th on that list up to the top 10 next season.
Wood is more than just a shooter, though. He’s a great vertical athlete that can dive to the rim for dunks. Doncic is also obviously a much better lob thrower than anyone Wood has ever played with. Wood should lead the Mavs in dunks next season.
|Player||Dunks in 2021-22|
Defensive effort has always been the question mark with Wood. He has great natural tools and showed some improvement earlier in his career before completely falling off a cliff with the Rockets over the past two years.
There’s reason to believe that could change, too. Winning definitely helps, as does being in a contract year. And Wood will have a great defensive coach in Jason Kidd.
All of the ingredients that Wood has been missing are there for him in Dallas. The Mavs also have the checks in place to fix his most glaring weaknesses. He’s poised for a big year.
Donte DiVincenzo fits the Warriors’ ‘Strength in Numbers’ mantra
The Warriors will be DiVincenzo’s third team in the past calendar year. He showed some promise after being drafted by the Bucks, but after a down year and a lengthy recovery from a nasty foot injury, he was traded to the Kings and didn’t do enough there for them to retain him.
Like the rest of the players on this list, DiVincenzo has some natural flaws. He can do some stuff as a secondary playmaker, but he’s not elite at creating his own shot. He’s been a somewhat streaky shooter throughout his career, but he did hit 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers for the Bucks in his best year of play and hit at a 36.8 percent clip for the Kings. He competes hard on defense, but his size limits him.
Those weaknesses are going to be mitigated on the Warriors. It’s a perfect match for both sides.
The Warriors are built around maximizing Stephen Curry, so they need to find a certain type of player to fit alongside him. Talent isn’t sufficient, as they saw with players like D’Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre. The players that work best in the Warriors’ system have an extremely high level of feel with a good understanding of the unique movement that Steve Kerr employs.
DiVincenzo is that player. He understands the spacing on the court well, finding little pockets to cut into on offense. He’s a good movement shooter that will fit into the stuff that the Warriors are already running.
DiVincenzo is not a physical specimen on defense, but he is good at chasing players around the perimeter. He’s usually in the right place at the right time and is a plus as a helper. He will be solid on that end.
The Warriors saw career revivals from role players like Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. last season. DiVincenzo fits that same mold.
Bruce Brown and Nikola Jokic are about to get weird for the Nuggets
Like the Warriors, the Nuggets benefit from having a certain type of player to complement Jokic. They need players that can do stuff off the ball, understand spacing and play defense. Brown ticks all of those boxes.
The defensive end is where Brown is going to bring a ton of his value. The Nuggets have been desperately searching for strong perimeter players, and he can hound people there. He’s also one of the most switchable defenders in the league despite only standing at 6-4, primarily because of his insane competitiveness and strength.
We offend, Brown is a jack of all trades, master of none. The most valuable skill in the NBA is the ability to create an advantage. Brown can’t really do that, which has limited him in his previous stops. But he won’t have to in Denver because Jokic can do it for him.
Brown knows how to punish defenses when they’re scrambling. The pick-and-roll partnership with Brown as the screen-setter for Jokic is going to wreak havoc. Brown is an improved finisher at the rim, possessing a devastating teardrop floater. And his training earlier in his career as a point guard makes him a strong short-roll pass.
Brown is also one of the best cutters in the league. He is elite at finding space in the tiniest of cracks. Jokic, the best center ever at finding cutters, is going to get Brown more easy layups than he’s ever had.
The one area where Brown doesn’t fit as well as one would hope is with his shooting ability. He’s a reluctant shooter — and for good reason. He’s hit only 32.7 percent of his 3-pointers for his career.
Maybe that changes in Denver. That number did go up to 40.4 percent last season, albeit on only 94 attempts. And he will be getting open looks for the Nuggets.
Even if Brown remains an unreliable shooter, he does enough of everything else to be an impactful guy. The Nuggets are the perfect situation for him to showcase all of the other special things that he does.
De’Anthony Melton is the 76ers’ more well-rounded version of Matisse Thybulle
The Sixers’ trade for Melton was sneakily one of the best moves of the offseason. Melton is another prime example of a player who should have been playing more in his previous stops. He will finally get a chance to show his true abilities in a bigger market.
Melton is a terrific defender despite not really looking the part at just 6-2. He has great length, instincts and toughness. He is maybe the best shot-blocking guard in the league, ranking in the 97th percentile over the past two seasons, per Cleaning the Glass. And he’s a ballhawk with one of the best steal rates in the league.
Melton has always been an advanced stats darling, which explains why Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey would try to trade for him. He finds small ways to impact the game in a number of different areas.
Melton has flown under the radar in part because he’s not an in-your-face scorer on offense. His modest 10.8 points per game last season marked the first time he’d ever cracked double figures. That’s fine for the Sixers. Even if he were a better creator, he wouldn’t be given that opportunity playing alongside Joel Embiid and James Harden.
Melton also brings a lot of value off the ball as a shooter. He had a rough start to his career, hitting only 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers in his first two seasons. But he has made huge strides in his development, canning 38.8 percent of his 3-point attempts over the past two seasons.
Melton is the perfect role player to slot alongside Harden and Embiid. He isn’t quite the defender that Thybulle is, but he is well above-average and provides a lot more on offense. He should have a more solidified role during this upcoming season and finally show what he can really do.