Three players thriving on new teams

Published November 11, 2022, 9:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

Let’s take a look at three players who have been performing well with their new teams.

It has been an offseason tradition for teams to swing for the fences, bringing in a big name player in the hopes that they will be the game-changer that the team needs. This offseason was no different with several All-Stars making a move to new teams. 

Sometimes it works and the new player fits perfectly with their new team. Other times things just don’t work out.

Here are three players that have fit seamlessly with their new teams so far.

Dejounte Murray, Atlanta Hawks

There were a lot of questions surrounding the surprise trade that the Hawks pulled off in the offseason to acquire Murray. How was pairing two ball-dominant point guards going to work? Was Murray the answer the Hawks needed to get the team to the next level? Which All-Star would have to give way, Murray or Trae Young?

Early in the season, Murray has answered all those questions. For the longest time, Atlanta has been reliant on Young. The team surrounded him with shooters and rim-runners and just let their icy point guard do his thing. The problem with that approach is that when defenses lock down on Young, no one else can create for themselves.

That’s exactly what Murray addresses. As evidenced by his breakout season last year, Murray is a legitimate go-to player. With another creator on the team, the burden on Young isn’t so heavy this season. Young can not only play off the ball and take breaks from running the team, but he can also take games off when needed.

Usually when Young is out, that means a near-certain loss for the Hawks. Not this season with Murray on the team. In their last win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Young was out due to a shin injury, and Murray stepped up and led the way with 25 points and 11 assists.

He not only created opportunities for his teammates but also for himself as well. That’s the biggest difference between Murray and other guards who have been paired with Young. Murray can manufacture points from the midrange. 

Usually when the game is on the line, the Hawks clear out for Young and wait for him to make a move. In their OT win against the New Orleans Pelicans, Murray took over in OT with four straight points. The first two came off an isolation play where he got the mismatch:

(Oh, it also has to be said that Murray is a ballhawk, pun intended.)

Murray is showing everyone that he’s the player (22.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 8.4 APG) that the Hawks needed to fill in the holes in their game.

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

Heading into the offseason, it was obvious what the Knicks needed. They were a team full of finishers but they didn’t have an elite-level creator that could tie everything together. So it was no surprise (and no secret) that they went after Jalen Brunson.

Brunson broke out with the Dallas Mavericks last season and averaged 4.8 assists in a secondary ball-handler role. The Knicks were prepared to make him their point guard of the future and offered him the primary playmaker role as well as a long-term contract.

Early in the season, Brunson hasn’t disappointed. He’s averaging 19.7 points and 7.3 assists per game as the team’s starting point guard. Beyond the stats, he’s given a new dimension to the Knicks’ attack.

In previous seasons, Julius Randle, the team’s main big, was tasked to lead the break since he was the team’s best playmaker. This season, Randle can leak out and finish fastbreak attacks knowing that Brunson will be the one to start things off.

In the halfcourt, there also isn’t much isolation scoring needed from guys like RJ Barrett anymore. Brunson’s ability to get to the basket opens up a whole new world of scoring opportunities for everyone.

Randle is averaging 20.1 points per game which is exactly the same as last season. But his field goal percentage is up from 41.1 percent to 45.9 percent. Similarly, Barrett is also hovering around his scoring numbers from last season (20.0 PPG last season, 19.6 PPG this season). But his efficiency numbers are up (40.8% FG last season to 43.1% FG this season). 

The Knicks are still a work in progress, but they’re not lounging around near the bottom of the East anymore. They’re right in the thick of things early in the season. A huge credit for that improvement has to go to Brunson.

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland has built a solid team these past few years. They overachieved last season and went on to fight for a playoff spot in the East. They could have slow-played this current young core they have and incrementally improve from last season’s finish. But when the Utah Jazz went on a fire sale, they saw their opportunity and pounced. The Cavaliers added Donovan Mitchell and he’s supercharged the team with an MVP-caliber start to the new season. 

Mitchell is doing superstar things in Cleveland. He’s a killer in isolation, armed with a bag of moves that he can deploy on any defender. That ability to create shots for himself gives the team a legitimate closer that they can rely on when things break down in the endgame.

Spida’s supernatural athleticism also makes him a threat in the open court. Darius Garland never had a finisher that can finish a break like this:

Mitchell’s scoring has also been unlocked now that he’s playing in lineups with more shooting, opening up swaths of space to get to the hoop. He’s averaging 31.2 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting, both career-high numbers.

Just like Ja Morant did last season, Mitchell is making the leap from All-Star to franchise player and he’s carrying his team with him. Instead of the Jazz, though, it’s the Cavs that are going along for the ride.