As the NBA season starts to wind down and the playoff bracket begins to shape itself, teams start targeting the areas of their roster that need to be improved. Some teams naturally need more than others since only one Larry O’Brien trophy is handed out each season, though even the league’s elite teams are always looking to add pieces and retool as well.
So, as the offseason quickly approaches and with free agency looming here is a look at the top available shooting guards that could be looking to add a backcourt punch to teams of all competition levels.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — Restricted Free Agent
The top free-agent in this season’s shooting guard class, Caldwell-Pope is in the last year of his rookie deal with the Detroit Pistons, and he’s putting together a season that should have them thinking long and hard about offering him a max-contract extension.
By improving his 3-point shooting to a very respectable 37 percent this season, Caldwell-Pope officially entered into the realm of a high-level “3-and-D” wing player that is so coveted throughout the NBA. At 6-foot-5 and utilizing his 6-foot-8 wingspan, Caldwell-Pope has turned into a pest on the defensive wing.
Over the last two seasons, Caldwell-Pope has posted defensive win share numbers of 2.7 and 2.2. His ability to impact the defensive end of the court is what makes him so valuable moving forward. Coupled with his increased efficiency on the offensive end — converting a career-high 64 percent of shots within three feet of the rim — Caldwell-Pope could continue to legitimize himself as a two-way player.
On top of it all, he’s still just 24 years old. There’s plenty of time left in his career. That paired with his potential could likely land him a big dollar offer sheet should the Pistons decide to let him test the market.
J.J. Redick — Unrestricted Free Agent
Chris Paul’s backcourt running mate is set to hit the free agent pool. After carving out a niche in Los Angeles with the Clippers it’s hard to see Redick walking away. But crazier things have happened in free agency.
Redick’s skill as a perimeter scorer is an integral part of the Clippers’ offense. Averaging 14.7 points per game this season, slightly down from last year’s, Redick is still in line with his career average 41 percent 3-point shooting clip.
With Doc Rivers’ offense navigated by Paul, and two elite big men in Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin, a knockdown kick out option is crucial to their success. Unless the 32-year-old Redick receives a whopping offer from another team desperate for shooters, expect him back in L.A.
Dwyane Wade — Player Option
After turning 35 this past January, Wade certainly isn’t the youngest option on the market. But the longtime Miami HEAT star is enjoying a resurgence season in his first year with the Chicago Bulls.
Averaging 18.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game Wade is showing that he’s still got some gas left in the tank. With his athleticism not at the level it once was, Wade has looked this season to refine his shooting form. As a result, he’s connecting on 31.5 percent of his shots from 3-point range. This isn’t the best percentage in the league by any means, but it is the most efficient Wade has shot from downtown since the 2008-09 season when he hit 31.7 of his shots from beyond the arc.
However, it would be a long shot to expect Wade to hit the open market. After being shut down for the season on March 15 with a sprain and fracture in his right elbow, Wade will enter this offseason with a $23.8 million player option. Coming off an injury and with his age no secret around the league, it would be unlikely Wade gets that type of value in another deal.
Dion Waiters — Player Option
From the former shooting guard in Miami to the current one. Waiters is currently enjoying the strongest overall season of his career in South Beach.
Since Jan. 17, the HEAT are an NBA-best 23-5, and in large part because of Waiters’ play. Over that span, the Philadelphia native is averaging 18.4 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. Waiters’ spike in production is partly a result of his hot-streak 3-point shooting; he’s connecting on 44 percent of his three’s over the HEAT’s run.
The hot play from Waiters has propelled Miami from the league’s basement to vying for a playoff berth. It’s also potentially propelling Waiters into a pay raise. Currently, Waiters will have a player option at the end of the season worth $3 million. Should his play continue and the HEAT find themselves playing postseason basketball, Waiters could be in line for a bigger deal from Miami. Or he could take his talents out of South Beach and to the highest bidder on the free market.
Tim Hardaway Jr. — Restricted Free Agent
After spending his first two seasons with the New York Knicks, Hardaway Jr. is using the final season of his rookie contract to flourish with the Atlanta Hawks.
Hardaway Jr. is averaging 13.9 points in just 25.9 minutes per game as a key reserve for the playoff-bound Hawks. Along with upping his scoring output, he also is producing career-highs in nearly every other offensive statistical category as well. Playing a legitimate role on a playoff team certainly doesn’t hurt your value, and should Hardaway Jr. have a strong showing in the postseason, it’s reasonable to see him command a good contract from the Hawks.
The opposite side of the coin in that scenario, though, would be Hardaway Jr. playing well enough convince another club to pay him more than Atlanta — who will commit $16.9 million to Kent Bazemore next season — would be willing to offer. Either way, Hardaway Jr. has produced enough to the level that he will be a popular option on the market this summer.
Sean Kilpatrick — Team Option
Perhaps the player on this list who’s helped himself the most over the last season and a half is Kilpatrick. Discarded in the league as a journeyman and near wash-out, Kilpatrick found new life in Brookly,n where he’s been one of the Nets’ few consistently good players. He’s owed $1.5 million next season, but the money isn’t guaranteed.
After putting together the season Kilpatrick has — 13.3 points, 4 rebounds and 34 percent 3-point shooting per game — finding another dotted line to sign and extend his stay in the NBA won’t be a hard task to accomplish should he find himself in the free-agent pool.
Tyreke Evans — Unrestricted Free Agent
Following the DeMarcus Cousins-to-New Orleans trade, Evans found himself back where it all started in Sacramento. This time, the 6-foot-6 guard arrives with much less hype.
Seven years have passed since Evans turned in that 20/5/5 rookie year that only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson accomplished as rookies up until that point. Since then, Evans has generally regressed in each of his statistical categories. Regardless, he has been a fairly productive player when on the court.
Health issues will always be a concern for Evans, who’s never registered a full 82-game season during his career. But by fashioning himself into a decent 3-point shooter over the last two seasons (37 percent compared to 27 percent in his first six seasons) Evans should be able to provide a nice bench scoring option for some team this summer.
Kyle Korver — Unrestricted Free Agent
A true one-trick pony, Korver’s ability to consistently shoot well from beyond the arc will allow him to find a job in NBA with relative ease.
How Korver impacts the Cleveland Cavaliers this June in the playoffs should determine whether General Manager David Griffin inks him to a new deal. But considering the Cavs gave up a first-round pick for Korver back in January, it would be wise to imagine Korver back in Cleveland.
Gerald Henderson — Team Option
Henderson made a hometown return to Philadelphia last summer to provide some veteran presence to a 76ers roster that desperately needed it. He’s owed $9 million next season, but due to Philadelphia’s desolate backcourt situation plus plenty of cap space, Henderson should most likely be retained.
However, should he hit the open market, Henderson can provide a team with a solid two-way option off the bench.
Nick Young — Player Option
Swaggy P could find himself shopping around for another team to bring his scoring and swag to this summer.
With an option of $5.6 million on the table for Young to pick up, his decision will ultimately come down to what the Los Angeles Lakers do in the NBA Draft. Should they draft another guard like Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, Young could be on the outside looking in for meaningful minutes in an already-crowded backcourt.
While the money is good for Young in Los Angeles, he can still provide productive minutes and scoring for many teams throughout the league. If he decides to turn down his option, he should have no trouble latching on to a team as a bench scorer.
Vince Carter — Unrestricted Free Agent
At 40 years old, Carter continues to elude father time. The eight-time All-Star is averaging 24 minutes a game, his most since 2013-14, so even at his advanced age Carter is providing a decent amount of play for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Hitting an open market at 40 should be interesting for Carter. He’s shown he can still play, and has transformed his once high-flying offensive repertoire into a decent shooting game. Carter also still brings a positive defensive box plus/minus to the table.
Whether Memphis decides to bring him back or not may depend slightly on what they do with the next man on our list, and whether or not Carter chooses to retire.
Tony Allen — Unrestricted Free Agent
One of his generation’s best perimeter defenders, Allen is still very productive at age 35. Averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, Allen can do more than just guard the opposing team’s best wing player.
But he’s still pretty good at that too. A defensive box plus/minus of 2.6 shows Allen is still doing more than his fair share on the defensive end of the court. It will be interesting to see how the Memphis Grizzlies handle both Allen and Carter. Should they let Allen walk, his numbers this season prove he can still contribute solid production to a potential contender looking to add a veteran glue guy.
Manu Ginobili — Unrestricted Free Agent
There’s a slim-to-none chance Ginobili walks from San Antonio to another team. At 39 years old and after spending every season with the Spurs, including those four championship seasons, it’s hard to see the Argentina native on another team.
Should the near impossible happen and Ginobili chooses a new home over San Antonio and retirement, a team will surely give him a look based strictly off name value.
Ben McLemore — Restricted Free Agent
Failing to live up to the hype after being drafted No. 7 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, McLemore is nearing the end of his rookie contract with the Sacramento Kings.
Despite averaging just 7.2 points a game, McLemore has averaged a career-high 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That bright spot alone could warrant the Kings extending McLemore a $5.3 million qualifying offer to see if he can make another jump in improvement next season.
If not, another team could take a chance on an underachieving high draft pick at a low price. Should McLemore suddenly live up to his initial expectations, the signing would be considered a home run.
Shabazz Muhammad — Restricted Free Agent
Muhammad is in a similar situation to McLemore, although he’s been slightly more productive.
At 24 years old, Muhammad is a nice young piece for a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves, but their roster is already relatively stacked at the wing positions. Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Tyus Jones all get minutes at various backcourt spots. So it will be up to the Timberwolves if they want to invest money into Muhammad.
Should he walk, some team would benefit from giving him a shot at a fairly cheap deal.
NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward
Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.
Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.
Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.
“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”
Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.
In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.
“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”
And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.
But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.
During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.
Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.
“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”
Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.
Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.
On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.
“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”
The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.
Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.
“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”
Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.
NBA Daily: Harry Giles, Just What the Doctor Ordered
It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles, but judging by his showing in Las Vegas, he might be worth the wait.
It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles. But, if his performance this summer is anything to go by, he will be well worth the wait for the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings knew they were taking a risk with Giles. After he was selected 20th overall in 2017, he missed the entire season due to injury concerns. Originally projected to return in January 2018, the Kings pushed his return back to this summer, giving Giles the opportunity to further rehab his knees, both of which have dealt with serious injuries since his time in high school.
But now, with his chance to finally show what he can do on the court, Giles has shown, in more ways than one, he is just what the doctor ordered for the Kings. He’s shown that he can be a and wants to be a leader as much as a dominant force on the court.
“Me being a little older, being a little more experienced, I’ve just got to go out there and lead by example,” Giles told Basketball Insiders during his stint at the Las Vegas Summer League.
Sacramento has desperately lacked a franchise leader for years. They haven’t topped 35 wins in a decade. They haven’t made the postseason in 12 years, the longest active drought in the NBA. Since shipping out DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento has done well to stockpile good, young players: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willy Cauley-Stein, Marvin Bagley III, Giles and others are all building toward the future, but no one has stepped up to fill that void. Every young team needs a leader, especially when they play in the brutal Western Conference.
And Giles has taken that role upon himself personally.
To start, Giles has been a force on the court for the Kings, both in the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League. Across seven games he has averaged 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals and shot 44.2 percent from the floor while playing hardnosed defense on the other end. The Kings ranked dead last in scoring last season, were 28th in rebounding and 22nd in field goal percentage, so his contributions will definitely be welcomed in all of those areas and more. He has been praised by coaches and fellow players alike as well.
“The coaches trust me to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and I do a good job of not trying to overdo it, just play my spots and my position.”
“I’m starting to put myself together,” Giles said.
Giles also told Basketball Insiders that he feels like a leader “more and more each game” and that his job is “about making everyone feel comfortable” on the court. That, he noted, starts with talking to one another on the floor.
“I learned from my vets that you have to talk to get yourself comfortable,” Giles said. “You’ve got to let guys know that it’s okay to talk, it’s smart to talk, it helps to talk, it gets you comfortable.”
True to his words, Giles has been one of the more vocal Kings this summer, whether he be on the court or watching from the bench. That, combined with his maturity, cultivated during his time lost to injury, makes him one of the better candidates to become that guy for Sacramento, someone that can lead them back to contention.
Still, Giles reiterated that a leader must lead by example and that that is what he’s tried to do all summer.
“You really can’t be a leader unless you lead by example,” Giles said. “You’ve got to show to prove, and that’s what I try to go out there and do.
The Kings hope Giles can do just that, for this season and for many others. He’ll have to if Sacramento wants to return to the postseason.
NBA Daily: Jackson and Ayton give Phoenix hope
After years of dwelling in mediocrity, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton give the Suns their first glimmer of promise since the Steve Nash era.
Since ending the Steve Nash era back in 2012, the Phoenix Suns have struggled to find a clear direction to go.
In the last six years, the Suns have been on an unpredictably wild ride to put it delicately. There’s been rebuilding, there’s been overachieving, there’s been re-tooling, there’s been bridge burning, and then there’s been trading that valuable Lakers pick for $70 million of Brandon Knight.
At the height of their wild ride has been their recent draft history.
Following a season in which they were tanking, the Suns whiffed when they took Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in 2013. Two years later, following a season in which they were not tanking, the Suns struck gold when they took Devin Booker with the 13th pick.
Their other picks leading up to 2017 have ranged from solid (TJ Warren) to highly questionable (Marquese Chriss) to long-term project (Dragan Bender). While not bad, it’s fair to say that, up until recently, the Suns’ drafting hasn’t exactly gotten them out of the mess they’ve created since Nash left.
However, their recent lottery picks—Josh Jackson and DeAndre Ayton—have given the team reason to believe that the new glorious new era they’ve been waiting for post-Nash has finally arrived.
This of course started the second Ayton was drafted by the Suns on draft night, but the hype has only grown stronger since the summer league began.
That starts with Jackson. The fourth overall pick from 2017 did not have the best start to his rookie season, but as he got more reps, his numbers vastly improved across the board, indicating that there should be plenty of optimism surrounding what next season holds for the sophomore.
His numbers have not been very pretty so far in the summer league, but Jackson continues to show more and more glimpses of the all-around player that scouts pegged him to be coming into the league, highlighted by his “Welcome to the league” swat of Marvin Bagley during the team’s second game against the Kings.
Josh Jackson welcomes Marvin Bagley to the league. 👀
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 8, 2018
Even with his struggles, Jackson believes that there has been a notable difference playing in this year’s summer league compared to last year’s for him.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Coming in this year, I feel more like a leader, like I’m more knowledgeable about how things are supposed to go out there so I’ve been trying to be a little bit more vocal with the guys out there, trying to make sure that they are in the right position on offensive and defensive sets.”
Jackson also noted that, since being in the summer league, that his biggest lesson he’s taken is to consistently work hard on the parquet floor.
“The biggest thing I learned is to come out and play with effort,” Jackson said. “Each and every time you step out there, you gotta come with it, or the guy across from you will get the best of you.”
Jackson’s skills have been on display in the summer league, but all eyes have been on this years’ first overall pick in the draft, DeAndre Ayton. Expectations are sky high for the young big as he entered the league. Hence, he wasted no time showing the big leagues what he could do. In only 22 minutes of action against the Dallas Mavericks, Ayton put up an efficient stat line of 10 points and eight rebounds in his first game in the summer league.
Ayton later capitalized on his promising start in his next game against the Kings. The University of Arizona alum made it look too easy out there as he put up a stat line of 21 points and 12 rebounds in just 29 minutes of action. Ayton has continued his electric play since and has looked every bit the player Phoenix believed he could be when they took him.
As far as first impressions go, Deandre Ayton could not have started his career off any better in the Las Vegas Summer League. Though he has met (or arguably even exceeded) expectations so far, Ayton has taken the note of the differences between college ball and NBA ball.
“Transitioning from college to the NBA, everybody is physical,” Ayton said. “Some dudes might not look strong, but they are pretty strong.”
As impressive as he has been, Ayton prefers to remain humble in regards to his performance as he continues to get more experience under his belt as a pro.
“I could do better, but overall I thought I did alright,” Ayton said. “I just think forgetting one or two plays and not really staying vocal with the fatigue, I gotta work on those, but I thought I did alright.”
The Suns have struggled to figure out their identity since they went for the rebuild six years ago. With Jackson and Ayton leading the way among their other youngsters on the roster, the Suns now have a great foundation of youth to work with for the next decade.
For their sake, these young gun Suns will hopefully lead the Suns to more success than the Steve Nash era, but that’s easier said than done.