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2017 Free Agent Rankings: Small Forwards

Who are the best upcoming free agent small forwards in this year’s free agent pool? Spencer Davies dives in.

Spencer Davies

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When you think of the most versatile position in basketball, you almost have to say small forward. It’s a crucial part of this league to have wings that can serve multiple purposes and fulfill different roles as assigned by their coaches.

With that being said, there are quite a few teams that have yet to find a wing to consistently keep in the rotation, so without further ado, here are the best small forwards in this summer’s upcoming free agent pool.

TIER 1

Kevin Durant – Player Option

The Warriors are going to have some serious decisions to make this summer.

With half of its dynamic core four and many major role players entering free agency in the 2017 offseason, Golden State’s top priority will certainly be retaining both Durant and the sure to be heavily-sought-after Stephen Curry.

There are two ways this can happen for Bob Myers and company:

A) Durant opts into his player option, makes $27.7 million next season, and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018.

B) Durant opts out of his player option and enters the free agent pool as a 10-year veteran for the first time in his career, where he can ask for a maximum contract valued at $36 million. The Warriors would have to open up cap space in order to make things work because they do not have his Bird rights.

Regardless of how it happens, all signs point to Durant staying in the bay area next season along with Curry. When it’s all said and done, the two teammates could be the highest paid duo in the history of the league.

Though the Warriors will lose some key pieces, it will be well worth it when it comes to Durant. Before the unfortunate knee injury he suffered in Washington, the 28-year-old superstar was flourishing for Steve Kerr.

In 59 games, Durant has the highest true shooting percentage among his teammates and is shooting the highest field goal percentage of his career thus far.

Gordon Hayward – Player Option

Could a Butler reunion be in the works between Hayward and his former college coach Brad Stevens?

The Celtics’ interest in the 26-year-old has been well known for a number of years. Going into this summer, it’s likely that they, as well as a ton of other teams, will make a huge run after him.

In his first All-Star season, Hayward has really taken the load on Quin Snyder’s offense. Across the board in points, rebounds, free throw percentage and both field goals made and attempted, he is averaging career bests in his seventh season as a pro. He’s also taken a major step forward defensively, acting as a primary wing stopper for a top-five defense.

Hayward is likely to opt out and will certainly be offered a max contract by somebody, but the Jazz would be able to match any offer and pay him more money than any other team. Hayward has stated his singular desire to play in the location that gives him the best shot at winning a ring.

TIER 2

Otto Porter Jr. – Restricted Free Agent

Gradual improvement has been the theme of Porter’s career, but this season has turned into a real breakout for him. In fact, if it wasn’t for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous All-Star year, the former Georgetown Hoya could’ve been the frontrunner for Most Improved Player.

It’s all started with the confidence in his jump shot. Among those who attempt at least four threes per game, Porter’s 44.8 percent clip is tied for the best in the NBA with veteran gunner Kyle Korver. Going a step further with his offensive game, Porter leads the entire league in effective field goal percentage (61.5%) with a minimum of 10 attempts per game.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the catalysts behind the Wizards’ climb up the Eastern Conference ranks, but the impact Porter’s had as that tertiary scoring option has really pushed them to the next level.

If how he’s played in the regular season is any indication of how he’ll perform in the playoffs, Porter will get a lot of shine and teams needing a reliable wing will be lining up to sign him to an offer sheet.

Whether Washington will match those potential offers will depend on who comes after him and how much money teams would be willing to give up. If a max contract offer ($25.8 million) comes around for Porter, there could be a tough choice to make for Ernie Grunfeld.

Danilo Gallinari – Player Option

Over the last three seasons, it’s been a chore to stay healthy for Gallinari. What’s even worse is that over the span of his nine-year career, only twice has he eclipsed 70 games in a single season.

That being said, any team that lacks versatility and needs someone to score points in bunches should look no further than Gallinari. In today’s NBA, versatility between positions is a necessity. At 6-foot-10, the veteran swingman can occupy the frontcourt in multiple roles while also being a real threat on the perimeter.

Averaging 17.7 points in over 33 minutes of action per game, Gallinari’s proved to be a great fit in a high-octane offense that gets up and down the floor.

His defensive deficiencies may shy some executives away from going all in with a max deal, but with a league headed towards more and more offense it may not matter. Gallinari could make up to $30.1 million per year if that turns out to be the case.

Considering that his player option would yield him just $16 million next season, as well as an abundance of forwards on the Nuggets’ roster, the logical decision would be to opt out.

Rudy Gay – Player Option

Similar to Gallinari, the 11-year veteran has made a living in the league as an aggressive go-to scorer, and a lot of teams could use an experienced presence like Gay. Going into this season with the Kings, Gay’s mind was already made up. He was betting on himself, opting out of his current deal and hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent.

Then, a freak accident happened. On January 18 in Indiana, Gay ruptured his left Achilles on a non-contact play. He had been battling knick-knack injuries before that point, but this one was season ending.

Needless to say, that threw a wrench into the 30-year-old’s plans for the summer, as he now stands undecided on his player option with Sacramento.

If he were to opt in, Gay would earn $14.2 million next year and become a free agent in 2018. Assuming he doesn’t, though, he still could have plenty of suitors despite the bad break. It really depends on what his agent believes regarding how much his market value will take a hit.

Andre Roberson – Restricted Free Agent

As an already-elite defensive talent at such a young age, Roberson could be the league’s best on-ball defender in the near future. He might already be, depending on who you talk to.

Though his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, Roberson will come along as long he keeps getting shots up. This season, he’s attempting two more shots per game than the previous year.

Roberson hasn’t been as successful from deep as most, but he makes up for it by contributing to other areas of the game. There are only 15 players in the NBA that average at least one steal, one block and five rebounds per game, and he is a part of that group.

A true defensive stopper has become a rarity in this league, so teams will take that into consideration when deciding their offer sheets for Roberson.

TIER 3

P.J. Tucker – Unrestricted Free Agent

Tucker arrived in Toronto to start the second half of the season after being traded by the rebuilding Suns.

Since coming back to “The North” where he was originally drafted, Tucker’s presence has been felt in every game already. The Raptors’ defensive rating is 94.5 with him on the court and 112.1 with him on the bench.

Add in the fact that he’s got the ability to knock down the occasional corner three, and Tucker is a solid piece to any team, especially a championship contender.

Bojan Bogdanovic – Restricted Free Agent

Another deadline acquisition, Bogdanovic is a sharpshooter who has fit in beautifully off of the Wizards’ bench. He’s a guy that comes in and shoots the lights out.

Following the move to Washington from Brooklyn, the Bosnian sniper is knocking down 43 percent of his triples. He’s not shy about letting it go, either, averaging at least five three attempts per game in only 25 minutes of action.

Bogdanovic is a confident player who would be a welcome addition to many organizations out there, but knowing where the Wizards were before adding him, Washington would be wise to match what he’s offered.

C.J. Miles – Player Option

Still in his prime at 29 years old, Miles has 12 years of experience under his belt between three teams in his career.

With the Pacers this season, he’s taken his knack for shooting threes to another level of success. On five-and-a-half attempts per game, Miles is hitting nearly 42 percent. It’s the best he’s performed in his career so far and his confidence is sky high.

A player who once was a gamble in free agency because of inconsistency has matured into one of the most dependable shooters in the league.

Andre Iguodala – Unrestricted Free Agent

With the potential two max deals on the table between Curry and Durant, it’s probable that Iguodala won’t be a part of the Warriors next season for the first time in four years.

As a savvy veteran, Iguodala can provide any young team with leadership, as well as any contender with a key piece on the court. This can be scoring, defending or whatever is asked of him. He’s been known to be outspoken at times in the press, but on the court, Iguodala has been a consummate professional throughout his 13-year career and is well respected league-wide.

TIER 4

Robert Covington – Team Option

With an up and coming roster full of young talent, the Sixers could decline their team option on Covington.

For another team, though, Covington would be able to contribute as a defender and a scorer if need be. In the past three seasons, he’s consistently averaged 13 points per game. He’ll also get you steals and some boards.

Joe Ingles – Restricted Free Agent

Ingles is one of those players whose numbers aren’t telling of his true meaning to the team. Sure, he’s fifth in the league in three-point percentage among those attempting at least three per game, but the real story is his unselfishness and willingness to make the right plays for the benefit of the Jazz.

Tony Snell – Restricted Free Agent

With each season, Snell’s role has increased year-by-year, but nowhere near to what it’s been for Jason Kidd and the Bucks. As a starter for the entire season, Snell has taken more shots and improved his offensive game dramatically. The market will decide his value, but Milwaukee would be wise to match if a team offers him a reasonable deal.

Justin Holiday – Unrestricted Free Agent

In his fourth season in the league, Holiday’s been on five different teams and it’s been a real journey for him to display his talents. But in the opportunities he’s gotten this season with the Knicks, the 27-year-old has shown his professionalism and has proven he can deliver when his number is called upon.
Other Notable Upcoming Free Agents:

Unrestricted: Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, Michael Beasley

Player Option: Luc Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham

Team Option: Jerami Grant

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA

David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.

David Yapkowitz

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Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.

But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.

“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”

Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.

He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.

VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.

Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.

“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”

VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.

Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.

“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”

The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.

Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.

“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”

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G-League

NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard

On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.

Dennis Chambers

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Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.

In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.

Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.

Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.

Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.

Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.

For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.

“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”

Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.

Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.

“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”

After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.

During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.

Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.

For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.

“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”

New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.

On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.

After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.

Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.

“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game,  more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.

“I know it’s coming,” he said.

When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.

“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”

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NBA

NBA DAILY: Lou Williams Stepping Up For Injured Clippers

The Clippers have been hit by injuries again, but Lou Williams is doing everything he can to keep the team afloat.

Jesse Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season. Blake Griffin is sidelined until approximately February of next year. Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for an extended period of time with a glute injury and will continue to be out of action for some time after suffering a second glute injury recently. Patrick Beverley underwent season ending microfracture surgery in November. Milos Teodosic suffered a foot injury in just the second game of the season and only recently returned to the lineup. Austin Rivers just suffered a concussion and could miss some time as well.

With so many injuries, the Clippers currently find themselves in the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-15 record. This isn’t what the Clippers had in mind when they brought back a solid haul of players last offseason in exchange for Chris Paul.

Competing with the top teams in the Western Conference was always going to be difficult for this Clippers team. Los Angeles has plenty of talent on the roster and added a few younger prospects to develop. However, key players like Griffin and Gallinari are injury prone and both needed to stay on the court for the Clippers to have any hope of staying in range of the West’s top teams. The Clippers lost 9 games straight in the middle of November and it looked as though they were on course to be competing for a top lottery pick in next season’s draft.

However, despite all of the injuries and setbacks, Lou Williams, along with iron man DeAndre Jordan, has picked up the slack and has done more than his fair share to keep the Clippers’ playoff hopes alive. This season, Williams is averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). Williams is sporting a healthy 21.2 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a near career best rating (Williams posted a 21.4 PER last season). His True Shooting percentage (59.3) is tied with his career high rating, which Williams posted last season as well. Williams’s free throw rate has taken a dip this season, but his ability to draw timely (and often questionable) fouls has been a valuable asset to his team once again. Simply put, Williams has been particularly efficient on offense this season for the Clippers – a team that has lost its most reliable scorers and playmakers.

“We’ve had some guys go down with injuries and somebody has to step in and fill that scoring void,” Williams said after helping the Clippers defeat the Magic. “I’ve been able to do it.”

Williams has also hit plenty of big shots for the Clippers this season. Most recently, Williams knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds against the Washington Wizards that sealed the win for the Clippers. The Clippers are used to having a natural born scorer coming off the bench to act as a sparkplug as they had Jamal Crawford on the roster for the last five seasons. Similar to Crawford, Williams struggles to hold his own on the defensive side of the ball. But Williams has been more effective defensively so far this season for the Clippers than Crawford was for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Williams isn’t going to lock down the Russell Westbrooks of the world, but he isn’t giving back the majority of the points he scores either.

In addition to his scoring, Williams is a solid playmaker and has managed to facilitate the Clippers’ offense at various points of the season. Williams isn’t exactly Chris Paul in terms of setting up his teammates for easy baskets, but he has been notably effective in this role, which is very important considering how many playmakers have falled to injury this season. Williams is now, arguably, the team’s best offensive weapon and one of its most effective floor generals. Now that we are nearly two months into the NBA season, it seems as though Williams and his teammates are starting to find a little more chemistry with one another.

“I think these guys are just starting to be more comfortable. They understand we’re going to have some injuries and guys are going to be down,” Williams said recently. “So they’re just playing with a lot of confidence. I think at first you’re kind of getting your feet wet and guys don’t want to make mistakes. Now guys are just going out there and playing as hard as they can.”

Williams will need to continue building chemistry with his teammates if they are to keep pace until players like Gallinari and Griffin make it back onto the court.

The Clippers have won six of their last 10 games and are starting to steady what had becoming a sinking ship. Smart gamblers and predictive algorithms would caution against betting on the Clippers making the playoffs this season, but they are in much better shape now than they were in the middle of November — an accomplishment that Williams deserves plenty of credit for.

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