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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.