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NBA AM: Potential Draft Busts

There are seven common mistakes GMs make during the draft, which could make for some disappointing picks this June.

Joel Brigham

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For several years now, I’ve been writing some version of this article, which looks at some of the biggest mistakes that teams historically have made when approaching the NBA Draft. Teams still are making the same mistakes, but many organizations seem to be figuring things out. Maybe it’s just because 2017 has a strong crop of players at the top of the draft, but it doesn’t look like many top teams are in any real danger of committing any particularly egregious errors.

But some team always makes an egregious error. It happens every single year, and usually, it boils down to one of the following:

#7 – Drafting players with questions about character

Why they do it: Because Dennis Rodman is a Hall-of-Famer. There’s more behind it than that, obviously, with other players like Ron Artest and Amar’e Stoudemire also having had tremendous careers despite questions about their character. Players like these are more the exception than the rule, however, and in many cases, when a player comes in with a history of bad behavior, it can be better to just let them go. No talent is worth locking yourself into a guaranteed first-round pick if they’re going to make the locker room miserable somewhere down the road.

Case in point: P.J. Hairston (Charlotte, 26th pick in the 2014 draft), Arnett Moultrie (Philadelphia, 27th pick in the 2012 draft) Terrence Williams (New Jersey, 11th pick in 2009 draft), Sean Williams (New Jersey, 17th pick in 2007 draft) and Sebastian Telfair (Portland, 13th pick in 2004 draft)

The closest thing we’ve got to real character concerns in the first round this year is Josh Jackson, who in April agreed to a diversion agreement stemming from a December incident in which he was alleged to have kicked the door and taillight of a car. He’ll have to attend anger management classes and refrain from alcohol and recreational drugs for 12 months as part of the agreement, which aren’t necessarily the worst parameters for an NBA rookie to have set on his newly-glamorous lifestyle.

Outside of Jackson, the biggest character concerns come from potential second rounders like LSU’s Craig Victor, who was suspended for using recreational drugs, and Houston guard Damyean Dotson, who was booted off of the University of Oregon basketball team because of rape allegations in 2014.

In other words, teams seem to be learning their lesson in at least this regard, though if one of the elite lottery talents did have a “history,” there’s little doubt that some team with a high pick still would take the plunge. That just isn’t a major concern this year, thankfully.

#6 – Drafting players with histories of injury

Why they do it: Because injuries heal, but talent is forever. At least, that’s what teams tell themselves when they use a first-round pick on a player who faced a lot of injuries in college. Every year, some player with injury concerns drops and drops and drops down the draft board, but every year there’s also a previously injured player who gets taken very, very high. In some cases, things work out okay (Kenyon Martin, Kyrie Irving), but other times (like with Greg Oden), it can be devastating. If all things are equal, and a GM has a choice between a player known for being hurt or a player with a clean bill of health, why not just draft the Kevin Durant?

Case in point: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia, 3rd pick in the 2014 draft), Greg Oden (Portland, 1st pick in the 2007 draft), Brandon Roy (Minnesota, 6th pick in the 2006 draft), Wayne Simien (Miami, 29th pick in the 2005 draft)

This draft’s potential culprits: Harry Giles, OG Anunoby. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Anunoby is the sort of defensive stud that can allow NBA teams to do all sorts of awesome things on that end of the floor, but he’s coming off a torn ACL and may not be ready for the start of the NBA season. If that injury lingers, he could even miss his entire first season, and are the lottery teams considering taking him really interested in a rookie who can’t help them crawl back into the postseason? Philadelphia has faced massive frustrations with Embiid, who is awesome but terribly fragile, so it’s hard to use picks that high on kids who are such risks.

As for Giles, it’s probably not a good thing that he tore his ACL twice before even getting out of high school. He’s healthy now, and it’s impossible to deny the talent of a young man that once was rated as the top high school prospect in the country, but the risk attached to Giles is just outrageous. At some point in the draft, it becomes more advantageous to take that risk over playing it safe with a healthier (but less talented) player, but most teams want to get real value out of their first-round picks at this point. Using that pick on someone who may never play meaningful minutes for your team is a hard sell.

#5 – Drafting for potential rather than experience

Why they do it: Because a high ceiling is better than a high floor. How many times do we see teams go with a kid that might be good rather than a player who already is undeniably reliable? Usually, the “potential” guys that succeed are the ones that pretty much everybody agrees on. The ones with a considerably smaller success rate are the “hope-so” guys, and that’s where the problem lies. You’re probably not going to strike out with LeBron James over anybody else in that amazing 2003 draft, for example, but in 2001, when three of the top four players drafted were high schoolers, we saw a lot of faith poured into young prospects when plenty of proven college studs were available. It gets teams into trouble more often than it saves them, even in the years since high school kids were banned from the draft.

Case in point: Anthony Bennett (Cleveland, 1st pick in 2013 draft ahead of Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter). Brandon Knight (Detroit, 8th pick in the 2011 draft ahead of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard). Marvin Williams (Atlanta, 2nd pick in 2005 draft ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams). Shaun Livingston (LAC, 4th pick in the 2004 draft ahead of Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala). Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry (1st and 4th picks in 2001 draft ahead of Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, and more).

This draft’s potential culprit: Zack Collins, Ike Anigbogu, Tony Bradley. All three of these young players could end up being selected as first-rounders despite not having been among the top four or five players on their own college teams last year. Collins is tall and offensively gifted on both ends of the floor, creating that prototypical “stretch-five” that has become a staple in the modern NBA, while Anigbogu is a defensive freak with a highlight reel that would make any NBA scout drool. Bradley, meanwhile, is a fringe first-round selection based on potential alone. He showed flashes of brilliance at UNC but only played 14.6 minutes per game as a freshman last year. None of these guys played big minutes, but teams still are likely to make big bets on their talent, minutes be damned.

#4 – Trying to find the next big international success

Why they do it: Because nothing makes a GM look smarter when he pulls a diamond from the rough of overseas professional basketball. Also, there are times when a team wants to take advantage of a foreign market for financial reasons, and that helps fuel drafting an international prospect as well.

Despite their popularity, though, not all of these international kids will work out. There’s huge flop potential for these unproven players, but as long as there is a Kristaps Porzingis or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Rudy Gobert to be found, teams will keep digging.

Case in point: Georgios Papagiannis (Sacramento, 13th pick in the 2016 draft), Bruno Caboclo (Toronto, 20th pick in the 2014 draft), Lucas Nogueira (Atlanta, 16th pick in the 2013 draft), Jan Vesely (Washington, 6th pick in the 2011 draft), Yi Jianlian (Milwaukee, 6th pick in 2007 draft), Fran Vasquez (Orlando, 11th pick in 2005 draft), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick in 2002 draft).

This draft’s potential culprit: Frank Ntilikina, Rodionss Kurucs, Isaiah Hartenstein. These days, when teams are looking at the next crop of stud international stars, they approach the process in much the same way they do for domestic prospects. Size, length, and athleticism trump all, which leads to scouts tracking down buzzy international kids who weren’t big contributors on their international teams, usually because they were so much younger than their more established professional teammates.

Ntilikina is the highest-rated international player this year, having averaged 5.1 points and 1.4 assists as a reserve point guard for Strasbourg last season. Kurucs averaged 9.5 point and 2.8 rebounds for his Spanish team, and Hartenstein posted a miserly one point and 0.8 rebounds in Lithuania. The risks for these players are the same as for Anigbogu and Collins, though perhaps more heavily weighted because of how little teams have seen of them.

#3– Drafting big

Why they do it: Because you can’t teach height. The best seven-footers in league history have been borderline unstoppable, so teams often find themselves erring on the side of tallness. There have been myriad times when a tall, unskilled player has been selected over a smaller, much more skilled one, and it’s all done with the hope that a team will strike it rich with an influential big guy. Unfortunately, the list of gigantic flops (pun intended) is pretty depressing, and this is a mistake GMs will never stop making because the potential payoff is entirely too big. Literally.

Case in point: Jakob Poltl (Toronto, 9th pick in the 2016 draft), Frank Kaminsky (Charlotte, 9th pick in the 2015 draft), Meyers Leonard (Portland, 11th pick in the 2012 draft), Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte, 7th pick, 2011), Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis, 2nd pick in 2009 draft), Patrick O’Bryant (Golden State, 9th pick in 2006 draft), Mouhammed Saer Sene (Seattle, 10th pick in 2006 draft), Pavel Podkolzin (Utah, 21st pick in 2004 draft), Sagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick in the 2001 draft).

This draft’s potential culprit: Jonathan Jeanne, Anzejs Pasecniks. NBA teams love a good tall guy, even as the NBA has turned away from more traditional fives, in large part because protecting the rim and hauling in rebounds never will go out of style. Unfortunately, big guys are very often slow guys, and sometimes unathletic guys, too, and that’s where organizations have run into trouble in the past.

At 7-foot-2, French player Jonathan Jeanne is a mouth-watering prospect, even if he looks like he could simply blow away in a moderate breeze. His height doesn’t guarantee dominance at the NBA level. Pasecniks also is 7-foot-2, but while he’s a little more sturdily built, he still only managed to haul in 3.1 rebounds per contest for his Spanish team last year. Guys that tall with any sort of athleticism are intriguing, but outside of the elite prospects, it’s rare that those inhumanly tall players end up wiggling their way onto All-Star teams and All-NBA teams.

#2– Drafting undersized players

Why they do it: This is most common when it comes to drafting 5-foot-11 point guards and 6-foot-7 power forwards, and success stories like Isaiah Thomas, Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Charles Barkley, Carlos Boozer and Dennis Rodman are enough to make GMs think that success can be repeated. These players all are/were awesome in their primes, but too often we see teams take risks on guys that are clearly too small to play their best position in the NBA because there’s this delusive phantom of hope that talent always transcends size. Occasionally, that can be true, but more often, the end result is players who are physically overpowered at the next level.

There’s a reason guys like this often slip to the second round; teams don’t want to guarantee contracts to players they aren’t sure can make it to the next level. Occasionally, though, these guys go way, way higher than they should, and that’s where the biggest mistakes are made.

Case in point: Johny Flynn (5-foot-9, 6th pick in 2009 draft), Ike Diogu (6-foot-8, 9th pick in 2005 draft), Sean May (6-foot-8, 13th pick in 2005 draft), Mike Sweetney (6-foot-8, 9th pick in the 2003 draft), Speedy Claxton (5-foot-11, 20th pick in 2000 draft)

This draft’s potential culprit: Frank Mason. In some ways, not drafting a great player because of his size could be seen as its own mistake. Kansas’ Frank Mason, for example, was one of the best players in college basketball last season but risks not getting drafted at all because he doesn’t crack six feet. Teams love him on a personal level, but can’t stomach the idea of taking a guard prospect that could be overwhelmed by the size of players with five or six inches on him at his same position. He was a great college player, but any team drafting him will have to bet that success can translate on the next level. If it doesn’t, Mason could be a wasted pick.

#1– Drafting for need over best player available

Why they do it: Because it’s the logical thing to do. Logic doesn’t always equal success, however, and that means we’ve seen some very logical picks go very wrong in the past. If you’re the Portland Trail Blazers in 1984 and you’ve already got Clyde Drexler, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to draft Michael Jordan, does it?

It can also go right, but occasionally this tactic gets GMs into trouble. In the big picture of big mistakes, however, this isn’t the worst one by far.

Case in point: Sam Bowie (2nd pick in 1984 draft, ahead of Michael Jordan), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade).

This draft’s potential culprit: Philadelphia 76ers. If everything goes according to plan, the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers will take the two best players in this draft in Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball with the top two picks, which means the Sixers will be gifted the opportunity to either take the best player available or try to find the best fit for the rebuild that really has started to come together for them.

In this draft, it’s hard to go wrong, but so much has been made of Philadelphia needing a point guard that it’s easy to see them going after a player like De’Aaron Fox. He doesn’t shoot three-pointers any better than most of the rest of that roster, though, and Ben Simmons is expected to do a good amount of the team’s ball handling this season. In this case, drafting at a position of need might not actually be the best fit. Josh Jackson, arguably the best player available at number three if Ball and Fultz are off the board, could be the better long-term prospect for the Sixers.

***

Nobody’s perfect, and as our own fantasy basketball and fantasy football teams prove year-in and year-out, we all kind of suck at putting teams together in our own special ways.

The lesson to be learned is that it apparently is best to shoot for the stars with long, athletic, relatively young players with the highest possible ceilings. College pedigree is preferred but not necessarily requisite, and staying away big stiffs and overly-obscure international prospects improves odds of success. Take the best player available, regardless of “team need,” and hope that a player’s measurable and character live up to their potential.

If all teams could draft like that, our Basketball Insiders mock drafts likely would be a whole lot more accurate.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Daily: Second-Round Draft Steals to Watch

Several possible second round picks have a chance to make an impact at the NBA level, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA Draft is upon us this week. The hopes and dreams of many basketball players will become reality. Each year there are players who are drafted in the second round who end up outperforming their draft selection spot.

A premium has been placed on draft picks in recent years. Even second round picks have become extremely valuable. For a team like the Golden State Warriors whose payroll might limit their ability to sign quality rotation players (veterans taking discounts to win a ring notwithstanding), smart drafting has seen them scoop up steals like Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. Both those players have emerged as key rotation guys on a championship team, and both were taken in the second round.

The second round is an opportunity to pick up overlooked young talent on cheap contracts. Sure, it’s rare to get a Manu Ginobili or an Isaiah Thomas or a Draymond Green that goes on to become an All-Star caliber player, but plenty of quality contributors can be found.

Here’s a look at a few guys who have a great chance at becoming second round steals.

1. Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Outside of DeAndre Ayton, there may not have been a more valuable player to the Arizona Wildcats last season than Allonzo Trier. He was the Wildcats second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. There have been questions about his supposed selfish style of play, but he’s been a solidly efficient player his three years at Arizona.

This past season as a junior, he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Over his three years in college, he was a 47.5 percent shooter from the field and a 37.8 percent shooter from the three-point line. He’s also an 82.3 percent shooter from the line. And he did dish out 3.2 assists this past season.

Trier is a scorer, plain and simple, an efficient one at that. Despite this, his name has failed to appear on many mock drafts. The few that actually project the second round as well have him being drafted near the end. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Trier has great size for a shooting guard in the NBA. A sixth man type scorer is probably his best projection at the next level.

2. Brandon McCoy – UNLV

The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite have such a noteworthy year, which might explain a little about why Brandon McCoy is flying under the radar. UNLV posted a 20-13 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, McCoy managed to emerge as their biggest bright spot.

In his lone college season, he led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. He also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and was their leading shot blocker at 1.8 blocks per game. For a big man, he shot a semi-decent 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

He has good size, he’s a legit seven-footer. He moves well on the floor and with some work, can be a very good defensive player. Part of what might be causing him to get overlooked is he doesn’t have much in terms of a mid-range game, a necessity for big men in today’s NBA game. But that can be worked on. At any rate, he can be a high energy big off the bench, good to come in and block some shots, grabs some boards and clean up around the rim. Every team could use a guy like that.

3. Devonte Graham – Kansas

One year ago, Devonte Graham’s Jayhawk teammate Frank Mason III was also being overlooked in the draft. Like Graham, the major issue working against him was his status as a four-year college player. Mason went on to be one of the bright spots for the Sacramento Kings, establishing himself as a legit NBA point guard.

This summer, Graham is looking to do the same. Mason was also a bit on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-11. Graham has little more size than that at 6-foot-2. He was the Jayhawks best player for most of the year, putting up 17.3 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the three-point line. He also dished out 7.2 assists per game.

Most mock drafts have consistently had Graham being drafted early to middle second round. Being a college senior, he has leadership abilities. He’d be perfect for any team looking for a solid point guard off the bench.

4. Chimezie Metu – USC

For much of the mock draft season, Chimezie Metu’s name appeared as a first round selection. But in recent weeks, as other names began to climb up the draft ladder, Metu it appears has fallen back into the second-round. It’s interesting though, as his skill set for a big man appears to project well in today’s NBA game.

He was the Trojans’ best player as a junior this past season. He put up 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field. He pulled down 7.4 rebounds while averaging 1.7 blocked shots. Although the percentages may not reflect that, he has an improving jump shot. He’s quick and mobile defensively.

He’s got all the tools be able to guard the post as well as switch out and guard other positions if need be. With a little more work, he can be a good jump shooter. With the evolution of today’s game, Metu has the perfect build and talent to find success as a modern NBA big man.

5. Tony Carr – Penn State

Tony Carr has been a consistent second round pick in most mock drafts. There has been the occasional one here or there that had him being drafted at the end of the first-round, but the second round is most likely where he’ll hear his name called.

Carr was the best player for a Nittany Lions team that ended up winning the NIT. This past season as a sophomore, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from the three-point line. He was able to pull down 4.9 rebounds per game and he dished out 5.0 assists.

He can play both guard positions and create for himself or his teammates. There have been question marks about his athleticism and ability to defend at the NBA level, but all a team needs for him to do is come in off the bench, run the offense a bit and get a few buckets. He’s definitely capable of doing that.

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NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019

The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.

Moke Hamilton

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The NBA world nearly stopped last week when reports circulated that Kawhi Leonard wanted out from San Antonio.

All of a sudden, within a few days, both he and Kyrie Irving were both reportedly open-minded about taking their talents to New York.

And while either (or both) of the two would look great as Knicks uniforms, they’d look much better in orange and blue in 2019.

After all, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.

If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.

So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it… Next year.

If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that.

This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash this summer or whether he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.

The right play for the Knicks is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding each of them to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.

The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.

In other words, one year from now, the Knicks could have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.

That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.

If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of landing both Leonard and Irving, but instead of trading the farm for them, they’d have a realistic shot at signing them. They’d be adding them to the core instead of sacrificing it for them. Imagine that.

From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.

Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in playing in New York when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that he could opt to take his talents elsewhere.

Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Probably not. But one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.

As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team, even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.

And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.

Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. He’s no Steve Nash, but he is truly special. Just don’t tell the national media that.

Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.

Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.

Going from Leonard and Irving to Walker and Butler might seem like a sad story of riches to rags, but one could very easily make the argument that adding two high-quality All-Star caliber starters to a core featuring Porzingis, Ntilikina and two lottery picks would do more to make the Knicks contenders than unloading the cupboard in an attempt to bring one in.

If that sounds like exactly what the Celtics did, that’s because it is. The Lakers, too. There’s a reason why they’re the most winningest franchises in NBA history, it would seem.

One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.

So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.

In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge. 

So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.

“Prove it.”

Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.

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Ranking the Free Agents – Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues to evaluate the top free agents at each position. David Yapkowitz breaks down the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at the top free agents set to the open market in just a few weeks. We’ve already covered the point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. Now we check in with the power forwards.

There may only be a few power forwards who can probably expect a max or near max deal this summer, but there are quite a few guys that, for the right price, can end up being difference makers on a team next season.

Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump to $101 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:

$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$35,350,000 for players with 10+ years of experience

Max/Near Max Guys

Julius Randle* – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,149,242

Julius Randle is definitely in line for a bigger payday this summer. The fourth-year forward turned in his best NBA season yet and was arguably the Lakers best player for most of the year. He played in all 82 games with 49 starts.

He put up career-high numbers across the board with 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field. Most of Randle’s scoring comes in the paint where his “bully” ball type game has proven quite effective. He has an improving jump shot and at 23 years old, he still has his best years ahead of him.

He will be a restricted free agent, giving the Lakers the ability to match any offer he receives, but doing so could come at the expense of signing two max-level free agents as has been the team’s plan. It’s going to be an interesting dilemma for the Lakers as Randle most likely will attract interest right away from potential suitors thus forcing the Lakers hand early on in free agency.

Aaron Gordon* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $5,504,420

Aaron Gordon will also most likely receive a max or near max contract his summer. Early in the season when the Orlando Magic started out hot, Gordon was playing like an All-Star and even a borderline MVP candidate.

The Magic’s play then went rapidly south, but Gordon finished the season averaging 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists, all career-highs. At the beginning of the season, he displayed a much improved three-point shot. The Magic have tried him at small forward before, but he’s a natural at power forward.

Gordon is also a restricted free agent allowing the Magic to match any offer. At age 22, he should also have his best years ahead of him. For a team like the Magic, in need of talent and quality young players, re-signing Gordon is probably ideal. But it’s also important to note that the Magic have a newer front office in place, one that did not draft Gordon. It’s also possible that John Hammond and Jeff Weltman might want to shape the roster in their vision.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Jabari Parker* – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Season’s Salary: $6,782,392

Jabari Parker is perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing names on the free agent market. A former No. 2 overall pick, as a rookie Parker looked like he was definitely part of the Bucks growing young core. Unfortunately for him, injuries struck him hard as he suffered two ACL tears during a three-year period.

This season, he struggled a bit to find a role with the Bucks. There’s no question that if he’s healthy, he’d be quite an asset to any team. He represents the new breed of power forward with a perimeter game. Prior to his injuries, he’d almost assuredly be a max contract guy. It’s a bit difficult to imagine any team willing to pay him anywhere close to that now.

The Bucks have the option to match any contract offer he gets as he is a restricted free agent. It’s conceivable that they would do so as it will probably take a massive offer to pry Parker away from the Bucks. It’s unlikely that any team is willing to go that high.

Thaddeus Young** – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $14,796,348

Thaddeus Young could be another intriguing power forward on the free agent market. The thing with Young is he has a player option he could choose to exercise and become a free agent. Never an All-Star, Young has been a steady and dependable player his entire career.

His numbers were a bit under his career averages this season. He put up 11.8 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and he pulled down 6.3 rebounds. Nevertheless, he remained an important part of the Pacers rotation, especially on the defensive end.

Should he hit the open market, there likely wouldn’t be any shortage of suitors.

Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – Last Season’s Salary: $12,000,000

Ed Davis – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Season’s Salary: $6,352,531

Montrezl Harrell* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382

Mid-Level Or Below Guys

Mike Scott – Washington Wizards – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382

Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $357,454

Trevor Booker – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $332,516

David West – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382

Nemanja Bjelica* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Season’s Salary: $3,949,999

Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382

Mike Muscala** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Season’s Salary: $5,000,000

Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $11,000,000

Channing Frye – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Season’s Salary: $7,420,912

Quincy Acy – Brooklyn Nets – Last Season’s Salary: $1,709,538

*Qualifying Offer (If made, the player becomes a restricted free agent.)
**Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent.)

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