Basketball Insiders has recently started a new series detailing the top free agents by position as a primer for the free agency period beginning on July 1.
In continuing where Drew Maresca left off with top point guard targets, we will now take a look at the top 10 shooting guards that are headed to free agency.
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 from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.
If you want a full list of players in the pool, feel free to refer to this page for a list of all the notable free agents-to-be.
Without further ado, here are the shooting guards that are sure to make the biggest splashes in free agency.
Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $18,988,725
Klay Thompson is arguably the best shooting guard this free agency, period – and he certainly has an argument for best in the league. Not only is he historically one of the best shooters the league has ever seen, but he’s also been one of the most important – if not the most important – defenders on his team.
He’s shot a career 41.9 percent from three-point range on seven attempts per night. Before Kevin Durant buddied up with Golden State, Klay’s shooting was relied upon nightly. The past three seasons it seems like he’s only had to swoop in and be the savior every third or fourth game. Regardless, he has immense talent in multiple areas on the court and his services could essentially be used on any team in the league.
If you have forgotten just how lethal Klay has the ability to be, just look up the record for most points in a quarter. To save you some time – it’s Thompson. 37 points to be exact. If a single team scored 37 per quarter that’d be 148 points per game. That’s pretty good if you didn’t know already.
To the dismay of Thompson, he wasn’t named to an All-NBA team this season, so he isn’t eligible for the Supermax contract. Despite whatever team he lands with, however, fully expect Klay to get a max deal. He isn’t worth anything less.
Where Does He Fit: Like previously mentioned, Thompson could fit on literally any roster. He is quite honestly the best three-and-D player in the league and the standard by which all others should be judged. Before the playoffs began – and more-or-less through the first two rounds – there were rumors going around the Klay was getting sick of his role with the Warriors and would consider seeking other options.
Pre-injury Klay was thought to be interested in signing with a different team. His ACL tear has led many to believe he will stay at home and finish his career off with the Warriors. They can offer him an extra year and more guaranteed money. Not many players have the ability to garner a max deal the summer after tearing their ACL, but Klay is one of the few.
New Deal: Thompson will sign a 5 year/$190 million and stay with the Warriors. Pending other free agent decisions, the Warriors will bank on their new arena to help fill the incredible, imminent debt sure to be left by the luxury tax bill. Klay should hopefully be back by next March at the latest ready to help Golden State go after yet another title.
Jimmy Butler – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $20,445,779
Jimmy Buckets has already declined his player option for the 2019-20 season, which by all accounts was a smart move. He would’ve made just a hair under $20 million, but we all know he is more valuable than that. You might find a few people who would argue his personality and locker room antics negate his worthiness for a max deal, but those few are wrong. Jimmy Butler is the second best shooting guard available this summer, and he most certainly merits a max contract.
While his three-point shooting can be streaky, he’s still a career 34.1 percent from deep. He didn’t earn his nickname by accident; he’s the kind of player that can get you a bucket when one is sorely needed. He has an excellent mid-range game, has the athleticism to get around above-average defenders and can finish at the rim with the best of them.
Butler’s real value is found on the other end, though. As good as he is on offense, Butler’s tenacity on defense is where his true skills lie. He’s long, quick, gets into passing lanes and frustrates the best offensive players.
And please, let’s not forget the beginning of the season where Butler took the third-stringers and wiped the remaining Minnesota starters all over the court in the practice heard ’round the world.
Where Does He Fit: Butler fits quite well in his current situation with Philadelphia. There were reports early on there that he wasn’t happy with his lack of touches, but those rumors never quite grew to anything much more than, well, rumors. Out of him and Tobias Harris, Butler clearly gives you the better chance at a title – mainly due to his contributions on both ends. The Lakers, Clippers and Knicks are all teams with cap space that will certainly try and go after Butler. The Lakers could use someone with better shooting, though.
Recent reports have surfaced saying the Rockets are interested in Butler, but their cap situation is too tricky to bring anyone else on, so it would have to be via sign-and-trade. The Rockets would likely have to give up part of their core to get Butler, so we shall see how that situation plays out.
New Deal: Many teams will call, but Butler will probably sign a 5 year/$190 million deal with the 76ers. They give him the best chance at a title and the most guaranteed money to boot.
Near Max Guys
J.J. Redick – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $12,250,000
For someone who is turning 35 this upcoming season, you wouldn’t expect them to be garnering near max dollars. J.J. Redick has had quite an interesting career arch. He struggled heavily with injuries and didn’t really have much of an impact during his first eight-or-so seasons. He found his first home with the Clippers and now – it seems – his second with the 76ers.
No one would have guessed that Redick would have a career-high 18.1 points per night in his age 34 season. He was tied for seventh in the league at eight three-point attempts per night and played a critical role on a 76ers team that struggled to find spacing all year. For a team that has unbelievable talent in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, it’s amazing just how important Redick is.
Where Does He Fit: Redick is not headed to a team with a younger core. He likely has one to two good years left in him. The Lakers need shooting and may be able to offer him enough money to lure him out of Philadelphia. The 76ers have Early Bird Rights and can offer him up to $21 million.
New Deal: Redick will likely stay in Philadelphia for somewhere around 2 years/$32 million. Many reports have surfaced about how much he loves it there. That deal isn’t near max, but Redick is more focused on titles than money.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Danny Green – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000,000
Green is coming off one of his best seasons to date. For one, he won another NBA championship. He shot 45.5 percent from three off 5.4 attempts per night – the former being a career high and the latter almost matching one. He hasn’t appeared to lose much athleticism with age and is still a very talented defender. He’ll be turning 32 this season and still appears to have a few good years left towards another run at a title.
Where Does He Fit: Like Thompson, Green is about as ideal a role player as you’d want (although Thompson is clearly much more than a role player). Green is your prototypical three-and-D player, and he proved his immense value during the season with Toronto. Going to whoever offers him the most money makes the most sense, but he’d fit in incredibly well with the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. But in all honesty, you name a team and he’d help them improve.
New Deal: Green recently appeared on The Breakfast Club and discussed his desire to return to Toronto. The Raptors have no reason to let Green walk, so Danny should sign a 3 year/$45 million deal to stay in Canada. A caveat to this, however, is if Kawhi Leonard leaves in free agency. If he leaves, Toronto may not prioritize keeping Green – and he may hear offers from other teams in a similar range.
Jeremy Lamb – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,488,372
Lamb just had a career year – highs in points, rebounds, steals and almost assists. His usage increased quite a bit, and with that came a slight decrease in efficiency. Nothing too alarming, but that could be one of the reasons he won’t garner anything near a max offer sheet. He’ll inject an offensive boost to whatever team signs him. And if his two game-winners against Toronto late last season pull any weight, he might get a few extra dollars on that contract.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently stated his desire to keep the team under the tax threshold. If they bring back Kemba Walker, signing Lamb to a new deal likely won’t happen. The Rockets have expressed their interest, and Lamb is the kind of player they may be able to get. Houston could nab Jeremy Lamb for 3 years/$25 million thanks to the MLE.
Rodney Hood – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $3,472,888
There was a time in Hood’s career where a near max deal was certainly in play when he was averaging 17 points a night for the Jazz at just 25 years old. Partially due to his streaky play – as well as the surprise emergence of one Donovan Mitchell – Hood found himself traded, released and then picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers last season.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hood played incredibly well for Portland in the playoffs averaging nearly 10 points per game on an impressive 46.8 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three. He’s only 26 and still has time to further develop his game. Portland trading for Bazemore could be a sign that they won’t be able to use their MLE to lock up Hood, so look for Hood to garner multiple offers from a handful of teams looking to add scoring such as the Lakers, Nets, Mavericks and Heat. Let’s say he goes to the Mavericks for 3 years/$30 million.
Terrence Ross – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $10,500,000
Terrence Ross balled out this year. He had career highs in points, rebounds, assists and nearly a career-high effective field goal percentage at 53.4 percent. He was one of the more important players that led the Magic back to the playoffs for the first time in quite a few years. Ross is only 27, so he’s sure to garner plenty of attention on the market.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The Magic have made it clear they want to keep their core together – as long as it makes sense. Many teams will likely offer Ross decent offer sheets, teams that need offense such as the Pelicans, Pistons and even the next door neighbor Miami Heat. Ross might ultimately stay with the Magic on a short term, 2 year/$35 million deal.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000
Pope hasn’t helped himself much since leaving Detroit. His efficiency has dropped, his scoring has dropped and his defense – once his strong suit – hasn’t made much noise either. Still, his ability to score has to intrigue multiple franchises looking for someone who can create offense. He made $12 million last year and will likely get less than that. Pope finished the season on a high-point, so that could help him get a few extra digits in his contract.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Teams love players who can score, but with the emergence and importance of the three-ball, they want someone who can do so efficiently. Pope, just 25 years old, has proven he can be efficient in the past, but he hasn’t been in the league long enough to make teams certain it’ll last. The Knicks might strike out on getting two max-level players, so they could be scrambling to sign others guys to help put points on the board. Pope signs with New York on a 2 year/$20 million deal.
Wesley Matthews – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $512,746
Matthews made more money last year than the above salary shows. He was bought out by the New York Knicks and ended up with the Pacers after Indiana needed someone to fill the injured Victor Oladipo’s void. He played okay for Indiana, but he just hasn’t found the same level of play since leaving Portland six seasons ago. Still, Matthews has the ability to help many teams in the league, especially in a bench role.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Matthews is 32, has a torn achilles in his past and definitely doesn’t move as quickly as he used to. It’s hard to say who would be interested in Matthews, but it’s likely going to be a playoff team who doesn’t end up landing a max guy. Look for teams like Philadelphia, both Los Angeles teams or potentially the Nets or Bucks to go after Matthews. Ultimately, the Bucks may see a few key guys leave, so signing Matthews to a 2 year/$12 million contract would help.
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Austin Rivers – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $922,943
Rivers found himself as a legitimate sixth man on Houston this past season and actually played fairly well in the playoffs. Per Tim McMahon of ESPN, Austin Rivers had the highest individual net rating in the Rockets-Warriors series at plus-18.5 per 100 possessions. Pretty impressive for a player who hasn’t clearly played up to the hype coming out of college. There will be teams interested in Rivers come free agency time, but any deals with him will happen after a handful of dominos fall first.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rivers will probably end back with the Rockets. Houston won’t find anyone better than Rivers using their MLE, so they’ll bring back the player who already has chemistry with the team. He’ll sign for 2 years/$9 million, preserving some of the MLE for Houston to use on other targets.
Other Notable Free Agents
Seth Curry – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,795,000 Tomas Satoransky* – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $3,129,187 Reggie Bullock – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,500,000 Wayne Ellington – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $2,383,076 Alec Burks – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $11,536,515
Jonathon Simmons** – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000
Iman Shumpert – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $11,011,234
J.R. Smith** – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $14,720,000
Vince Carter – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $2,393,887
Pat Connaughton**– Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,641,000
Alex Abrines* – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $5,455,326
Justin Holiday – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $4,384,616
Nik Stauskas – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,161,886
Kyle Korver**– Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $7,560,000
Jamal Crawford – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Lance Stephenson – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,449,000
Dwayne Bacon** – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Sterling Brown** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Garrett Temple – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,000,000 Gerald Green – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Sindarius Thornwell** – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Wayne Selden* – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
Patrick McCaw* – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $964,104
Furkan Korkmaz – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,740,000
Rodney McGruder* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
David Nwaba* – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Troy Daniels – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $3,258,539
*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes unrestricted free agent)
There are plenty of good role players to go around in this deep pool of shooting guards. This list is quite top heavy so any team dreaming of an ideal two-guard will likely need to settle for a solid role-guy and look for their star player in another position. Whatever two teams are lucky enough to lock in Butler and Thompson long term will be very pleased as either of those shooting guards gives you a high chance of winning playoff games.
Look for Basketball Insiders to continue their saga on upcoming free agents by positions as there are still the threes, fours, and fives! Until then, start preparing now for the upcoming madness that is the free agency period.
NBA Daily: Can Anyone Challenge the East’s Top Teams?
The Eastern Conference Finals will likely have two of the top three teams represented. While the rest of the teams in the East battle amongst themselves, do any of them have a shot to knock off Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee in the playoffs?
The Western Conference has been dominating the league once again, in terms of quality teams from top to bottom. The 13th worst team in the West would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Though their depth is lacking, the East still has a few teams that are championship contenders this season.
The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals this summer. It is championship-or-bust for these franchises who have emptied their wallets in order to pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Each of these teams has at least two star players and another All-Star caliber player to help them reach their ultimate goal. Each one of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate. In Brooklyn’s case, they just might have the greatest offensive three-headed monster the league has ever seen.
Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are what separates these three teams from the rest of the conference.
This season there is plenty of parity among the remaining teams in the East. The standings change every night as these teams battle with nearly identical records. It would be a shocking surprise to not see one of Brooklyn, Philly or Milwaukee make it to the NBA Finals.
Odds are that two of these three teams will meet in the Conference Finals, but is there another team lurking that could upset the apple cart? Do any of these teams in the second-tier have enough talent and firepower to upset one of the East’s elite? Here are four teams that could play spoiler.
After reaching the NBA Finals last season in the bubble down in Orlando, the HEAT have definitely cooled off this year. They had a slow start at the beginning of the season, then had a long pause as health and safety protocols wreaked havoc on their roster. Not having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic available really hurt them, but the tide could be turning.
Butler himself has been on a tear since returning to the court — and his teammates have followed his lead. Bam Adebayo has quietly had another outstanding year and they finally got their man Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline passed. Unfortunately, his recent injury put a serious damper on their hopes of getting back to the Finals.
UPDATE: Victor Oladipo will not be accompanying the team on the west coast road trip and will be further evaluated.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) April 9, 2021
Miami needs Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to play more consistently, especially with Oladipo out. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza should help in the postseason as they incorporate another perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. They have the star power and the experience needed to make another run, but the odds are stacked against them.
After a dismal start to the season, the Hawks appear to have figured out their identity. Much like the situation in Boston, this team was tasked with trying to build chemistry during a pandemic without essentially any practice. That is a difficult proposition and something that was going to take time. They also still needed to develop their young guys like Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.
After turning things over to Nate McMillan, he has been able to coach up this young squad, even without some of their top talent. Every player on the team has missed a chunk of time this year and they have had to seriously rely on their depth to get them through most of the regular season. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, they now find themselves in a position to have home-court advantage when the playoffs begin.
The vision that Travis Schlenk had in the offseason is finally becoming clear. The incredible play of guys like Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and even Solomon Hill has been vital to their success. They will still lean on Trae Young and John Collins for their offense but the talented pieces around them are what will make this team tough to beat in a seven-game series.
The Hornets have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even after the acquisition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Charlotte is the true definition of a team, as they have multiple guys that have stepped up and played well in spots throughout the season. PJ Washington, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins of Cody and Caleb have all contributed to their success.
The play of LaMelo Ball had him sitting at the top of the rookie class before he suffered his broken wrist. His phenomenal first season may be over, but the organization is holding out hope that he may be able to return in the playoffs should Charlotte earn a spot in the postseason. Hayward is also back on the shelf as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. Charlotte has been able to stay afloat during their absences, which is a huge credit to James Borrego.
One more major difference-maker for the Hornets this season has been Terry Rozier. The electric guard is one of the top 40 scorers in the league this season and has been one of the best clutch performers as well. He is shooting a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and 46 percent overall from the floor. They can be a dark horse come playoff time, but they will need their two best players healthy in order to have any chance.
It has been a very strange season for the Celtics, who entered the year with high expectations. They have been the greatest mystery this season and a puzzle that Brad Stevens is still trying to put together. Jaylen Brown has taken his game to another level and Jayson Tatum has had his moments as well. Both have cooled off since the All-Star break and Kemba Walker has been hot and cold from game to game.
Marcus Smart missed a lot of time and they brought in Evan Fournier at the trade deadline but he has yet to fit in like many thought he would. Chemistry could be the issue, but no one has really been able to put their finger on their kryptonite. The good news is that Tatum appears to finally be returning to health after his battle with COVID.
Jayson Tatum said he’s been using an inhaler before games since testing positive for COVID-19. Said he’s still not quite back to 100 percent, but that he’s “close.” Tatum tested positive back in January.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 14, 2021
The center position has been a revolving door for this team all season, with Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet all trying to fill the void left by Enes Kanter. They could have had the league’s leading shot-blocker Myles Turner, but Danny Ainge let Hayward walk for nothing instead.
On paper, this team is oozing with talent and should be much better than their record indicates. They may finally be figuring things out, having won six of their last seven games, including four straight. If their issues are truly fixed and if they can stay healthy, they will be a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.
The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.
The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.
The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.
But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.
After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.
“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.
“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”
One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.
They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.
With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”
In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.
“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”
A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.
He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.
“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”
NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch
The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.
Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?
The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.
The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.
The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.
The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.
Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.
New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.
If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.
One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.
The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.