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NBA Daily: Six Underrated Free Agents Worth Watching

With cap space drying up across the league, here are six underrated and market value free agents that could make a difference in 2018-19.

Ben Nadeau

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With only a few teams still standing, many may avert their eyes to the upcoming free agency class. For teams with low draft picks and early postseason exits, free agency stands as their best opportunity to improve. But with cap space across the league stretching thin, most franchises can’t even afford to chase big money options like Aaron Gordon or Marcus Smart. Contenders and middle-of-the-road front offices will scour the class for under the radar options in the coming months, looking for difference makers at a manageable cost. And while some of them won’t come as cheaply as they might have in previous years, these six players should be in high demand when free agency opens on July 1.

Shane Larkin, Boston Celtics — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 54 games, 4.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 38.4 percent shooting
Last Contract: 1 year, 1.5 million

Fans in Boston have fallen in love with Shane Larkin’s gritty, unafraid demeanor and fearlessness of the big moment — and it’s not hard to see why. Although Larkin’s individual statistics suffered as a reserve, he’s clearly proven that he belongs in the NBA for the foreseeable future. After spending the 2016-17 season in Spain, Larkin’s addition to the Celtics’ roster initially came as a surprise, but he ended up being far more than positional insurance.

With much of the rotation floating in and out of healthiness, Larkin had plenty of chances to assert himself as a bench spark plug. Amazingly, Larkin scored 10 or more points in 10 games and the Celtics won all but one of those. Capped off by a near triple-double — 12 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers — in the season finale, Larkin has endeared himself to the Massachusetts faithful. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess if Larkin will return to Boston this offseason, but his two-year improvement could net him a longer deal in a bigger role.

Larkin had to leave Game 4 last night in Philadelphia with a left-shoulder separation — but the Celtics will hold their breath, he’s been important for them all season long.

Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 78 games, 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 three-pointers and 41.9 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 2 million

The Brooklyn Nets’ latest success story has been popular at Basketball Insiders this season and that’s because the once-forgotten sharpshooter is well on his way to finally cashing in. Under head coach Kenny Atkinson, Harris has flourished in the Nets’ three-point heavy offense, as well as evolving into one of Brooklyn’s steadier defenders. While he doesn’t hold the potential promise that Caris LeVert or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson might, Harris played an important role in keeping the Nets from bottoming out once again.

A young, inconsistent roster made a habit of squandering Harris’ best individual nights in 2017-18, but the reserve often made his presence known. When Harris scored above his season average, the Nets were 16-24 — an unexpected game-changer for a franchise without control of their own first-round pick. His best performance of the season came against the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that drafted him in 2014 — and Harris lit them up for 30 points and seven rebounds on 6-for-7 from three-point range. What team couldn’t use a cheap, high-percentage rotation player like that?

Recently, both the Nets and Harris made it clear that a mutual return is in the cards, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. But at just 26 years old, the former Virginia standout could attract the attention of some serious contenders. Either way, after he was dumped by the Cavaliers halfway through his second season, it looked like Harris’ NBA career would be short-lived. Instead, he’s about to sign the longest, most money-laden contract of his life — not bad for a former No. 33 overall pick, right?

Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17: 70 games, 12.8 points, 2.7 assists, 2 three-pointers and 42.5 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 6 million

The rebuilding Dallas Mavericks have plenty of intriguing free agent decisions to make this summer — Nerlens Noel and Yogi Ferrell included — but perhaps none more so than Seth Curry. After playing just four total games between three franchises from 2013-15, Curry parlayed a late-season run with Sacramento into a guaranteed deal for two seasons in Dallas. With the Mavericks, Curry found himself staring down the ultimate green light and, on most nights, he didn’t disappoint. Last season, Curry started 42 contests and made two three-pointers per game at a 42.5 percent clip, anointing himself as a microwavable shooter to keep an eye on.

Unfortunately, a stress reaction of the left tibia kept Curry out in 2017-18 until he underwent season-ending surgery in February. Should the younger Curry be injury-free this summer, he’ll be an underrated flier for a team looking to bolster their bench. Three-point marksmanship is clearly the calling card of this stellar NBA bloodline, but Curry will be out to prove his one season with Dallas wasn’t a fluke. Curry’s hot-in-a-hurry skill set will make him one of the most underpriced free agents this offseason — who’s ready to take the jump?

Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 52 games, 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 three-pointers
Last Contract: 1 year, 3.3 million

It was an absolute career resurgence for Tyreke Evans in 2017-18 and he’ll be a hot ticket item again come July. In fact, Evans was heavily chased at February’s trade deadline but remained in Memphis after the Grizzlies wouldn’t budge from their first-round pick asking price. As of now, the Grizzlies can only offer the 28-year-old the mid-level exception but plenty of franchises — good, bad, young, old — could utilize a veteran ball-handler like Evans. His two previous seasons were marred by injury issues, so Evans bet hard on himself with the one-year deal.

It’s been a long road for Evans, who won Rookie of the Year way back in 2009-10, but he’s made a strong case to stick around even longer. Over his nine-year career, Evans has averaged double-digits in the scoring department in every season and five or more assists in six of them. Additionally, this was Evans’ best season from three-point range by far, just proving that some things do indeed get better with age. At this stage in his career, Evans will bring reliable playmaking without the gaudy price tag of other options.

On the other hand, should Evans choose to finally chase some rings, he’ll likely have the pick of the litter once free agency opens.

Wayne Ellington, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.9 three-pointers and 39.2 percent from three
Last Contract: 2 years, 12.2 million

Speaking of late-career surges, veteran journeyman Wayne Ellington likely just had his best season yet. Since 2009, Ellington has played for seven franchises but has found Miami the perfect fit over the last two years. Holding down a career 38.1 percent average from deep, Ellington has made a living beyond the three-point arc and absolutely feasted from there with the HEAT. Previously, Ellington’s season-high for made three-pointers was 1.4 per game, a contribution he made for the 21-61 Los Angeles Lakers back in 2014-15.

This season, Ellington knocked down 2.9 three-pointers per game, a mark that was eighth-best across the entire league. The names ahead of him were Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Kyle Lowry and Eric Gordon, the latter of which signed a four-year deal worth $53 million back in 2016. While Ellington won’t command nearly as much this summer, it still bodes well for the sharpshooter moving forward. Miami is dangerously close to paying the luxury tax, which would make a return to South Beach unlikely without another move preceding it. Ellington already led one playoff-bound team in three-point shooting — could he find success with another?

Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic — Unrestricted Free Agent
2017-18: 75 games, 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.2 three-pointers
Last Contract: 3 years, 11.7 million (rookie deal)

This season has been eventful for Mario Hezonja, an up-and-down campaign that officially kicked off when the Orlando Magic declined their team option back in October. Much has been made about Hezonja’s work ethic and attitude, but some strong late-season performances will make the Croatian an interesting option in free agency. When he’s on, Hezonja can appear like one of the most promising youngsters in the entire league — but his biggest issue has always been finding that consistency each and every night.

In December, Hezonja dropped his most impressive game to date, the 6-foot-8 semi-positionless talent notched 28 points on 8-for-12 from three-point range to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Or there was his monstrous 24-point, six-rebound, four-steal and three-block effort against the Chicago Bulls a few months later — the kid can clearly play. The point is this: Through three NBA seasons, there have been more cons than pros for Hezonja, but those type of performances certainly acknowledge that the 23-year-old has the ability to make something of his frustrating start.

At times, Hezonja filled a handful of roles for an injury-decimated Magic squad — handling the rock on one night before grabbing minutes down in the post in another. He’s already an effective slasher and a flexible defender, so improving his three-point percentage (33.7) will be key in his next opportunity. His inconsistencies likely mean that no franchise will knock down the door at midnight to sign Hezonja long-term — but under the right head coach, Super Mario could absolutely bloom. Polarizing, sure, but as an under the radar signing, Hezonja certainly fits the bill.

While most will have their sights set on DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and the growing lot of restricted free agents, there’s still plenty of worthy signings elsewhere. From Shane Larkin to Mario Hezonja, deals could be found around every corner — but which front office will find the diamonds in the rough?

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft

With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.

A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.

Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three of those boxes checked off.

“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”

During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.

Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.

From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?

“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”

Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even in aspects outside of his offensive ability.

“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”

Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.

A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.

“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”

VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.

And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.

“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.

“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”

However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.

“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”

Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.

But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”

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The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized

After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.

Matt John

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On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.

Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.

This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.

And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.

Cap Flexibility

When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.

It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”

Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.

Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.

The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.

Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.

Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.

Promising Youth Movement

Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.

That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.

Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.

Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.

In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.

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