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Ranking The Free Agents – Shooting Guards

Benny Nadeau takes a look at the best available shooting guards this summer.

Ben Nadeau

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While all 30 teams will go to bed on June 30th dreaming of adding Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap this summer, not every franchise will be able to sign a marquee free agent. That, ultimately, is where this year’s crop of shooting guards come into play. Even without an elite talent on the market, there are plenty of veterans at the position worth adding to a playoff-ready rotation.

Of course, the franchise’s assumed spending sprees hit a slight road bump last week as the NBA informed teams that the salary cap for the 2017-18 season is projected to be just $99 million. Based on this, maximum salaries are expected to amount to the following:

  • $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 or more years of experience

Outside of the maximum values, the mid-level exception for teams is set at $8,406,000 in year one.

At Basketball Insiders, our guides for free agency are separated into four tiers: Max Guys, Near Max Guys, Above Mid-Level Guys and Mid-Level or Below Guys. Sadly, this summer will not feature any elite members at the shooting guard position on the open market, so we’ll have to skip slightly ahead.

After that, we’ve ranked the top remaining players based on their age, previous salary and long-term potential for a new buyer in free agency.

Near Max Guys

(As a note, none of these players should reach too close to a maximum-level contract, but they’re set to out-earn the rest of their positional class by a favorable distance – so they get the spotlight here.) 

J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,377,500

Now, Redick may not be the sexiest free agent available at shooting guard, but he’s definitely the most suited for a big-time role on a contender immediately. As an underrated defender and a superb locker room guy, it’s no surprise that former bottom-feeders like the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have come sniffing around already.

Of course, that’s not why Redick may be worth spending a large chunk of the salary cap on. No, that’d be his shooting. Since joining the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, Redick has averaged at least 15 points per game on 45 percent from the floor or better.

With Chris Paul already on his way to Houston and Blake Griffin hitting the free market as well, Redick likely won’t be far behind. The market will be strong for Redick and many predict he could command a contract within the $18-$20 million range he’s looking for. At that point, Redick will weigh his options: go to a contender or get paid  for one of the league’s best shooters, it’s a nice position to be in.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope* – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $3,678,319

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope may be one of the NBA’s most mysterious youngsters available heading into free agency. While his athletic mobility and long-reaching wingspan have allowed Caldwell-Pope to become a tenacious defender for the Pistons, it’s his continued development as a spot-up shooter that will open up his market as a restricted free agent.

As of now, it appears as if Detroit is committed to Caldwell-Pope moving forward and will match almost any offer sheet they receive  yes, we’re looking at you, Brooklyn  so this may not matter in a few weeks’ time. Still, Caldwell-Pope won’t turn 25 years old until the All-Star break next season, so his potential as a shooter and defender are both worth locking down for the foreseeable future, even at a number close to his potential max at $25 million.

Dion Waiters – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $2,898,000

In a season full of record-breaking performances, there were few players more entertaining than Dion Waiters. The enigmatic shooting guard is a basketballing gunner at its finest and Waiters was instrumental in Miami’s absurd recovery following their 11-30 start.

After taking a two-year deal with a player option following a down season in Oklahoma City during 2015-16, Waiters’ explosion for the HEAT has him poised for a huge payday as he jumps back into unrestricted free agency. While Waiters has already said that he’d he love to return to Miami, plenty of franchises should look to add the talented scorer at about $12-$15 million per year.

Will it be the Waiters and Whiteside show in Miami for years to come, or will another scoring-deficient franchise swoop in and steal the HEAT’s new sweet-shooting cult hero?

Jonathon Simmons* – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Just a few years removed from paying money for a D-League tryout, Jonathon Simmons was making huge plays and filling for Kawhi Leonard admirably in the conference finals. As a member of Gregg Popovich’s always-retooling-never-rebuilding rotation, Simmons often floated through spurts of relevancy during the 2016-17 season.

But then the playoffs happened.

Although Simmons averaged just 0.4 three-pointers per game in the regular season, he hit one or more in nine of his 13 playoff appearances. Given that, and his status as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, Simmons is set to massively upgrade on his sub-million dollar contract in a big way this summer.

Simmons is a restricted free agent, so San Antonio will definitely look to keep him in Texas  but in their efforts to recruit an elite free agent for Leonard, they may have to part ways once the offer sheet surpasses the hometown discount territory. Nobody knows exactly what Simmons will command this summer, but expect it to fall in the $12-$15 million range as well.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Tim Hardaway Jr.* – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $2,281,605

Tony Allen – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $5,505,618

Tyreke Evans – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $10,661,287

Manu Ginobili – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $14,000,000

Langston Galloway – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $5,200,000

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Kyle Korver – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,239,437

Ben McLemore* – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $4,008,882

Shabazz Muhammad* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $3,046,299

Wayne Ellington** – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Vince Carter – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $4,264,057

Thabo Sefolosha – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,850,000

Nick Young – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,443,918

Leandro Barbosa** – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $4,000,000

Arron Afflalo – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $12,500,000

Gerald Henderson** – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $9,000,000

Dante Cunningham – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $2,978,250

Ian Clark – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Jason Terry – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Rodney McGruder** – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $543,471

Josh Richardson** – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Sean Kilpatrick** – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Chasson Randle** – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $143,860

Randy Foye – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,500,000

Jodie Meeks – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $6,540,000

Jordan McRae – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Michael Gbinije** – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $650,000

James Young – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,825,250

Anthony Morrow – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $3,488,000

Marcus Thornton – Free Agent – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Sasha Vujacic – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

*Qualifying Offer (If made, player becomes restricted free agent)

**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, becomes unrestricted free agent)

Overall, the shooting guard position is definitely one of the weaker groups heading into free agency, but there are four clear frontrunners. Even if a team misses out on Redick, Caldwell-Pope, Waiters or Simmons, the remaining glut of veteran shooters should help most paper over the cracks for another season or two.

From future Hall of Famers to strong locker room leaders, this list has a little bit of everything. With no truly elite option on the table, expect the shooting guard signings to trickle down throughout free agency, and most of them should find new landing spots by the time training camp rolls around in the fall.

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

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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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