NBA

Ranking the Restricted Free Agents

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There are now eight teams left standing in the NBA playoffs, which leaves 22 teams to start planning for the upcoming offseason. While this year’s draft class has considerable talent, there is also a list of young, promising free agents that will be available. In particular, there are a number of talented restricted free agents that could be snagged away by teams willing to pay the right amount.

This is generally a risky strategy as teams will often match any offer their player receives. It is also risky because often times restricted free agents are still anywhere from 23 to 26 years old, and it isn’t yet clear how valuable they are as players. Teams that extend an offer sheet to a restricted free agent also tie up their cap space for several days while they wait to find out if that player’s original team will match. Still, each season teams look to pry away these young players, banking on their current skill and future potential.

IN RELATED: The Complete 2014 Free Agent List

Here we rank this season’s most notable restricted free agents, starting at the bottom:

Jordan Crawford (Golden State Warriors)—

Crawford came into the league as primarily a scorer. However, this season rookie head coach Brad Stevens came in and made Crawford a primary ball-handler for the Boston Celtics. The results were both surprising and promising. In 39 games played with the Celtics this season, Crawford averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals, but only shot 41.3 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Crawford’s ability to handle the ball and make accurate passes was a welcome addition to his game, and got the attention of the Golden State Warriors, who were in need of depth at the guard position. The Warriors executed a trade for Crawford and brought him in to back up Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. With Golden State, Crawford only played 15.7 minutes per game (down from 30.7 in Boston), but he still scored the ball well, although his assist rate went down.

It is somewhat unclear what to expect long-term from Crawford, or how much he is worth per year. The Warriors would be wise to try and keep him around though, as he can fill in at both guard positions as needed and Golden State currently relies heavily on Curry and Thompson. Crawford is hardly a lockdown defender, but his playmaking ability is valuable, and at age 25 there is still plenty of room for Crawford’s game to improve and mature. Golden State can make Crawford a restricted free agent by extending a $3,206,867 qualifying offer.

P.J. Tucker (Phoenix Suns)—

At age 29, Tucker finally established himself as a solid rotation player in the NBA this year. Tucker averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 steals during the 2013-14 season. He spent several years overseas working on his game and now features a mix of toughness, shooting and versatility defensively.

At just 6’5, Tucker is able to guard players as big as LeBron James and players as fast as Klay Thompson. He even took on Blake Griffin when the Suns played the Clippers and was thrown out of a game for throwing an elbow at the star power forward. Tucker isn’t just an energy guy, though. He helped spread the floor for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, hitting 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and 41.2 percent on corner three-pointers.

His production was significant and an absolute steal considering he made just $884,293 for the season. Unlike the majority of the other restricted free agents, Tucker is almost 30 and will be looking to get as big of a contract as possible. Phoenix can make Tucker a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer.

Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings)—

Thomas had a breakout season at age 24. He received more minutes and showed that he could be a difference maker at the point guard position.

He averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. He also got to the free throw line 5.7 times a game and shot 85 percent.

Thomas is lightning quick and is a tough cover for other point guards who do not have the foot speed to stay in front of him. However, the problem for Thomas is that he is severely undersized at 5’9, even at the point guard position. He averages more points, assists and is generally a better shooter than Eric Bledsoe, but Bledsoe has the physical tools to defend the quickest point guards like Tony Parker and the stronger point guards like John Wall. In comparison, Thomas struggles to defend against almost all point guards. As good as Thomas’ statistics are, he gives a lot back on the defensive end, which makes it hard to justify giving him a large, long-term deal.

The Kings have a top-10 pick in this year’s draft and may very well add a point guard with more size, like Marcus Smart or Dante Exum. If this happens, Thomas will likely be joining a new team next season, unless the Kings decide to bring him back as a primary scoring option off the bench. Sacramento can make Thomas a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer.

Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics)—

Avery Bradley is a little difficult to gauge as a player. He has missed significant time throughout his four-year career, but has proven to be a tenacious on-ball defender when healthy. This season, Bradley averaged over 30 minutes per game for the first time, and put up 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals, and shot 43.8 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.

There are very good numbers for a young guard, especially one whose previous career-high in points per game was 9.2. The problem is that Bradley is not really a true point guard and is undersized at shooting guard, which diminishes his overall value. Bradley has stated previously that he is looking for a deal in the range of $8 million per year, but this is a high number for someone who is primarily a defender. For example, Tony Allen, who is the gold standard in the league as a wing defender, made $4,494,382 this season in Memphis. Bradley has more skill as an offensive player, and more upside, but Allen can guard small forwards like Kevin Durant, whereas Bradley is limited to point guards and shooting guards.

If Bradley can develop his point guard skills further, similar to Eric Bledsoe and Jordan Crawford, he would be more than worth $8 million a year. However, as of now, Boston will have a difficult choice to make, and Bradley may be on the move if he asks for more than the Celtics are willing to pay. Boston can make Bradley a restricted free agent by extending a $3,581,302 qualifying offer.

Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz)—

It is somewhat difficult to figure out just how good Hayward is, and how much would be a reasonable contract to offer him. As his minutes have increased throughout his four-year career, his efficiency has decreased. In particular, Hayward’s shooting percentages have dipped significantly. This is a result of defenses honing in on him more as he has become more of the focal point on offense for the Utah Jazz, but it is still disconcerting.

This season, Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals, but shot only 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. These are solid per game numbers, but again the shooting percentages aren’t where they need to be. However, a team looking to add a versatile, well-rounded small forward may be convinced that Hayward would make an excellent complementary piece. For example, the Phoenix Suns have been rumored to be interested in unrestricted free agent Luol Deng, but Hayward’s stats are nearly identical to Deng’s. In fact. Hayward is a much better playmaker, averaging 5.2 assists to just 2.9 for Deng. While the Suns may be interested in Deng more for his veteran experience than anything else, it may be worth taking a serious look at Hayward, who at age 23 has significant room to grow, whereas Deng is 29 and has dealt with injuries throughout his career.

However, Hayward may not be available, as the Jazz have made it clear they want to keep him in Utah as long as possible. However, if a team does manage to pry Hayward away, he would add a lot of versatility and upside to his new team. Utah can make Hayward a restricted free agent by extending a $4,677,708 qualifying offer.

Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets)—

For several seasons now, Parsons has been the best value in the NBA. The Houston Rockets chose Parsons with the 38th pick in the 2011 draft and have benefited from his defensive ability and three-point shooting ever since. This season, Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.2 steals, and shot 47.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range. Those are very good numbers for a third-year small forward at just 25 years old. But Parsons only made $926,500 this season, which is an absurdly low number for a player this productive. Credit Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for picking Parsons when so many other teams overlooked him. Consider this: The Los Angeles Clippers had the 37th pick in the 2011 draft and took Trey Thompkins, who is currently out of the league. If they had taken Parsons, he would be starting at small forward for them alongside Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The Rockets currently have a team option on Parsons for next season, but may let him test the free agency market as a restricted free agent rather than exercising their option. This way, if a team offers Parsons a large contract, the Rockets will at least have the option of matching it, and keeping him in Houston long-term. If the team picks up his option for next season, Parsons will become an unrestricted free agent after this contract expires and Houston would risk losing him to another team since they wouldn’t have the option to match.

Though Parsons will likely get a big offer sheet, the Rockets know how valuable he is and will almost certainly bring him back.

Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons)—

At age 24, Greg Monroe is one of the best young big men in the NBA. This season, Monroe averaged 14 points, nine rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals, and shot 50.8 percent from the field. It was actually a down year for Monroe in comparison to 2012-13, when he averaged more points, assists, rebounds and steals. This is in part explained by the arrival of forward Josh Smith, who was unable to stretch the floor from the small forward position and is more suited to play power forward, like Monroe.

Monroe is a very versatile player. He is a good shooter, underrated passer and has nice touch around the rim. He is not a great shot blocker, but that isn’t a huge problem next to a true center like Andre Drummond.

At just 24 years old, Monroe still has a lot of room to improve. His shooting percentages outside of the painted area need to increase, but Monroe has the ability to add more range to his shot. Teams know this and he should have plenty of potential suitors this summer. Ultimately, the Pistons will have to determine how much they are willing to pay Monroe to keep him around. If the new general manager (not yet named) feels that Monroe is not worth the money, he could theoretically be included in a sign-and-trade. However, this should only be a secondary option, as Monroe is truly a top young big man in the league and should not be let go of lightly. Detroit can make Monroe a restricted free agent by extending a $5,479,935 qualifying offer.

Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)—

Bledsoe is one of the most tenacious on ball defenders in the league. He is super-athletic and strong, allowing him to check the quickest point guards and some of the bigger shooting guards in the league. In fact, many other players around the league refer to Bledsoe as “Mini LeBron.”

The Phoenix Suns made a great trade last offseason to acquire Bledsoe, sending Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers and a second-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. Bledsoe was only available because he was positioned behind the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul.  Clippers fans were sad to see Bledsoe move on, as many believed his unique skill-set and physical abilities would make him a good fit to play alongside Paul in an unorthodox backcourt. Unfortunately, Bledsoe would have been too expensive to keep long-term.

In Phoenix, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek put Bledsoe alongside Goran Dragic, another point guard, in the starting lineup. The pairing was an instant hit. Bledsoe’s minutes went up from 20.4 minutes per game in 2012-13, to 32.9 this season. With more minutes and a main role at point guard, Bledsoe posted career numbers of 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, Bledsoe suffered a torn meniscus and missed significant time early in the season. However, upon his return he showed that he was still as explosive as ever.

Bledsoe will get a lot of attention from teams looking for a long-term solution at point guard. Some team may find him worthy of a max contract offer, which will put pressure on the Suns to determine whether he is worth holding onto for that steep of a price. The Suns have indicated that they will hold onto Bledsoe no matter what, showing how valuable they believe him to be. He may not be as good of a shooter as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving, but he is the best on ball defender at point guard in the league, and has a developing offensive game. Wherever Bledsoe ends up next season, he will make a significant impact on both ends of the court. Phoenix can make Bledsoe a restricted offer by extending a $3,726,967 qualifying offer.

Honorable Mentions:

Greivis Vasquez (Toronto Raptors)—

In 61 games this season with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez averaged 9.5 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds, and shot 41.7 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. While these numbers don’t jump off the page, he managed them in just 21.5 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Vasquez put up 15.9 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds.

Beyond these numbers, Vasquez tallied the most assists in the entire league in 2012-13 with 704 total. Vasquez is an underrated playmaker and a very good shooter from three-point range. He is not the quickest player, but he uses his size effectively, allowing him to play both point guard and shooting guard as needed. Toronto can make Vasquez a restricted free agent by extending a $3,203,780 qualifying offer.

Evan Turner (Indiana Pacers)—

Turner is an interesting player. He has a diverse skill-set, good size at shooting guard and small forward, and is able to handle the ball as needed. His numbers, particularly scoring, have increased each season, but his shooting is still shaky at best. Turner has never shot over 45 percent from the field and is a career 32.6 percent three point shooter.

Expectations were high for Turner as he was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. However, he is yet to have put his entire game together into one effective package. A team may take a chance on him and offer him a significant contract this offseason, but that team would do so hoping for continued development in Turner’s game. Indiana can make Turner a restricted free agent by extending a $8,717,226 qualifying offer.

Let us know how you rank this year’s restricted free agents in the comment section below!

About Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte is in his second year covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders. He is a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA in 2011.