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Underrated 2016 NBA Free Agents

Eric Saar takes a look at several 2016 free agents that will be looking to get paid this summer.

Eric Saar

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This is the offseason of Kevin Durant as the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar is hitting free agency for the first time in his career. A lot of teams have cap space to go after him, though many believe it is likely that he will stay in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook and company (depending on how the postseason goes for the Thunder).

With the salary cap rising, nearly all of the contracts handed out this offseason will likely seem inflated, but that’s simply a result of the NBA’s changing financial landscape. From mediocre players, to solid rotation players and all the way up to the superstars, free agents are going to get paid serious money this offseason.

Here we are covering some underrated free agents in the class of 2016. These aren’t the top-tier free agents, but they are those that are improving and still have significant room to keep developing.

The projected salaries are just estimates since the hard numbers don’t come out until the NBA’s moratorium in early July.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes is a talented forward who benefits from playing alongside the sharpshooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as well as Draymond Green. This season, Barnes averaged the most minutes (30.9) and points (11.7) per game of his career. However, his overall rebounding numbers and three-point percentage have dipped.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Warriors can match any offer sheet he potentially signs with another team in order to retain him. It’s possible that the Warriors may decline to match a max-offer sheet, but it is very likely that he will remain with Golden State. The question for any team that pursues him is how will he fare as one of the top offensive options while drawing a lot of defensive focus from opponents? Also, will he regress at all if he is no longer playing alongside players as good as Curry, Thompson and Green?

Barnes has four years of experience, so his max contract would be 25 percent of the salary cap, which is projected next year at $92 million, putting his contract at roughly $23 million per season.

Nicolas Batum

The French swingman is finishing up his eighth year in the league and will likely be one of the second-tier players signed once Durant and others are off the market. Batum averaged a career-high in points per game (14.9) this season as the starting small forward for the Charlotte Hornets. His field goal percentages need to come up, but he is a good defender and a versatile all-around player that can fit on nearly any team. And at only 27, he is just entering his prime.

Batum has a nice role with the Hornets and fits well under head coach Steve Clifford, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he re-signs with the Hornets.

Batum is likely to receive a max-deal considering his age, versatility and the amount of money teams will have to spend. Since he has been in the league for eight years, his max contract would be 30 percent of the cap, so his max salary would be around $25.9 million, which will increase with annual raises. Other teams can only offer four years and smaller raises.

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson’s role should increase next season if he returns to the Los Angeles Lakers with the retirement of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

However, the athletic, former University of Missouri star may go elsewhere as he is a restricted free agent. His free agency is somewhat unique since he fits within the Arenas Rule, but the point is the Lakers can retain him if they choose to do so.

The likely scenario is the Lakers will re-sign Clarkson, who averaged 15.5 points per game this year and is a building block for Los Angeles. If he ends up on another team, he could likely fill in as an excellent sixth man potentially.

Clarkson is a promising young talent. He needs to work on improving his defense and being a more effective playmaker, but he has shown a lot of promise in his short NBA career.

Jeremy Lin

Since the craziness of Linsanity in New York back during the 2011-12 season, Jeremy Lin has bounced around the league, but seems to have found a home in Charlotte. He has a player option to stay in Charlotte next season, though, he likely will test free agency since there is so much free agent money to go around and a lack of talent to spend it on.

Lin is only averaging 11.7 points per game as opposed to his 14.6 in New York or 13.4 in Houston, but is doing it in a reduced role, primarily coming off the bench for a more competitive team. The hype of Linsanity has worn off, but Lin has transformed himself into a legitimate NBA player, who at 27 would be a nice addition for many teams. His shooting percentages could be better, but he has shown enough development and impact this season that someone will give him a nice offer if he goes into free agency this offseason.

Evan Fournier

Fournier really took a leap forward in his second year with the Orlando Magic after being traded from the Denver Nuggets. This season, Fournier started 71 of the 79 games he played in for the Magic. His minutes per game went up (28.6 to 32.5) as did his points per game (12.0 to 15.4). What is probably most impressive and key to why he’ll be paid well this offseason is how he increased his shooting percentages. He brought his three-point percentage from 37.8 percent all the way up to 40 percent, which puts him among the better shooters in the league. His free throw percentage went up significantly as well — from 72.8 percent to 83.6 percent.

Fournier is a good shooter that could really help a lot of teams and he’s only 23 years old. He’s restricted though, so the Magic could decide to match whatever he is offered.

Kent Bazemore

Bazemore has certainly come a long way from being the hilarious, arm-waving, end-of-the-bench cheerleader he once was for the Golden State Warriors. He also played well for their D-League team back in 2012-13. He then spent one season with the Los Angeles Lakers and subsequently signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks, where he has been a solid contributor.

This season he averaged 11.6 points in only 27.8 minutes per game and started 68 of the 75 games he played in, mostly at small forward but also at shooting guard.

Bazemore has really taken a step in his development and as an athletic wing. He was also very good in the Hawks’ first-round victory over the Boston Celtics. For more on Bazemore’s success and why he’ll do well this summer, check out Lang Greene’s recent article about his significant improvement.

Moe Harkless

Harkless is a restricted free agent for the Portland Trail Blazers. His numbers (6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) may not jump off the page right away, but remember that he was only playing 18.7 minutes for the Blazers during the regular season. A closer look reveals why he could be very attractive to teams this summer.

Harkless is only 22 years old, has a great work ethic and has the potential to be a talented 3-and-D player (which many teams are searching for in today’s NBA). Per-36 minutes, he averaged 12.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from beyond the arc. Those are impressive increases from last year and it displays just how much his offseason work and a change of scenery has benefited Harkless this season.

Even better, Harkless has maintained and, for the most part, improved on those numbers this postseason. He was an important part of Portland’s first-round win over the L.A. Clippers, averaging 12.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 steals while shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. Harkless’ versatility on both ends of the court and his ability to switch at the two forward positions with Al-Farouq Aminu helped the Blazers advance (though they did get some help with Los Angeles suffering several injuries to key players).

If he can keep up his development, he’ll be a great pick-up for any team in free agency. The market is unclear for him at this point, but he has played his way into a nice salary increase this upcoming offseason.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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