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The Real NBA All-Star Team: The East

Nate Duncan constructs the most effective real team for the All-Star game. Today, he builds the East.

Nate Duncan

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With the All-Star reserves to be announced on Thursday, the annual controversy over the rosters is about to be in full swing. But the game itself is an exhibition with little intensity until the final few minutes. All-Star selections serve their purpose of commemorating the best players of a given (half) season and allowing fans to see their favorite players. But what if there were something really at stake? What would the best possible real team assembled from each conference look like?

While it may seem overly simplistic, the philosophy of team-building can be summarized in a similar but more detailed version of the team ratings on a video game. A team should be constructed not merely to get as many of the best players on one squad, but so that the overall roster (and best lineups) get as close to the maximum on all the possible elements of team quality as possible.

Those key elements, in as much brevity as possible:

Offense:
Shooting, both off the catch and the dribble
Passing
Dribbling/slashing
Finishing at the rim, both off the dribble and passes from others
Foul-drawing
Postups
Offensive rebounding
Turnover avoidance
Cuts
Transition offense
Screening

Defense:
Individual containment
Rim-protection
Pick-and-roll defense (bigs)
Help defense
Steals
Perimeter shot contesting
Post defense
Defensive rebounding
Transition defense
Overall energy

Some of these are obviously more important than others. For example, a total lack of shooting can kill an offense no matter what other strengths you have. Some, like post defense, are more niche but can still kill a team, as the Toronto Raptors found to their chagrin in the playoffs a year ago. Nevertheless, the goal will be to construct teams and lineups that max out the meters on all of these attributes as much as possible.

Not only is it essential to acquire players with incredible strength, but to avoid players with weaknesses the other team can attack. The most easily exploited weaknesses are lack of shooting (by the standards of his position), post defense or pick-and-roll defense. In this incredibly high-level game, even the slightest weakness in key areas could kill a team.

Last week, we looked at the West’s “real All-Star team.” At first blush, it is immediately clear how much weaker the East is, especially at the big positions.  The good news is, the East features the best smallball power forward in history.

Starters

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry.  Point guard is perhaps the East’s deepest position, with Lowry, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose all worthy of consideration.  But as with the West, a point guard who can shoot is paramount to punish teams for going under the pick and roll.  That leaves Lowry* and Irving as the two main candidates to start.  Lowry is a far better distributor and defender than Irving, especially when he doesn’t have to carry such a load offensively.  Plus his bulldog strength and competitiveness make him tough to post up on switches.

*Lowry is shooting only 33 percent on threes this season, but has had to take a lot of bad ones this year as the primary impetus of Toronto’s offense with DeMar DeRozan out.  He’s been over 36 percent the previous four years.

Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler.  Butler has cooled after a hot start from the field, but he still gets to the line a ton and merits at least a closeout from beyond the three-point line.  He is used to playing without the ball and can provide some points off cuts and the offensive glass.

More importantly, the Bulls’ shooting guard is really the only premium wing defender in the East who is also elite offensively.  Butler is not a perfect option due to the fact that he is not a great shooter, but we need someone who can guard on the wing.

Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony.  Here is where the pickings for the East start to get a bit slim versus their counterparts in the West.  The Anthony of the past two years would be a far worthier pick as a starter, but with recent knee problems and the onset of his 30s that player may be gone forever.  And he has never really defended at even an average NBA level at either small or power forward. Nevertheless, who else are you starting on the wing?*  Dwyane Wade can’t shoot threes and is no great shakes as a defender either.  DeRozan is too inefficient and also doesn’t shoot threes.  Kyle Korver might be the best competition.  He is a better team defender, although he cannot bang with power forwards to the extent Anthony can.  And Korver is not going to be an asset defending one-on-one either.  This spot is Anthony’s by default, although it is quite possible the team would end up playing a little better with Korver on the floor. The East definitely misses Paul George, who would be the obvious pick here with his two-way play.

*I am including both shooting guards and small forwards here, since Butler can play either wing spot.

Power Forward:  LeBron James.  James has played little at the four in Cleveland with Kevin Love anchoring that spot and unable to move up to center.  But memories of what he and the HEAT were in Miami persist.  Despite his much publicized weight loss over the summer, James still has the heft and activity to battle post players when needed.  And he and Carmelo on the floor together means the opposition must either downsize or risk a mismatch with their power forward against either of them.

After a rough stretch to begin the season, James is looking like the game’s best player again since resting for two weeks.  Playing him at power forward with adequate shooting around him is the best way to negate the West’s massive advantage up front.

Center:  Chris Bosh. With all this offensive firepower, the East center would ideally be someone who can finish pick and rolls at an elite level while protecting the rim and defending pick and rolls and postups.  Unfortunately, the East does not really possess such an established player.  Al Horford and Chris Bosh come the closest. Both have been a part of good defenses, but neither has the size or length to be truly elite on that end.  They also can stretch defenses with their shooting, but they aren’t elite at dunking lobs and sucking the defense in on pick and rolls either.

Nevertheless, it probably comes down to these two.  Andre Drummond may be the ideal sort of player eventually, but he isn’t good enough on defense yet.  Bosh is probably the pick to start because of his superior length and legitimate three-point range, but Horford will also get plenty of time.

Backup Bigs:

Al Horford: Horford might be the best two-way big man in the East.  Although he is still a bit undersized as a center, he has the strength to defend postups against all but he largest behemoths. He knows where to be and how to execute the system, as evidenced by Atlanta’s excellent defense this year.  And Horford’s elite midrange jump-shooting can help spread the floor for others.  If Bosh cannot hold up on the boards with this small starting lineup, Horford could end up seeing the lion’s share of the playing time.

Paul Millsap:  Millsap has grown into a better defender than many think after developing a bad reputation in Utah playing next to Al Jefferson.  He also can drill three-pointers and get to the basket off the dribble.  Millsap is not a perfect player due to his lack of length and explosion, but the East bigs are not exactly overflowing with explosive athletes.

Hassan Whiteside:  Yes, really.  Many will say this is an overreaction to a few good weeks, but it must be remembered this is an end-of-the-bench spot on this team.  It seems unlikely Whiteside is the star-type player he has looked like of late, but if he is he provides exactly what this team needs defending the basket while finishing pick and rolls and offensive rebounds at the hoop.  Why not spend the last roster spot on the flier that Whiteside can provide something the team lacks?

Andre Drummond: The logic on Drummond is similar to that of Whiteside: another flier trying to find this squad’s Tyson Chandler.  Drummond has not yet shown the ability to impact the game defensively the way even Whiteside has in his short career, but he has the physical tools.  What’s more, we know he can be a great weapon in pick and rolls offensively, and is a monster on the offensive glass.  I am quite comfortable spending the last two roster slots on wild cards to see if we can find someone to play the role this team really needs.  Without such a player, the team is likely going to devolve into trying to outscore the West.

Why not?

Pau Gasol:  Gasol simply isn’t athletic enough to play effectively in a game like this.  While he has been a revelation at around $7 million per year with the points and rebounds he is putting up, he lacks the athleticism to defend other than in the immediate basket area (where he has been solid).  He also is not a good enough defensive rebounder.  While post scoring might be welcome on this team, Gasol is only effective in that role against subpar defenders.  Zach Lowe did a nice job further outlining some of Gasol’s weaknesses in his All-Star piece today.

Joakim Noah:  Noah would probably be the starter for if we were picking the squad this time last year. At his peak, his ability to protect the rim and switch pick and rolls would be precisely what the squad needed on defense.  That Noah has been largely absent this year though as he works back from a knee injury. More importantly, Noah is now a total liability offensively, shooting 44 percent and a mere 51 percent in the basket area.*  Teams don’t even guard him, and that’s not going to fly on this team.

*The NBA average is around 60 percent.

Al Jefferson: Big Al just isn’t mobile enough defensively, and this team is not going to need his relatively inefficient shot-creation in the post with the firepower on the rest of the roster.

Kevin Love:  Love doesn’t make this team for the same reason he isn’t a great fit with James in Cleveland. The East will likely function best with James at the four, and Love will get destroyed defensively at the five.  While his shooting and passing would be a nice weapon, Millsap provides many of the same things with a more well-rounded skillset on defense.

Nikola Vucevic:  He is nowhere near a good enough defender to merit inclusion on this team.

Backup Wings:

Kyle Korver: The potential author of the league’s first 50/50/90 season gets a spot due to his shooting gravity.  He is a near perfect complement to the weapons on this squad offensively, although he lacks the abilities to punish teams that switch onto him off the dribble and will never be much of a one-on-one defender due to his athletic deficiencies.

DeMarre Carroll:  This squad is going to need someone who can play wing stopper when Butler goes out or gets in foul trouble as he does on occasion.  Carroll is one of the few East wings who meets that definition and can still drain threes at a solid rate. He is one of the most underrated players in basketball, although his inclusion on this team speaks as much for the East’s lack of two-way wings as it does for his own prowess.

Why not?

Dwyane Wade:  What Wade is doing at his age should not be discounted; he has carried the HEAT offensively.  But his old man game does not work as well against the best defenders, he can’t shoot threes and isn’t much of a defender any longer.  Without the ball in his hands, Wade does not add enough to this team even with his “ghost cuts.”

Bradley Beal:  The hype on Beal has always gotten a bit ahead of what he is actually doing on the court.  While he is shooting a blistering 44 percent from three-point range, he is no Korver in terms of gravity.  While he is probably a little quicker than Korver, it is not like he is asked to be a stopper for Washington right now.  Korver and Carroll are just a little better at what this team needs.  In a couple of years time, Beal would have a much better shot.

DeMar DeRozan:  His main skills are handling in pick and roll and creating long twos. That has value for his NBA team, but he is too inefficient and not a good enough defender to get a serious look as a role-playing backup wing because of how little value he provides without the ball in his hands.

Backup Point Guard:

John Wall:  Wall is one of the best players in the East, and might be the best defender among point guards at this point.  He will be the best passer on the team with the possible exception of James. Wall is also tall enough to slide to the two defensively but play point on offense, which he must do since he isn’t a good enough shooter to play off the ball.  A two point guard lineup with he and Lowry could be effective if the East wants to push the pace. It is a concern that teams will play off him and dare him to shoot, but he’s so much better as a distributor than the other point guard candidates that he needs to be on the team.

Kyrie Irving: The Cavs point guard gets the last spot due to his shooting ability.  If Lowry needs a break and the opponent successfully dares Wall to shoot (or James is handling the ball), Irving can make the defense pay from downtown or get to the basket, where he’s markedly improved his finishing this year. While his defense is lacking, he has at least improved his effort on that end.

Why not?

Jeff Teague:  Teague is having a wonderfully efficient season.  But he just is not quite as dynamic with the ball in his hands as Irving and Wall, lacking the former’s shooting ability and the latter’s vision.  His lack of a particular elite skill sinks him here.

Derrick Rose: Rose is showing flashes of his old self more and more.  He is getting to the basket with greater ease (though still struggling to finish) and starting to hit enough threes to keep the defense honest.  Unfortunately, he still is not efficient enough that you want him taking away opportunities from the great players on this team–he will need to start getting to the line a lot more to approach that level.  What’s more, Rose’s defense has slipped from his pre-injury level, although he has shown flashes.  Rose may get back to All-Star level by the end of the year, but for now he shouldn’t be on this team.

Who wins?

The West would be a big favorite. They have better point guards, better shooting, more two-way players on the perimeter and, most importantly, far more defense at the basket.  The East’s only hope is to force the West into going small with James at power forward, but even then the West’s superior defensive versatility and their ability to deploy Howard, Davis or Cousins (who the East will have to double team) as the lone big man would be a massive advantage.

 

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Small Forwards

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by checking in on a thin small forward class.

Ben Nadeau

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With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.

Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some long-overdue changes. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.

Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something, donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

We’re approaching the halfway point in our examination of potential upcoming free agents – today, the ball keeps on rolling with the small forwards.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans – Restricted – $7,265,485

Across all positions, Brandon Ingram will be a top option for any franchise with oodles of cap space and a need for consistent scoring. Even then, Ingram seems destined to stay in New Orleans, no matter the cost.

Since he arrived from Los Angeles a year ago, Ingram has quickly turned into the type of stone-cold No. 1 option that can transform a roster. The 6-foot-7 youngster averaged 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 2019-20, numbers that eventually netted Ingram his first-ever All-Star Game appearance. And now, the budding star will likely see any forthcoming offer matched.

Paired with Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have developed an ideally dynamic and flexible duo to carry them into the next half-decade and beyond. With more volume and efficiency from three-point land, Ingram is evolving at a ridiculous rate – all right at home in New Orleans’ high-tempo offense. Capped off by a 49-point stunner back in January, it’s clear that future All-Star berths are just his floor.

Although the salary cap is sure to suffer after the stoppage, the 22-year-old’s future paycheck certainly won’t – he’s that good.

Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics — Player Option — $32,700,690

Before Hayward even potentially hits free agency, he’s made waves within the NBA’s restarted bubble. On a call last week with Boston media, Hayward announced that he’d leave Orlando should his wife go into labor – whether or not the Celtics are still in the postseason.

The news seems to have passed through the Northeast without major drawback – although, surely, let’s revisit if the franchise is in Eastern Conference Finals when he departs – but could that be the end of the road in Boston? It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but the arrival of Hayward hasn’t gone as planned – and now, both the franchise and player are likely stuck at a hard fork in the road.

Hayward, naturally, has the easier, initial decision: Does he want to opt-in for $30 million-plus? On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Getting paid a small fortune and competing for a championship is achievable NBA paradise – currently, he’s got it. But after that season, Hayward would be unrestricted, 31 years old and playing fourth fiddle to Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

If Hayward is concerned with his overall fit with Boston – while the Celtics themselves must give careful consideration to how it’ll all work money-wise with Walker and Brown re-upped, alongside glue guy Marcus Smart – then opting out and securing a new multi-year deal might be on the table.

Given his injury history and any presumptive salary cap fluctuations, however, reaching the $30 million range seems far out of his reach. Either way, Hayward, finally, appears to be healthy and confident again, even averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. The Celtics’ will surely miss the scorer should he leave the bubble, but this partnership is likely to last at least another year.

Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder – Unrestricted – $22,615,559

After entering the season as potential trade bait for a Thunder roster that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Gallinari fulfilled his status as a go-to scorer and all-around menace. The Italian played so well that Oklahoma City kept the veteran at the trade deadline even though he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency.

At the time of the shutdown, the Thunder were 40-24 and owners of the No. 5 postseason seed. Much of the attention was given toward the rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Gallinari has been a healthy revelation too. Ultimately, keeping the core together for this run was worth it, even if he doesn’t land back in the midwest this offseason.

Despite the incredible campaign, Gallinari’s injury history should be a red flag for any franchise ready to hand out a lucrative deal. Since 2008, Gallinari has played 70 or more games just twice (2009-10, 2012-13) and can struggle to return once he goes down. In any case, regardless of any past ailments, he’s handled back-to-back career seasons – first in Los Angeles with the Clippers and now, obviously, with the Thunder.

At 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 three-pointers on 41 percent from deep, he’s been an excellent fit with Chris Paul and the young roster – but at 32 years old, is there still room to grow over a new multi-year deal?

After Ingram and Hayward, both of whom may not even hit the open market, Gallinari is the crown jewel of available small forwards, so watch this space.

Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns – Restricted – $3,481,916

Understandably, Dario Saric has become a bit of an afterthought. And that’s unfortunate because the Croatian is still useful – he just needs to find his right team.

At 26, Saric is no longer a spring chicken, but his multi-positional playmaking on the cheap will surely elevate a playoff-ready roster down the line. The 6-foot-10 forward is mobile for his size but struggled to fit next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, two touch-gobbling scorers. Saric has a unique NBA skillset and he often does the little things right – but his below-average three-point percentage has hurt him.

For a brief moment, Saric had fallen out of the rotation in early February, but his all-out effort and flexibility made him tough to leave out for too long. While Kelly Oubre Jr. has not been entirely ruled out of the Orlando bubble, Saric is the ready-made replacement for the starting lineup. As the forward will likely become a restricted free agent in the offseason, these upcoming games are vastly important to prove he belongs in Phoenix.

Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $2,159,029

Last but not least, there’s Carmelo Anthony.

After being booted from the league for a year, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has been a solid, reputable source of scoring for Portland. At 15.3 points per game, it’s not Anthony’s most high-tallying performance – duh – but it’ll be enough to secure him another gig in 2020-21. At 36, he’s still a decent option, even if efficiencies may often tell another story.

His stints with Oklahoma City and Houston withstanding, Anthony can still score. And in the NBA these days, that’s worth a stab. Anthony will no longer demand multi-year contracts or salary cap-sponging money, so he’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of player at this point. What team couldn’t use that? The legend has excelled in big moments and brings boatloads of experience – so whether he lands in a veteran-laden locker room or one that needs his guidance hardly matters now.

Bring back Carmelo Anthony in 2020… or else.

With the bubble close to resuming, we’re still unsure if two of the top players on this board are even available. Does Hayward’s eventual leave of absence impact his decision? Would the Celtics look to retain him if he opts out? And, more importantly, is there even more than two seconds of consideration before New Orleans matches whatever max offer sheet Ingram signs? Surely, if a franchise misses out on these two – if they’re out there at all – then the small forward market shrinks tinier than it already is.

Gallinari and beyond, we’ll just have to see how the season of one thousand plotlines and twists continues to unfold.

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Shooting Guards

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency tracking series by taking a look at the notable shooting guards potentially hitting the market this summer.

Matt John

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agency Tracker. We’ve already gone over the top point guards entering free agency this season. Now we’re taking a look at their backcourt counterparts- the shooting guards.

To be honest, this crop of free agents period isn’t exactly a loaded one compared to years’ past. The shooting guards don’t have a great free agency class, but they are among the deeper positions in free agency. There aren’t currently any elite ones potentially going on the free market — DeMar DeRozan once was considered elite, but not now — but there are some shooting guards out there who can make a difference in a playoff series.

What’s odd is that among the highest-paid shooting guards that could go on the market are in similar situations for different reasons. Let’s start with the two best at the respective position that could potentially hit the open market once the season concludes.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs — Player Option — $27,739,975
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic — Player Option — $17,000,000

How can a no-win situation get worse? Ask DeMar DeRozan. It was already tricky enough for him to decide what to do with his player option. He can either stay in San Antonio, whose present is a sinking ship that DeRozan is not reportedly happy to be on, or he can risk losing millions of dollars by playing the field in an offseason with hardly any teams to offer the contract a player of his caliber would demand.

And that was before COVID-19 dismantled the league’s salary cap. DeRozan is one of the league’s premier bucket-getters, and the evolution in his all-around game offensively doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Sadly for him, there are two things he’s not particularly good at that the NBA needs from max contract players now more than ever: shooting and defense.

DeRozan got away with this during his days as a Raptor because he was one of their top dogs on a well-crafted team built for him to thrive. But, since moving to San Antonio, being at the forefront of the Spurs’ downfall over the last two years has made his blemishes stand out now more than ever. Because his style of play grows more and more outdated by the day, both sides seem prepared to move on from each other. Unfortunately for both of them, in an upcoming, uncertain free agency period where available money will be scarce, it may not be the best idea for DeRozan to walk away from upwards of $28 million.

He never deserved this. He gave his all to Toronto to put them on the map. He did his best to fill in the void left by Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. He’s being punished when all he did was show his utmost loyalty to begin with. That’s one of the worst non-injury fates a basketball player can endure. Not many players in NBA history have had to go through a decision as tough as DeRozan will — stay with a team you don’t have a future with, or potentially take a massive pay cut?

Should DeMar DeRozan leave San Antonio? Of all the rhetorical questions in the NBA right now, this is definitely among the rhetorical-est. Then, there’s Fournier.

2016 really was a different time. Back when pretty much every team thought they could do no wrong no matter who they added. When you look at the moves the Magic made at that time — and they made some bad ones — they definitely were one of those teams. Among all the ill-advised moves they made, Evan Fournier was one of those guys that was paid just right for his services. Paying $85 million over five years for a complementary scorer such as he is an adequate price. It’s really quite astounding that he was given a fair pretty deal when you see what other players were paid then.

Now he’s got the option to pocket $17 more million or test the open market. The salary cap falling off a cliff will probably make the decision easier for him than it would have in any other year of free agency. That’s a shame because this season’s easily been his best as a pro — averaging almost 19 points on 47/41/82 splits — but with the lack of funds available, there’s really no reason for him to risk leaving that money on the table, and being in Orlando isn’t a bad situation… right?

Really, it’s his long-term prospects that he has to think about. At 27 years old, Fournier is now entering his prime as a player. His career has been a fun story to watch unfurl because he was originally viewed as a throwaway asset when he was first traded to Orlando six years ago. We’ve seen pretty much ever since that’s definitely not the case with him, but Fournier’s contributions have led to five playoff games in Orlando. He has to ask himself if it’s worth it to stay as a secondary scorer on the most average team in the entire league.

In a normal offseason, DeRozan and Fournier would similarly opt-out but for different reasons. DeRozan would opt-out to find another team that has better use for him, while Fournier would opt out looking for a deserved raise — but because the money they are looking for isn’t going to be around, expect the opt-in.

There is another pair of highly-paid shooting guards who, much like DeRozan and Fournier, are in similar situations but are in completely different stages in their career.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks — Player Option — $18,975,000
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Player Option — $27,130,435

There is literally just one similarity between these two players. Even before COVID-19 hit, they were going to take that player option because there was no way either of them was getting that kind of cash on the open market (thankfully, the salary cap hangover from the insanity of 2016 and 2017 is almost over). Besides that, these two couldn’t be more different.

Putting all money aside, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been awesome for the Mavericks this year. At least for what they’ve asked of him. As the designated third wheel next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Hardaway has thrived in his new role. His numbers dropped just as they were expected to — from 19 points to 16 — but the man is putting up his best effective field goal percentage (55.4) and best true shooting percentage (58.1), which has no doubt come from both playing with Luka and under Rick Carlisle.

A man of Hardaway’s talents is tailored more for being the complementary scorer on a rising playoff team like Dallas rather than being the top dog for a young team looking for direction like the New York Knicks. It’s amazing how anyone with eyes can see that except the Knicks themselves. Of course, guys can just score and it means absolutely nothing, but Hardaway actually has the best net rating in Dallas, as the Mavericks are plus-6.1 when he’s on the floor. Not bad for someone who was supposed to be a throw-in from the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

Literally the biggest problem with his game right now is that he’s being paid more than he’s worth and…that’s about it. It may sound ridiculous, but there is such a thing as being so overpaid that it makes you underrated. That’s exactly what Hardaway is. Of course, Dallas would probably prefer to have the cap space, but at least they overpay for someone who actually does something for them on the court. Charlotte can’t say the same with Nicolas Batum.

It’s not Batum’s fault that Charlotte basically paid him like a franchise player back in 2016. If money like that is on the table, how can you say no? At the height of his game, Batum was arguably the league’s best glue player. His lanky arms and skinny physique make him somewhat of an all-around terror in all phases of the game — defense, shooting, rebounding, and oddly enough, passing. Or at least it did back when Charlotte played him consistent minutes.

Batum’s impact has died a slow and painful death in Charlotte that over the last two years, he’s basically just been accumulating healthy scratches. Even after the team waived Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Batum hasn’t managed to play one single minute in the NBA since Jan. 24. Over 22 games, he’s put up 3.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3 assists a.k.a. stats that make you scream, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, NICOLAS BATUM?!”

Maybe playing in the league for 12 years has taken its toll on Batum’s body, but the veteran forward is only 31. That’s why there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for both him and the Hornets — besides the fact that he’ll be off their payroll this time next year. With him likely to opt-in, we might get to see the old Batum resurface with the new contract coming up. Whether he does or doesn’t, the quicker the Hornets move away from this era of basketball for them, the better.

So in case you were wondering, the highest-paid shooting guards to hit free agency are probably going to opt-in. Others who play the same position are primed to get their first payday in the NBA. There actually aren’t too many shooting guards entering restricted free agency, but the best ones who are are names you should be familiar with.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings — Restricted — $9,000,000
Malik Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted — $1,958,379

There’s really not much to say about Bogdanovic’s free agency that we didn’t already know. He’s one of the league’s premier hybrid playmaker/scorers among NBA second units. Unless there’s something going on behind closed doors, there shouldn’t be anything stopping the Kings from paying him what he wants this offseason. Especially now that they’ve offloaded Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza from their cap. Seriously, why did they bring those guys in again?

The only detail worth questioning is: How much will they give him? Bogi certainly deserves more money, but the lack of cap room going around may limit how much money interested parties are willing to offer for him. The Kings should show him how much they value what he does, but both his restricted free agency and the lack of money give Sacramento more leverage than they are used to. Bogdanovic should stay a King, but we know what the Kings are and are not capable of.

Then, there’s Beasley. Beasley correctly bet on himself when he demanded the Nuggets to trade him to a team willing to give him the minutes he wanted. Since going to Minnesota, he’s putting up excellent numbers that you never thought you’d see from him — nearly 21 points on 47/43/75 splits are sensational numbers for a midseason addition who honestly didn’t cost much to get.

The only two hangups from this situation are that Beasley played this well for 14 games and his contributions didn’t lead to much; the Timberwolves went 4-10 in that span. Now that their season is over, they have to decide if his play was enough to earn him the payday that he clearly wants.

Again, restricted free agency gives teams more leverage, but the Timberwolves might very well be onto something with their midseason shakeups. There’s not a whole lot of avenues for them to get better, so perhaps the best plan for them from here on out is to see what they have here.

There are definitely some other notable free-agent shooting guards this coming offseason:

  • Joe Harris’ sharpshooting should attract plenty of suitors, but the cap crunch will probably prevent any unforeseen departure from Brooklyn. Ditto for E’Twaun Moore seeing how New Orleans also has his bird rights.
  • Tony Snell has no business being on a rebuilding team like Detroit, but no one’s going to pay him the $11 million that the Pistons will if he opts in.
  • Wes Matthews and Austin Rivers have been among the NBA’s best economical additions this past season. Typically guys like them don’t come cheaply the next year, but it might not be up to them.
  • Avery Bradley and Rodney Hood are more than likely going to opt-in both because of the cap crunch and their seasons ending prematurely.
  • Until they can’t shoot the rock anymore, guys like Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli will be in the NBA. With who is anyone’s guess, but their jumper is a weapon that every NBA team will want.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Point Guards

Shane Rhodes starts off Basketball Insiders’ new “Free Agent Watch” series, looking at the best free agent point guards set to hit the market this summer.

Shane Rhodes

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We’re in the home stretch!

It’s July, and the NBA is set to reconvene in just 26 days — of course, those may be the longest 26 days in recorded history, but the wait is sure to be worth it. Soon enough, Adam Silver will have crowned the next NBA champions.

Of course, the postseason should come-and-go in an instant, with an infinitely condensed offseason set to follow — and unfortunately, just as the season has, the draft, training camp and free agency are sure to feel the restrictions of COVID-19. With that in mind, we here at Basketball Insiders are taking another look at the coming offseason, specifically at the soon-to-be free agent class position-by-position.

Today, our first entry in our Free Agent Watch, we’ll look at the point guards. Let’s jump in.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors — Unrestricted — $9,000,000

Even with the salary cap expected to dip next season, don’t expect it to keep VanVleet to get anything less than his due.

Just 26 years old, VanVleet is cruising into his prime and has already proven himself an essential fixture on a championship-caliber roster — don’t expect his services to come cheap, and don’t expect him to sit on the open market for long. With VanVleet, however, it isn’t so much about how much he may earn, but where he may earn it. The former undrafted free agent has seemingly made a home in Toronto, but the Raptors face a number of other pressing financial issues in addition to VanVleet’s upcoming free agency.

Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, vital in their own right to Toronto’s championship run a season ago, are also set to hit the market. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam’s contract extension — worth more than $30,000,000 per year through the 2023-24 season — is set to start next season as well. Do Masai Ujiri and Co. see VanVleet as a star to pair with Siakam in the long term, or would the Raptors opt instead to re-sign Gasol and Ibaka (or at least attempt to) in order to maintain a more balanced roster?

Only time will tell. Either way, and in spite of the current global financial downturn, expect VanVleet to get paid rather handsomely — certainly more so than any other point guard expected to hit the market — come free agency.

Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT — Unrestricted — $17,000,450

Relative to the other guards in the free-agent crop, Dragic is old. But, even at 34, Dragic, who has transitioned to a reserve role in Miami, should continue to contribute at a high level over the next few seasons.

Dragic started just one game during the regular season, his fewest since his rookie year. That said, the reduced workload had proven a boon for his health; after a (mostly) lost 2018-19 season, in which Dragic played just 36 regular season games, he had rebounded mightily before the league was shut down. In 54 games, he averaged 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and shot 37.7 percent from three.

Given he’s made just three postseason appearances in his career, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see the 14-year veteran Dragic re-up with the HEAT — with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the fold, Miami should find themselves in the thick of the postseason hunt over the life of Dragic’s next deal. Any other roster — and most would be more than happy to work him in — with a legitimate title shot in the next few seasons wouldn’t be much of a surprise, either.

Would an opportunity to start for around the same (or even higher) contract value persuade Dragic to join an up-and-coming roster or non-contender? It would seem unlikely, again citing his lack of postseason appearances, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls — Restricted — $4,372,072

It would seem as if Dunn’s time in Chicago is over.

Coby White and Tomas Satoransky have displaced Dunn on the Bulls’ depth chart, while their presence would also preclude Chicago from matching any deal worth more than Dunn’s potential $7,091,457 qualifying offer. Meanwhile, the Bulls have a guaranteed lottery pick in a draft loaded with talent at the guard position.

So, what exactly would push Chicago to retain Dunn, or interest any team in adding him as a free agent? Elite defense.

Yes, Dunn has proven a bit limited on offense — he’s not exactly a score-first guard, and his ability as a passer isn’t spectacular, either. But Dunn is a defensive menace, a kind of player any roster looking to make noise in the postseason could take advantage of.

He may not garner the proper respect given the Bulls’ position near the bottom of the league, but Dunn made a legitimate case for an All-Defense nod in 2019; he was second to Ben Simmons in steals per game while he led all qualified players with 2.9 steals per 36 minutes.

Dunn is also more than capable of defending another team’s top offensive option and, given that he may not earn much next season, should prove a steal for any team looking to either shore up their defense or boost it to the next level.

Reggie Jackson, Los Angeles Clippers — Unrestricted — $734,025

Jackson may have the most to gain of nearly any player from the NBA’s restart.

Bought out by the Detroit Pistons back in February, Jackson was afforded the opportunity to aid the Clippers in their quest toward the NBA Finals. In doing so, he also has the perfect opportunity to recoup major value he had lost in recent seasons with Detroit.

In recent years, poor play, injury and a bad Pistons roster had relegated Jackson to the scrap heap, knocking him down from a once-promising (or breakout, even) player to an overpaid stat stuffer that didn’t necessarily help the team win games. Yes, on paper, Jackson’s Detroit tenure looked strong — 16.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 35.4 percent three-point percentage in his four full seasons with the team.

But, when you take into account that the Pistons managed to finish with a winning percentage above .500 just once in those four seasons and never finished higher than eighth in the Eastern Conference, those stats start to feel empty.

If nothing else, Jackson needed a change of scenery and looked strong in his few games with Los Angeles prior to the shutdown. In nine games with the Clippers, Jackson averaged 9.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and shot a blistering 52.5 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three in 19.4 minutes per game.

He certainly wasn’t going to earn anything close to the 5-year, $80,000,000 deal he signed back in 2015. That said, Jackson, 30, is young enough that — if he can turn that mini-resurgence into an even stronger postseason performance — he shouldn’t have any trouble finding a long(ish)-term deal next season (and could maybe even play himself back into a prominent role).

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks — Unrestricted — $19,000,000

Teague isn’t the “flashy” move. He certainly won’t swing a series or push a team into title contention.

That said, he’s still capable of solid production. Split between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks this season, Teague averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and shot 43.6 percent from the field — not great, but good enough in spot duty and limited minutes off the bench.

Teague also shot 36.8 percent from three, making him a solid addition for any team that has struggled with their shot from the outside.

That said, most interest in Teague may come in his veteran presence. A quality leader, Teague also has plenty of playoff experience, having made the postseason in nine of his 12 seasons. With Vince Carter now retired, the Hawks may opt to bring him back to serve in a similar role, albeit at a massively reduced salary.

These five may prove the best of the bunch, but the point guard group set to hit the market is deep. Expect more than a few to prove solid additions capable of some serious impact. And with that, make sure to keep on the lookout for the rest of our positional Free Agent Watch series later this week.

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