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The Next Tier of 2016 NBA Free Agents

Basketball Insiders continues our look at this summer’s top free agents, focusing on players 11-20 on our list.

Jabari Davis

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Yesterday, our Tommy Beer broke down the top 10 NBA free agents who are available this summer. Today, we continue our look at this free agency class with a breakdown of the next tier of notable players who are sure to garner interest. Let’s pick up where Tommy left off, with player No. 11.

11. Harrison Barnes, 24, Restricted Free Agent:

Is Barnes a player who simply benefited from playing alongside an extremely talented core of players in Golden State or is he someone who should be praised and ultimately rewarded handsomely for being willing to subjugate his game for the greater good of his team? That’s the multi-million dollar question that we are likely to have answered over the next week or two, but let’s just say Barnes certainly didn’t do himself any favors with his play during the Warriors’ Finals run.

Put simply, if you were on the proverbial fence about whether Barnes is a guy who can put all of those skills together enough to consistently lead a team as a “main guy” then you might have backed away from that notion. If you’re convinced he can be called upon to be one of the main focuses on a winning team, then you probably just saw that run of futility as a rough patch that all players endure. Either way, it will be very interesting to see if a team moves forward and at least makes Golden State’s decision more difficult with a max offer sheet (as the Philadelphia 76ers are reportedly considering). Will the Warriors hesitate to make Barnes their highest paid player at this stage?

12. Chandler Parsons, 27, Unrestricted Free Agent:

Parsons would probably have received a sizable offer from more than one team this summer if he hadn’t just missed 37 combined games over the past two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks due to multiple procedures on his right knee. As it stands, he’s actually coming off a very efficient year in which he averaged 13.7 points on 49.2 percent shooting from the floor and 41.4 percent from three-point range – even if his on-court time dipped to the second-lowest total of his career at just 29.5 minutes per contest.

It could make sense for Parsons to sign a two-to-three-year deal with slightly more money per season in order to enter free agency again prior to his 30th birthday and while still in his prime years; however, the security of the longest available deal could also be more appealing for a player with his recent injury history. Either way, it only takes one general manager who is willing to bank on his health in order to bring in a guy with his offensive skill set, and Parsons might even have several favorable options to choose from.

13. Dwight Howard, 30, Unrestricted Free Agent:

In perhaps the most mutual opt-out of a last year in the history of such contract options, Howard predictably walked away from the final $23 million on the deal he signed with Houston just a few summers ago. On the heels of leaving guaranteed money on the table to sign with the Rockets in the first place, needless to say, things still haven’t gone the way the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year (2009-11) expected the back end of his prime years to go. Now, with drama behind the scenes and Mike D’Antoni taking over as head coach, Howard’s time in Houston seems done.

The thing is, even at a stage when he is clearly past his physical prime, Howard turned in a solid 2015-16 season when you look at the traditional stats. He averaged 13.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 1.6 BPG in 71 games this year. When relatively healthy, Howard is still a strong enough defender and rim protector to help a good team under the right circumstances. The smart move would be to take a short-term (two-to-three years max) at a range close to $18-20 million with a contender, but Howard could also seek the largest payout available from one of the teams that strike out with the bigger names and still need to find an impact player.

14. Dirk Nowitzki, 38, Unrestricted Free Agent:

Nowitzki is coming off of his 18th season in the NBA, but the 2011 Finals MVP still managed to average 18.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG while shooting 36.8 percent from deep at a relatively efficient level in 75 games for the Mavericks last season. Time will tell how much truth there is to any rumor that has Nowitzki potentially moving on to a contender, but the fact that the future Hall of Famer is still the topic of such talk is impressive in itself. It would be a bit of a surprise to see Nowitzki wind up ending his career in anything other than a Mavericks uniform, but that doesn’t mean opposing GMs won’t at least try to pursue him over the next week or so.

15. Ryan Anderson, 28, Unrestricted Free Agent:

After a difficult 2014-15 from a personal perspective, Anderson was able to rebound and at least get things back together on a professional level in 2015-16. Anderson raised his three-point percentage from 34 percent back to a respectable 36.6 percent this past year and was also more active on the boards for the Pelicans (averaging six rebounds per contest). Both the Los Angeles Lakers and his hometown Sacramento Kings have been among the teams with rumored interest, but his 17 points per game and ability to space the floor might make a bit more sense on a contending team looking for a piece to add that dynamic or put them over the top rather than joining another rebuilding effort. Either way, Anderson should be paid very well, with some reports indicating he could sign a near-max deal.

16. Evan Fournier, 23, Restricted Free Agent:

The Orlando Magic already stated an intention to match any offer sheet Fournier signs with another team, and that’s because they not only realize his current value as a young shooter in this league, but also because there is a belief that he hasn’t even reached his full potential as a player. Newly hired head coach Frank Vogel doesn’t have an awful lot of shooters on that roster to begin with, so he should be the first one knocking on general manager Rob Hennigan’s door if negotiations somehow go awry with the 6’7 shooting guard. His 15.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG and 2.7 APG were each career-highs this past season and his 40 percent shooting on 4.9 three-point attempts per night put him in the running as one of the deadliest shooters on the market this summer. Orlando would be foolish to let him leave town.

17. Marvin Williams, 30, Unrestricted Free Agent:

Not only is the 11-year veteran a positive locker room presence, he can still play a bit of both forward positions in certain lineups and he’s coming off of a year in which he shot 40.2 percent from beyond the arc. He also gave the Hornets 11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and one block per game in just 28.9 minutes per night.

Teams specifically looking for a veteran power forward who can space the floor could certainly do a lot worse than Williams. The Hornets could prioritize fellow free agent swingman Nicolas Batum when negotiations open on Friday, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see several potential suitors come calling for Williams over the first few days of free agency if Charlotte keeps him waiting too long.

18. Bismack Biyombo, 23, Unrestricted Free Agent:

Besides being suspended for the 2016-17 NBA opener due to an accumulation of flagrant foul points in the most recent postseason, absolutely nothing is guaranteed for Biyombo as he heads into free agency. After his Eastern Conference Finals performance, many of us were left wondering whether the results were due to a favorable matchup or a willingness by a hungry Biyombo to seize the moment? The Toronto Raptors have several free agents to prioritize – including the DeMar DeRozan – who are likely to rank ahead of their back-up center once the floodgates open on July 1.

Biyombo is coming off a year when he played somewhat sparingly throughout the regular season (22 minutes per contest), but was particularly impressive in the postseason when filling in for an injured Jonas Valancuinas. Against the eventual NBA champions, Biyombo averaged 6.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while playing very good defense against that Cavaliers’ front line. The question will be, are there any GMs who believe Biyombo can duplicate such success over the long haul and when asked to play at that high level consistently? If so, another team could “price” Biyombo outside of where the Raptors are comfortable spending this summer.

19. Pau Gasol, 35, Unrestricted Free Agent:

Gasol recently opted out of the final year (and $7.7 million) of his deal with the Chicago Bulls, and is reportedly expected to receive interest from several teams including the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks. While Gasol may have the understandable defensive concerns you’d expect a 35-year-old veteran big man to have – especially with the growing trend of teams specifically looking to exploit slower bigs in the pick-and-roll and along the perimeter – that doesn’t mean a smart and talented team couldn’t find a way to capitalize on what he still brings to the table.

Beyond being widely considered a phenomenal teammate and locker-room presence, Gasol simply knows the game of basketball. He’s an excellent post and mid-post option, remains one of the league’s better passing big men and will still block a shot or two at the rim or from the weakside. Expect him to be on a contender and potentially back in the Western Conference this upcoming season.

20. Jordan Clarkson, 24, Restricted Free Agent:

Clarkson is at that crossroad that many young and improving players from bad teams tend to face, and that’s determining whether his production is solely – or, at least, mainly – a result of someone having to put up numbers on a bad team or if he is truly a burgeoning talent who still has room to grow as a player. Those who watched his games (beyond box score hunting) can tell you that while Clarkson is far from a complete player, he showed real signs of progress in year two for the Lakers.

Beyond the 15.5 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists, Clarkson looked far more comfortable from deep (up to 34.7 percent from just 31.4 as a rookie) and started getting to the rim with regularity as the season wore on. Taking the next step as a defender is the next big challenge, but all Clarkson has to do is convince GMs that he has the ability and willingness to do so in order to receive a significant raise this summer.

Honorable Mention
Jeremy Lin, Festus Ezeli, Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Kent Bazemore, Jamal Crawford, Joakim Noah, Evan Turner, Luol Deng, J.R. Smith, Jared Sullinger. For a complete list of this summer’s free agents, click here.

 

 

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NBA Daily: What We Forgot

With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.

Matt John

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With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.

Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.

But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.

Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal

Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.

Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.

Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.

The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.

Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done

What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.

Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.

Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.

In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.

The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.

Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.

Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.

Maturity Issues Loom Large

Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.

Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.

After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.

Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.

Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.

But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.

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NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks

Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.

Drew Maresca

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Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.

So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.

Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.

But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.

Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.

Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.

But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.

So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.

He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.

Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.

But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.

Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.

Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.

That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.

But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.

But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.

The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.

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NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key

Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure. 

Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders. 

Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.

Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them. 

Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll. 

Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.

Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well. 

Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.

The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA. 

Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.

As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.

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