ESPN: Nurkić, Napier Among Top 2018 Free Agents

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

Now that the draft is over, the next big event of the NBA offseason is free agency. Starting at midnight Eastern (9 p.m. Pacific) on July 1, teams can enter into discussions with free agents about potential signing on to play for their respective teams, though deals are not technically allowed to be agreed upon until the end of the NBA moratorium is over on July 6. After the moratorium ends, free agents can sign with any team that has the requisite cap space to do so (FYI: the Trail Blazers only have the taxpayer midlevel exception, expected to be worth around $5.4 million for the 2018-19 season, to sign new free agents). Unrestricted free agents are allowed to join their new teams as soon as they sign the offer, while restricted free agents have to wait for their current team to either match the tendered offer or release the player to his new team.

With a bevy of of big name player, such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Chris Paul, expected to hitting the open market, the 2018 free agent signing period one of the most interesting in recent memory. And while they might not be garnering the same attention that the All-Star caliber free agents are getting, Portland has a number of free agents who will be available to sign new deals come July 6. Two of those players were named to ESPN's list of the Top 30 free agents of the 2018 class.

Portland's highest rated free agent, according to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, is center Jusuf Nurkić, who is a restricted free agent. "The Bosnian Beast" comes in at No. 24 on Pelton's rankings, which is based off of "a comprehensive estimate of how many wins above replacement player (WARP) players will provide over that span" ...

Jusuf Nurkic
Portland Trail Blazers
Age: 23

Projected three-year WARP: 9.0

Nurkic's first full season in Portland was uneven. He was unable to carry over the success as a playmaker he enjoyed after the 2017 trade deadline, and his .528 true shooting percentage was poor for a starting center. The results were better on D, where Nurkic helped the Blazers protect the rim at an elite rate and post a top-10 defensive rating.

Given the limited value of centers in free agency, that performance probably won't be worth what the ultraconfident Nurkic expects. Taking the one-year qualifying offer would be a good compromise for both player and team, since Portland would save in terms of luxury tax.

2017-18 RPM: +1.8 | 2017-18 WARP: 2.3

Pelton has Nurkić ranked ahead of Cleveland guard Rodney Hood at No. 23 and ahead of Clippers forward Montrez Harrell at No. 25. Nurkić is the sixth-ranked center on the list behind Nikola Jokic, Cousins, Clint Capela, DeAndre Jordan and Enes Kanter.

Then there's point guard Shabazz Napier, also a restricted free agent, who comes in just a few spots behind Nurkić at No. 26...

Shabazz Napier
Portland Trail Blazers
Point guard
Age: 26

Projected three-year WARP: 7.9

On his third team, Napier developed into a solid backup point guard. The Blazers particularly benefited from Napier's ability to play off the ball alongside Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum and sometimes both in tiny lineups that were the team's most successful trios. Napier made 38 percent of his 3s to space the floor for Portland's higher-scoring guards.

2017-18 RPM: +0.4 | 2017-18 WARP: 3.1

Napier makes the list behind Harrell at No. 25 and ahead of Heat guard Wayne Ellington at No. 27. Napier is also ranked sixth among free agent point guards behind Paul, Fred VanVleet, Elfrid Payton, Isaiah Thomas and Yogi Ferrell.

Ed Davis and Pat Connaughton join Nurkić and Napier as free agents who were on the roster last season, though both are unrestricted rather than restricted.


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