2020 Free Agency
10 most intriguing free agents ahead of 2020-21 season
Fred VanVleet, Brandon Ingram and Goran Dragic are just a few names to watch closely as we head into the offseason.
The 2020 offseason is full of unknowns. A few days after the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th championship, we don’t know when next season will begin, how many games it will include, and whether fans will be able to watch in person.
We also don’t know what the salary cap will be or when teams will be allowed to start negotiating with free agents in preparation for what could be a wide-open title chase in 2021. This year’s class of available players is not as deep or talented as that of last year, which included Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker. Five of those six guys changed teams!
This year’s class does include Anthony Davis, who can opt out of the final season of his current contract. Of course, having forced his way to Los Angeles and won a championship with LeBron James, Davis isn’t going anywhere. So he’s not included in the list below, for which there needs to be a certain degree of intrigue regarding the player’s (and/or their team’s) decision this summer.
1. Fred VanVleet, Toronto
VanVleet is ready to cash in after betting on himself multiple times. After hitting some big shots in the Raptors’ run to a championship in 2019, VanVleet saw continued improvement as a starter alongside Kyle Lowry. He averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, while leading the league in deflections (4.2 per game) for the No. 2-ranked defense.
There are teams — Detroit and New York, in particular — with cap space and a need at point guard. So the Raptors will likely need to cut significantly into their 2021 cap space to keep VanVleet in Toronto. And the 26-year-old is just one of three unrestricted free agents in the Raptors’ core seven.
Number to know: VanVleet passed on 56.7% of his drives, the highest rate among 113 players who averaged at least five drives in 30 games or more.
Related free agents: Marc Gasol (TOR) and Serge Ibaka (TOR) — The Raptors have two reliable centers, but they’re 35 and 30 years old, respectively, and they’re both unrestricted free agents. There have already been more than whispers about Gasol taking his talents back to Spain.
More related free agents: Kris Dunn (CHI) and De’Anthony Melton (MEM) — Dunn (26) and Melton (22), though they’re both restricted free agents, will come a lot cheaper than VanVleet, but they’re both solid back-up point guards who can get at it defensively. In fact, they ranked first and third in deflections per 36 minutes among 300 players who played at least 750 total minutes last season. Offense, alas, is another story.
2. Brandon Ingram (Restricted), New Orleans
There are far fewer questions about Ingram now than there were a year ago. With a move to New Orleans and a much-improved jumper, he won the Kia Most Improved Player award. And with Ingram having just turned 23 years old, it’s seems like a no-brainer that the Pelicans will bring him back, especially because they can match any offer he might get elsewhere.
But it will be interesting to see what the final price tag is. And it’s fair to wonder how well he fits alongside Zion Williamson long-term, in that Ingram will relegate Williamson to the role of bystander on a certain number of possessions when they’re on the floor together. It’s on the Pelicans’ next coach to make it work on both ends of the floor (there were no innocent parties when it came to how poorly New Orleans defended in key games down the stretch this season).
Number to know: Ingram took 35% of his shots from 3-point range, up from 12.9% in 2018-19. That was the fifth-biggest jump among 218 players with at least 250 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. His 3-point percentage jumped from 33.0% to 39.1% and the 150 3-pointers he made were more than he made in his first three seasons combined.
Related free agent: Derrick Favors (NOP) — Twenty-year-old Jaxson Hayes is seemingly the Pelicans’ five of the future, but Favors (still just 28) was a solid center, especially defensively, in his first year in New Orleans. Williamson will likely be a part-time center himself going forward, but the Pelicans outscored their opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions (allowing just 100.4) in 368 total minutes with Williamson and Favors on the floor together.
3. Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City
The departure of coach Billy Donovan was an indication that the Thunder are going to take a step backward this offseason. Trading Chris Paul (who has two years and $86 million left on his deal) would obviously be the bigger step, but letting Gallinari walk will be the simpler one.
Maximizing your offensive potential means having a four who can shoot, and Gallinari is that guy. He’s 32, but he’s one of four players (Joe Harris and Davis Bertans are two of the other three) who have shot 40% or better on at least 300 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons.
Number to know: In the regular season, the Thunder scored 16.6 more points per 100 possessions with Gallinari on the floor (116.9) than they did with him off the floor (100.3). That was the biggest on-off OffRtg differential among 236 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
Related free agent: Gordon Hayward (BOS) — With greater uncertainty and far fewer teams with cap space, it seems doubtful that Hayward would pull the same move as Al Horford did last year, opting out of the final year of his deal ($34.2 million) and landing somewhere other than Boston.
4. Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers
If the Clippers had reached The Finals with Harrell playing like a Sixth Man of the Year, this would seemingly be academic. But the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals and Harrell had a rough postseason. Over their 13 playoff games the team was 27.2 points per 100 possessions better with Harrell off the floor (+15.6) than it was with him on the floor (-11.6). While Harrell took a step backward, starting center Ivica Zubac (three years younger) improved, and the Clippers also used JaMychal Green (who has a player option on the final year of his deal) as a back-up center. There are other teams out there — Toronto is one — that have bigger questions regarding their frontline than the Clippers do.
Given the circumstances (playing in a bubble after a month-long bereavement absence), one could certainly dismiss Harrell’s postseason performance and focus on a pre-hiatus season in which he was an impact player on both ends of the floor. He ranked third in roll-man efficiency, while also grading out as one of the league’s best rim protectors.
Number to know: Harrell ranked second with 393 total baskets in the restricted area in the regular season.
Another related free agent: Jakob Poeltl (SAS) — If the Spurs are turning things over to the youth, they’d best keep the 25-year-old Poeltl (a restricted free agent) in house. He ranks as one of the league’s best rim protectors and the Spurs were also much better offensively with his prolific screen setting on the floor last season.
5. Goran Dragic, Miami
After playing just 36 games in 2018-19, Dragic revived his career just in time to earn a new contract. He was a Kia Sixth Man Award candidate in the regular season and then, as a starter, led the Heat in scoring through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
But Dragic suffered another injury in The Finals and will turn 35 next May. The Heat may be looking to preserve their cap space for 2021 and Kendrick Nunn could eventually take the starting job back. So a lucrative, one-year deal seems like a logical solution, though it would be interesting if Dragic is looking for something long-term.
Number to know: Dragic ranked second in the playoffs with 145 total pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions. The 0.84 points per possession he scored as a pick-and-roll ball-handler ranked just 19th among 26 players with at least 35 postseason ball-handler possessions.
Related free agent: Jae Crowder (MIA) — Crowder is the other Heat starter who’s an unrestricted free agent. The trade that brought him to Miami worked out for both the team — playing Crowder at the four allowed Miami to open up its offense — and the player. After shooting 29.3% from 3-point range with Memphis, he shot 44.5% with the Heat and probably earned himself a bigger payday.
6. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Restricted), Sacramento
Bogdanovic is the kind of scorer and playmaker that a team with a 14-year playoff drought should want to keep around. But the 27-year-old plays the same position as the Kings’ highest paid player. Buddy Hield’s four-year, $88 million extension kicks in next season and De’Aaron Fox is eligible to sign his own extension. Committing a ton of money to three backcourt guys might be a tough thing for a team, led by new general manager Monte McNair, that finished in 12th place this season.
Number to know: Bogdanovic shot 49.5% from mid-range, the seventh best mark among 84 players with at least 100 mid-range attempts.
Related free agent: Kent Bazemore (SAC) — Bazemore is a cheaper option, a better defender, and only three years older than Bogdanovic.
7. Christian Wood, Detroit
Wood came into the league in 2015 with the 10-72 Sixers, spent the entire 2017-18 season in the NBA G League, and had never played 200 total minutes for a single NBA team before getting an opportunity with the Pistons this season. But he made the most of that opportunity, finishing fourth in Kia Sixth Man Award voting and eighth in Kia Most Improved Player voting.
Wood can finish at the rim (his 77% in the restricted area ranked second among 102 players with at least 200 restricted area attempts) and shoot from the perimeter (39% on 140 3-point attempts). And though he’s bounced around the league for five years, he’s still just 25 years old.
Number to know: Wood was one of four players to play at least 1,000 minutes, shoot 55% or better, and average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per 36.
Related free agent: Harry Giles (SAC) — A year ago, the Kings declined the fourth-year option on Giles’ rookie contract, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has an injury history and has yet to realize his potential, but Giles is just 22 years old and has shown flashes of being a useful big on both ends of the floor. He could flourish with better health and more experience in the right environment.
8. Davis Bertans, Washington
Bertans is the definition of “instant offense” in that he’s probably going to shoot the instant he touches the ball, even if he’s 30 feet from the basket. Though he came off the bench, Bertans led the league with 7.4 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game. The 43.1% he shot on those catch-and-shoot 3-pointers ranked 11th among 81 players who attempted at least 200. High release. High volume. High efficiency.
With the biggest payday of his career likely in the balance and the Wizards having little chance of making the playoffs, Bertans opted out of the NBA restart. He’s obviously a good fit alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington, but every team needs shooting.
Number to know: According to Second Spectrum tracking, Bertans led the league with 65 3-pointers in the first six seconds of the shot clock, 11 more than any other player.
Related free agent: Joe Harris (BKN) — Of the three guards who led the Nets in scoring (total points) this season, Harris is obviously the best complement for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But he’s an unrestricted free agent, while Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are under contract. Nets general manager Sean Marks has said that re-signing Harris is “priority No. 1,” but the 28-year-old will surely have multiple suitors when free agency opens.
9. Carmelo Anthony, Portland
Anthony had his moments with the Blazers after a full year out of the league. But, even playing alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, he wasn’t very efficient in his role. His true shooting percentage of 52.5% ranked 205th among 248 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in the regular season.
Anthony was also one reason why the Blazers were the league’s worst defensive team (by a wide margin) after Christmas. There’s value in having guys who can get to their shot late in the clock, but it would be interesting to see what kind of role the 36-year-old Anthony would have next season if Trevor Ariza, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr. are relatively healthy.
Number to know: Anthony took 37% of his shots from mid-range, the second highest rate among 248 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. The 39.9% he shot from mid-range ranked 60th among 84 players with at least 100 mid-range attempts.
Related free agent: Paul Millsap (DEN) — The Nuggets don’t reach the conference finals without Millsap’s performance in Game 5 against the Clippers, and Denver was much, much better defensively with him on the floor in the regular season. But the 35-year-old seemingly showed his age in the bubble, and the Nuggets have both Jerami Grant (who has a $9.3 million player option) and Michael Porter Jr. to play alongside Nikola Jokic on that frontline.
10. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Howard gave the Lakers critical minutes in their conference finals series victory over Denver, but wasn’t much of a factor in their other three series. JaVale McGee can opt into one more year with the Lakers, Markieff Morris is also an unrestricted free agent, and Davis will obviously play some minutes at the five.
It will be fascinating to see if the champs run it back with that same frontline or look to shuffle the deck. Three of their perimeter rotation guys — Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo — also have player options.
Related free agent: Tristan Thompson (CLE) — If the Lakers want to get five years younger (and less foul-prone) with that spot on their roster, here’s another center that LeBron James has won a title with.
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