2023 Free Agency

10 most intriguing free agents of 2023 offseason

Fred VanVleet, Draymond Green, James Harden and Austin Reaves could potentially change teams this offseason.

James Harden and Fred VanVleet each have big decisions to make during free agency this summer.

James Harden and Fred VanVleet each have big decisions to make during free agency this summer.

A year ago, the list of potential 2023 free agents included Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland and two guys named Bogdanovic. And of course, with all those players signing contract extensions in the last 12 months, the list has been pared down quite a bit.

There still remain some big names and guys in fascinating situations. Below are the 10 most intriguing free agents, though the list includes a lot more free agents (and potential ones) than that. Some players are intriguing because of their own talent or development. Some because of the team they played for this past season and how the player’s staying or going affects the franchise.

Left off the list were a few free agents where the exercising of an option (team or player) seems academic.

1. James Harden (Player option), Philadelphia

Harden tops this list for the second straight year. In 2022, he declined his player option and signed a new contract with another player option for 2023. If he exercises it, he’s under contract for one more season at $35.6 million and will be a free agent next year. If he declines it as expected, he’s a free agent now.

The Sixers lost in the conference semifinals, but are still a very good team. And Harden played a big part in Joel Embiid winning the MVP award, assisting him 244 times in 2022-23. That’s 89 more assists than any other player had to a single teammate. Even if Harden had some rough outings in the playoffs (when he shot just 38% in the paint), Philly would not be able to replace that kind of playmaking.

Number to know: Harden led the league by a wide margin with 9.1 pass-ahead passes per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was 2.7 more than any other player.

Related free agents: Kyrie Irving (DAL) and Russell Westbrook (LAC) – After trading one of their best defenders and a first-round pick for Irving, the Mavs went 5-11 with him and Luka Doncic in the lineup together and missed the playoffs. His options will be limited, but there will be options. After a rough tenure with the Lakers, Westbrook was a better fit across the hall, though the Clippers can’t pay him a lot to return.

2. Draymond Green (Player option), Golden State

Draymond Green played a vital role in helping Golden State win 4 championships in 8 seasons.

Has the Golden State dynasty reached its conclusion? After winning their fourth championship in eight years, the Warriors saw a big drop off defensively in 2022-23. They couldn’t regain their magic in the playoffs, losing in the conference semis. Now, both Green and the Warriors’ front office (which no longer includes Bob Myers) need to decide if they want to run it back one more time. He’s got a special skill set and an incredible mind for the game, and there’s always going to be a curiosity about what kind of player Green would be away from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Number to know: Green was the only player who played at least 1,000 minutes with his team at least six points per 100 possessions better on both offense and defense when he was on the floor than it was with him off the floor. The Warriors scored 6.1 more points per 100 possessions and allowed 6.1 fewer per 100 with Green in the Game (116.2, 109.2) than they did with him out of the game (110.1, 116.3).

Related free agents: Khris Middleton (MIL) and Kristaps Porzingis (WAS) – Like Green, Middleton is a critical part of a championship core who can opt out of his deal. Porzingis’ team hasn’t been nearly as successful, but is another former All-Star (who’s coming off the best season of his career) with a player option.

3. Fred VanVleet (Player option), Toronto

The Raptors held onto VanVleet at the trade deadline, knowing he would likely decline his player option and become a free agent this summer. In fact, instead of trading a starter, they added one, acquiring Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs. But while they seem intent on remaining competitive, VanVleet will have other suitors. A small guard who can do a little bit of everything, he’s a great complement to a star wing or big.

Number to know: VanVleet led the league (for the third time in the last four seasons) with 3.8 deflections per game.

Related free agents: Gabe Vincent (MIA), D’Angelo Russell (LAL), Dennis Schroder (LAL), Shake Milton (PHI), Tre Jones (SAS), Ayo Dosunmu (CHI), Kendrick Nunn (WAS) and Dennis Smith Jr. (CHA) – There are a few starting point guards on the market beyond Harden, Irving and Westbrook. Then we get into the solid or intriguing back-ups, with a couple of them — Jones and Dosunmu — being restricted free agents.

4. Austin Reaves (Restricted), L.A. Lakers

Austin Reaves emerged as one of the Lakers’ top performers in the 2022-23 season.

Reaves made himself a lot of money with a breakout second season in which he averaged 13.0 points per game. In both the regular season and the playoffs, the Lakers were much better with Reaves on the floor than they were with him off the floor. And if they aim to remain competitive, they can’t afford to let the 25-year-old, do-everything wing go. The big question is just how much Reaves is going to get paid after going undrafted just two years ago.

Number to know: Reaves had a true shooting percentage of 68.7%, the fifth highest mark among 222 players (highest among non-centers) with at least 400 field goal attempts this season. His effective field goal percentage (61.6%) ranked 16th among that group and his free throw rate (54.1 attempts per 100 shots from the field) ranked sixth.

Related free agents: Rui Hachimura (LAL), Cam Johnson (BKN), P.J. Washington (CHA), Paul Reed (PHI), Grant Williams (BOS), Coby White (CHI), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (MIN) and Cam Reddish (POR) – These are all restricted free agents, and most of them could be on this list separately … if they weren’t restricted. But while their teams have the ability to match any offer they get, there is some real intrigue with a couple of these guys.

The Lakers would seemingly have to part ways with Hachimura if they need the cap space to sign a third star (like Irving). Johnson was a big piece of the Irving trade for Brooklyn, but has overlapping skills with a lot of guys on the Nets’ roster. Reed could be a lot more valuable to a team that doesn’t have the reigning MVP as its starting center. And how much do the Celtics value Williams, given that he was in and out of the rotation in the playoffs?

5. Dillon Brooks, Memphis

Brooks is a tough defender, but erratic offensively (in part because he takes bad shots) and coming off his least effective shooting season since he played just 18 games in 2018-19. His effective field goal percentage in the playoffs was 37.7%, the worst mark among all players with at least 75 field goal attempts. And he seemingly made things worse (and signed his exit papers) by poking the bear that is LeBron James. If the Grizzlies aren’t interested in bringing him back, it will be fascinating to see what team is interested in bringing him in.

Number to know: Brooks had a usage rate of 21.4%, down from 28.3% last season. That was tied for the second biggest drop among 225 players who played at least 1,000 minutes this season and at least 500 in 2021-22.

Related free agents: Bruce Brown (DEN), Josh Hart (NYK), Josh Okogie (PHX), Torrey Craig (PHX), Patrick Beverley (CHI), Matisse Thybulle (POR), Justise Winslow (POR), Jalen McDaniels (PHI), Jae Crowder (MIL), Javonte Green (CHI) – If you’re looking for a defender, you have several to choose from. Brown and Hart helped elevate the Nuggets and Knicks, respectively, and they both have player options. McDaniels replaced Thybulle in Philly, only to fall out of the Sixers’ rotation in the playoffs.

6. Jerami Grant, Portland

Jerami Grant enjoyed some statistical success with the Blazers in 2022-23.

The intrigue with Grant is mostly about the direction that the Blazers are going in. They finished in 13th place in the Western Conference this season, going 27-31 when Damian Lillard was in the lineup, even though he had the best season of his career in regard to points per game and efficiency. They brought in Grant to help their defense and they still finished in the bottom five on that end of the floor for the fourth straight season. Grant is still just 29 years old, but Lillard will be 33 in July and the Blazers aren’t close to contention.

Number to know: Grant shot a career-high 40.1% from 3-point range this season. He had an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, up from 49.1% in 2021-22. That was the 11th biggest jump among 136 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.

Related free agents: Kyle Kuzma (WAS), Harrison Barnes (SAC), Joe Ingles (MIL), Jeff Green (DEN), Georges Niang (PHI) and T.J. Warren (PHX) – There are a handful of veteran forwards than can help a contender, and most of them are on contenders already. Kuzma isn’t and there’s new leadership in Washington, making that situation a little more intriguing than it was when the season ended.

7. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee

Brook Lopez of the Milwaukee Bucks has been named to the 2022-23 Kia NBA All-Defense First Team.

Back surgery kept Lopez out for most of the 2021-22 season. But in ’22-23 and at the age of 34, he played 78 games, was the Kia Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, and had the most efficient scoring season (true shooting percentage of 63.0%) of his 15-year career. There will be cheaper options at center on the market (Lopez himself was one of those options five years ago), but Lopez has been a huge part of the Bucks’ success and they can’t afford to take a step backward now. The only question is if new head coach Adrian Griffin wants to switch things up and go with a smaller, more mobile rotation.

Number to know: The Bucks allowed 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Lopez on the floor than they did with him off the floor. That was the biggest differential for a full-time starter who played at least 1,000 minutes.

Related free agents: Nikola Vucevic (CHI), Jakob Poeltl (TOR), Christian Wood (DAL) – Lopez, Poeltl and Vucevic are a pretty good trio of starting centers and it would be a surprise if any of them were playing for a new team next season. A move would be far less surprising for Wood, who never seemed to earn the trust of Mavs coach Jason Kidd.

8. Max Strus, Miami

Like Vincent, Strus is starting in the NBA Finals while getting paid less than $2 million. And like Vincent, he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. Both players might be best in reserve roles, but the Heat have made it work, and both will be get rewarded for the work they’ve put in over the last few seasons. As a shooter with decent size, Strus could fit in anywhere.

Number to know: In the regular season, Strus had an effective field goal percentage of 53.5%, down from 60.2% in 2021-22. That was the second biggest drop among 136 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.

Related free agents: Jordan Clarkson (UTA), Malik Beasley (LAL), Seth Curry (BKN), Caris LeVert (CLE), Josh Richardson (NOP), Lonnie Walker IV (LAL), Donte DiVincenzo (GSW), Kelly Oubre Jr. (CHA), Gary Trent Jr. (TOR) and Hamidou Diallo (DET) – The off-ball wing options in free agency have a variety of skill sets. Clarkson has a player option and it’s not clear if the Jazz want to win yet. Beasley helped the Lakers turn their season around, but was out of the playoff rotation and has a $16.5 million team option for 2023-24.

9. Naz Reid, Minnesota

(Editor’s Note: Reid and the Timberwolves have reportedly agreed to a three-year deal.)

Reid had some important moments for the Timberwolves before fracturing his wrist in late March. But despite how well he played this season and that he’s just 23 years old (he turns 24 in August), there’s limited need for Reid if the Wolves still have two other big centers who are owed a combined $272 million over the next three years. In fact, Minnesota was outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions in 284 total minutes with Reid on the floor with either Rudy Gobert or Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s an unrestricted free agent and another team may provide him with a bigger opportunity.

Number to know: Reid had a ratio of 27.1 3-point attempts for every mid-range attempt. That was the 12th highest rate among 212 players with at least 200 total field goal attempts from outside the paint (not including backcourt shots).

Related free agents: Mason Plumlee (LAC), Dwight Powell (DAL), Trey Lyles (SAC), JaMychal Green (GSW), Montrezl Harrell (PHI), Jock Landale (PHX) and Jaxson Hayes (NOP) – There are even more back-up bigs beyond this list, including Cody Zeller, who went from non-rostered in February to playing in The Finals in June. You know what you’re getting with most of these guys, though Hayes (a restricted free agent) has some upside at just 23 years old.

10. Kevin Love, Miami

After being waived by the Cavs, Love was starting for the Eastern Conference champs, ranking third in defensive rebounding percentage in the playoffs and helping turn one game around with three ridiculous outlet passes. He’ll be 35 next season and can be a liability against certain matchups, but still has some value in a limited role.

Number to know: Love ranked second in the regular season with 33 charges drawn.

Related free agents: Derrick Rose (NYK), Andre Iguodala (GSW), Blake Griffin (BOS), Danny Green (CLE), Wesley Matthews (MIL), Goran Dragic (MIL), George Hill (IND), DeAndre Jordan (DEN) and Taj Gibson (WAS) – Per custom, we complete this exercise with a list of accomplished vets who may or may not be at the end of their career.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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