Quality players still available on free agent market
While most of the big names are gone, plenty of options remain for teams to shore up their roster
With the conclusion of the moratorium on Thursday, free agents have begun to sign their new contracts. Since early Saturday morning, more than 40 free agents have agreed to terms with teams new and old.
But there are more than 100 still on the market. And among them are some players that can move the needle on one end of the floor or the other. This isn’t a thorough “best of the rest” list, but rather some key names with some key numbers regarding the impact they can make, as well as some players that could be acquired via trade.
With the best point guards off the market, it’s a tough time to still be shopping for a guy to run your offense. In fact, if a team is looking for a point guard at this point, it would be better to talk to Raptors president Masai Ujiri about Cory Joseph (owed $16 million over the next two years) than the agents of the guys listed below.
Rajon Rondo – Chicago Bulls
Rondo had some serious ups and downs last season. At various points, he was a starter, a reserve, and out of the rotation.
Overall, he has become a decent shooter off the catch (41.0 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s), though on limited attempts. Not only is he not a deep threat, but he’s also one of three players who shot less than 50 percent on at least 200 attempts in the restricted area last season. He ranked third in the league in assist rate, in part because he’s hesitant to shoot.
Defensively, Rondo can help you … when he’s engaged. But there’s always a question of which Rondo you’re going to get from game to game. And with shooting being so important these days, he clearly doesn’t fit on every roster.
Derrick Rose – New York Knicks
Rose has played 2,000 minutes in each of the last two seasons (after failing to do so in any of the previous four) and averaged 18.0 points per game for a Knicks offense that was 5.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
But, while he’s a decent mid-range shooter, he remains a below-average finisher at the rim and unable to shoot from beyond the arc. His effective field goal percentage (47.7 percent) was well below the league average (51.4 percent), though his free throw rate last season (26 attempts per 100 shots from the field) was his highest since his initial knee injury.
With the third lowest assist rate among starting point guards (18.6 assists per 100 possessions used), Rose wasn’t the right complement for Carmelo Anthony (who took 63 percent of his jump shots off the dribble) and Kristaps Porzingis. He was also a liability on defense, where the Knicks allowed 111.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Others: Raymond Felton (Clippers), Shelvin Mack (Jazz), Rodney Stuckey (Pacers)
Possible salary dumps: Cory Joseph (Raptors), Brandon Knight (Suns)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Unrestricted) – Detroit Pistons
UPDATE: The Pistons have rescinded their qualifying offer to Caldwell-Pope.
KCP is a former No. 8 pick and only 24 years old. He can be an impact defender, but he’s not the shooter that Otto Porter is. He shot a career-high 35.0 percent from 3-point range last season, but that mark was still below the league average (35.8 percent) and ranked 98th among 135 players with at least 200 attempts from beyond the arc. (Porter ranked fourth.)
In Detroit’s only-the-point-guard-runs-the-offense system, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t had much experience as a playmaker. Even with Reggie Jackson missing the first 21 games and being a disappointment over the next 52, KCP used just 491 ball screens last season. That mark ranked 26th among shooting guards, according to SportVU.
He doesn’t get to the basket or to the line very often. Only 16 percent of his shots came in the restricted area last season and his free throw rate (20 attempts per 100 shots from the field) ranked 55th among 90 guards who took at least 500 shots from the field.
Caldwell-Pope may be hoping that Washington matches Brooklyn’s offer sheet on Porter, so that the Nets might try for their fifth restricted free agent after missing out on the first four that they signed to offer sheets in the last 13 months. Having agreed to give Langston Galloway most of their mid-level exception, the Pistons can’t exceed $125.3 million in total salary. So if KCP were to receive max offer sheet, they couldn’t match it without trading somebody already on the roster.
C.J. Miles – Indiana Pacers
Miles’ 169 3-pointers last season are the most among free agents that are still available and his 41.3 percent from beyond the arc was a career-high. He doesn’t give you much inside the 3-point line, though. His 3.1 points in the paint per 36 minutes ranked 242nd among 282 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.
Still, every team needs shooting and Miles is the best shooter still on the market. He’s still just 30 years old and he’s not going to hurt you defensively, though using him as a small-ball four didn’t work out well for the Pacers in the 2015-16 season.
Shabazz Muhammad – Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves have reportedly withdrawn their qualifying offer to Muhammad, making him an unrestricted free agent.
He’s a guard who’s comfortable in the post. Though he played less than 20 minutes per game, his 104 post-up possessions were tied for 46th most in the league last season. And his 0.94 points scored per possession were tied (with LeBron James and others) for the 16th best mark among players with at least 100. His 67.7 percent in the restricted area ranked fifth among non-bigs with at least 200 attempts.
But Muhammad isn’t much of a threat from the outside. He shot 32.5 percent from outside the paint, the 23rd worst mark among 215 players with at least 200 attempts. And he didn’t make much of an impact defensively for a team that ranked 26th on that end of the floor.
Jonathon Simmons (Restricted) – San Antonio Spurs
Simmons has had his moments as an energy guy off the best bench in basketball. But he still needs some development if he’s going to step into a larger role (in San Antonio or elsewhere).
He was a below-average shooter both in the paint and outside last season. He can attack and gives the Spurs some much needed athleticism, but isn’t much of a threat from the outside. A couple of more years with Spurs assistant Chip Engelland would help with that, but with just two seasons of experience, Simmons will be turning 28 years old in September. The potential for growth isn’t as great as it would be if he took a more normal path to the NBA.
Others: Tony Allen (Grizzlies), Bojan Bogdanovic (Wizards), Ian Clark (Warriors), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Hawks), Thabo Sefolosha (Hawks)
Possible salary dumps: Iman Shumpert (Cavaliers), Evan Turner (Blazers)
Point guard (or primary ball-handler) is the most important position in the game, but guys who can play both forward positions have become increasingly desired with the success of the Golden State Warriors and their abundance of versatility.
Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings
Update: Gay has signed with the Spurs.
Gay is coming off a torn Achilles and has been to the playoffs just once in his 11 seasons. The last two teams he left – Memphis and Toronto – got better with his departure.
Since then, Gay has cut down on his mid-range shots. After taking 34 percent of his shots from between the paint and the 3-point line in his first nine seasons, he’s taken only 25 percent of his shots from there over the last two. Before his injury last season, he was putting up a career-high true shooting percentage (55.9 percent).
Gay fits the profile of the kind of player that every team could use and he’s been fine with smaller roles on the National Team. Over his NBA career, only 43 percent of his baskets have been assisted, and he can be more efficient if that number is much higher going forward.
James Johnson – Miami Heat
Update: Johnson is reportedly returning to the Heat.
Every team is looking for versatility and Johnson is the most versatile player on this list.
Like Dion Waiters, Johnson should get a serious pay raise after a career-saving season in Miami. Other teams have to wonder if they can replicate Erik Spoelstra’s success with Johnson and maybe a return to the Heat is best resolution. An AP report on Wednesday had the two sides “continuing to move near a deal.”
AP is told that Miami and James Johnson are continuing to move near a deal. It's been expected, and still is expected.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) July 5, 2017
Still, Johnson would fit on any roster, because he brings multiple skills on offense and can guard multiple positions on defense. Among 99 forwards who played at least 20 minutes per game in 50 games or more, he had the 10th highest assist rate. Among players 6-8 and taller who played at least 1,500 minutes, only seven guys were the ball-handler on more ball screens per 36. He was Heat’s de-facto back-up point guard and even had a higher assist rate (22.4 assists per 100 possessions used) than Goran Dragic (18.6) when the two were on the floor together.
Last season was also Johnson’s best from beyond the arc, though he still rated as a below average 3-point shooter overall at 34.0 percent. He was slightly above average on catch-and-shoot attempts (38.1 percent), but needs to erase the pull-up three (he was 9-for-50, the worst mark among players with that many pull-up attempts) from his arsenal.
Defensively, Johnson has the quickness and strength to guard 1-4. With him on the floor, he Heat allowed just 102.3 points per 100 possessions, the lowest mark among their players that averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 games or more.
Others: Luc Mbah a Moute (Clippers)
Possible salary dumps: DeMarre Carroll (Raptors)
Shooting is the most important thing in this league. So if you can have big men who can space the floor and shoot from deep, you’re set up to have a pretty potent offense.
Pau Gasol – San Antonio Spurs
Gasol has turned himself into a stretch five over the last couple of years. He took just 104 3-pointers last season, but was the only player to shoot better than 50 percent on at least 100 catch-and-shoot attempts from beyond the arc. Over the last two seasons, he has taken 52 percent of his shots from outside the paint, up from 41 percent over the previous four years.
Gasol has struggled to defend in space. The Spurs allowed 1.08 when he was the screener’s defender, a number higher than the marks of LaMarcus Aldridge (1.02), Dewayne Dedmon (0.94) or David Lee (1.06). But his size makes him a solid rim protector. Opponents shot 48.6 percent at the rim when he was there to protect it, the eighth best mark among 33 players who defended at least six shots at the rim per game.
Gasol declined a $16.2 million player option, perhaps to sign a longer deal. It seems very unlikely he’s leaving San Antonio.
JaMychal Green (Restricted) – Memphis Grizzlies
Green is the best defender among the stretch bigs on this list, but didn’t make much of an offensive leap after being moved into the Grizzlies’ starting lineup last season.
He was a solid 3-point shooter at 37.9 percent, but volume was an issue. He averaged only 1.9 attempts in 27.3 minutes per game, with 59 percent of his 3s coming from the corners. He needs to become more comfortable from above the break, but was solid (47-for-92 from mid-range) when he stepped inside the arc.
Nikola Mirotic (Restricted) – Chicago Bulls
Mirotic is a designated shooter that shot only 34.2 percent from 3-point range last season. But the Chicago offense was at its best (scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor.
The Bulls outscored their opponents by 314 points in 1,107 minutes with Mirotic and Jimmy Butler on the floor together and were outscored by 279 in 2,847 minutes otherwise. They complemented each other well, but Butler is now in Minnesota.
Mirotic is only 26, so the Bulls shouldn’t necessarily let him walk as they look to rebuild after trading their best player. But they did select another stretch four (Lauri Markkanen) with the seventh pick in the Draft.
Kelly Olynyk – Boston Celtics
Update: Olynyk has reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with the Heat.
In order to create cap space for Gordon Hayward, the Celtics have to withdraw their qualifying offer for Olynyk, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Olynyk surely opened some eyes with his 26 points in Boston’s Game 7 win over Washington in the conference semifinals. He seems to be an ideal third big man who spaces the floor and doesn’t have to be one of your primary pick-and-roll defenders. According to SportVU, the Celtics allowed 1.12 points per possession when Olynyk defended a ball screen, one of the worst marks in the league among players who were the screener’s defender on at least 500 ball screens. (They allowed just 1.01 when Al Horford was the screener’s defender.)
On offense, Olynyk isn’t just a shooter, though. He scored 1.17 points per possession as a roll man (ninth among 58 players with at least 100 roll-man possessions) and was one of 13 players who shot 70 percent or better on at least 200 shots in the restricted area last season.
Others: Ersan Ilyasova (Hawks), Jonas Jerebko (Celtics), Marreese Speights (Clippers), Anthony Tolliver (Kings)
Possible salary dumps: Spencer Hawes (Bucks), Mirza Teletovic (Bucks)
It’s definitely a buyer’s market up front, both in regard to free agents and players teams may be looking to unload. There are more available centers than are needed around the league.
Dewayne Dedmon – San Antonio Spurs
Getting Dedmon for less than $3 million last year was an incredible deal for the Spurs (see Mozgov, Timofey). After playing 1,330 solid minutes for a title contender, he declined his player option and should surely get more this year. Being the only unrestricted free agent among the traditional bigs on this list helps, though staying with the Spurs is his most likely scenario anyway. With Gasol turning 37 on Thursday, the team probably wants to also keep the guy who’s nine years younger.
The Spurs had the No. 1 defense in the league and allowed just 97.5 points per 100 possessions with Dedmon on the floor. He rated as a strong rim protector and ranked eighth in defensive rebounding percentage (grabbing 30.2 percent of available defensive boards) among 294 players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games. His shooting range is limited, but he shot almost 70 percent in the restricted area and scored 1.15 points per possession as a roll man.
Nerlens Noel (Restricted) – Dallas Mavericks
There hasn’t been much chatter about Noel, with the assumption that the Mavs will match any offer sheet. They did give up a couple of assets – though minor – at the deadline to acquire him. But there are a few teams that can make him an offer and Atlanta was mentioned as a possible suitor on Wednesday.
Noel is still just 23 years old and should complement rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. as the Mavs build for the future. He’s a roll man that can catch and finish (though the Mavs were much more likely to run a Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pop than a Noel pick-and-roll last season) and he’s young enough that we can’t assume that he’ll never be able to shoot from the outside.
More important, a full season of Noel at closer to 30 minutes per game (he averaged just 22.0 after arriving last season) should make a difference on a defense that has worse than the league average for five straight seasons. It’s just a matter of how much the Mavs will have to pay.
Mason Plumlee (Restricted) – Denver Nuggets
Plumlee had the third highest assist rate (24.2 assists per 100 possessions used) among centers last season, though that mark dipped after he was traded from Portland to Denver.
The Nuggets needed help on defense, but he wasn’t able to make much of an impact on that end of the floor. In fact, after the trade, Denver allowed a brutal 111.9 points per 100 possessions with Plumlee in the game, even though, as the back-up center, he was mostly defending against second-unit offenses.
Plumlee may be a victim of the current market and deals that were handed out last summer. He’s a useful player, but just not necessarily needed by any team with cap space. The Nuggets’ frontcourt got more crowded with the additions of Trey Lyles and Paul Millsap and the team may want to preserve cap space for next summer.
If he signs his qualifying offer, it would be a one-year contract for about $4.6 million.
Alan Williams (Restricted) – Phoenix Suns
Williams played limited minutes on a bad team and really only saw rotation time (as a 6-8 center) after the All-Star break because the Suns shut down Tyson Chandler.
But he did pretty well with those minutes. In fact, Williams was somehow a plus-2 in 708 minutes for the second worst team in the league. That’s some plus-minus magic.
He grabbed 21.5 percent of available rebounds when he was on the floor. That was the seventh best mark among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games, and the six guys ahead of him were all 6-11 or taller. He also measured out as a decent rim protector (opponents shot 49.5 percent at the rim when he was there), especially for someone his size.
You’d like better shooting from a 6-8 guy. Williams took just 17 shots from outside the paint in his 708 minutes. But a solid screener and aggressive rebounder can still make a positive impact on offense without a jump shot.
Williams is that “intriguing, small-sample-size” guy, like Dedmon was last year. The Suns would be wise not to withdraw their qualifying offer like Orlando did with Dedmon when they signed Bismack Biyombo.
Others: Tarik Black (Lakers), David Lee (Spurs), JaVale McGee (Warriors), Donatas Motiejunas (Pelicans), Mike Muscala (Hawks), Willie Reed (Heat)
Possible salary dumps: Tyson Chandler (Suns), Kenneth Faried (Nuggets), John Henson (Bucks), Greg Monroe (Bucks), Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors)
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