Every year, the NBA begins the offseason with the race for the league’s top players. Last year’s free agency class was highlighted by Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. Today, we take a look at the best free agents for the upcoming year.
*NOTE: All contract values referenced in the article are courtesy of Sportrac
*All stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference
With regard to free agency, there are some important terms to understand.
Here are some basic terms: (courtesy of Hoops Rumors)
Bird Rights (Abbreviated Bird): Bird rights, created in the name of the legendary Celtics forward Larry Bird, state that teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap up to a maximum contract to sign their own players. However, that player must have spent three seasons with the team without changing teams as a free agent.
Early Bird Rights (Early Bird): These are the same as Bird Rights except A) rights are earned after just two seasons and B) the most a team can offer an Early Bird free agent without using cap space is 175% of his previous salary or 105% of the league-average salary in the previous season, (whichever is greater) These offers are also capped at four years rather than five, and the new contracts must run for at least two years (with no second-year options).
Restricted Free Agent (RFA): An RFA can sign an offer sheet with any team. However, the team that he’s under contract with can retain him by matching that offer.
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): The Player is free to sign with any team of his liking.
Player Option (PO): A clause in the player’s current contract that allows the player to decide whether he would like to return for the next season with the team under the same terms
Now that those terms have been clarified, let’s get to the top 10.
No. 10: Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards (UFA, Bird):
Davis Bertans may not be a household name, but he brings excellent value to any NBA team. At 6’10, he has a remarkably efficient outside shot. Since entering the league, he has not shot below 37% from 3. What makes that number even more of an anomaly is that, for three out of his four seasons, 75% of his shots have been from three. Expect his next contract to be North of the seven million dollars he is making this season with the Washington Wizards.
No. 9: Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets (UFA, Bird):
Joe Harris is a long-range sniper. After a quiet entrance to the NBA, Harris eventually landed with the Brooklyn Nets, where he has since found his stride. In his four years with the Nets, Harris has shot 42.7% from 3 point range on considerably high volume. Harris is mainly a spot-up shooter as 91.5% of his jump shots this season have been assisted.
He will fit in perfectly when Kevin Durant returns from the Achilles injury. The defensive attention that a player like Durant attracts means even more open looks for shooters like Harris. Expect the Nets to do everything in their power to retain him long past next season.
No. 8: Danilo Gallinari, OKC Thunder (UFA, Bird):
This past offseason, Gallinari ended up in Oklahoma City via the Paul George blockbuster deal. The talent is there for Gallinari. He is a career 38% shooter from 3, including 40.9% this year. He is also incredibly reliable from the charity stripe, as he is an 87% career foul line shooter.
Unfortunately for Gallinari, injuries have held him back to an extent. Since entering the league nearly twelve years ago, Gallinari has not once played all 82 games in a season. Not once. His medical history includes a torn ACL that kept him out for the entire 2013 season. Before the next year starts, he will be 32 years old.
It is challenging to see another team offer him the 21 million he is earning with the Thunder this year. Expect him to be a coveted free agent for the 13-15 million dollar range. His size and ability to stretch the floor makes him an intriguing option for most contenders in the NBA.
No. 7: Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics (PO)
Gordon Hayward broke onto the scene in the 2016-17 season, when he was named an All-Star. He shot 39.8% from 3 and averaged 21.5 points per game, both career highs.
This was enough for the Celtics to give him a four year, 128 million dollar contract the ensuing offseason. However, Hayward then suffered the gruesome leg injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the year. He struggled to reintegrate into the Celtics team the following year, not yet finding his confidence. Though Hayward was performing better this year, he doesn’t warrant the 31 million he will be earning. He has the choice to return next year, and 31 million dollars is a lot to walk away from.
Hayward will be 31 when his contract is up with the Celtics. He likely will never see 31 million per year ever again. Thus, Hayward will probably make the smart financial decision and remain with the Celtics.
No. 6: Montrez Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers (UFA, Bird):
Montrez Harrell has been an essential part of the Clippers since he came over in 2017. On the surface, Harrell doesn’t appear to be a particularly valuable player. He has started less than 30 career games since being drafted in 2015. He doesn’t pose a threat from 3, something that significantly reduces a player’s value in today’s NBA.
However, Harrell is a critical piece in the Clippers’ tremendous bench unit. The power forward has also developed a pick and roll game with Lou Williams that is one of the best in the league. Harrell is slightly undersized as a traditional center (standing at just about 6’7), but he makes up for it with muscle. His RPM (real plus-minus) ranks 7th amongst all power forwards in the league.
Given his Bird rights and importance to the bench unit, the Clippers will presumably retain him at any cost necessary. However, like most players on this list, his next contract will likely be more than the six million he is paid annually on his current one.
No. 5: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (UFA, Bird):
VanVleet has found his role in the league after being doubted as an undersized guard. He was an undrafted free agent out of Wichita State and spent the first two years of his career playing for the Raptors G-League and senior team. Vanvleet began to see notable minutes just last year and was an instrumental part of the Raptors Championship winning team.
Vanvleet shot 37.8% from 3 on 4.6 attempts per game this year and also shot 84.3% from the line, tied for his career-high. He is also a clutch player under pressure, shooting his highest field goal percentage when the margin of points is five or less. It cannot be ignored that VanVleet benefits from the defensive scheming of Toronto coach Nick Nurse. However, his relentless work ethic, attitude, and playstyle can bring value to any organization.
His nine million dollars per year is good value; expect the Raptors to retain him.
Number 4: Demar Derozan, San Antonio Spurs (PO):
Demar Derozan is an immensely talented two-guard in today’s NBA. Some of his traits may not be considered compatible with the modern game. Nonetheless, Derozan has found ways to be productive in any situation.
DeRozan has experienced two relatively successful years in San Antonio under coach Greg Popovich. Unfortunately, it has not resulted in postseason success.
The Spurs were knocked out in the first round by the Denver Nuggets in Derozan’s first year and were 12th in the Western Conference before the season was cut short.
During his time with the Spurs, Derozan has shot 96% of his shots from inside the arc. His limited three-point ability raises questions on whether he can be the best player on a championship team.
However, the fact that he is an All-Star without a three-point shot is a testament to his talent. For the Spurs, they won’t have to decide on him for at least one more year. DeRozan has a player option to return to the Spurs for 31 million next year. The consensus is he will accept that and return to San Antonio for one more season.
No. 3: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans (RFA, Bird):
As a rookie, frame, shooting ability, and handle caused Brandon Ingram to draw comparisons to Kevin Durant.
Ingram struggled in his first few seasons in the league, but this season with the Pelicans, he has quieted all of the naysayers.
In his first season with New Orleans, Ingram is averaging nearly 25 points per game. Now the focal point of an offense, the forward is flourishing. The dilemma for the Pelicans becomes this. In the 2019 Draft, the Pelicans selected college basketball superstar, Zion Williamson. Williamson appeared ready to become the face of the franchise. However, he suffered from knee problems and was forced to sit out the majority of the year.
The decision for the Pelicans will be whether they think Ingram and Williamson can co-exist. If not, they will have to choose who to let go. If Ingram perceives he is the more movable piece, he could try and take things into his own hands by selecting a team to join this offseason.
No. 2: Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers (PO):
Andre Drummond has been one of the league’s most underrated players for a long time. In his seven years with Detroit, the only year he didn’t average a double-double was his rookie season. In 2017, he averaged more rebounds than points, averaging 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Drummond is a glass-cleaning machine. He has finished first in the league in offensive rebounds every year since 2013 and finished first in the league in total rebounds every year since 2015. Drummond also is elite defensively, finishing first in defensive rating two years in a row (2016-2018).
He is a non-threat from three and struggles from the free-throw line, where he is a career 46% shooter.
Nonetheless, Drummond is a valuable player in today’s NBA. He still has one year remaining on his contract, a player option for roughly 25 million. While Cleveland is not an ideal place for winning at this point, Drummond will presumably opt into that contract. If he continues to rack up the double-doubles, he will probably see upwards of 20 million dollars on his next contract.
No.1: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (PO):
After his rookie season, Anthony Davis has been named an All-Star every year. He also has been named to three All-Defensive First Teams and three All-NBA First Teams.
Davis has perfectly complemented LeBron James. He’s embraced his smaller role and become the defensive anchor of a contending team.
Davis does struggle with injuries. Like a multitude of other guys on this list, Davis has yet to play a complete season in all his years in the NBA. The contract situation with Davis is interesting. He has expressed interest in returning to his hometown of Chicago if things with the Lakers don’t work out. He also cannot be oblivious to the fact that James only has a couple, quality years remaining. Davis might not want to be tied down to a franchise that will lose its best player in the next few years. For now, he will most likely accept his 25 million dollar player option. Under this route, Davis will be able to return to the Lakers for at least next season.
After next season, Davis will need to assess the progress of the Lakers and decide whether he wants to remain in LA for the remainder of his career.