NBA

Top Five Available NBA Free Agents

Apr 5, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Jamal Crawford (11) dribbles against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA season expected to resume in just over a month, teams have weighed their options regarding a potential free-agent addition to give them an extra boost heading into the postseason. The group of available NBA free agents is a far cry from what it’s expected to be in the upcoming offseason, but there are still a good group of potential contributors for teams to consider. Out of them, these five stand out from the rest of the pack.

Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

J.R. Smith

17 December 2015: Cleveland Cavaliers Guard J.R. Smith (5) during the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Oh.
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Although he’s best known for his embarrassing mistake in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, J.R. Smith has proven time and time again to be an effective role player on playoff contender squads. Most notably, he was a huge part of the Cavs’ 2016 title run.

At age 34, he won’t be throwing down any reverse dunks like he used to, but his ability to make tough shots has lasted his entire career and is nearly unmatched. This skill is particularly useful against intensified playoff defenses, so Smith’s value should only skyrocket with this in mind. 

Signing Smith comes with several uncertainties that some teams might want to avoid. But putting him in an established system with seasoned veterans could prove to be the perfect situation for him to succeed. That situation could come with the Lakers, who have reportedly shown interest in Smith.

Iman Shumpert

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 09: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors during the first half in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 9, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A longtime former teammate of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert was also a big contributor for the Cavs in 2016. Similar to Smith, his best days are likely over. Shumpert’s once-productive scoring ability has been plagued by shooting inefficiencies & aging, and frankly, he offers very little offensively. He’s shot under 40% from the field in each of his last 3 seasons and has never been much of a playmaker.

On the other end, Shumpert is still a serviceable perimeter defender, even late in his career. This role will always be tremendously valuable, and there’s a glaring shortage of quality perimeter defenders on the market. With that considered, Shumpert’s skill in that area should warrant attention from teams in need of a wing defender. The Trail Blazers & Wizards seem like ideal fits.

Jordan Bell

Dec 20, 2019; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jordan Bell (7) before the game against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Bell had a strong start to his NBA career, playing meaningful minutes on the 2018 Warriors championship team. And it was easy to see why he made an impact so early on. Bell fit right in with Golden State’s small-ball lineup and quickly blossomed into a solid rebounder and a well-rounded defender at the center position.

After underwhelming stints with the T-Wolves & Grizzlies this past season, Bell was waived and is now a free agent up for grabs. It would be pretty shocking to not see a team jump on Bell. Most importantly, he has an unteachable trait that most of the other top free agents don’t: youth. Compared to the other NBA free agents, he is the youngest one.

Bell is only 25 with elite athleticism. He can move better than most bigs, jumps high, and has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6’8”. Not to mention he can match up well with just about every position. All of that coupled with Bell’s championship experience makes him an ideal piece on a championship squad. 

Jamal Crawford

Apr 5, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Jamal Crawford (11) dribbles against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Crawford averaged over 31 points per game on 55% shooting in his last four NBA games, including a 51-point performance in his most recent one. Surprisingly he still isn’t on a roster. That should change in the coming weeks. He’s 40, but Crawford still possesses some of the scoring touch that earned him three 6th Man of the Year trophies. 

Defensively, Crawford is a liability, as he’s always been. But he won’t be signed to play defense. Crawford has made a career out of being an elite shot creator with a rare combination of shooting & ball handling that has lasted for nearly all of his 19-year career. And that’s the sole reason he’ll draw attention. 

Additionally, Crawford’s ability to catch fire has always separated him from other top scorers. He’s scored 50 points in four different games throughout his career, and his recent outburst last year proves that there’s at least an ounce of explosiveness left in the tank. It’s far from a guarantee whether or not that potential will actually be lived up to, but Crawford is nonetheless a very intriguing option.

Isaiah Thomas

Feb 1, 2020; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at Capital One Arena.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like another lifetime ago, but Isaiah Thomas took the league by storm in 2017. He averaged 29 points per game and finished 5th in MVP voting while leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Unfortunately for Thomas, his career has taken a considerable downturn since then. He’s spent time with the Cavs, Lakers, Nuggets, and Wizards. Since leaving Boston, he has failed to come remotely close to his near-MVP season. 

Thomas’ play with the Wizards earlier this season was not good. However, he did hint that the talent that earned him the nickname “King in the 4th” was still existent. His 50% effective FG% was a huge increase from recent years. Thomas’ NBA production is not all lost. The 5’9” frame limits any sort of positive impact on defense, but if Thomas can resemble even a fraction of his prior self, he’s worth a roster spot. Out of all the available NBA free agents, Thomas may have the most upside.

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