June 27, 2022, 10:34 am
If you’re an NBA GM most things revolve around whether you’re buying low and selling high. 30 competing agendas all play out in concert. Some of the decisions are deliberated for years and some decisions are knee-jerk reactions to a development in the marketplace. Some of the GMs are good and some are quite terrible and that’s before you get to the owners! It’s all great fun and opposite the NBA Draft, fortunes are changing in these next few days.
What this list attempts to do is give GMs (or fans at home) a cheat sheet for the big event. They can target players based on overall value or the efficiency of those dollars spent, and if they are doing it right they are going to find the players that I lay out at the top of both of those lists. This list has been the home of big-time plays such as Joe Ingles in 2017, Joe Harris and Fred VanVleet in 2018, Richaun Holmes was the big win we had seen coming for way too many years. Two years ago Jerami Grant was my top Cash-to-Value rank and predictably blew up. In that season De’Anthony Melton was one of the league’s best players in terms of net rating and it wasn’t a fluke – he was awesome and a casualty of NBA politics in crowded Memphis. Last year it was our second ranked cash-to-value wing Max Strus knocking in big shots in the ECF and all season long for literal pennies, or our third ranked interior wing Jarred Vanderbilt getting loose, or Isaiah Hartenstein as the 10th ranked cash-to-value big when he didn’t even get picked up in free agency (now he’s closing in on top 10 big man status in the NBA as a whole).
We typically exclude elite players from the top slot in Cash-to-Value ranks even if they’re dominant like, say, Bradley Beal or Deandre Ayton, even if an argument can be made on their behalf (they’re still ranked that way in the overall ranks). The purpose of this list is to give decision-makers around the league, fans and anybody in the basketball space an idea of how to extract the most value possible in each of their free agent decisions. Pile up enough of these winners and you can have the cash and credibility to go after top tier players in the league.
So who has the top spot this year? I typically pick one player but this year I’m going to take two and they are none other than Gary Payton II and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Casual fans didn’t even get to see what Payton is capable of when he returned in the Finals and he was still great. Let’s cut to the chase I think he’s the best defender in the NBA and I haven’t seen defense like that in a long time.
He’s the first defender I’ve seen since championship Jrue Holiday that takes up as much space from offensive players as he does … if they don’t aggressively (and typically recklessly) keep him from taking that space. His speed and strength combo causes offensive players to stop everything they’re accustomed to doing and simply focus on whether or not they can dribble without having the ball taken. Jayson Tatum was able to shoot over him a bit but even then he had to earn it, a rare victory that required one of the league’s best offensive players.
You better believe Golden State knows that they don’t win that series without him, as we predicted and eventually was the case as once they let Payton loose the series turned on its head. I got a bit deeper in the writeup below but when you’re the best player at 50% of the game and you’re likely to go for less than the MLE, you deserve the top slot in the Cash-to-Value ranks.
So why is it even close between he and Hartenstein? Mostly because big man defense is exceedingly rare and high-end performers make such a huge difference in today’s game. Hartenstein will also be available for a song as he was inexplicably left on the bench as the Clippers bowed out this past season. He dominated advanced statistics leaderboards and it always matched the eye test. As with Payton I can go a bit deeper on the evaluation within his grouping below, but generally speaking Hartenstein can compete defensively out on the perimeter and yet still bang down low as one of the stronger fives in the league. He has unique offensive skills as well that keep him from being a defense only guy, though there is still a lot of room to grow there.
Payton is 29 years old and that’s getting up there for an elite perimeter defender but he probably has a solid 2 to 3 years with possibly no reduction in explosion. Conversely, life as an elite defensive big can turn fast as once you’re beatable the entire integrity of a defense is lost and the results manifest everywhere else. Say bye bye net rating. Quarter steps and half steps for big men matter a ton, whereas elite perimeter players can continue to stay elite or very good for years with much more degradation. In that respect, Hartenstein is 24 years old and has a great shot at two more years with his current speed and strength package, maybe more, but to carry that much strength and keep the agility requires incredible training and good luck with injuries.
So I am going to take the easy way out and call them both the best Cash-to-Value free agents this season. Other names to note include Jaylen Nowell, Malik Monk, Cody and Caleb Martin, Chris Boucher, Jalen Smith and Damian Jones. Nowell gets the top rank for ballhandlers and guards and he barely squeaked into that slot, almost on a technicality because as you’ll see below in the explanations I typically like to have the top ranked Cash-to-Value player in each grouping not be the top overall player in the group as to keep the spirit of the Cash-to-Value ranks in the forefront here. Still, the 3-level scorer may be eminently available for nothing and I don’t see why he wouldn’t profile as somebody that could earn at least 25 possibly very good mpg in a lot of different spots. Monk has really dialed himself in as one of the league’s up and coming offensive players and he is surrounded by very bad, expensive assets. The Martin twins are going to be great for a while, Boucher will be awesome for the price, as will Smith.
There are many more great Cash-to-Value plays and the overall ranks aren’t bad, either. Enough talking about what we were going to be talking about so let’s get into it!
The concept is this — you’re looking to get the best players at the cheapest costs. If you do that effectively, you have more money to spend elsewhere.
These ranks lean into that pretty strongly. However, you can’t win in the NBA without getting above average and elite players. The key is spending up to get the right players and for the purpose of these rankings, above average players get plenty of love in their cash-to-value rank, depending on how much they cost of course. As mentioned above the cash value ranks are going to significantly reward players who are both cheap and high-end, most likely giving them the top cash-to-value ranks.
VETERANS VS. UPSIDE
These ranks will give older veterans that can still contribute a bit more value than a pure cash-to-value rank might represent. Teams aren’t lining up to sign them and deals may vary, but in terms of winning it all a quality old vet that’s willing to play at or close to the minimum represents a better play than some younger upside guys.
If you just want to know who the best players are you can sort by the overall rank column. This rank will include some elements of upside, which is unavoidable when assessing overall free agency value. However, short-term production and win-now scenarios are going to show up in the overall ranks. For example, Zach LaVine is not going to do well in the Cash-to-Value ranks, but in terms of overall rank he’ll have higher marks.
POSITIONAL GROUPINGS AND APPROACH
I did something new last year and went with four different groupings. Ballhandlers and Small Guards, Wings, Interior Wings and Bigs. I’d like to think I’m the first to say something as stupid or smart as ‘Interior Wings,’ but that’s my way of noticing increased importance of rangy 6’8″ to 6’10” players being asked to defend 2-4 or 3-5 (well or not is another story). They’ve become much more important as teams employ five-out looks, and elite ballhandlers and offensive initiators have grown in size and versatility. As has been the case with the league at large, they’re firing away from deep.
In previous years I was a bit more granular in the groupings, and maybe it’s the way the NBA is trending but I felt like four groups was enough. Ballhandlers are legitimate point guards at any size and small guards typically have enough offensive skill to warrant overlooking their defensive liabilities to some degree. Wings are either asked to be outstanding shooters or they’re being asked to lock the perimeter down, or both. They’re valued in their ability to switch and otherwise facilitate offense. Bigs are the muscle you need to control the paint and shooting is a bonus.
Sometimes we’ll split these guys out into their own category but this year there are only two — with Elites being loosely defined as players you don’t have any questions about on the contract side. This year that’s Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton. There are some big names that I don’t have in that designation, like Kyrie Irving and James Harden because they are disasters, and then as alluded to Zach LaVine is probably doomed by that knee issue and has zero shot of living up to earned big-time expectations. Miles Bridges is the other name that can be treated as elite in terms of a free agent target, with only the slightest of concerns that he won’t meet the value of a max deal. Not a lock, but as close as it gets.
SYMBOLS AND ANNOTATIONS
A QUICK WORD ON THIS FREE AGENT CLASS
As usual, there are no shortage of targets for smart teams. Give it up for the dumb teams y’all! But once again there are a ton of solid guard targets. There are some great wings to target at the top of our ranks but it starts falling off pretty precipitously after that. That dynamic gets even rougher for interior wings and then there are nearly 10 solid big man targets. Teams with needs should surgically strike in those wing categories and then try to let players from the guards and big men groups fall to them so to speak.
All the previous years’ ranks for your perusal.
BALLHANDLERS AND SMALL GUARD
Jaylen Nowell both intrigues me as a possible huge win for the Cash-to-Value ranks and at the same time I kind of want to tap the brakes here a bit and recognize how many good players there are in the league and what a challenge it will be for him to become a top 30 player in this group, including all players and not just free agents. Watching him throughout last year I just knew that he was gonna force my hand with these ranks because of his overall offensive execution. All of the elements of a great target are here. He was stuck behind big name signees, inefficient early on in his career, plays in a small market and now that team has new owners … just to name a few of the big things driving the opportunity here. Minnesota has a tricky contract situation to navigate, and while they should consider re-ranking their guys D’Angelo Russell is a big piece to move and who knows if that will happen. Anthony Edwards certainly isn’t going anywhere. If Minnesota hangs on here it could be another year in hiding for Nowell, but smart teams need to be quiet as to not attract attention and then be ready to pounce.
Bradley Beal is obviously the top overall free agent in this group (slightly behind Deandre Ayton overall) and surely sentiment regarding Jalen Brunson changed after the playoffs … but I’m generally a believer there. Malik Monk, as mentioned in the open, is about to have a Jordan Clarkson-esque rise. The Collin Sexton situation is extremely intriguing in that you’d think a defensive guard with offensive chops would command more attention and yet with the injury derailing his season and the rise of Darius Garland he is just sort of hanging out there as young, high end talent. As long as any intel comes back good I see no reason why it shouldn’t be competitive to get him. Anfernee Simons’ situation is basically that he is going to stay and get paid in Portland, but ranking him highly is fun nonetheless. We have some big time losers in any Kyrie Irving or James Harden deal, and I am down on Zach LaVine because of his knee situation.
Oh, and that whole Russell Westbrook thing is addressed in the ranks, too.
$/V OVR Name Cost Age Exp Type Notes 1 6 Jaylen Nowell $+ 22 2 yrs RFA 2 Minnesota is in a conundrum in that if they pay him peanuts with their option he becomes an unrestricted free agent on a team with a lot of guards to pay. I personally know where I would spend my money and that would be on *not* D'Angelo Russell and with new owners there are a lot of variables here. If they let him get to restricted free agency this summer in hopes of securing a team friendly deal a lurking smart team can snap him up. At 22 years old with the ability to score at all three levels he has high end sixth man and top 20 starter upside. 2 1 Bradley Beal $$$$$ 28 9 yrs UFA 1 Some of the shine is off in the leadership department but he is in a tier of his own, still an elite player for another year, maybe two 3 2 Jalen Brunson $$$$- 25 3 yrs UFA The hope would've been for the acquiring team that he didn't go gonzo in the playoffs, but then again he just showed how good he really is. A classic Moneyball style player whose surface level appearance still causes people to undervalue him, even after he gets paid this summer 4 9 Malik Monk $$ 24 4 yrs UFA Has slowly become one of the league’s more underrated scorers — think Jordan Clarkson before he hit his prime. 5 7 Collin Sexton $$$- 23 3 yrs RFA The big numbers here are 23 years old and whatever his contract offer will be. The market for guards can get tight quickly and Cleveland put out a lot of dissatisfaction vibes over the last two years. If you presume he bounces back from the knee issue you're going to be hard pressed to find more upside, and then the next question will be if you believe whatever those vibes from Cleveland were. 6 3 Anfernee Simons $$$$ 23 3 yrs RFA While you can teach shooting in the NBA there are diminishing returns when it comes to teaching elite shooting in the NBA. He and Damian Lillard are going to tear it up, presuming nobody makes Simons an offer he can't refuse (and POR can) 7 10 Tyus Jones $$ 26 6 yrs UFA Top 30 upside at his position and entering his prime. Because of the lack of sizzle with his name he will be a quality signing, though Memphis has played him too much and might end up paying him too much. 8 4 Kyrie Irving $$$-+#^! 30 10 yrs UFA 1 Perhaps the most unstoppable offensive player in the game but he's mentally weak, lacks leadership (to put it mildly) and has both injury risk and pack it in risk. 9 5 Zach LaVine $$$$+ 27 7 yrs UFA I am very concerned about his knee. It is requiring way too much in season maintenance and Chicago let him push through way too much. The talent is undeniable but everything gets harder as explosion goes down 10 11 Donte DiVincenzo $$ 25 3 yrs RFA DiVincenzo was one of our prized recommendations that hit in the past for both fantasy and reality but the injury really derailed him. He is going to get paid a decent amount and that takes away some of the margin here, but with a summer to heal he should be a lot better this upcoming season 11 14 Delon Wright $+ 30 6 yrs UFA Wright has been an underrated hype guy that has never quite gotten over the hump, but he will bring a serviceable 20 mpg to somebody and the price will probably be decent, though it is also possible after so many years of being an indie band wishlist guy perhaps somebody overpays here. 12 8 James Harden $$$$$ 32 12 yrs UFA 1 We predicted it with Russell Westbrook something like five years ago, that his game predicated on explosion would disappear and that he would get bad real quick. It's not exactly the same dynamic but for James Harden, even if he was getting the calls he used to be getting, but at his best even he no longer has the first step to get by people the way he needs to get by to justify his usage ... and that's before you consider that he's a poor finisher in many facets. That loss of athleticism and available tools, like Westbrook, is going to drastically impact his overall effectiveness. But as everybody knows it runs deeper than that… He doesn't appear to care enough to stay in top end shape, and there are times where it has appeared he doesn't care about basketball. He's not getting calls because of rule changes but he's going to get even less calls because he's not respecting the game and because he is not a high-end player anymore, and all of this points to tumbling performance, which we've seen as he has become passive… Almost knowing that he cannot do it anymore and not wanting to tip his hand to the league that he cannot. 13 12 Dennis Schroder $$ 28 8 yrs UFA You know what you were going to get with Schroder and the price is likely to be mostly fair 14 13 Victor Oladipo $+ 30 8 yrs UFA Oladipo started showing signs that he can be effective offensively and while he will never be what he once was as long as the name value doesn't get out of hand he might actually be underrated 15 15 Raul Neto $ 30 6 yrs UFA Neto faded as the year went on but it was a weird situation in Washington and somebody can get a quality top 45 point guard for peanuts 16 16 Shake Milton $ 25 3 yrs UFA 2 Milton had a really rough year and often when a player gets overshadowed as was the case with Tyrese Maxey there is a snowball effect. Between that and injuries there is possible hidden value in all of that, presuming Philly doesn't exercise their option 17 17 Chris Chiozza $ 26 3 yrs RFA 4 The Golden State effect as real as playing next to Steph Curry and Company is amazingly valuable. Chiozza can add offense and may end up being a poor man's Jalen Brunson. 18 18 Goran Dragic $ 36 13 yrs UFA Assuming he wants to make another run at postseason ball he might be good for 10 to 20 minutes per game in that setting 19 19 Aaron Holiday $ 25 3 yrs RFA Holiday needs to pull it all together but he has some nice athleticism to back his journey as a current top 45-60 point guard in the NBA 20 20 Patty Mills $ 33 12 yrs UFA 1 Mills is closing in on locker room veteran status but he can come in, hit shots and run what needs to be run. A title contender would be happy with situational use for 10 to 20 minutes per game 21 22 Ricky Rubio $ 31 10 yrs UFA Rubio showed he had a little bit of kick left but an ACL tear at 31 years old that will leave him likely looking at a late start to next season is a tough pill to swallow. Look for him to shop for a short term deal with a team that can use his organizational skills later in the year and in the playoffs 22 23 Austin Rivers $ 29 9 yrs UFA 23 24 Lou Williams $ 35 16 yrs UFA 24 25 Dennis Smith Jr. $ 24 4 yrs UFA 25 26 Gary Harris $ 27 7 yrs UFA 26 27 Bryn Forbes $ 28 5 yrs UFA 27 28 Hamidou Diallo $ 23 3 yrs UFA 2 28 29 Wesley Matthews $ 35 12 yrs UFA 29 30 Brandon Goodwin $ 26 3 yrs RFA 4 30 31 Ben McLemore $ 29 8 yrs UFA 31 32 Jevon Carter $ 26 3 yrs UFA 32 33 Lance Stephenson $ 31 9 yrs UFA 33 34 Tomas Satoransky $ 30 5 yrs UFA 34 35 Frank Jackson $ 24 3 yrs UFA 2 35 36 Elfrid Payton $ 28 7 yrs UFA 36 37 D.J. Augustin $ 34 13 yrs UFA 37 38 Wayne Ellington $ 34 12 yrs UFA 38 39 Michael Carter-Williams $ 30 9 yrs UFA 39 40 Matt Thomas $ 27 2 yrs RFA 40 41 Isaiah Thomas $ 33 10 yrs UFA 41 42 Kyle Guy $ 24 2 yrs UFA 42 43 Trey Burke $ 29 8 yrs UFA 1 43 45 Facundo Campazzo $ 31 1 yrs RFA 44 46 Avery Bradley $ 31 11 yrs UFA 45 47 Elijah Hughes $ 24 1 yrs RFA 46 48 Ryan Arcidiacono 28 4 yrs UFA 47 49 Cory Joseph $ 30 10 yrs UFA 1 48 50 E'Twaun Moore 33 11 yrs UFA 49 44 John Wall $$$$$ 31 10 yrs UFA 1 50 21 Russell Westbrook $$$$$ 33 13 yrs UFA 1 The only thing that can save Westbrook is total dedication to changing his game to match his attributes and that is about as likely as Scott Brooks and Kendrick Perkins not ruining the Thunder Dynasty (where all this nonsense started) 51 51 Rajon Rondo $ 36 15 yrs UFA $/V OVR Name Cost Age Exp Type Notes
We covered Gary Payton in detail in the open and there are more notes below … and for as good as he is and is highly ranked as he is … The Martin twins are right there with him. They don’t have the elite gear on defense that Payton has (and may never will) but eventually they will start getting consideration for all-defensive teams as their profiles rise. Look for both of them to continue improving their shooting, playmaking and start commanding more attention on offense, rounding out into peak Nicolas Batum territory.
There is a pretty steep fall off in this category after the top 10 ranks, Cash-to-Value and overall, and the upside starts to go away after the top six, so teams would be wise to take advantage of some really solid options. Kyle Anderson doesn’t have the elite defense that Payton has so he can’t change a series but he can certainly be a part of the reason you won one. And he is right behind the Martin twins, who I like just a bit more for their overall upside package, and even when you get down to Lu Dort and Lonnie Walker … these are players that bring pop to the equation. Anderson does everything right on both sides of the floor and despite being called criminally underrated by just about everybody he’s still underrated. Dort contributes offensively and can climb pretty high in defensive ranking conversations. Walker has a silky smooth game that’s begging to be cut loose with a San Antonio pedigree to boot.
Bruce Brown shouldn’t be a mystery to people but he probably will be, Yuta Watanabe is very much a mystery to many outside of Toronto and Stanley Johnson is the least of people’s worries in LA these days. Along with Oshae Brissett they represent super affordable, good options that will allow smart teams to spend elsewhere. In the case of Brown he has shown he can be good when it matters most, too.
$/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes 1 1 Gary Payton II $+ 29 5 yrs UFA My highest rated defender in the NBA at one of the positions that you need it the most - the point of attack. With more playing time in the NBA now that he has established himself he will continue to improve as he has on offense, perfecting his cuts to the hoop and improving on the shooting. Defense is half the game and I haven't seen defense played like this in a long time. 2 2 Cody Martin $+ 26 2 yrs RFA To be clear I don't know which Martin twin to rank higher. Until these playoffs I might've said Cody but Caleb proved himself quite nicely. Cody might get squeezed out of Charlotte and be the more acquirable of the two, and going just off of my general impression it feels like he might have more weight in the trunk. 3 3 Caleb Martin $+ 26 2 yrs RFA Continuing the Martin twin analysis in Miami, they can't go higher than the MLE and that's before any consideration of chasing other players. It's unlikely that they don't know what they have here, and either of these players can be quality fifth or sixth best players on a contending team. Their price is going to be so much lower than that. 4 4 Kyle Anderson $$++ 28 7 yrs UFA Anderson can flat out ball and contribute on both sides of the floor. I think this is the year that he gets paid but you never know with the player whose calling card is being well known to the basketball nerds 5 5 Luguentz Dort $$+ 23 2 yrs RFA 2 Dort, mannnnn. It's fun to envision what Dort could be. Can he reel it in enough on offense to not cancel out some of the positive he brings? He's been allowed to run some crazy offense and take some crazy shots in OKC. Defensively, he is right there with the top defenders in the league but my concern long-term, perhaps outside of the scope of the next 2 to 3 years, is that he is too top-heavy to stay in front of ballhandlers and he morphs into more of a 3-4 defender. Factoring in that it's anybody's guess what OKC wants to do these days and he becomes one of the more intriguing free agency situations in the league. A 23 year old high-end defender with offensive skills is hard to come by 6 6 Lonnie Walker IV $$+ 23 3 yrs RFA Walker has the chance to be a third option on a good team if everything pans out well. With a San Antonio pedigree and just 23 years under his belt, along with relative lack of name value, the RFA presents an intriguing option for smart teams looking to take a low end risk 7 8 Bruce Brown $$ 25 3 yrs UFA Brown is a classic winning player that teams should love to have as their sixth or seventh best player and it's not hard to see him giving 25 to 30 minutes to a contending team and having it work out. Minus an unfair late shot situation two playoffs ago he has already proven himself in that respect 8 9 Yuta Watanabe $ 27 3 yrs UFA Yuta is a classic smart team acquisition who knows his role, knows how to make winning plays, and has just enough athleticism to be useful against everybody but the elite. At 27 years old he is about to get his chance to prove he can be good in 20 to 25 mpg for a lot of teams. He might just go for the minimum or close to it, as well 9 14 Stanley Johnson $ 26 6 yrs UFA 2 It took a while but Johnson finally found his niche in LA. He's tough and can bang with the heavier 3/4 set. If the Lakers decide to cut all of their weight while chasing their tail, Johnson should be a target for virtually every team at the price point he will likely be at. 10 10 Oshae Brissett $+ 24 2 yrs RFA 2 Brissett is a player that Indiana should work to keep as they do the dance of team option versus restricted free agency. If your favorite team needs a young wing that can defend and provide decent offense at 24 years old, be mad at them if they don't check in here and try to pry him away 11 7 Pat Connaughton $$+ 29 6 yrs UFA 1 Connaughton is older than you would guess at 29 years old but he is still in his prime, can knock down big shots, has proven it in big moments, is tough on the glass and competes defensively 12 11 Jae'Sean Tate $$ 26 1 yrs RFA 2 Tate isn't likely to be given up on by Houston and profiles at having a pretty good shot at being a top 30 player at his 3/4 position. 13 13 Nicolas Batum $+ 33 13 yrs UFA 1 Batum probably has another one to two playoff runs in him 14 12 T.J. Warren $+ 28 7 yrs UFA Warren is obviously a risk reward free agent and at 28 years old he's not dead in the water in terms of at least approaching something resembling what had been pretty damn compelling play. Odds-wise it is much more likely that he goes down the ladder and by no small amount. Obviously, injuries have clobbered him. Factoring the name value it's unclear if there will be a bargain here or an overspend 15 15 Damion Lee $ 29 4 yrs UFA Lee was unplayable in big moments at times for the Warriors but he was also a solid contributor in the regular season, and at times in the playoffs. He has a ton of corporate knowledge and should be able to contribute off the bench for just about any team, and who knows maybe he will be able to improve in high leverage moments during championship action. For what he costs, this is a solid equation, unless a bad team swings in and overpays based on Warriors prestige. 16 17 Juan Toscano-Anderson $ 29 2 yrs RFA JTA has his limitations but he is a live wire on defense and because of that I like him better as a back end of the rotation acquisition than a lot of guys 17 19 Svi Mykhailiuk $ 25 3 yrs UFA 1 Svi has quietly carved out a nice role as a ninth or 10th player on any team, capable of adding 10 to 20 average or better backup minutes 18 16 Otto Porter Jr. $+ 29 8 yrs UFA Porter hit big shots throughout the playoffs and showed he can be reliable on that end, when surrounded by greatness of course. Still, he answered questions about whether he can still play. The defense is going to continue to get even worse as the clock ticks and the questions about his offense will continue to dog him the rest of the way. In terms of the upcoming season he has a decent shot at being useful in low minutes again, but teams definitely shouldn't overpay here or overpromise minutes based on the chip. 19 18 Robert Covington $$ 31 8 yrs UFA Covington had some crazy games later in the year but between the knee issues, age (31) and the already declining performance the name is definitely bigger than the game here 20 20 Kessler Edwards $ 21 0 yrs RFA 2 Edwards got more shine in Brooklyn than he would've gotten in a lot of places and he was very inconsistent, unplayable at times even, but he showed he belongs in the NBA and at 21 years old he showed enough to be worth a look as a backup, presuming Brooklyn doesn't find a way to keep him 21 21 Joe Ingles $ 34 7 yrs UFA Ingles was one of our first big hits in these rankings but at 34 years old coming off a major injury he's not going to be able to do much but spot up, hit threes and pass the ball to the right place. The defensive upside he once had has pretty much evaporated. 22 22 Taurean Prince $+ 28 5 yrs UFA Prince has morphed into a volume three point shooter and his defense is average at best. He is still a capable back up but teams can do better 23 23 Danuel House Jr. $ 29 5 yrs UFA 24 24 Jarrett Culver $ 23 2 yrs UFA 25 25 Troy Brown Jr. $ 22 3 yrs RFA 26 26 P.J. Dozier $ 25 4 yrs UFA 27 27 Amir Coffey $ 25 2 yrs RFA 28 28 Josh Okogie $ 23 3 yrs RFA 29 29 Kent Bazemore $ 32 9 yrs UFA 30 30 Josh Jackson $ 25 4 yrs UFA 31 31 Jeremy Lamb $+ 30 9 yrs UFA 32 32 Trevor Ariza $ 36 17 yrs UFA 33 33 Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot $ 27 5 yrs UFA 34 34 CJ Elleby $ 22 1 yrs RFA 35 35 DeAndre' Bembry $ 27 5 yrs UFA 36 36 Tony Snell $ 30 8 yrs UFA 37 37 Abdel Nader $ 28 4 yrs UFA 38 38 Isaac Bonga $ 22 3 yrs UFA 39 39 Louis King $ 23 2 yrs UFA 40 40 Rodney Hood $ 29 7 yrs UFA 41 41 Andre Iguodala $ 38 17 yrs UFA $/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes
Things get ugly in this group fast as Bobby Portis is about to get paid pretty well, really squeezing the value out of any deal, but if you start going beneath him in the ranks at No. 4 (C/V) you’re looking at 37-year-old PJ Tucker and a handful of prospects that range from pretty intriguing to total crapshoots. At the top though there are some sweet, sweet options. I strongly considered putting Jalen Smith ahead of Chris Boucher but at the end of the day Boucher does things defensively that you just don’t find, especially challenging 3-point shots and then also with the weakside blocks. Both of these guys move their feet pretty damn well. As detailed below, Boucher had a great second half and learned how to play the game last season.
Hopefully Boucher lands in a spot that continues his trajectory because as a late bloomer he still needs that guidance. Not really baked within this equation, too, is that he might have the lightbulb go on shooting the ball and then it’s an entirely different story with him, so long as he continues the strong defensive and all-around play. Dreams of peak Boucher may still be attainable. Beat writers in Toronto were clamoring for him to get sixth man of the year attention, when many casuals were writing him off as an NBA player early in the year.
Smith, basically out of nowhere, landed in Indy late last year and just started firing away mid range jumpshots, contributing defensively … and yes there was a bit of a garbage time element to all of it but he is so far under the radar nationally and has everything you want out of a 22-year-old big man… Offense, defensive potential and a shooting foundation that can be built upon. Whether it’s just for 20 mpg or the roles start to get bigger, the money is going to be right and there is all sorts of upside.
Then you get to the spicy meatball Miles Bridges, who looked like the NBA’s next uncoverable player through 2/3 of last season, finally putting it all together in truly savage fashion. Charlotte had a pretty weird thing going on with the style they played, with everybody freelancing, and they certainly gave the ball to Bridges and let him do what he wanted to do … and when he faded late in the year and in the play-in game a lot of it just screamed bad organization. Players weren’t on the same page, the coach would eventually be gone, now they’re doing the Dosey Doe with the new coach and all that turbulence was probably already underway.
I bring that up because if he had simply continued along his trajectory I don’t think there would be much question about him getting a max offer. And to get right to the point I think he’s absolutely worth it. He has the potential to either be an above average contributor or dominant in a lot of the things he would be asked to do. Think: A way better and more versatile Julius Randle. He isn’t without some questions about his game, as he has pushed the gas pedal a bit too much at times, he hasn’t established himself as a high-end defensive presence and with what he is going to cost he’s going to need to lead. Update: TMZ is reporting he was arrested for felony domestic violence on Wednesday (6/29) and as usual with the situations like this the process needs to play out before any basketball assessments can be made.
$/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes 1 3 Chris Boucher $+ 29 4 yrs UFA Boucher went from getting trashed by all sorts of people on the Internet to getting some sixth man consideration out of the local writers, who aren't exactly cheerleaders in Toronto. You truly do need to wonder why anybody would have quickly ruled out Boucher as a quality NBA player given the uniqueness of his game, and his late start playing helps inform why it has taken him until 29 years old to really start getting the finer points. He still makes mistakes and in the wrong environment he could start back down that road, but all the criticism and the benching lead to an efficient version of Boucher that is now serviceable at worst and game changing at best. Whether he can put it all together for more than 25 mpg is a real question but if we are looking at the second half of last season then I would have to take the over on that. Regardless, the acquiring team can feel great about 20 to 25 mpg with high-end shot blocking and mobility, serviceable shooting with some upside, cuts, the vertical game and the unique high point rebounding he brings to the table 2 4 Jalen Smith $+ 22 1 yrs UFA Phoenix gave up on Jalen Smith way too early and he started to flourish in Indy late. At 22 years old he has a silky smooth jumper, good athleticism and plenty of time to start filling in the gaps. I'd love to know if there are any behind-the-scenes issues that caused Phoenix to give up so early but they aren't exactly the team to listen to on things like that. 3 1 Miles Bridges $$$$+ 24 3 yrs RFA Bridges pooped out a little bit at the end of the year but other than that he was on the shortlist of players that had a chance to advance into upper tier statuses. At 24 years old he has a chance for a 4 to 5 year run at very high-end play and while there are some issues with higher end basketball understanding, including shot selection and tempo, not to mention defense… all of these are correctable issues. Putting Charlotte on a decision is advisable for any team that doesn't have an obvious blocker at the position or the inability to make an offer without hurting other aspects of their free agency 4 2 Bobby Portis $$$ 27 6 yrs UFA 1 I was pretty down on Portis heading into this last season because he could often be played off the floor on defense but he simply got better on offense and a little bit more sturdy on defense. With that proof in hand he can be treated like a quality 25–29 mpg player but I would expect him to start backsliding at the end of whatever deal he gets 5 5 P.J. Tucker $+ 37 10 yrs UFA 1 At 37 years old Tucker is a dinosaur but he continues to turn out quality postseason minutes and probably has one more season being playable like that before he falls off a cliff. 6 6 Jalen McDaniels $+ 24 2 yrs RFA 2 McDaniels got lost in the shuffle a bit in Charlotte but he has shown enough versatility for any team to be interested. If Charlotte gets cute here there is a nice opportunity for any team to tap into both the current skills that are fine in a low end backup role, but also to get in on the growth and upside 7 7 Trey Lyles $+ 26 6 yrs UFA 2 Lyles was solid in Sacramento within the context of his role and expectations, and he has been slowly improving since his time in San Antonio. He is not going to win any awards on defense but he's starting to look like a solid seventh or eighth man on most teams 8 11 Jordan Nwora $ 23 1 yrs RFA Nwora has been buried behind Giannis and that's not to say he has been breaking down doors, but a small and somewhat compelling offer here from another team is smart business to try to capture some cheap upside 9 12 Isaiah Roby $ 24 2 yrs RFA 2 Sometimes Roby looks like a solid prospect and others he looks like a dud. Playing in OKC can do that for a player but in a thin group you could do a lot worse than swooping in if OKC somehow punts here 10 8 Derrick Jones Jr. $+ 25 5 yrs UFA It seems like Jones is a lot older than 25 years old and a lot of that is the movement between teams and some of the injury stuff. He was always a raw talent and his game is limited offensively, even if it has morphed toward some consistency as a shooter. There is a lot to like if he is healthy defensively but the injuries beg the question of whether he has peaked in a 20 mpg role. If the medical all checks out teams could do a lot worse than making a play for him. 11 10 Thaddeus Young $ 34 14 yrs UFA Thad probably has one more decent year at 18 mpg in his bag 12 14 Nathan Knight $ 24 1 yrs RFA 4 Knight wasn't really given an opportunity in Minnesota last year but when he did hit the floor he did good things. I had him ranked highly in the Cash-to-Value ranks last year and I haven't seen anything other than the lack of uptake by Minnesota to really squash that. 13 15 Dean Wade $ 25 2 yrs RFA 2 Wade has seen a lot of NBA minutes relative to his talent level and market value, and that's not so much a slight as a realistic viewpoint of his starting point in the NBA. All of those minutes have helped develop him and at 25 years old if Cleveland punts here he can be a quality 15–20 mpg guy for his new team for the next few seasons. 14 16 Jeff Green $ 35 13 yrs UFA 1 Uncle Jeff has 13 seasons under his belt and is 35 years old, but it was just two playoffs ago where he was bailing out his Brooklyn teammates. He has another season or two of being able to provide 15 to 20 mpg for most teams, and contenders should be knocking on the door to try to make him a ninth or 10th player. 15 17 Thanasis Antetokounmpo $ 29 3 yrs UFA 1 Antetokounmpo has enough athleticism to be worth a flier as a 9th or 10th man, though it's hard to see him leaving his brother’s side 16 9 Markieff Morris $+ 32 10 yrs UFA Morris has some value as a goon and as a shooter but that equation is gonna continue to get worse starting with this upcoming season. You definitely don't want him setting culture on an impressionable team, either 17 13 Montrezl Harrell $+ 28 6 yrs UFA Harrell has proven himself offensively while defensively we all know he can't hang, which kind of gets lost in some of the loudness of his game. The off court issues aren't helping his attempt to get a good deal but as long as there is no massive overpay the real measure of the deal will be fit. If a team uses him for 16 to 20 mpg there could be some +ev. 18 18 Jake Layman $ 28 5 yrs UFA Layman has some serious injury concerns but when he is healthy he can be a nice solution at 20 mpg. His athleticism gives him a little more upside than most in that role, too, but again the injury concerns are very real 19 19 Carmelo Anthony $ 38 18 yrs UFA Melo can probably get a handful of buckets in the next one to two years but anything more than a situational role on any team is going to be a deficiency 20 20 Wenyen Gabriel $ 25 2 yrs UFA 2 I had Gabriel ranked pretty highly in the past and it simply hasn't panned out. He has the physical tools but needs something to click to be able to tap into it 21 21 Blake Griffin $ 33 11 yrs UFA It wouldn't be surprising to see Blake Griffin retire at any point in time. He can shoot and facilitate and that's about it, and he can only do it in about 10 to 15 mpg at best 22 22 Kevin Knox II $ 22 3 yrs RFA It's hard to believe that Knox is just 22 years old and so far down a list like this. If you have a belief in your player development staff and all of the background stuff comes back fine then he certainly worth a flyer but those are fairly substantial caveats 23 23 Nemanja Bjelica $ 34 6 yrs UFA I'm fairly known for bagging on Bjelica but it should be said that I'm just bagging on the decision to play the guy, not the player himself. If you need a facilitating situational player for 10 mpg he can do that for you. Nobody should be surprised when the other team attacks him relentlessly to cause a total breakdown of the team defense because that has happened almost every night he has played for the last four seasons 24 24 JaMychal Green $ 32 7 yrs UFA 1 Green has fallen off a cliff and he would need to show off some crazy changing course there to be a target 25 25 Paul Millsap $ 37 15 yrs UFA It's been a great career but he was washed a few seasons ago 26 26 Eric Paschall $ 25 2 yrs RFA Paschall was extremely overweight last year and it begs the question of how long he can stick around the league $/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes
I still can’t believe DeAndre Ayton is available but in the spirit of keeping the Cash-to-Value ranks reserving the top spot for a true Cash-to-Value guy, it’s Isaiah Hartenstein. And whether it’s in this article or at-large I’ve spent a ton of time discussing how good I think Hartenstein is, including giving him top billing here next to Gary Payton, but it needs to be said that Ayton is a stone’s throw away from the Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid tier. You can give him the max and unless there is some intel issue that we’re all missing here, it’s easily going to pay off. After a disappointing start to his career he is lights out on both sides on the floor, with high leverage experience and history of performing in those games. Phoenix looks like it’s imploding and it’s not that surprising for a Bob Sarver owned team. So in a true Cash-to-Value sense he still deserves the top rank, but again because of the spirit of the ranks I dropped him down to number two.
Overall this group has quite a few solid grabs in the top eight or nine slots. Lots of different clubs in the bag with this group. I have to say I’m pretty damn excited about Damian Jones’ development. He started gaining confidence and touch from outside and there are very few players in the league with his size and athleticism combo. He still has quite a bit to work on as he’s not maximizing that athleticism in terms of rim protection and in certain matchups he can be undersized, putting pressure on him to become more versatile so those aren’t such bad matchups, especially against better players. But if he can get out on the floor for 25 mpg, fly around on defense and bring credibility on that side of the ball, and also give you both a vertical game and some shooting while putting pressure on the glass… Those players are hard to find. It seems like he’s going to stick around in Sacramento but it’s hard to think of too many teams that shouldn’t be making a play here.
Mo Bamba has injury risk and general question marks but we saw so much upside at times last season, even if it did sputter out toward the end. His name value will eat at the margins of his next deal but whoever acquires him will at least start the process with a lot of excitement. Kevon Looney was just instrumental in winning a championship, Nic Claxton has always been intriguing, JaVale McGee is always solid and Naz Reid might be available for a song in a league where rim protecting, shooting fives are kind of its thing.
$/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes 1 2 Isaiah Hartenstein $+ 24 3 yrs UFA Hartenstein, who we ranked highly last season here, isn't without flaws but as I shouted from the rooftops all last season, which was ultimately validated by his play, he has that rare coveted ability to compete defensively as a big man in a pace and space, pick and roll world. He can also facilitate and he's even a bit aggressive on offense, which sometimes works against him but also provides upside that he can contribute even more there. The advanced numbers don't lie here and if your favorite team isn't aggressively going after him, unless they have two top-30 centers on their roster and one of them is in the top 10, then they simply don't know what they are doing if they don't go after Hartenstein. He is a top 20 big man right now and could climb as high as top 10 if everything comes together the right way. 2 1 Deandre Ayton $$$$$ 23 3 yrs RFA In the same vein of wondering about the Suns giving up on Jalen Smith too early, and if there was anything that wouldn't be public causing them to bail, Phoenix being willing to move on from Ayton is bat shit crazy. I was critical of his play early on but year after year he has improved enough to be at the bottom of the top tier of NBA big men. Any team that can should be falling all over themselves to try to get in on this. 3 3 Damian Jones $+ 26 5 yrs UFA Jones has always been on our radar and last year it came together for him, probably quiet enough for whatever team that signs him to get an incredible deal. He has a very strong chance of being able to hit enough three-point shots to get some basic respect. He has also looked pretty good shooting the ball in the mid range game, especially in relation to the perception of his play around the league. Defensively there probably aren't more than 10 bigs that can move with him. If he played anywhere else and had any larger of a name he would be a much more coveted free agent this season. He's ready to give at least 20 above average backup minutes this season and can go higher from there. 4 4 Mo Bamba $$+ 24 3 yrs RFA Bamba just screams upside but the injury issues are extremely concerning, and the price tag here isn't going to be enormous but it's not going to be nothing, either. Orlando is a bad franchise so them being willing to discard him isn't the red flag it would be for most other franchises, and generally when a bad franchise moves on that's where the value is in the hunt. If he doesn't learn the finer points of the game he will top out as a decent 25 mpg contributor with plenty of injury risk, but if he gets his health on track and smooths out the rough edges, before he loses his defensive quickness, then he can peak as a 30 mpg starter that teams put third or fourth on their scouting report 5 5 Kevon Looney $$+ 26 6 yrs UFA It feels like Looney is 36 and not 26 and maybe he can only be this good for Golden State because he is smart in the split action game and that has a multiplier effect on his value. He deserves his daisies though and can be a very good 20 mpg option for the next few years 6 6 Nic Claxton $$ 23 2 yrs RFA Claxton had some brutal moments from the foul line in the playoffs but he also had some moments highlighting his upside, and everybody knows that Brooklyn was making moves in the vortex of star craziness and not maximizing the output in development of their 23 year old big man. With all the chaos in Brooklyn a reasonable offer that puts them on a decision would be wise for any team that lacks athleticism at the five slot. 7 8 JaVale McGee $+ 34 13 yrs UFA The career trajectory of McGee as a punchline and now the type of veteran you want as your backup big has been fun to watch. I see no reason why he cannot duplicate the performances of the last few seasons. 8 11 Naz Reid $ 22 2 yrs RFA 2 Reid can shoot and put it on the ground, relatively speaking, and he is not shy about doing it so he certainly profiles as somebody that could handle a 20 to 25 mpg role. Defensively he is a bit of a mixed bag but you could definitely do worse considering Reid is pretty mobile. With new ownership Minnesota might not prioritize him and that could mean an extremely cheap and serviceable, potential top 30 big man lands in somebody else's lap. 9 7 Ivica Zubac $$+ 25 5 yrs UFA 2 It's funny that Zubac is ranked so much lower than Hartenstein after he got all the minutes and one day we will need to figure out who to hang that on, coaching or management. What makes the situation so unique is that Zubac had a great season, coming into his own as a focal point in the post. He's not a total liability yet on defense but it's coming in a season or two. He was definitely exploited in drop coverage and sometimes very badly, but he does enough everywhere else to be a quality target if LAC was to somehow move on, but that seems like a 10% chance at best. 10 9 Jusuf Nurkic $$+ 27 7 yrs UFA It's a rough league for big men as once the lateral quickness goes down from elite or well above average, they get exploited pretty quick. And if a big man falls into the lower end of the scale then he can become virtually unplayable. Nurkic isn't there yet because his offensive skills will still float some pretty bad defense but when you factor in his limitations and the name value this next contract is probably gonna be a bad one for whoever picks him up. And it probably won't be the numbers but rather the expectation of bigger minutes that does it in. 11 10 Mitchell Robinson $$+ 24 3 yrs UFA It looks like the Thibs minutes already did in Alec Burks and watching Robinson limp up and down the floor all last year looked like yet more gross negligence. At 24 years old one would think we'd be pretty excited about his physical profile, but I think we've seen the best of his explosion and it may go downhill really fast. There are risks all over the place as well. Whether it's his mental approach to the game, his approach to developing his body (needlessly gaining strength over agility), or the regression in his offensive talent… Altogether it just poses a ton of risk that teams aren't getting the upside guy he has been positioned as for the last few years. But if he can stay healthy and get to a better organization, he certainly has the canvass to work with. 12 12 Marvin Bagley III $+ 23 3 yrs RFA At 23 years old Bagley has a few years of staying healthy before he is losing the injury risk tag. Decreasing his value is that what he does well, he doesn't do well enough to justify the usage on offense. Defensively he would need to take huge leaps forward to start finding players that he can defend well. He's not fast enough to stick with opponents, nor explosive enough to be a consistent rim protector, nor intuitive enough to offset that. That's not to say he can't someday become a top 30 big man and if he can get healthy, and find some development gurus to really hammer out the issues, he can probably go as high as top 20. His name is big enough to draw some attention but he has a long way to go to live up to it. 13 13 Gorgui Dieng $ 32 8 yrs UFA Dieng isn't aging so much as he is settling into a quality 15 mpg career goal. He has deferred to other players, plays the right way and could probably crank it up to 20 to 24 mpg and do just fine. 14 14 Neemias Queta $ 22 0 yrs RFA 4 Queta has a number of boxes to check before he can reasonably be projected as an NBA rotation player but the physical components are there and at 22 years old he is what back-end of the roster flyers are designed to be. 15 15 DeMarcus Cousins $ 31 10 yrs UFA Cousins is a real good fit in Denver and that could be duplicated around the league but there is no upside beyond 16 good backup minutes per game. 16 16 Bruno Fernando $ 23 2 yrs RFA 17 17 Frank Kaminsky $ 29 6 yrs UFA 18 18 Serge Ibaka $+ 32 12 yrs UFA 19 19 LaMarcus Aldridge $+ 36 15 yrs UFA 20 20 Enes Freedom $ 30 10 yrs UFA 21 21 Cody Zeller $ 29 9 yrs UFA 22 22 Bismack Biyombo $ 29 10 yrs UFA 23 23 Robin Lopez $ 34 13 yrs UFA 24 24 Dwight Howard $ 36 17 yrs UFA 25 25 Tristan Thompson $ 31 10 yrs UFA 26 26 Luke Kornet 26 4 yrs UFA 27 27 Andre Drummond $ 28 9 yrs UFA 28 28 Tony Bradley 24 4 yrs UFA 1 29 29 Thomas Bryant $ 24 4 yrs UFA 30 30 Dewayne Dedmon $ 32 8 yrs UFA 31 31 Hassan Whiteside $ 33 9 yrs UFA 32 32 Derrick Favors $ 30 11 yrs UFA 1 33 33 Bol Bol $ 22 2 yrs RFA 34 34 Greg Monroe $ 32 9 yrs UFA 35 35 DeAndre Jordan $ 33 13 yrs UFA $/Value Overall Name Cost Age Exp Status Notes