Ranking the Top 15 Best NBA Free Agents Available This Summer
Free agency is one of the most exciting parts of the NBA, and even though this year's class isn't likely to bring as much change as seen in previous summers, the potential for a high-impact signing looms large.
This list is only unrestricted free agents. Players with options on their contract (Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James) and restricted free agents (Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward) are not included. The only unrestricted free agent who isn’t on this list, but should be, is Dirk Nowitzki, because everyone knows he’s staying in Dallas.
These players aren’t being graded on the possibility some team can sign them below their market value. In other words, the contracts they’re expected to command have no bearing on how they’re ranked. Future salaries will be mentioned, but the player rankings are strictly an assessment of their performance today and how they can help whichever team signs them get better next season.
15. Mario Chalmers
Easily the most overlooked starting point guard in the NBA, Mario Chalmers should no longer be looked at as a coattail-rider.
The 27-year-old two-time NBA champion ended his 2014 regular season with a career-best field-goal percentage, PER and assist rate. He’s one of the best defenders at his position and connected on a truly insane 51.3 percent of his corner-three attempts.
If the Heat don’t win the NBA title in a couple months, there’s a good chance Pat Riley either cedes the starting point guard role to Norris Cole or goes outside the organization to sign a cheaper free agent.
Chalmers can play off the ball and knows how to run a tight pick-and-roll. Whichever team gets him will be surprised with his consistency.
14. Kris Humphries
Kris Humphries was quietly one of this season’s most pleasant surprises.
Playing out of position for a true center-less Boston Celtics, Humphries led the team in PER (18.2, also the highest of his career), made over 50 percent of his field-goal attempts and was a main reason why Boston owned the offensive glass.
Humphries’ jump shot was dependable, and he admirably defended the post and ball-handlers on the pick-and-roll. Boston didn’t have any rim protection outside Humphries all year, and the value he brings as a backup forward was solidified by a marvelous 2014 season.
13. Spencer Hawes
The 7-footer who can rain three-pointers will almost always have a place in the NBA, which is why, for all his flaws as a defender/rim protector, Spencer Hawes is an interesting free agent this summer.
He shot 41.6 percent from the three-point line in 80 games with the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers—in 27 games with the Cavs, Hawes shot 44.8 percent from downtown on four attempts per game—this season.
Hawes was also respectable with long twos, making him an extremely dangerous pick-and-pop weapon and a difficult matchup problem for any opposing big man.
12. Boris Diaw
Boris Diaw will never get the credit he deserves; the Frenchman is one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the league.
He can pass, shoot (over 40 percent from deep this year), drive, rebound and defend on and off the ball. What’s not to love?
The San Antonio Spurs use Diaw in all sorts of ways, and with one of the most versatile skill sets in the world, he rarely fails to answer the bell. Gregg Popovich’s system is geared to access all of Diaw’s ability, but there’s no reason a different team can’t do the same next season.
11. Shaun Livingston
Since there were a few weeks remaining in the regular season, the main talking point circulating Shaun Livingston has been how efficient he is with his back to the basket.
Synergy Sports ranked him as the best post-up player in the league, as Livingston punished undersized guard after undersized guard all year long. He’s deadly on the block, with a turnaround jumper as sure as his ability to quickly pass out of a double-team.
He’s played for eight teams in eight seasons, but finally Livingston has his NBA identity. He’ll have no trouble finding a ninth suitor should the Brooklyn Nets fail to re-sign him at a reasonable price.
10. Emeka Okafor
Due to a serious neck injury that forced him to miss the entire 2013-14 season, Emeka Okafor either belongs on the lower half of this list or off it altogether. He’s a big guy who rebounds, protects the rim and does the general dirty work that comes with the territory of being so large.
There’s little chance any team will offer more than a year of guaranteed money on the 31-year-old because necks are important, and being on the wrong side of 30 (with nearly 19,000 minutes of wear on the rest of his body) is bad enough.
Okafor brings value, but with it comes risk.
9. Vince Carter
Vince Carter didn’t deserve a first-place vote for Sixth Man of the Year, but when the results were released, it felt right that someone gave him one anyway.
Here’s Dallas Morning News reporter Eddie Sefko explaining his decision:
Either I’m smarter than everybody else, which is quite possible. If all the other voters had been paying closer attention, maybe they’d have agreed with me. Or not. Or, my vote for Carter could mean that I simply appreciated seeing him show up for work each day and do the sixth-man job the way it’s supposed to be done.
At 37, Carter is coming off a fantastic run as the best sixth man on the league’s third-best offense. That’s mighty significant. He shot 39.4 percent from deep, good for a second straight season above his career average.
Carter may be old, but he’s managed something few All-Stars are capable of: he’s modernized his game to fit the times and his age. So many one-time stars never adapt, but Carter happily accepted a three-point shooting role off the bench. It’ll make the final few years of his career more relevant than anyone ever expected.
8. Shawn Marion
It’s unlikely Shawn Marion leaves Dallas, the place where he officially announced his Hall of Fame candidacy, but it’s entirely possible.
Marion recently spoke to Mavs.com about his future and what he expects to happen this summer:
You know, it’s not about money right now. I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I’ve been truly blessed. You know, I take none of this for granted, and I think I’ve just got to weigh my options. I think when it’s all said and done, of course, I think we’re close here and not too far. But I think we’ve got a lot of guys here that are free agents again, so it’s going to be interesting. We’re going to see what’s out there and what’s available, and I’ve just got to weigh it out. I’m going to put it in God’s hands.
Marion is still useful as a defensive cog but not one who can nightly match up against an opposing team’s best scorer. He shot a surprising 35.8 percent from behind the three-point line this year but also finished with a 13.7 PER, the lowest of his career.
If he’s as interested in winning a second title as he sounds, adding veteran leadership to a team like the Houston Rockets would be a good way to get it.
7. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce just dominated half a season—and a few moments in the playoffs—as a stretch 4. Similar to Vince Carter, Pierce made the difficult transition from All-Star to essential role player look easy.
A 36-year-old Pierce is still a very solid basketball player, especially on the defensive end, where as a help defender he always gets to where he needs to be. The Nets allowed 7.1 more points per 100 possessions with Pierce off the floor. Nearly all his physical limitations are covered up by intelligence.
He also shot 37.3 percent from deep and finished with a higher free-throw rate than when he was 26. Pierce isn’t the third option on a contender, but as a complementary piece, he’s as good as it gets.
6. Trevor Ariza
One of the best "3-and-D" players in the entire league, the interest in Trevor Ariza will be huge this summer because more and more teams are beginning to value three-point shooting and strong perimeter defense.
Ariza gives his team both these things, along with championship experience and a competent ability to finish in transition. His game is complementary but easily adaptable in nearly any system. He can snuff out the opposing team's hottest fire, then set his own on the other end.
He shot 44.6 percent from the three-point line in these playoffs, and teams with cap space and a need for some spacing won't be shy about showing interest.
5. Lance Stephenson
If we’re power-ranking individual victims from Indiana’s inexplicable downward spiral, No. 1 is “every Pacers fan on the planet,” and No. 2 is Lance Stephenson.
Four months ago, Stephenson was free agency’s golden nugget, a 23-year-old starting off guard on a title contender. He showed immense growth with the ball in his hands, thriving as a playmaking scorer who can’t be guarded one-on-one.
He’s shooting a shade under 44 percent from the floor in over 400 minutes of action during these playoffs, but bringing back old, horrific habits, forcing drives to the hoop and playing with blinders.
He remains a tremendous talent, but any long-term contract could easily fly off the rails rather quickly.
4. Marcin Gortat
Marcin Gortat is a two-way big man coming off one of the best seasons of his six-year career. He just turned 30, has soft touch around the rim and can score efficiently.
Few bigs in the league can defend guards in the the pick-and-roll and bigs in the post as effectively as Gortat can, allowing him to stay on the floor with big minutes commandeering the paint.
Gortat isn't a first or second option on offense, but if you throw the ball to him on the block, he'll showcase a pretty solid jump hook that needs to be respected. He can also pass and just wrapped up an impressive individual playoff run, posting career-best postseason numbers across the board.
Add all these things together, and you have one of the most valuable things in basketball: a versatile center.
3. Pau Gasol
The forgotten giant, wandering around Los Angeles in search of a quality location to play out the twilight years of his career, Pau Gasol still has so much to give.
He’s a big man with effective post moves, imaginative passing ability and a reliable outside jumper. Don’t be surprised if whichever team signs Gasol this summer asks him to attempt more corner threes; it’s one of the thousand reasons why this massive person’s versatility makes him so helpful when coaches use him correctly.
In Los Angeles, he was not used correctly, and the results were semi-disastrous. Gasol also battled through several physical ailments over the past couple seasons. As a healthy 33-year-old whose skill set should age with grace, Gasol can still have a noteworthy impact.
2. Luol Deng
Luol Deng led the entire NBA in minutes per game for 2012 and 2013. Thanks to playing three-and-a-half seasons under Tom Thibodeau’s grueling sweat lodge of a system, he might be the oldest 29-year-old in league history.
That or he still has four to five years of above-average two-way play left to give. Nobody knows, but judging Deng on how he played in 40 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season is a foolish bias.
Yes, his field-goal percentage was alarmingly close to 40 percent, and his PER stooped to a career-low 14.0. But at the peak of his powers, Deng is easily one of the five best two-way players in the league. He can lock down the opposing team’s best offensive weapon, create offense for others, rebound and score with modest efficiency.
If the next four years of Deng’s career are anything like the previous three, whichever team that signs him will be super happy it did.
1. Kyle Lowry
It isn’t every season that an established franchise point guard hits the open market, but Kyle Lowry makes this summer a rare one.
Just entering his prime, the 28-year-old Lowry is coming off by far the best campaign of his career, averaging 17.9 points and 7.4 assists per game. He was universally accepted as the poster boy of All-Star snubbery, as his 20.1 PER shows.
Few players in the league compete on both ends for every possession the way Lowry does. But don't let that overshadow his immense skill too. Lowry shot 38 percent from behind the three-point line (39.5 percent in the playoffs) and averaged nearly five free-throw attempts per game.
Many teams already have a point guard they like, but the few that don't would be wise to lure Lowry with whatever he wants.