NBA Free Agents 2014: Top 10 Players 25 Years Old and Under
The 2014 free-agency class has some great potential, but it seems as though there's a strong chance many of the veteran talents will stay right where they are. Players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and others are unlikely to change destinations, which shifts the focus of this year's offseason to the younger talents around the league.
The large majority of players under the age of 25 are restricted free agents, as the pool of talent is filled with former first-round picks. While there are a few exceptions, mainly second-round picks and players who had their options declined at some point, the youth of this class is mostly restricted.
Fittingly, the movement of these players may be restricted as well, as their current teams will have the ability to match any offer.
For the sake of this exercise, we'll look at the top 10 available players under the age of 25 in this year's free-agency class who will be unrestricted or restricted free agents. Not included on this list will be players with team options (like Chandler Parsons) or players on non-guaranteed deals (like Khris Middleton).
Here are the 10 best free agents under the age of 25 in the 2014 offseason.
10. Al-Farouq Aminu
New Orleans Pelicans forward Al-Farouq Aminu, 23, has failed to live up to the expectations that came with him being selected eighth overall in the 2010 draft.
Part of the disappointment comes with who Aminu was drafted before. Both Gordon Hayward and Paul George went after Aminu did, and both have reached a level of production Aminu has failed to touch.
Of course, the book hasn't been closed on Aminu's career quite yet. Although he's a brutal perimeter shooter who plays with an effort level that seems to waver, Aminu does have a few skills that could be valuable to quite a few teams off the bench.
With a career average of 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, Aminu is one of the better rebounding forwards who can also run the floor and make plays in transition. While he's tough to utilize in a half-court set, a motivated and engaged Aminu can make an impact for an uptempo team looking for a smaller 4 who is mobile and can clean the glass.
He's a flawed player, but as an unrestricted free agent, Aminu should land a rotation spot somewhere this offseason. He still has plenty of room to grow and lots of natural potential.
9. Kevin Seraphin
Although it's not a great sign that Al Harrington and Drew Gooden are getting minutes over him in the playoffs, there's still a lot to like from Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin.
The 24-year-old big man has proven over the years that, if nothing else, he's a capable scorer and shooter. With career per-36 averages of 13.8 points on 48.5 percent shooting, Seraphin has the soft touch and big body teams looking for a punch off the bench will covet.
Although sometimes he's a little too reliant on his jumper, Seraphin has the potential to grow into a role as a quality scoring big man who can play the 5 in some spots.
To do that successfully, he'll need to be more of a reliable defensive presence, as he's prone to mental lapses when it comes to help defense and proper rotations.
With Washington's frontcourt situation being up in the air with both Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat hitting unrestricted free agency, there's probably a good chance that Seraphin, who is restricted, won't have any substantial offer matched, as Washington will likely want to use their cap space on a more proven producer.
8. Ed Davis
Memphis Grizzlies forward Ed Davis, 24, is another young big man who just couldn't find consistent playing time for a playoff team. After being a part of the Rudy Gay trade, it was expected that Gay would have a big influence on the future of the Grizzlies.
It's a little perplexing, if only because Davis looks fantastic on paper. Per 36 minutes in his career, Davis has averaged 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds with a solid 15.9 PER. He's long, can run the floor and can alter shots at the rim, but his slight frame may keep him from being a true 5, while his inability to space the floor means he's not an ideal 4.
With Memphis likely strapped for cash based on what happens with Zach Randolph, it seems very plausible that even a mid-range deal ($5 million or so) would be enough to pluck the restricted free agent from Bluff City. Davis just needs consistent minutes, and based on his 15.2 minutes a game and incredibly limited playing time this postseason, it doesn't seem like Memphis wants to offer that anytime soon.
7. Patrick Patterson
Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson, 25, is definitely a role player, but his set of skills is in high demand right now around the league.
Despite a pretty solid frame, Patterson is a perimeter-oriented big man who excels at running the floor and spotting up for open threes. Patterson is a 36.8 percent career three-point shooter, and it's become a huge part of his game as of late. He's a stretch 4 who doesn't sacrifice size or toughness on the other end.
But is he a part of Toronto's future? That's tougher to say, as the Raptors clearly need more to be a true title contender. Toronto will likely have to shell out for Kyle Lowry already, so maybe they'll be more willing to let Patterson go if a team comes with an offer for the restricted free agent that is around the mid-level exception.
Whether he's retained or ends up elsewhere, it's pretty clear Patterson has a role in the league as a backup big man who can space the floor. Just about every team needs at least one of those on the roster, so Patterson shouldn't be hard up for suitors in free agency.
6. Avery Bradley
Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley, 23, may be the best restricted free agent who might actually be attainable.
With the Celtics likely looking to rebuild and Bradley maybe not being an ideal fit next to Rajon Rondo, a substantial offer around $8 million a year could force Boston to let him go, or look to sign and trade him before it comes to that.
Bradley is certainly a talented player, particularly on the defensive end, where he can hound opposing ball-handlers into turnovers. Bradley does fit really well in Brad Stevens' system in that sense, but there are questions about whether his 39.5 percent three-point shooting this season was a bit of a fluke.
If the Celtics are convinced Bradley can shoot that well going forward, he'll be worth keeping around even if he's a substantial salary. There's definitely some risk here, though, both with Bradley's shooting and his injury history. With a PER of 10.8, perhaps Boston will feel they can get better two-way production with the salary Bradley would occupy.
It should be interesting to see what kind of market is out there for Bradley and whether or not Boston is ready to pay a solid role player that price.
5. Lance Stephenson
It's the gift and the curse of finding a gem in the second round of the draft. The Indiana Pacers should feel fortunate they were able to get Lance Stephenson, 23, in the second round, but now they face the prospect of watching one of their key core players walk in unrestricted free agency, which wouldn't be the case if Stephenson were a first-round pick.
Because teams don't have to play a game of chicken with Stephenson's prior team, he should be one of the most hotly pursued free agents this offseason.
While Indiana will obviously try to keep the breakout guard who averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists this year, it's possible Stephenson will be offered more money elsewhere, particularly if Indiana refuses to exceed the luxury tax when in negotiations with Stephenson.
With that said, it seems more likely that Stephenson will remain in Indiana next to Paul George, where he should have the chance to contend for titles for years to come.
4. Isaiah Thomas
Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas, 25, is probably one of the most underrated players in the league at the most saturated position.
That's not a coincidence, of course, but a look at Thomas' stat profile does make you wonder why he isn't mentioned with other big-time point guards around the league.
For his career, Thomas has averaged 19.0 points a game and has miraculously maintained the exact same true shooting percentage (57.4) in each of his first three seasons. With a career PER of 18.7, Thomas is one of the best young players in the league.
But will teams go after him hard this offseason? The Sacramento Kings are looking like a luxury-tax team thanks to Rudy Gay's massive player option, and so perhaps a sizable offer in RFA would make Sacramento conserve money and hand the keys to Ray McCallum, who played well toward the end of the season.
It might not hurt Thomas' value that he's started at point guard and had success as a sixth man. He's another guy who might take a big offer to break free, but he could definitely be worth it for the team willing to take the risk.
3. Gordon Hayward
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, 24, is probably going to stay right where he is. The Jazz already made a long-term commitment to Derrick Favors this past offseason, and Hayward looks like he's next this offseason as a restricted free agent.
While he'd ideally be a third offensive option on a title-contending team, Hayward has still shown a very solid all-around game even with very little help around him.
On his career, Hayward has averaged 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game. With a new coach coming to Utah and likely talent upgrades around him, Hayward should be able to expand those numbers while improving as a defender and playmaker going forward.
There's an awful lot to like here and lots of room for growth. It would be a surprise if Utah let Hayward walk, even if he does receive a max offer sheet from a team looking for a talented wing. He's one of the most intriguing young players in the league.
2. Greg Monroe
You wouldn't blame Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe, 23, if he was fully ready to leave for greener pastures. Detroit has been an absolute mess ever since he's arrived there, and the signing of Josh Smith only muddied up the frontcourt situation now and going forward.
Unfortunately for Monroe, he may not be able to do much outside of signing a max offer sheet elsewhere (which he'll almost certainly get) and hoping Detroit decides not to match.
It's hard to imagine that Monroe could find a worse situation than Detroit, truth be told. With multiple coaching changes, an unclear front-office situation and a roster that doesn't fit his post and passing abilities whatsoever, Monroe might be wise to publicly say he wants out of Detroit, even if that isn't his style.
Monroe has the potential to be a franchise big man. With career per-36 averages of 16 points and 10 rebounds, Monroe can offer reliable production on a nightly basis, even if he needs to improve defensively and expand the range on his jumper. He's a throwback big man in a lot of ways, but he'll have plenty of suitors this offseason.
1. Eric Bledsoe
When it comes to potential, no player in this free-agency class can touch Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe. The 24-year-old buzzsaw is already one of the very best two-way players in basketball, and that's without the aid of a steady jumper.
Whether it's at point guard or shooting guard, Bledsoe is plenty capable of making an impact on the game and doing things athletically few others can do. While he's not the scorer Dwyane Wade is yet, there's a resemblance in their athletic profiles, and Bledsoe has put up similar stats in his first year in Phoenix.
While Bledsoe is the best young talent of free agency, it's extremely unlikely the Phoenix Suns are going to lose him. After pulling off one of the greatest trade heists of recent memory, Suns GM Ryan McDonough will likely do whatever it takes to retain Bledsoe, even if it means matching on a max offer sheet he signs elsewhere.
It's scary to think that Bledsoe can improve beyond the 19.4 points, 6.0 assists and 5.1 rebounds he averaged this year, but he can. Any team would be lucky to have him in their backcourt, but it would be shocking if he's not in Phoenix next season.
All stats are via basketball-reference and are accurate as of 5/12.
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