NBA Free Agency Rankings 2017: Top Available Point Guards

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 1, 2017

NBA Free Agency Rankings 2017: Top Available Point Guards

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    This summer, two legitimate point guard superstars hit free agency, joined by a handful of excellent starting-caliber options.

    The premium on spacing and the centrality of the pick-and-roll to every NBA offense mean these guys are more important than ever. Elite point guards must stretch the floor and control the action. Also critical in these evaluations: size, defensive versatility, age and health risks.  

    The glut of quality options at the position makes this an odd free-agent market.

    Most teams already have their guy.

    Toss in a draft in which four of the top six or seven picks might be point guards, and the number of clubs willing to spend big on a new point man in free agency could further shrink.

    Fortunately, we're not picking destinations or forecasting salaries here—though as we proceed through the rankings, we'll venture some casual guesses on both counts where warranted.

    We'll exclude free agents of the restricted variety and those whose only chance to hit the market might come via team options. That means Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Yogi Ferrell don't make our list.

    Who will? Only the top 10 free-agent point guards...and a few that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mention

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    Deron Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Less is more for Deron Williams, who has thrived since joining the Cleveland Cavaliers midseason.

    In just over 20 minutes per game, D-Will has upped his true shooting percentage in his new role as a secondary creator. A reliable catch-and-shoot sniper, Williams still has enough bounce to attack an off-balance closeout and make a play.

    He's not a starter anymore, and he needs good shooters around him. But Williams can still contribute.

    Milos Teodosic, CSKA Moscow

    You can forgive a lot of flaws in a player when he sees angles like this.

    Milos Teodosic is a slithery ball-handler who reads the floor as well as anyone in the NBA. Already 30 years old, Teodosic's total failure to compete on defense and waning athleticism mean he's only viable against weak second units.

    The Brooklyn Nets are interested.

    Ty Lawson, Sacramento Kings

    Averages of 9.9 points and 4.9 assists are a far cry from Lawson's peak numbers with the Denver Nuggets a few years ago, but his production with the Sacramento Kings was enough to show he still belongs in the NBA.

    That was an open question after 2015-16.

    A missing three-point stroke and size that makes him a defensive liability limit Lawson's appeal, but he can get into the lane and find shooters if the defense collapses.

10. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks

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    Age: 28

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $21,323,252

    If you wanted to make one surefire, dead-certain bet on this summer's free agents, you could do worse than wagering Derrick Rose will take a pay cut on his next deal.

    Even after averaging 18.0 points on 53 percent true shooting, both highs for Rose since 2011-12, the former MVP won't come close to eight figures in average annual value. That's partly because 2016-17 ended early due to yet another knee surgery, and partly because Rose isn't the kind of shooter or defender teams spend on anymore.

    A big money starting point guard can't attempt less than one three-pointer per game these days, and he also can't compound the lack of volume with subpar efficiency. Rose hit 21.7 percent of those tries, which can't be dismissed as a slump because he hasn't been over 30 percent from deep in any of the last three seasons.

    As for the defense, Rose ranked 81st out of 91 point guards in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric.

    If he could accept it, a bench role would be ideal for Rose. He'd be one of the best backups in the league.

9. Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors

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    Age: 31

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,782,450

    Shaun Livingston has his limitations.

    He doesn't even think about shooting threes, he's not a threat to penetrate in the pick-and-roll, and he needs his minutes managed closely to survive a season in good health. But when you get past those issues, there's an extremely valuable backup point guard capable of helping almost any team.

    Livingston's height and full extension on his jumper make him a tough cover for any backcourt opponent. In fact, it's not uncommon to see him pull up and shoot over the top of his defender—even following a switch that puts a power forward or center on him. He's that long...and that confident in his pull-up game.

    And why not? Livingston was the Golden State Warriors' most accurate scorer on pull-up jumpers in 2016-17.

    Consider the composition of that roster and try to appreciate that fact.

    Best utilized as an off-ball cutter and post-up weapon against smaller guards, Livingston can manage a game for short stretches and rarely makes mistakes. On D, he's a valuable component in a switching defense, as his size allows him to guard three positions comfortably. He's willowy, but can even tangle with some power forwards.

    Manage the environment correctly and surround him with shooters, and Livingston will make an impact on both ends.

    Golden State is the ideal environment for him, and if Kevin Durant takes less than his full max, expect the Dubs to keep Livingston around via the magic of Bird Rights.

8. Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings

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    Age: 29

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,229,454

    A fiercely competitive, high-motor point guard who is comfortable on or off the ball, Darren Collison is a couple of inches and a few pounds away from being a clear top-line starter.

    But his lack of size means he's only equipped to defend opposing point guards—and even that proves challenging for him. Collison was firmly in the negative as measured by DRPM this season, checking in right between noted sieves Aaron Brooks and Damian Lillard among point guards, and the Sacramento Kings defended better when he was off the floor.

    A 41.7 percent shooter from deep in 2016-17, Collison might even be able to up that percentage if he were to spend more time as a spot-up threat in a functional offense.

    The 29-year-old is a high-floor option who, at worst, will play excellent against reserves and hold down the fort in spot duty as a starter. In his last five seasons, Collison's per-36 scoring rate has been steady, never dropping below 14.8 and never rising above 16.8. And he's always been efficient from the field, from deep and from the foul line, as evidenced by a true shooting percentage of 57 percent or better since 2012-13.

7. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs

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    Age: 28

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,578,948

    In Patty Mills, we've finally made it to a point guard who could be a terrific starter, but he still needs help.

    Like Darren Collison, Mills' size limits his defensive versatility. So he needs a backcourt partner capable of checking either guard spot—pretty much exactly like Danny Green.

    Mills is also much more of a scorer than facilitator, so he's best utilized in an offense with a primary ball-handler at another position—like Kawhi Leonard.

    Funny how the San Antonio Spurs figure these things out, isn't it?

    That's not to say Mills can't be successful elsewhere. After shooting over 38 percent from distance in five of his six seasons with the Spurs, his quick-trigger game will fit anywhere. And his dogged, high-energy defense against point guards will travel well, too, if he chooses to leave on a contract that could reach $10-12 million per year.

    Imagine him playing off the ball for the Utah Jazz, or firing up treys for the Philadelphia 76ers as Ben Simmons runs the offense. There are fits out there beyond San Antonio.

    Whether as a super sub or part of a first unit in a carefully constructed situation, Mills is a good bridge to our next tier of point guards, all of whom profile as definite starters.

6. Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers

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    Age: 28

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $8,800,000

    Jeff Teague can't help the flooded point guard market, and he's not in control of the draft that'll further overpopulate the position with quality.

    What he did command this season, though, was his performance.

    Teague turned in career highs in box plus-minus and true shooting percentage, doing it all while playing the full 82-game slate. If you're into the conventional numbers, try 15.3 points and 7.8 assists, with the latter figure standing out as another career best.

    He'll turn 29 in June, which gives him the edge on Shaun Livingston and Darren Collison in the age department. And unlike Derrick Rose and Patty Mills, he's been an effective full-time starter for several years in a row.

    If you were inclined to pick nits, you'd cite Teague's slow release and general unwillingness to fire up threes with any serious volume. He's never attempted more than 3.5 triples per game, and his tendency to fake the shot and take the ball to trouble is one reason he falls short of the position's upper tier.

    One encouraging sign for buyers: Teague averaged 17.0 points and 6.3 assists while hitting 52.9 percent of his 4.3 triple attempts per game in the first round of this year's playoffs. If suitors forget he piled up those numbers against Kyrie Irving and the Cavs' invisible defense, maybe they'll assume he can do that all the time.

    Teague told head coach Nate McMillan that he wants to return to his hometown Indiana Pacers. It'll take a lot more than $8.8 million per year to extend the homecoming.

5. George Hill, Utah Jazz

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    Age: 30

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $8,000,000

    If Mike Conley's record contract and perpetual star-caliber play in the postseason finally detach the underrated label from his name, George Hill has a good chance to take on the mantle.

    The Utah Jazz's 30-year-old point guard just finished a season with averages of 16.9 points and 4.1 assists. He hit over 40 percent of his treys for the second year in a row and ranked in the top 10 in DRPM among point guards—top five if you skim off the guys who didn't play starter's minutes.

    Hill fits perfectly in Utah, where he can run the offense or play off the ball as a standstill shooter.

    The Jazz have his Bird Rights, which means they can spend to keep him. Based on the failure to reach an agreement on a three-year, $88 million extension during the year (because Hill believed he could do better by waiting), it's a safe bet they'll have to.

    Hill is older than the three point guards immediately behind him, but he's just such a complete player that there was never any doubt about putting him ahead of Darren Collison, Patty Mills or Jeff Teague. Injuries are an issue, as Hill played only 49 games this season, but the quality of his contributions when healthy far outstrips that of any player we've covered to this point.

4. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Age: 26

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $11,286,518

    The ground has never really settled under Jrue Holiday's career, and that makes him tricky to evaluate.

    Beset by injuries and saddled with suboptimal (and ever-changing) personnel around him, it's difficult to know which sample of Holiday's play best represents what he'll do going forward.

    If he's the guy who only managed .81 points per play as a pick-and-roll ball-handler this season, a figure that only rates in the 55th percentile, it's difficult to trust him as a floor general. If he's also the guy who hit just 30.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, maybe he's not a perfect off-ball option, either.

    Those are only last year's numbers, and Holiday has been better in both respects in the past. But with a player who has missed at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons (and as many as 48, in 2013-14), it's not always smart to assume the past is coming back. Wear and tear may mean this is who Holiday is.

    Still, just 27 when free agency begins, Holiday has a strong reputation on defense. And he should get a pass for toiling with the mismanaged New Orleans Pelicans over the past four years. Just look how Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson thrived after escaping to better setups.

    There's risk with Holiday, and more uncertainty than you'd like in a starting point guard.

    But he's still a pass-first playmaker who'll get you at least 14 points per game while competing like crazy on defense—whether he's healthy or not.

    That's a low floor. And if the injuries subside, the ceiling is higher than anyone we've covered so far.

3. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

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    Age: 31

    Status: Player Option

    2016-17 Salary: $12,000,000

    Kyle Lowry has been worth a max salary in each of the last four seasons (though he earned far less), and he'll deserve one for at least the next couple.

    But with his age and strangely habitual playoff swoons, it's worth wondering whether anyone's going to offer a long-term deal.

    Lowry is bound to get his max in terms of average annual value wherever he signs, but it's not a given he'll ink a true "max" deal worth either $205 million over five years with the Toronto Raptors or four years and $152 million someplace else.

    Nobody wants to be on the hook for more than $40 million to a 36-year-old Lowry.

    That said, the three-time All-Star has been a top-10 talent for nearly a half-decade now—even if he's done it somewhat inconspicuously. Since 2013-14, Lowry ranks eighth in VORP and fourth among point guards behind Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul.

    For some perspective, Lowry's produced more value over replacement level in that span than Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Paul Millsap, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and John Wall, just to name a few.

    A terrific defender who drills pull-up triples in his sleep and gets to his spots at will, Lowry is a no-questions-asked All-NBA stud.

2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Age: 31

    Status: Early Termination Option

    2016-17 Salary: $22,868,827

    Somebody really ought to tell Chris Paul he's supposed to be declining.

    Yet in his age-31 season (he'll be 32 on May 6), he posted the third-highest box plus-minus of his career, crushed his previous season high in true shooting percentage and ranked first among point guards in DRPM.

    In fact, CP3 ranked first overall in ESPN's RPM metric after finishing third last year, seventh in 2014-15 and second in 2013-14.

    Nobody controls both ends like Paul, a rabid competitor who fights for every shred of space, claws for the tiniest advantages and anticipates the movements of nine other human beings at positively LeBron James-ian levels.

    Despite his seeming agelessness, Paul can't play at this level forever. So if the Clippers give him five years and $205 million, they'll be overpaying at the end of that deal.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    Age: 29

    Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $12,112,359

    The two-time MVP still bends basketball geometry like no one else, forcing adjustments teams never had to contemplate and rendering impotent all the schemes that used to work.

    Even in a year that fell short of the unreachable standard he set in 2015-16, Curry still led the league in made threes (324) for the fifth straight time and topped everyone in net plus-minus.

    In the minutes Curry was on the floor for the Warriors this season, his team outscored the opposition by a total of 1,015 points. No other player came close, with Draymond Green ranking second at plus-820.

    There are no health red flags to keep Curry from earning this time, and the days of his being the league's most underpaid performer will be over when his four-year, $44 million contract expires.

    Curry figures to age well, as his game has never been based on physical dominance. Who needs raw speed and bruising strength when you can finesse your way to high-volume, high-efficiency scoring?

    Because of his service time in the league, Curry can't even get the four-year, $152 million offer Lowry or Paul might command from another team. For Steph, the largest outside offer would be four years and $132 million.

    Weighed against the locked-in championship-contending core and five-year, $205 million pact in Golden State, there's really no drama about where he'll end up.

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    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com accurate through May 1. Salary information via Basketball Insider.