Fool's Gold: 2017 NBA Free Agents Who Are Not Worth the Risk

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2017

Fool's Gold: 2017 NBA Free Agents Who Are Not Worth the Risk

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Not all notable NBA free agents are worth the risks attached to their summer price tags.

    Every offseason investment of significance comes with built-in uncertainty. Players get injured. They don't age well. They inexplicably regress. They get improperly billed on the open market and never live up to their contract.

    Some of these pitfalls prove to be unavoidable. Others, though, you can see coming from a distance.

    Everyone knew the New York Knicks shouldn't have given Joakim Noah $72.6 million, while Timofey Mozgov's four-year, $64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers looked bad from the jump.

    This year's top fool's gold candidates aren't that egregious. They're more like Chandler Parsons—potentially expensive investments that could work out if everything goes right, but they also have a woefully thin margin for error before their next contract is remembered as a disastrous reach or flat-out bust.

Ian Clark

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 48.7 percent shooting

    Ian Clark is a fine addition...if you have four All-NBA talents on the roster who turn him into a sharpshooting afterthought and garbage-time superhero. And even with those safety nets in place, Clark continued his Jekyll and Hyde act, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal aptly pointed out:

    "Which Ian Clark is for real? The one who thrived at the beginning of the season, averaging 7.6 points per game during his first five appearances while slashing 51.9/41.7/83.3? The one who slumped during the end of the year, slashing 45.0/18.2/87.5 in his final 14 games? The one who's shown the ability to explode off the pine during the playoffs? 

    Someone is still going to pay Clark a handsome sum that pries him from the Golden State Warriors. There isn't as much money floating around the NBA this summer compared to last July, when he was also a free agent, but he upped his shooting percentages from 2015-16 while seeing more time as one of Stephen Curry's two primary backups.

    Next year's mid-level exception is expected to come in around $8.4 million, and "executives believe he could command a deal" worth more than that, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania. Imagine Ian Clark making something like $10 million per year. Anything close to that is far too much.

    More than 50 percent of Clark's field-goal attempts this past season came with a defender four or more feet away from him. He won't enjoy that same luxury on another roster and doesn't have the chops to create his own offense while also maintaining his efficiency. He banged in 40 percent of his pull-up jumpers, coughed up possession a little too often out of pick-and-rolls and barely shot 30 percent in a limited number of one-on-one situations.

    Asking him to do more, outside the comfy confines of Golden State's offense, is reasonable. But paying him the entire mid-level exception and then some to try expanding his horizons is a reckless errand.

Rudy Gay

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks, 45.5 percent shooting

    Rudy Gay profiled as a top-20 free agent before suffering his Achilles injury. It's not quite clear where he falls now, but anything inside the top 40 feels ambitious.

    Achilles injuries alter careers. For every Wesley Matthews, there are more examples of Kobe Bryant, Brandon Jennings and Anderson Varejao—players who were never quite the same.

    Even the best-case recoveries aren't always great. After Matthews suffered his ruptured Achilles in 2015, CBS Sports' Chris Towers found that, since 1992, players who have encountered the same setback see their minutes drop an average of 27 percent in their next healthy season. 

    Every situation is different. Gay will be fine if he's used as a spot-up specialist on his next team. Almost one-fifth of his looks through 30 appearances with the Sacramento Kings came as catch-and-fire three-pointers, on which he shot 38.4 percent. Have him orbit other primary ball-handlers, and he'll stretch defenses with his off-ball marksmanship, preferably while playing power forward.

    But Gay turns 31 in August. He's always reveled in creating a lion's share of his own looks, something that becomes much more difficult at both the 3 and 4 if his mobility is compromised, and his defensive stands against slippery wings won't get any better.

    Most importantly: Gay left $14.3 million on the table by opting out of his contract. He doesn't do that if he and his agent, Roger Montgomery, aren't certain there's a market for his services. And relying on Gay to do anything substantial over the next three or four years at eight figures annually feels like a trap.  

Nikola Mirotic

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 41.3 percent shooting

    Potential suitors will have no trouble convincing themselves Nikola Mirotic is worth a lucrative contract this summer.

    Sweet-shooting 4s are valuable when they can, at times, survive when switching onto 3s. Plus, he's a restricted free agent. And you have to overpay restricted free agents. It's an unwritten rule. Quality players aren't cut loose when their team has the right to match every offer. Admirers have to tender big-time salaries if they're bent on coaxing incumbents into tough decisions.

    We should have lost you at "sweet-shooting 4."

    Mirotic is miscast as a floor-spacing tower. He shoots threes, but he's not yet known for making them—not even when they're high-quality looks:

    Mirotic:3P%Spot-Up 3P%Open 3P%Wide-Open 3P%
    2014-1531.635.429.735.6
    2015-1639.041.838.738.4
    2016-1734.233.531.438.5

    Playing within an offense that doesn't resemble a clumpy glob should help Mirotic a great deal, so the Chicago Bulls deserve some blame here. And Mirotic's accuracy from the corners has improved in each of his first three seasons. But he hasn't been consistent enough beyond the arc to warrant the payday associated with players who stand 6'10" or taller and bury threes.

    Besides, the Ryan Anderson prototype is approaching extinction. Power forwards have to do more than shoot and rebound. They need to pass, make plays off the bounce and rotate between positions with ease on defense.

    Mirotic's game is closer to Patrick Patterson's end of the spectrum than Anderson territory, which is good, but he remains too much of a work in progress to justify a new contract that's bound to pay him way more than $12 million per year.

Nerlens Noel

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 59.5 percent shooting

    Save the tongue-lashings for hatchet jobs that don't provide context.

    Nerlens Noel is a top-20 free agent. Put in the right situation, he can be a good investment—someone who anchors a top-seven defense with rim protection, passing-lane robberies and a sneaky capacity to guard ball-handlers in space.

    Surround him with a good amount of shooters, and Noel will eat as the roll man on offense. He shot 57.1 percent as the rim-runner this past season and 71 percent overall on attempts inside three feet of the hoop.

    Still, Noel's status as a restricted free agent is causing his price tag to balloon beyond reason. A source told Scout.com's Mike Fisher that "multiple" teams are prepared to offer the wiry center a max deal. This isn't a far jump from the $90 million the Sporting News' Sean Deveney said he could get back in February. 

    A max deal will pay Noel roughly $25.3 million in Year 1. Good luck shelling out that much for a non-unicorn and feeling good about it by Years 3 and 4.

    This is nothing against Noel. Again, he can be a great player in the right situation. The Dallas Mavericks could even be that spot. But there are only a handful of more traditional centers worth that much coin. Noel is not Rudy Gobert. Dallas should count itself as lucky if he's a stringier DeAndre Jordan with keener passing senses and footwork.

    LeBron James logged 20 minutes as the Cleveland Cavaliers' lone big in the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant soaked up 15 minutes at the 5 through those same five games. Draymond Green is a staple at center. This is not the summer, or era, to be investing max money in a customary big. 

Derrick Rose

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 47.1 percent shooting

    Derrick Rose's inclusion is all about his next contract paying him to be something he's not.

    "I'm going into it with an open mind and will listen to everyone," Rose said of free agency in April, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.

    If his next team wants him to come off the bench, as a score-first super sub, he'll be set up for success. The New York Knicks pumped in nearly three more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and his drives to the bucket can still be a source of production—particularly against second-stringers.

    Sign him to be your starting floor general, a hub from which all the action originates, and you're doing it wrong.

    Rose did shoot 51.2 percent on downhill assaults in his first season with the Knicks while keeping his turnover rate under control. But he still can't stroke threes and isn't an A-1 distributor. His suboptimal assist totals often fell on New York's lackluster supporting cast; his inability to put teammates in the right spots is on him.

    Tim Frazier (651), Deron Williams (680), Sergio Rodriguez (688) and Ty Lawson (690) all tallied far more potential dimes than Rose (603) despite spending noticeably less time on the court. Even Rose's drives, his greatest strength, are only so valuable.

    Of the 91 players who burned through more than 250 assaults, he placed 29th in points produced per shot—good, but not great, and hard to improve upon when he's not drawing fouls as often as some of his peers. And though some will point to missed calls, Rose would generate more whistles if he could leverage a jumper that renders him less predictable. 

    Look, the offense is there. Rose's attack mode can be accentuated when flanked by four shooters. But he's not the type of player around which teams should build entire schemes. Sprinkle in spotty defense and the surgery he underwent at season's end to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, and his next deal isn't one suitors should be tripping over themselves to bankroll.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.