2022 NBA Free Agency Big Board: Ranking the Top 30 Free Agents

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJune 30, 2022

2022 NBA Free Agency Big Board: Ranking the Top 30 Free Agents

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    With the NBA Finals and the draft in the rearview, the calendar now shifts to free agency, when player movement can hit a feverish pace.

    It'll likely get there this summer, though in a different way. There is very little salary-cap space among the league's 30 teams and not a lot of starpower in the market, which means trades, sign-and-trades and cap exceptions (like the mid-level) should get a lot of run.

    To prime you for all the action, we'll take a look at the top 30 free agents who are available (or potentially available) this offseason.

    Editor's Note: Restricted free agent Miles Bridges was removed from this ranking because he was arrested on a felony domestic violence charge on Wednesday, according to TMZ Sports. Bridges turned himself in to Los Angeles police after allegedly being involved in a physical altercation with a woman on Tuesday. He has a court date set for July 20, according to The Athletic.

30-26 Players

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    30. JaVale McGee

    JaVale McGee is 34 years old, but the three-time champion didn't show many signs of aging as the backup 5 for the Phoenix Suns in 2021-22.

    In just 15.8 minutes per game, he averaged 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 62.9 percent from the field.

    If he's not back with the Suns, he isn't likely to play with a setup man as good as Chris Paul, but any team with a decent lob passer would enjoy his rim-running.

    29. Hassan Whiteside

    Hassan Whiteside accepted a role off the bench for the Utah Jazz and played it well. In his age-32 season, Whiteside averaged 3.3 blocks per 75 possessions and posted a career-high 66.2 true shooting percentage.

    28. Ricky Rubio

    His shooting numbers will always be a concern, and coming off a torn ACL in your 30s is worrisome too, but Ricky Rubio's steady hand as a playmaker and point-of-attack defender should make him a target among teams looking for backup guards.

    27. P.J. Tucker

    Shooting 41.5 percent from three and posting a career-high assist percentage in 2021-22 proved P.J. Tucker still has something left in the tank, but he turned 37 in May. And at some point, aging is going to affect his defense, which is still where most of his value comes from.

    26. Kyle Anderson

    Kyle Anderson's numbers declined across the board last season, but he's still an intriguing option for any team looking for a playmaking 4 who can guard a variety of players. Being on the right side of 30 means there's plenty of time for a bounce-back too.

25-21 Players

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    25. Caleb Martin (Restricted)

    Caleb Martin had a breakout three-and-D campaign in which he averaged 9.2 points in just 22.9 minutes and shot 41.3 percent from three. If the accuracy from distance is here to stay, he's a valuable role player.

    24. Chris Boucher

    Both his three-point accuracy (38.3 to 29.7 percent) and block rate (2.8 per 75 possessions to 1.7) plummeted from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but Chris Boucher remains a solid (and probably affordable) option as a backup big. Signing him just means you're betting on a return to that 2020-21 level.

    23. Mo Bamba (Restricted)

    Mo Bamba had the best season of his young career, just in time for free agency. His effectiveness still comes and goes more than you'd like for a starting 5, but his unique combination of shooting and shot-blocking is intriguing. Jaren Jackson Jr. was the only player who matched or exceeded his averages for blocks (2.3) and threes (2.1) per 75 possessions this season.

    22. Andre Drummond

    Believe it or not, Andre Drummond is still just 28 years old, and he showed a willingness to come off the bench as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers last season. Anyone in need of rebounding would be wise to take a look at the all-time leader in career rebounding percentage.

    21. Nic Claxton (Restricted)

    Nic Claxton has the vertical explosiveness to be a high-end rim roller and protector, but he can also move his feet on the perimeter better than plenty of bigs his size. At 23 years old, he has plenty of time to pick up some of the nuances of NBA basketball on both ends of the floor.

20-16 Players

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    20. Kevon Looney

    Kevon Looney shored up his value with a selfless playoff run in which he anchored the Golden State Warriors defense, averaging 7.6 rebounds in 20.4 minutes and never making a stink about his peripheral role on offense.

    19. Bruce Brown

    One of the more unique free agents in this class, Bruce Brown started his NBA career as a guard before operating as a rim-runner in plenty of offensive possessions for the Brooklyn Nets over the past couple years. His wide range of experiences have made him into a utility man akin to those found in baseball. A 40.4 three-point percentage in 2021-22 should make him some money, too.

    18. Luguentz Dort (Restricted)

    So far, the idea of Luguentz Dort has far outpaced the actual player. Standing next to other NBA players, he looks like a running back. And it's hard to question his level of effort on defense.

    But over the course of his career, among the 96 players with at least as many three-point attempts, Dort is 94th in effective field-goal percentage. If the 23-year old can become an average shooter, then we're almost certainly talking about a plus contributor.

    17. Tyus Jones

    The Memphis Grizzlies were plus-4.6 points per 100 possessions with Ja Morant on the floor this season. They were plus-8.2 when Tyus Jones was on. Obviously, that doesn't mean Jones is the superior player (he isn't), but plenty of lineups benefit from the presence of a steady-handed table-setter like Jones.

    16. Otto Porter Jr.

    The Finals proved that the positionless (at least in terms of traditional designations) wing who can defend all over the floor and hit catch-and-shoot threes is one of the most valuable player archetypes in the league, and Otto Porter Jr. demonstrated he still checks all those boxes.

    In the playoffs, he shot 40.4 percent from three, and the Golden State Warriors' net rating was 10.6 points better when he was on the floor.

15-11 Players

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    15. Bobby Portis

    Teams with playmaking wings or forwards should be in the market for floor-spacing 5s, and Bobby Portis filled that role darn well alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Thanks in part to his 39.3 three-point percentage, the Milwaukee Bucks were plus-8.0 points per 100 possessions with Portis on the floor (compared to minus-1.3 when he was off).

    14. Collin Sexton (Restricted)

    There's always a bit of worry for a player coming back from a torn ACL, but Collin Sexton is just 23. There's a good chance he'll get back to his previous level of explosiveness, and though his lack of creation for others isn't ideal (3.3 assists per game for his career), Sexton remains an interesting target for teams looking for a heat-check guy.

    In 2020-21, he averaged 24.3 points and shot 37.1 percent from three as a 22-year old.

    13. Gary Payton II

    Gary Payton II is one of the most dynamic defenders in the NBA, but his value isn't entirely derived from that end of the floor. Payton moves with purpose off the ball and generally finishes at the rim when his teammates find him. Among players who finished at least one possession per game as a cutter, only Bradley Beal scored more efficiently than Payton.

    12. Montrezl Harrell

    Much has been made of Montrezl Harrell's defensive limitations over the past few years. That's fair, but he still excels in his role. At the right price, he's an excellent option as a sixth man.

    There are only nine players in NBA history with a career field-goal percentage over 60. And Harrell's 21.6 points per 75 possessions is almost five points higher than second-place Clint Capela's 16.9.

    11. Jusuf Nurkic

    Outside of Anfernee Simons, the 2021-22 Portland Trail Blazers season didn't do many favors to player values, but a healthy Jusuf Nurkic is still a difference maker.

    This season, Portland was plus-0.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and minus-15.1 when he was off, solidifying a trend through his five full seasons with the team.

10. Isaiah Hartenstein

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    Vaulting Isaiah Hartenstein to 10th on this list may be an overreaction to his first season with over 1,000 minutes, but his wide-ranging contributions for the Los Angeles Clippers were eye-opening.

    He finished the season ranked 18th in box plus/minus and averaged 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions. No one has ever matched or exceeded all five marks over an entire campaign.

    In today's NBA, that kind of versatility is welcome at any position. For a center, specifically, the passing can be a game-changer.

    Having a playmaker in that spot opens up catch-and-shoot or cutting opportunities for wings and guards that wouldn't otherwise be there.

9. Nicolas Batum

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    He'll turn 34 this season, and the Los Angeles Clippers are expected to re-sign him, but that shouldn't stop other teams from at least asking about Nicolas Batum.

    After looking like he was on the verge of falling out of the league altogether after 2019-20 when he averaged 3.6 points in 22 games, Batum has done more than enough to rehab his value over two seasons with L.A.

    He doesn't have the ball in his hands as much as he did with the Portland Trail Blazers or Charlotte Hornets, but shifting to the 4 means he still has a passing advantage over many of his peers at that position.

    He's also become one of the most reliable kickout options in the league, with a 40.2 three-point percentage during his time with the Clippers.

    What really drives his value, though, is a commitment to defense he never quite made at earlier stops. Batum can now be trusted to make life difficult against some of the game's best wings and combo forwards. His willingness to even play some 5 unlocks devastating small-ball options for L.A.

8. Malik Monk

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    There weren't a lot of bright spots for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, but Malik Monk was certainly one of them.

    After struggling to a 32.2 three-point percentage over the course of his first three seasons in the league, he now looks like a bona fide volume floor spacer. Since the start of 2020-21, he's taken 5.5 threes per game and made 39.4 percent of them.

    He's not exclusively a catch-and-shoot weapon either. He's averaged nearly four assists per 75 possessions over the course of his career and was an above-average scorer as a pick-and-roll ball-handler in 2021-22.

    Teams probably shouldn't be looking for a primary playmaker in Monk, but he's shown enough to earn a little more responsibility at his next stop if the Lakers don't bring him back.

7. Anfernee Simons (restricted)

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    Anfernee Simons spent the first three years of his career quietly developing behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Over that stretch, he averaged 7.5 points in 17.5 minutes.

    Then, following Lillard's season-ending injury, Simons' stock took off behind No. 1 option-level scoring.

    The superstar played his last game of the season on December 31, and the apprentice took over with 23.4 points, 5.8 assists, 4.4 threes and a 42.3 three-point percentage over the rest of the campaign.

    With his smooth pull-up jumper, Simons could provide a boost to any team's offense. If he develops a more reliable finishing package around the rim, he has a chance to be a devastating scorer.

6. Mitchell Robinson

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    Hassan Whiteside and JaVale McGee are the only players over the past 10 years who've averaged more blocks per 75 possessions than Mitchell Robinson's 3.1.

    And though he was often guilty of chasing swats at the expense of the scheme during his first couple seasons, he's grown more disciplined over the course of his four-year career.

    He's not a Rudy Gobert-level anchor (no one is), but there's enough potential for the 24-year old to earn multiple All-Defense selections.

    Of course, blocking shots isn't all he does. Robinson is also a high-end rim roller and offensive rebounder with the highest field-goal percentage in NBA history (among players with at least 1,000 shot attempts).

5. Jalen Brunson

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    Playing alongside Luka Doncic has certainly suppressed the raw production of Jalen Brunson over the past couple years, but 2021-22 gave him some high-profile opportunities to shine.

    In the 1,400-plus minutes Brunson played without Luka (regular and postseason combined), he averaged 24.9 points and 7.4 assists per 75 possessions, with a 56.6 true shooting percentage.

    In the three games Doncic missed in the playoffs, Brunson averaged 32.0 points and shot 41.2 percent from three.

    He may have already been on track to be one of this summer's most coveted free-agent point guards, but that run against the Utah Jazz solidified his status.

4. DeAndre Ayton (restricted)

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    While certain numbers may favor Robinson and Hartenstein, Deandre Ayton is understandably the most sought-after big man in free agency.

    The 2018 No. 1 pick has averaged a double-double in his career and was an integral part of an NBA Finals team in 2021. Throughout his four seasons, he's made plenty of strides on defense, too.

    He's certainly not Giannis Antetokounmpo on the perimeter, but he can now be reasonably expected to make things more difficult on guards and wings than most of the game's other 5s.

    The Phoenix Suns' hesitance to pay him a max makes sense, though. They've gotten similar production from JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo when either is on the floor with Chris Paul, and Ayton struggled against Dallas' spread offense in the Western Conference Semifinals—something that figures to be more popular around the league going forward.

    All that might feel like a distant memory if Ayton reaches his ultimate potential, though. If he expands his range out to the three-point line and shows a greater willingness to play through contact inside, he can be one of the game's premier centers.

3. James Harden

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    Much has been made of the demise of James Harden. And over his last few weeks of 2021-22, it wasn't hard to buy into that idea.

    He wasn't getting the same kind of separation on drives or the stepback, and that appeared to have sort of a trickle-down effect on the rest of his game.

    Big picture, though, his numbers didn't really suffer in Philadelphia. He posted a higher true shooting percentage with the 76ers than he did with the Brooklyn Nets, and his box plus/minus was within shouting distance of his first-half number, too.

    Even if he's not the same athlete he was five years ago, Harden will adjust, rely a bit more on his All-Star passing ability and continue to be one of the game's best point guards.

    His averages with Philly (21.0 points and 10.5 assists) would look like a career season for most other playmakers, and he figures to be around there for at least a couple more years (which appear increasingly likely to be with the Sixers).

2. Bradley Beal

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    It doesn't look like Bradley Beal will be on the big board for long. He's opted out of the final year of his current deal, and according ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, he's likely to re-sign with the Washington Wizards on a five-year max.

    Washington, of course, is well acquainted with Beal as a player. It surely wants to see how he'll look alongside Kristaps Porzingis, who was acquired at the trade deadline

    If Beal is healthy and back to the player who eclipsed 30 points per game in 2019-20 and 2020-21, he and KP could make for a devastating one-two punch.

    And now, with the acquisition of Monte Morris, they have a steady point guard to feed them the ball and help with the development of their young combo forwards.

1. Zach LaVine

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    As is the case with Beal, it looks like Zach LaVine is going to stick with his current team, and it's not hard to see why the Chicago Bulls would want him back.

    Over the past two seasons, LaVine averaged 25.8 points with a 57.4 effective field-goal percentage. There are only six other players in the league who matched or exceeded both marks over that span.

    What's more, LaVine didn't stir up any drama over the amount of usage he was asked to surrender to DeMar DeRozan. When Chicago had its two No. 1 options on the floor, it was plus-1.1 points per 100 possessions.

    Add the defense of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to the mix, and that number soars to plus-16.3 (though from a much smaller sample size).

    The Bulls owe it to themselves to run it back and see what that group can do if it's healthy.


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