NBA Free Agency 2022 Big Board: Best Remaining Players After Day 1
NBA free agency is underway, and the first day gave us a flurry of action to react to.
Jalen Brunson is on his way to the New York Knicks. Bradley Beal declined his player option to re-up with the Washington Wizards. Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker, Ja Morant and Karl-Anthony Towns signed max extensions. And plenty of role players are bouncing all over the league.
Even with dozens of signings reported, there are still a few stars and a couple difference-makers available.
What will happen with James Harden and Deandre Ayton? And how will teams fill out their rosters with the remaining role players?
We're sure to learn more today, but before we do, let's look at the best players available.
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.
Player evaluations that appeared in Thursday's big board are also repeated here.
Potential Key Rotation Players
Because he didn't make it to the NBA till his age-27 season, 34-year-old Nemanja Bjelica may be a little older than you realized. He's still a steady offensive player who appeared in 71 games for the world champion Warriors in 2021-22 and has a career 38.4 three-point percentage.
Jeremy Lamb just posted his lowest scoring average (7.3 points) since 2014-15 and his lowest three-point percentage (32.4) since 2016-17, but he averaged double figures and shot over 40 percent from deep the season before. For a veteran minimum deal, it's worth seeing if he can rediscover his old form.
Over the course of his career, Dennis Schroder's teams have been worse with him on the floor, thanks in large part to uninspiring defense. He's still a dynamic attacker off the dribble, only 28 years old and two years removed from a Sixth Man of the Year-caliber season for OKC.
Age is starting to show up in Danilo Gallinari's game. He's not quite as quick off the bounce as he once was, and he's almost sure to be targeted on defense whenever he's on the floor.
He's still one of the game's smartest moneyball scorers, though. Even at 33, he averaged double figures and shot 38.1 percent from three and 90.4 percent from the line.
It may be risky to evaluate a free agent on just 22 games, but Jalen Smith looked very much like a rotation player after the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Indiana Pacers.
With Indy, he put up 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 threes in just 24.7 minutes while shooting 37.3 percent from three.
Potential Impact Starters
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.
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.
Stars on the Market
Deandre Ayton (Restricted)
While certain numbers may favor Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, Deandre Ayton is understandably the most sought-after big man in this year's free-agency class.
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 got similar production from JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo when either was 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.
There is currently speculation Ayton could be part of a package in a potential sign-and-trade between the Suns and the Nets involving Kevin Durant.
Much has been made of the demise of James Harden. And over the last few weeks of the 76ers' 2021-22 season, it wasn't hard to buy into that idea.
He wasn't getting the same kind of separation on drives or the step-back, 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).
The latest reporting from Shams Charania indicates Harden "intends to return on a contract in free agency that gives the (76ers) financial flexibility to bolster the roster."