Stock Up, Stock Down for NBA's Top 2023 Free Agents

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 5, 2022

Stock Up, Stock Down for NBA's Top 2023 Free Agents

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    BROOKLYN, NY - DECEMBER 2: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Toronto Raptors on December 2, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    A quarter of the way into the 2022-23 NBA season, there's now plenty of material, minutes and numbers from which to draw meaningful takes.

    And today, the subject of those takes is the 2023 free-agent class.

    In these first couple of months of the campaign, plenty have likely improved their value in the eyes of several front offices. Some have generally held steady. And honestly, there aren't many players who've flat-out hurt themselves (at least in terms of on-court ability).

    Whose stock is up? Whose is down? Scroll below to find out.

Nos. 10-6

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    DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 29: Christian Wood #35 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors in the first half at American Airlines Center on November 29, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    10. Christian Wood: Stock Up

    On raw talent alone, Christian Wood could probably be nudged up a few spots, but his lack of defense and passing remain legitimate concerns (even if Jason Kidd is overstating them to keep him out of the Dallas Mavericks' starting five).


    9. Cameron Johnson (Restricted): Stock Steady

    Cameron Johnson has been out since early November with a torn meniscus (and subsequent surgery), but he should have time to shore up his stock, and he was off to a hot start before the injury.

    Johnson's value is derived largely from his size (6'8" with a 6'10" wingspan) and three-point shooting (42.5 percent from deep since the start of 2021-22), and neither of those things is likely to go away as a result of this injury.


    8. Myles Turner: Stock Up

    Surely, some within the Los Angeles Lakers organization have to be kicking themselves for not making the oft-rumored deal to acquire Myles Turner, who's averaging 17.2 points, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 threes, while shooting 38.5 percent from deep.

    Even as the game grows increasingly positionless, centers who can protect the rim and pull opposing bigs out of the paint with their shooting are important.


    7. Kyle Kuzma (Player Option): Stock Up

    His three-point shooting leaves a bit to be desired, but Kyle Kuzma is averaging a career-high 20.3 points while scoring well around the rim and in the mid-range.

    The biggest key to his rise over the last couple of years, though, is an increased commitment to defense. He may never be mistaken for a lockdown defender, but he has a 7-foot wingspan, has become a solid rebounder and at least brings some effort on that end now.


    6. Draymond Green (Player Option): Stock Steady

    Draymond Green's infamous preseason punch may be emblematic of the risk a team would run in signing him. His brashness has caused him to cross lines on more than one occasion, and at 32, his game doesn't make up for that as thoroughly as it once did.

    Still, Green has shot out of the gate in 2022-23 with All-NBA level defense, a career-high effective field-goal percentage and the playmaking that's made him one of the game's most unique point forwards for years.

    At the very least, he's showing he's worth some attention this summer, in spite of all the baggage that may come with him.

5. Jerami Grant: Stock Up

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    PORTLAND, OREGON - NOVEMBER 29: Jerami Grant #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Moda Center on November 29, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. The Los Angeles Clippers won 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
    Alika Jenner/Getty Images

    Jerami Grant's career is the NBA's version of the three bears. With the Denver Nuggets, he didn't feel he was doing enough. With the Detroit Pistons, he was probably stretched a bit thin.

    With the Portland Trail Blazers, Jerami Grant's role is just right, and he's playing perhaps the best basketball of his career within it.

    He's averaging 22.7 points and 2.8 threes while shooting 47.3 percent from deep. And during Damian Lillard's absence, he's shown an ability to scale his game closer to what it was in Detroit while still allowing Anfernee Simons to cook as necessary.

    He barely rebounds, and his playmaking numbers don't leap off the screen, but Grant will be 29 during this summer's free-agency period—right in the middle of his prime but not too late to improve upon those weaknesses.

    If he keeps playing the way he has so far this season, he'll be among the most sought-after forwards this offseason.

4. Kyrie Irving: Stock Down

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    BROOKLYN, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on November 30, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Kyrie Irving has a handful of things working against him right now (including, perhaps, himself).

    First, his averages for points, rebounds, assists, steals and threes are all down. After shooting 40.4 percent from deep over the six seasons before this one, he's at 32.8 percent in 2022-23.

    For a player just entering his 30s, this sort of statistical decline is noteworthy, but it could also be wiped out with a hot streak of five or six games. It's way too early to count that possibility out.

    The bigger concern for Irving has to be his availability. Because of various reasons, including injuries, Irving has appeared in fewer than half of his team's games since he joined the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the 2019-20 season.

    This past spring, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that Brooklyn was met with "crickets" when it gauged Irving's value on the trade market.

    Since then, he's been suspended by the Nets for "conduct detrimental to the team" for promoting an antisemitic film on social media and refusing to disavow antisemitism. And though he's playing now, it's hard to have any confidence that he'll stay on the floor for the remainder of this campaign (or large portions of his next contract).

    Still, when he's actually playing, few have the raw talent, playmaking and shotmaking ability and all-around offensive arsenal that Kyrie does. If he gets to around 60 games this season and has a couple of solid playoff performances, some front office will talk itself into signing him (and it might be Brooklyn's).

3. Kristaps Porziņģis (Player Option): Stock Up

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    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Washington Wizards talks with Anthony Gill #16 during a second half timeout against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Capital One Arena on November 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The baseline for Kristaps Porziņģis improving his value may have simply been staying healthy in 2022-23, and he's soaring past that right now.

    Porziņģis is averaging 21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, a career-high 2.5 assists, 2.1 threes and 1.5 blocks while shooting 36.4 percent from deep.

    The Washington Wizards are plus-3.7 points per 100 possessions with Porziņģis on the floor and minus-8.1 without him.

    For what feels like the first time since an injury cut short his lone All-Star campaign in 2017-18, Porziņģis is living up to the vision many had of him when he entered the league.

    More than just a stretch big, he's also scoring in the post and from the mid-range. And his shot-blocking is translating to a positive impact on defense.

2. Khris Middleton (Player Option): Stock Steady

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 02: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Fiserv Forum on December 02, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    A left wrist surgery delayed Khris Middleton's season debut till this past Friday, when the Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, and it looked like he hadn't really missed a beat.

    Middleton only played 27 minutes, but he went 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from three, totaling 17 points and seven assists.

    If that's a sign that Middleton will maintain the remarkable consistency with which he's played since the start of 2017-18, he'll surely be among this summer's most coveted wings (assuming he declines his $40.4 million player option).

    During the aforementioned stretch, Middleton is at 19.9 points, 4.7 assists and 2.2 threes per game, with a 38.7 three-point percentage.

    Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are the only other players in league history to log 3,000-plus minutes and match or exceed each of those marks during a six-year span.

1. James Harden (Player Option): Stock Down

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 13: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on against the Utah Jazz at the Wells Fargo Center on November 13, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Injuries (including the foot tendon strain currently sidelining him), age (he turns 34 this summer) and a below-average three-point percentage over the last four seasons (and a well-below average mark during the last two years) are all contributing to a bit of a slide for James Harden's free-agency stock.

    The eye test generally suggests he doesn't have the same off-the-dribble burst he once had either. That's not surprising for someone who's been in the NBA since 2009, but it's also not something teams looking to sign him will ignore.

    Harden still hangs on to the top spot, though, thanks to his craft and experience as a playmaker and shot creator.

    His teams have scored more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in each of his NBA campaigns, and that's remained true for the slowed-down, battering-ram version of Harden.

    Players who churn out 20-10 double-doubles with the ease that Harden still does are rare. There isn't another one in this free-agency class. If he hits the market, he'll have serious suitors, despite the aforementioned concerns.

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