NBA Free Agents Who Could Earn Big Paydays in 2017 Postseason
Certain NBA players have more at stake during the playoffs than championship pipe dreams and bragging rights.
Like money, for instance.
Free agency is simple for players with defined values. Superstars are guaranteed max contracts. Even the most unfathomably unimpressive postseasons won't change what we think about a Stephen Curry or Chris Paul.
The process is more complicated for those who aren't ascribed a clear net worth—who exist in a grayer area. They need every opportunity to drum up interest. Strong performances during the playoffs, in front of a national audience, can add millions to the bottom line of their next contract.
Does Luol Deng coax $72 million out of the Los Angeles Lakers last summer if he doesn't go boom during the Miami Heat's 14-game playoff safari? Would the Brooklyn Nets have hurled almost $75 million at Allen Crabbe, and would the Portland Trail Blazers have matched, if he didn't bring his 40-plus percent three-point stroke with him to the 2016 postseason?
For our purposes, the livelihoods of these deals aren't totally tied to the postseason. These players, who would be headed to the Association's spring dance as of April 3, are looking to build upon impactful regular-season resumes.
They have done enough up until now to assure themselves substantial raises, but their ability to replicate that production in the playoffs will determine just how much.
Honorable "Huge Paydays Are Coming No Matter What" Exclusions
JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies (restricted)
Shoot almost 38 percent on three-pointers? Check.
Switch defensive assignments with ease? Check.
Scrap on the defensive glass, suffocate one-on-one scorers and play hard, on every possession, without demanding a certain number of offensive touches? Check, check and check.
Regardless of what happens to the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs, Green could find himself netting short-term max money or a lucrative sum close to it.
James Johnson, Miami Heat
There's almost nothing James Johnson can do on the court during the playoffs to jeopardize his offseason price tag. He's the Heat's Draymond Green, with the production to prove it.
Three other players are averaging at least 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks per 100 possessions: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Al Horford. At 30, this isn't enough for Johnson to wander into the max-contract discussion—not even on the super-short-term scale. But he shouldn't have any problems dragging his yearly salary into deep eight-figure territory.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder (restricted)
If you're in the market for "Definitely Won't Win But Will Steal Some Votes" Defensive Player of the Year candidates, look no further than Andre Roberson. As Michael Pina wrote for Vice Sports:
The physical toll of what he does is obvious. Roberson treats every possession like a football snap: He plays through the whistle with more energy than anyone else can, or should. He swoops in to tag rolling bigs, then sprints out to the perimeter with his hand high and his legs positioned to contest a shot or cut off a drive.
Roberson is too slippery for screens, too disciplined for pump fakes and too determined to give up even in the rare instance where his man skates ahead by half a step.
Roberson would be a max-contract shoo-in if he could make threes. Except, he can't make threes. He's barely putting down 25 percent of his threebies for the season and doesn't improve much when he's left wide-open. He's been better on long-range gimmes since the trade deadline (35.7 percent), but that's not a big enough sample to reinvent perception.
Fortunately, Roberson has been terrifying opponents on defense long enough. At least one humongous offer sheet will find him this summer no matter what.
Fringe Playoff Case: C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers (Player Option)
C.J. Miles cannot decline his $4.8 million player option fast enough.
At a time when NBA offenses are launching more threes than ever, he's one of the best marksmen in the game. He has made more treys than Devin Booker and Otto Porter in significantly less playing time, and CJ McCollum, J.J. Redick and Klay Thompson are the only other players draining more than 41 percent of their triples on at least 350 attempts.
Of the 231 other snipers who have churned through at least 75 spot-up touches, not one is averaging more points per possession.
Combine this complementary flame-throwing with Miles' ability to switch on defense, and he fits just about anywhere. He sometimes gets roasted when guarding power forwards, but the fact that a head coach can stash a 6'6" wing on 4s without committing total self-sabotage is splendid. And he'll find ways to keep pace with point guards when left on an island.
As of now, even reaching the playoffs will be an accomplishment for the Indiana Pacers. They've dropped to ninth place in the Eastern Conference after losing 16 of their last 24 games.
Miles isn't someone they can depend on to key a turnaround. The offense only gets slightly better with him on the court during this stretch, while the defense slips a tick. He's neither a max nor near-max player.
Give him an extra four or more games, though, and Miles may make enough of an impact in the NBA's pressure-cooker to triple or quadruple his yearly salary.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $13-15 million
Dewayne Dedmon, San Antonio Spurs (Player Option)
Dewayne Dedmon is going to cost the San Antonio Spurs a pretty penny once he, presumably, opts out of his contract. He isn't re-signing at the non-Bird rights rate. They'll have to dip into cap space if the intention is to keep him.
That cost will skyrocket if Dedmon has a strong postseason. And the Spurs need him to have a strong postseason. Consider the following Twitter thread about San Antonio's playoff kryptonite in recent years, inspired by a March 29 collapse to the Golden State Warriors, from Spurs aficionado Matthew Tynan:
Guys, I'm not saying the Spurs won't make adjustments. I'm not saying this is the total indicator of the Spurs' future success. But weaknesses of this iteration of the Spurs we've seen the last few years in the playoffs have reared their head in the last 24 minutes. Spurs have broken down offensively against athletic teams since their '14 title. And when that happens, they don't get to set up their defense because the other team doesn't have to take the ball out of the basket. It's a major issue.
Dedmon isn't going to remedy a stalled offense. He does a good job setting screens, rolling toward the rim and positioning himself in a way that doesn't crimp spacing. But he is the least offensively skilled of San Antonio's bigs.
He's also one of the most athletic towers the Spurs have ever employed. They need the versatility he provides on defense as that rim protector who can switch on a whim.
Opponents are shooting 7-of-40 (17.5 percent) against Dedmon in isolation. Though the offense craters when he's the lone tower on the floor, those lineups, with Kawhi Leonard at the 4, are the Spurs' best shot at countering punches from more explosive squads.
If they adequately rival, or even beat, a postseason foe like the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder or Warriors, it's most likely in large part due to Dedmon's free-agency stock surging further.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $10-12 million
Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks (Restricted)
Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the lone offensive bright spots, sometimes more so than Paul Millsap, who hasn't played since March 16 while dealing with a left knee injury. Millsap jostles for position with Dwight Howard more than he ever did with Al Horford, and the chemistry with Dennis Schroder just isn't there. He's shooting under 30 percent off the point man's passes.
In the absence of playmaking depth behind Schroder, the Hawks have turned Hardaway loose as a quasi-combo guard. He runs about the same number of pick-and-rolls per game as Jamal Murray and Marcus Smart, and no Hawks player has added more total value to the offensive cause, according to NBA Math.
Stir in Hardaway's career-best 14.2 points per game and 35.3 percent shooting from downtown, and his value on the restricted free-agent market is tough to peg. How handsomely do you reward a standout offensive player repping one of the league's cruddiest scoring machines?
This is also Hardaway's chance to reinforce, on a national stage, his defensive progression. His off-ball pestering has improved a great deal, and he's held opponents to 11-of-42 shooting in isolations (26.2 percent).
Sussing out immodest eight-figure-per-year deals will become much easier if Hardaway's production translates to the playoffs. Expectations for the Hawks are dwindling in quality. Any fight they show, even in a series loss, would be largely owed to him and his burgeoning three-and-D status.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $14-$16 million
Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (Restricted)
Joe Ingles is one of the Utah Jazz's most important players.
Don't bother doubling back. You read that correctly. He isn't a feel-good afterthought or a pleasantly surprising bit piece. The Jazz need him. Every team needs a player like him.
With the exception of his Boris Diaw-like speed and advanced age (29), Ingles has turned into the prototypical wing—someone able to stroke threes, keep the ball moving and switch across multiple defensive assignments.
Utah doesn't hesitate to trot out Ingles as its de facto quarterback. He's shooting better than 44 percent from three-point land on looks that don't involve his holding the ball; more than 80 percent of his deep balls have come off assists. And he's defending everyone from guards and wings to power forwards.
Only three players, aside from Ingles, are shooting over 40 percent from long range while averaging at least five assists and 2.5 steals per 100 possessions: Malcolm Brogdon (which, oh my), Mike Conley and Chris Paul. That's impossibly good company, even when you're playing less than anyone else.
Ingles is already one of the league's few restricted free-agent risks. The Jazz (probably) have to pay Gordon Hayward and George Hill. Dante Exum and Rodney Hood are up for extensions. That creates an opportunity for outside suitors to swoop in with aggressive, hard-to-match offers.
Just how aggressive those overtures will be is up in the air. But they're coming. And the better "Jingles" plays for the duration of the Jazz's postseason push, the higher his already sneaky-high price tag will soar.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $12-14 million
Luc Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers (Player Option)
Luc Mbah a Moute is supposed to be the obligatory novelty inside the Los Angeles Clippers' starting lineup. They can't deploy stars at every position. They need a fifth body, preferably with a defensive conscience. So, they have him.
But Mbah a Moute has become so much more.
His defense isn't a revelation. He grinds to no end and switches more than any of the Clippers' other wings. He doesn't get cooked in one-on-one situations, holds his own when defending on the block and erases the more-than-occasional pick-and-roll. This is nothing new.
It's his offensive clout that's foreign. The Clippers have empowered him to be more active, and he's pounced at the opportunity.
Mbah a Moute is shooting nearly 40 percent on almost twice as many three-point attempts as his career average. He's cycling through double the number of drives as well, on which he's shooting 45.6 percent—noticeably higher than the 39.1 percent success rate he posted last season.
"He puts so much energy and effort in defensively," Blake Griffin said, per the Los Angeles Times' Jesse Dougherty. "That's tough to do. It's not an easy thing to play both ends as hard as he does. So just giving him the confidence to shoot, drive, he's been great for us. Just adding another threat."
Teams are less inclined to overpay the fifth (or, really, seventh) options from star-packed squads—especially when, like Mbah a Moute, they're on the wrong side of 30. But if he maintains his offensive efficiency while making life hell on Gordon Hayward in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers will have an expensive, likely unaffordable exception on their hands.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $9-11 million
Tony Snell, Milwaukee Bucks (Restricted)
Tony Snell's trip into restricted free agency is going to be fascinating—even more so if he ends up shining during the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff trek.
Teams go bonkers for plug-and-play wings who shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range and close to 70 percent around the rim. Snell has almost entirely eliminated ugly long twos from his repertoire, and his efficiency off the bounce has exploded in a more defined, and at times limited, offensive role.
Quantifying his defensive value is hard. Metrics don't love him, but the Bucks do.
"He's getting the opportunity to play, and he's taken full advantage of that," head coach Jason Kidd said, per the Journal Sentinel's Matt Velazquez. "He enjoys playing both ends of the floor. If you ask Khris [Middleton] or any of our guys in the locker room, they appreciate what Tony brings to the table."
Milwaukee treats Snell like an everythingman. He has defended more pick-and-roll ball-handlers than any non-point guard on the roster, and more isolation possessions than Giannis Antetokounmpo. But he grades out as below average in pretty much every statistical category that matters, and the Bucks defense improves by nearly six points per 100 possessions without him.
Nothing has changed since Middleton's return. Snell's assignments aren't as expansive, and the results remain mixed. Milwaukee is getting blasted whenever he shares the court with Antetokounmpo and Middleton.
If the Bucks win a playoff series with Snell shooting 40 percent from different area codes while maintaining maximum effort on defense, the other metrics won't matter. If the numbers begin to support his engagement level, even better.
Basically, as long as Snell proves his regular-season showing translates to the postseason, he'll solidify his case for bigger-money offer sheets.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $11-13 million
Dion Waiters, Miami Heat (Player Option)
Dion Waiters bet on himself last summer when he signed a below-market deal with the Heat. That wager, questioned by almost anyone with a pulse, is going to pay off no matter what.
Still, doubts remain, not the least of which pertains to an ankle issue that's threatening to end Waiters' regular season. He suffered the injury during a March 17 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami doesn't have a timetable for his return.
"The swelling has gone down considerably," head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters March 31. "He's still going through the process of more mobility and movement."
It's important Waiters gets back on the floor to validate both his health—he's injured his left ankle twice this season—and career-best performance.
There is plenty of chucker left in the 25-year-old combo guard. More than one-fifth of his shot attempts are long twos. That's much too high, but it's also a personal low. He has never shot better from beyond the arc or been a more deferential attacker.
Eight other players are averaging more than 15 points and four assists per game while shooting north of 39 percent from deep. All of them would command top dollar if they reached the open market today: Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Goran Dragic, George Hill, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul and Kemba Walker.
Waiters has secured himself a ritzy deal. But a splashy (and healthy) playoff display would go a long way toward boosting his already-rising value.
Projected Annual Salary Ceiling: $16-18 million