Ranking the NBA's Top 50 Free Agents This Summer

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2017

Ranking the NBA's Top 50 Free Agents This Summer

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    End of the NBA's regular season got you down? Obviously not. Because that means playoffs! And draft stuff! Plus more playoffs!

    It also means extra time should be devoted to free agency. About half the league is already in summertime mode anyway, and now there's (nearly) an entire regular season's worth of samples we can use to pass judgment.

    You see where this is going.

    Free-agent rankings will focus largely on this season's performances. But a significant aspect of every player's placement will take into account the immediate future—how well we expect them to perform next season and slightly beyond.

    Injuries, age, play styles and extended slumps all matter. If someone is being dragged down or propped up due to any of those factors, it'll be made clear. Team options (Dirk Nowitzki) and non-guaranteed salaries (Boris Diaw) are not eligible for consideration. We're interested only in those with expiring contracts or who have the ability to reach free agency by their own hand.

    Claiming any spot on this list is an achievement. Fifty is a big number, but there are a lot more free agents. Believe that. Embrace it. Most of all, use it to neutralize any resentment harbored for those you view as criminally underrated or overrated.

Just Missed the Cut

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    Aron Baynes, Detroit Pistons (player option): He gets rebounds and can finish out of the pick-and-roll but doesn't do enough other things on offense to remain in the game. Detroit Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy will miss him

    Vince Carter, Memphis Grizzlies: He's been the Memphis Grizzlies' best wing at 40 years old. Does this say more about him or the Grizzlies' other wings?

    Ian Clark, Golden State Warriors: Clark's an official "possibly going to get paid more than we think because he's had good moments on a really good team" candidate.

    Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta Hawks: There is an alternate universe in which he regularly tries as hard as Ryan Anderson and ends up being better. 

    Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings (restricted): Ray Allen minus-2.0 is hitting a career-high 38.8 percent of his triples. Please, oh please, basketball gods let him wind up on a different team this summer.

    Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves (restricted): Imagine if he passed. And played consistent defense. And shot at above-average clips from long range for more than weeks at a time.

    Mike Muscala, Atlanta Hawks: Probably No. 51 on this list. Or 52. Possibly 53. Either way, he needs more minutes so we can fully buy into his ceiling as a floor-spacing 5 with a defensive conscience.

    Nene, Houston Rockets: Force Nene to play for anyone other than Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni, and he's probably not as electric. Still, if he keeps playing for Pringles: Whoa.

    Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: Old Z-Bo isn't bad. He's pretty good. But he hasn't progressed as a three-point shooter and doesn't leave a large enough dent on defense to warrant a prominent role into his twilight.

    Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs (restricted): He's already there on defense, but shooting under 30 percent from deep as a member of the San Antonio Spurs sounds all sorts of alarms.

    David West, Golden State Warriors: Hasn't missed a long two since roughly 2005.

    Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers (player option): Let's see him shoot 40.4 percent from three in consecutive seasons before we jump on this bandwagon.

50. Justin Holiday, New York Knicks

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    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $1,015,696

    Oh, with all the New York Knicks have done wrong, they must have done something right....to deserve Justin Holiday...and top-five home attendance...every night.

    Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses" was just related to basketball. That just happened. That's what the Knicks' season has come to. And no, they didn't do anything to deserve Holiday. They lucked into him as part of the Derrick Rose trade. He was the throw-in who turned out to be the real prize.

    Holiday has improved hs three-point percentage in each of his first four seasons. He can run some pick-and-roll and, on some nights, looks the part of a switchy defender. He needs direction in one-on-one situations, but New York isn't the one to give it to him. For now, he gets by on wingspan and long strides—both of which help him close out on shooters and navigate hostile screeners.

    Jonathon Simmons has a case to dethrone Holiday. Both seem to be the silhouette of a three-and-D performer. As of now, Holiday is closer on defense than Simmons is on offense.

49. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks

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    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $21,323,252

    Derrick Rose averaged 18 points per game before suffering the torn left meniscus that ended his season. We get it. He also tore his freaking meniscus. Slotting him any higher is irresponsible when he's trying to come back from yet another knee injury.

    Especially when his most valuable skill—scoring—is overblown.

    Rose doesn't shoot threes. He isn't a noteworthy setup man. His teammates don't feed off him. His defense is a disaster. He drives, and he scores, and not efficiently.

    Eighty-six players have attempted at least 250 shots inside the restricted area. Rose's 54.7 percent clip ranks 81st.  

    All hope for Rose's game isn't irreversibly lost. The Knicks offense was statistically at its best with him on the floor (although that's not saying much). Put him on a team that doesn't have him jostling for touches with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, and the optics on him will brighten up.

    But he can't keep trying to be the player he used to be. It's not working, and it never will.

48. Omri Casspi, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,148,524

    Omri Casspi is shooting under 12 percent from downtown since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves in late March. The three-ball is supposed to be his bread and butter, so this isn't ideal. But that's Casspi's season in a nutshell.

    First, he couldn't get a consistent role in Sacramento. Then, upon being dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans, he broke his thumb. Now, he's playing for a team that places dead last in three-point volume.

    Finding another freewheeling offense over the offseason will help Casspi regain the form he held in 2015-16, when he knocked down more than 40 percent of his threes while playing predominantly at the 4. Glimpses of that player returned this season before he left Sacramento. 

    Amid scant volume during a 10-game stretch at the end of November into December, Casspi dropped in 47.1 percent of his threes. He can still get the job done as a stretch 4. He just needs to find a team that's both willing and knows how to use him.

47. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Age: 35

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,505,618

    Tony Allen is a defensive menace, but he isn't much else.

    Defenders forget about Allen without consequence. He's shooting under 28 percent from three and isn't above passing up open jumpers. He gets looks around the basket within the Grizzlies offense, but he's not a dependable finisher. Of the 63 players who have shot 300 or more times inside five feet of the hoop, his field-goal percentage is second-to-last (51.8).

    Allen still contributes enough on defense to offset his offensive deficit, and Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale does a nice job putting him in lineups that mask his struggles. But he's 35. That won't last much longer. Memphis is already a defensive wash without him.

    Some teams have room for stark offensive liabilities. The Grizzlies aren't one of them.

46. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings

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    Age: 30 

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $13,333,333

    Let's not talk about where Rudy Gay would have fallen if we was healthy. It's too depressing. Just know it's much higher.

    Achilles injuries alter careers. And they can most definitely ruin careers. Gay is in iffy territory. He's on the wrong side of 30 and is used to creating a lot of his own offense. He's apparently ahead of schedule in his rehab, but as of March, he didn't know whether he'd opt out of his contract, per CSN Bay Area's James Ham.

    Gay has the momentum necessary to take the plunge into free agency. Before exiting for the season, he was shooting 37.2 percent from deep, making some nice passes on the move and putting in work on defense

    Close to one-quarter of Gay's attempts were also coming as spot-up looks, his most since at least 2013-14. He's now shown he can dance between grinding out his own points and complementing those around him. There will be teams ready to take a multiyear flier on a potentially impactful catch-and-shoot launchpad. 

    Those same teams just have to decide if Gay has enough vim in his legs to tread water on defense—even if it's as a full-time 4 they plan to hide on opponents' slowest offensive options.

45. Bojan Bogdanovic, Washington Wizards

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    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,730,653

    Bojan Bogdanovic can be a finishing touch for a very specific team.

    The Washington Wizards aren't it.

    Bogdanovic can be a mesmerizing offensive gizmo. He's extremely confident putting the ball on the floor, but learning too much self-sufficiency can be detrimental. More than 40 percent of his looks come as spot-up threes with Washington, on which he's shooting 37 percent.

    But then you get to the defensive side. Bogdanovic has more holes in his stances than Connect Four. He grades out as this season's ninth-worst defender, according to NBA Math.

    Using him as a small-ball 4 and affixing him to a sturdier combo wing changes nothing. Anytime the Wizards play him with Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, John Wall and one of Otto Porter Jr. or Kelly Oubre Jr., they register a league-worst defensive rating. They've carved out limited success when it's Markieff Morris next to him, but the resulting lineup hasn't played in meaningful games. 

    Whatever team signs Bogdanovic this summer—and it probably won't be the Wizards with Porter speeding toward max money—needs to make sure he's surrounded by three strong defenders at all times.

44. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

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    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $10,661,286

    Writing "Sacramento Kings" next to Tyreke Evans' name feels like a blast-from-the-past typo almost two months after his return. Talking about his free agency is equally uncomfortable.

    Evans is one of the hardest players to project right now. Vault him up 10 spots, and it'd be tough to argue. Leave him out of the top 50 altogether, and there wouldn't be an uproar. That's what happens when you play in fewer than 70 games over the course of two seasons.

    Will his surgically repaired right knee hold up? We can't say for sure. But he is shooting nearly 44 percent from long distance since arriving in Sacramento, defends across multiple positions and can conduct the offense as an oversized point guard.

    If he remains healthy and continues his upward trajectory as a spot-up lurker, he'll have a bigger-than-expected impact on his next team.

43. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

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    Age: 39

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $14,000,000

    Look, this hurts me just as much as you. Manu Ginobili should never be worse than 15th on any list. But he's turning 40 in July. Making the cut at all is an achievement.

    And it's not a legacy one.

    Ginobili is ancient by basketball standards, but he zooms up and down the floor like someone 10 to 12 years his junior. He's shooting under 40 percent from the field but downing more than 39 percent of his threes. He tries on defense, sees around corners when attacking off the dribble and is the spirit anchor for what is the NBA's best bench mob by a sizable margin.

    If Ginobili wants to keep playing, the Spurs will want him. Other teams, too. The dude can still ball.

    (P.S. If you think sliding Ginobili into the top 10 will convince him to play another year, please email me at ManuIsBetterThanYouThinkForeverAndEver@ButIMNotBiased.net.)

42. Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings

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    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,229,454

    Darren Collison isn't an offensive savior. He can put up numbers on a bad team, like the Kings, but he's a backup long term.

    Some teams will look at him to fill temporary—albeit for potentially years-long stretches—starting positions. Sacramento might even be one of them. If he finds an offense in need of a placeholder floor general—the Knicks are usually pretty desperate—it'll get him a fatter salary over a span of two or three years.

    Wherever Collison lands, in whatever role he plays, his speed and shooting can be offensive boons. He knows how to run a functional pick-and-roll, will hover around 60 percent shooting near the rim and has cleared 40 percent success rates from deep in each of the last two seasons.

    Get him next to a higher-end, playmaking wing with whom he can trade off ball-handling duties, and the offense will purr. Just don't count on his 6'0" frame making the right defensive waves.

41. Tony Snell, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $2,368,327

    So the Milwaukee Bucks won that Michael Carter-Williams trade, huh?

    Tony Snell has a long way to go before he's a complete NBA player. You just wouldn't know it by listening to the Bucks chirp his praises.

    "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."

    The eye test sees Snell as an average defender with the tools to get better. The numbers tell a different tale. Milwaukee allows almost five fewer points per 100 possessions when he's on the pine.

    To Snell's credit, he's ferrying a substantial load. Kidd has him defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, and he was the Bucks' go-to iso stopper before Middleton rejoined the rotation. His effort will earn him a large sum of money on its own. 

    And his 40 percent three-point clip will help him get near or into eight-figures-a-year territory.

40. Taj Gibson, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Age: 31

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $8,950,000

    Hardwood bully for sale!

    Taj Gibson doesn't leave a positive dent on the offensive end. Asking him to shoot outside the paint is a bad idea, and he's not a rim-runner who'll leave a trail of bruised bodies and egos en route to gimmes at the basket.

    But Gibson will fight for you on defense and boxouts. He's a pest under the backboard even when he isn't grabbing rebounds. He is sixth in contested offensive rebounding percentage among the 150-plus players clearing 25 minutes per game, trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez and Jonas Valanciunas.

    Although his paint protection has been shaky this season, Gibson, at 6'9", can play center. That's probably where his everyday future lies unless he develops an outside shot or does a better job pursuing springy 4s.

    No matter where he plays, Gibson will have a love-hate relationship with numbers. Some metrics will adore him, others won't. The box score won't always feel his bulldozing grit. But you better believe those he plays against will.

39. Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $17,145,838

    Greg Monroe has a tough decision on his hands. He most definitely signed his three-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015 intending to opt out, but the NBA landscape has changed since then.

    Plodding bigs who don't shoot threes or excel as rim protectors no longer have a definitive place. He isn't matching next year's $17.9 million salary on the open market.

    But he's also found a way to remain valuable by embracing a role off the Bucks bench. His passing is as pretty as ever, and he does enough damage as a screen-and-roll brute to unclog the paint for Milwaukee's wings.

    While he'll never be an A-plus shot-blocker, Monroe is evading liability status. Rival back-to-the-basket scorers are shooting under 33 percent against him, and he's hounding players on the catch, before they get set enough to fire away or put the ball on the floor. He leads all Bucks rotation staples in steals per 100 possessions.

    This shift in defensive activity won't come close to making Monroe a max player. But it shouldn't take him more than two seasons to out-earn next year's salary. The promise of a longer deal might convince him to opt out as originally expected.

38. Kyle Korver, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Age: 36

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,239,437

    Is this low? It feels low. It might be low. But we have to assume Kyle Korver is human.

    It's only going to get harder to hide him on defense. He can glue himself to stand-alone chuckers and is smart about guarding around screens, but you don't want him switching or defending guys off the bounce. 

    Not that this is particularly damning. It's not. We're talking about Korver. Kyle Korver.

    The human flamethrower is burying 45 percent of his triples—a league-leading mark for the third time in four seasons. (Holy wow.) And he is, somehow, even scarier off the catch. 

    More than 300 players have churned through at least 25 spot-up touches; Korver leads the pack in points per possession with 1.55. (Triple-double holy wow.) This brand of lethality ages well, as he's already shown, and won't soon fade if he's playing for a team that isn't making him run through the ringer to get his shots.

37. Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors

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    Age: 31

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,782,450

    Shaun Livingston rates as the Golden State Warriors' least valuable player, according to NBA Math's Total Points Added. That's not surprising, given he's essentially the anti-Warrior on offense.

    He doesn't shoot threes, while nearly half his field-goal attempts come as mid-range jumpers. The ball, ideally, needs to be in his hands for maximum impact, and Golden State doesn't have as many touches to go around with Kevin Durant in the fold.

    Watch a game, though, and you'll feel Livingston's performance. He is a quality distributor and scorer out of the pick-and-roll and hardly ever misses at the rim. Of the 340-something players to receive at least 50 looks inside five feet of the hoop, only Durant scores with better accuracy.

    And what other point guard, starter or reserve, can defend small forwards, along with some tinier 4s? 

    Livingston needn't drain threes to be an asset. He won't steer a top-tier offense as the No. 1 point guard, but he's not going to want for immodest contract offers, either.

36. Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics

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    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $12,000,000

    Amir Johnson's free agency will be fascinating. He's like a baby unicorn, only he's almost 30, and no one really talks about him.

    Some of that's on the Boston Celtics. They're too damn deep. Johnson wasn't even playing 20 minutes per game before the All-Star break. And while his court time perked up after, there's not a lot of room for him to shine. A couple of Boston's small-ball lineups have been absolute terrors, and he's competing for spin with Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk. 

    That doesn't take away from what Johnson is doing. He's an above-average rim protector who's shooting better than 60 percent as the pick-and-roll slasher. That's everything teams want from a big who's not launching threes.

    Except, Johnson is jacking treys—not a bunch, but enough to draw opposing bigs out of the paint. And he's putting down nearly 40 percent of those looks amid near-career-high volume.

    Stashing the 6'9" Johnson at the 5 full time won't be an option for most teams. He'll need a stronger, physical rebounding 4 by his side. But he can see burn as a stretch center—because, at this point, he's more Serge Ibaka than Taj Gibson.

35. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs

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    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,578,947

    Patty Mills will never be a defensive asset. Guys who barely stand 6'0" are always at a disadvantage. Mills can hold his own better than Tony Parker these days, but that's not saying much. You still have to hide him, which isn't possible 100 percent of time.

    Fortunately for Mills, and his next paycheck, he gets buckets. And drops dimes.

    Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Goran Dragic, Kyrie Irving Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul are the only other players clearing 20 points and eight assists per 100 possessions while knocking down more than 40 percent of their three-point attempts. Mills posts the second-highest long-range clip of the group, behind only Lowry, and has danced between on-ball and off-ball work better than at any other point in his career.

    Questions about whether Mills can be the starting floor general for a quality offense still exist, but they're dwindling in number. He doesn't get tunnel vision when attacking off the bounce, and his decision-making within pick-and-rolls, though at times sloppy, is not unpolished.

    Oh, and Kawhi Leonard is the only member of the Spurs who has contributed more to the offensive cause, per NBA Math. If Mills doesn't get an opportunity to run the show in black and silver after this season, a spot will be waiting for him elsewhere.

34. Dion Waiters, Miami Heat

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    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Player Option

    2016-17 Salary: $2,898,000

    Lower-than-expected salary-cap projections won't prevent Dion Waiters from getting cha-ching paid this summer. He will wrap the regular season with career highs basically across the board and has never done a better job playing off his teammates.

    About one-quarter of his attempts since joining the Miami Heat come off the catch. He operated off the ball more with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the circumstances were different. He doesn't have two top-seven stars in Miami displacing him from the rock by default.

    The Heat allow him to shape-shift, which he's done without running astray. Only Goran Dragic is averaging more assists per 100 possessions for the Heat. 

    Make no mistake, there's plenty of chucker left in Waiters. Too many of his shots are long twos, and ill-advised heat checks aren't going anywhere. Factor in this season's ankle injuries, and he remains a tough player to project; there may not be a better fit for him outside Miami.

33. Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets

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    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $2,328,530

    Mason Plumlee needs the opportunity to play as a solo big man. He spent a lot of time beside other skyscrapers with the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Denver Nuggets won't give up on using him next to Nikola Jokic.

    Dual-tower lineups don't pose any offensive problems for Plumlee. He can make it work even with non-shooting plodders. Defenses have to respect his passing from anywhere on the court, and he turns himself into a split-second floor-spacer with well-placed screen for ball-handlers.

    Things are more awkward on the less glamorous end. Plumlee gets the power forward assignments when playing with another big. That's fine for short bursts but not protracted stretches—and most certainly not when the opposing 4 is a glorified wing.

    Turn Plumlee loose as the lone man in the middle, and he's more in his element. The rim protection will suffer, but his explosion gives him a decided edge over most other centers. He'll hoard rebounds and stamp out enough cutters to get by, all while dropping off passes, setting picks and finishing around the rim on offense.

32. Dewayne Dedmon, San Antonio Spurs

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    Age: 27 

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $2,898,000

    Anytime the Spurs put someone on the map, the outside world wonders whether he's a system player. Kawhi Leonard is only now moving beyond that oft-lazy criticism.

    Dewayne Dedmon will enter free agency facing the same stereotype, but it can drive down his stock only so much. It's too easy to see how he could thrive on another team, given the chance, as a serial-screen-setting defensive anchor.

    Opponents are shooting under 44 percent against Dedmon at the rim, a feat matched by just three other players who have contested 300 or more point-blank attempts: Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge. And Dedmon isn't capitalizing on a stationary role. He's switched onto his fair share of iso scorers. They fail to shoot 21 percent against him.

    Strong inside-out defense translates to any team. Dedmon is only a wild card on offense. He isn't a consistent option outside the restricted area and can be ignored on the perimeter when he's not knifing toward the rim. The Spurs offense bogs down with him on the floor, particularly when he's at the center of four-out lineups.

    Teams that don't depend on methodical half-court sets won't flinch at this hiccup. Dedmon is shooting north of 70 percent as the roll man. That by itself gives him the chops to be an offensive plus.

31. Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks

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    Age: 32

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,850,000

    Squeezing a soon-to-be 33-year-old wing into the top 31 feels like a stretch. But then you watch Thabo Sefolosha, and you see the defensive assignments he tackles—wings often younger and more explosive than him.

    Then, promptly after that, you fall in love.

    He's a top-20 defensive stopper, according to NBA Math's defensive points saved.

    Sefolosha's three-point splits can get funky, but he's shooting 35 percent within an offense that isn't exceptional at spacing the floor. Toss him into a rangier system, and his conversion rate will spike.

    Heck, if not for recurring groin injuries—and a pre-1985 birthdate—Sefolosha would effortlessly sneak into the top 25.

30. Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs

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    Age: 36

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $15,500,000

    Just when you thought Twilight Pau Gasol hit his ceiling, he starts shooting threes in career-high volume.

    "I'm trying to survive in this league," he said of his burgeoning love affair with the long ball, per Project Spurs' Paul Garcia.

    Props to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich for giving Gasol the green light. His troops don't rip a ton of threes relative to the field. Of course, when your 7-foot high-rise is about to become the fourth player in league history to shoot better than 50 percent on between 100 and 150 outside missiles, you don't have a choice in the matter.

    In addition to plopping in deep shots, Gasol remains a good stationary rim protector, fantastic passer and general offensive dream. He'd crack the top 20 if he was younger than 72 in NBA years, or if he maintained the foot speed necessary to guarantee survival within another team's defensive schemes.

    Don't worry about his placement, though. It's unlikely he walks away from a $16.2 million payday. (If he does, be sure to have your custom-made Jrue Holiday or Chris Paul Spurs jersey overnighted.)

29. PJ Tucker, Toronto Raptors

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    Age: 31

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,300,000

    What's better than a resourceful three-and-D technician who glues himself to top-of-the-line scorers like a Stage 5 Clinger?

    Someone who revels in being pigeonholed to this specialty.

    "That's why I got back in the league and have been so successful because I figured out that role and learned how to play that role and got better and better in affecting the game in my role," PJ Tucker said, per Sportsnet's Michael Grange. "Mine has been playing defense and shooting threes and I've just kind of cultivated that little niche, you know?"

    Tucker's accuracy from beyond the arc hasn't been the best in recent years, but he's shooting better than 40 percent since joining the Toronto Raptors in February. And he's a huge part of the team's defensive turnaround. The Raptors are third in points allowed per 100 possessions this side of the trade deadline and get even stingier with him in the lineup.

    Toronto is the exact type of squad for which Tucker can do the most damage—a contender that rewards his staunch defensive stands with wide-open bunnies. Expect many of the Raptors' peers to hit him up over the summer.

28. Luc Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Age: 30

    Free-Agency Status: Player Option

    2016-17 Salary: $2,203,000

    Luc Mbah a Moute is having one of the best seasons nobody's talking about. That's part of his job description—to fly under the radar. 

    Mbah a Moute is the fifth option within the Los Angeles Clippers' starting five, and there's nary a lineup in which he's more than a No. 3 or No. 4. He's in the rotation to complement the stars—to dead-eye threes and inject energy into the defense.

    Mission accomplished.

    Pick-and-roll ball-handlers barely shoot 35 percent with Mbah a Moute on their case, and he's limiting opponents to a sub-31 percent clip in one-on-one situations. His three-point efficiency has dipped recently, but he's shooting 38.3 percent from there. Plus, he's diversifying Los Angeles' offense by attacking with more frequency and poise off the bounce.

    All of which is awesome for the Clippers. Right now. This summer, when he's up for grabs and they only own his Early Bird rights? Not so much.

27. Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 35

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $23,200,000

    Dwyane Wade's market appeal is in an awkward place. Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul are the only other players over 30 collecting at least 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game, but the Chicago Bulls improve on both ends of court per 100 possessions when Wade is out of the game.

    Alex Novick went a bit deeper on this subject for Sporting News:

    The Bulls were a straight-up awful shooting team before Wade got hurt, sitting dead last in the NBA with a 32.4 3-point percentage. Since the future Hall of Famer went down, they have taken more 3-point attempts — over four per game more — and have shot a red-hot 38.7 percent, good for sixth in the league.

    This is partially due to increased sharing of the ball. Chicago ranked 18th with 21.8 assists per game prior to Wade’s injury; over the last 11 games, they’ve upped that total roughly five assists per contest, sitting at third in the NBA over that span.

    Let's be clear: Wade isn't the Bulls' biggest problem. They have too many other ball-dominators, from Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, to Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant.

    Yank a couple of non-stars from the roster, and there's a blueprint for Butler and Wade to coexist in a half-functioning offense. But guys who don't excel playing off the rock are difficult to fit. Wade isn't a serious threat on standstill triples, and his efficiency at the rim has hit rock bottom. His opting out of his deal will say more about his feelings toward the Bulls than his next contract.

26. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,782,450

    Is Nikola Mirotic a first-rate playmaking 4 waiting to break away from a Bulls team that couldn't generate enough high-quality outside looks if it was playing five-on-three? Or was he simply miscast upon entering the Association? 

    At least one offseason buyer will bet big on a change of scenery's ability to cleanse Mirotic's hardwood soul. Chicago will have to decide whether it's worth keeping an older prospect it's yet to fully unlock.

    If Mirotic's latest detonations are any indication, he'll appease whichever squad gambles on him. He's shooting almost 45 percent from downtown since a three-game stay on the sidelines in mid-March and putting in more than 46 percent of his corner triples for the year.

    As an added bonus, Mirotic's defense remains on the up-and-up. He's no lockdown seal and shouldn't be switching on to small forwards. But he's more than serviceable when guarding 4s, and the Bulls have intermittently experimented with him at center.

    Should he ever develop into a higher-volume driver, Chicago or another team will have a sweet(ish)-shooting matchup nightmare on its hands.

25. Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $2,281,605

    Tim Hardaway Jr. has expanded his game a great deal for the Hawks out of necessity. He's no longer a spot-up specialist who dabbles in low-percentage pull-ups. 

    He's a smart attacker who doubles as a makeshift point guard.

    Kent Bazemore and Hardaway have assumed a lion's share of the ball-handling responsibilities behind Dennis Schroder. Both trigger pick-and-rolls, and Hardaway has on more than one occasion seen time as the lead distributor in crunch time. And he's taken on these extra, uncharacteristic duties without deviating completely from his off-ball roots.

    Defense continues to be Hardaway's pitfall. He will never be an airtight plug. But he's shown he can hang on an island. Isolation shooters are 11-of-44 (25 percent) when challenging him. It's possible he eventually earns a coveted three-and-D designation—a peak he wasn't thought to have before.

24. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $6,050,000

    Try not to let Patrick Patterson's shooting clip cloud your judgment. He's under 40 percent from the field and not finishing well around the basket. It's fine.

    Patterson is finding nylon on more than 36 percent of his three-pointers for a fifth consecutive year. More importantly, he's a tactical switchblade—someone to bust out when your team needs extra oomph on both sides of the court.

    The Raptors' most versatile lineups feature Patterson at the 4 or 5. He can switch across three positions on defense and makes opposing players pay on offense by leveraging his three-point shot into downhill assaults.

    Unlike Toronto's other frontcourt options, Patterson's playing time doesn't demand much thought. He works next to almost any big:

    Patterson with:Off. Rtg.Def Rtg.Net Rtg.
    Serge Ibaka106.2100.06.2
    Lucas Nogueira118.2103.314.9
    Jakob Poeltl98.8101.1-2.3
    Pascal Siakam112.5103.98.6
    Jonas Valanciunas118.0104.213.8

    Universal defensive fits who don't need the ball on offense are inarguable gems. Patterson is about to get paid double what he's making now—or more. The money just might not be coming from the Raptors.

23. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,094,014

    It's cool if you haven't yet boarded the Kelly Olynyk hype train. Many people are hesitant to jump on—including the long-haired 7-footer himself. 

    "I think sometimes Kelly sells himself short on all the great things he does," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said, per Mass Live's Tom Westerholm. "His ability to space the floor, his ability to drive the ball, his ability to make the right basketball play is really good, and we need him to do that for us to be the best version of ourselves."

    After to Al Horford, Olynyk has a case to be Boston's second-best two-way player. Jae Crowder has slipped a tad on defense, and Avery Bradley has missed almost half the season. Olynyk has been a constant force. 

    Yes, there's his offense. He splashes in enough of his threes to headline five-out lineups and racks up more assists per 100 possessions than Bradley or Crowder. But his defense has outpaced his offense this season.

    He's one of the team's best rebounders per 100 possessions, he's more comfortable banging in the post and he won't be disoriented by screens. Boston gets in a small amount of trouble when he's the last line of defense at the rim, but he can slide to power forward without getting wrecked when it becomes a bigger problem.

    Some team is bound to offer Olynyk a lot of money to dress up its frontcourt—enough, perhaps, for the Celtics to think twice about matching.

22. CJ Miles, Indiana Pacers

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $4,583,450

    Despite playing within the Indiana Pacers' bland offense, CJ Miles has quietly transformed into one of the NBA's most on-the-money triggermen.

    Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum, JJ Redick and Klay Thompson are the only other players who have converted at least 41 percent of their triplets on 350 or more attempts. Miles shoots even better on standstill threes (42.3 percent) and is nearly a coin toss when left wide open (47.2 percent).

    Most impressive: Out of 230-something players who have used up 75 or more spot-up sets, Miles ranks first in points scored per possession. (For the record, Pau Gasol is fourth, which oh my god, Pau Gasol is fourth.)

    Sweet shooting alone will let Miles double or triple his salary. But his ability, at 6'6", to defend certain power forwards could be worth almost four times as much to the right team.

21. Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $2,183,072

    Prepare yourself for Andre Roberson to make an All-Defensive team. He's among the feistiest gnats in the game and is never at a decided disadvantage, regardless of who he's guarding. 

    As Michael Pina wrote over at Vice Sports:

    He ranks in the 61st percentile in isolation situations, a phenomenal ranking when you consider who he goes up against every night. So much of Roberson's overall work happens long before his man touches the ball, be it a battle for position or him denying a swing pass on the wing. He disrupts so much that can't be measured (yet) with a metric.

    But he's also one of the best at contesting shots. Even when he's out of position and ostensibly out of the frame, Roberson will throw up an arm to try and disrupt the shooter's concentration or line of sight.

    If he could hit threes at an average clip, Roberson would be a max-contract lock. But he's shooting 26 percent from deep for his career and under 25 percent on the season. Those numbers don't improve when he's left all alone.

    Teams outside Oklahoma City, and perhaps the Thunder themselves, will count on his improvement. If he doesn't get better, his inevitable eight-figure salary won't be a sunk cost. Few wings impact the outcomes of games on defense to the extent he can.

20. Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $4,384,490

    Now that the Dallas Mavericks have a center they can envision plowing on with for more than a year, good luck getting them to let go.

    Nerlens Noel is everything you want a big who doesn't shoot threes to be. He screens with gusto as an overgrown string bean and has parlayed his strong finishing around the bucket into pick-and-roll success. His rim protection is on the fritz compared to years past, but he's a genuine deterrent in the paint and can cover up for porous frontcourt partners.

    Opponents shoot almost nine points below average when facing him inside six feet of the hoop, and Dallas posts a league-best defensive rating when he lines up next to Dirk Nowitzki.

    "We're excited about the future with Nerlens," Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. "Clearly, he brings a dimension that we haven't had here for a while: shot blocking, athleticism, rebounding. A 22-year-old with significant upside in a 7-foot frame is good material to work with."

    Other window-shoppers will feel the same way. Noel won't get max money, but league executives told Sporting News' Sean Deveney a deal in excess of $90 million is coming his way—a bill the Mavericks will happily pay.

19. JJ Redick, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $7,377,500

    JJ Redick doesn't have to worry about his sticker price being curtailed by his 33rd birthday in June. Red-hot shooting never goes out of style, and he's still one of the NBA's most deadly assassins.

    More than 100 players have cycled through 175 catch-and-shoot three-pointers. Only six match or exceed Redick's 45.2 percent knockdown rate: Allen Crabbe, Stephen Curry, Gary Harris, Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver and Kemba Walker. 

    Korver is proof Redick's offensive game will age well. The Cavs guard leads the league in three-point percentage (minimum 200 attempts) since turning 33. Redick, incidentally, is second during that time. Like Korver, he feasts on looks coming around screens and spot-up opportunities—shots that won't demand he work to the point of exhaustion as he gets older.

    Interested teams, including the Clippers, will have to account for Redick's defensive slippage in the coming years. But he should have a couple of seasons of above-average on-ball stances left in him—which, when paired with the precision bazooka he calls a right hand, will allow him to double his current salary. 

18. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

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    Brian Sevald/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $2,150,000

    Real talk: If Joe Ingles wasn't turning 30 before next season tips off, he'd set up shop somewhere inside the top 15.

    And if he could guarantee that he'd beat Boris Diaw in at least eight out of 10 full-court suicides, he'd stake claim to a top-10 slot.

    This isn't a joke, or even a smear campaign against (insert the free agent/s you think is/are being slighted here). Ingles is just. That. Friggin'. Good. As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote:

    Ingles just keeps the machine churning. He shoots now when he's open, and sometimes even when he's not, and has hit 44 percent from deep -- third best in the league. He is one the NBA's canniest extra passers. He pushes the ball after snaring a rebound, and he can move things along with a functional pick-and-roll. Playing decisively makes slow people seem fast.

    Ingles fits anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. He defends 2s, 3s and 4s without commanding touches on the offensive end. He has the Utah Jazz's lowest usage rate, and almost half of all his looks come as catch-and-shoot threes.

    Every general manger with an inclination to build for now should give Ingles a call—provided, of course, they have cap space, because it'll take eight figures per year to lock up the Aussie.

17. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $11,131,368

    Andre Iguodala owes a more-than-cursory thank you to Kevin Durant. His 19-game absence with a sprained MCL reinforced Iguodala's importance to the Warriors and provided a glimpse into what the 2015 NBA Finals MVP can do in a more expansive role.

    Through 17 appearances without Durant, Iguodala averaged 11.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 41.9 percent from behind the rainbow and 60.9 percent from the floor overall. He still spends long stretches covering the toughest defensive assignments, and his effort will never be tied to playing time.

    Letting Iguodala walk in free agency would be foolish on the Warriors' part. But they may not have a choice. 

    Golden State won't be able to float Iguodala's and Shaun Livingston's cap holds if Durant opts out of his contract and seeks a full max. Durant can neutralize outside threats by re-signing with his non-Bird rights, which would allow the Warriors go over the cap to retain Iguodala and Livingston. It would also pay him nearly $4 million less next season, per the Bay Area News Group's Anthony Slater.

    Maybe Iguodala's future with Golden State can be settled independent of Durant's decision. At 33, he's in prime ring-chasing territory. He could accept a stark pay cut. But there will be rivals ready to pay him handsomely for his suffocating defense and hybrid offense.

16. JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $980,431

    This isn't a surprise if you've watched enough of the Grizzlies. They wouldn't have been able to fractionally reinvent themselves without JaMychal Green—not even with Marc Gasol flinging threes.

    Green injected versatility into a frontcourt woefully short on it. He stretches the floor on offense without commanding a truckload of touches, and his defensive stands are among the most well-rounded in the game.

    There isn't an assignment too strenuous for him to tackle. He switches pick-and-rolls, works as a secondary rim guardian, erases huge gaps on close-outs and battles on the glass against burlier behemoths.

    Drop him on an island, against a guard or playmaking wing, and he'll survive. Opponents are averaging 0.83 points per possession against him in isolation—tied for the fifth-best mark among 59 players to protest at least 200 one-on-one sets.

    Attach Green's wide-ranging bag of defensive tricks to a 38.3 percent clip from three-point land, and you have a candidate for a short-term max. The Grizzlies should most definitely fear his foray into restricted free agency.

15. James Johnson, Miami Heat

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $4,000,000

    James Johnson is human camouflage—an amalgam of many things that, for the Heat, goes with everything.

    Want him to bring the ball up in transition? No problem. Jump-start pick-and-rolls? Done. Defend centers? Easy peasy. Shoot threes? Cool.

    Need him to come off the bench? Totally fine. How about joining the starting lineup on whim? Also totally fine.

    "It just shows his value," Tyler Johnson said, per the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman. "It shows what he means to this team, that he can step in and play a variety of different roles."

    Teams will wonder whether Johson's voodoo can persist outside Miami. He's on the wrong side of 30, and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is a special kind of inventive. But only one player has matched Johnson's point (963), assist (268), steal (76), block (85) and made three-point (87) totals: DeMarcus Cousins. That blanket production will mean more to his next contract than lingering skepticism.

14. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

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    Brian Sevald/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $3,678,319

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's stock will not take a hit after his arrest for driving under the influence in late March. The Brooklyn Nets are still expected to offer him a max deal, according to the New York Post's Brian Lewis, and Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy has already spoken out in his favor.

    "Look, I've been around KCP for three years," he said, per MLive.com's Aaron McMann. "He's a guy we really believe in, not only as a player but as a high-character guy."

    It helps that Caldwell-Pope is the quintessential new-age wing—a low-usage off-ball weapon who also initiates pick-and-rolls and plays tireless defense. Van Gundy has him pestering 1s, and he's run more pick-and-rolls than any of Detroit's non-point guards.

    Caldwell-Pope does have room to grow as a three-point shooter. He has hit more than 35 percent of deep attempts for the season but is converting under 29 percent of his outside looks since March 1. 

    For most of the year, though, Caldwell-Pope has looked the part of a three-and-D superstud—or at least one in the making. Brooklyn won't be the only team open to paying him like a max or near-max player.

13. Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $8,800,000

    Jeff Teague is a bastion of consistency. He's seldom his team's best player, but he's good for 15-plus points and six-plus assists per game every year.

    Nothing has changed during his time with Indiana. If anything, his capacity to remain a steadying presence has been more tested than ever.

    The Pacers don't have an identity. They're decidedly mediocre, if worse, on both ends. Teague doesn't change that entirely, but they score like a top-12 offense with him as the pilot, and he shimmies between on- and off-action work with relative ease—a big help for a depth chart infested with ball-dominant talent.

    At a time when the NBA is overrun with superstar wings and bigs who play like swingmen, teams almost need point guards to be more supplementary than not. Superstars are the exception, but upper-middle-class floor generals must adapt.

    Teague is now among the best at toeing this line. He ranks outside the top 30 in usage rate among guards but inside the top 10 of assists per 100 possessions. Add in 37.6 percent shooting on spot-up three-pointers, and he can fit anywhere. If he ever remembers how to get buckets around the rim, he'll be that much better.

12. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $15,050,000

    Danilo Gallinari isn't your typical combo forward.

    Sure, he shoots threes and puts the ball on the floor without coughing up possessions. He'll even dole out some nice passes from time to time.

    But there is a contrived ugliness to his game. He's hunting for contact. He'll pull up, while flailing, for long twos. He doesn't search for holes so much as he tries barreling through bodies. It's like someone took James Harden, stretched his body another five inches and told him not to play like a superstar.

    Gallinari has the fourth-best free-throw rate among non-bigs. And he's just the fourth player over the past decade to average more than 26 points per 100 possessions on less than 18 shot attempts. He joins Chauncey Billups, Dwight Howard and, fittingly, Harden.

    That Gallinari doesn't need to be this player makes him more attractive. He can balance being featured-scorer status with spot-up duty; he shoots nearly 40 percent from three-point range off the catch—offensive malleability that ensures he'll get paid like a star once he opts out of his contract.

11. George Hill, Utah Jazz

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $8,000,000

    It turns out George Hill's superhuman start to the season didn't last forever. His production has tapered off since March 1, and he'll end the schedule appearing in fewer than 50 games.

    But that's not enough to drag him too far outside the top 10. For one, he's averaged 17.0 points and 4.1 assists while torching twine on 35.4 percent of his threes through this so-called slump. That's not bad for someone ceding touches and status to Gordon Hayward.

    Even if you think it is, Hill is an important breed. Similar to Jeff Teague, he packs a mean statistical punch with usage atypical of a starting point guard. 

    Only two other players are clearing 25 points and six assists per 100 possessions with usage rates below 25: Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul. Hill doesn't replicate their star power, but he'll get paid like he does—because, like them, his output doesn't come with a defensive trade-off.

10. Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $12,250,000

    Serge Ibaka is the O.G. of floor-spacing shot-blockers—a basketball unicorn who predates the cliche. And his play style hasn't changed, even though his jersey and role have.

    "When it comes to extended impact play in the postseason, perhaps no move will mean more than the Raptors' acquisition of Serge Ibaka," ESPN.com's Micah Adams wrote. "While using an almost identical amount of his team's possessions in Toronto as he did in Orlando, Ibaka has been essentially the same player." 

    Ibaka isn't scoring as much since arriving in Toronto, but he's shooting almost 40 percent from behind the three-point line, and his block totals are essentially unchanged. This will be the fourth time in his career he's posted a block rate of at least four while hitting 37 percent or more of his three-point attempts—the most in NBA history.

    Up-and-comers such as Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Myles Turner are hotter commodities than Ibaka. He cannot switch as seamlessly on defense, and his shot-swatting doesn't always result in effective rim protection. But his deviation from the new unicorn norm won't hurt him much on the open market.

    It might be the difference between a max contract and a near-max deal, nothing more.

9. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $11,286,518

    Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler back in February the New Orleans Pelicans are "prepared to do a max or near-max deal for Holiday." That sounds egregious at first.

    This is the first season Holiday has been fully healthy since joining the Pelicans in 2013-14, and he's barely a top-10 player at his position on his best nights. New Orleans has been an offensive letdown all year and doesn't improve that much statistically when he's running the show.

    Dive deeper, though, and there's no way Holiday will come cheap. It doesn't matter if he signs with the Pelicans or somebody else.

    Pretty much every star point guard entering free agency this summer will stay put. Along with George Hill and Jeff Teague, Holiday is the closest aggressors will come to pitching an All-NBA talent who's actually a flight risk.

    And that's assuming the Pelicans don't automatically offer him a four or five-year max. They might. LeBron James and Chris Paul are the only other players totaling more than 20 points and 10 assists per 100 possessions while canning 36 percent of their triples—statistical clout Holiday will ride to a nine-figure pact, inside or outside New Orleans.

8. Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Free-Agency Status: Restricted

    2016-17 Salary: $5,893,981

    Otto Porter Jr. will get max money this summer before you can say "Has Kentavious Caldwell-Pope received his max offer sheet yet?"

    As Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote while making a case for Porter as this season's sixth-best small forward:

    Otto Porter does plenty of everything for the Washington Wizards, whether he's buckling down on defense with his lanky arms or attacking the glass to end possessions. He's a capable facilitator in short spurts, and his finishing ability around the hoop has added a new element to the offense in the nation's capital. 

    But nothing stands out more than his spot-up shooting. Whether compared to last year's efforts or the rest of the field in 2016-17, Porter has been immaculate.

    More than 50 players have hoisted 300 or more shots off the catch this season. Just one of them has recorded a higher effective field-goal percentage on these looks than Porter. Who is this Stephen Curry guy anyway? 

    Combo wings who harass everyone from power forwards to point guards on defense and absorb any offensive role put in front of them are a contemporary team's dream. Porter will never be a perennial All-NBA nominee, but he does everything needed from the second-best player on a championship hopeful.

7. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $20,072,033

    It won't come as a shock if Paul Millsap signs with the Hawks or another team for less than the max. It will, however, be a huge surprise if he doesn't have the option of getting max money, be it in Atlanta or somewhere else.

    Thirty-something power forwards aren't supposed to age gracefully unless they are niche contributors. Millsap is anything but. He does everything.

    He'll bring the ball up the floor or operate in the half court with his back to the basket. He'll trade blows with the opposition's best post presence or relieve Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore from facing off against premier wings. He'll explode toward the basket off screens or enact pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler.

    Players this skilled in so many areas aren't limited by stigmas plaguing the NBA's other senior citizens. And for good reason: There are so few of them.

    Millsap has added above-average value per 100 possessions on both sides of the hardwood in every season since 2008-09. 

6. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $16,073,140

    Three top-20 free agents? No wonder Utah's future is so fragile.

    Gordon Hayward will be the offseason's determining factor. Keep him, and the Jazz can cannonball into the luxury tax to re-sign George Hill and Joe Ingles. Lose him, and they're rebuilding, with little reason to shell out big-money deals for two ancillary devices.

    If you find yourself wondering whether Hayward is worth all the hoopla (and a max deal), immediately stop. He is, and it's not worth questioning.

    Rudy Gobert is the Jazz's best player; Hayward is their most versatile. He can carry out point guard duties as a forward but does enough damage off the catch to orbit lead ball-handlers. He has replaced Hill as the pulse of Utah's offense, and while he's a mismatch at power forward, his lateral gait renders him a defensive plus as a full-time 3.

    Right now, there isn't another wing in Hayward's role who marries volume and efficiency the way he does. Four others average more than 22 points per game while matching his assist (18.3) and three-point (39.9) percentages. They're all point guards—All-Star point guards, to be more exact: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Early termination option

    2016-17 Salary: $20,140,838

    Don't mind Blake Griffin. While most of us are marveling at the influx of megastar big men in training, he'll just be over here, quietly playing some of the most dynamic basketball ever.

    This marks the second time Griffin has cleared 20 points per game with an assist percentage of 24 and defensive rebounding rate of 20. The list of other non-guards to do the same in as many seasons is amazing: Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Grant Hill, LeBron James and Karl Malone.

    All the same knocks on Griffin still apply. His three-point shot is forever a work in progress, but he's journeying beyond the arc with career-high volume and making enough of his looks (34.5 percent) to scare defenses silly. His rotations around the rim are slow for someone with his foot speed, but he gums up the occasional pick-and-roll and has improved when defending in space.

    Health is a far bigger concern than anything else at this point. Griffin hasn't appeared in 70 games since 2013-14, and 2016-17 is the second consecutive season in which he's tallied at least 20 absences. 

    Max-contract offers will come rolling in anyway. Griffin has played like a top-20 talent whenever he's on the floor. The Clippers and scores of other suitors won't hesitate to pay him like one.

4. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $12,000,000

    Kyle Lowry is the best guard in the Eastern Conference. Feel free to argue this point if you like, but according to the catch-all metrics, his should-be peers don't even make it sort of close:

    Overall Rank:Box Plus- Minus Real Plus-MinusTPAAvg. Rank
    Kyle Lowry610129.3
    John Wall10351821
    Kemba Walker11392424.7
    Isaiah Thomas8571627
    Bradley Beal18513936
    Kyrie Irving16623337
    Goran Dragic14743139.7
    Jeff Teague21704445
    DeMar DeRozan331201355.3

    John Wall, the tightest competitor, doesn't come within sniffing distance of Lowry's average rank. This isn't the end-all of player evaluations, but it's nonetheless nuts.

    Circle back to these results if you ever categorize Lowry as anything other than a max-contract formality this summer.

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Free-Agency Status: Early termination option

    2016-17 Salary: $22,868,828

    There is approximately a 67 percent chance Chris Paul hails from a different galaxy. Here is Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal again to tell us why (from March 30):

    Aren't point guards supposed to decline when they're in their 30s? 

    Chris Paul refuses to accept that notion—when he succumbs to injuries notwithstanding. So long as he's healthy, he's capable of elite two-way play that stands out because of his remarkable efficiency. And that's not a reference solely to his shooting percentages, which verge on 50/40/90 status (47.7/40.5/88.8), but also to his incredible habits of racking up assists without turning the ball over.

    Consider this: There have been 10 seasons in which a player averaged at least 25 points, 12 assists and three steals per 100 possessions.

    Paul, after this year, now owns seven of them. (Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook have the remaining three.)

    Update: There is a 99.9 percent chance Paul is not of this galaxy.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted

    2016-17 Salary: $12,112,359

    Slump? What slump?

    "I think it's comical that people were saying I'm having a down year," Stephen Curry told Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. "To go black and white and say I'm not having as good a season as I was having last year based on just five points a game or shooting percentage or whatnot…there are other things that you try to do other than just the eye test to try and help your team win."

    Splash Bro No. 1 has a point. He was never going duplicate his 2016-17 performance. At the time, before Russell Westbrook hit the "Kevin Durant who?" button, it was the best season-long display in NBA history. 

    Curry isn't afforded the same freelancing luxuries alongside Durant. And that's fine. Playing next to another MVP candidate should help prolong his career, because he won't have to go supernova every night.

    And if that doesn't do the trick, comparing Curry's 2016-17 to his MVP-winning 2014-15 should:


    If only every NBA star, past or present, could be lucky enough to endure Curry's down year.

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Free-Agency Status: Player option

    2016-17 Salary: $26,540,100

    Listen to any and all arguments in favor of Stephen Curry as the Warriors' most important asset. They're not wrong. But Kevin Durant is the better player on his own.

    There is a mechanical smoothness to his game that cannot be copied. He is devastating with the ball in his hands, but he can be displaced from the action—his role upended—and still impact games as a spot-up shooter and defender.

    The way Durant blends efficiency with volume has always been unique. Including this season, he's averaged 25 points per game with a 63-plus true shooting percentage—measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy—five times. That's more than anyone else in NBA history. Curry and LeBron James are the only other active players who have even done it once.

    More recently, with the Warriors, Durant looks like a player who can meld unprecedented offense with All-NBAish defense. He has thrived while taking on more rim-protecting duties and ranks 16th in total defensive points saved despite his 20 absences, according to NBA Math.

    Assuming the means are available, not a single team in the league would blink at throwing the kitchen sink toward Durant—Oklahoma City included.


    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 and accurate leading into games April 10. Team salary information via Basketball Insiders.