2017 NBA Free Agent Stock Watch: Playoff Edition
Potential buyers on the NBA free-agent market will always consider a player's full resume, but everyone's guilty of succumbing to a little recency bias now and then.
As such, the NBA playoffs can influence the perception of a soon-to-be free agent, helping or hindering his earning potential.
Here, we'll run down the guys who entered the postseason with the best chances to alter their market values. That means players like Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Otto Porter, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and JJ Redick—all potential free agents—aren't involved. Every one of them has already done enough to firmly establish what they're worth, and virtually all are assured of max offers regardless of what they do in the postseason.
We'll focus instead on players with something to prove. On those with opportunities to sink or swim. To stand up on the big stage or stumble in the spotlight.
Let's take stock.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder, Restricted
It's not a good sign when one of the primary determinants of a free agent's value is a potential rule change.
But with Andre Roberson, who missed the first 11 free throws he attempted in the Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round series against the Houston Rockets, there's a lot riding on how (or if) the league addresses intentional fouling.
A flat-out elite defender, Roberson's better-known bugaboo is his three-point shooting. Opponents have long capitalized on his career 26 percent conversion rate from deep by ignoring his offense. Without the skill to create his own looks, Roberson frequently becomes a bystander—particularly in playoff series when foes have more time to strategize and greater incentive to be downright mean about exploiting weaknesses.
But now the foul line is an issue, too.
Roberson shot 42.3 percent from the stripe during the regular season, dragging his career conversion rate down to 49.3 percent. And after that 0-of-11 start prompted the Rockets to hack him relentlessly in Game 4, giving him several reps in succession, he's still just 2-of-17 overall in the postseason.
Shooting is only becoming more important as the NBA continues smashing records for three-point volume. And while Roberson's defensive chops mean he'll always have a place in the league, being conspicuously exposed on offense—to the point of actually being removed from playoff games—will give teams serious pause in free agency.
George Hill, Utah Jazz, Unrestricted
There's zero shame in being outshone by Chris Paul, and no potential suitor will hold that against George Hill—no matter how the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers turns out.
Coming off a career year, Hill is an indispensable part of Utah's postseason success.
Through Game 4 of a 2-2 series, the Jazz have been outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions when Hill sits. If he's on the floor, Utah tops L.A. by 1.1 points per 100 possessions.
Though he proved he could run an offense as a pick-and-roll ball-handler during the year, the strategic adjustments dictated by matchups in this series have helped him showcase impressive versatility. He's hitting 47.1 percent of his treys on 4.3 attempts per game.
Whether you want him to control your offense with the ball in his hands or space the floor as a spot-up threat, Hill's your guy. And with the ability to guard both backcourt positions, he's going to be desirable to any team that can afford him.
His stock was already way up there, but the 30-year-old guard's postseason performance has only pushed it higher.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics, Restricted
Less is more for Kelly Olynyk, who totaled 46 minutes in the Boston Celtics' back-to-back series-opening losses against the Chicago Bulls and then played just 30 minutes in their two subsequent wins.
And that's pretty much the deal with Boston's 26-year-old big man.
Just as he's been since his rookie year, Olynyk remains a serviceable, league-average overall producer with just enough floor-stretching range and off-the-bounce verve to be useful in the right matchups. But he shouldn't start, and if he's logging more than 20 minutes per game, you've probably got a weaker rotation than you'd prefer.
In that sense, what we've seen from Olynyk in these playoffs only underscores what we've known for years.
He is what he is, and the regular season numbers prove it:
Fortunately for Olynyk, he's hitting free agency at a time when his specific skill, shooting, is in demand. That could mean his deficiencies will get overlooked.
That may still result in big offer sheet if he sustains his 60.7 percent true shooting for the balance of the postseason.
It's hard to say how his ongoing attempt to dislocate every shoulder in the league factors into his earning potential. If the 1988 Detroit Pistons have any cap space, they'll max him out.
JaVale McGee, Golden State Warriors, Unrestricted
JaVale McGee's light-speed reformation from castoff to postseason difference-maker for the title favorites has been something to behold.
In short, supercharged stints, McGee has run amok against the Portland Trail Blazers—inciting runs with high-energy defense, rafter-scraping lob finishes and truly surprising two-way impact. That's an important distinction to make here, as McGee's penchant for blocks often took him out of defensive position during the year. As a result, the Golden State Warriors' defensive rating was two points better with McGee on the bench in the regular season.
Now, he's dominating on both ends.
In Game 2, McGee posted 15 points, five rebounds and four blocks in only 13 minutes—good enough for a plus-19 on the night.
So much for that.
In Game 3, McGee added 14 points, four rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes. His plus-minus was a team-high plus-24.
There are caveats here.
Prospective buyers who don't have Draymond Green flinging up perfect alley-oops in a scheme optimally spaced by Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry's shooting won't see these same results. But McGee's length and dexterity make him one of perhaps three or four lob-finishers in the entire league who demand crisis-level attention every time he rolls to the rim or sneaks in from the dunker spot on the block.
Maybe his all-out bursts in these playoffs are unsustainable. Perhaps they signal he's still ticketed for backup duty on his next contract, but there's no doubt his upcoming deal will pay him much more than the league minimum he's collecting now.
Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers, Unrestricted
You'd think the market for Jeff Teague would be robust, but even after a career year and excellent playoff production, it feels like context may obstruct a payday.
Teague averaged 15.3 points and 7.8 assists on 57.5 percent true shooting while playing all 82 games for the Indiana Pacers in 2016-17. As a result, his VORP of 2.6 was a career high. And then he went out and produced 17.0 points, and 6.3 assists on 64.2 percent true shooting in Indy's four-game dismissal against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Already playing his best heading into the postseason, Teague got even better.
But the point guard landscape has never been populated by more quality players, and Teague, though increasingly productive on offense, has yet to shake his reputation as a suspect defender.
Compared to Hill, for example, Teague falls short as a shooter and stopper. In order to measure up and, more importantly, change the notion that he's merely an adequate option at the 1, Teague needed to do more before his first-round elimination.
That he couldn't explode against Kyrie Irving, the king of defensive indifference, hurts him.
So, after his best season and a stellar playoffs, Teague's value paradoxically drops.
Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz, Restricted
Three-point shooting is at a premium these days, and Joe Ingles is hitting 40 percent of his triples through Game 4. Not quite the 44.1 percent he drilled during the year, but still awfully good.
Teams also tend to value versatility when searching for wing defenders on the market, and Ingles is garnering praise like this from Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
"I thought Joe Ingles had a great defensive game tonight," Rivers, who cut Ingles two seasons ago, told reporters after Game 1 . "If you look at his numbers offensively, they don’t look that great, but I thought he was a difference-maker."
Ingles hounded JJ Redick, bothered Chris Paul and even banged occasionally with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
And those offensive numbers? Try eight points and 11 assists in 38 minutes of a 105-98 win in Game 4.
At 29, Ingles' upside is limited. But by impacting both ends of the floor in ways potential buyers specifically covet, he's boosted his value immensely.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks, Restricted
Tim Hardaway Jr. came into the playoffs as a true borderline case—a player who could dramatically inflate his stock with a breakout postseason.
And so far...meh.
A scoring guard who flashed just enough playmaking skill and three-point reliability during a career year to pique interest, Hardaway needed to showcase all of that (and then some) to convince potential buyers of his worth. He needed something like the 23-point fourth-quarter takeover he engineered during a Feb. 3 comeback win against the Houston Rockets.
Instead, he's been inconsistent from three-point range (0-of-6 in Game 1, 2-of-4 in Game 2, 1-of-6 in Game 3 and 3-of-5 in Game 4) and watched as his Hawks produced a vastly superior offensive rating when he was off the court.
The opportunity was there for Hardaway to show the league he was more than a moderately efficient, fungible wing. He hasn't seized it so far.
JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies, Restricted
If nothing else, JaMychal Green's postseason performance reinforces his value to his current team, the Memphis Grizzlies.
In two wins against the San Antonio Spurs so far, he's averaged 11 points and five rebounds. In two losses: three and three.
Whether that does enough to turn the rest of the league on to his value remains to be seen, but as B/R's Dan Favale explained, there's a lot of evidence from the regular season to accomplish that job:
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.
The Grizzlies, burdened by huge deals for Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons, cannot afford to match big offers for Green without careening into the luxury tax. And that's a problem, because they don't have anyone who can duplicate his contributions.
And those offers are coming.
Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors, Unrestricted
Patrick Patterson's presence on the court has long coincided with the Toronto Raptors outscoring opponents, and that was still true of a 2016-17 regular season in which he didn't shoot the ball all that well. His on-court net rating of plus-10.9 was the highest of any regular Raptor.
But the arrivals of PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka have marginalized Patterson a bit, and Toronto is getting the perimeter accuracy from their two deadline acquisitions that Patterson once provided—only now it comes with a side of nastier defense.
Patterson has been displaced, and in a reversal of regular-season norms, the 28-year-old forward's time on the court is producing negative results.
During Game 4 on Saturday, Patterson played just eight minutes. He was a neutral zero in plus/minus in 14 minutes during Game 5, which sounds fine until you realize it was a 25-point win for Toronto.
It's difficult to diminish the value of a nominal power forward who shot 37.2 percent from long distance during the season, but with the emergence of two superior options on his own team, Patterson's chance to cash in this summer is taking a hit.
He'll still do better than his current annual salary of just over $6 million, but the odds of Patterson inking a bigger deal have declined.
Tony Snell, Milwaukee Bucks, Restricted
There's a simple way to measure the spike in Tony Snell's free-agent value.
Having now watched him shoot 53.3 percent from deep on 6.2 attempts per contest, help hold DeMar DeRozan to zero made field goals in Game 3 and generally morph into the three-and-D wing every club with cash should covet, would you still trade him, straight up, for Michael Carter-Williams?
Didn't think so.
Snell, who went to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for MCW last October, has come a long way.
"That’s going to be one of the things that’s going to be overlooked about this game," teammate Malcolm Brogdon told reporters after Snell's brilliant Game 3 effort. "People are going to look at the 30-point victory but they aren’t going to remember that Tony was the key for us. Tony was terrific."
Snell has scored in double figures in three of the Bucks' first five playoff games, building on a career season that saw him average 8.5 points on 40.6 percent shooting from deep as a full-time starter.
Nobody's going to max out a player with Snell's low usage rate, but there's immense value in a defensively trustworthy wing who makes the most of limited shot attempts. Ask Danny Green how that's worked out for him.
He'll fit anywhere, and that broadens the field of teams that should be willing to extend an offer sheet.