NBA Free Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Point Guards

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 5, 2018

NBA Free Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Point Guards

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Does your favorite NBA team need a point guard this offseason? 

    You better hope it finds a compelling youngster during the draft or starts working the phones to iron out a trade with another organization already blessed with multiple intriguing talents at the 1. If you're turning to free agency, your choices are rather limited this summer. 

    At the top of the pile rests an established All-Star, but a return to his current home feels nearly inevitable. Then we plunge into uncertainty, relying on floor generals bouncing back from injury-plagued crusades, trying to prove themselves in larger roles or attempting to escape the unyielding grasp of old age. No bets are safe at this position. 

    But that doesn't mean the free-agency pool is devoid of talent. Far from it. 

    You just need to know where to look, and these rankings, based on current level of play, age and expected performance during the next contract, should get you started. 

10. Dante Exum

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    TeamUtah Jazz

    Age22

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.7 PER, minus-5.62 TPA, minus-1.55 RPM

    Trying to steal Dante Exum away from the Utah Jazz, who could still use his off-the-dribble skills when he finally gets healthy, could get expensive. Not because of anything he's done to date in the NBA, but because of the enduring potential contained within his 22-year-old frame. 

    Decision-makers just aren't ready to let go of the upside that once made him the No. 5 pick of the 2014 NBA draft, especially now that he's had a few years to learn from Association sidelines. As one anonymous general manager told Sporting News' Sean Deveney:

    "He has not had an easy time with injuries. I don’t think you hold that against him. I think you have to look at him as a physically gifted guy who is only 22 [he turns 23 in July] and has already gone through the huge NBA learning curve. There are guys in this year’s draft who will be 22 but aren’t going to have the kind of knowledge of the league he has, and don’t have the physical gifts."

    Two years removed from missing the entire 2015-16 campaign, Exum could only suit up 14 times during the 2017-18 regular season. His shoulder injury prevented him from debuting until March 15, and that made it tough to work into the heart of the rotation with so few regular-season contests remaining as the Jazz fought for their playoff positioning. 

    Perhaps a better postseason showing would've bumped him up in these rankings, but he still gave the impression of an unpolished talent against both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. Though he got to the basket frequently and could convert his interior attempts, the lack of shooting range, turnovers and defensive inconsistency prevented his stock from rising too much higher. His future is still based far more on upside than proven production. 

    Honorable MentionsYogi Ferrell (Restricted), Devin Harris (Unrestricted), Ty Lawson (Unrestricted)

9. Tony Parker

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    TeamSan Antonio Spurs

    Age36

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.7 PER, minus-86.9 TPA, minus-3.81 RPM

    ESPN.com's real plus/minus shouldn't be used as gospel—no advanced metric should, for that matter—but Tony Parker's regression over the last few years is rather telling:

    • 2013-14: 2.71 (No. 14 among 51 point guards)
    • 2014-15: minus-3.15 (No. 48 among 60 point guards)
    • 2015-16: minus-0.4 (No. 25 among 66 point guards)
    • 2016-17: minus-1.66 (No. 41 among 80 point guards)
    • 2017-18: minus-3.81 (No. 96 among 103 point guards)

    The 2014-15 season is an outlier; Parker's score was depressed substantially by his inexplicably woeful defense. Eliminate that, and you see a steady downward trend, which you shouldn't be surprised at from a floor general moving closer to 40. 

    Parker's game has always been predicated on speed. He requires that quick first step to access his preferred spots in the half-court set, and the inability to gain as much separation has led to more heavily contested mid-range attempts and wrong-footed layups that quickly get swatted away by the opposition. 

    The 36-year-old should have enough veteran savvy to make an impact off the bench, filling an even smaller role than the one he earned with the 2017-18 San Antonio Spurs (19.5 minutes per game). But he'd still be helped by the reemergence of a perimeter jumper, which, after blossoming briefly during his early 30s, continued its absence throughout this last go-round as he took 0.7 triples per game and connected at a 27 percent clip.

8. Derrick Rose

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age29

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 11.5 PER, minus-66.56 TPA, minus-3.59 RPM

    Don't be fooled by the name. Don't be swayed by the accolades that now reside in the distant past. Don't trip over yourself to fall in love with his scoring figures, which included 18.4 points per 36 minutes with the Cleveland Cavaliers and 16.7 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    This version of Derrick Rose is nothing like the one who played out his prime with the Chicago Bulls, but is instead serving a simulacrum of that athletic floor general who can occasionally bail out a stagnant offense. 

    If you're willing to live with the defensive ineptitude and incessant decisions to commandeer possessions at the expense of better decisions, you can still find a useful offensive talent. Rose has some enduring burst and a quick first step that allows him to finish plays around the rim, and he seemed to be trending upward during the Timberwolves' brief playoff run. When the jumper falls, he's a deadly scoring talent willing and able to engage in takeover plays within the half-court set. 

    But you can't count on him for anything more than a bench role, and the pervasive willingness to look past the overwhelming evidence is the reason for the pessimistic tone of this description. It has to say something that a Cleveland squad starved for talent dealt him away to the Utah Jazz, who promptly waived him despite looking for a convincing backup point guard behind Ricky Rubio. Then it took a reunion with head coach Tom Thibodeau to squeeze out the enduring talent. 

    Rose remains a risky signing—not because of the volatility of his performance on the court, but because of a coaching staff potentially falling in love with his name, pedigree and resume, to the point that it plays him at the expense of a superior incumbent. 

7. Shabazz Napier

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    TeamPortland Trail Blazers

    Age26

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 14.2 PER, 3.09 TPA, 0.4 RPM

    Who is the real Shabazz Napier? 

    During the first half of the season, the 26-year-old point guard averaged a strong 9.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from downtown and 83.2 percent from the stripe. He appeared to have experienced legitimate growth after floundering during his first few professional seasons, aided by a convincing off-the-dribble jumper that finally clicked. 

    But after the All-Star break (and before he fell out of the rotation in a first-round sweep against the New Orleans Pelicans), Napier could only muster 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per contest. Worse still, he did so while slashing a miserable 34.6/32.4/86.0. The sweet shooting completely dried up. 

    Unfortunately for this Connecticut product, the order of events does matter here.

    The lasting impression Napier left before heading into restricted free agency involves plenty of clangs and time spent on the bench watching the rest of Rip City. But he does have a few elements working in his favor, even beyond the lightning he bottled during the first half of the basketball calendar. 

    Age works in Napier's advantage, and he also proved himself a solid defender during Portland's team-wide revival on the preventing end. Not only did he post the first positive score of his career in defensive box plus/minus, but he similarly graded out in the green for ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus.

    His shooting remains questionable, and his passing often verges on nonexistent. But his defense is real, and that gives Napier a higher floor than some of the veteran 1-guards hitting the open market. 

6. Milos Teodosic

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    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Clippers

    Age31

    Type of Free AgencyPlayer Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 11.6 PER, minus-32.65 TPA, minus-0.25 RPM

    If you followed Milos Teodosic's career across the pond, you shouldn't be even remotely surprised by what he did as a delayed rookie for the Los Angeles Clippers. For example, the 31-year-old frequently functioned as a traffic cone, which severely limits his overall upside.

    That was expected.

    He's still a brilliant offensive player capable of making highlight-reel feeds, running the show convincingly in pick-and-roll sets and occasionally calling his own number. Better touch from just outside the restricted area would go a long way, but NBA teams have to be encouraged by his ability to knock down 65.2 percent of his looks within three feet, 53.3 percent of his mid-range jumpers between 10 and 16 feet, 43.5 percent of his even longer twos and 37.9 percent of his treys. Few players boast that type of well-rounded shooting accuracy. 

    Teodosic could opt into the second year of his deal with the Clippers, hoping the team gives him his full $6.3 million but understanding that only $2.1 million is guaranteed money. Doing so might allow him to continue working with a top-tier pick-and-roll finisher (if DeAndre Jordan opts in and/or restricted free agent Montrezl Harrell is retained). 

    But he could also shop his skills around, acting as an offensive mercenary capable of playing both fun and effective basketball on the scoring end. And if he can put plantar fasciitis issues behind him and build upon the experience he gained throughout his inaugural NBA campaign, he could be quite the valuable pickup.

    Injuries, defense and age limit his upside, but let's not forget he averaged 9.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists while slashing 47.6/44.4/84.0 during his last 20 appearances.  

5. Rajon Rondo

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    TeamNew Orleans Pelicans

    Age32

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.3 PER, minus-39.27 TPA, minus-1.11 RPM

    If you could somehow convince Playoff Rajon Rondo to operate throughout the regular season rather than biding his time for the games that count most, he might rise higher in these rankings. The veteran distributor was fantastic during the New Orleans Pelicans' postseason run this year, averaging 10.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 12.2 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 41.3 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from outside the rainbow and 64.3 percent at the stripe—the latest in a long line of increased outputs during the second season. 

    At this point, the world should know who Rondo is. 

    He's a magical passer who can squeeze the ball into the tightest spaces, but he sometimes turns down open finishes around the hoop for the allure of extra dimes. He's one of the league's best rebounding 1-guards, but those plays can sometimes come at the expense of proper positioning. He's a stout defender who plays better in nationally televised outings, but he can lose track of his man in off-ball scenarios when he's not thrust into the spotlight. 

    Would it be nice if Rondo could keep shooting from the perimeter like he did in the playoffs? Sure. Just don't forget that many of the makes came in wide-open fashion because defenses deemed him unworthy of tight coverage, instead choosing to sag back and muck up the Pelicans' half-court schemes. He also shot just 33.3 percent from trey-land during the regular season. 

    Rondo isn't a savior at this stage of his career. But he's unquestionably worthy of a starting gig, which is more than most point guards in this free-agency class can claim. 

4. Elfrid Payton

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    TeamPhoenix Suns

    Age24

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.5 PER, 4.08 TPA, minus-2.14 RPM

    Something has already changed for Elfrid Payton. 

    He's quietly been one of the league's more underrated backcourt members for the last couple years, content to provide solid but unspectacular play for both the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns, who acquired him for nothing more than a second-round pick. Yes, he can be both underrated and a draft bust as the no. 10 pick in the 2014 draft; those concepts aren't mutually exclusive nearly a half-decade into a player's career.  

    So, what could be different now?

    Well, the knock on Payton has always revolved around his limited shooting. Even during the 2017-18 season, his fourth go-round since departing the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, he could only knock down 32.6 percent of his triples (a career high) while taking 1.5 deep attempts per game. That inaccuracy allows defenses to scrunch back into the painted area and deter Payton's teammates from working themselves free—a far greater concern than his sub-par defense that hasn't lived up to expectations. 

    But Payton might be able to see better now. After all, he's finally shorn his locks, the ones that grew long and large enough to weigh him down and, quite literally, obscure his vision.

    Perhaps that could change everything. Probably not, but there's always a chance.

3. Fred VanVleet

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    TeamToronto Raptors

    Age24

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 61.68 TPA, 3.46 RPM

    However well you thought Fred VanVleet played during his breakout campaign for the Toronto Raptors, he was probably better. 

    The Sixth Man of the Year candidate performed well enough that he earned the No. 10 RPM at his position, trailing only Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Tyus Jones, Kemba Walker and Jrue Holiday among those classified—some erroneously—as 1s by ESPN.com. With his two-way play, steady abilities running the show and consistency as the leader of Canada's bench mob, VanVleet helped spark one of the league's deadliest lineups. 

    That's not hyperbolic. 

    Twenty-nine different quintets logged at least 300 minutes during the 2017-18 campaign. Only seven of them boasted double-digit net ratings, including the Raptors' all-bench lineup helmed by the point guard in question:

    1. Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons: 21.4 net rating for Philadelphia 76ers
    2. C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright: 17.1 net rating for Toronto Raptors
    3. Steven Adams, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Andre Roberson, Russell Westbrook: 14.2 net rating for Oklahoma City Thunder
    4. Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum: 13.2 net rating for Boston Celtics
    5. Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young: 11.5 net rating for Indiana Pacers
    6. OG Anunoby, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas: 11.2 net rating for Toronto Raptors
    7. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, Klay Thompson: 10.0 net rating for Golden State Warriors

    VanVleet's troublesome shoulder prevented him from building momentum during the playoffs and left a sour taste at the end of a phenomenal season, but we shouldn't forget his importance to one of the NBA's best five-man groupings. 

    He does, however, have to continue proving himself when he's not operating against other all-bench lineups, as he started to do in clutch situations for former head coach Dwane Casey. Once that hurdle is nullified, the big bucks will truly come his way. 

2. Isaiah Thomas

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Lakers

    Age29

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.6 PER, minus-91.9 TPAminus-4.32 TPA

    "They better bring out the Brinks truck," Isaiah Thomas predicted during the 2016 offseason, referring to the free-agency period he wouldn't hit for another two years, per NBC Sports' A. Sherrod Blakely. "They're paying everybody else. I gotta get something."

    After 2016-17, the diminutive scorer seemed prescient. 

    His efforts for the Boston Celtics, replete with plentiful trips to the free-throw stripe, heroic fourth-quarter scoring efforts and myriad threes, had established him as one of the NBA's most dangerous scoring threats. He even finished fifth in the MVP votingtrailing only Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, before attempting to play through familial tragedy and a hip injury in the playoffs. 

    But everything changed in 2017-18, which makes it so much tougher to evaluate the 29-year-old moving forward.

    Not only did he struggle to get back to full strength (he may never have, though only he and his training staff know), but he also couldn't find a permanent home after the Celtics' shocking decision to deal him away in the Kyrie Irving blockbuster. He only suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers 15 times before a midseason swap with the Los Angeles Lakers required him to don the Purple and Gold on 17 occasions. 

    He clearly isn't the floor general who never found his shooting stroke in 2017-18 and became one of the NBA's least valuable players whenever he strode onto the hardwood. But he probably won't rekindle the 2016-17 magic, either. After all, 2008-09 Chris Paul is the only qualified scorer 6'2" or shorter to post a higher offensive box plus/minus in league history.

    Splitting the difference is inevitable, but where on that spectrum will he fall? If he's toward the lower end, he could easily fall behind VanVleet in these rankings. If he's in the middle or working closer to full redemption, he'll probably be stuck in this No. 2 spot but earn a substantially better payday from a team that believes in his enduring abilities.

1. Chris Paul

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    TeamHouston Rockets

    Age: 33

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 24.4 PER, 266.65 TPA, 7.04 RPM

    Father Time is supposed to affect point guards. Once they celebrate their 31st birthdays, most see their production drop precipitously as they succumb to lessening speed and effectiveness. They then take decreased roles and acquiesce to the twilight of their careers. 

    Chris Paul is not one of those guys.

    The 33-year-old keeps trucking along, earning the No. 1 score in ESPN.com's RPM throughout the 2017-18 season and playing nearly flawless basketball during the postseason until a tragic hamstring injury ended his year—and the Houston Rockets' year, as well. Seriously, the NBA's resident Point God averaged 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals and only 1.9 turnovers while slashing 45.9/37.4/83.0 in the playoffs. 

    Paul remains one of the league's best defensive 1-guards, flashing his quick hands, strong core and intuitive feel for positioning on a regular basis. He's still a passing maestro who rarely coughs up the rock to the opposition. He's a masterful mid-range scorer who's been freed by the Mike D'Antoni system, which doesn't just allow but encourages him to jack treys early in the shot clock. 

    Rarely do you see point guards get paid handsomely entering free agency at this stage of a career. But Paul, as he's been throughout his professional career while overcoming the limitations of his 6'0" frame, is the exception who proves the rule. A max salary should be coming for this floor general, who is nearly guaranteed to remain with the Rockets for a while longer. 

               

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and accurate heading into Game 3 of the NBA Finals.