NBA Free Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Power Forwards

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 14, 2018

NBA Free Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Power Forwards

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If you're looking for a guaranteed star in free agency, you might want to steer clear of power forwards.  

    Chris Paul leads the crop of point guards. Kevin Durant, Paul George and LeBron James headline the small forwards. But move one spot higher in the traditional lineup and you find a bunch of intriguing options, none of whom are surefire standouts.

    Players like Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle all have tantalizing ceilings, but they're incomplete commodities who have yet to prove themselves on a night-to-night basis. 

    If anything, that makes the group of free-agent power forwards even more interesting. 

    You can find predictable players. We know what Dirk Nowitzki is at this stage of his career. Montrezl Harrell is still young, but his strengths and weaknesses are evident once you spend a few minutes watching him.

    But the class remains littered with high-upside contributors. 

    Just as was the case for our point guard, shooting guard and small forward rankings, this countdown—based on current level of play, age and expected performance during the next contract—should get you started as you build your free-agent wish list heading into July 1.

10. Kevon Looney

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age22

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 14.8 PER, 1.38 RPM, 22.66 TPA

    Though it's less than ideal to critique the decision-making process of a franchise that has now won three of the past four titles, that's what we have to do for the Golden State Warriors' handling of Kevon Looney.

    Since they turned down his fourth-year option before he broke out into a useful rotation member, they can't offer him anything more than a $2.2 million salary for 2018-19. Another team will surely offer more than that after watching his switchable defense throughout the latest championship run, and Golden State won't be able to match.

    The only way he'll remain in the Bay Area is if he prioritizes continuity and the chance to win more titles over a bigger contract and role found elsewhere. But since he's only 22 years old, he could reasonably go down that latter route and figure he'll always have a shot to be a mercenary later in his career. 

    Looney doesn't always seem like a rotation mainstay at this stage of his career. But his nimble feet and lateral quickness have allowed him to function as a modern-day defender at the 4, switching onto smaller and bigger players alike when guarding pick-and-roll sets. The Warriors allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor in the playoffs. 

    Developing consistent shooting range would do wonders for his long-term development, since the little scoring he does is largely confined to the paint. But the defense alone makes him a viable option on a team with the luxury of employing one-way contributors.  

    Honorable Mentions: Davis Bertans (RFA), Ersan Ilyasova (UFA), Anthony Tolliver (UFA)

9. Jerami Grant

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 24

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PERminus-0.76 RPM, minus-19.9 TPA

    Though consistently inconsistent, Jerami Grant has demonstrated a wide variety of tools throughout his NBA career. 

    The power forward once looked the part of a stretch 4, having made 37.7 percent of his 1.5 three-point attempts per game with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016-17 season. But his stroke was nowhere to be found in 2017-18 as he clanged one shot after another off the iron. 

    Similarly, he previously showed more defensive commitment than he did during this last go-round. 

    Grant endured some mental lapses throughout his first full season with OKC, but you could still see the tools that might make him special on defense. One possession, he can slide over from the weak side and take a charge against a driving backcourt foe (only 14 players drew more charges per contest and suited up in at least half their team's games). The next trip down the floor, he might showcase his rim-protection skills and then switch onto a fleet-footed guard a few moments later. 

    Can he put all of that together simultaneously? That's the enduring question for Grant, who needs an organization to take a flier on his enduring upside.

    If everything clicks, he could become one of the biggest bargains on this summer's open market. Even if it doesn't, he has the ability to contribute in so many areas that his floor still makes him a usable piece. 

8. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    Age39

    Type of Free AgencyTeam Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.7 PER, 1.89 RPM, 15.13 TPA

    Dirk Nowitzki logged only 24.7 minutes per game in 2017-18, his lowest average since he joined the NBA almost two decades prior. But he's still maximizing his time on the floor by playing surprisingly effective defense, keeping mistakes in check and lighting up the scoreboard whenever he lets fly. 

    That shooting ability is the future Hall of Famer's greatest skill during the twilight of his career, and it's what makes him enduringly valuable as he draws close to his 40th birthday. That day will come on June 19, but it won't prevent Nowitzki from continuing to push toward remarkable efficiency. 

    Though his 50/40/90 days are in the past, that's only because he's no longer as effective finishing around the basket. A career-low 4.4 percent of his field-goal attempts came from within three feet this season, a far cry from the constant upper-teens and low-20s finishes of his heyday. However, he can still pour in points with his patented one-legged flamingo fadeaway out of the high post, as well as a plethora of spot-up triples. 

    Nowitzki slashed 45.6/40.9/89.8 in 2017-18, and the middle number came on 4.4 attempts per game. In fact, the Big German was the only 7-footer to average at least four triples and still connect on more than 40 percent of those looks. 

    Not just this season. Ever. 

7. Luc Mbah a Moute

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Age31

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 10.2 PER, 0.92 RPM, 0.0 TPA

    Chris Paul's hamstring injury serves as the obvious scapegoat for the Houston Rockets' loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but could the No. 1 seed have advanced to the Finals had Luc Mbah a Moute been fully healthy? 

    After suffering a shoulder injury in the penultimate game of the regular season, the defensive ace missed the entire first-round victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. After aggravating the injury in a second-round clash with the Utah Jazz, he was limited against the Dubs. He tried to gut through the malady in the first half of the series, but he could only record 13.6 minutes per game while receiving a trio of DNPs—including one in the decisive Game 7. 

    That's about half as much time as he spent on the court throughout the regular season, which makes a big difference. After all, the Rockets were 4.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Mbah a Moute on the floor during those first 82 outings, and a less-than-100-percent version couldn't produce the same type of impact when the results mattered more. 

    Getting a boost from such a versatile defender with an improving three-point stroke might have made the difference and set the stage for a showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Conversely, perhaps they still would've lost to the Warriors. 

    Either way, we know how valuable a healthy Mbah a Moute can be on both ends of the court, though he's far more impactful defensively. Injury scares and advancing age depress his standing a bit, but he's still capable of functioning as a high-quality rotation member for any title contender. 

6. Montrezl Harrell

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 24.7 PER, 0.6 RPM63.81 TPA

    Montrezl Harrell defies positional descriptions.

    He spent most of his time at center in 2017-18, according to both Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass, but his 6'8" frame and foot speed make him better suited for action at the 4. He could reasonably be listed at either position, though we're going with the spot that best encapsulates his two-way abilities.

    After the Los Angeles Clippers acquired him as part of the blockbuster Chris Paul swap last offseason, they started to realize how valuable he could be on offense. Head coach Doc Rivers gushed about him to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times in early March.

    "You just learn more and more about him as you coach him. You never know a guy until you coach a guy. When we got him, we looked at him as an energy guy, a guy that can play defense. That's what he did everywhere he's been.

    "And then every practice he gets in, he keeps scoring. And scoring. And then we started thinking, 'Maybe he can score a little bit.' He's been better than that. He's been great. He just plays hard too."

    After the All-Star break, Harrell averaged 14.6 points on 65.8 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.6 blocks in only 20.1 minutes. The Clippers didn't run many plays for him, but his indefatigable energy made him a matchup nightmare. On the season, his 1.4 points per possession as a roll man in pick-and-rolls ranked in the 95th percentile.

    Call Harrell an undersized center. Think of him as a power forward, which was clearly the case when he entered the league. Either way, he's carved out an impressive niche for himself with his energy, raw athleticism and tremendous timing when cutting toward the paint.

5. Jabari Parker

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age23

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 17.1 PER, minus-2.88 RPM, minus-26.83 TPA

    Now that Jabari Parker is coming off of multiple ACL injuries and failed to prove himself after his latest return, he's a risky play in free agency. Given his impressive pedigree and ability to shoulder a substantial scoring load, he'll demand a high salary—higher still for teams trying to lure him away from the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    There's a chance Parker is less valuable than Montrezl Harrell throughout the next contract cycle. But whereas Harrell's rim-running skill set inherently limits his role, Parker has the upside necessary to become a go-to player commanding plenty of defensive attention. 

    Hearken back to 2016-17, and Parker averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists while slashing 49.0/36.5/74.3. Is it unrealistic to imagine him getting back to a similar level, especially since his long absence didn't affect his three-point shooting in 2017-18 (38.3 percent on 2.6 attempts per game)?

    Parker remains a versatile scoring threat who can thrive in many different settings. He's a capable off-ball sniper, as well as a combo forward who can take bigger players off the bounce or body up against smaller ones. He might not have fit in with the newest Milwaukee schemes, and he played miserably during the first few games of an opening-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, but that doesn't wipe away his potential. 

    Give him a tabula rasa, and Parker could prove worthy of a large investment. Just don't be surprised if he doesn't, either. 

4. Derrick Favors

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    Cameron Browne/Getty Images

    Age26

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics:18.8 PER, 0.53 RPM, 115.9 TPA

    Heading into the 2017-18 season, Derrick Favors seemed like a poor fit alongside Rudy Gobert. A departure in free agency felt inevitable because of that stylistic clash, especially as he struggled to regain his footing while working through a leg injury.

    Not anymore, as Tony Jones detailed for the Salt Lake Tribune in early April:

    "In many ways, the 26-year-old is stuck between NBA eras. When Favors came into the league, he was a 6'10" oversized power forward with an athleticism that made him a special prospect at his position. Eight years later, he may be a 6'10" undersized center, one who needs that athleticism to deal with bigger players at a new position.

    "And that's what makes his contribution to the Jazz so intriguing. Favors is playing his best basketball since 2015-16, when he played at a borderline All-Star level. He's averaging 12 points and seven rebounds. He makes the Jazz special in that coach Quin Snyder can put a rim-protecting big man on the floor for 48 minutes. Not many NBA teams can do that.

    "Favors has figured out what he can do and made himself a factor instead of sulking and lamenting what he can't do. And his teammates have taken notice."

    Favors' long-term development would be aided by more shooting range. He took a career-high 0.8 three-point attempts per game in 2017-18, but he only connected at a 22.2 percent clip.

    Nonetheless, he's morphing into a high-quality mid-range marksman who can also finish at the hoop efficiently. Coupled with the self-awareness Jones mentioned and his rim-protecting skill, that makes him a valuable piece going forward even if he changes nothing about his game.

3. Thaddeus Young

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Age29

    Type of Free Agency: Player Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 14.8 PER1.09 RPM, 78.21 TPA

    Let's begin with the positives.

    Even as Thaddeus Young inches closer to his 30th birthday, he can still serve as a rim-seeking missile in transition. His physical traits allow him to switch onto a wide variety of adversaries on defense, to the point that the Indiana Pacers often tasked him with covering the other team's best wing. He rarely makes mistakes while handling the ball, and he's a strong finisher once he gets close to or into the restricted area. 

    But negatives do exist for Young. 

    He made significant strides as a shooter in 2016-17, slashing 52.7/38.1/52.3 during the 2016-17 campaign while taking 1.6 shots per game from beyond the rainbow. Those gains disappeared during his age-29 season, as his slash line fell to 48.7/32.0/59.8 while he fancied himself even more of a stretch 4. Troublingly, he could muster only 0.89 points per spot-up possession, which left him down in the 35th percentile

    It's easy to see Young's overarching appeal even when his shots aren't falling. His willingness to contribute in so many areas while exerting vast amounts of energy on defense is beneficial in and of itself. His ability to jump between covering LeBron James and Kevin Love during the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs isn't easy to overlook. 

    But Young will be in his 30s when the 2018-19 campaign begins, and his quickness won't last forever. When that decline inevitably comes, his shooting will become more important than ever.

    Considering the way he backslid during the most recent go-round, that's troubling.

2. Julius Randle

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Age23

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 19.9 PER, 0.58 RPM, 45.76 TPA

    Everything started to click for Julius Randle in 2017-18. 

    No longer did he attempt to force the issue by shooting ill-advised three-pointers. He cut back on his propensity to settle for mid-range jumpers and figured out how to drive toward the hoop with more than only his left hand. As a result, he took a career-high 54.5 percent of his field-goal attempts from within three feet and converted 72.8 percent of those looks—another career high. 

    Randle remains a dominant per-minute rebounder. He's drawing more fouls than ever with this newfound controlled aggression. He's still a deft passer who can hit open teammates as they're cutting all over half-court sets. 

    His ability to finish so many plays at the hoop is what makes him special, which sets the stage for a massive payday this summer. He's better than ever at picking his spots and absorbing contact around the hoop. 

    Thirty-eight players took at least 300 shots from within three feet during the 2017-18 campaign; Randle was at 492, which left him behind only eight men. Sixteen of them converted at least 70 percent of their looks, and only 10 were more accurate than Randle. But so many of these contributors are rim-running threats who rely on set-up feeds to do damage—Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert, for example. 

    Among that group of 16, Randle was one of only five players who created at least 40 percent of his interior makes for himself. The others? LaMarcus Aldridge, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Ben Simmons.

1. Aaron Gordon

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Age22

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.5 PER, 0.72 RPM, 0.0 TPA

    During the 2017 portion of the 2017-18 season, Aaron Gordon averaged 18.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks while slashing 49.9/41.3/75.0. He was everything the Orlando Magic could've wanted in a new-age forward, whether he was cutting to the hoop, controlling possessions from the perimeter or flying around on defense to maximize his athletic advantages. 

    Then the calendar flipped to 2018. 

    From a Jan. 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets until the end of a disappointing season resulting in yet another lottery finish, Gordon could only muster 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks. Some of those stats represent stagnation or marginal progression, but any gains were negated by his shooting woes. Too heavily reliant on perimeter exploits, the 22-year-old knocked down only 38.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, 27.3 percent of his three-point tries and 63.8 percent of his looks from the charity stripe.

    Therein lies the conundrum.

    Which is the real Gordon? How much of a small-sample-size fluke was the sharpshooting power forward who turned the hardwood into his own personal stomping ground? Is he ever going to consistently take over games as the playmaking forward envisioned by the Orlando brain trust? 

    Gordon's ceiling should drive the free-agency market, so he may land a max contract for his high-flying talents. But the floor is lower than some might think. For all of the games in which he looks like a modern-day prototype at the 4, he can let his team down with defensive inconsistency and a dependence on shots he has no business taking. 

    If ever a high-risk, high-reward power forward existed in the current free-agent class, it would be Gordon.

                      

    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.