NBA Free-Agency Rankings: Top 50 Players on the Market

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2018

NBA Free-Agency Rankings: Top 50 Players on the Market

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    Prepare for nonstop rumors as the NBA's 30 organizations plan out how they will spend their money in 2018's free-agency period.

    Plenty of star power litters the top of these rankings, led by none other than LeBron James as he decides whether to remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers or join a different organization for 2018-19 and beyond. But this class is about so much more than just one player. You can find talent at each and every lineup slot, which we've run through one by one leading up to the heart of the offseason.

    If you need a recap of those prior articles, we've got you covered:

    Now, we're grouping them all together. Positions are no longer relevant as we mix the point guards with the centers and everything in between, seeking to determine the best buys based on current level of play, age and expected performance during the next contract.

    The lone rule is that our order can't deviate from the positional countdowns, with only Dwight Howard serving as a notable exception because he was still a member of the Charlotte Hornets when we ran through the 5s. 

    With that in mind, let's get on with the rankings.

    Note: Most of the text throughout this article is repeated from the positional rankings, though new information has been added in some places.

50. Mario Hezonja

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Age23

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 13.7 PER, minus-2.04 RPMminus-27.09 TPA

    Mario Hezonja needs to improve on defense, learn how to draw additional fouls and begin creating more of his own looks if he's going to break out as a rotation stalwart and provide a belated justification for the No. 5 pick the Orlando Magic spent on his services in the 2015 NBA draft. But during substantial portions of the 2017-18 campaign, he started to flash the well-rounded scoring upside and athleticism that originally made him so appealing.

    The 23-year-old is currently at his best in three different areas: handling the rock in pick-and-roll sets, setting up for spot-up attempts and making the most of his speed/leaping combination in the open court.

    As a PnR ball-handler, he scored 0.87 points per possession, putting him in the 67th percentile. But that says nothing about his ability to keep his eyes up while probing a defense, operating in constant search of open teammates even as he drives into the heart of opposing schemes. Finishing in the 45th percentile for transition work represented a big step up from his sophomore efforts (15th percentile), and it didn't prevent him from improving substantially as a spot-up sniper.

    In those off-ball scenarios, Hezonja scored 1.05 points per possession (67th percentile). That growth alone should get him looks from teams eager to find more spacing options at the 3, especially because this package comes with so much enduring upside in other areas.

    The Croatian small forward averaged 12.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.6 blocks per game after the start of February—numbers only three qualified players (James Harden, Victor Oladipo and Ben Simmons) matched throughout the campaign.

                 

    Honorable Mentions: Davis Bertans, Seth Curry, James Ennis III, Yogi Ferrell, Jeff Green, Devin Harris, Ersan Ilyasova, Ty Lawson, Greg Monroe, Anthony Tolliver

49. Dante Exum

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    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-1.55 RPMminus-5.62 TPA

    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. 

48. Tony Parker

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    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-3.65 RPMminus-86.9 TPA 

    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 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-3.65 (No. 96 among 104 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.

47. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 36

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.0 PER, minus-1.60 RPM, minus-62.78 TPA

    Though it might seem disrespectful to drop Dwyane Wade so far down the hierarchy that he nearly falls among the honorable mentions, he's no longer the same player he was in his prime. Even after returning from an unsuccessful stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers and rejoining his Miami Heat, he could only muster 12.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 40.9 percent from the field, 22.0 percent from downtown and 74.5 percent from the stripe.

    The future Hall of Famer is still good for the occasional throwback performance—the Philadelphia 76ers would surely be willing to testify here—but the positive exploits come fewer and further between. Still devoid of perimeter-shooting ability and unable to create quite as much separation on his basket attacks, both of the on- and off-ball varieties, he has to rely on caginess to open up opportunities. That saps extra energy and, in turn, makes it tougher for him to maintain his former level on defense. 

    Even during his lone year with the Chicago Bulls and throughout his rookie campaign back in 2003-04, Wade has always been able to earn positive scores in offensive box plus/minus. But he could only post a minus-2.4 OBPM in 2017-18, and it fell to minus-4.2 while he was back with the Heat. The playoffs may have allowed for some nationally televised hijinks against the Sixers, but his OBPM was still just minus-2.8.

    Wade has the skills and defensive instincts necessary to remain a useful bench piece, but he has to be careful not to overextend himself. Those takeover possessions should come sparingly, no matter what his reputation might otherwise indicate. 

46. Kyle O'Quinn

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 28

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 20.0 PER, 1.94 RPM, 125.87 TPA

    "We love his passing. I think his consistency this year has been probably greater than it ever has been in his career," former New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said about Kyle O'Quinn in April, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "That's one thing that we were kind of striving for with him. Again he came in the beginning of the year and he wanted to earn those minutes and he took them. I think he's had a great year." 

    O'Quinn has consistently served as an overlooked contributor throughout his NBA career, always posting advanced metrics that indicate he's capable of filling a much larger role.

    He rarely takes bad shots and constantly displays self-awareness on the offensive end. He can knock down mid-range jumpers (50 percent from 10 to 16 feet and 44.1 percent on even longer twos this year) and finish plays around the hoop with aplomb, whether creating for himself from the blocks or cleaning up misses on the offensive glass. He's an excellent per-minute rebounder and a stalwart defending the interior, both of which helped the Knicks improve by 4.2 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor in 2017-18. 

    But even with the passing strides he made (career-high 4.1 assists per 36 minutes), he still couldn't carve out more than 18 minutes per game. Perhaps that's a knock on his conditioning. Maybe it's a tacit admission that he's best in a low-usage role that lets him maximize his energy expenditures in shorter bursts. There's a chance New York was just misusing him.

    If that last scenario is indeed what's been happening—and we could have a chance to find out since, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, O'Quinn turned down his $4.3 million player option, ostensibly in search of a new home—he could prove massively under-ranked here. 

45. Derrick Rose

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    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-3.59 RPMminus-66.56 TPA

    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 moves 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. 

44. Shabazz Napier

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    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, 0.42 RPM3.09 TPA

    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 is an advantage for Napier, 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. 

43. Milos Teodosic

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    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-0.25 RPMminus-32.65 TPA

    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.  

42. Aron Baynes

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Age: 31

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.1 PER, 0.55 RPM, minus-50.49 TPA

    If you're counting on Aron Baynes for offense, you've made a horrible mistake. His buckets are largely the result of cleaning up trash and capitalizing on second-chance opportunities; the Boston Celtics rarely, if ever, went out of their way to call his number. 

    But even if the 31-year-old is a glaring offensive liability, his defense makes him well worth rostering. A bruising, physically imposing presence, Baynes was an overlooked reason for Boston's surge up the point-preventing leaderboard. As much credit as Al Horford (justifiably) receives for his work at the center of the Celtics' schemes, this big man's willingness to do the dirty work propelled the climb. 

    With Baynes on the pine during the regular season, the C's allowed 104.3 points per 100 possessions. That number plummeted to 97.0 when he played, giving him the largest on/off differential of any qualified Celtic. Marcus Smart (minus-3.6), Jayson Tatum (minus-3.2) and Shane Larkin (minus-3.2) were up next, while the defense improved by just a single point per 100 possessions with Horford playing.

    That's the kind of impact we're talking about here—the game-altering variety that sees fewer challenges on the interior and allows for lively bodies switching freely on the perimeter. 

    Of course, sustained success from downtown would only boost his stock further. Baynes only went 3-of-21 (14.3 percent) from trey-land during the regular season, but he made 11 of his 23 deep attempts (47.8 percent) while helping the C's make a postseason run that lasted until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. If that carries over, counting on him for offense may no longer be such a horrible mistake. 

41. Alex Len

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Age: 25

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 19.4 PER, minus-1.12 RPM, 23.32 TPA

    Throughout the entirety of his disappointing career, Alex Len has managed to hold his own defensively. Since becoming the No. 5 pick of the 2013 NBA draft, he's put together positive defensive box plus/minuses in four of his five seasons—the lone exception coming in 362 rookie-year minutes. 

    Though those numbers are no doubt aided by his excellence on the defensive glass (more than eight possession-ending boards per 36 minutes during each of the last three go-rounds), offense has been the problem. Len hasn't displayed any shooting range, barely produced more assists than turnovers in 2017-18 (the first time in his career he's done so) and struggles to convert at the charity stripe.

    But he showed flashes of growth throughout the most recent campaign—perfect timing by the 25-year-old preparing to enter his first foray into unrestricted free agency.

    Not only did Len score 8.5 points per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the field, but he also stopped trying to force an unappealing expansion to his range. The mid-range jumpers came fewer and further between, and he instead focused on finishing plays around the basket. As a result, he settled into the 59th percentile as a post-up player and the 77th percentile rolling out of the PnR game. 

    These aren't elite marks by any stretch. But they still represent growth for a player who didn't blow out 25 candles until the middle of June. 

40. Kevon Looney

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 22

    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 as 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 the latter route and figure he'll always have a shot to be a sellsword 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.  

39. Danny Green

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 31

    Type of Free Agency: Player Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 11.4 PER, 0.0 RPM, 38.99 TPA

    Danny Green, who's reportedly leaning toward opting into the final year of his deal, per Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News, has never learned how to create many of his own shots. During this age-30 campaign, he required assists on 62.4 percent of his makes from inside the arc and a staggering 99.1 percent of his made triples. To put that in perspective, here are the most made threes by 2017-18 players who created no more than 1 percent of their triples off the bounce: 

    1. Anthony Tolliver: 159 threes and 100 percent assisted
    2. Dario Saric: 157 threes and 100 percent assisted
    3. Dirk Nowitzki: 138 threes and 100 percent assisted
    4. Ryan Anderson: 131 threes and 99.2 percent assisted
    5. Marvin Williams: 126 threes and 99.2 percent assisted
    6. Dragan Bender: 118 threes and 99.2 percent assisted
    7. Danny Green: 116 threes and 99.1 percent assisted
    8. Tony Snell: 108 threes and 100 percent assisted
    9. Frank Kaminsky: 104 threes and 99 percent assisted
    10. Quincy Acy: 102 threes and 99 percent assisted

    We're working within the realm of pure catch-and-shoot gunners. But that's not problematic for Green, so long as he continues to function as the three-and-D mainstay who's consistently aided the San Antonio Spurs' efforts over the last eight years.

    And that's where we find trouble. 

    Green's shooting hasn't been elite since 2014-15; he only made 36.3 percent of his three-point attempts this year and sat in the 50th percentile as a spot-up marksman. He's also seeing his score slip in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, falling from 2016-17's 1.71 (No. 3 among 2-guards) to 2017-18's 1.16 (No. 5). 

    Even good-but-not-great finishes in both categories make Green worth rostering, but his tenure as one of the league's most overlooked contributors now resides firmly in the past. 

38. Nerlens Noel

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age: 24

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, minus-0.83 RPM, 9.4 TPA

    "I most definitely don't regret anything. I'm not nervous because I know my abilities," Nerlens Noel told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman in December, alluding to his decision to turn down a four-year, $70 million extension that led to him playing on a qualifying offer in 2017-18 while awaiting this summer's unrestricted free agency. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what I can get on the court any time, day or night, and do. It's simply getting the opportunity to show it."

    Since then, his progression hasn't exactly been smooth. Instead, it's been filled with surgery on his thumb, controversy over whose decision it was to go under the knife, a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy and an inane story about hot dogs

    But Noel, who won't turn 25 until near the end of the 2018-19 campaign, can still play quality basketball when he's actually given the chance to, well, play. The Dallas Mavericks just didn't afford him such luxuries, keeping him glued to the bench for all but 15.7 minutes per game in his 30 appearances.

    Still, the big man averaged 10.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes while rarely taking bad shots, limiting his turnovers and continuing to excel on the defensive end. Throughout all of NBA history, only 47 players have suited up no fewer than 20 times and averaged a points-rebounds double-double with at least two swipes and 1.5 swats per 36 minutes. During 2017-18, just he, Kyle Anderson and Brice Johnson joined the club.

    Noel's quick hands and feet still give him elite upside on the defensive end, and he's an infectious roll man who inspires his teammates to throw more lob passes while drawing attention toward the interior. That has to play well somewhere. 

37. Enes Kanter

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 26

    Type of Free Agency: Player Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 24.0 PER, minus-0.14 RPM, 92.26 TPA

    A player like Enes Kanter should always have a place on an NBA team. 

    He's by no means perfect. A sieve on the defensive end who doesn't have the foot speed required to play in today's switch-heavy schemes, he has a capped ceiling. You're rostering him because of his work on the boards and the scoring prowess, then trying to build a rotation around him that can mitigate his obvious weaknesses. 

    But that combination of rebounding and scoring is worth some concessions.

    The New York Knicks weren't built for it, hence their net rating dipping by 3.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor in 2017-18. Their offense was (unsurprisingly) better with him playing, but they didn't have the perimeter defenders necessary to prevent dribble penetration that exposed him on the inside. If he opts out of his $18.6 million player option, he'll likely be sacrificing some money for a chance to find a better fit. 

    Still. A whopping 19.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 59.2 percent from the field? Not a single qualified player could match those first two numbers this season. Only Elgin Baylor, Walt Bellamy, Wilt Chamberlain, Kevin Love, Moses Malone, George Mikan and Bob Pettit have throughout NBA history. 

    We're not conflating Kanter with a collection of Hall of Fame talents, but instead suggesting his biggest strengths really are that strong. 

36. Brook Lopez

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 30

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.4 PER, 0.29 RPM, 18.13 TPA

    As Brook Lopez moves into his 30s and attempts to stave off the advances of Father Time, he'll have to continue using the relatively new weapon in his offensive arsenal. His expanded shooting range gives him the ability to remain quite valuable even as he assumes smaller roles and no longer serves as the focal point of an offense, as he once did with the Brooklyn Nets. 

    Journey with me as we look at the entire list of 7-footers who have taken at least four triples per game and connected at no worse than a 35 percent clip during each of the last two seasons: 

    • Brook Lopez
    • Kristaps Porzingis

    That's it.

    Marc Gasol, Lauri Markkanen and Dirk Nowitzki have each done so once in the last two years, but that's not enough to qualify for our exclusive club. Lopez really is one of the few shooting bigs who takes triples in volume and connects frequently enough to serve as a legitimate gravitational body on the perimeter.

    Unfortunately, he's being forced to rely more and more on that portion of his game; 41 percent of his field-goal attempts came from downtown in 2017-18, which is more than the summed percentages from each of his previous nine seasons (36.2 percent). That, in turn, leads to declining offensive-rebound rates that eliminate one of his prior strengths.

    Lopez is a specialist now more than ever before. But at least he's a darn good one. 

35. Joe Harris

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age26

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 13.3 PER, minus-0.54 RPM4.07 TPA

    Quietly, perhaps because his breakout has come with the lowly Brooklyn Nets, Joe Harris has become one of the NBA's most formidable shooters. You might not see it in his per-game scoring average, but the 26-year-old is a threat to tickle twine from any spot within the half-court set. 

    Harris knocked down 49.1 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2017-18 despite creating 36.1 percent of his two-pointers and 5.3 percent of his triples off the bounce—strong numbers for a wing not typically viewed as a primary ball-handler. Couple that with a 41.9 percent clip from downtown and an 82.7 percent conversion rate at the line, and you have that well-roundedness that's boosted his stock substantially.

    In fact, Harris was one of only six players to qualify for the three-point leaderboard and slash at least 49/41/82:

    His lack of national prominence, passing limitations and subpar defensive chops likely won't allow him to make nearly as much money as any other members of that exclusive club. But this 2-guard can shoot the basketball, and that's one of the most valuable skills in today's NBA.  

    Furthermore, his stock will only continue to rise if he develops an ability to run pick-and-rolls as a secondary ball-handler and do more than call his own number. He already scores 1.02 points per possession in those sets (92nd percentile), which indicates some level of comfort. Keeping his head up in search of teammates roaming the perimeter is the natural next step, though not everyone is able to make such a progression. 

34. 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 of 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 surviving 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. 

33. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age40

    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 one 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 moves beyond his 40th birthday, which came on June 19 but won't prevent Nowitzki from continuing to push toward remarkable efficiency levels.

    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. 

32. Rudy Gay

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    Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age31

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 18.0 PER, 0.27 RPM, 7.31 TPA

    Achilles injuries can have devastating effects on an NBA player's career, particularly when they occur as a contributor is moving out of his athletic prime. But as Ailene Voisin detailed for the Sacramento Bee, the malady that ended Rudy Gay's 3.5-season tenure with the Sacramento Kings had both positive and negative effects after he moved on to the San Antonio Spurs:

    "Gay, who was immobile for four months, then advancing to a scooter for two more months, changed his diet to avoid gaining weight. Pancakes for breakfast were replaced by vegetable omelets. Fast-food lunches and dinners gave way to lean meats, vegetables and healthy carbohydrates. ...

    "He isn't as fluid as he was, nor as explosive. His lateral quickness is suspect. Additionally, he missed 23 games with right heel tendinitis in December, possibly related to the surgically repaired left Achilles."

    Gay has changed his playing style, no longer depending upon the athletic advantages that made him so exciting, albeit inconsistent, during his earlier days. But the health changes have also aided his comeback, allowing him to showcase improved endurance and commitment on the defensive end—alterations that were, no doubt, teased out by the coaching brilliance of San Antonio signal-caller Gregg Popovich.

    During the 2017-18 campaign, Gay stopped relying as heavily on three-point jumpers and picked his spots more wisely from inside the arc. He cut back on his turnovers. He made a career-low 32 dunks, instead conserving energy in a manner that helped him post the second-best defensive box plus/minus of his career.

    Now, he's proved his game is malleable enough. He recently turned down his $8.8 million player option, per ESPN, and will either return to San Antonio on a new deal (and continue lining up more at the 4 than the 3) or seek a payday elsewhere that will likely see him again bouncing between forward positions.

31. Wayne Ellington

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 30

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.5 PER, minus-0.31 RPM0.0 TPA

    Wayne Ellington isn't going to hold his own on the defensive end. He's never going to find much success as a distributing 2-guard. You can't expect him to pull down boards, finish plays inside the arc or make many trips to the free-throw line. 

    But that's all fine because he's one of the league's true snipers. 

    The numbers are impressive on their own. Ellington spent the 2017-18 campaign taking 7.5 triples per game for the Miami Heat, and he connected on 39.2 percent of those hoists. Considering he played just 26.5 minutes per contest, that's an astounding blend of volume and efficiency. In fact, Stephen Curry (2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18) and Troy Daniels (2017-18) are the only qualified gunners who have matched his accuracy level and 10.2 tries per 36 minutes during any season in NBA history.

    But because of the sheer difficulty of some makes, Ellington's impact goes well beyond the raw numbers.

    His job description is simple under head coach Erik Spoelstra: jet around the perimeter in search of the tiniest modicum of space. When he finds the smallest possible opening, he's allowed to rise and fire in spite of defenders closing the already minimal gap.

    Whether he's leaning to the side or able to set his feet and rise vertically, he puts his shots on target. 

    "That's that first prerogative is getting defenders to quit," Spoelstra explained in late January, per Andre C. Fernandez of the Miami Herald. "And then you train for that and have the ability to come off full-speed and make those kinds of difficult shots that sometimes are contested, but sometimes your body's contorted in different ways; that is an unbelievable skill that you have to train very hard for."

    Ellington was in the best shape of his career during the 2017-18 campaign. But what's fascinating about the transformation is how it baffles the numbers. He actually moved only 0.06 miles per hour faster on the offensive end; he just knew how to time his motions better than ever and explode in quick bursts to free himself from the defense. 

30. Luc Mbah a Moute

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Team: Houston Rockets

    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. Upon aggravating the injury in a second-round clash with the Utah Jazz, he was then 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. 

29. Montrezl Harrell

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    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

    After the Los Angeles Clippers acquired Montrezl Harrell 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, or 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.

    Players don't have to produce high point tallies in order to hold value in today's NBA. But when they can score in double figures on a consistent basis without demanding touches—Harrell ranked No. 153 in points per game but only No. 291 in touches per contest—they're all the more prized.

28. 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-1.11 RPMminus-39.27 TPA

    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. 

27. 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, minus-2.06 RPM4.08 TPA

    Something has already changed for Elfrid Payton. 

    He's quietly been one of the league's more underrated backcourt members for the last couple of 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 subpar 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.

26. Jusuf Nurkic

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 23

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 19.2 PER, 1.8 RPM, 8.4 TPA

    The Jusuf Nurkic roller-coaster ride is filled with dizzying highs and perilous lows. 

    He'll string together clunkers in which he racks up turnovers, forces ill-advised, heavily contested shots around the basket and seems to pout on the defensive end. Then one game later—often, it seems, in a nationally televised contest—he'll remind the world of his prodigious talent, dominating through sheer strength and showing off his touch until he's firmly removed from head coach Terry Stotts' doghouse. 

    Maybe consistency would come with a more defined role. The Portland Trail Blazers had to depend a bit too much on his scoring talents when the backcourt studs were struggling, and their surge to defensive dominance didn't always allow him to make the most of his defending talents.

    Imagine, for instance, if Nurkic's pick-and-roll game were featured more prominently. Or if he learned to channel his physicality more as a bruiser rather than dancing around and attempting to show off developing finesse moves. Or if he stopped getting into foul trouble and was able to build more of an on-court rhythm. 

    Only seven players in the NBA recorded more screen assists during the 2017-18 campaign. Nurkic also capitalized on those bone-rattling picks by rolling with impressive timing, but his touch on the move lagged behind. He could only score enough as a roll man to finish in the 39th percentile, and that's an area that could soon see major improvement. 

    The tools are certainly present for this 23-year-old. Putting them all together is the next challenge. 

25. Dwight Howard

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    TeamCharlotte Hornets

    Age32

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 20.5 PER, 0.64 RPMminus-15.14 TPA

    Dwight Howard technically isn't a free agent yet.

    Wink, wink. 

    But after the Charlotte Hornets dealt him to the Brooklyn Nets for Timofey Mozgov, cash and a pair of second-round picks, the veteran center is working on a buyout that will allow him to hit the open market as an unrestricted commodity, per ESPN.com's Chris Haynes. For all intents and purposes, he may as well already be available since he's not going to spend the next season operating for a rebuilding squad.

    Of course, he still has a...questionable view of his own skills. As he told Haynes while reflecting on his brief tenure in the Queen City:

    "This year was an opportunity for me to show what type of player I am and where I can go. This season I made the most jump shots that I've made my whole career. I've improved my pick-and-pops. My [isolation] numbers are very high. I'm in a position where I can still dominate on the post, but I can do more things now because I understand the game on a different level. Furthermore, I still want to continue developing and growing as a player."

    Let's do some quick fact-checking: 

    • He did indeed take and make the most jumpers of his career, but he shot only 32.7 percent from 10 to 16 feet, 33.3 percent on longer twos and 14.3 percent on looks from beyond the arc, indicating that he might be best served finishing more plays around the hoop.
    • He scored only 0.91 points per isolation possession, which left him in the 64th percentile and isn't exactly "very high." 
    • He scored just 0.83 points per post-up possession, which put him in the 40th percentile and hardly qualifies as dominating. 

    Howard can still perform on the defensive end, excel on the glass and clean up misses around the basket. But it's his limited self-awareness and insistence on calling his own number in disadvantageous situations that depresses his value in free agency even more than his advancing age. He's still talented enough to break into the top 25, but counting on him maximizing his enduring gifts makes for a dubious decision. 

24. Avery Bradley

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    Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Clippers

    Age27

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 9.6 PER, minus-2.71 RPMminus-120.98 TPA

    Can we just forget about Avery Bradley's miserable season?

    Though he entered the 2017-18 campaign as a seemingly solid fit alongside Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons, he was disastrous. Everything went wrong, ranging from his turnover troubles to his inability to finish plays inside the arc, from his defensive slippage to his incompatibility with the schemes run in the Motor City.

    Before a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Clippers—where injuries shortened his calendar, but only after his three-point stroke disappeared entirely—he'd been dropping the Pistons' net rating by a staggering 8.5 points per 100 possessions while on the floor. He finished the year ahead of only 10 players in NBA Math's TPA, which makes his No. 431 finish in ESPN.com's RPM look downright miraculous by comparison. 

    But expecting a bounce-back isn't unreasonable, especially if Bradley is fully recovered from the sports hernia that, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, plagued him throughout his disappointing efforts.

    If injuries are to blame for the decline just when this 2-guard was supposed to be entering his athletic prime, suitors may be able to view him as the player who'd blossomed into a three-and-D standout for the Boston Celtics, terrorizing opponents with his point-preventing prowess and spot-up acumen. 

    However, that's a precarious endeavor, and contracts are typically geared to account for that inherent level of risk. Bradley is far from a sure thing this summer. 

23. Zach LaVine

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age23

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 14.6 PER, minus-3.42 RPMminus-34.93 TPA

    Looking past Bradley's injury trouble is one thing, considering the nature of the malady. Writing off Zach LaVine's checkered past is a more difficult endeavor—not solely because of the ACL tear, but because of the cascading repercussions. 

    The uber-athletic 2-guard wasn't able to make his 2017-18 debut until a Jan. 13 contest against the Detroit Pistons. He suited up just 24 times before he was shut down to deal with knee tendinitis. Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg indicated that he didn't have long-term concerns about that latest issue, but it's still a troubling development for a player whose game is largely predicated upon his athletic superiority. 

    Nonetheless, LaVine is only 23 years old. That youth lets him slot in just above Bradley in these rankings, though both players now make for risky investments. And that's doubly true for this dunking machine who could only slash 38.3/34.1/81.3 during his few appearances this season.

    He could rekindle the offensive magic he discovered once the Minnesota Timberwolves finally realized he was far better in off-ball scenarios alongside a traditional point guard. That upside is substantial, to the point that he could not only justify this spot right ahead of Bradley but also outproduce every shooting guard yet to appear in this countdown.

    We saw it actualized in a 35-point explosion against his old team on Feb. 9, as LaVine consistently attacked the basket and put up a gaudy total without relying on his three-point stroke. Three games later, he went 5-of-7 from beyond the arc against the Philadelphia 76ers en route to one of six performances toppling 20 points in an eight-contest stretch. We're not just talking about purely theoretical upside, but rather potential already manifesting itself as actual, albeit inconsistent, production. 

    But if you're the one handing LaVine nearly $20 million per season (or perhaps more if someone really leans into the upside), are you truly going to feel confident in the investment? 

22. Trevor Ariza

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age32

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 11.8 PER, 1.66 RPM, 69.21 TPA

    Though James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela (justifiably) drew so many headlines for the Houston Rockets during their ascent to the Western Conference's top seed, the rise wouldn't have been possible without the two-way abilities of Trevor Ariza. He remained a three-and-D presence content to spot up for open jumpers on offense while exerting most of his energy in a relentless defensive effort.

    The 32-year-old, however, is starting to show some cracks.

    Any shooting slippage is concerning for a veteran who doesn't really create for himself off the bounce, and Ariza only connected on 36.8 percent of his shots from beyond the rainbow. Still, he was effective enough in catch-and-shoot situations that he finished in the 73rd percentile for his spot-up work, scoring a solid 1.08 points per relevant possession.

    Defense was the bigger concern.

    He was still a positive presence, but he posted the second-worst defensive box plus/minus of his 14-season career. Meanwhile, he checked in at No. 17 among small forwards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus—the second consecutive season he'd recorded a good-but-not-great score.

    Still, Houston allowed a team-best 10.9 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court in the playoffs—a breath of fresh air after the defensive rating rose slightly when he played in the regular season.

    Ariza remained a three-and-D contributor, but he's getting to that tricky stage of his career at which the decline might come in fast and furious fashion. That concern alone pushes him behind the next small forward in our countdown, even if he currently enjoys a more sterling reputation.

21. Kyle Anderson

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    Brian Sevald/Getty Images

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age24

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 3.12 RPM, 156.6 TPA

    Kyle Anderson is perhaps the most unorthodox player in these rankings, and his primary weakness is that he can be played off the court by some teams. The Golden State Warriors were one during the 2018 playoffs because they had the defensive switchability necessary to capitalize on his limited shooting abilities, essentially neglecting to cover him in the corners and daring him to make shots he couldn't hit with any consistency.

    If Anderson does develop into a spot-up threat (33rd percentile in 2017-18), he'll finally get the national recognition the other elements of his game deserve.

    This slow-footed forward excels as a deliberate pick-and-roll ball-handler who can carefully make decisions that optimize the skills of his teammates. He might take his time, but he avoids mistakes and plays with a cerebral ability that more than compensates for his molasses-like nature. Perhaps even more importantly, he's a game-changing defender for whom the ill effects of limited speed are mitigated by long arms and preternatural instincts.

    Among all 92 players listed as small forwards in 2017-18, only Robert Covington boasted a superior score in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus. Remove positions from the picture, and Anderson trails only 15 players—an impressive feat when the stat tends to reward the efforts of bigger men and features 10 centers in the top 20.

    Even if Anderson were allowed to contribute solely on defense, he'd be plenty valuable. Considering he shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2016-17, this 24-year-old may yet have some offense to offer.

20. Jabari Parker

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    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 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. 

    A chance exists that Parker is less valuable than plenty of contributors he's ranked above throughout the next contract cycle. But whereas some less-heralded players have similarly substantial concerns driven by injuries, age or role-limiting skill sets, Parker has the upside necessary to become a go-to player commanding plenty of defensive attention. And he's still just 23 years old, giving him plenty of time to bounce back from disappointments.

    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 he could get 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. 

19. Fred VanVleet

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    Vaughn Ridley/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, 3.4 RPM61.68 TPA

    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 HorfordKyrie 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.

    Though other contributors can sometimes carry quintets and inherently boost the stock of lesser players—imagine what might happen to your plus/minus if you served as the starting center for the Golden State Warriors—that's not what's happening here. Circling back to RPM, VanVleet (3.4) rather easily outpaced the efforts of the other four bench-mob members joining him in that second-ranked lineup: Miles (minus-0.35), Poeltl (0.44), Siakam (1.53) and Wright (1.65). This isn't really how the metric works, but it's still fun to note that his individual score tops the cumulative sum of his running mates (3.27). 

    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. 

18. 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-4.32 RPMminus-91.9 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.

    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 Fred VanVleet in these rankings. If he's in the middle or working closer to full redemption, he'll probably be stuck in this spot but earn a substantially better payday from a team that believes in his abilities.

17. Derrick Favors

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Team: Utah Jazz

    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 even if he changes nothing about his game.

16. Thaddeus Young

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 30

    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 past 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 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

    Young's overarching appeal is clear 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.

15. Will Barton

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    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    TeamDenver Nuggets

    Age27

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, 0.7 RPM54.11 TPA

    If you're willing to live with the flaws, Will Barton can serve as a special offensive force. 

    You have to accept the defensive porosity, as the 27-year-old has yet to figure out how he can parlay a physical frame into actual production on the stopping side. You have to deal with the inevitable possessions in which he decides he's shooting no matter what, leading to either an ill-advised perimeter jack or a reckless drive into traffic that yields a turnover or dumb shot. But you may be fine with all that, considering this wing's innate talent as both a scorer and a (somewhat reluctant) distributor.

    Plus, his confidence is noteworthy. He bet on himself before his breakout with the Denver Nuggets, and it could pay off this summer. As ESPN.com's Chris Haynes detailed in a tremendous look at the highs and lows of Barton's basketball career:

    "Barton has come a long way since his DNP-CDs in Portland, but he will face another moment of uncertainty in his NBA career this offseason, when he will be an unrestricted free agent. Last summer, after hiring Aaron Goodwin as his agent, Barton turned down a four-year, $42 million extension in early October, league sources told ESPN. That was the most Denver could offer, given salary-cap rules.

    "Goodwin told Barton to bet on himself, and Barton has put up strong numbers. But the 27-year-old will be entering a different market than free agents in recent summers. Due to the abundance of spending after the new TV revenue deal kicked in, money appears to have drastically dried up for this class."

    Money may be hard to come by for this crop of free agents, but someone should find some for a shooting guard who just averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 37.0 percent from the outside and 80.5 percent from the stripe. 

    Barton has his flaws, sure. He's still one of the few talents who can serve as a convincing distributor, show off his athleticism with thunderous finishes at the hoop and knock down triples while creating a substantial portion off the bounce. 

14. Marcus Smart

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    TeamBoston Celtics

    Age24

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 10.8 PER, 0.96 RPMminus-16.14 TPA

    Marcus Smart can't be defined by mere numbers.

    Though shooting is a vital skill for guards in today's NBA, he's a woeful marksman from beyond the arc, connecting on only 30.1 percent of his triples while taking a whopping 4.6 per game in 2017-18. That's the most accurate he's been during any of the last three seasons. And yet, the imprecision doesn't seem to matter for this unique figure.

    Smart would be a more valuable presence if he could draw even the teensiest amount of defensive attention when spotting up on the perimeter. But whereas some spacing liabilities get glued to the bench, he's carved out an important role with his passing, defensive intensity and relentless hustle plays.

    Only 12 players grabbed more loose balls per game than Smart's 2.3, which isn't too shabby for a player ranked No. 93 in minutes per game. He was always willing to sacrifice his body, whether hitting the hardwood in pursuit of a 50/50 chance or stepping in front of a driving player to draw a charge. And that's saying nothing of the physical toll exacted by his willingness to body up against bigger offensive opponents—guards and forwards alike. 

    During the playoffs, the Boston Celtics were 4.1 points per 100 possessions better with Smart on the floor—the No. 3 differential of any rostered player, trailing Al Horford (13.9) and Jayson Tatum (12.3). That number stood at 4.7 during the regular season, as the Beantown residents saw their net rating swell from 1.8 to 6.5 when he played. 

    Maybe he can be defined by numbers, after all.

13. JJ Redick

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    TeamPhiladelphia 76ers

    Age33

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 0.55 RPM0.0 TPA

    Maybe we shouldn't go so far as saying JJ Redick gets better with age, but the 33-year-old sniper certainly isn't declining. Though some marginal efficiency slippage prevented him from posting anything better than the No. 4 score of his career in offensive box plus/minus, he did manage to set lifetime bests in points and rebounds per game while his assists per contest lagged behind only the marks earned in 2012-13. 

    The Philadelphia 76ers presented a perfect fit for his skills while he operated on a one-year balloon deal alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. They could cover up for his defensive porosity with constant switching and strong work on the interior, they allowed him to occasionally serve as a secondary distributor and they needed his floor-spacing aptitude.

    Especially at this stage of his NBA tenure, Redick is most appealing because of that last characteristic. 

    Though his passing acumen shouldn't be overlooked, he's still one of the league's deadliest shooters. For the Sixers, he took 6.6 triples per game and connected at a 42.0 percent clip. Whether hitting one-dribble pull-ups or curling around screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities, he was a devastating presence who demanded constant vigilance from his adversaries.

    That's not going to change in the near future, especially after he comes off a volume/efficiency combination matched by only six players throughout NBA history: Ray Allen, Stephen Curry (five times), Reggie Miller (with a shortened arc), Dennis Scott (with a shortened arc), Peja Stojakovic (twice) and Klay Thompson (three times). He's still one of the NBA's best specialists, and it's thanks to a skill Father Time typically struggles to touch. 

    Of course, the Sixers (or a new team in 2018-19) wouldn't mind if Redick remembered he was still allowed to function as a historically excellent shooter when crunch-time scenarios developed. Rather inexplicably, he could only connect on 29.6 percent of his triples in clutch moments—defined by NBA.com as the last five minutes of games separated by no more than five points.

    Fortunately, that stands in stark contrast to his historical results. Redick hit 46.2 percent of his clutch treys in 2016-17 and 46.4 percent in 2015-16, indicating that he's not always going to fade in the big moments.

12. DeAndre Jordan

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 29

    Type of Free Agency: Player Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 20.2 PER, 0.57 RPM, 104.67 TPA

    DeAndre Jordan remains valuable for two skills above all others: He's a solid defensive anchor who can use his athleticism to shut down the interior of the half-court set, and he's a devastating roll man who plays so far above the rim that the opposition is often rendered helpless.  

    While facing 4.3 shots per game at the hoop, Jordan allowed foes to shoot 63.9 percent against him—a shift in the wrong direction after he held adversaries to 58.7 percent on 4.7 attempts per contest in 2016-17. Among the 43 players who squared off against at least four tries per appearance, only Nikola Jokic (67.9 percent), Kevin Love (66.0), Nikola Vucevic (65.9), Tobias Harris (65.5), Enes Kanter (64.6) and Karl-Anthony Towns (64.4) were more porous on this area of the floor.

    But merely contesting shots is sometimes a skill in and of itself, and that's reflected in Jordan's enduringly positive score in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus. Still, his mark of 1.32 sits at No. 40 among the 84 men classified as centers, and that stands in stark contrast to last year's positional placement at No. 7 with a score of 3.44. 

    He's clearly declining on the less-glamorous end—no surprise for a player nearing his 30s with a game predicated on athletic superiority. Fortunately, he's still thriving as a roll man. 

    His finish in the 84th percentile for points per rolling possession can't quite stack up to 2016-17's 99th percentile, but that's still an elite mark for a player who gets nearly a fifth of his offense in that play type. That skill alone keeps him near the top tier of the center hierarchy, even though whoever invests in him (assuming he first declines a $24.1 million player option) will need to exercise caution. 

11. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Lakers

    Age: 25

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 13.2 PER, 0.56 RPM51.36 TPA

    Though Kentavious Caldwell-Pope failed to steal many headlines from Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the youthful Los Angeles Lakers while operating on a one-year balloon deal, he checked all the boxes that needed checking. 

    The 25-year-old had previously looked the part of a three-and-D wing, but only for short spurts. He'd never served as an above-average marksman during his four-year tenure with the Detroit Pistons, and his work on the preventing end had always been inconsistent. But that changed in Tinseltown. 

    First, take a gander at the three-point progression:

    • 2013-14: 31.9 percent on 2.3 attempts per game
    • 2014-15: 34.5 percent on 5.4 attempts per game
    • 2015-16 30.9 percent on 4.9 attempts per game
    • 2016-17: 35.0 percent on 5.8 attempts per game
    • 2017-18: 38.3 percent on 5.6 attempts per game

    "I would venture to guess there's people in the room that are familiar with the stories in the book of Genesis, where there was a time when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and all the sudden bread came down from heaven," general manager Rob Pelinka stated at Caldwell-Pope's introductory press conference this summer. "That's kind of what today feels like for us to have KCP join."

    Let's maybe not go so far as establishing "manna" as the former Bulldog's moniker of choice, but he did indeed have a helping-his-Lakers-out-of-the-desert impact on the defensive end. Able to assume tough assignments every outing—though sometimes struggling with the transition to nightly battles against Western Conference stars—he validated that three-and-D line of thinking.

    Even if he didn't "improve" per se, he maintained his stopping abilities while growing as an efficient shooter. 

10. Tyreke Evans

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    TeamMemphis Grizzlies

    Age28

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 21.1 PER, 3.54 RPM114.38 TPA

    Before last year's free agency, I had Tyreke Evans ranked as the No. 37 player set to hit the open market. Just among those listed as shooting guards, he trailed Dion Waiters, Dwyane Wade, C.J. Miles, Tony Snell, Andre Roberson, Patty Mills, JJ Redick, Andre Iguodala and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. 

    I don't regret that. Evans was a relatively unappealing commodity ostensibly on the decline, and the NBA agreed. He could only muster a one-year contract from the Memphis Grizzlies worth $3.3 million.

    And then everything clicked.

    Evans didn't just average a jaw-dropping 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the Beale Street residents, but he also did so while playing solid defense, keeping his turnovers in check and slashing an impressive 45.2/39.9/78.5. Buoyed by a convincing three-point stroke, he put defenders into a pickle whenever he was on the floor.

    Should they press up on him in transition and risk a blow-by from the oversized, speedy guard? Should they sag back and cede deep attempts? The right answer never emerged, because Evans managed to finish plays from all over the floor while establishing himself as the team's top source of offensive production in Mike Conley's lengthy absence. 

    Though he didn't receive the accolade, the 28-year-old played like an All-Star. Despite injuries forcing him to miss 30 games—the vast majority of which came after the midseason festivities—he finished No. 35 in NBA Math's TPA. Only 25 players earned better scores in ESPN.com's RPM

    Teams may be reasonably hesitant to invest heavily in a player who's moving out of his athletic prime and coming off a narrative-shifting season. But Evans is still entering this year's free-agency period in far better shape.

9. Julius Randle

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    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 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.

    All that's missing from his offensive game—we're not worrying about inconsistent defense at this time—is shooting range. Randle could only convert 35.1 percent of his jumpers between 10 and 16 feet, 25.6 percent of his longer twos and 22.2 percent of his triples in 2017-18, and progression in even one of those areas would make a big difference. Force defenders to respect his jumper, and finishes around the hoop become even easier. 

8. Aaron Gordon

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    Gary Bassing/Getty Images

    Team: Orlando Magic

    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 that resulted 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 his shooting woes negated any gains. Too 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 personal stomping ground? Is he ever going to consistently take over games as the playmaking forward the Orlando brain trust envisioned? 

    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.

7. Clint Capela

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    TeamHouston Rockets

    Age: 24

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 24.5 PER, 2.14 RPM124.08 TPA

    In many ways, Clint Capela has become the ideal version of DeAndre Jordan. Still only 24 years old, he's morphed into an uber-efficient big who's content filling a smaller offensive role. He's the gold standard as a roll man these days, and he's also capable of anchoring the Houston Rockets' impressive defense. 

    Allow us to run through the same numbers we used for Jordan. 

    As a roll man, Capela scores a whopping 1.34 points per possession to sit in the 92nd percentile. But that's a misleadingly pessimistic number because rolls comprise 32.1 percent of his offensive possessions; only five men throughout the league used more total possessions in this play type, and none could come close to matching his efficiency.

    In fact, the next player to sit in at least the 80th percentile is Jerami Grant, who used only 165 rolling possessions throughout the season. If you're curious, that's 121 fewer than Capela.

    That skill alone should make Capela a coveted big in the current climate, but his growing defensive game only makes him more appealing. Not only did he sit just outside the top 10 centers in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, but he also faced more shots per game at the hoop than any other NBA player. 

    Capela still needs to acquire more discipline against interior players while building up his conditioning, and expanding his offensive arsenal wouldn't hurt. But he's an ideal roll-and-D big—an archetype that should be referred to much more frequently.

6. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 27

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 22.6 PER, 3.66 RPM, 200.03 TPA

    Here's what The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti wrote about DeMarcus Cousins' upcoming free agency back in late May: 

    "If Cousins is holding out for a full max contract, he may be in for a rude awakening. Zach Lowe has reported that New Orleans is internally considering a 'two- or three-year deal at less than the max,' and on Monday’s Bill Simmons Podcast, Lowe said he doesn't think there's much of a market for Cousins outside of New Orleans, Dallas, and maybe the Lakers, unless sign-and-trades come into play. 'People react like, 'No, DeMarcus Cousins is a star, every team will pay him the max.' OK, who? He's a big man coming off an Achilles tear, and half the teams [that have cap room] don't want to spend their cap room because they’re bad,' Lowe said."

    Months later, these remain legitimate concerns.

    Cousins has continued showcasing steps of his rehabilitation, but a massive delineation exists between work in a gym and full-speed play in the NBA. Achilles injuries are notoriously tricky, and they've ruined the careers of stars in the past. A full recovery to his pre-injury levels may not be possible for this 27-year-old big man. 

    He presumably hopes it will be. The basketball-watching world should, as well. Cousins at full strength still looks, at times, like the game's best center with his terrifying blend of physicality and finesse. He's also an improved defender with legitimate three-point range and the distributing skills of a backcourt player. 

    But the health worries are real, and they keep him from rising to the top of these positional rankings. 

5. Chris Paul

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    Bill Baptist/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, 6.99 RPM266.65 TPA

    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. 

    We're not making this up. 

    In the last 10 years, three point guards have made All-Star rosters during their age-30 seasons (Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Tony Parker). Lowry, Parker and Goran Dragic joined the club during their age-31 go-rounds. But Chauncey Billups (32 and 33), Jason Kidd (36) and Steve Nash (35 and 37) are the only three to do so while in at least their age-32 campaigns.

    Chris Paul could soon expand the fraternity, because he's just made differently than other 1-guards.

    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 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. 

4. Paul George

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age28

    Type of Free AgencyPlayer Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 18.7 PER, 2.9 RPM, 145.6 TPA

    Though Paul George might not have made either of the NBA's All-Defensive teams for his efforts with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was a momentum-altering presence on that end of the court. Not only did he lock down numerous forwards and backcourt members with his on-ball work, but he was also one of the league's most terrifying presences away from the primary action.

    George has an uncanny ability to read developments in real time, and he understands exactly where to position himself in order to wreak the most havoc. Couple that with his long arms, tremendous athleticism and an Energizer Bunny motor, and you have a deflection machine who constantly disrupts passing lanes and prevents his assignments from touching the rock despite cheating as far from them as he reasonably can.

    Among those logging at least 40 games, only Robert Covington registered more deflections per contest throughout the regular season. Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons were the only qualified players to recover more loose balls per game. George was a whirlwind on the court, maximizing his minutes without needing to engage in constant motion and wear himself out.

    We haven't even touched on his offense yet.

    Those 21.9 points and 3.3 assists per game came while George slashed 43.0/40.1/82.0—the middle number coming while he fired away 7.7 times per contest from beyond the rainbow. Only Stephen Curry could match his combination of volume and efficiency in trey-land.

    George is a legitimate two-way star. He'll be paid accordingly once he inevitably opts out of his $20.7 million player option, though we don't yet know who'll be signing the checks.

3. Nikola Jokic

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 23

    Type of Free Agency: Team Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 24.4 PER, 5.97 RPM, 349.79 TPA

    Maybe DeMarcus Cousins would be able to dethrone Nikola Jokic as the leader of the free-agent centers if he'd never suffered an Achilles injury. But given how the Denver Nuggets big man closed his season, it might've still been tough for Boogie to maintain a stranglehold on the top spot over the man four years his junior.

    Age does matter in these rankings, after all. 

    Jokic's defense still needs work, though it's not as bad as many seem to believe. He's not a game-changing presence on the stopping end because of his struggles affecting ball-handlers on the perimeter and trouble defending the rim, but he does a lot of good between those extremes. Watch him carefully, and you start to see the savvy rotations, disruptive hands and ability to keep players from catching the ball too close to the rim—all reflected in his positive score in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus.

    His status as an offensive savant is far harder to deny, given his wizardrous passing and scoring touch from so many areas of the floor.

    During his last 18 games of the season, he averaged 24.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks while shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 47.6 percent from downtown (on 4.6 attempts per game) and 88.5 percent from the stripe. Throughout February, he posted 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per contest, doing so while slashing 55.6/56.3/86.7. 

    But Jokic's free agency is merely a formality. The Nuggets have declined their team option but will immediately re-sign him on a max deal. He's dominated for long enough that his pursuit of a top-10 overall ranking should be met not with skepticism, but admiration.

    He's a legitimate superstar, though that designation is admittedly more in terms of production than national and international recognition.  

2. LeBron James

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age33

    Type of Free AgencyPlayer Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 28.6 PER, 4.96 RPM, 593.09 TPA

    If these rankings were solely about who'd play at the highest level during the 2018-19 campaign, LeBron James would sit atop the pack with room to spare. But we're curious about the entirety of the next contract cycle, which could extend far enough that the greatest current player would be operating in his age-37 season if he chose to sign—cue laughter—for the maximum duration.

    At some point, James has to prove human. Maybe.

    What he's doing is wholly unprecedented. Not only did he suit up in all 82 games for the first time in his illustrious career, but he also led the league in minutes per contest while doing so. Beyond that, he shouldered a tremendous burden for the lackluster Cleveland Cavaliers and then found another gear during the playoff run.

    In all seriousness, you could make a convincing argument that James, even making his eighth straight run to the NBA Finals and with plenty of international experience tacked onto his resume, played at the highest level of his career while willing his teammates through the Eastern Conference gauntlet.

    He couldn't overcome the star-studded Golden State Warriors, but he averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks while slashing 53.9/34.2/74.6 in the playoffs. He essentially beat back the advances of old age (for the moment), even displacing 2003 Tim Duncan to earn the top score since 1974 in NBA Math's postseason TPA database.

    Still, Father Time is undefeated. The decline has to start eventually.

    Right?

1. Kevin Durant

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age29

    Type of Free AgencyPlayer Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 26.0 PER, 3.61 RPM, 274.99 TPA

    The reigning Finals MVP, who should now be considered the third-best small forward in NBA history, isn't going anywhere. He's found a comfortable home with the Golden State Warriors that doesn't force him to shoulder an inordinate amount of leadership responsibilities but allows him to maximize his wide-ranging talents.

    Dubs general manager Bob Myers has already told reporters Kevin Durant will receive any contract he desires once he opts out of his current pact:

    "Sometimes you don't negotiate. I'd love to have him for 10 years. Kevin Durant, look what he did for us last year. He did us a great service. He's earned the right to sign whatever deal he wants. I just want him to sign a deal. But [I] want him to be happy and want him to know that we want him as long as he wants to be here. He's earned that, to kind of lay out the terms. He can do whatever he wants. That shouldn't be a long negotiation. Our goal, to be honest, is to try to keep the whole thing together, so that's the pieces of the puzzle we've got to try to figure out."

    Maybe Durant can't wrest the individual crown from LeBron James in 2018-19, though he's getting closer after winning the head-to-head Finals battle and continuing to develop as an all-around defensive menace and distributor. But four years from now, he'll only be as old as his biggest rival is now.

    Age has to give him the edge heading into this offseason, if only barely. But even if he were still stuck functioning as No. 2, he'd be a coveted commodity who's playing at a Hall of Fame level and squarely in the midst of his prime years.

                   

    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.