Updated Golden State Warriors' Free Agency Big Board
The Golden State Warriors are having themselves an offseason.
Kevin Durant signed another discounted one-plus-one deal. DeMarcus Cousins latched on the bandwagon for the taxpayer's mid-level exception, which the Warriors may have holstered if not for Durant's generosity. Kevon Looney is returning on a one-year contract worth less than his $2.2 million club option, which the team declined last October.
Golden State could call it a wrap now and no one would blink. This summer has been a huge success by anyone's standards—especially with the Houston Rockets, the reigning champs' foremost rival, losing Trevor Ariza to the Phoenix Suns.
But the Warriors aren't done yet. It doesn't matter that they're firmly entrenched as heavy title favorites among those not wearing Los Angeles Lakers goggles. They entered the offseason with a three-step checklist that remains incomplete: re-sign Durant, flesh out the big-man pool and beef up the wing rotation.
That last housekeeping task still needs to be addressed. The Warriors can stand to acquire another big if they don't trust Jordan Bell and Damian Jones to pitch in before Cousins' return, but bolstering the 2, 3 and small-ball 4 spots takes priority.
More than a few quality targets remain on the board. A few should even be within Golden State's veteran-minimum price range.
Potential cost is a secondary concern for this big board. Another All-Star won't fall into the Warriors' lap, but the league-wide cap shortage may invite some mid-end players to bet on themselves, like Cousins, with a one-year deal they parlay into a long-term payday next summer. This list focuses on potential fit, within reason, over everything else.
5. Josh Huestis
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 2.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 28.7 percent three-point shooting
Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted
Josh Huestis is more project than finished product, which typically doesn't jibe with a championship team's timeline. The Warriors are different.
"We just have to be always moving forward to try to improve our team," owner Joe Lacob told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami just before Golden State completed its NBA Finals sweep over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "So I actually think this draft is a very important one for us. We need to get some youth on the team going forward. So we’re paying significant attention to it, and I am, too. Probably more than any other year."
Selecting the 6'6" Jacob Evans at No. 28 serves dual purposes. He'll be just 21 when next season tips off, which fulfills the background-youth quota, and he helps expand the wing rotation. But he doesn't have the reactive quickness necessary to pressure the ball in space.
Huestis isn't bound by those same limitations. The Oklahoma City Thunder rolled him out against long, athletic, detonative wings last season, albeit in limited bursts.
The players he spent the most time chasing around are telltale of his versatility: CJ McCollum, TJ Warren, Alec Burks, Trevor Ariza, Jonathon Simmons, Klay Thompson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Taurean Prince, Khris Middleton and Lou Williams. Paul George was the only member of the Thunder to match up with Ben Simmons on more possessions.
Extracting more offense from Huestis will be a chore. He is an erratic finisher on the move and reticent to put the ball on the floor. Almost 92 percent of his attempts last year came without taking a dribble. Most of his shots come from three, but low-volume impressions from his first two seasons are offset by his most recent 28.7 percent clunker.
Golden State can work with that. Huestis shot 35.9 percent on wide-open threes and will be even more of an afterthought inside an offense that trounces both Oklahoma City's star power and motion.
Signing him for the minimum could be a stretch. The Thunder can offer him more even after declining his fourth-year team option. But they're on the hook for more than $300 million in operating costs after taxes, per ESPN's Bobby Marks. Keeping Huestis around may not be in the budget unless they broker a buyout with Carmelo Anthony.
4. Jamal Crawford
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 1.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 33.1 percent three-point shooting
Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted
Golden State's second unit needs a certified buckets-getter. Cousins can lead the charge for bench-heavy arrangements when he's at full strength, but he won't be available for a while. Nor is he the ideal secondary ball-handler. He jump-started pick-and-rolls with the New Orleans Pelicans but isn't a pure pull-up maestro.
Quinn Cook is the closest the Warriors come to a microwave scorer outside the starting lineup. And yet, like Nick Young, he spent parts of last season being a little too passive. Playing among so many superstars can have that effect—even when they're not on the floor.
Crawford won't have the same problem. His 18-season resume, which includes three Sixth Man of the Year awards, is founded around firing at will. Getting shots up is his bag—his entire job description.
Navigating Crawford's streakiness would be a sticking point for some teams. The Warriors aren't one of them. They can live with him shooting 28.2 percent on pull-up threes and have the personnel to cover up for him on defense. They just need someone, anyone, who applies ample pressure to half-court defenses within lineups lighter on All-NBA fare.
Rostering Crawford is not a concession. The human heat-check fills a need—insofar as the Warriors actually have one.
3. Patrick McCaw
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 23.8 percent three-point shooting
Free-Agency Status: Restricted
That's two-time NBA champion Patrick McCaw to you.
Keeping things in the family is always fun. McCaw is two years deep into the Warriors' player-development program and has the physical tools and profile to be Shaun Livingston's heir apparent.
Everything about him is still based on the hypothetical. He didn't make the sophomore leap his stellar 2017 summer league performance seemed to portend. His three-point rate and percentage dropped, and he struggled to provide any tangible defensive value.
McCaw's pick-and-roll coverage regressed amid a slight uptick in playing time. His reads off rotations are OK, but with a 6'10" wingspan, he should be more dependable in one-on-one situations that don't call for him to switch. Golden State coughed up 107.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court—worst mark on the team.
The counterpoint to McCaw's drawbacks and stalled progress: Who cares? He doesn't turn 23 until October, and a spinal injury bilked him of valuable late-season run. If the Warriors indeed want to get younger, giving up on McCaw would be bizarre. As Golden State Of Mind's Brady Klopfer wrote:
"Still, there are a lot of reasons for the team to be enthusiastic about McCaw going forward. The stellar playmaking skills that he displayed during Summer League didn’t magically disappear; that’s part of his game, and will show up at the NBA level as he grows more comfortable. And while he struggled defensively for much of the season, he also has tremendous potential on that end of the floor, and the ability to guard three positions."
Walking away from the McCaw experiment makes some sense if he fields an offer sheet worth significantly more than the league minimum. Related: He won't solicit that kind of pitch.
Restricted free agents who don't play for the Orlando Magic are getting squeezed left and right. McCaw is a footnote in a market starving for cap space. The Warriors should keep him.
2. Wayne Ellington
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 39.2 percent three-point shooting
Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted
Wayne Ellington would have already signed for more than the veteran's minimum in any other summer. This isn't just another offseason. Non-superstars are wearing thin on leverage. Even flame-throwing shooters want for a booming market.
To be clear: Ellington will still have the chance to get more than the Warriors can peddle to him. The room exception ($4.4 million) feels like his floor.
At that point, though, he may decide to kick the can into 2019 free agency. The salary cap is projected to rise by $8 million, settling in at $109 million. There will be more money to go around.
Staying with the Miami Heat on a one-year deal would be the safer play in that scenario. Ellington knows he can cook under head coach Erik Spoelstra. Except the Heat own his early Bird rights. They can offer him more than any other team hard up for cap space. If they're lowballing him in the face of luxury-tax concerns, he could interpret that as a slight and take his placeholder approach elsewhere.
Hence why the Warriors are monitoring his situation, according to the San Jose Mercury News' Dieter Kurtenbach. His return to Miami isn't a given if he's prioritizing top dollar over the long haul. And if he's going to mime DeMarcus Cousins' gamble, he might as well join the same team.
It doesn't take much to envision Ellington thriving in the Warriors offense. He finished close to 20 percent of his possessions coming off screens while posting a 61.5 effective field-goal percentage—third-best among every player to chew through two or more such touches per game.
No team leaned on these plays more than Golden State, and Ellington even adds a new dimension to the Warriors attack. They didn't parlay their off-ball motion into an overabundance of handoffs. Kick-outs, ball swings and quick triggers coming around screens were more prevalent. They have room for extra handoffs. It fits within their swift-decision motif.
1. Luc Mbah a Moute
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 36.4 percent three-point shooting
Free-Agency Status: Unrestricted
Luc Mbah a Moute is another pipe-dreamy option. Or maybe not. The Warriors have him on their radar, per Kurtenbach, and their appeal to him skyrockets if the Rockets aren't slinging more than the minimum. And they might not be.
Letting Ariza sign with the Suns suggests the Rockets are concerned about next season's payroll. They remain in luxury-tax territory without him after maxing out Chris Paul. And that's before tacking on a new deal for restricted free agent Clint Capela.
Losing Mbah a Moute would be disastrous. He's more important than ever to their switch-everything defense with Ariza in Phoenix—and he was already indispensable before.
Houston didn't fall off a cliff when Mbah a Moute caught breathers, but he was the team's leading hybrid on the perimeter—a cross between PJ Tucker-lite and Ariza.
Offenses mustered just 104.5 points per 100 possessions outside garbage time with him in the game, according to Cleaning the Glass. Neither Ariza's (106.5) nor Tucker's (105.4) minutes matched that mark (though they came close).
Trotting out three-wing combinations turned the Rockets into a defensive terror. In the 454 possessions Ariza, Mbah a Moute and Tucker played together, opponents registered a 98.9 offensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass.
Imagine giving one-third—and arguably the most important piece—of that threesome to the Warriors. Mbah a Moute paves the way for more unconventional iterations of the "Death Lineup" in which head coach Steve Kerr deploys five wings. Or he could just use Mbah a Moute to spell Durant, Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala and allow the positionless structure behind that five-man hit squad to tally more overall court time.
Ellington is the superior fit for the Warriors in a vacuum. They need supplementary chuckers more than switchable defenders. But landing Mbah a Moute further wounds the Rockets. He hits enough of his threes in the regular season—37.5 percent since 2016-17—and is comfortable enough on straight-line drives to gain consideration. That his arrival neutralizes the Warriors' sole potential equal earns him the overall edge.