Potential Landing Spots for Top 5 NBA Free Agents Left on the Market

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 13, 2018

Potential Landing Spots for Top 5 NBA Free Agents Left on the Market

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The 2018 NBA free-agent pool has been reduced to a small puddle. Most of the droplets left aren't even worth a second look.

    But a handful of potential helpers have slipped through the cracks and could still strengthen the right team.

    After ranking the best five remaining free agents by production and potential impact, we've also identified their ideal landing spots. Most are veterans, so they make the most sense for clubs with some level of win-now aspirations. But there is one up-and-comer who should appeal most to teams focused on the future.

    Considering the campaign opens next week already, it might be too late to bring both sides together ahead of the marathon. But it could only take one injury here or a sluggish start there to make the connections happen sooner rather than later.

5. Joe Johnson: Philadelphia 76ers

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    If the Philadelphia 76ers stick to the plan of starting Markelle Fultz, their second unit will be short on shot-creators. Joe Johnson isn't an obvious (or guaranteed) solution to that problem, but considering what's left in free agency, he might be worth a look.

    His 2017-18 season was a throwaway. He posted career lows in multiple categories (including minutes, points and assists) and was mostly reduced to spectating duties during the Houston Rockets' playoff run.

    Considering Johnson turned 37 in June, it's possible he's given up too much ground in his race with Father Time. Then again, he was more than adequate just one season prior, providing the 2016-17 Utah Jazz with 14.0 points per 36 minutes, a 43.6/41.1/81.8 shooting slash and even a playoff game-winner. The year before that, he was in the 91st percentile of isolation scorers.

    Even if you don't believe Johnson can return to that level of production, he'd still make sense in Philly. The Sixers aren't looking for a big-time scorer. They know which two or three players they want to run their crunch-time offense. They just need more offensive creativity among the reserves; plus some extra depth in shooting and veteran leadership.

    Johnson should be able to provide all three. And it would cost next to nothing for the Sixers to find out whether he could.

4. Corey Brewer: Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Just like last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking at a long stretch without defensive dynamo Andre Roberson. So, why not do what they did last time and tab Corey Brewer as a cheap, temporary replacement?

    Brewer signed with the Thunder in March and promptly played some of his best basketball in years. He started 16 of the 18 games he played there in the regular season, averaging 10.1 points on 44.4 percent shooting (34.3 percent from three) and 2.1 steals in 28.6 minutes per night.

    "There's a bounce to him all the time," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said in March, per ESPN's Royce Young. "He brings energy."

    While it's a stretch to call Brewer a Roberson clone, there are similarities between them. Both are multipositional defenders who stay in constant motion on offense. They're complementary players who embrace the role.

    At this stage of Brewer's career, the 32-year-old's identity is firmly established. You don't want him trying to create offense off the bounce or launching too many triples, but you'll welcome his activity on defense, off-ball cuts and out in transition. There's some reliability to him, which can't really be said for OKC's youngsters on the wings, like Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Abdel Nader.

    The Thunder could use Roberson's absence as an opportunity to develop their youth. But given the razor-thin margin for error among the Western Conference's elite, they might seek the same stability that initially drew them to Brewer.

3. Nick Young: Houston Rockets

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The marriage between Nick Young and the Houston Rockets is long overdue.

    The Rockets launch more threes than anyone in the history of the sport. Young has the seventh-highest three-point rate of the past three seasons (minimum 3,000 minutes). They're guided by Mike D'Antoni, whom Young called "one of the best coaches I played with," per Adam Caparell of Complex Sports.

    They outright embrace offensive flamethrowers, whether that's James Harden or a bench brigade featuring Carmelo Anthony, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Brandon Knight. They lean heavily on isolations and catch-and-shoot threes. Young was a 78th-percentile isolation scorer in 2015-16 and shot 39.8 percent on catch-and-shoot triples this past season.

    The Rockets play in Space City. Young goes by Swaggy P. For some reason, that feels like a fit, too.

    Houston was linked to Young all the way back in July. The fact that the sides haven't come together yet is perhaps a clear indication they never will. If the Rockets were to add another piece, you'd think they would prefer a wing defender over Young, anyway.

    But we're in October. Ideal fits aren't on the market anymore. So rather than chasing a need with someone who may not address it, why not further bulk up your biggest strength? This just makes too much sense for the basketball gods not to make it happen.

2. Patrick McCaw: Sacramento Kings

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    Patrick McCaw is the only 20-something on our list and perhaps the most surprising player left in free agency. The restricted free agent has had chances to rejoin the defending champion Golden State Warriors, but so far he has left all offers unsigned. He declined his one-year, $1.7 million qualifying offer and turned down a two-year, $5.2 million deal, per the Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.

    Clearly, there's some interest on Golden State's side, but maybe it's not mutual—or not at these prices, at least. Of course, the Dubs can still match any offer he receives, and there isn't much money to be found.

    But the Sacramento Kings still have spending money; plus, they could use a young, two-way forward.

    Sacramento's current depth chart shows only two small forwards: Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin Jackson. At shooting guard, there's likely (at most) two keepers on the roster: Buddy Hield and Ben McLemore. None can match McCaw's defensive potential, and Bogdanovic might be the only one to rival McCaw's playmaking prowess.

    Casual fans might glance at McCaw's career numbers (4.0 points, 1.2 assists) and think we're grossly overselling his upside, but context is critical. He was a first- and second-year player on a squad that rostered four All-Stars and won back-to-back titles. The Warriors didn't need him to go in his toolbox.

    A rebuilder like Sacramento, though, could get a lot out of experimenting with his physical gifts and versatile skills. Back in 2016, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman praised McCaw as being able to "guard up to three positions," possessing "some of the quickest hands and reaction time in the class" and having "strong passing instincts and a natural feel for setting up teammates."

    If the Kings can pry McCaw loose, they'd both address an immediate need and add another piece to their long-term puzzle.

1. Jamal Crawford: Golden State Warriors

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    Once the Warriors are at full strength, they could have an All-Star at all five starting spots. So, you might not think a scoring specialist would pique their interest.

    And yet, three of those All-StarsStephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green—were all reportedly on board with the idea of pursuing Jamal Crawford this summer, per The Athletic's Marcus Thompson II. The support was well-placed, too. Unless the Dubs keep Boogie on the bench, they won't have a high-level shot-creator on their second unit.

    Even at 38 years old, Crawford can still pull scoring chances out of a hat (55th percentile on isolations). He's a magician with the basketball, and while his efficiency is sometimes lacking, he's steady enough as a shooter (career 41.0/34.9/86.2 slash) to warrant his attack-first mentality. The 10.3 points he averaged last season—which were his fewest since 2001-02—were more than a Warriors reserve has tallied since 2014-15.

    Equally important, Crawford isn't shy on the game's biggest stage.

    "Over the last five seasons, Crawford has scored 20 or more in eight playoff games—most of any reserve in that span," Thompson noted. "Manu Ginobili is second with five. The Warriors have six total in that span."

    Crawford's defense might be a concern to most, but Golden State is deep enough to work around that. Either the team hides him, in the same manner it does with Curry at times, or it just goes with different options on nights that Crawford's shot isn't falling.

    The risk would be no greater than the contract—minimum. Even with a modest reward, that's a great return on the investment.


    Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.