Best Landing Spots for NBA's Under-the-Radar 2019 Free Agents
The top tier of the NBA's free-agent crop for the 2019 offseason is sure to draw plenty of headlines.
Given the possibility of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and so many other prominent names changing teams—not to mention the Anthony Davis drama that will loom over the summer until he's mercifully dealt—basketball fans will only be able to dedicate so many brainwaves to the lesser players on the open market.
But some of those overlooked contributors could be quite valuable in the right locations.
None of these featured players are stars. They likely won't earn that coveted celestial status at any point in the future, either. And that's perfectly fine. Each of them is still a productive figure when placed in the proper role, and they could add substantial value to certain landing spots if all goes according to plan.
You likely won't read about them much this summer. So when they inevitably ink new contracts, just don't forget that under-the-radar signings can make oversized impacts when handled properly.
Patrick Beverley: Phoenix Suns
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
Current Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
Don't be fooled by Patrick Beverley's lackluster per-game line with the Los Angeles Clippers, as he's played just 27.2 minutes per game in a deep rotation that features a bevy of guards who deserve significant run: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Landry Shamet, Garrett Temple and Lou Williams.
Even though he's failed to stand out from a statistical perspective, he still checks all the boxes the Phoenix Suns should be seeking to fill alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Though Elie Okobo is waiting in the wings and Tyler Johnson has shown flashes of brilliance during his brief stint in the desert, the organization still needs a veteran 1-guard who can 1) thrive in an off-ball setting, 2) serve as a quality distributor who facilitates growth from the many youngsters and 3) play high-quality defense for a team featuring so many sieves.
Beverley, after spending so much time alongside James Harden during their mutual time with the Houston Rockets, is accustomed to thriving without controlling possession. He's honed his craft over the years, developing his shot to the point that it's become a weapon. During the 2018-19 campaign, he's connected on 37.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys, and that comes on the heels of 41.5 and 39.3 percent clips in 2017-18 and 2016-17, respectively.
Couple that with his 0.97 defensive real plus/minus (No. 11 among the 98 players listed as point guards by ESPN) and his newfound ability to rack up assists without elevated turnover figures, and it becomes clear why he'd be a good fit alongside the Phoenix core. The Suns have plenty of money to spend this offseason but are unlikely to land any big fish, which should only make a sensible pursuit like this one all the more appealing.
DeMarre Carroll: Denver Nuggets
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
Current Team: Brooklyn Nets
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
I'm not the only one who has considered this delicious possibility.
"Breakouts from Malik Beasley and Monte Morris have mitigated the need for another guard. And with the former logging time at the 3, plus Michael Porter Jr. in their back pocket, the Nuggets don't need drastic upgrades to the wing rotation.
"DeMarre Carroll is their happy medium. He should fall within their price range whether they're working with the non-taxpayer's or mini MLE and isn't someone who will eat into Porter's development.
"Giving chase to Danny Green would be fine. He's the far more reliable sniper and a dream fit for an offense spearheaded by Nikola Jokic. But the Nuggets will definitely need the full MLE to make a meaningful bid, and he doesn't match up as cleanly against bigger 3s and isn't capable of defending 4s."
The defensive fit alongside the Nuggets' breakout wings is important, especially as the team likely seeks a way to manage Paul Millsap's minutes throughout the regular season and ensure the veteran power forward is healthy for the most crucial portion of the calendar. But so too is Carroll's ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers, essentially adding offensive talent without taking the ball away from Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and the other primary handlers.
The 32-year-old's 10.9 points per game come on an average of 35.8 touches (No. 9 on the Brooklyn Nets roster), and that efficiency is crucial when attempting to fit in with a humming offense that should continue to feature incumbent pieces.
Darren Collison: Orlando Magic
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
Current Team: Indiana Pacers
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
D.J. Augustin has done a fine job for the Orlando Magic, flying completely under the radar during his age-31 season while pushing the team to earn a rotation-best 3.4 net rating when he's on the floor. But even though he's on the books for one more season ($7.3 million in 2019-20) and the team might have a healthy Markelle Fultz trying to revitalize his NBA career, this squad could use a slight upgrade.
Darren Collison is another non-glamorous option at the point, but he'd fit in nicely on a team already used to operating with a speedy, efficient floor general. His quick hands and ability to navigate screens at the top of the key make him a superior defender, and he can ensure the team always has a capable offensive 1-guard on the floor, ready to defer scoring opportunities while making sure he never commits costly turnovers or takes dumb shots.
Whether Augustin starts and Collison leads the second unit or vice versa, that two-man combination would promote steadiness—a must on a team handing so many key minutes to youngsters such as Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba while still chasing after playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.
Collison is knocking down 41.5 percent of his triples while taking 2.5 deep attempts per game—one of 19 qualified players to hit both those marks. He's racking up 6.0 assists per contest while averaging just 1.6 turnovers—the only man matching or exceeding those figures. And he's doing all that while submitting a positive defensive box plus/minus, giving him an arbitrary combination of statistics no player in NBA history has ever achieved.
Augustin doesn't earn headlines alongside Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and the other notable members of the Magic. Collison wouldn't, either.
As Orlando is proving with a second-half surge, that's perfectly fine. Glamor doesn't win games. Production does.
Dorian Finney-Smith: Sacramento Kings
Type of Free Agency: Restricted
Current Team: Dallas Mavericks
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
If the Sacramento Kings want to continue taking steps forward in their quest to escape perpetual rebuilding, defensive improvement might go a long way. They've surged into playoff contention behind a climb to mediocrity on both ends of the floor, but the players currently in place seem to point toward further strides on the scoring side.
De'Aaron Fox? A blazing-fast offensive dynamo with enduring, but largely untapped, defensive potential. Marvin Bagley III? An offensive specialist who rocketed up draft boards because of his well-rounded scoring ability. Buddy Hield? A pure gunner.
The list goes on, which is why the Kings need that defensive specialist who can switch between positions and make a consistent impact on the less glamorous end of the floor. Ideally, he suits up at the forward spots, which Dorian Finney-Smith has done by spending 76 and 21 percent of his minutes at the 3 and 4, respectively.
This 25-year-old is by no means a glamorous contributor, and the Mavericks could elect to keep the restricted free agent as they move into the next phase of their franchise. But the Kings have plenty of money to spend this offseason and can afford to engage in a slight overpay for a role player who fits with the identity of this team.
Even if he doesn't thrive in any singular area, his collective ability to hold his own in the post, switch onto perimeter jitterbugs, use his length to disrupt passing lanes and maintain his defensive intensity while patiently waiting for offensive opportunities is valuable. Normally, teams have to pay multiple players to fill all those roles rather than allocating just one roster spot.
And if the three-point stroke that worked at Florida ever starts to click behind a rainbow slightly further from the hoop...
Jake Layman: Portland Trail Blazers
Type of Free Agency: Restricted
Current Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 8.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Considering they have the ability to exercise the rights of first refusal, the Portland Trail Blazers might want to sit back and wait to see what type of offer they must match to retain Jake Layman's services. The 24-year-old's season-long numbers don't accurately showcase either his growth during the campaign or his newfound importance to the Rip City outfit.
Since getting healthy and carving out a larger role off the bench during the 2019 portion of the current season, Layman has averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 56.3 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from downtown and 80.0 percent from the stripe.
Highlighted by his 25-point outburst in a loss to the Miami Heat on Feb. 5, he's showcased a diverse arsenal, complete with explosive athleticism on timely cuts to the hoop and a smooth jumper on his above-the-break threes. Most importantly, he's keeping the Blazers competitive even when they have to turn toward their second-stringers.
Dating back to Jan. 1, Portland has seen its net rating decline 0.9 points per 100 possessions when Layman is on the floor. But considering that means he's helping maintain a 6.8 net rating while coming off the pine, that's hardly something about which we should complain. Per PBPStats.com, the Blazers are even outscoring opponents by a staggering 23.9 points per 100 possessions over the same timeframe when this Maryland product shares the floor with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Retaining Layman might get a bit pricey if other teams realize how versatile and valuable his burgeoning skill set has become. But Rip City still shouldn't get sticker shock. He's worth bringing back at a much higher price.
Kevon Looney: Atlanta Hawks
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
Current Team: Golden State Warriors
2018-19 Per-Game Stats: 6.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks
As Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group revealed after Kevon Looney agreed to a one-year minimum deal with the Golden State Warriors this past offseason, the big man wasn't always a lock to return to the Bay Area:
"Looney wanted to entertain other more lucrative offers with teams that could offer a larger role. Though he also fielded interest from the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, Looney found it more appealing to stay with the Warriors because of his ongoing development and the team’s recent championship success. Looney has also set himself up for potentially another breakout season that could yield more offseason interest next summer."
Looney didn't exactly break out. That was always a difficult proposition on a roster featuring Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, especially with DeMarcus Cousins waiting to make a midseason return after rehabilitating his Achilles rupture.
But let's not forget about what Looney was doing early in the year.
Before Cousins made his Dubs debut Jan. 18 and pushed Looney back to the bench, the 23-year-old was averaging 6.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 62.6 percent from the field.
He didn't have the requisite touches to produce gaudy counting stats, but he proved himself a reliable rim-running roller who could also protect the basket as the last line of defense (see: 2.15 DRPM, which trails only Green and Andre Iguodala on the Golden State roster).
The Hawks already showed interest in Looney's services, but their desire to acquire him should only be solidified after those improvements. He's exactly what they need operating alongside Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and John Collins, given his efficient scoring around the basket when on the receiving end of pinpoint passes and his ability to salvage defensive possessions at the hoop.
Atlanta should have copious cap space this summer with just over $55 million committed (assuming Kent Bazemore picks up a $19.3 million option), and Dewayne Dedmon is coming off the books to leave a void at center. Using some of that financial flexibility on an upside-laden big who fits the desired archetype makes perfect sense.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.