2019 NBA Free Agency: Top 10 Players Still on the Board
Believe it or not, the NBA's free-agency dust has yet to fully settle.
Forgive yourself if that slipped your mind. A whirlwind of transactions both precipitated and dominated the official start to summer, with many top players changing teams.
Jimmy Butler is with the Miami Heat. Kawhi Leonard chose the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George effectively moved up his free agency by two years and joined him. Al Horford is a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are Brooklyn Nets. Kemba Walker is with the Boston Celtics The New York Knicks signed all the forwards. LeBron James Jr. might've preemptively agreed to join the Los Angeles Lakers when he's eligible to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in 2030-31. We can't be sure.
Even recapping this summer's frenzy is exhausting. The offseason feels months old. It's not. And it has much more to offer. Free agency has slowed to a grind, but more than a few worthwhile names remain on the market. We've ranked them, because ranking basketball things is our civic duty.
All the usual big-board rules apply. Players are evaluated using a variety of factors, including recent performance, age, health, developmental arc, expected contract value and the ease with which they can be fit into a new team. The main difference this late in the game? We're stepping out on more limbs. The talent margin between available players is, for the most part, too thin to play it safe.
Best fits are provided for each selection. They take into account team needs, cap situations and open roster spots or the likelihood shoppers create them. Previous big boards helped shape these rankings, but they are not gospel. Players have moved up or down from past spots based on shifts in the market.
Knocking on the Door
Here are some other players worth monitoring as the height of NBA free agency draws to a close:
10. Jonas Jerebko
Jonas Jerebko wouldn't be so much of an afterthought if it were possible to play him at center. He has the size at 6'10", but not the strength to tussle with burlier bigs or the instincts to consistently change shots at the rim.
One-position players have finite value. Jerebko is very much a 4 and nothing else. Bold teams might try to steal a few beats with him at the 5 anyway, but the defensive trade-off is too steep. Not even the Golden State Warriors tested his center chops in meaningful volume.
Viewed as a pure floor-spacing weapon, Jerebko does not disappoint.
Stretch bigs are among the most impactful specialists, and he splashed in 37.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season. His overall spot-up efficiency dipped, but that feels like an anomaly.
His so-so release speed is more concerning, if anything. He needs time to get off his jumper, which isn't a problem when he's completely unattended or has a few inches on the defender challenging his shot, but it can be an issue when he's up against quicker close-outs.
Best Fits: Houston, L.A. Clippers, Portland
9. Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah's midseason romp with the Memphis Grizzlies saved his career.
His market was bare after appearing in 82 games over the previous three seasons, including just seven in 2017-18, his second and ultimately final go-round with the Knicks. The Grizzlies didn't roll the dice on him until December, almost two months after he was waived, and only did so as a last-ditch effort to fill out a puddle-deep bench.
Noah didn't just exceed expectations; he obliterated them. Across 42 appearances, he averaged 15.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes—numbers right in line with his prime years. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic were the only players to match those benchmarks for the entire season.
Small samples are small samples are small samples. Noah's heyday is behind him. He isn't anchoring an entire defense on his own and shouldn't be saddled with a regular-minutes load. He is best served as a third big, maybe a second-stringer, whose playing time varies by the frontcourt matchup.
There's nothing wrong with that. Noah's energy is instant. He doesn't need to find a rhythm, and his defensive hustle isn't for show. It can still mean something. Opponents shot just 55.3 percent against him at the rim last season, and Memphis' defensive rating improved by 8.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Best Fits: L.A. Clippers, Portland, San Antonio
8. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony could be higher. His big-board inclusion could be long overdue. He could also be left off this list entirely. He remains that divisive.
Flaming out with the Houston Rockets last season and struggling with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017-18 torpedoed his stock. His free fall isn't entirely fair. He is a certified bucket-getter. He belongs in the NBA, if only to get one final crack at a rosier swan song.
From-scratch scorers are inherently useful, but Anthony needs to blend his attack mode with complementary duty. And if he wants to dabble as an alpha, he needs to do so as a second-unit headliner.
Taking that step back isn't a transition he has embraced like, say, Vince Carter. Consider what Chauncey Billups, Anthony's teammate with the Knicks and Denver Nuggets, said on SiriusXM NBA radio (h/t Sporting News' E. Jay Zarett):
"I feel bad for Melo and here's why: Melo was like a good teammate, man. Melo practiced every day. He didn't miss any games. Now, the one thing I will say—and I've even told Melo this—scoring 30 meant too much to Melo ... Because, he could have games where he had 20, 22, we win the game, and he's mad. He might have 36 ... We lose the game and he's in [the locker room] picking everybody up."
To Anthony's credit, he has tried the sidekick thing in recent years, even if reluctantly. More than one-third of his attempts in Oklahoma City came as catch-and-shoot three-pointers. That share climbed above 42 percent in Houston; he just didn't hit them at a consistent clip. Ditto for his trademark pull-up jumpers.
Situation is everything for Melo. Mindset, too. He needs a team built to feed him wide-open treys and let him cook in the second unit. Equally important: He must embrace that accessory role. If he can do that—and this remains a big if—he should add value as a potent-scoring combo wing.
Signing him poses no guarantees. It might not end well. Leaving him on the bench when he's struggling or during crunch time is headline fodder. That's fine. The right team will have the best-friend buffer or locker-room infrastructure to navigate those non-story stories. Anthony remains worth one last flier.
Best Fits: L.A. Lakers, Portland, San Antonio
7. Vince Carter
Somebody give Vince Carter a job already. He's retiring after next season, and we deserve a proper farewell tour.
Of course, this isn't just about getting the opportunity to bid him farewell. Carter can help a team and fits almost anywhere. That includes rebuilding squads. He spent all of 2018-19 mentoring the plucky Atlanta Hawks, and the kids loved him.
It doesn't sound like running it back is in the cards. The Hawks don't want to take playing time away from the youngsters, and Carter is looking for an actual role, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore. He's earned that preference.
Forty-two-year-olds aren't getting anyone over the hump, but Carter is very much plug-and-play. Over 55 percent of his attempts last season came as catch-and-fire triples, on which he shot 39.5 percent. And while he isn't mobile enough to harass pure wing scorers, he has the staying power to tussle with bigger assignments.
Atlanta even experimented with Carter-at-the-4 arrangements. The defense wasn't great during those minutes. It also wasn't any worse than usual.
Relative to the Hawks' overall defensive rating, in fact, it was actually an improvement.
Best Fits: Chicago, L.A. Clippers, Portland
6. Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert teased a late-career breakout at the beginning of last season. Surprise, surprise: It didn't hold.
That's the story of his career. He imitates three-and-D chops for stretches, sometimes extended ones, but his value never sustains or levels off. It always falls.
Shumpert shot 28.1 percent from deep over his final 14 appearances with the Sacramento Kings and continued his downward spiral with the Houston Rockets. He converted just 29.6 percent of his threes through 20 appearances with them and did little to inspire confidence during the postseason.
Right knee and calf injuries cost him some time in Houston. They might have lingered into the playoffs. Regardless, the Rockets didn't deploy him as a consistent part of the rotation. It comes as no shock he's still on the board.
Expect that to change soon. The wing well dried up long ago once Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard made their decisions. Shumpert should be in quasi-demand compared to the other free-agency leftovers. He can sponge up time defending three different positions and shot 40.6 percent from downtown until almost January of last season.
Best Fits: Brooklyn, Houston, L.A. Lakers
5. Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver's place in the NBA is entering eye-of-the-beholder territory.
On the one hand, he can shoot. And the league usually has room for shooters.
On the other hand, 38-year-olds aren't supposed to be significant difference-makers. Korver may not be an exception. He is a liability on defense even though he tries, and his pinball movement and pinpoint shooting are no longer enough to keep him on the floor for protracted stretches.
Korver couldn't get consistent run when the Utah Jazz desperately needed open-shot makers in their first-round loss to the Houston Rockets. That might be a bad omen.
Or perhaps he was just banged up. He finished the regular season nursing a knee injury. Whether that's an encouraging excuse at his age is a matter of debate.
In the end, the flamethrowers Korver has for hands win out.
The very idea of him is a threat. He didn't fare so well launching off screens after joining Utah (38th percentile) but remains an attention-grabber when put in motion. And it helps that he will always drain standstill threes at a remarkable clip. He hasn't shot under 39.7 percent from beyond the arc since 2008-09.
Best Fits: Indiana, L.A. Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers
4. David Nwaba
David Nwaba doesn't receive enough credit for his defensive portability. He's only 6'4", but he has the presence of a 6'8" or 6'9" small-ball 4.
The Cleveland Cavaliers even moved him around like one. He covered more than his fair share of guards, but most of his time was devoted to chasing around wings and literal bigs. As Indy Cornrows' Caitlin Cooper wrote:
"According to Krishna Narshu’s data, only 24 players in the league last season defended a wider range of positions than the undrafted product out of Cal Poly, who spent nearly the same percentage of his defensive possessions against ones and twos (41.4 percent) as he did threes and fours (50.3). Per the NBA’s match-up stats, genetically-gifted power forwards and top-flight swingmen took the brunt of his physicality, with Ben Simmons, LeBron James, Aaron Gordon, Jimmy Butler, and Jaylen Brown all ranking among his 10-most frequent assignments during the regular season. Among those names, only James and Butler registered a field goal percentage above 35 percent from the field with Nwaba as the nearest defender, and the group as a whole shot a tepid 19-of-47 (40 percent) on 175 possessions."
Knee and ankle issues limited Nwaba to just 51 appearances last year. That's not enough of a red flag. Nor is his limited offensive game.
Cleveland gave Nwaba wiggle room to work off the bounce. He kind of delivered. He shot 56.8 percent on floaters (21-of-37) and 46.2 percent on drives in general. His 32.0 percent success rate from behind the rainbow doesn't flatter, but he drilled 35.7 percent of his wide-open long balls.
This is all to say: Nwaba shouldn't be without a home for much longer.
Best Fits: Cleveland, L.A. Lakers, Milwaukee
3. Jeremy Lin
Too many squads still need to build out their point guard depth for Jeremy Lin to be floating around on the open market. He didn't play much of a role with the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, but he was legitimately good before negotiating a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks.
Through his first 51 games of the season, Lin averaged 19.6 points and 6.5 assists per 36 minutes while downing 46.8 percent of his pull-up jumpers inside the arc, finishing well around the basket and reaching the charity stripe at an admirable clip. Only 13 non-centers posted a higher free-throw-attempt rate than him for the year.
This is not an anomaly. Lin has always kept defenses on tilt with his dribble penetration and generated trips to the foul line. More than 29 percent of his looks have come at the rim since 2015-16, over which time he's notched a free-throw-attempt rate of 38.7—a top-10 mark among 163 non-bigs who have appeared in at least 150 games during that span.
Lin's outside touch is a roller coaster. He is shooting 34.2 percent of his three-point attempts for his career and knocked down just 29.4 percent of his long-range looks in 2018-19. But he has experience nailing spot-up treys while playing off other ball-dominant talent, and last year's accuracy isn't as dire as it seems. He converted 35.1 percent of his triples for roughly half the season, albeit on marginal volume.
Injuries are more of a deterrent than anything Lin doesn't do. He appeared in just 37 games through two years with the Brooklyn Nets, and back issues precluded him from finding a groove with the Raptors.
Whatever. For what he's about to cost, that shouldn't matter. He's more than worth a cut-rate flier.
Best Fits: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Portland
2. Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha would no doubt be off the board if his availability weren't such a question mark. He is 35 and has missed 76 games over the past two seasons. It is not clear if he can fill a 15-minutes-per-night slot in the rotation.
That shouldn't stop a team from giving him a guaranteed roster spot. He can diversify pretty much any frontcourt rotation.
Defending 2s and 3s remains within his power, but he's most effective as a small-ball 4. He is a very strong 6'7" and will not shy from banging with burlier bigs on the glass. The Jazz gave up just 96.1 points per 100 possessions without losing ground on the defensive boards when he played power forward last season.
Having a star big like Rudy Gobert beside him helps. It is not everything. His next team might even want to consider stealing minutes with him at the 5.
Sefolosha is even more of a mismatch maven when his outside shot falls. Last year, it fell. He canned 43.6 percent of his threes, including 42.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys and 44.6 percent of his wide-open triples.
Whichever team scoops up Sefolosha will be getting a mid-summer steal. The Warriors are too perfect for him, but they're so close to the hard cap they can't afford him without shedding other salary. The Rockets should definitely have him on their radar as sort of a diet PJ Tucker.
Best Fits: Houston, Portland, San Antonio
1. Justin Holiday
Justin Holiday's availability is a teensy bit of a surprise this late into the process. Wings are in demand, and he has the length and handle to log real rotation minutes at the 2 and 3.
Feel free to blame a middle-of-the-season downturn for Holiday's continued unemployment. He didn't deliver for the Memphis Grizzlies after they forked over two second-round picks to get him. Really, his struggles began even before he left the Chicago Bulls.
His shooting took a nosedive at the beginning of December, and he didn't respond well to taking on more off-ball work. Playing for the Bulls artificially inflated his stock in the first place. They wanted for any kind of half-court creativity, and he received minutes and freedoms not commensurate with his skill set.
Holiday's opening surge and closing kicks are still selling points. He shot nearly 40 percent from deep on 7.6 three-point attempts per game through his first 26 appearances and averaged 15.4 points while slashing 45.8/41.6/89.5 over his final 11 games in Memphis.
Small spurts of success cannot be spun as fact. Holiday is 30 and not equipped for the higher-volume liberties he enjoyed with the Grizzlies and Bulls. But his set shooting and defensive activity are nice finds in mid-July.
A sign-and-trade that would've landed him back with the Bulls and sent Kris Dunn to the Grizzlies was discussed, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. Memphis' acquisition of Tyus Jones kills that scenario, but Holiday won't want for 11th-hour suitors.
The Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards all showed interest at the start of free agency, according to The Athletic's Michael Scotto. Most from that list can still use him—particularly when, at this point, it won't take much to get him.
Best Fits: Charlotte, L.A. Lakers, Washington