The Best NBA Free Agent Still Available at Every Position
When the calendar shifts to September, NBA teams become more focused on training camp than scouring the remnants of free agency.
But last-minute shoppers find values in the bargain bin almost every year.
Rodney Hood was a September 2018 signee who became a 2019 postseason difference-maker. Jarrett Jack inked a September 2017 deal and made his first of 56 starts the very next month. In 2016, JaVale McGee landed a mid-September deal from the Golden State Warriors and later made 16 playoff appearances (including one start) en route to the NBA championship.
While none of those signings seemed needle-movers at the time, each showed the possible payoff for uber-patient free-agent shoppers.
Teams still in the market for 2019-20 hoopers may be pleasantly surprised with this year's unsigned player pool. It's full of potential contributors, and we have identified the best remaining free agent at every position by weighing past production, potential team fit and, where applicable, long-term outlook.
Point Guard: Isaiah Briscoe
The point guard position has nearly been picked clean, so the remaining free agents are mostly players who are multiple years away from their prime in either direction.
Grabbing a recognizable name would require trying to squeeze every last drop from a 30-something like Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris or Jose Calderon. That might make sense for a small group of win-now contenders, but Isaiah Briscoe holds more universal appeal for his diamond-in-the-rough potential.
The No. 12 recruit in 2015 went down a path to the NBA that isn't frequently traveled. He couldn't carve his niche at Kentucky, bolted after two seasons anyway, went undrafted in 2017 and spent his first professional season in—wait for it—Estonia. To understand just how far that is off the basketball radar, the country's only native to crack the NBA was Martin Muursepp, who we promise isn't a computer-created player on NBA 2K20.
But the Orlando Magic gave Briscoe a chance last season. And once the rotation had an opening, he pounced.
A tone-setter who pushed the pace on offense and flew around defensively, Briscoe was perhaps last season's most surprising energizer. Between Jan. 7 (when he took over the backup point guard spot) and March 5 (his final appearance due to a meniscus tear), the Magic were 4.2 points per 100 possessions better with Briscoe. That was fourth-best on the team and ahead of starting point guard D.J. Augustin (plus-1.8).
"There's two things [about Briscoe]. The penetration part and then also he plays with such pace," Magic head coach Steve Clifford said, per Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. "We play quicker and we get more chances to get to the basket before the defense gets set. He's physical...makes contact plays. He likes to compete...that's contagious."
Briscoe isn't a shooter, but neither is Livingston. He's an aggressive and versatile defender—the 6'3" guard sports a sweeping 6'9" wingspan—which Harris and Calderon have never been. Some might prefer the vets, but his upside seems the best investment.
Shooting Guard: Jamal Crawford
There are natural scorers, walking buckets and players who can score in their sleep. Then there's Jamal Crawford.
Seriously, the super-sub found some glitch in the program with which he can shred nets in any situation, against any opponent and, most remarkably, at any age. The last time we saw the three-time Sixth Man of the Year, the 39-year-old was busy erupting for 51 points on 18-of-30 shooting (7-of-13 from range).
His handles are almost mythical weapons. His three-ball is almost perfectly league-average (career 34.8 percent), but it feels like it's always there when he needs it. His passing is somehow continuing to grow, as the Phoenix Suns' point guard neglect forced the scorer to alter his approach for his 19th season, and he responded with a career-best 6.8 assists per 36 minutes.
He has lost a half-step, but he remains an ignitable flamethrower and will be the same in 20 years at his local rec center. And yet, 2017-18's Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year earns even higher praise in the locker room than on the hardwood.
"He's the ultimate pro," former teammate Josh Jackson said. "You don't play this long in this league if you don't take care of your body and you don't do [things] you need to do. He's literally the answer of everything you need to know about the game."
Win-now clubs could use Crawford's knockout scoring punch. Youthful rebuilders need his voice, wisdom and leadership.
He should've been signed already.
Small Forward: Thabo Sefolosha
If Thabo Sefolosha were a used car, his mileage would worry you, his paint job would be worn and forgettable, and his most technologically advanced enhancement would be the CD player. You might walk past it a hundred times without ever noticing it. But if you just gave it a test drive, you'd be amazed by the strength and responsiveness of its motor.
On the wrong side of 35 and hampered by various ailments in recent years, he's in that perpetual transformation state role players embrace at the end of their careers. Almost exclusively deployed on the wing before, he's nearing an equal timeshare between the two forward spots. His offensive role is reducing to the point he's mostly a catch-and-launch specialist (78 of his 149 shot attempts were threes in 2018-19).
But the numbers say he's still ahead of the aging curve.
Even an increasingly versatile Association has an obvious fondness for three-and-D specialists, and Sefolosha's stats say he's acing the role. Last season, he not only posted his second-best three-point percentage (43.6), but he also finished third among small forwards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus (2.33).
"He's just such a smart player, he feels the game really well. ... His catch-and-go's, his ability to get into the paint, make good passes, he just has a knack for deflections and steals," Kyle Korver said, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Sefolosha isn't an exciting option, but who is at this position?
Before you answer Joe Johnson, just remember this isn't an over-30 three-on-three league. The last time he logged NBA minutes, he shot 40.6 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from deep over 55 games in 2017-18.
Sefolosha is aging more gracefully than Luol Deng, and his skill set is more helpful than Corey Brewer's helter-skelter style. Justin Anderson is a 25-year-old without an offensive identity, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is an intriguing idea but statistically abysmal (career 7.9 player efficiency rating).
Add it up and the slow and steady Sefolosha takes the checkered flag.
Power Forward: Dante Cunningham
Not to rain on Dante Cunningham's parade here, but perhaps we should start with the 10-time All-Star elephant in the room.
More than a few might hand this position to Carmelo Anthony, imagining the former scoring champ repurposed as a second-team spark and floor-spacing 4. The 35-year-old once laughed off the notion of a reserve role, but he told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith he learned to accept that designation during last season's 10-game tenure with the Houston Rockets.
Color us more than skeptical—both about Anthony embracing a minor role and, more importantly, being productive in it.
He stops the ball on offense and doesn't on defense. Teams could live with his faults when he was scoring 25-plus points on 45-plus percent shooting. But drop him to 16 points on 40.5 percent shooting and his pros aren't nearly enough to outweigh the cons.
Cunningham is mostly an anonymous role player, but that's a good thing. Before, he might have stood out for his lack of shooting, but now he blends in as another steady outside sniper and multi-positional defender. He doesn't wow you with volume, but his 38.4 percent conversion rate on 414 attempts across the past three seasons highlights his dramatic improvement from distance.
He has graded as a positive defender during nine of his 10 NBA campaigns, and he is utilized all over the floor. He has played everywhere from the 2 to the 5 and capably switched onto most assignments. While he's hardly a lockdown defender, his toughness and instincts typically help him hold his own.
No one would argue Cunningham is a better player than Anthony, but it's far easier to fit the former onto a near-complete roster than the latter.
Center: Joakim Noah
Bouts with Father Time and the injury bug have made Joakim Noah appear decades removed from his All-Star, All-NBA and Defensive Player of the Year past. In reality, it's been five full seasons since the interior anchor earned all three distinctions and trailed only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin in the 2013-14 MVP voting.
Still, that's more than the average NBA lifetime, and no one should harbor any hopes of Noah resembling his old fly-around-the-hardwood form. But if expectations are properly set, he'd be a worthwhile addition, as The Athletic's Zach Harper explained:
"Even with the banged-up body, he can still hoop. He proved that in a stint with Memphis last season. His defense was good, and he's a great playmaker at the center position. He's a good rebounder too. Mostly, you're bringing him in to keep that defense tied on a string together. His communication on defense is elite. That seems like an overblown thing, but defenders need that communication. He's arguably the best at it."
Waived and seemingly abandoned in basketball's great abyss last October, Noah latched on with the Memphis Grizzlies in December and was relatively awesome.
While he only averaged 16.5 minutes, his numbers otherwise reflected his past dominance. In fact, his shooting percentage (51.6) and per-36-minute averages in points (15.5), rebounds (12.4) and assists (4.6) all landed above his career norms. He had the position's 16th-best defensive real plus-minus and 25th-highest player efficiency rating (minimum 40 games).
He's not a fortune-changer anymore, but win-now teams could do a lot worse at their backup center spot.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.