Season Predictions for NBA's Top 2020 Free Agents
We're nearing the start of the NBA regular season, and with that comes the return of relentless speculation about player movement.
While the upcoming free-agent class is nowhere near as strong as this summer's was—to be fair, that is a hopeless standard—it still boasts a healthy mix of established stars, up-and-comers and serviceable veterans, all of whom could be respectable contributors given the proper team context.
The 2019-20 season will provide a final chance for these upcoming free agents to showcase their skills to a league that may be eager to overpay for good production, given the expected drop in quality for this group.
Let's take a look at some of the NBA's soon-to-be most eligible bachelors and predict how their seasons might turn out.
10. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
This season already isn't off to a great start for Jaylen Brown.
The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach reported several weeks ago that Brown will hire an agent to manage his contract extension talks, and Heavy.com's Sean Deveney relayed the Boston Celtics and Brown are unlikely to agree to an extension before the season starts.
Boston general manager Danny Ainge historically prefers to wait on extensions until the end of the season, so this stalemate shouldn't be cause for alarm in and of itself. But Brown was demoted from the starting lineup last year following an early-season slump, and while he reverted to his solid two-way, role-playing self shortly after that, he is still known for bouts of inconsistency.
If Brown falters and becomes unhappy with his role in a Celtics offense that features Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter, who knows what might happen?
All indications are that Brown and his teammates have much better mindsets following last year's disappointment. But so much can change in a year. Remember the things Kyrie Irving said last fall? They look silly now.
Let's hope Brown stays on the straight and narrow over the next 10 months and gets that money.
Prediction: 12.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 45.5 FG%, 34.9% 3PT
Honorable Mention: Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap, Dejounte Murray, Fred VanVleet
9. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
It's a tough beat for Brandon Ingram.
He gets a fresh start in New Orleans, but the Pelicans have a strange and imbalanced roster. Specifically, they lack shooting. Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday and Ingram all shot 33 percent or worse from three last season, and Zion Williamson was just a 33.8 percent three-point shooter at Duke.
Ingram's game is anachronistic even in favorable circumstances.
He's a ball-dominant mid-range scorer, which can be effective in small doses. But being proficient from mid-range is unhelpful when most of your teammates are also sub-par shooters, and being ball-dominant doesn't work alongside players like Ball, Holiday and Williamson, who are all effective distributors and ball-handlers.
To be fair, Ingram looked dangerously close to figuring it out during his final stretch of 2018-19, averaging 22.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 52.0 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent from three-point range through 11 games in February and March. No players in the NBA matched that stat line last year.
But the tough part about this new situation is that no matter what those numbers portend, it's a bad sign.
If they were a sign of things to come for a burgeoning superstar, then the Pelicans are not constructed to maximize his skills. If they were just a hot streak, then he might fade into the background as he so often did in Los Angeles.
Prediction: 14.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 42.6 FG%, 27.1 3PT%
8. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
While many Western Conference teams made drastic personnel changes over the summer, the Sacramento Kings stood relatively pat, mainly signing veteran role players to complement the central core of De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III and Buddy Hield.
It's unclear as of now if stasis will be to Sacramento's benefit when it comes to playoff contention, but one thing is for sure: Business will be booming for Buddy.
Fresh off leading the Kings in scoring and shooting nearly 43 percent from three, Hield has solidified himself as one of the league's premier marksmen. Much like Klay Thompson, JJ Redick, Kyle Korver and others of this ilk, his skill set is incredibly low-maintenance. He runs and runs and runs. All you have to do is feed him the ball, and he'll rise up from anywhere.
That's true in an up-tempo offense like the one favored by Fox, and it's true in a half-court setting featuring more iso-heavy play with Fox, Bagley or Harrison Barnes.
Hield isn't much of a defender, but what else can you expect from the man who ranks among the fastest and most-traveled players in the league? He's honed his skill set as finely as possible, and he should be rewarded handsomely for it this summer.
Now, all that's left is to help break the longest postseason drought in the NBA.
Prediction: 18.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.4 SPG, 43.2 FG%, 45.0 3PT%
7. Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
There is no runaway title favorite in the NBA this season, but the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the highest-regarded clubs in the early going.
The main reason is that they somehow married league-altering transactions with overall roster continuity. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are now on the team, yet the Clippers were able to acquire them and keep many of the players who gave L.A. its gritty and lovable underdog identity last season.
Montrezl Harrell now finds himself within this odd marriage. Ostensibly, his role has not changed; he'll still be a highly productive bench center. But where last year he was one of the team's chief offensive focal points, he's now the fourth option.
The Lou Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll that befuddled the NBA last year has been relegated to tertiary status in an offense that will now run through the reigning Finals MVP and the league's reigning silver-medal scorer. On a worse team, that "demotion" might be cause for a reasonable complaint.
But all it means for the Clippers is that Harrell will get to work his magic on unqualified second units, giving George and Leonard long stretches to rest without worrying that the bench will give up leads.
Harrell is quickly reaching his potential, and he's doing so for a title contender. That's a recipe for big bucks next summer.
Prediction: 13.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 64.6 FG%
6. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Though Victor Oladipo's knee injury hampers the Indiana Pacers' chances at deep playoff contention, it provides an opportunity for their role players to shine.
One such player is Domantas Sabonis, who will be sliding into the starting lineup in Oladipo's stead.
Being a non-shooter works if you have teammates who can shoot well. Sabonis fits that mold as he plays with Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Myles Turner, who space the floor at a high level and will let him clean up their misses and display his advanced post moves. To boot, the Gonzaga alum is a monstrous rebounder, ranking in the top 20 in the league last year, and an effective post passer, averaging 2.9 dimes per game.
The big question will be his fit alongside Turner. In theory, they can play together. Turner approximates a unicorn, and his combination of good three-point shooting and elite rim protection isn't redundant with Sabonis' main skills.
But Turner still operates largely from the paint, and having two post-bound bigs is very 2003. Sabonis is playing with house money until Oladipo returns, but if the postseason ends in early disappointment, the impending restricted free agent may need to look elsewhere for the contract he desires.
Prediction: 12.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 58.1 FG%
5. Otto Porter Jr., Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are in a strange spot.
On one hand, they boast a deep team headlined by a future starting five of Coby White, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. However, injuries ravaged this crew last year, and as such the group has limited experience playing together. So there will be growing pains.
Porter, who has a player option for 2020-21, is in an interesting spot regarding this lineup tension. He's an excellent three-and-D wing who sticks to his role, but that may not serve him well given that the top two options are LaVine and Markkanen. Each is a more versatile scorer than Porter, but neither has the distribution skills to match. In a scenario where those two fight for touches, Porter might get marginalized within the offense, and his numbers could suffer.
His impact doesn't always show up in stats, and he'll likely remain an effective defender. But if Porter feels underutilized on a team that is worse than his old Wizards squads, he might decline his $28.5 million player option and look for a better situation.
Prediction: 14.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 46.7 FG%, 44.4 3PT%
4. Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder
There's a host of competing agendas on this year's Oklahoma City Thunder. Chris Paul is looking to prove he's still elite. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is looking to take over the team. And mainstay role players such as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson want to prove they are more than just Russell Westbrook creations.
One player who's already getting lost in the shuffle is Danilo Gallinari.
It seems like Gallo has shaken the injury bug, playing in 68 games last year, his most since 2012-13.
(Please pause as I go find the biggest slab of wood in a 10-mile radius to knock on vigorously.)
Not only was Gallinari healthy last year, but he was also the best player on a Clippers team that took two games from the Golden State Warriors in a playoff series.
But because of his injury-riddled career, Gallinari is constantly overlooked. This is happening again in Oklahoma City, even though the Italian posted career highs of 19.8 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and a 46.3 field-goal percentage last season and is a candidate to lead the Thunder in scoring.
In the murderous West, Oklahoma City is not a playoff team, but if Gallinari can string together another year of good health and consistent play, then he may earn one final large contract next summer.
Prediction: 19.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.4 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 46.0 FG%, 43.8 3PT%
3. DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs seem to want DeMar DeRozan back, and it's up to him, given his $27.7 million player option, but he might want a change of scenery.
San Antonio has outrageous backcourt depth. The logjam forced DeRozan to the wing for most of his playing time last year—he even played 4 percent of his minutes at power forward! And while he recorded a career high in rebounds (6.0) and assists per game (6.2) while posting his best field-goal percentage since his rookie year, the minutes crunch will only get worse with Dejounte Murray's return from a torn ACL and with Lonnie Walker IV ready for rotation minutes.
Of course, head coach Gregg Popovich will likely choose DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, over any individual guard on his team. But there have to be other situations where DeRozan can be an offensive focal point without worrying about losing touches.
On the other hand, DeRozan's first year with the Spurs showed he is still a mid-range fiend, as he didn't even average one three-point attempt per game. There aren't many teams where a scoring guard can be so reliant on such an inefficient shot, but Popovich's hand has been forced by LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan.
Maybe this is the perfect spot for him after all.
Prediction: 19.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 44.8 FG%, 24.3 3PT%
2. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors will likely not let Pascal Siakam leave next summer as a restricted free agent. They don't have a cohesive roster yet, but whenever they start the rebuilding process, it will be centered in part around him.
Siakam's transformation into last year's Most Improved Player has been well told. Suffice it to say that such drastic leaps are rare in general, let alone from a late first-round pick from a mid-major school. But Siakam did it, and he can forever say he was the second-best player on a championship team.
The big question this season is whether he can make a similar leap—this time to superstardom. The big man is a spin-move master, tenacious defender and legendary worker, but he's still got a few glaring weaknesses.
For instance, Siakam was an average regular-season shooter, increasing his three-point success rate from 22.0 percent in 2017-18 to 36.9 percent in 2018-19. However, the tenuous nature of that improvement was exposed in the playoffs, where he made just 27.9 percent of his threes.
Siakam was obviously a vital part of Toronto's title team and is a top-30 NBA player, but if the Raptors want to seriously compete in the East under his leadership, then he'll need to level up once more.
Prediction: 18.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.5 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 55.6 FG%, 33.8 3PT%
1. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Even though he has yet to play a regular-season game for them, it feels like Anthony Davis has been on the Los Angeles Lakers for five years already. That's how much buzz surrounded his trade request, the subsequent deal and the lead-up to his debut in purple and gold.
And that hype isn't letting up anytime soon.
LeBron James himself stated at media day that the Lakers will run through Davis whenever he's on the floor. Though that's likely a bit of an exaggeration given that LeBron James is LeBron James, the thought behind his statement is what matters.
The Lakers want to emphasize Anthony Davis this year, and the 26-year-old is finally reaching his physical prime.
Los Angeles has a funky roster. Davis, James, Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee all warrant minutes at the 4 and 5, and only one of Howard and McGee can play at a time. But Davis is a generational talent, and his teammates are just going to get dunked on if they're clogging the lane when he gets a head of steam.
Considering all the disparate personalities and aforementioned fit issues, the Lakers may not be a prime contender this season. But Davis won't be to blame. This time next year, he might be the undisputed best player in the world.
Prediction: 27.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.7 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 53.4 FG%, 35.0 3PT%
Statistical projections based on a combination of past performance, current situation, and age. Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.