Flight-Risk Meter for NBA's Top 20 Free Agents in 2020

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2020

Flight-Risk Meter for NBA's Top 20 Free Agents in 2020

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Summers have become almost as exciting as regular seasons in the NBA. For some, the offseason might even top the games. July 1, the annual start of free agency, is an event. Player movement is tracked with as much anticipation as end-of-season awards.

    The carousel that was 2019 turned out to be the busiest offseason in league history with an unprecedented amount of player movement. And it wasn't just mid-level guys.

    Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Kevin Durant, D'Angelo Russell, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard represent a mere fraction of the total number of players who changed teams.

    Since the dust settled, we've been treated to the 2019-20 season, perhaps the most wide-open campaign in recent memory. When it ends, free agency will roll around again. Only this time, the class won't generate nearly as large a frenzy, especially with some of the bigger names all but guaranteed to re-sign with their current teams.

    Others are certainly more likely to change squads than the likes of Anthony Davis and the leading restricted free agents. Assessing the chances that any of the top names will seek a new situation is the aim here.

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Restricted Free Agents

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    Malik Beasley

    When you trade for a restricted free agent in a contract year, the presumption is that there's at least some interest in re-signing him.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves may be OK with Malik Beasley doing some shopping around, but they'll likely match any reasonable offer sheet he signs.

    The Wolves should follow the model the Denver Nuggets did with Nikola Jokic: Surround the generational offensive big (Karl-Anthony Towns) with wings who can shoot and cut. Beasley fits that mold; he was just a bit redundant in Denver.

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded


    Bogdan Bogdanovic

    There were some rumors that Bogdan Bogdanovic might be available at the trade deadline, but nothing came to fruition. And NBC Sports' James Ham reported that the Sacramento Kings are "likely to match any offer" for the playmaking wing.

    He'll be in his age-28 season in 2020-21, but Bogdanovic has a career scoring average of 14.2 points in under 30 minutes per game with an above-average three-point percentage. He's shown an ability to create for teammates, as well.

    It'd likely take a ludicrous offer to pry him away, and there isn't a ton of cap space available this summer.

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded


    Kris Dunn

    Kris Dunn is still a long way from being an efficient offensive player, but he's managed to become a distinct plus overall thanks to his stellar defense.

    This season, the Chicago Bulls' net rating is 3.4 points per 100 possessions better with Dunn on the floor, a swing that ranks in the 71st percentile leaguewide. His defensive rating swing ranks in the 91st percentile.

    Dunn's NBA-best steal rate and ability to defend multiple positions on the perimeter make him valuable on a team that already has plenty of offensive usage tied up in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

    Chicago should match any reasonable offer that comes his way.

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded


    Brandon Ingram

    It's hard to imagine a breakup after Brandon Ingram's All-Star-level breakout for the New Orleans Pelicans. In addition to his 20-plus scoring average, the Pelicans need as much shooting as possible around the rim-rattling Zion Williamson.

    It wouldn't be shocking to see some team throw a max offer at the 22-year-old wing. New Orleans might have to match even that.

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

Davis Bertans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Davis Bertans' laser-like accuracy from three has made him one of the most positively impactful players in the NBA over the last two seasons.

    In 2018-19, the San Antonio Spurs were plus-8.1 points per 100 possessions with Bertans on the floor and minus-2.3 with him off. That 10.4-point swing ranked in the 95th percentile and is still shy of the 11.8 he's at for the Washington Wizards this season.

    The numbers are a product of Bertans' absurd range. At 36-of-70, he's fourth in the league this season in threes made beyond 28 feet, but his accuracy from out there (51.4 percent) is far superior to that of Damian Lillard, Trae Young and James Harden. That forces defenders to stay close regardless of where he is on the floor, opening up precious space inside for Bradley Beal.

    This rare combination of volume, range and efficiency should make Bertans a priority for the Wizards this summer, especially with the poor-shooting John Wall set to come back. They have a huge advantage holding his Bird rights, but others will be interested, too.

    Depending on how things shake out with the teams that have space, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Bertans' annual salary more than double the $7 million he's making this season.

    With Wall and Beal set to make a combined $69.6 million next season, money is tight. Over $100 million is already committed. Again, the Wizards can go over the cap to sign Bertans thanks to those Bird rights, but teams with cap space can make them sweat.

Jordan Clarkson

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Few players have raised their stock quite like Jordan Clarkson in 2019-20. In the five seasons prior to this one, he didn't have a single above-average box plus/minus. He was at minus-1.8 overall, barely above replacement level.

    This season, he's above average, posting 15.3 points in 24.1 minutes per game and submitting a career-high 58.7 true shooting percentage. And the vast majority of his numbers have ticked up since the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to the Utah Jazz.

    He's been so good that one might even wonder whether Utah will have the flexibility necessary to bring him back. Of course, the Jazz have his Bird rights, so they can go over the cap to re-sign him. But how far over are they willing to go?

    "I love him. I love him. Write it down—I love him," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder told reporters in January. "Sometimes a system needs to be malleable. ... I want him to be instinctive. ... The opportunity to continue to get better is there for him offensively, which is a heck of a statement."

    If that endorsement isn't enough, maybe some numbers will help.

    Clarkson has stabilized the second unit (Utah's bench was minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions prior to the trade and has been plus-0.6 points per 100 possessions since). And he's shown the flamethrower-off-the-bench ability that has been critical to plenty of championship teams.

    But there are still defensive concerns. And after five years of below-average efficiency, can his sudden uptick really be trusted?

    If Clarkson commands much more than $10 million annually—and given the way he's playing, that's possible—things could get fairly tight for Utah against the tax line. Is one season of potentially out-of-character play enough to justify the bill?

Anthony Davis

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

    The chances of Anthony Davis leaving the Los Angeles Lakers after one year seem infinitesimally small. The first season of this AD/LeBron James partnership is going better than most could've imagined. Breaking it up now would be shocking.

    The Los Angeles Lakers are third in net rating. FiveThirtyEight's projection model gives them an 18 percent chance to win the title, a mark that trails only their Staples Center arena mates, the Los Angeles Clippers (23 percent).

    Individually, Davis is averaging 26.6 points (third-highest mark of his career) and posting a career-high 61.9 true shooting percentage. Things fall apart for L.A. when he plays without LeBron, but that feels like nitpicking.

    Overall, this is going remarkably well. There seemed to be an instant synergy between the two superstars. And as long as they're together, they'll compete for titles throughout the foreseeable future.

DeMar DeRozan

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    This one's tricky for a number of reasons.

    DeRozan's basic averages of 23.0 points (on a career-high 60.4 true shooting percentage), 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists suggest he's a star. But for the 10th time in his 11 NBA seasons, his team is playing better when he's off the floor.

    Over the course of their two seasons together, the San Antonio Spurs are minus-0.7 points per 100 possessions when DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are both playing. Running it back for another year would almost be begging for more mediocrity.

    The Spurs (and probably DeRozan, as well) should be interested in a post-DeRozan/Aldridge future. But the former has a $27.7 million player option, and the latter is locked up for $24 million in 2020-21.

    In a lackluster free-agent market, could DeRozan command enough salary to make up the lost money from a potential opt-out on the back end? One would think so. Even if he signs for something like four years and $60 million, he'd have to feel OK about surrendering what he's owed next season.

    At the same time, he could collect that $27.7 million and hope that one more long-term deal would still be on the table in 2021. It likely all depends on what kind of intel his representation can dig up on the market for him.

Andre Drummond

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    This one's tough to read, too. After seeing how paltry the trade market was for him, Andre Drummond might want to think long and hard about picking up his $28.8 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers next season.

    Scan through the other 29 teams in the NBA and try to find a clean fit that doesn't already have a decent center or two. Prior to the deadline, one of the only semi-logical fits was the Atlanta Hawks, who just acquired Clint Capela.

    Are we looking at a market in which Drummond tops out around the mid-level exception ($9.8 million)? If that's the case, he'd need three years at that kind of salary to make up for that option. And if that is his market, it's hard to imagine it plummeting much further (although it did for DeMarcus Cousins). A two- or three-year deal at that price may still be out there in 2021.

    Still, even with all that to consider, what's the basketball incentive for staying in Cleveland? This is an organization that hit multiple lotteries when...

    • LeBron James was born in Akron, Ohio
    • The No. 1 pick went its way when LeBron entered the draft
    • LeBron decided to return home in 2014 to deliver a championship.

    Other than the years LeBron was there (and, in some ways, even when he was there), this team has been marred by dysfunction and chaos. The latest failure was the John Beilein era. After signing a five-year deal, Beilein resigned at the All-Star break of Year 1 following a series of major missteps.

    On top of that, Darius Garland and Collin Sexton have gotten off to historically bad starts. Does Drummond want to spend the prime of his career watching them take turns operating from the top?

    A better basketball situation might be worth the massive pay cut. Just ask Beilein, who was reassigned within the organization but still reportedly forfeited $12 million.

Evan Fournier

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Evan Fournier is in the middle of the best season of his career. He's averaging a career-high 18.7 points while shooting a career-high 40.8 percent from three.

    The mid-career surge couldn't come at a better time. Fournier can opt out of the $17 million he's owed next season and instantly become one of the top wings in the uninspiring 2020 free-agent class.

    At least one team with cap space might be interested.

    "The Hawks seem likely to chase 'young veterans,' especially on the wings," John Hollinger wrote for The Athletic. "Somebody like Fournier or [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope could have appeal."

    Atlanta already has an intriguing young 2 in Kevin Huerter, but he likely has a few years of NBA growing pains ahead of him. Fournier would give the Hawks a steadier presence on the wing to flank pick-and-rolls with Trae Young and John Collins (or Clint Capela).

    And given the way Fournier has played this season, it wouldn't be surprising to see his next contract start with an annual salary in the range of what he's set to make on his player option.

    If he has any desire to separate from an Orlando Magic team that has stagnated for years, there should be a market for Fournier.

Danilo Gallinari

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Wheels Up

    There's an argument for the Oklahoma City Thunder re-signing Danilo Gallinari. The unexpectedly (to some) playoff-bound Thunder have his Bird rights. Signing him with the possibility of later trading him would make some sense.

    But this is a player and team on different paths. OKC blew out its preseason projections, but its eyes should still be firmly set on the future. And, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the team was "open for business" as recently as January.

    The Thunder remain in asset-accumulation mode, and Gallo may be reaching the point in his career at which it's time to start thinking about taking discounts for contenders.

    He'll turn 32 prior to the start of the 2020-21 campaign. And while that's by no means old, it's closing in on that description by NBA standards. Gallo also has a pretty significant injury history. It's probably too early to sign for the mid-level exception somewhere, but would the Miami Heat rekindle their interest in him this summer?

    The Heat will have cap space. And though discussions between them and Gallinari broke down at the deadline over a contract extension, perhaps owner Pat Riley would renew his pursuit this summer.

    "Designs on dominating 2021 free agency could prevent the Heat from shelling out deals that leak past next season," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote. "Then again, Jimmy Butler's salary and Bam Adebayo's restricted-free-agent hold are the only eight-figure cap hits guaranteed to be on their books. They can sign someone like Danilo Gallinari to a multiyear contract without jeopardizing their inevitable superstar chase that summer."

Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    The opposite of whatever happened to Drummond's value may be happening for Tim Hardaway Jr. There isn't much of a market for bigs, while wings who can shoot are hot commodities.

    This season, Hardaway is hitting a career-high 40.3 percent of his attempts from deep. That mark ranks sixth among the 28 players shooting at least as many threes per game.

    If he were to opt out of the $19 million Dallas owes him next season, his next contract would almost certainly make that up by its second season. It's not hard to imagine some team shelling out the kind of annual salary for which JJ Redick signed last summer (around the $13 million range). And with Luka Doncic coming up on extension eligibility, much more than that for Hardaway might make Dallas worry about cap flexibility.

    But the chemistry between those two can't be ignored. Hardaway has been one of Luka's most reliable targets out of drives. No one has hit more threes off Luka's assists. And the Mavericks are plus-15.3 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when both are on the floor, compared to minus-3.1 when Luka is on the floor without Hardaway.

    Surrounding Doncic with shooting should be high on Dallas' list of priorities, which makes it tough to justify letting Hardaway walk. It will likely depend on how aggressive other suitors will be.

Montrezl Harrell

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

    Montrezl Harrell plays like a more modern big than Drummond. He's more trustworthy switching onto wings and guards on the perimeter, and he'll waste fewer possessions toiling away in the post, where efficiency is a mess leaguewide.

    Still, Harrell figures to run into a similar problem if and when he tests the market. It's just difficult to find teams that will be lining up to pay a center or more traditional power forward a massive salary.

    That gives the Los Angeles Clippers some leverage. They already have nearly $114 million committed to next season's roster, assuming JaMychal Green opts into his $5 million player option. But they could still triple Harrell's current salary ($6 million) and be comfortably shy of the luxury-tax threshold ($139 million).

    And they may not even have to be that aggressive with Harrell. Again, the suitors may not be able to offer much more than mid-level-exception money.

    Of the five teams in range of max cap space in 2020, three (the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks) should be all-in on rebuilding with youth and draft picks. The other two (the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat) are likely already set in the big-man department.

    Harrell should get a decent raise, but it may not come from many places other than L.A.

    And the Clippers should want him back, too. He's had a positive net rating swing during his time in Los Angeles and is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate. His finishing around the rim and tenacity on the boards draw defenders inside, leaving more room for operators like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to do their thing outside the paint.

Joe Harris

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Joe Harris' shooting numbers are down across the board this season, but that just means they went from blistering to great. In 2018-19, he shot 50.0 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from three and 82.7 percent from the line. This season, he's slashing 46.8/40.8/74.3.

    And yet, his impact on the Brooklyn Nets' bottom line has improved significantly. The Nets are plus-2.9 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor and minus-7.3 with him off, giving him a 10.2-point swing that ranks in the 94th percentile.

    It's not hard to see why his impact is so positive. When Harris is on the floor, defenders always have to stay close as he moves around off the ball. That makes driving lanes a little wider, rim-running lanes a little less congested and rebounds a little less contested.

    NBA teams are almost always in the market for shooting, and Harris could be in for a raise following the breakout he had during this contract. And with Kyrie Irving complaining in January about his team's need for another star, one might wonder if Harris doesn't fit the bill (especially when he wasn't one of the players Irving mentioned as mainstays in that complaint).

    There is a relationship between Harris and Kyrie, though (no word yet as to whether that was helped or hurt by this season). So, inferring discontent from the aforementioned omission may be a stretch.

    But if Brooklyn wants to appease Kyrie this summer, money could be tight. The Nets will have Bird rights for Harris, but hefty contracts for Kevin Durant, Kyrie and another star, plus a supporting cast, could implicate the luxury tax. And if they wait until 2021 for those pursuits, that could mean staying in Brooklyn requires a short-term deal for Harris.

    Other suitors around the league may be able to outdo Brooklyn, but the allure of spacing the floor for Durant and Irving will likely remain strong.

Gordon Hayward

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

    Another potential free agent with a hefty player option, Gordon Hayward took a couple of years to find his form and role with the Boston Celtics (thanks in large part to a devastating injury). Would he really forfeit $34.2 million right after figuring out his place with one of the game's most storied franchises?

    The versatility Boston has with its three-wing attack of Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown makes it a thoroughly modern, switchable team. And with Tatum and Brown still years away from their primes, development is likely still on the way.

    With those three, Kemba Walker, competent center play from Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter and the intangibles provided by Marcus Smart, the Celtics have a shot at the title this season. And again, with further development, they might have an even better chance next season.

    Hayward leaving that for one of the teams with cap space may not make much sense. He's not going to make contenders out of the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks or Atlanta Hawks, and he may not get a big deal that lasts beyond 2020-21 with the Miami Heat, who are keyed in on 2021 free agency.

Serge Ibaka

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Serge Ibaka is quietly having a strong season for the Toronto Raptors. He's averaging career highs in points per game (16.1) and points per 36 minutes (21.4) while posting his second-best true shooting percentage (59.7).

    But he's starting to age out of his prime and has never posted a positive net rating swing with the Raptors. This season alone, Toronto is 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Serge on the floor.

    As the contracts of veterans like Ibaka and Marc Gasol expire, will the Raptors be willing to spend significant cap space on an aging stretch 4 who may have passed his defensive peak years ago?

    They've exceeded expectations in this first post-Kawhi Leonard season, but the focus should still be on the future and finding players and assets who can support rising stars like Pascal Siakam—and potentially Fred VanVleet (more on him later).

Paul Millsap

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Prepared for Takeoff

    Paul Millsap is 35 years old and in the middle of his 14th NBA season. He's missed 76 games (possibly with more to come) due to injuries over the course of the last three seasons with the Denver Nuggets.

    It may officially be time for Millsap to enter the ring-chasing portion of his successful-but-still-lacking-a-title career.

    Now, that could happen naturally by staying with the Nuggets. Over the three seasons Millsap has been in Denver, the team is plus-9.3 points per 100 possessions when he shares the floor with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

    Carrying out that level of dominance over three years is tough. But again, that lineup hasn't been able to play a ton of minutes thanks to the injuries. And combining the two stars with rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. offers some intriguing potential, as well.

    Would the departure of Millsap necessitate more minutes for the youngster at the 4? Would Millsap re-sign with the understanding that he might move to a lesser role?

    This one could go either way. But if Millsap were to hit the market and play for something like the mini-mid-level exception, contenders (or borderline contenders) like the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics might be interested in his experience and versatility.

    Or, consider Millsap as the small-ball 5 for the Houston Rockets. They can offer the full mid-level exception, and Millsap can provide some of the intangibles of P.J. Tucker, only with more size and versatility.

    A three-"big" rotation of Millsap, Tucker and Robert Covington could help popularize Houston's new philosophy.

Otto Porter Jr.

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

    Otto Porter Jr.'s value around the league may have taken a hit this season. After averaging 17.5 points and shooting 48.8 percent from three in 15 games following a trade to the Chicago Bulls in 2018-19, his average has plummeted to 11.2 points in 2019-20. A foot injury has kept him out for all but nine games.

    He's also posting his worst box plus/minus since his rookie season. With the sample size as small as it is, that could change quickly, but it certainly hasn't been a great season for Porter.

    Of course, he's still just 26 years old, 6'8" and a career 40.5 percent three-point shooter. Over the course of his career, his teams are plus-1.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-3.0 points per 100 possessions with him off.

    He rarely puts up basic numbers that leap off the screen, but Porter has always been a winning player, thanks in large part to his shooting and defense. Unfortunately, he just hasn't had much of a chance to show that this season.

    And because of that, declining the $28.5 million he's owed next season seems like a bit of a gamble. Something in the range of three years and $45 million feels gettable for Porter this summer, but that means he's not making up that $28.5 million until the end of Year 2.

    Opting in, rehabbing his value a bit over the course of 2020-21 and signing another long-term deal the next summer would have its own pitfalls. He could get hurt again. The Bulls could continue to stink. But the fit of all those pieces, when healthy, makes sense.

    In theory, a lineup of Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. should absolutely compete for a playoff spot in the East.

Fred VanVleet

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Flight-Risk Meter: Grounded

    Fred VanVleet is going to cash in this summer, and the Raptors should be the team paying him. Kyle Lowry is a month shy of 34 years old. And while he's under contract for next season, it's not hard to see a transition plan in which he hands the reins over to VanVleet.

    And for as long as they're both on the roster, they've shown they can play together. This season, Toronto is plus-2.9 points per 100 possessions when the two guards share the floor.

    Keeping VanVleet would be more about what happens down the line, though. He's shown an ability to pilot this team on his own (plus-5.6 points per 100 possessions when he plays without Lowry), and he's the same age as All-Star Pascal Siakam.

    Those two, along with OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Matt Thomas, give the Raptors an intriguing young(ish) core to move forward with as the old guard leaves the team (or their current roles).

    Of course, there may be other bidders for VanVleet. Would the New York Knicks throw caution to the wind and spend a bunch of their cap space on him? Perhaps he and Mitchell Robinson could be a solid pick-and-roll combo, as well as a stabilizing force while RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox (hopefully) develop.

    Toronto will likely have to double (or more) VanVleet's current $9 million salary to convince him to turn down other offers. But with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka coming off the books, the flexibility is there. And VanVleet has plenty of history (including, of course, a championship) with the Raptors.

Hassan Whiteside

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    Flight-Risk Meter: Wheels Up

    Let's get something out of the way at the outset: Often the target of criticism about his effort, Hassan Whiteside has been flat-out good this season.

    The Portland Trail Blazers' net rating is 8.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (thanks in large part to how often he plays with Damian Lillard). And among qualified players, he ranks in the top 50 of several catch-all metrics, including FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR, Basketball Index's player impact plus-minus and NBA.com's player impact estimate.

    Per 75 possessions (which adjusts for pace and playing time), Whiteside is averaging an eye-popping 18.2 points, 16.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks with a 64.0 true shooting percentage.

    Having said all that, there is the potential for some redundancy next season.

    Jusuf Nurkic (who had a stellar 2018-19) and Zach Collins should both be back from injuries. And both are under more-than-reasonable contracts. Spending the money vacated by Whiteside's $27.1 expiring deal on wing defenders is probably the wiser play for Portland.

    The Blazers never really recovered from the loss of size, defense and versatility previously provided by Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. With Lillard and CJ McCollum making up the starting backcourt, you need as much defensive help as you can get on the perimeter.

    Whiteside doesn't provide that. And using cap space on him when you already have Nurkic and Collins doesn't make a ton of sense, either.

    Unfortunately, Whiteside may be another big on the way to a market that doesn't have a ton of demand for him.


    Stats via NBA.com, Basketball Reference, PBPStats.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise noted and up to date going into Thursday's games. 


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