The Best Bargain-Bin 2020 NBA Free Agents for Next Season
The value of a clearance-priced NBA free-agent signing has never been greater.
Since every team will be scouring for bargains in a shallow player pool, they won't be easily found. This offseason may not produce a typical bidding war, but contenders could still aggressively pursue helpful role players with the funds they have.
Still, value signings happen every year, and there's no reason to think 2020 will be any different. The following five players should offer the best return on minimal investments.
D.J. Augustin, Orlando Magic
If someone compiled a checklist for free-agency bargains, D.J. Augustin might tick every box.
He's on the wrong side of 30—he'll be 33 in November—and his age might cause extra concern in front offices since he's undersized (5'11", 183 lbs). He's entering the market off one of his worst seasons in years, shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from distance.
He's also part of a crowded position group. Clubs coveting a veteran bench floor general will also consider Jeff Teague, Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic.
Augustin could be the best investment of them all.
It doesn't take a time machine to see how he can make a significant impact. In 2018-19, he started 81 games for the Orlando Magic and averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists (against only 1.6 turnovers per game) while tallying a 47.0/42.1/86.6 shooting slash. The Magic were 5.5 points better per 100 possessions with him than without.
He's an easy fit for any team since he can run the offense and play off the ball. He's an excellent locker-room presence, and he's experienced with changing locales (Orlando is his eighth NBA team). Whichever team signs him won't immediately transform its outlook, but the stability and offensive skill he provides will be steals at the money he commands.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Toronto Raptors
How much would you guess the NBA's most versatile defender would cost? Something astronomic since switch-heavy schemes are increasingly utilized to combat the Association's move toward do-it-all players at every position?
Well, what if I told you the league's most versatile stopper—by the numbers at least—is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who settled for a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Toronto Raptors last summer? As The Athletic's Eric Koreen relayed, using research from Krishna Narsu, Hollis-Jefferson has guarded each position for at least 17.7 percent of his minutes. He's also spent 29 percent of his floor time defending an opponent's first or second option.
Given the quantity and quality of assignments, one might assume they wreck his defensive metrics. Not at all. In fact, ESPN's defensive real plus-minus puts him 30th overall. He shaves 3.3 percentage points off his opponents' normal field-goal rates and drops them by 4.9 on two-point shots.
As a 25-year-old five-year veteran, he probably hasn't played his best basketball yet, which should exclude all possibilities of a bargain. But he's a 6'6" player who doesn't have an outside shot (career 21.4 percent) or pack much offensive punch (career 9.4 points per game), so his appeal is limited.
In a vacuum, the Raptors would surely welcome him back, but they have too many other priorities, be that retaining their own free agents (including Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka) or maintaining flexibility for 2021 (i.e., the Summer of Giannis).
While Hollis-Jefferson will appeal to outside suitors, they'll also be choosing from other stoppers like Kris Dunn (restricted), Josh Jackson, Jae Crowder and even a possibly healthy Andre Roberson.
E'Twaun Moore, New Orleans Pelicans
Talking yourself into a good-sized payday for E'Twaun Moore isn't impossible.
With the perpetually growing importance on perimeter shooting, his stroke sells itself. He has made at least 37 percent of his long-range looks each of the past five seasons and cleared the 42-percent mark in three of those campaigns.
The problem is it's easier convincing yourself that he'll slip through the cracks. He is a 6'3" combo guard who is neither a prolific passer (career 1.8 assists per game) nor a dynamic off-the-dribble scorer (53rd percentile on isolations in 2019-20). He competes on defense, but his lack of size works against him. This will be the third consecutive season in which he posts a negative defensive box plus/minus.
He has warts, in other words, and while teams can accept that in a role player, they grow less tolerant over time. After turning 31 in February, Moore could be nearing that point. Teams in the market for snipers will at least look in the direction of others first, like Davis Bertans, Joe Harris, Furkan Korkmaz and Bryn Forbes.
But smart ones will circle back to Moore, knowing a discounted deal with him could prove its value time and again. He has good shooting touch on deep balls and floaters, he doesn't force the issue on offense, and he plays solid team defense if deployed in the right matchups.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
It feels like forever ago that Nerlens Noel turned down a four-year, $70 million contract offer from the Dallas Mavericks. Of all the regrets in recent NBA history, that has to rank among the biggest.
The issue isn't just with Noel, though he played a part in his disastrous Dallas tenure, but rather basketball's view toward interior bigs. Those players are having increasing difficulty getting paid on the open market, and that could prove especially true this summer when money is short and the list of available bigs is long (Gasol, Ibaka, Montrezl Harrell, Christian Wood, Tristan Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, etc.).
Between the limited funds and the frontcourt glut, signs are pointing to a Noel sighting in the bargain bin—even while he cements himself as a transcendent defender at age 26. That probably sounds like hyperbolic praise, but he's just the fifth player in NBA history to post a 15-plus rebound percentage, a 5-plus block percentage and a 2-plus steal percentage across 5,000 minutes.
While he doesn't offer much more than size and athleticism at the offensive end, he's at least used that combo to land among the 91st percentile of pick-and-roll screeners.
"He's an amazing big man because he's a great defender, great shot blocker," Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari told The Athletic's Erik Horne. "He's not a guy who [needs] the ball in his hands. He sets screens, rolls to the basket, very unselfish."
Noel has the agility to defend perimeter players and the length to protect the paint. That's a powerful pairing for contemporary centers. But since his offense isn't as modern-friendly, his cost should fall well beneath his actual worth.
Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks
It's been an eventful two years with the New York Knicks for Allonzo Trier.
Undrafted out of Arizona in 2018, he landed a two-way deal with the Knicks shortly thereafter. Before the calendar year was finished, his contract was converted to a two-year big-league pact worth $6.9 million. But a productive rookie season was followed by a flummoxing sophomore campaign. He drew the start on opening night and logged less than seven minutes. He was out of the rotation entirely by mid-November.
The Knicks have seemingly decided they're better off without him. He can be an indifferent defender and reluctant passer, so it's not like he has the perfect skill set. At the same time, he's a 24-year-old who has averaged 17.5 points per 36 minutes on 45.4/38.4/80.1 shooting.
"I'm confident in me as a player," Trier said in February, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do. And how hard I work at this game."
Trier needs to be coached into the right role, and he must figure out how to impact the game beyond scoring. But that's a project for someone to undertake, and it shouldn't cost much to bring him on board. He's a natural net-shredder with the chance to grow as a ball-mover and stopper, so someone could sign him for cheap and turn him into the Knicks' one who got away.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.