Every dollar counts in NBA free agency, perhaps more in the 2020 offseason than ever before.
Budgets were tight even before the coronavirus pandemic rocked the league's financial picture. Now, clubs are trying to fill rotation roles with limited resources available.
Luck will play a part in that process, but the bigger factor will be identifying undervalued assets. The following three players could make for terrific under-the-radar additions.
Jae Crowder, Miami Heat
Betting on Jae Crowder means believing in his outside shooting, which isn't always easy to do. He's just a 33.6 percent shooter from distance for his career, and there's little variance in his profile. Other than one season at 29.3 and another at 39.8, he's shot between 31.8 and 33.6 percent in his other six campaigns.
But if he can harness that one swing skill, he becomes a powerful two-way force.
At 6'6" and 235 pounds, he's the perfect size to defend multiple positions. He moves quickly enough to pester perimeter players, and he has the strength to bang with big men on the low block. He'll hustle his way to about 10 points per game, and he can be a helpful presence on the glass.
Teams can bank on his defense and energy, and his shooting potential gives him free-agent-steal potential. Considering the Heat have received a close-up view of his hot streak—2.7 triples at a 39.3 percent clip over 13 games—they'll probably prioritize him in free agency, perhaps throwing an inflated, short-term contract in front of him as soon as the market opens.
Prediction: Crowder re-signs with Heat.
Kent Bazemore, Sacramento Kings
Like many players who cashed out during the wild 2016 offseason, Kent Bazemore's perception changed for the worse based on his paycheck.
The 31-year-old is an adequate fifth starter if he has really talented players around him, otherwise he's best as an off-the-bench energizer. His length, athleticism and instincts make him an active chaos-creator on defense, and at the other end, he moves the basketball and typically makes his open shots.
That player type has value—it's just not worth the $70 million deal he inked the last time he hit the open market. Financially, that contract set him up for life, but from a basketball sense, it set him up for failure, since he didn't have the game to justify the cost.
Traded twice over the past year, Bazemore is re-entering the market having spent a chunk of the past four seasons on various worst-contracts-in-the-NBA lists. But that could let him jump right to the bargain bin, as front offices have a better feel for his strengths and limitations.
Let him focus on defense, spot-up shooting and secondary playmaking, and he can still thrive as a (budget-priced) two-way swingman.
Prediction: Bazemore signs with Mavericks.
D.J. Augustin, Orlando Magic
Undersized and never the greatest athlete, D.J. Augustin's profile raises more than a few red flags with his 33rd birthday looming in November. For shrewd executives, though, those same concerns could point to a quietly valuable opportunity hidden in basketball's clearance rack.
His raw numbers rarely jump off the page. They aren't bad, it's just that fans don't go into a frenzy for career per-game marks of 9.9 points and 4.0 assists.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it's easy to see how the veteran succeeds as an offensive caretaker. He's a career 37.9 percent marksman from three, and he buried better than 40 percent of his long-range looks each of the past two seasons. That assist average also grows more intriguing when coupled with the fact that he only coughs up 1.5 turnovers per game. In other words, he's dropping nearly three dimes for every giveaway.
Augustin probably shouldn't be a starter anymore, but he can handle relatively high minutes off the bench. His age, experience and skill set all suggest he'll fit best with a win-now club, and one of them should be fortunate enough to sneak him through at a reduced rate.
Prediction: Augustin signs with 76ers.