Red Flags for Every Top-10 NBA Free Agent

Preston EllisContributor IAugust 10, 2020

Red Flags for Every Top-10 NBA Free Agent

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    2020 NBA free agency is right around the corner, and with it comes the opportunity for teams to dramatically improve their fortunes heading into next season. 

    With spending power comes significant risk, however. To secure some of these dynamic difference-makers, NBA teams will be forced to spend what precious salary-cap space they have available to them. In some instances, they'll even need to unload additional assets to secure rights via sign-and-trade.

    On Aug. 1, Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley gave us bold predictions for each of the top 10 free agents available. Let's break down some inherent risks that come with each target. 

10. Serge Ibaka

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    One season after winning his first NBA championship, Serge Ibaka is experiencing a career year in many ways.

    His 21.1 percent usage is a career high, as are his points, assists and defensive rebounds per game. Much of this success has come from his three-point shooting, where he's graded in the 100th percentile in both pull-up three-point percentage and catch-and-shoot three-point percentage, per BBall Index. 

    Ibaka has been a critical part of the Toronto Raptors' surprising campaign following the departure of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. While mainly relegated to the 5 in 2019-20, his minutes at the 4 have been spectacular in terms of team production. 

    Yet Ibaka seems bound for regression heading into next season.

    He is one of three players at least 30 years old and 6'10" or taller to score 15 points with eight rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes per game (David Robinson, Tim Duncan). In his 11th season, he's already surpassed 23,000 regular-season minutes and should approach 4,000 postseason minutes if the Raptors make a deep run. If he keeps up his previous workload, he'll move into the top 50 all-time for minutes played by someone 6'10" or taller. 

    Ibaka will still be a productive player for the next season—and maybe even the next two. But longevity and a career filled with nagging knee injuries should slow down a player of his size beyond that point. 

9. Joe Harris

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    One season ago, Joe Harris led the NBA in three-point percentage (47.4) among players taking at least 2.5 shots per game. The 6'6" wing graded in the 99th percentile in points per shot attempt after falling in the 96th percentile the year prior. That alone should make him one of the most sought-after free-agent wings this fall. 

    As the Brooklyn Nets restructured their roster with Kyrie Irving replacing D'Angelo Russell, Harris' numbers took a dip in nearly every category. However, he remained in the 89th percentile among wings in three-point shooting.

    Harris' movement on the offensive end is a significant factor that can sharpen the opposing defense's focus and grant freedom to primary creators. He's undoubtedly a lethal sniper capable of spacing out defenses and spreading the floor for rim-attacking playmakers. But what else does he offer on offense? 

    He's never been a volume scorer, averaging fewer than 15 points per game in each of his six seasons. According to BBall Index, he grades in the 2nd percentile in total isolations per 75 possessions, doesn't create for others (38th percentile for assist points), has zero post impact, rebounds at a below-average rate and has made his defensive units measurably worse. This season alone, he ranks 60th in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus among small forwards and 320th in the NBA. 

    If a team spends a significant amount of capital on Harris' services this summer, it'll get a vet who moves off the ball, spaces the floor and offers little else. 

8. Bogdan Bogdanovic

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The third-year 27-year-old Serbian has earned a fair bit of national attention as an underrated playmaker and shot-maker despite failing to offer any measurable statistics worthy of a lofty price tag. In over 28 minutes per game, Bogdanovic has been unable to shoot better than 43.6 percent from the field and is just above the league average from three (37.1 percent). 

    Make no mistake, Bogdanovic can take over games just as he did Aug. 6 against the New Orleans Pelicans. It only took three quarters to break his previous career high of 31 points.

    However, one game earlier, Bogdanovic went just 1-of-15 for three points, his lone make going in with only 6.3 seconds remaining in overtime. That kind of sliding scale from performance to performance is too wild to be trusted long-term with an investment more massive than the one the Sacramento Kings offered as recently as October (four years, $51.4 million).

    Though Bogdanovic is only in his third season, he'll turn 28 this month and cannot be viewed as a prospect who will improve long-term. 

    He does offer upside as a defender on the perimeter, though he rarely assumes the most challenging assignments. Grading in the 35th percentile in overall defensive player impact plus-minus (D-PIPM), Bogdanovic has guarded All-Stars on just 7 percent of possessions (22nd percentile).

    He may add value as a sixth man, but giving him premium-starter money may clog the books without offering the desired payoff. 

7. Christian Wood

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    From undrafted to waived (four times!) to dark-horse Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Christian Wood emerged as one of the most unassuming breakout stories of the 2019-20 season. All you have to do is follow his Twitter feed to see just how confident the 24-year-old has always been, and it's about to translate to a sizable payday.  

    Over his last 12 games, Wood contributed 22.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest while shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three on 4.1 attempts per game (65.3 true shooting percentage). The Pistons were 11 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions with Wood on the floor, which puts him in the 95th percentile.

    His ability to attack the basket, guard the boards and space the floor makes him the perfect modern-day stretch big, and he should reap the rewards this fall. 

    But Wood still has his share of deficiencies. His playmaking for others is minimal to nonexistent. One year after ranking in the 1st percentile in assist-to-usage ratio, he ranked in the 9th with Detroit. 

    On the defensive side, he's willing to contest on the perimeter and in the paint, grading in the 84th percentile for three-point contests per 75 possessions and the 81st percentile for rim contests per 75 possessions, according to BBall Index. However, his versatility is limited on that end. He graded no better than the 27th percentile in possessions defending positions 1-3. 

    Wood will be expensive after earning just over $4.3 million in five seasons. Still, he seems like a relatively safe project for a team looking for someone to gobble up points and boards efficiently while using his broad wingspan to contest on the other end. As long as they aren't looking for someone who can create for others or defend multiple positions, they should walk away pleased with their new addition. 

6. Davis Bertans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The debacle that saw the San Antonio Spurs jettison Davis Bertans to acquire Marcus Morris Sr. blew up in their faces once the veteran forward spurned the would-be agreement to play in the Big Apple. 

    It proved costly as Bertans enjoyed one of 2019-20's best perimeter shooting seasons, which wasn't particularly shocking. The 6'10" power forward had converted 42.9 percent of his triples in 2018-19, seventh among those taking three attempts or more per game. In 2019-20, his workload increased from 4.4 attempts per game to 8.7 while he maintained his efficiency (42.4 percent, ninth in the NBA). 

    Despite taking 5.3 more field-goal attempts per game, his percentages flourished with increased opportunity in 2019-20, allowing him to move from the 90th percentile to the 97th percentile for points per shot attempt

    With size and shooting to spare, Bertans is immensely valuable as a floor-spacing big who gives penetrators like Bradley Beal plenty of room to work. However, his effect beyond shooting is minimal.

    Bertans ranks in the 32nd percentile in assist-to-usage ratio, the 51st percentile in percentage of opponents' defensive field-goal attempts rebounded and the 15th percentile in the same stat on the offensive end. He's a steadier interior defender than Wood, but his perimeter skills on that end are lacking. Per 75 possessions, he ranks in the 28th percentile in three-point contests, the 26th percentile in steals and the 41st percentile in deflections.

    A team looking for a floor-spacing big who can defend 3-5 will be thoroughly pleased with Bertans as long as they acknowledge his deficiencies everywhere else. He won't create for others, he won't rebound, and he can't be trusted to impede shooters on the perimeter. 

5. Danilo Gallinari

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    This one is fairly cut and dry. 

    Gallo, a fringe All-NBA-caliber player worth a sizable payday when healthy, is one of four players to produce 22.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 41 percent from three (minimum 20 games). One of the most well-rounded scorers in the NBA, he can hit the three, pop from mid-range and score in isolation (93rd percentile, per BBall Index). 

    While his usage (91st percentile) suggests a ball-dominant scorer, he's fit seamlessly with three other playmakers in Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. The four of them paired with Steven Adams hold by far the NBA's best net rating among five-man lineups (minimum 100 minutes).

    Defensively, Gallo's limited ability to challenge scorers has mostly relegated him to 4s and 5s. Still, his skills on the offensive end should earn him a hefty payday, though the concerns are clear. His checkered injury history and age (32) should concern any team interested in locking him down for multiple years. 

4. Montrezl Harrell

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Is Montrezl Harrell ready to assume a starting role? If any team is willing to grant him multiple years at $20-plus million per year, they have to hope so. 

    Harrell has proved himself reliable and durable in the past three seasons, playing in nearly 95 percent of his possible games. In the past two seasons, he's used an increased workload to emerge as one of the best and most devastating rolling bigs in the NBA, grading in the 97th percentile for total roll impact and slip impact per 75 possessions, per BBall Index.

    Harrell has flourished in the past two seasons. As we covered in last week's article on best landing spots for free agents, Harrell is the only player to average over 16 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field during each of the last two seasons. He's one of only four players in NBA history to average 16.5 points on 58 percent shooting twice by the end of an age-27 season. Still well shy of 30, it seems plausible this streak of volume scoring and remarkable efficiency will only continue. 

    Harrell's concerns stem from his size (6'7") and impact on the defensive end. While his PIPM puts him in the 78th percentile overall, it's heavily carried by his offensive impact (87th percentile). Defensively, his impact falls to the 29th percentile. Similarly, he's second in ESPN's offensive real plus-minus among power forwards but 58th in DRPM. 

    Harrell's ceiling puts him as one of the NBA's best sixth men, capable of coming off the bench and filling up the box score while failing to contain opponents on the other end. A team like the Charlotte Hornets or New York Knicks may be willing to pay max money for a player with that skill set. 

3. Fred VanVleet

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The next three on our list are as close to sure things as it can get. 

    As we mentioned on Aug 7, Fred VanVleet's game continues to evolve. In 2019-20, he's emerged as one of just two players with 17.8 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 39.1 percent from three (Damian Lillard). It's easy to identify his progression as a ball-handler, distributor and playmaker, but his growth on defense has been noticeable, as well. According to BBall Index, he's defended All-Star and All-NBA players on 13.9 and 8.4 percent of possessions, respectively, grading in the 84th and 85th percentiles. 

    VanVleet isn't without flaws. With his increased role, his on/off numbers have slipped. Previously, he had never ranked below the 73rd percentile, including the 95th as a rookie. His size (6'1", 195 lbs) also limits him to defending 1s and 2s. He's defended the former on 38.1 percent of his possessions (89th percentile). 

    If a team with plenty to spend, such as the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons, can sign VanVleet, they'll get a bona fide difference-maker who seems to perform best when the lights are brightest. 

    But will he continue to shine as a primary weapon without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard or OG Anunoby by his side? That may be a concern when offering him near-max money. 

2. Brandon Ingram

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Brandon Ingram is probably the closest comparison to Kevin Durant we have in the NBA.

    With a 6'7" frame and 7'3" wingspan, Ingram's silky-smooth hesitation step and jumper can get him open looks over anyone. He's one of 14 players to put up 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while 22 or younger, and those numbers have come in his first All-Star campaign. He's the only player in that group shooting 38.5 percent from three.

    His most important moment has probably been the victory he snatched from Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz in overtime on Jan. 16, a game in which he scored 49 points on just 25 shots. 

    When glancing at Ingram's offensive game, it's difficult to find a deficiency. His skill set has matched perfectly with Zion Williamson's. 

    It's on the other end that red flags pop up. 

    Ingram seems like an ideal 4 to pair with Zion in small-ball lineups. The only problem is that he's been a disaster when playing anywhere but the 3 in 2019-20.

    He's a below-average rebounder for his size, is unwilling to box out and often gets shelled in the pick-and-roll. He's 10th in box-outs per game among Pelicans, trailing Josh Hart, Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick. Among teammates playing at least 15 minutes per game, only Lonzo Ball and E'Twan Moore are below him.

    And while Ingram is 11th in ESPN's real-plus minus among small forwards thanks to his positive effect on the offensive end, his defensive real-plus minus ranks 69th at the position and 372nd overall. 

    There's no questioning what Ingram can do on the offensive end. But four years into his career, we have to start imagining this is simply who he is as a defender. To maximize his full value, he must be placed within a system that has a sturdy and fundamental approach on the preventing end that can mask his shortcomings. A team such as the Atlanta Hawks could be disastrous. 

1. Anthony Davis

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    He's a three-time block champion with seven All-Star appearances, three All-NBA selections and three All-Defensive nods, so there will be no easier paycheck to sign this offseason than whichever one is given to Anthony Davis.

    At 27 years old, Davis has previously finished in the top three of MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting. He's in line to contend for the latter award again in 2019-20 as the Los Angeles Lakers have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and hold the NBA's second-best record.

    And yet, if there is one concern to be held against Davis, it's that we haven't seen him lead a truly successful team on his own. When he shares the floor with LeBron James this season, the Lakers have an 8.1 net rating. Without James, it slips to minus-3.7

    This effect isn't restricted to Los Angeles. In New Orleans, it was more of the same.

    In 2018-19, the Pelicans went just 3-12 without Jrue Holiday at the end of the season. Davis played in five of those contests, and the team went just 1-4. 

    When paired with another superstar or when operating as a 1B, Davis may carry a franchise to great heights. As a 1A, it's clear he can't bear the load on his own. 


    Stats via NBA.comBasketball ReferenceCleaning the GlassBBall Index and ESPN unless otherwise noted.

    Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @PrestonEllis.