Ranking the Top 25 Players in 2020 NBA Free Agency

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2020

Ranking the Top 25 Players in 2020 NBA Free Agency

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    It took around four extra months to get here, but we're finally on the verge the NBA's 2020 free-agency period.

    With the regular season set to tip off on Dec. 22, this phase of team building figures to be as chaotic as ever. Over the next several weeks, teams have to identify trades and free agents they're interested in, make offers, finalize rosters and complete training camp.

    Every team has surely done plenty of legwork, but this unprecedented timeline will test even the most prepared front offices.

    Their free-agency big boards are about to be the subject of constant in-house analysis, and the same can be said of Bleacher Report's.

    Below, you'll find the top 25 available free agents, a list that will be updated on each of the next several days.

25-21. Holiday, Caldwell-Pope, Melton, Favors, Olynyk

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    25. Justin Holiday

    Justin Holiday doesn't post gaudy numbers, but he's a steady role player who does a couple of things that are highly valued in today's game.

    At 6'6", he has the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions. And though it may have been a bit of an outlier, his 40.5 three-point percentage in 2019-20 made him a legitimate floor-spacer.


    24. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is fresh off a title run with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he averaged double figures and shot 37.8 percent from three in the playoffs.

    The 6'5" KCP isn't quite as big as prototypical three-and-D wings, but he can be trusted to spend time on both point guards and shooting guards.


    23. De'Anthony Melton

    There's a fair amount of projection at work with this placement, but De'Anthony Melton has already shown enough defensively and as a playmaker to suggest he can be a plus on both sides of the floor.

    This season, he averaged 6.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per 75 possessions. If he becomes even average as a shooter (he's a long way off right now), he's a game-changer.

    Even with a 28.6 three-point percentage and a 46.4 two-point percentage, his plus-10.4 net rating swing ranked in the 94th percentile.


    22. Derrick Favors

    Derrick Favors has been in the NBA for a decade, but he's still on the right side of 30 (until July), doesn't demand a ton of touches and is willing to help by doing all the little things.

    Thanks to his solid positional defense, rebounding and ability to finish around the rim, Favors had a 2019-20 net rating swing that ranked in the 89th percentile.

    When he was on the floor, the New Orleans Pelicans were plus-4.7 points per 100 possessions. They were minus-3.5 when he was off.


    21. Kelly Olynyk

    Kelly Olynyk certainly isn't the most fleet-of-foot athlete in free agency this year. His YouTube highlight reels won't feature many crossovers, and his numbers don't fly off the screen. Wherever he goes, though, he just seems to help.

    Over the course of his career, Olynyk's teams are plus-2.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-0.7 with him off.

    The impact is the product of a unique combination of size, outside shooting ability and awareness on defense. No 6'11"-plus player in NBA history has matched or exceeded Olynyk's career marks for threes and steals per 75 possessions.

20-16. Noel, Poeltl, Clarkson, Millsap, Ibaka

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    20. Nerlens Noel

    Backing up Steven Adams with the Oklahoma City Thunder has limited Nerlens Noel's playing time, but he has certainly made the most of his minutes.

    Since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Noel has averaged 13.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.0 steals per 75 possessions with a 66.0 true shooting percentage that's nearly 10 points above the league average of 56.2.

    Even as the league increasingly relies on centers to provide shooting and playmaking, a top-flight athlete like Noel can be a plus by protecting the rim on one end and diving to it on the other.


    19. Jakob Poeltl (Restricted)

    Jakob Poeltl's lack of playing time with the San Antonio Spurs has severely limited his raw production, but he's a legitimate difference-maker on both ends of the floor.

    Over the last two seasons, the Spurs have allowed 2.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Poeltl on the floor. In the same stretch, he has averaged 7.5 defensive rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 75 possessions.

    On the other end, Poeltl's per-possession averages for offensive rebounds and assists since the start of the 2018-19 campaign are matched only by Jusuf Nurkic.


    18. Jordan Clarkson

    In 2019-20, Jordan Clarkson posted career highs in points per 75 possessions, three-point percentage, true shooting percentage and offensive box plus/minus.

    Once he was traded to the Utah Jazz, he looked like a positive contributor on a winning team for the first time in his career, and he didn't have to completely ignore his shoot-first instincts to get there.

    Any team looking for a solid scoring punch off the bench will likely do some homework on Clarkson.


    17. Paul Millsap

    Injuries subdued Paul Millsap's impact a bit over the course of his three seasons with the Denver Nuggets, but his well-rounded contributions still made him a clear plus.

    During that stretch, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were the only players in the NBA who matched or exceeded Millsap's per-possession averages for points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

    He turns 36 in February, though. Conducting injury maintenance and monitoring playing time are going to be important for whichever team rosters him next.


    16. Serge Ibaka

    You can sort of chart the evolution of NBA basketball by simply looking at the statistical trajectory of Serge Ibaka's career.

    He took six total threes in his first three seasons, and he led the league in total blocks during four of his first five campaigns. In 2019-20, just over a decade after he started, Ibaka attempted 3.3 threes per game and saw his block average dip below one for the first time in his career.

    The ability to pull bigger defenders away from the paint has become critically important for plenty of offenses around the league, and Ibaka can do that.

    Moving away from the rim hasn't adversely impacted his rebounding, either. His 16.1 rebounding percentage in each of the last two seasons is the highest mark he's posted since 2010-11.

15-11. Beasley, Dragic, Harris, Harris, Morris, Grant

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    15. Malik Beasley

    On a team with the kind of depth the Denver Nuggets enjoyed, Malik Beasley didn't have the kind of role he needed to boost his value in restricted free agency. Once he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, he made his case quickly.

    In 14 appearances with the Wolves, Beasley averaged 20.7 points and 3.5 threes in 33.1 minutes per game while shooting 42.6 percent from deep. And while that may have been a bit of a hot streak, his 38.8 percent deep clip for his career suggests he can continue to be a high-volume floor-spacer.

    That alone carries a lot of weight in free agency, but Beasley also has the athletic profile to make a difference on defense.


    14. Goran Dragic

    Goran Dragic will turn 35 toward the end of the 2020-21 campaign. This is likely his last shot at a long-term contract, but he did plenty in the bubble to show he can still help a contender.

    After Dragic spent most of the regular season as a reserve, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reinserted him into the starting lineup for the playoffs. Up until the Finals, he led the team in postseason scoring at 20.9 points per game. Unfortunately, a torn plantar fascia in his foot cut him down in Game 1 of that series.

    Back at full strength for next season, he should be a plus for whichever team signs him.


    13. Joe Harris

    The word "elite" is thrown around quite a bit in NBA analysis, but it truly applies to Joe Harris' ability to space the floor. Over the last four seasons, he's averaged 2.1 threes per game and shot 43.0 percent from downtown.

    His defensive limitations show up in the numbers a bit more than those of, say, Davis Bertans, though. He certainly gives solid effort on that end, but starting wings aren't terribly bothered by him.


    12. Marcus Morris Sr.

    Over the last three seasons, Marcus Morris Sr. has shot a solidly above-average 38.5 percent from three.

    As he ages past his athletic prime, the 31-year-old has done a good job transitioning into the role of a floor-spacer while still providing a little pop off the dribble from time to time.


    11. Jerami Grant (Player Option)

    Players with decent size, three-point range and an ability to defend multiple positions are becoming one of the game's most important archetypes.

    The Denver Nuggets had one in 6'8" Jerami Grant in 2019-20. He averaged 16.7 points, 1.9 threes, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per 75 possessions with a well-above-average true shooting percentage.

10. Hassan Whiteside

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    Playing with Damian Lillard has its perks, as Hassan Whiteside should now be able to attest.

    In 2019-20, he posted career bests in true shooting percentage, offensive box plus/minus and individual offensive rating

    His basic numbers leap off the screen, too: 18.5 points, 16.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per 75 possessions.

    Most importantly, the Portland Trail Blazers were better (a lot better, actually) when Whiteside was on the floor. He bought into a role that called for less usage than he got in the past, but he still defended with the effort and intensity needed to be a clear plus on that end.

    Gone were the days of block-chasing and occasionally moping up and down the floor. In Portland, Whiteside was a legitimate defensive anchor and rim-rolling weapon.

    If he can maintain the kind of focus he had in 2019-20, he should help whichever team signs him this offseason.

9. Montrezl Harrell

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Montrezl Harrell's unrelenting energy made him one of the game's best reserve scorers and the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year.

    Among backups, his 18.6 points per game were second to Dennis Schroder's 18.9. He was also fourth in rebounds per game among reserves. His synergy in the pick-and-roll with Lou Williams gave the Los Angeles Clippers one of the game's best second units.

    Wherever he goes (or if he stays with the Clippers), that energy will go with him. Whatever bench he comes off will have plenty of offensive punch.

    However, Harrell's lack of size (6'7", 240 lbs) makes him an easy target for opposing bigs on defense, and he doesn't have the perimeter skills necessary to log more minutes as a forward.

    That has been abundantly clear in each of the last two postseasons. In the 516 playoff minutes the Clippers played without Harrell, they were plus-13.1 points per 100 possessions. They were minus-16.3 points per 100 possessions in the 401 minutes he played.

8. Tim Hardaway Jr. (Player Option)

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Tim Hardaway Jr. had arguably his best season as a pro in 2019-20.

    He posted career highs in true shooting percentage, three-point percentage and offensive box plus/minus. In doing so, he averaged 15.8 points and 2.9 threes and was perhaps Luka Doncic's most reliable catch-and-shoot target for the Dallas Mavericks.

    He was fifth in the league in total catch-and-shoot threes during the 2019-20 campaign, and Davis Bertans and Duncan Robinson were the only members of the top five with a better catch-and-shoot three-point percentage than Hardaway's 42.1.

    Having a receiver like that did wonders for the Mavericks offense, too. When Hardaway was on the floor with Doncic, Dallas scored 120.3 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile).

    Whether he remains with the Mavericks or heads elsewhere, he can have that sort of offensive impact again. His time with Dallas has revealed his ideal role.

7. Davis Bertans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Davis Bertans isn't just a floor-spacer. He might be the best floor-spacer in the NBA (non-Stephen Curry division).

    This season, he averaged 18.5 points and 4.4 threes per 75 possessions with a 42.4 three-point percentage. The only player in NBA history to match all three of those marks in a single season is Stephen Curry (who's done so twice).

    What makes Bertans even more valuable is his height and the distance from which he shoots.

    Because Bertans is 6'10", bigger defenders often have to leave the paint to chase him around the perimeter. That, of course, opens up the paint for drivers.

    He isn't merely pulling those bigs to the three-point line; defenders have to pay attention to him way beyond the arc.

    Basketball Reference's shot tracker goes back to the 1996-97 season. Since then, 112 players have attempted at least 100 28-footers (the above-the-break three-point line is 23'9"). Bertans' 41.0 percent on those shots is nearly five points better than second-place Trae Young (a gap that's about the same as the one between Young and 15th place).

    Given Bertans' prowess from the outside, it's no wonder the Washington Wizards scored 121.7 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when he shared the floor with Bradley Beal and 106.2 points per 100 possessions (17th percentile) when Beal played without him.

6. Danilo Gallinari

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Danilo Gallinari is 68th all-time in career offensive box plus/minus. And in case you think the 32-year-old is slowing down, his two best marks in that stat have come in each of the last two seasons.

    Gallo has an offensive game that should age well. He doesn't rely on top-end explosiveness or flashy ball-handling. Instead, his combination of size (6'10") and cunning make him incredibly valuable on that end.

    Opposing teams generally have to assign a big to Gallinari, which opens up the lane for teammates since he usually operates on the perimeter. And out there, his ball fakes, first step and ability to draw fouls get him all kinds of open looks.

    He's also just a good old-fashioned shooter. Over his last two seasons, he's hit 41.8 percent of his threes.

    Focusing his scoring efforts on those outside shots and trips to the line put him in ridiculous company. James Harden is the only player in league history who matches or exceeds his career marks for three-point attempt rate and free-throw rate.

    That moneyball approach translates to impact, too. The 2010-11 campaign was the last time his team's point differential was worse with him on the floor.

5. Christian Wood

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Over four seasons as a fringe NBA player, Christian Wood appeared in 51 games and logged 503 minutes. In 2019-20, he more than broke out with the Detroit Pistons.

    Wood was 27th in the league in box plus/minus. He averaged 22.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per 75 possessions. His true shooting percentage was a whopping 9.4 points above the league average.

    When he was on the floor, the Pistons had the point differential of a 48-win team. They played like a 21-win team without him.

    Beyond all the numbers, Wood proved himself thoroughly modern 5 who can stretch the floor (38.6 percent from three) and protect the rim. If he adds a hint of playmaking, he has a chance to be one of the best bigs in the league.

4. Fred VanVleet

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Ever an example of the "bet on yourself" cliche, Fred VanVleet broke out in his first season as a full-time starter with averages of 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 2.7 threes.

    Now, he has a chance to cash in as unrestricted free agent in a class that lacks superstar power.

    If a team is looking for a gritty, playoff-experienced point guard who can defend, distribute and hit threes, VanVleet is a good bet.

    He's not without weaknesses, though. As the game continues to trend positionless, VanVleet's size (6'1") could become a problem as part of a starting five. Plenty of teams now deploy wing-sized 1s who put VanVleet at a natural disadvantage.

    VanVleet has also posted below-average true shooting percentages in three of his four (and each of the last two) seasons. A combination of usage and inefficiency like his requires hyper-efficient teammates to make up the gap.

    The looks he can create for bigger teammates helps on that front, though. And VanVleet's numbers when he played without Kyle Lowry this season (21.8 points and 7.7 assists per 75 possessions, with a 58.9 true shooting percentage) suggest he's ready to take on a bigger playmaking role.

3. Gordon Hayward (Player Option)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Gordon Hayward's tenure with the Boston Celtics hasn't been quite what was expected when he was signed to a four-year, $128 million deal in 2017.

    His first season there was spoiled by the opening-night broken leg. Then, 2018-19 almost felt like a rehab year. By the time 2019-20 rolled around, Kemba Walker was on the roster, Jayson Tatum was ready to be the No. 1 and Jaylen Brown's development was speeding up.

    Hayward was relegated to fourth on the team (among rotation players) in usage.

    Despite taking a step (or a few) back in terms of his role over the course of his current contract, Hayward had a quietly solid season in time for a potential free agency.

    He was top 40 in box plus/minus ("...a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference) and averaged 18.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 threes per 75 possessions, with a true shooting percentage three points above the league average.

    Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Karl-Anthony Towns were the only players in the league who matched those averages. KAT was the only one who did it with a higher true shooting percentage.

    If Hayward opts out of the last year of his contract, hoping for an expanded role elsewhere, his point forward abilities figure to be in pretty high demand.

2. Brandon Ingram (Restricted)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    After three seasons of flashes from Brandon Ingram, it all came together in Year 4. His length, playmaking ability and jump shooting coalesced toward 23.8 points, 4.2 assists and 2.4 threes in his first run with the New Orleans Pelicans.

    And that breakout just happened to occur in the last season of Ingram's rookie contract, making him the most coveted restricted free agent in the 2020 class.

    Prying him away from the Pelicans will likely be difficult, no matter how badly suitors want him. New Orleans can match any offer sheet he signs, and a long-term top two of Ingram and Zion Williamson is on the track to perennial playoff appearances.

    They didn't play much together this season, due to Williamson's delayed debut, but teams had a whale of a time containing them when they did.

    In the 901 possessions in which the two young stars shared the floor, the Pelicans were plus-9.9 points per 100 possessions (95th percentile). Add fellow youngster Lonzo Ball to that mix and the net rating climbs to plus-13.1 (98th percentile).

    With Ingram scoring from the perimeter, Williamson dominating inside and Ball engineering possessions and leading charges in transition, this trio has a chance to be one of the league's best in the near future. Regardless of the price tag, New Orleans will be hesitant to forfeit that future.

1. Anthony Davis (Player Option)

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    Few free-agency classes across history featured as obvious a No. 1 as 2020's Anthony Davis.

    Just now on the verge of his prime, Davis is a 27-year-old big with almost no discernible weaknesses. He can defend all over the floor, clean the glass and carry an offense from the post or the extended mid-range. Over the last two seasons, he's even shown burgeoning playmaking and three-point shooting.

    As he continues to grow, Davis has a chance to become the best player in the NBA during the life of his next NBA contract, which will almost certainly be with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    "Davis plans to opt out of his $28.7 million player option and re-sign with the Lakers," Shams Charania wrote for The Athletic. "Davis and his agent, Rich Paul, will hold meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the situation and the contract term that is most sensible for Davis."

    Considering the fact that AD will have 10 years of service in two seasons, a deal that allows him to reenter free agency in 2022 makes the most sense. Then, he'll have access to the 35-percent-of-the-cap max deal that decade-long veterans can sign.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass.