Who Are the Best Creators in 2020 NBA Free-Agency Class?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2020

Who Are the Best Creators in 2020 NBA Free-Agency Class?

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    It almost feels like a stopgap year in NBA free agency.

    The biggest name on the market, Anthony Davis, is almost certain to re-sign with the champion Los Angeles Lakers, and next season's class could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

    Still, there are some players who could be difference-makers in the right situation.

    Here, we'll focus on creators who fall into that category. In the past, this role was largely confined to point guards, but as the game grows increasingly positionless, "creator" can apply to just about anyone.

    For the purposes of this ranking, we'll define it as a player who figures to be the primary creator for teammates when on the floor.

5. Kris Dunn (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2019-20: 9.7 potential assists per 75 possessions, 12.0 points assisted per 75 possessions, 26.1 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups, 47.4 percent of field goals unassisted

    It'll be easier for Kris Dunn to create for others if he ever becomes a decent creator for himself. Having nearly half of his makes in 2019-20 unassisted suggests he can get shots, but his 26.1 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups is abysmal (league average on such attempts is 44.6).

    Dunn does have an ability to get to the paint and collapse the defense, though. He averaged 10.2 drives per 75 possessions this season, and he passed out of 46.5 percent of those. Again, if defenses had to respect his jumper, he could have even more blowbys.

    But that side of the floor will most likely never be where he produces the most value. If we stretch the definition of creator a bit, we can look at Dunn's defensive impact. He led the league in steal percentage in 2019-20. And of course, steals create extra possessions (often breakaways) for the pilferer's team.

    Unless some team is hoping to force the Chicago Bulls' hand in restricted free agency, Dunn isn't likely to get a massive offer this offseason, but he can move the needle for some club's second unit.

4. Rajon Rondo

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2019-20: 18.0 potential assists per 75 possessions, 20.9 points assisted per 75 possessions, 41.3 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups, 71.5 percent of field goals unassisted

    Rajon Rondo may not love the "Playoff Rondo" moniker, as he explained to ESPN's First Take, but it isn't hard to see where it comes from.

    His teams' net points per 100 possessions have been worse with him on the floor in each of his last eight seasons, and his career offensive box plus/minus (OBPM) of 0.4 is just slightly above average.

    In the playoffs, though, he's a clear plus in net rating, and his postseason OBPM soars to 2.1.

    In his most recent playoff run, which ended with a second title, Rondo averaged 12.3 points and 7.8 assists per 75 possessions in the Finals.

    Despite regular-season impact metrics that will probably scare some away, Rondo may have done enough in the postseason to earn himself another solid contract this offseason.

    It'll likely be with a team that knows it will get through the regular season and have a chance to experience Playoff Rondo during the life of the deal.

3. De'Anthony Melton (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    2019-20: 8.9 potential assists per 75 possessions, 12.0 points assisted per 75 possessions, 30.7 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups, 38.5 percent of field goals unassisted

    De'Anthony Melton may wind up being one of the steals of 2020 free agency. The 22-year-old guard's basic numbers (7.6 points and 2.9 assists per game) are underwhelming, but he had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the surprising Memphis Grizzlies.

    This season, Memphis was plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, compared to minus-4.4 when he was off, giving him a net-rating swing that ranked in the 94th percentile leaguewide.

    Much of that impact was derived from the defensive end—Melton is better than most guards at both defensive rebounding and stealing the ball—but he helped on offense too.

    Like Kris Dunn, Melton clearly needs to work on his shooting, but the boost he gave to his team's transition game was immense. It's there where teams can drive up their overall efficiency.

    He may not start for whatever team signs him this offseason, but there's reason to think Melton could develop into one of the game's top reserves over the life of his next contract.

    According to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, Melton's projected wins above replacement player over the next three years ranks 11th in the free-agent class.

2. Goran Dragic

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    2019-20: 12.8 potential assists per 75 possessions, 15.7 points assisted per 75 possessions, 49.6 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups, 53.9 percent of field goals unassisted

    Goran Dragic is entering his age-34 season and just missed most of the Finals with a foot injury, but his dynamic offensive play was a big reason the Miami Heat made it to the season's last series. That may have been enough to land him one more decent contract before retirement.

    On the Eastern Conference side of the bracket, Dragic averaged a team-best 20.9 points and 4.7 assists as a starter (he was a reserve for most of the regular season). He'll be well past his prime during the 2020-21 season, but he just showed he may still have something left in the tank.

    If he doesn't return to the Heat, Dragic will likely lead some team's second unit. He might even do that in Miami, since that was his role prior to Kendrick Nunn's COVID-19 diagnosis. Against backups, Dragic should still be able to create plenty of open looks for himself and teammates.

    He isn't quite as explosive as he was during his All-NBA campaign of 2013-14 or his All-Star season in 2017-18, but Dragic still has a quick first step, and he plays bigger than his 6'3" frame. There's a reason his drives earned him the nickname "Iron Shoulder."

1. Fred VanVleet

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    2019-20: 12.5 potential assists per 75 possessions, 16.2 points assisted per 75 possessions, 42.8 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups, 58.3 percent of field goals unassisted

    Fred VanVleet is a good example of the positionless creator discussed in the intro. This season, he shared the floor with Kyle Lowry for over 2,000 possessions, and in those lineups, he was the de facto 2.

    If he heads to another team this offseason, he'll likely spend more time operating as a traditional point man, and he showed he can do that with the Toronto Raptors.

    In 2019-20, when Lowry was out of the game, VanVleet averaged 21.8 points, 7.7 assists and 3.3 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three. All five of those marks were significantly better than the ones he posted while sharing the floor with Lowry.

    If he gets the chance to fill the primary creator role more often in 2020-21, his basic per-game numbers will likely climb. But the ability to shift off the ball when necessary should be a selling point too.

    This is a 26-year-old playmaker with big-game playoff experience on the verge of his prime. In a free-agent class that doesn't have quite as many superstars, he's one of the bigger prizes.