Updated 2021 NBA Free-Agency Big Board

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2021

Updated 2021 NBA Free-Agency Big Board

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    Hector Amezcua/Associated Press

    With the 2020-21 NBA regular season now over, plenty of teams have turned their attention toward free agency. Even the organizations still in the hunt for the title assuredly have people eying the offseason.

    Although the 2021 NBA free-agent class may not have as many headliners as those of years past, it does include plenty of players who can move the needle.

    As we inch closer to the Aug. 2 start of free agency, these are the top 20 free agents in 2021, as determined by this season's advanced metrics, forecast systems like FiveThirtyEight's and a dash of subjectivity.


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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    20. Dennis Schroder

    Dennis Schroder has been solid for the Los Angeles Lakers, but it's starting to look like his Sixth Man of the Year-worthy 2019-20 may have been a career aberration.

    After posting career highs in two- and three-point percentage last season (by a lot, in both cases), he's tumbled back to his normal levels in 2020-21.

    There's nothing wrong with being a spark plug off the bench, and that's what Schroder appears destined for in the second half of his career.


    19. Montrezl Harrell (Player Option)

    Montrezl Harrell has already accepted his lot in NBA life. The 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year had another hyper-efficient season off the bench, averaging 13.5 points with a 62.2 effective field-goal percentage.

    Pointing out the defensive concerns that accompany Harrell's lack of size is fair, but, the damage he deals in bursts against second units often outweighs what his teams surrender.


    18. Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Kelly Oubre Jr. had an up-and-down first season with the Golden State Warriors. He shot a horrific 13.7 percent from three over his first 10 games before hitting 35.5 percent the rest of the way.

    His impact numbers may be even more damning than the slow start. Over the entire season, Golden State was minus-1.8 points per 100 possessions when Oubre shared the floor with Stephen Curry and plus-13.4 when Curry played without Oubre.

    Still, some team (perhaps even the Warriors) might talk itself into the theoretical version of Oubre: a three-and-D wing with plus size and athleticism.


    17. Josh Richardson (Player Option)

    Josh Richardson is another wing who struggled in a new setting. After shooting 36.8 percent from three over his first four seasons in Miami, Richardson tumbled to 34.1 with the Philadelphia 76ers last season. This year with the Dallas Mavericks, he slipped further to 33.0 percent.

    And the defense for which the Mavericks acquired him wasn't strong enough to overwhelm his negative offensive impact. In fact, Dallas was better both offensively and defensively when Richardson was off the floor.

    As with Oubre, though, it's too early to give up on Richardson. League-average shooting shouldn't be out of the question for the 27-year-old, nor should a little secondary playmaking.


    16. Devonte' Graham (Restricted)

    Devonte' Graham trusts the math. He shot 37.7 percent from the field this season (down from 38.2 a year ago), but since nearly three quarters of his shots come from three, he managed a 51.0 effective field-goal percentage.

    Even with a sub-40 three-point percentage, that kind of volume puts pressure on defenses, and Graham brings the added benefit of being able to create those shots himself. Between that and his dash of creation for teammates, Graham is a solid bet for a long career leading second units.


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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    15. Norman Powell (Player Option)

    After being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, Norman Powell couldn't quite keep up the torrid scoring pace with which he started the season, but he should remain intriguing for teams in need of shooting.

    The 6'3" wing can defend up thanks to his 6'11" wingspan, and he shot a career-high 41.1 percent from three this season. A few more ancillary contributions to the box score wouldn't hurt, but Powell is already magnifying his role.


    14. Spencer Dinwiddie (Player Option)

    Spencer Dinwiddie didn't have a chance to show what he can do as a member of the star-laden Brooklyn Nets, as he tore his ACL three games into the season. His play in 2019-20 hasn't been forgotten, though.

    With Kevin Durant sidelined for that entire season and Kyrie Irving out for all but 20 games, Dinwiddie started 49 games, averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists and helped lead the shorthanded Nets to the playoffs.

    Even if he's somewhat slowed by his surgically repaired ACL, Dinwiddie should be one of the game's best backup guards at the very least.


    13. Andre Drummond

    Andre Drummond's position on lists like this could fluctuate wildly from site to site. There's an argument to have him outside the top 20 altogether thanks to the ever-changing role of centers.

    But in the right situation, Drummond may not be as unchangeably old-school as you think. Prior to Blake Griffin's arrival in Detroit in 2017-18, Drummond was averaging what would've been a career-high 3.9 assists.

    If some team can convince him to ditch the post-ups and focus on rim running, offensive rebounding and getting back to that kind of passing, he can still be helpful.


    12. Kelly Olynyk

    Kelly Olynyk turned 30 in April and may be moving toward the end of his prime. But he proved himself a thoroughly modern big after the Houston Rockets acquired him in March.

    With Houston, he averaged 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 threes and 1.4 steals in 31.1 minutes. That little-bit-of-everything game from a 4 or 5 can really open the floor for guards who can focus a bit more on scoring.


    11. Duncan Robinson (Restricted)

    He wasn't as efficient or impactful as he was last season, but Duncan Robinson has established himself as one of the game's premier floor-spacers and off-ball movers. And both of those skills travel well.

    Regardless of team construct around him, Robinson can manipulate opposing defenses, forcing them to sell out to the three-point line while teammates cut or drive inside.

    His defense may leave a bit to be desired, but his positive impact on offense is much bigger than any adverse effect on the other end.


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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    10. Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Tim Hardaway Jr.'s three-point volume and efficiency may not be quite as gaudy as Duncan Robinson's over the last two seasons, but it isn't far off, either. And with a little more experience and off-the-dribble potency, teams may trust THJ with a bit more responsibility.

    There are only six players in the league who matched or exceeded Hardaway's marks for points per game, threes per game and three-point percentage over the last two seasons.


    9. Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)

    He may not develop into a star, but Lauri Markkanen is only a few days shy of his 24th birthday. He still has plenty of time to grow, and he's coming off a solid campaign in which he averaged 13.6 points in a role limited by the addition of Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis at the trade deadline.

    That he's shown himself to be adaptable while posting a career-high 40.2 three-point percentage should be intriguing for teams in need of floor spacing. As we've seen, 7-footers who can force opposing bigs to defend outside the paint can make life much easier for their teammates.


    8. DeMar DeRozan

    DeMar DeRozan hasn't made an All-Star team since the San Antonio Spurs acquired him (welcome to the Western Conference), but he's quietly been as good (or better) than he was with the Toronto Raptors.

    He just posted a career-best 3.2 box plus/minus, thanks to averages of 21.6 points and 6.9 assists. And perhaps most intriguing, he spent a career-high 69 percent of his minutes at the 4.

    Despite finishing with a negative net rating swing for the 11th time in his 12 NBA seasons, that kind of playmaking from the frontcourt could make a number of offenses more dynamic.


    7. Kyle Lowry

    Signs of age may finally be creeping up for Kyle Lowry, who slipped to 65th in box plus/minus this season after finishing 23rd last year.

    That might also have something to do with a role that fluctuated from game to game, thanks to Toronto's one-foot-in approach to tanking. On a contender, Lowry's focus may sharpen.

    Either way, he's still one of the game's headier guards and a significant threat from the outside. He averaged 17.2 points and 2.8 threes while shooting 39.6 percent from deep this season.


    6. Jarrett Allen (Restricted)

    The role of centers has changed dramatically over the last handful of years thanks to ultra-skilled bigs like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic and others.

    Rudy Gobert has proved that there's still room for Tyson Chandler-esque rim runners and protectors, though. And Jarrett Allen appears to have staying power within that mold.

    The 23-year-old just averaged 12.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 29.6 minutes for the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. He'll be one of the most intriguing restricted free agents on the market this summer.

5. Mike Conley

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Reports of Mike Conley's demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

    After missing much of the 2019-20 season with injuries and struggling to adapt to a new role with the Utah Jazz, Conley made his first All-Star team in 2020-21 and finished the season 13th in FiveThirtyEight's wins above replacement metric.

    At age 33, Conley showed an ability to thrive in a hybrid role, averaging 16.2 points and 6.0 assists while shooting a career-best 41.2 from deep.

    Whether on or off the ball, he could positively impact the game. And his steady presence as a point-of-attack defender helped, too.

    In today's NBA, being able to float between positions and roles is paramount. Teams now know he can do that, including the Jazz.

    The concerns over his health haven't been completely disappeared, though. A hamstring injury bothered him in 2019-20, and that issue popped up again this season. He missed a total of 21 games, or nearly a third of this condensed season.

    Any teams interested in signing Conley will likely be wary of that injury or some other form of wear-and-tear returning. When he's on the floor, though, he's one of the game's most trustworthy floor generals.

4. Lonzo Ball (Restricted)

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Four years into his NBA career, Lonzo Ball remains something of an enigma.

    No single number jumps off his career stat sheet, and he's yet to make a playoff appearance. But Ball's well-rounded game and intangible contributions make him an undeniable plus.

    His teams' net ratings have been better when he's on the floor in each of his four seasons, and he appears to have already addressed the biggest concern many had when he left UCLA.

    No one will mistake him for Stephen Curry, but Ball has managed above-average three-point percentages in each of his last two seasons. That, combined with career per-possession averages matched only by James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons, make Ball one of the game's more intriguing young combo guards.

    Beyond the numbers, Ball plays with a level of unselfishness that is hard to miss. He isn't the kind of guard who needs to run high pick-and-rolls or dominate the ball to pile up assists. He's content to be a hit-ahead passer in transition and a ball-reverser in the half court. During most possessions, he prioritizes the smart play over the selfish one.

    In a lineup with other stars, that kind of low-usage utility man can fill a lot of gaps.

3. John Collins (Restricted)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Trae Young understandably (and rightfully) gets much of the media attention. Clint Capela understandably (and rightfully) gets plenty of credit for the Atlanta Hawks' improved defense.

    John Collins, meanwhile, has sort of flown under the radar during the organization's return-to-the-playoffs campaign.

    Collins' numbers were suppressed a bit because of Capela, but he still put up 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 threes in 29.3 minutes. For his career, he's at 20.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per 75 possessions. And if you sort the 22 players who averaged at least 20 and 10 per 75 through their age-23 season by effective field-goal percentage, Collins is first by a comfortable margin.

    Collins' ability to score as both a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop option makes him malleable. For a guard who likes to drive, he can spread the floor. For a shooter, he can draw defenders toward the bucket. And being able to go either way makes each individual possession unpredictable.

    Like most young players, he still needs to improve on some of the intricacies of defense, but he has the physical tools to be successful there, too. His height and explosiveness make him a natural candidate for rim protection, but he also has the lateral quickness to defend forwards.

2. Chris Paul (Player Option)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    In each of the last two seasons, Chris Paul has proved that he still has plenty to offer as he nears his late-30s.

    His on-court impact wasn't as pronounced this season as it was in years past, and the Phoenix Suns were already on the way up before he got there. Even still, he was this past offseason's biggest put-us-over-the-top acquisition.

    In his age-35 campaign, CP3 averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists and 1.4 steals in 31.4 minutes. He shot a league-leading 93.4 percent from the free-throw line and had a well-above-average true shooting percentage.

    And for the second year in a row, he made a handful of younger players better thanks to his leadership and steady hand at the controls of the offense.

    Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and Frank Kaminsky all posted career highs in box plus/minus. Some of that was likely natural development, but it sure doesn't hurt to have a future Hall of Fame point guard setting things up.

    If Paul rides the momentum of the last few seasons and opts out of the final year of his deal, teams will surely line up.

1. Kawhi Leonard (Player Option)

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    If Kawhi Leonard declines his $36.0 million player option for the 2021-22 season, he is "widely" expected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Sam Amick and John Hollinger of The Athletic.

    But if L.A. flames out in the first or second round of the playoffs and some organizational turmoil bubbles to the surface, Kawhi could crash this market and instantly become the No. 1 target.

    While his availability is speculative, his production isn't.

    Leonard averaged 24.8 points and a career-high 5.2 assists to go along with a career-best 62.2 true shooting percentage. As we'll likely see in the postseason, he can still erase opposing stars with his perimeter defense.

    Even with his "load management" or other injury concerns, Leonard may be the only no-brainer max contract in this free-agent class.