B/R's Final 2021 NBA Free-Agency Big Board

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2021

B/R's Final 2021 NBA Free-Agency Big Board

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    Before the NBA's 2021 free-agency period starts at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, there's still time to see who might be on the move in the coming days. 

    While this summer isn't loaded with available superstars, there are difference-makers at every position.

    Ahead of free agency, we provided lists of the top guardsforwards and bigs available. You might quibble over the classifications of a few players here and there. Some judgment calls were made. But for the most part, placement was pretty easy once the three categories were established. (Editor's Note: Text for each player in this article was originally featured in the earlier positional series.) 

    Here, we've combined all three groups of players to create our final free-agency big board.

    Prognosticating is far from an exact science. And though age, size, advanced metrics and forecast systems like FiveThirtyEight's help, we can't avoid a hefty helping of subjectivity.

    When all those factors are tossed into the pot, the following stew eventually comes out.

30-26

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    30. Andre Drummond

    Much of the attention paid to Andre Drummond the past few years has focused on what he doesn't do. And for a player making close to $30 million a year, it's fair to point out the lack of shooting, passing and other skills that many modern bigs bring to the floor.

    In the right role (and it may take some convincing to get Drummond to accept that), he can still be a plus player.

    He's an all-time great rebounder with the size and athleticism to be a solid rim runner. And he even showed some passing chops in 2017-18, when he averaged 3.9 assists prior to the arrival of Blake Griffin.

                

    29. Montrezl Harrell (Player Option)

    Montrezl Harrell is undersized and often the victim of mismatch hunting in the playoffs, but he knows exactly what he is and plays his role well.

    In the regular season, and against plenty of playoff matchups, he can dominate opposing bench units as a rim roller and offensive rebounder. And he's one of the those "plays every possession like it's his last" guys who can infect the rest of the team with energy.

    Editor's note: Harrell will exercise his player option to be included in the Russell Westbrook trade, thus taking him off the free-agency board. 

                   

    28. Patty Mills

    Patty Mills will turn 33 in August. He's a career reserve with a career-high scoring average of 11.6 points (which he accomplished in 2019-20). Teams may not be lining up to acquire his services, but the Australian guard is about as reliable as backups get, and he could raise his profile a bit at the Tokyo Olympics.

    Mills already led the Boomers to an exhibition upset over Team USA earlier this month, and the freedom with which he plays for the national team could be something that intrigues suitors around the league.

    As a cog in Gregg Popovich's highly structured San Antonio Spurs system, Mills has been a plus-minus wonder, but he could be a bona fide heat-check guy with a bit more leeway. 

                  

    27. Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Lop off Kelly Oubre Jr.'s extremely cold start (the first 10 games of the season) and his numbers probably look closer to what Golden State Warriors fans expected of him. From his 11th appearance on, he put up 16.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 threes while shooting 35.5 percent from three.

    That's still below-average efficiency from deep, but it's close enough to make defenders honor him outside. And when you combine that with solid size (6'7"), athleticism and versatility, the 25-year-old Oubre is worth a shot.

                    

    26. Serge Ibaka (Player Option)

    Kawhi Leonard's torn ACL was probably the death knell for the Los Angeles Clippers (though they still knocked off the top-seeded Utah Jazz without him), but the absence of Serge Ibaka shouldn't be overlooked.

    He made 1.0 threes and blocked 1.1 shots per game in just 23.3 minutes, making him a distinctly modern three-and-D big who raised the Clippers' ceiling and allowed them to play five-out on offense.

25-21

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    25. Blake Griffin

    Any team considering Blake Griffin will undoubtedly be concerned about the injury history, but his brief stint with the Brooklyn Nets showed a versatile big man who can pilot bench units as a point forward.

    In 26 regular-season games with the Nets, he averaged 10.0 points, 2.4 assists and 1.2 threes in 21.5 minutes while shooting 38.3 percent from three.

    The old Blake who put the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins on posters is gone, but he deserves a ton of credit for an evolution that should prolong his career.

               

    24. Dennis Schroder

    Fresh off a strong 2019-20 campaign in which he finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting, Dennis Schroder experienced something of a regression to career norms alongside LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    So, the question now is whether he's the slashing, mid-range assassin he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder or the up-and-down, borderline ball-stopper he's been just about everywhere else.

    If any organization ponies up for the $100-120 million Schroder is reportedly after, it'll certainly be hoping for a return of the former.

                

    23. Derrick Rose

    In his age-32 season, a decade after he won the MVP, Derrick Rose finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting behind 14.7 points per game (21.4 per 75 possessions) and a career-high 38.8 three-point percentage.

    But he also played just 25.6 minutes over 50 games. And 51 appearances is the most he's managed in a single season since 2016-17.

    He's proven he can still be a helpful offensive player, but there's a bit of a dice roll when it comes to his health.

                  

    22. Nicolas Batum

    Nicolas Batum appeared to be nearing the end of his NBA career during the 2019-20 season. He played in just 22 games, averaged 3.6 points and had a true shooting percentage more than 10 points below the league average.

    But after the Charlotte Hornets stretched his contract to make room for Gordon Hayward, the Los Angeles Clippers added him to the positionless units they could deploy. And playing for a contender revitalized Batum.

    His basic numbers from this past season (8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 threes and 1.0 steals) still don't leap off the screen, but he provides a little bit of everything.

    And in today's NBA, multipositional defense (Batum even played some 5 in the playoffs) and three-point shooting (he knocked down 40.4 percent of his threes in 2020-21) go a long way.

                 

    21. Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)

    Like just about everyone else on this list, there are glaring flaws in Lauri Markkanen's game. For a 7-footer, his rebound and block rates are just bad. And he's not a great perimeter defender, either. But in 2020-21, he showed the potential to be a top-tier floor spacer.

    The 24-year old averaged 13.6 points and 2.3 threes in 25.8 minutes while shooting 40.2 percent from three. He's approaching Davis Bertans or Duncan Robinson territory in terms of stretching defenses out. And he has plenty of time to develop into a more reliable defender.

20-16

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    20. Spencer Dinwiddie

    ACL tears aren't as consistently career-altering as they once were, but there's still an element of concern when a player is coming off the season-ending knee injury.

    For Spencer Dinwiddie, it also stifled the momentum that he built during the 2019-20 campaign, when he averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists in place of the oft-injured Kyrie Irving.

    Dinwiddie's game isn't overly reliant on side-to-side burst, though. His vision and savvy should still be there for 2021-22, making him, at the least, one of the top backup guards available.

                 

    19. Devonte' Graham (Restricted)

    Devonte' Graham took a step back in terms of playmaking responsibility with the arrival of LaMelo Ball, but he remained a plus-minus boon for the Charlotte Hornets.

    On the season, they were plus-3.0 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and minus-7.7 when he wasn't.

    Solid playmaking, volume three-point shooting (37.5 percent on 8.7 attempts per game) and general know-how on defense (even if he's not big enough to always make an impact there) make him one of the game's steadier guards.

                

    18. Norman Powell (Player Option)

    Floor-spacing wings who can be trusted with various defensive assignments are one of the most sought-after player archetypes in the league.

    And though 6'3" Norman Powell is a little shorter than some might like for that role, his 6'11" wingspan helps, and the three-point shooting is there.

    Over the last two seasons, he's averaged 17.5 points and 2.3 threes while shooting 40.6 percent from deep.

                 

    17. Duncan Robinson (Restricted)

    Duncan Robinson experienced fairly significant declines in both three-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage this season, but he remains one of the league's best in both categories.

    He converted on 40.8 percent of his 8.5 threes per game in 2020-21 and only took 10.0 shots total. That kind of constant pressure on the perimeter, where Robinson is also one of the game's best off-ball movers, opens up a ton of room inside for bigs and slashers.

                   

    16. Talen Horton-Tucker (Restricted)

    Let's preempt a couple of likely questions or concerns right off the bat.

    First, the 6'4" Talen Horton-Tucker finds himself among the forwards because Basketball Reference pegs over 60 percent of his career possessions at the 3 (Cleaning the Glass has him at the 1, so maybe this is just a take-your-pick situation).

    The second concern comes down to raw production, and THT doesn't have a ton. In his two NBA seasons, he's averaged a well-rounded (though maybe not inspiring) 8.7 points, 2.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.6 threes.

    When you factor in age and playing time, though, Horton-Tucker's free agency becomes far more interesting.

    The only players who match or exceed his marks for true shooting percentage (53.6) and points (16.3), assists (4.9) and rebounds (4.6) per 75 possessions through an age-20 season are LaMelo Ball, Luka Doncic, Magic Johnson and Chris Paul.

    With multipositional versatility and athleticism to go with some playmaking chops, THT has about as high a ceiling as anyone on this slideshow (with the exception of the guy at No. 1). If he figures out how to consistently hit threes (his career mark out there is 28.5 percent), he'll almost surely be a plus player wherever he goes.

15. Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    Like Powell, Tim Hardaway Jr. brings a lot to the floor-spacing department, and his volume there actually gives him a slight edge in these rankings.

    Over the last two seasons, there are only five players (Davis Bertans, Stephen Curry, Wayne Ellington, Damian Lillard and Duncan Robinson) who match or exceed Hardaway's marks for three-point attempts per 75 possessions (9.4) and three-point percentage (39.4).

    Doncic certainly deserves some credit for creating many of those looks, but a willing receiver helps ball-dominant creators too.

14. Danny Green

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    I can't tell you where to find this stat, but it sure feels like Danny Green is an annual leader in TARPTOT (times a role player trended on Twitter). And unfortunately, he's often trending for an off shooting night.

    What many of the tweets on those occasions fail to acknowledge is that Green is typically impacting games in positive ways that just don't show up in a traditional box score.

    He can guard multiple positions, is a fiend in transition defense and commands attention at the three-point line, even if his shot isn't falling that particular night.

    For his career, Green is 44th in career three-point percentage, and no one matches or exceeds both of his marks for three-point percentage (40.1) and defensive box plus/minus (BPM is "...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).

    At 34, Green is likely due for a decline soon, but he's coming off a 2020-21 in which he shot 40.5 percent from three and had a comfortably positive defensive BPM. He also had a positive impact on his team's point differential for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.

    It might be easy to jump on the internet with a little quip when he misses a few shots, but Green has proved for a decade that he just helps teams win.

13. Kelly Olynyk

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    For seven-and-a-half seasons, Kelly Olynyk just sort of quietly went about his business as a limited-usage stretch big who didn't get a ton of credit for the positive impact he's had on teams.

    Over the course of his career, his teams are plus-1.8 points per 100 possessions when he plays and minus-1.1 when he doesn't.

    Then, in 2020-21, he finally got a chance to fully showcase his talent following a trade to the tanking Houston Rockets.

    In 27 games for Houston, he averaged 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 threes and 1.4 steals per game (21.7 points, 9.6 boards, 4.7 assists, 2.1 threes and 1.6 steals per 75 possessions) while shooting 39.2 percent from three.

    It's fair to wonder if this was just a hot streak or a "good stats, bad team situation," but those marks aren't that far out of line with career norms that are adjusted for pace and playing time. 

    In his first seven seasons, Olynyk averaged 16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 threes per 75 possessions with a 37.3 three-point percentage. The uptick in 2020-21 may have as much to do with him being in his prime as it does with playing for the Rockets.

    But even if he comes down to earth a bit on his next contract, the well-rounded contributions he can make will be valuable somewhere.

12. Richaun Holmes

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    Toiling away for the Sacramento Kings can severely impact the kind of attention an NBA player gets. Had Richaun Holmes put up the kind of numbers he did over the last two seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, his free agency would absolutely be drawing more analysis.

    Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Holmes has averaged 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 28.8 minutes per game. He shot 64.1 percent from the field. And his impact on Sacramento's bottom line was huge.

    When Holmes played, the Kings were plus-0.7 points per 100 possessions. When he didn't, they were minus-6.3.

    His athleticism and timing as a rim runner make him a devastating receiver out of pick-and-rolls. And he's even developed a lights-out runner from just outside the restricted area in case a big is in position to challenge him at the rim.

    Defensively, he's not the kind of anchor Rudy Gobert is (of course, few are), but he doesn't take plays off and will get plenty of highlight, send-it-into-the-stands blocks over the course of a season.

11. Evan Fournier

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    Evan Fournier doesn't add as much value as Green on the defensive end, but he's over five years younger and brings a little more punch on offense.

    Over his last two seasons with the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics, Fournier has averaged 18.0 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 threes while shooting 40.4 percent from three.

    He's not a Duncan Robinson-level floor-spacer and doesn't have the point forward potential of Talen Horton-Tucker, but he brings a little bit of both.

    He also has nearly a decade of experience, including four playoff runs (albeit, short runs).

    Teams in need of scoring should be interested.

10. Reggie Jackson

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    Before you call the recency bias police, consider a few of the factors that drove Reggie Jackson so far up this list.

    First, the blistering three-point shooting we saw in the playoffs (40.8 percent on 7.5 attempts per game) wasn't a fluke.

    Over the first four years of his career, Jackson shot 29.4 percent from deep. He climbed to 35.4 percent for the next four years. And over the last two, he's at 41.9 (peaking at 43.3 in 2020-21). The steady climb suggests this is just who Jackson is now.

    Another plus is Jackson's willingness and ability to essentially function as a wing. He's listed at 6'2", but a 7-foot wingspan allows him to work in positionless, switch-happy lineups, which have become increasingly important in today's perimeter-oriented game.

    On the other end, Jackson has proved content to work off the ball while possession-dominating wings like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard operate the offense.

    And in the playoffs, especially after Leonard went down with a partially torn ACL, Jackson proved he can bring all of the above in the highest-leverage moments.

    Across 19 postseason appearances (17 of which were starts), he averaged 17.8 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 threes. In those games, the Los Angeles Clippers were plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the floor and minus-4.4 with him off.

9. Mike Conley

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    As is the case with Oladipo, Rose and Dinwiddie, there are definite injury concerns with Mike Conley. In his age-33 season, he missed 21 contests. And over the last four seasons, he's been available for just 58.4 percent of his teams' games.

    Size could be an issue with Conley, as well. He's 6'1" and doesn't have the major plus-wingspan that someone like Jackson has. Against positionless lineups with a little size, that can cause problems on defense.

    When he's healthy, though, Conley's outside shooting and steady hand at the wheel make him a significant offensive weapon. This season, he averaged 16.2 points and posted career highs in threes per game (2.7) and three-point percentage (41.2).

    And his willingness to sort of fill in the gaps between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert suggests he's adapted the ancillary role he'll likely play for the rest of his career.

    On the season, the Utah Jazz were plus-17.8 points per 100 possessions with Conley on the floor and plus-5.9 with him off, giving him the seventh-biggest net-rating swing in the league among players with at least 1,000 minutes.

8. Kyle Lowry

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    Age may be starting to catch up with 35-year-old Kyle Lowry. He only appeared in 46 games this season (though a late-season tank job may contribute to that number), and he posted his lowest BPM since 2009-10.

    The attributes that should make him intriguing to title contenders are still in place, though.

    Lowry remains a valuable off-ball and pull-up floor-spacer. He shot 39.6 percent on 7.2 three-point attempts per game in 2020-21, including 37.7 percent on pull-ups.

    The ability to operate both on and off the ball is critical for modern point guards, and Lowry has plenty of experience with the latter from his years playing alongside DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet.

    If he goes to a team with a star wing or other ball-handler, he'll fit in just fine.

    On the other end, a slight regression in lateral mobility may be a problem, but Lowry is an experienced, high-IQ defender who'll typically be in the right spots and giving plenty of effort.

    This next contract will probably be his last significant one, but there's plenty of reason to believe he'll live up to it.

7. Jarrett Allen (Restricted)

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    As he wrapped up his rookie contract in 2020-21, Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen started to look very much like the kind of rim-running and -protecting 5 who can survive in an NBA that increasingly demands centers do more.

    He isn't likely to ever space the floor as a three-point shooter or pick defenses apart as a high-post distributor, but he'll likely do the other things well enough to still be impactful.

    Over the last two seasons, he's put up 11.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 27.9 minutes.

    As the 23-year old continues to learn the intricacies of NBA defense—including knowing when to chase blocks, when to stay home, when to rotate, etc.—his impact on that end figures to grow, too.

    Part of the intrigue here is just how young he is.

6. Mitchell Robinson (Team Option)

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    It's hard to imagine the New York Knicks declining Mitchell Robinson's $1.8 million option for the 2021-22 season, but there may be some value in getting a longer-term deal done right now.

    If he does somehow hit the free-agency market, Robinson should be one of the most sought-after bigs. There are probably some concerns with his health (he's averaged 52.7 games per season in his career), but his ceiling as a Gobert- or Tyson Chandler-type 5 is high.

    No one in league history matched or exceeded Robinson's per-75-possession averages for points (13.4), rebounds (11.1) and blocks (3.3) through their age-22 seasons. And if you drop the criteria to 10, 10 and three, you add just eight names (including Gobert and Alonzo Mourning).

    Like Jarrett Allen, the 23-year-old Robinson probably has some developing to do in terms of the mechanics of defense and what to do if an immediate dunk isn't available after a catch, but his physical profile and athleticism are matched by very few across the league.

5. DeMar DeRozan

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    Yes, DeMar DeRozan just had a negative net-rating swing (the difference in a team's net points per 100 possessions when a player is on or off the floor) for the 11th time in 12 seasons. It almost feels obligatory to get that out of the way when analyzing his game.

    But he underwent an evolution with the San Antonio Spurs that could set up an intriguing second half of his career.

    Over his three seasons there, he averaged 6.2 assists (including 6.9 this season). And perhaps more intriguing, his average for potential assists (11.2) isn't far from his number of shots per game (15.9).

    Becoming something of a point forward could prolong DeRozan's effectiveness on offense, particularly if he's willing to accept a role piloting a second unit during this upcoming contract.

    The defense will probably continue to be a problem (it might even get worse), but he could feast as a scorer and creator against backups.

4. Lonzo Ball (Restricted)

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    Prior to his trade to the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the 2019-20 season, consistent outside shooting was the only major concern with his game.

    He had (and still has) excellent vision as a passer, a willingness to move the ball both in transition and the half court, good rebounding and defensive instincts and plus size for a guard.

    Career marks of 31.5 percent from three and (even more ghastly) 43.7 percent from the line after those two seasons were more than concerning, though.

    Fast forward to now and there's ample reason for optimism. In his two seasons with the Pelicans, Lonzo is at 37.6 percent from three on 7.2 attempts. His free-throw percentage there is 66.4.

    With all the other boxes he checks, he really doesn't have to be much better than that as a shooter to be a clear positive player.

    Over the last two seasons, when he's on the floor with Zion Williamson, New Orleans is plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions. It's minus-2.2 when Zion plays without Lonzo.

3. John Collins (Restricted)

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    So far, we've discussed big men who fit the old-school profile (Drummond), space the floor (Markkanen and Olynyk), rim-run (Holmes and Allen) and create a bit for others (Olynyk and Millsap). But no one here checks quite as many boxes as John Collins.

    In fact, of all the attributes analyzed for players 15 through 2, playmaking may be the only one Collins hasn't already proved himself to have. And since he turns 24 in September, it's safe to say there's still time to improve in that area.

    Other than that, Collins really can sort of shapeshift from one big-man archetype to another.

    He's an explosive leaper who can catch lobs out of pick-and-rolls or score on putbacks. He's hit 40.0 percent on 3.4 three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons. And he's averaged at least one block in three of his four NBA campaigns.

    When you put it all together, he has a statistical profile that puts him in pretty elite company. Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only other players in league history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, one block and one three per 75 possessions through their age-23 seasons (Nikola Jokic barely missed out with 0.9 blocks).

    Of course, adding the threes qualifier pretty much eliminates any big man who played prior to this era, but maybe that actually helps to better illustrate the point.

    In today's game, bigs are generally asked to bring a wider array of skills to the floor, and Collins does just that.

2. Chris Paul (Player Option)

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    Chris Paul's last two seasons in the NBA have done wonders for his legacy, trade value and potential free agency this summer.

    Prior to his lone campaign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, his deal felt like a borderline albatross. Now, it wouldn't be shocking to see him opt out of the final year and $44.2 million he's owed for 2021-22. Even at 36 years old, there's almost certainly some team out there (maybe even the Phoenix Suns) who'll give him one more two- or three-year deal.

    Beyond the still-solid numbers (17.0 points, 7.8 assists and a 60.5 true shooting percentage with OKC and Phoenix), Paul has proved himself an effective leader and mentor for younger players. And a seemingly insatiable competitive drive, years of experience and infectious passing would add credibility to any offense in the league.

    He isn't likely to be anyone's long-term solution, but he's shown there are at least a year or two left of high-end floor generalship.

1. Kawhi Leonard (Player Option)

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    Kawhi Leonard's ACL reconstruction not only affects his potential free agency, but it could also completely alter the landscape of the Western Conference. Even if he opts into the final year of his deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, it's hard to imagine them contending for a title without Leonard.

    If he opts out, even at 30 and coming off the major knee injury, Leonard would instantly be one of the biggest prizes on the free-agency market this summer.

    His explosiveness is obviously a big part of his game, but he's not overly reliant on it. And ACL surgeries and recoveries have a better track record than they did in the past.

    If he's 95 percent of what he was athletically, his size, shooting and cerebral game should be able to cover most of the rest. Once he's healthy again, he figures to be one of the game's most impactful players.

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