Top NBA Free Agents Still Available: Kawhi Leonard, Dennis Schroder and More

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2021

Top NBA Free Agents Still Available: Kawhi Leonard, Dennis Schroder and More

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The NBA's 2021 free-agency window is open, and signings have come pouring through over the past few days.

    Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus has you covered for the biggest action that took place around the league, but the focus here will be the players who haven't been snatched up.

    This class may not have a ton of star power, but there are still some free agents who can move the needle for teams in need of role players. A handful of restricted free agents (known hereafter as RFAs) are still on the market, too.

    As we trek through the offseason, here are the top players still available in ascending order.

           

    Editor's note: Text for some players in this article was originally featured in an earlier positional series.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson only appeared in 11 games and averaged just 2.5 points last season, but he fits the archetype of a multipositional defender who can contribute throughout the box score.

    For his career, the 6'6" forward has averaged 14.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per 75 possessions.

    If he could consistently hit from the outside (his career three-point percentage is a paltry 21.2 percent), he probably would've been signed already, but he might still be worth a flier on a minimum contract.

Elfrid Payton

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Contrary to what New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau apparently thought of the point guard he started for 63 games, Elfrid Payton had arguably his worst NBA season in 2020-21.

    He posted career lows in 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) and assist percentage, while also registering a career high in usage percentage.

    More shooting and less passing is a recipe for trouble with Payton, and whatever team employs him next should endeavor to push him back to the more traditional point guard play he provided in the past.

    Over his first six seasons, Payton averaged 6.6 assists in 29.3 minutes, before plummeting to 3.2 in 2020-21.

Marquese Chriss

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Injuries cost Marquese Chriss almost all of his 2020-21 campaign, but he had something of a breakout campaign in the previous season.

    It's fair to wonder if it was a "good stats, bad team" situation, but Chriss averaged 16.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 steals per 75 possessions for the 2019-20 Golden State Warriors. And he was second on that team in BPM.

    Coming out of college, Chriss' big selling points were his size and athleticism. The hints of playmaking and ball-hawking he showed for the Warriors make him even more intriguing.

    At 24 years old, he's young enough to be worth a shot at the minimum.

Frank Jackson (RFA)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    According to traditional positional designations, 6'3" Frank Jackson is a little undersized to be a 2, but he may not create enough for others to be a 1.

    In today's game, though, playmaking can come from anywhere on the floor, and Jackson showed more than enough shooting in Year 3 to increase his staying power in the league.

    He was one of 26 players who made at least three threes per 75 possessions while shooting over 40 percent from three. And that range had a positive impact on the Detroit Pistons.

    Their net points per 100 possessions was 5.0 points better when Jackson was on the floor.

    If he can work his way into being even a passable defender, the 23-year old could have a nice career as a heat-check guy off the bench.

Avery Bradley

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    Alex Menendez/Getty Images

    Name recognition and experience should boost Avery Bradley's value this summer. He's a two-time All-Defensive selection who's slightly above average from three over the course of his career.

    His actual impact may not live up to the reputation, though. For his career, his team's are minus-0.1 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and plus-1.1 when he's off. He's had a positive swing in just four of his 11 seasons.

    Still, he can probably be trusted as a reserve responsible for bothering the opposition's heat-check guy. And he won't mind being a sacrificial lamb for stretches against No. 1 options.

Frank Ntilikina

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Frank Ntilikina still offers some upside as a multipositional backcourt defender, but the current state of his offense is borderline alarming.

    For his career, he's hit just 38.9 percent of his two-point attempts. Last season alone, he was 6-of-31 inside the three-point line. And his assist percentage plummeted from a solid 19.9 in his first three seasons to a traditional center-like 8.1 in his fourth year.

    A team taking a flier on him now would have to have a great deal of faith in its developmental staff. He just turned 23, but there's a lot of work to do here.

Denzel Valentine

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Denzel Valentine's role has been all over the place over the course of five years in the NBA, but there may still be a versatile playmaking wing in there.

    In 2017-18, he averaged 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 38.6 percent from three on 4.8 attempts per game. 

    He's already 27 years old, though. And he missed an entire season due to injury. There likely isn't a lot of long-term potential to be unearthed.

Dante Exum

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    He's yet to show much offensively in the NBA, but Dante Exum can guard multiple positions, including point guard.

    During the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, he's shown off some playmaking ability too.

    If he ever gets to around league average from three and figures out how to stay healthy (two big "ifs," at this point), he could be an ideal fourth or fifth man in lineups with ball-dominant stars.

Hamidou Diallo (RFA)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Hamidou Diallo quietly took a significant step forward on offense in 2020-21, with career highs in field-goal percentage from almost every range on the floor.

    His length and athleticism make him a decent bet to develop into a plus defender too.

    Ultimately, though, Diallo reaching his ceiling may depend on continued improvement from behind the arc.

    In his first two seasons, he shot 24.7 percent from three. In 2020-21, he shot up to 34.1. That's still shy of the league average, but another year or two there will force opposing defenses to respect his range.

Isaiah Hartenstein

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The sample size is very limited, and much of it likely came in garbage time, but Isaiah Hartenstein has registered a positive net-rating swing in each of his three NBA seasons.

    Over the course of his career, his teams are plus-3.8 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and plus-0.5 when he's off.

    A big man who knows his limitations, rim-runs with purpose, works on the boards and even defends a little bit can influence point differential.

    In three NBA seasons, Hartenstein has averaged 13.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 blocks per 75 possessions.

Jarred Vanderbilt (RFA)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    In his first season with anything resembling a steady role, 22-year-old Jarred Vanderbilt was a solid contributor for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Their point differential was significantly better when the hustling forward was on the floor. And his per-75-possession averages of 11.4 rebounds, 10.7 points, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks paint a picture of versatility.

    Like others who are still available in free agency, Vanderbilt's unselfishness should be appealing to teams that already have plenty of scoring on the roster.

Jabari Parker

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    Jabari Parker's career is on life support. He appeared in just 13 games and averaged 5.5 points in 2020-21.

    There were signs of hope with the Boston Celtics, though. He had 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the last game of the regular season. Then, he went for double figures in limited minutes in each of Boston's last two playoff games.

Justise Winslow

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Justise Winslow's run with the Memphis Grizzlies was a full-blown disaster, but there may still be a playmaking forward in there somewhere.

    He's just 25 years old. And in 2017-18 and 2018-19, he averaged 10.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 37.7 percent from three.

Paul Millsap

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Paul Millsap is entering his age-36 season, and his playing time has dipped for four straight seasons. He shouldn't be counted on for much more than 15-20 minutes, but he can spread the floor as a 4 and hold up while defending either big position.

    His passing can add an intriguing dynamic to most reserve units, too.

    As he enters the twilight of his career, Millsap is an intriguing multifaceted forward for contenders to consider.

JJ Redick

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    JJ Redick never found a consistent role in 2020-21, but he still shot an above-average 37.1 percent form three.

    His off-ball movement and catch-and-shoot prowess can still bend the defenses of opposing second units. And whatever team signs him probably won't be looking for more than 15-20 minutes.

    In the right role, his experience and shooting can move the needle.

Frank Kaminsky

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    He wasn't a big part of the rotation for the Phoenix Suns' run to the NBA Finals, but Frank Kaminsky was a solid contributor to the West's No. 2 seed in the regular season.

    He averaged 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 threes per 75 possessions, while registering a three-point percentage barely below the league average.

    The benefit of his shooting is obvious. The stretch big isn't a new concept. What may be more intriguing with Kaminsky is the hint of passing his new team will get.

    Career shooting splits of 42.7 percent from the field, 34.8 percent from three and 73.9 percent from the line suggest Kaminsky could regress a bit in 2021-22, but he's worth a flier for a team in need of a reserve center. 

Josh Hart (RFA)

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    Josh Hart is coming off a campaign in which he averaged 11.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 threes and 1.0 steal per 75 possessions. Yes, you read that right. When adjusted for pace and playing time, a 6'5" wing averaged a double-double.

    Russell Westbrook was the only player in the league at Hart's height or shorter with a higher rebounding rate.

    If he can manage an average three-point percentage (something he hasn't done since his rookie year in 2017-18), those well-rounded contributions would make Hart a solid contributor on any roster.

Dennis Schroder

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    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 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.

    Now that cap space has dried up, the $100-$120 million Schroder was reportedly seeking probably isn't heading his way. Wherever his salary ends up, his next team will be hoping for a return to what Schroder showed in Oklahoma City.

Lauri Markkanen (RFA)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Like just about everyone else on this list, Lauri Markkanen has glaring flaws in his game. For a 7-footer, his rebounding 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 per game while shooting 40.2 percent from three. He's approaching Davis Bertans or Duncan Robinson territory in terms of stretching defenses. And he has plenty of time to develop into a more reliable defender.

Reggie Jackson

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    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 rose 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 such as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard operate the offense.

    And in the playoffs, especially after Leonard went down with a torn right 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 per game. In those contests, the Los Angeles Clippers were plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the floor and minus-4.4 with him off it.

Kawhi Leonard

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Kawhi Leonard's right ACL reconstruction not only affects his free agency, but it could also completely alter the landscape of the Western Conference. Without him, it's hard to envision the Los Angeles Clippers contending for the title.

    Even at 30 and coming off the major injury, Leonard is the biggest prize on the free-agency market, though he is expected to re-sign with the Clippers.

    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 the rest. Once he's healthy again, he figures to be one of the game's most impactful players.

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