2022 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Top 30 Players Who Can Hit the Market

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2021

2022 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Top 30 Players Who Can Hit the Market

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    With the NBA's 2021 free-agency period mostly wrapped up, it's time for the customary way-too-early look at next summer's class.

    Plenty can change between now and then. For example, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks is "optimistic" that Kyrie Irving and James Harden will extend their deals before this season starts. But we'll operate under the assumption that anyone who can be a free agent in 2022 will be, other than players on rookie contracts who would only enter free agency by way of their team declining a club option. 

    Rankings like this are inevitably subjective. Projection systems like FiveThirtyEight's can help, but those are far from an exact science. The analyst's instincts on individual players always present themselves.

    Here, the ingredients that make up that analysis include past performance (with an emphasis on the last year or two), expected production in 2021-22 and long-term potential.

    In other words, the kind of considerations every front office makes when it looks at free agents.


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    30. Tomas Satoransky

    Whichever team signs Tomas Satoransky likely won't be doing so with the starting point guard role in mind, but he could boost the reserve units on most teams.

    His outside shot has faltered over the last two seasons, but he shot 42.2 percent from three between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He's a steady initiator, too. And at 6'7", he has the size to function in switch-happy defensive schemes.


    29. Marvin Bagley III (Restricted)

    This inclusion is all about potential. For his career, Marvin Bagley III has a below-replacement level box plus/minus, but he's only 22.

    Career averages of 20.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per 75 possessions show he has the talent to put up raw numbers. If his next team can unlock some consistency from him on defense and maybe even a three-point shot (he hit 34.3 percent of his attempts last season), he can be a positive contributor.


    28. Delon Wright

    Delon Wright is quietly one of the league's steadiest combo guards. With six NBA seasons under his belt, he's yet to have a single campaign with a below-average BPM.

    For his career, he's averaged a well-rounded 13.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.2 threes and 0.7 blocks per 75 possessions. Aside from the steals, none of those other numbers jump off the screen, but he provides a little bit of everything.


    27. Goran Dragic

    At 35, Goran Dragic is starting to get up there in years. And his efficiency has spiraled downward over the last few years.

    But he can still provide some scoring punch off the bench. Over his last three seasons, he's averaged 19.6 points and 6.4 assists per 75 possessions while shooting 36.5 percent from deep.


    26. John Wall (Player Option)

    Age, injuries and inefficiency are the major concerns with John Wall, but he still has the highest upside of this group.

    Last season, the soon-to-be-31-year old shot 40.4 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three while coming off a torn Achilles. However, the Houston Rockets' point differential was still comfortably better when he played, and he remains a plus playmaker.

    Going forward, if Wall focuses more on getting to the paint and kicking it out rather than trying to score, he may be able to start for some team after his mega contract expires. That likely won't happen until 2023, as he's a virtual lock to pick up his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season.


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    25. Blake Griffin

    After a disastrous season-and-a-half with the Detroit Pistons in 2019-20 and 2020-21 in which he posted a minus-3.3 BPM and an 8.8 average game score, Blake Griffin bounced back with the Brooklyn Nets.

    In 26 games there, he averaged 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 threes per 75 possessions while posting an above-average BPM. He also showed some defensive versatility and an ability to play the 5. As a playmaking big in limited stretches, he can still move the needle for a contender.


    24. Dennis Schroder

    Dennis Schroder horribly miscalculated the 2021 free-agent market before settling on a one-year, $5.9 million deal with the Boston Celtics.

    If he can recoup his value as the kind of heat-check sixth man he was for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he could rise steadily up the list of 2022 free-agent targets, but his 2019-20 campaign looks more like an outlier than the norm.

    He still has the ability to beat one-on-one matchups off the dribble and get to the paint, but he's probably closer to his career 33.7 percent mark from three than he is to the 38.5 percent he managed that year in OKC.


    23. Thaddeus Young

    As far as Swiss Army knife forwards go, Thaddeus Young has been one of the NBA's more underrated for years. And in 2020-21, he added a level of playmaking that could prolong his career.

    His 6.4 assists per 75 possessions more than doubled his previous career high. When you add that ability to distribute to a little rebounding and defensive versatility, it gets easier to see how the 33-year old can remain effective in his post-prime years.


    22. Joe Ingles

    Joe Ingles isn't as laterally quick as he was a few years ago. That limits his defensive upside, but the 33-year-old figures to remain one of the game's best floor spacers for a few more years.

    He shot a career-high 45.1 percent from three this past season, and his mark over the last five seasons (42.3 percent) ranks sixth.


    21. Kevin Huerter (Restricted)

    Despite turning only 23 this month, Kevin Huerter has already displayed an intriguing combination of shooting and playmaking.

    Over the course of his three-year career, Huerter has averaged 4.0 assists and 2.4 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 37.6 percent from three. There are only 16 players who match or exceed all three of those marks during the same span.


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    20. Miles Bridges (Restricted)

    Miles Bridges took significant strides last season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and threes per 75 possessions. He also posted his first above-average three-point percentage.

    It's safe to say he's now quite a bit more than the highlight-reel dunker many know him as. And at 23 years old, he still has plenty of room for more growth.


    19. Wendell Carter Jr. (Restricted)

    Wendell Carter Jr. has struggled to live up to his status as the No. 7 pick of the 2018 NBA draft, but we've seen hints of the playmaking and defending big he was forecast to be.

    With the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic this past season, he averaged 16.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 blocks per 75 possessions, but he shot only 15-of-51 (29.4 percent) from three. If he can find some consistency from out there, it would change the outlook of his career.


    18. Collin Sexton (Restricted)

    Much of the conversation around Collin Sexton over the last three years has focused on his shortcomings. And while his defensive limitations and lack of passing are fair to bring up, there should be little doubt about his ability to score.

    He averaged 24.3 points this past season, which is a top-30 mark for age-22 (or younger) players in the three-point era. Even if he never develops into a dynamite passer or lockdown defender (and it's too early to know either way), that kind of scoring ability should at least make him a solid heat-check-off-the-bench guy.


    17. Jusuf Nurkic

    Over the last three regular seasons and postseasons, the Portland Trail Blazers are plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum play with Jusuf Nurkic and plus-1.7 when they play without him.

    The reasons for that boost are varied. He isn't the most vertically explosive center in the league, but he knows where to be and when to be there on defense. He has solid footwork in the post, which forces defenders to collapse when he has the ball. And he's a plus passer for his position.


    16. Terry Rozier

    After showing up on plenty of lists about the worst contracts signed during the 2019 offseason, Terry Rozier has lived up to his deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged 19.3 points, 4.2 assists and 3.0 threes while shooting 39.6 percent from three.

    Rozier's small 6'1" frame can be an issue on defense, but he's proved to be a capable scorer and shooter who can do more than he was able to show with the Boston Celtics.


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    15. Thomas Bryant

    Torn ACLs are still concerning, but they aren't as likely to alter careers as they once did. Advances in medical procedures and the approach to rehab have allowed plenty to come back as strong as they were before the injury.

    Such will be the hope for Thomas Bryant, whose combination of rim running and three-point shooting (41.1 percent over the past two seasons) make him an intriguing option as a modern 5.


    14. Jonas Valanciunas

    Even thoroughly old-school bigs like Jonas Valanciunas have had to adopt the three-point shot to some extent. And while he can still punish defenders inside, shooting 35.9 percent from three over the last four seasons should help increase his value around the league.

    His biggest strength remains the ability to dominate the offensive glass and score in the paint, though, especially when opponents go small.


    13. Kyle Anderson

    Despite the well-documented lack of speed with which he plays, the only thing really missing from Kyle Anderson's game for years was consistent outside shooting. He has quick hands, an ability to guard multiple positions, excellent vision and generally high basketball IQ.

    All of that led to well-rounded averages of 11.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per 75 possessions for his career.

    In 2020-21, he shot up to 36.0 percent from three and averaged a career-high 12.4 points per game. Defenders having to honor him at the three-point line should open up the rest of his game going forward.


    12. T.J. Warren

    Missing most of the 2020-21 campaign with a foot injury wiped out the momentum with which T.J. Warren finished his previous season.

    In the Orlando bubble, Warren averaged 31.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 threes while shooting 52.4 percent from three. It might have been an isolated hot streak, but his ability to get on those kind of heaters and his positional versatility should make him a sought-after scorer when his current deal expires.


    11. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Restricted)

    Injuries derailed Jaren Jackson Jr.'s career momentum, too.

    After averaging 17.4 points and shooting 39.4 percent from three in 2019-20, he appeared in only 11 games in 2020-21, averaged 14.4 points and shot 28.3 percent from three.

    Getting back on track this season could resurrect his value ahead of restricted free agency, though. He still has plenty of three-and-D potential, and if he figures out how to be an average rebounder, he can have a long and effective career.


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    10. Marcus Smart

    Marcus Smart has been a starter for most of the last three seasons, but the 2021-22 campaign may be his best shot to finally show what he can do as the Boston Celtics' primary point guard.

    On a team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, his two best attributes (passing and defense) should shine just in time for unrestricted free agency.


    9. Aaron Gordon

    During the brief time between his trade to the Denver Nuggets and Jamal Murray's season-ending ACL tear, Aaron Gordon looked like the last ingredient for a championship recipe.

    His three-point percentage leaves something to be desired, but as the fourth or fifth option in Nuggets lineups, he could focus on being a game-changing defender, dynamic finisher and ball mover.

    He looks like an almost ideal gap-filler as he nears the prime of his career.


    8. Mikal Bridges (Restricted)

    Mikal Bridges has a chance to be more than a typical three-and-D wing. But even if he tops out as the optimized version of that archetype, he should be one of 2022's most coveted restricted free agents.

    He averaged a career-high 13.5 points and 1.9 threes while shooting 42.5 percent from three in 2020-21, and his willingness and ability to cover anyone the Phoenix Suns asked him to spared multiple teammates on that end.


    7. Russell Westbrook (Player Option)

    Russell Westbrook would have to have an incredible 2021-22 campaign to convince him to decline his $47.1 million option for the following season, but even if he does, he might have a hard time cracking the top five on lists like this.

    Everyone knows about the hustle, triple-doubles and ferociousness, but Westbrook will be entering his age-34 season in 2022. There's little to no evidence to suggest his shooting numbers are headed in the right direction. And getting the best out of him already requires a roster tailored to his strengths.


    6. Deandre Ayton (Restricted)

    Deandre Ayton took on a less glamorous offensive role in 2020-21, and he may have upped his long-term value in the process. He's now shown an ability to produce as an offensive focal point (as he did in 2018-19 and 2019-20) or as something closer to a specialized rim runner.

    He also made plenty of progress as a defensive anchor. And even as teams around the league are prioritizing moves that allow them to play small for limited stretches, having a rim protector who can survive at the three-point line is a hallmark of elite defenses.

5. Michael Porter Jr. (Restricted)

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    Michael Porter Jr. is already one of the most effective floor spacers in the NBA.

    Over the course of his two NBA seasons, he's averaged 7.0 three-point attempts per 75 possessions and shot 43.9 percent from three. Joe Harris is the only player in the league who matches or exceeds both marks during the same span.

    Porter does much more than just move off the ball and hit catch-and-shoot threes, though. He's a bona fide three-level scorer and can dominate the glass.

    He's also made strides as a defender, where he appeared lost during plenty of possessions as a rookie. His off-ball focus was much improved this past season, and he had a nose for rotating into highlight-level blocks.

4. Zach LaVine

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    The notion that Zach LaVine is some kind of empty-calorie scorer probably should've died a few years ago, but 2020-21 likely did it in for good.

    LaVine didn't just average 27.4 points, 4.9 assists and 3.4 threes. He posted one of the most efficient high-volume seasons of all time.

    Among the 270 individual seasons since 1973-74 in which a player averaged at least 20 field-goal attempts per 75 possessions, LaVine's 59.6 effective field-goal percentage trails only three Stephen Curry campaigns. His two-point percentage is ninth on that list, behind five Shaquille O'Neal seasons, and one campaign each from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and LeBron James.

    LaVine is still prone to both on- and off-ball lapses on defense, but few seem to appreciate his ceiling as a scorer. He can shoot off the dribble, whether from three or the mid-range, get all the way to the rim, finish in traffic and draw fouls.

3. Kyrie Irving (Player Option)

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    Over the last two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving averaged 27.0 points, 6.1 assists and 2.8 threes while shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three and 92.2 percent from the free-throw line. He's a wizard with the ball, can get a shot off against any perimeter defender and often finishes at the rim with a flair few across history have possessed.

    There's little chance that he leaves Brooklyn, but if things go south and he opts out, all of the above would make him one of the market's most intriguing free agents. However, any teams that consider signing him would need to have a hint of concern for what his offensive boost would cost beyond the dollars and cents.

    Landing Kyrie means paying the max for a player who has yet to positively impact a franchise's stability. His tenures in Cleveland Boston both ended poorly. If he's a free agent next summer, the same will likely be true for Brooklyn.

    This Nets team seems to suit him better than any in the past, though. So again, he may not even be on lists like these by the time next summer rolls around.

2. Bradley Beal (Player Option)

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    Kyrie Irving is probably a bit better than Bradley Beal right now. Over the last two seasons, they're 13th and 26th, respectively in BPM. 

    However, Beal is a little younger (28, compared to 29), a little bigger (6'3" with a 6'8" wingspan, compared to 6'2" with a 6'4" wingspan) and a little more reliable (358 games over the last five seasons, compared to 273).

    Regardless of how he stacks up with Irving, Beal will be in high demand if he becomes a free agent in 2022.

    Over the last two seasons, his 30.9 points per game ranks second in the NBA behind Stephen Curry (he's fifth in points per 75 possessions). And the prolonged absence of John Wall in 2018-19 and 2019-20 forced him to improve as a distributor.

    On the other end of the floor, there isn't much to rave about, but his dominant offensive game more than makes up for that. Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, the Wizards are plus-0.4 points per 100 possessions with Beal on the floor and minus-5.1 with him off.

1. James Harden (Player Option)

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    As was the case with Irving, James Harden seems like a near-lock to return to the Brooklyn Nets even if he enters free agency next summer.

    With Harden, Kyrie and Kevin Durant in their primes, the Nets appear poised to compete for titles for the next few years. When all three were on the floor, Brooklyn scored 123.2 points per 100 possessions and was plus-11.1 points (it was plus-7.6 when any two of the three played).

    Harden's willingness to embrace the distributor role was reminiscent of his first few seasons with the Houston Rockets. His taking a step back as a scorer allowed KD and Kyrie to do what they do best, and the chemistry seemed to flourish because of that.

    If Harden does opt out of the final year of his current deal, though, he'll instantly vault to the top of the free-agency class.

    He'll turn 32 this August, but Harden's game has always been more about skill, angles, cunning and moneyball than pure athleticism. As he ages into his mid- to late 30s, those things could conceivably improve as his explosiveness wanes.

    The vision and passing likely aren't going anywhere, either. And with a head coach in Steve Nash who won back-to-back MVPs as a pass-first point guard in his 30s, expect a continued emphasis on that from Harden.