Top 10 Unsigned NBA Free Agents Right Now

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2021

Top 10 Unsigned NBA Free Agents Right Now

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Free agency has slowed to a crawl, if not an outright halt. The eternal optimism emanating out of the Las Vegas Summer League is fading from a thick, blanketing smog to a translucent vapor. People are arguing about whether Jalen Green should be fired into the sun for preferring the city of Houston, which houses the team that drafted him, over Detroit.

    All of which can mean only one thing: The dog days of the NBA offseason are upon us. Stay safe out there, friends.

    Fortunately, we have a foolproof way to avoid bickering about things that truly, entirely, I promise don't actually matter: immersing ourselves in what remains of the free-agency pool.

    Virtually all of the truly high-impact players are off the board, and Josh Hart took some of the market's late-summer sheen with him—on top of words I had pre-written about him—by re-signing with the New Orleans Pelicans. But Lauri Markkanen (restricted) is still floating around, and he's joined by a handful of recognizable vets and some under-the-radar names who deserve cracks at NBA rotation minutes.

    Potential destinations will be provided for each of the included players, because armchair GMing is fun. Those spots will be determined by weighing team needs against prospective minutes available for said free agent. Cap space and exceptions are secondary concerns at this point. Other than Markkanen, none of these names have a real chance at finagling a sizable payday.

    Free agents will be ranked against one another according to how likely they are to make a meaningful impact next season. Now, let's dog-days-of-summer it up. Responsibly, of course.

10. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    This spot could go to any number of names.

    Jarred Vanderbilt is caffeine incarnate. A shrewd team will bag Frank Ntilikina and use him like the three-and-D wing he's wired to be. Aron Baynes belongs in the NBA if his injury from slipping and falling in the bathroom isn't serious.

    Hamidou Diallo feels like he'll be the most popular pick for this slot. I can't get there. He needs to up his three-point volume or strengthen his finishing around the rim. He'll preferably do both.

    DeMarcus Cousins gets the nod by virtue of the stellar late-regular season and playoff minutes he logged with the Los Angeles Clippers. The postseason, in particular, saw him operate more like an accessory big than a focal point, and teams should be keeping an eye on the 40 percent conversion rate he notched from downtown.

    Returning to the Clippers is probably his best-case outcome. If Cousins is significantly looking to reinvent his stock, though, he shouldn't shy from fringe-playoff situations in which he'll have a genuine shot at second-string-5 or third-big-overall minutes.

    Best Fits: Chicago, L.A. Clippers, San Antonio

    Next 10 Up: 11. Frank Ntilikina; 12. Jarred Vanderbilt; 13. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot; 14. Hamidou Diallo; 15. Aron Baynes; 16. Isaiah Thomas; 17. Jordan McLaughlin; 18. Langston Galloway; 19. E'Twaun Moore; 20. Harry Giles

9. JJ Redick

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    JJ Redick won't endear himself to prospective suitors as a keeper of front-office secrets, and he's coming off a season in which he struggled to hit shots out of the gate before missing extensive time with a right foot injury. Having just turned 37, he could be entering the Kyle Korver phase of his career.

    Some team, somewhere, should still see whether he has more left in the tank.

    Shooting tends to age well, and Redick hasn't nailed fewer than 37 percent of his three-point attempts since the 2012-13 season. The manner in which he splashes triples intrigues just as much as his overarching accuracy. He can throw up tough outside jumpers after pinballing around the half-court, and defenses still react to the speed with which he generally moves away from the ball.

    Redick even has the bandwidth to set up and dribble into his own looks. Pick-and-roll initiation has never been a huge part of his arsenal, but he's rated in the 95th percentile or better of scoring efficiency as the ball-handler through each of the past four seasons.

    Identifying the best landing spot gets a touch harder if Redick still prefers to land somewhere in the Northeast. Neither Brooklyn nor New York needs another guard, and the addition of Dennis Schroder coupled with the summer-league performances of Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard could yank Boston from consideration.

    Best Fits: Boston, Golden State, Philadelphia

8. Isaiah Hartenstein

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Isaiah Hartenstein's late-August availability is a boon for the "big-man depth can be acquired whenever, wherever, for pretty much nothing" agenda.

    It initially looked like he did enough with the Cleveland Cavaliers to earn earlier looks. He averaged 5.0 assists per 36 minutes and flashed some additional touch from floater range. He's not the most physical big, but he gets sneaky position under the basket for entry passes and offensive boards.

    Without uncorking threes in volume, Hartenstein does have to hone his accuracy around the basket. He has the size and finesse to be a much more bankable option as the rim, er, jogger. If he can't go up with more flair, it would behoove him to bust out a stop-and-pop floater.

    Adding him to the depth chart will not, in all likelihood, do anything for the defense. Hartenstein is not super quick or intuitive. But he did get a little bit better at dropping back in pick-and-rolls while with the Cavs, and opponents didn't exactly light him up at the rim. At only 23, he absolutely belongs on a roster as the third center.

    Best Fits: Chicago, Oklahoma City, Portland

7. Svi Mykhailiuk

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Svi Mykhailiuk gives off tepid vibes when measured against his "reputation" as a lights-out shooter. His career 36.2 percent mark from behind the rainbow is meh, and he's downed under 33.5 percent of his outside looks in two of the past three seasons.

    This is different from saying Mykhailiuk lays bricks. He has hinted at an elite stroke. He converted 40.4 percent of his threes on 8.4 attempts per 36 minutes in 2019-20 and posted an effective field-goal percentage of 62.0 on spot-up jumpers last season after getting traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Mykhailiuk has also looked the part of a competitive, albeit not lockdown, defender. He boasts great size at 6'7" and can really hound the ball. There might even be a tad more to extract from him on offense. He doesn't appear overwhelmed when navigating the lane on-ball, can drop soft passes to bigs on the move and has some touch when going away from the basket.

    Smart teams will give Mykhailiuk a looksy as a potential third-string 2 or 3—recognizing, above all, that he's a 24-year-old who offers more functionality than meets the eye.

    Best Fits: Chicago, Toronto, Washington

6. Wesley Matthews

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Wesley Matthews was touted as a Danny Green-on-the-cheap when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason. His stock quickly devolved from there.

    A right Achilles flare-up derailed his start to the year, and he struggled to cobble together impactful stretches upon return. He canned just 31.6 percent of his threes after missing several games in early January, and his 33.5 percent clip from downtown for the year was far and away a career low.

    Exploring his offensive rock bottom can be seen one of two ways: Either Matthews is cooked at age 34 or there's nowhere to go but up. Assuming the glass-half-full stance makes the most sense.

    Sure, Matthews' inconsistent playing time on a Lakers squad that wanted for both outside volume and accuracy is a potential red flag. But he had never shot below 36 percent from beyond the arc for an entire season prior to last year. His outside clip will normalize, and while he's not the same genre of stopper he was many moons ago with the Portland Trail Blazers, he has the side-to-side amble to garner the nod against power wings—even if only as a sacrificial tribute.

    Best Fits: Denver, Miami, Philadelphia

5. Garrison Mathews

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Poke around the "Top XX Remaining NBA Free Agents" landscape, and you probably won't find another list slotting Garris Mathews within the front five until another two to six names come off the board. I'd apologize for journeying (slightly) off the beaten path, except I'm not sorry.

    Mathews is a shooter. He found nylon on 38.9 percent of his three-pointers in two seasons with the Washington Wizards while playing on two-way deals. He wasn't just banging in uncontested standstill treys, either. He can torch twine in motion and from parking-lot range.

    Literalists will interpret his role in Washington as evidence he doesn't offer any off-the-dribble pizzazz. Viewed through the lenses of step-back threes, pull-up mid-rangers and methodical isolations, they're most likely correct.

    Personally, though, I'm not ready to give up on Mathews consistently attacking closeouts. He has flashed some (perhaps excessive) aplomb when making straightaway beelines and attempting to finish through contact. And even if this part of his game never materializes, he should be considered more than a stab-in-the-dark flier as a 24-year-old who can really sling it and knows how to use his 6'5" frame on defense.

    Best Fits: Boston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City

4. Avery Bradley

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Avery Bradley made just 27 appearances last season while battling right leg injuries and splitting time with the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets. His stint with the latter did nothing to help his stock. Through 10 games with the Rockets, he shot 38.1 percent on twos and 27.0 percent from deep.

    Feel free to throw Bradley's performance last year out the window. His sample size with both Miami and Houston wasn't nearly large enough to write him off.

    Beyond the injury concerns—right leg issues have cropped up throughout his career—Bradley's on-court value is roughly the same as ever. He is a pesky on-ball defender who doesn't have the size to rumble with the starriest wings, and a respectable outside shooter who will too often deviate from the set-jumper script and dribble himself into low-percentage twos.

    Teams can, and should, and inevitably will, live with the trade-offs. The days of treating Bradley like a premier defender with a higher offensive ceiling are over, but he doesn't turn 31 until November and still checks enough boxes to fall under the three-and-D canopy.

    Best Fits: Denver, Golden State, L.A. Lakers

3. James Ennis

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    At a time when the league places infinite value on wings who can defend multiple positions and knock down threes, it is genuinely shocking that James Ennis hasn't found his next team.

    Perhaps prospective suitors are turned off by his previous shooting displays. He has long been billed as a bargain-bin three-and-D contributor yet drilled just 33.7 percent of his treys from 2017-18 through 2019-20.

    That's not reason enough to leave him wandering around the wilderness much longer. Not after last season. Ennis buried 43.3 percent of his triples (45-of-104) while capably defending four—yes, four—positions.

    Such modest flame-throwing could prove to be an anomaly. But Ennis should get even tastier shots outside of a clumpy Orlando Magic offense, and he now has a learner's permit for putting the ball on the floor in wide-open spaces.

    Best Fits: New Orleans, New York, Phoenix

2. Paul Millsap

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Paul Millsap has lost a step or three over the past season and change. It's almost like he's 36 or something.

    But Father Time-induced regression has not rendered him incapable. He can still defend the 4 spot and is the ideal late-August pickup for any team planning to deploy smaller five-out lineups. 

    Millsap's offense also skews more complementary these days. Over 70 percent of his made buckets came off assists last year, and he's downing 39.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples since 2018-19 (151-of-384). 

    Granted, he may still hijack the occasional possession, though his freelancing is not always without cause. He retains the "F U" part of his offense in the form of slow-mo, pounding face-ups and can be used for situational post-ups. He converted 59.2 percent of his back-to-the-basket looks last year (29-of-49).

    Best Fits: Charlotte, Golden State, Phoenix

1. Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Lauri Markkanen has generated a stunningly low amount of buzz since the start of free agency. Though he's been linked to various sign-and-trade scenarios, nothing out there suggests he was ever a top priority for anyone. That he wasn't sent to San Antonio as part of DeMar DeRozan's arrival infers volumes about either his asking price or market appeal—or both.

    The Chicao Bulls have not rescinded Markkanen's qualifying offer. That matters. He is a noticeable cut or two above restricted-turned-unrestricted free agents like Garrison Mathews. Seven-footers who can rain three-pointers continue to have a spot in almost every rotation, and Markkanen just swished a career-high 40.2 percent of his triples.

    Still, he doesn't provide much guaranteed value beyond his floor-spacing. Markkanen has never excelled at creating his own shot and doesn't defend well enough to sponge up protracted stretches at the 5.

    Maybe a change of scenery will do him good. The Bulls have never afforded him an unfettered license to manufacture his own looks—unless you count those late-shot-clock grenades he'd get in the post under Jim Boylen. Failing that, Markkanen's offense should at least get an inherent bump if he lands somewhere that sticks him beside a higher-end table-setter or deep collection of secondary creators.

    Best Fits: Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.


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