Here are 10 free agents perfectly suited for modern NBA
Guys like Kent Bazemore and Bismack Biyombo are more valuable than ever
If the modern NBA has been defined by positional fluidity, ball movement and floor spacing, the league of the future will be defined by versatility. At the same time as the 73-win Golden State Warriors dazzled fans with their shooting, they also flummoxed opponents with their length, athleticism and ability to switch on defense.
In the Western Conference finals, the Warriors ended up almost falling when the Oklahoma City Thunder employed a similar defensive strategy, employing long, athletic guys who can adapt to different styles and guard a wide range of players. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the biggest comeback in Finals history that same way. With free agency set to begin at midnight, here are 10 players on the market who would have been at home in the Finals, and given the direction of the league, are more valuable than ever:
When Bazemore came into the league with the Golden State Warriors, he was seen as a combo guard. After DeMarre Carroll's departure, the Hawks asked him to start at small forward. He thrived in that role, improved his jump shot and battled bigger players. No longer just a raw athlete, Bazemore is one of the best role players around and he still has upside as a playmaker. He'll be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. (More on Bazemore.)
One of the breakout stars of the playoffs, in Toronto Biyombo did all the things he always did well -- shot-blocking, rebounding, pick-and-roll defense -- and improved some of his weaknesses. He is no longer an awful free throw shooter, and his subpar hands don't dissuade his teammates from throwing alley-oops to him anymore. Biyombo is still a liability on offense, but his rim protection is incredible and he can hang with guards on the perimeter. A year after Charlotte declined to give him a qualifying offer, he has established himself as a legitimate starter.
Once seen as a bust because he was selected second overall in the 2005 draft, Williams found his niche after leaving Atlanta and becoming a stretch 4. In Charlotte, he had a career season at the best possible time, shooting 40 percent from deep while rebounding and blocking shots better than ever before. Williams is not regarded as an elite athlete, but he's capable of switching onto quick guards and throwing down a huge dunk every once in a while. His playmaking skills aren't on the level of Draymond Green, but he plays a similar role and almost never turns the ball over.
Harkless was one of the Blazers' many low-risk acquisitions last year, and he found himself starting at power forward in the playoffs. Before the Clippers' stars got hurt, he sometimes guarded Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the same possession. He has been in the league for four seasons, but he's just 23 years old and didn't get a real opportunity until he got to Portland. If Harkless' 3-point shot becomes consistent, he could be a lot like Marvin Williams. (More on Harkless.)
If Noah was coming off the kind of season he had in 2013-14, he would be right beside his college teammate Al Horford in line for a maximum contract starting at $26.4 million. This is a 6-foot-11 center capable of battling the league's strongest players on the glass, then running a fast break like a point guard. Few players combine his brilliant passing, communication on defense and pure hustle. The problem is that Noah is coming off two seasons where he was severely limited by injuries, so the team that signs him -- it sounds like that'll be the Knicks -- is gambling on him finding his form.
Thomas kept making teams in training camp because of his work ethic, professionalism and ability to defend multiple positions. Last year with the Knicks, he proved he is more than an end-of-the-bench guy by shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. He might not create much offense, but he does all of the little things that coaches love and he is solid defensively on the outside and around the basket. (More on Thomas.)
The Hornets saved their season by acquiring Lee just before the trade deadline in February. They desperately needed another wing defender because of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's injury, and Lee's presence as a 3-and-D guy solidified their starting lineup. He can guard three positions, and he's made 38 percent of his 3s over his eight years in the league. Contenders should be lining up for his services, and at 30 years old he's about to sign the most lucrative contract of his career.
Despite being in his 15th season, Jefferson looked as athletic as any Cavalier not named LeBron James in the playoffs. He said he was retiring while celebrating the championship, but has since reportedly changed his mind. He stepped up his game on the biggest stage in the sport, and now it's possible he'll make eight figures as a 36-year-old. More than anything else, the fact Jefferson found himself playing over Kevin Love because of his speed and and versatility showed how much the NBA has changed.
When the Heat played with pace and moved the ball against the Hornets in the playoffs, Deng looked like an All-Star. He's always been one of the smarter defenders in the league, and he is a great fit for any contending team in need of a versatile forward. If he's surrounded by other scoring threats, the 31-year-old can still demoralize defenses with his cutting and 3-point shooting from the corners.
The Pacers have to seriously regret declining HIll's $2.3 million player option. At the time, he was coming off an awful summer league performance, and it was unclear if he would ever be in their rotation again. Now it looks like a massive mistake, as he became an important part of the team late in the regular season and was a huge part of them taking the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Hill can guard four positions and he confidently knocked down 3s once he started getting consistent minutes. Casual fans are going to be shocked when some team invests heavily in him.
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