Top 20 NBA free agents of 2017: Curry, Westbrook lead stellar class
Real star power to be found next summer
The 2016 free agency whirlwind has died down to a gentle breeze, and the NBA landscape has changed forever. Kevin Durant is a Warrior. Dwyane Wade is in Chicago. Al Horford is a Celtic. More than ever, this offseason has shown just how much change the NBA can endure on an annual basis.
And there is likely to be just as much change next year with the 2017 class.
The 2016 class was high on top star power with Kevin Durant, but the overall class was mediocre, leading to many deals that left the sports world flabbergasted thanks in part to the salary cap skyrocket with the new NBA TV media deal. The cap is set to jump again, but not by nearly as much, going from $94 million to an estimated $102 million, according to reports.
With that said, we wanted to give you a look ahead to next summer's star-studded bonanza. Here are the top 20 free agents of 2017, ranked by production, efficiency, on-and-off-court factors, expected contract value and availability. Restricted free agents are inherently worth less than equal players who are unrestricted, due to the difficult nature of prying them away from their current teams who have the right to match any offer.
(Of note: I'm not including Kevin Durant on this list, despite his having a player option with the Warriors. There is every expectation that he will only seek to re-sign with Golden State. If that situation were to unexpectedly go badly, then he may be included in future versions. Just know that if Durant is available, he's No. 1 on this list, unless LeBron James -- whose next contract terms with Cleveland are unknown at the time of writing this -- is also on the market.)
The best shooter in the history of the NBA. Transcendent shooting talent that has reshaped the game in a way no one has since Wilt Chamberlain. Universally beloved athlete. By all accounts a stand-up guy and hard worker. Injury is a concern. His ankles were reinforced by the finest medical science money can buy and he still suffered an injury in last year's playoffs which contributed to his troubles. He also suffered the MCL sprain. Does not respond well to physicality. Prone to unnecessary flash; not a sound passer, but a creative one who can energize his team in the right moment. Has become one of the best finishers in the league, often by merely shooting scoop shots from further out. The first unanimous MVP in league history and a two-time winner of the award goes at the top without question. There is also zero question the Warriors will give him a five-year max to retain him as a free agent.
Human nuclear engine. Sloppy with the ball, aggressive to a fault, lacks a consistent jump shot, attempts to take over the game and breaks the offense with what borders on a pathological need for destruction. But all of that lies in the shadow of one of the greatest players in the game. Westbrook's athleticism is unparalleled, and the next contract only carries him through age 33, just toward the tail end of his absolute prime. There has to be concern for a fall-off considering the injury history in his knees, but there remains the fact that this is Russell Westbrook, triple-double machine and overall basketball badass. You'll criticize his games, attitude and decision right up until the point he's wearing your team's laundry.
Multi-faceted thunderbolt who has added something new to his game every year. His mid-range jumper was absent, so he hammered it into being a legitimate threat. He faced early double-teams and multiple help defenders so he focused on establishing himself as a passer. Griffin isn't a great defender, hasn't established 3-point range and comes with questions about his attitude and professionalism after last season's shenanigans. But Griffin has also improved in every area of weakness since he first started dunking on fools his rookie season. He's worth building around as a franchise cornerstone.
Hayward has slid under the radar but after getting a max extension two years ago, has been one of the most efficient and productive players at forward in the league when adjusted for pace. His overall numbers look meager but when you factor in the glacial pace that Hayward has played in under Quinn Snyder, the effectiveness and impact of his play carries through. He can hit tough shots, spot-up shots, drive to the rim, pass out of the pick and roll, post up, cut to the rim and defend at a high level. He's never going to be a No. 1 player on a championship team, but he can be the best player on a playoff team or a phenomenal do-it-all second weapon. He's also 27, just hitting his prime. Hayward projects as the sleeper of the "star" tier in free agency next year.
All-Star caliber point guard who has blossomed and improved each season the past five years. Lowry was a late bloomer, but he's a well-rounded efficient point guard who can run the offense, makes great passes, hits from the outside and when engaged and is a plus defender. Lowry is still reliant on getting to the free-throw line often. He's also a dynamic player and fierce competitor with no major health concerns unlike Chris Paul. At 32 when he hits free agency, this is his last major contract and whoever signs him needs to be aware that at the end of it, he won't be nearly the player he is now. Toronto is widely expected to retain him in free agency.
The Point God. The best pure point guard, career-wise, pound-for-pound (whatever that means) since John Stockton. A flawless passer who runs the pick and roll with incredible precision. Elite shooter for efficiency. One of the fiercest, most ruthless competitors in the game who balances that with an off-court commitment to community service that is unrivaled. Paul has no remaining meniscus in his knees and as such, his tail-off could come at any moment. He took pains to manage his minutes over the past five years to prolong his career. Faces constant criticism for his inability to advance to the Western Conference finals despite leading a playoff contender year in and year out and almost never losing a series in which his team was favored. Considered to be too aggressive and harsh in his leadership style, and reportedly contributed to DeAndre Jordan's near defection to Dallas a year ago. Paul is an otherworldly talent, but the clock is ticking on his career. He will look for a max contract to finish his career but may not be worth it by its finish. Still, you pay it. He's Chris Paul.
The Greek Freak. Impossible physical attributes combined with surreal athleticism. Takes three big steps to get to the rim from half court, it seems like. But after so many supposed super-athlete saviors, Antetokoumpo is actually the real deal. Able to play point guard effectively, post-up, rebound, run the break, pass and shoot, Antetokounmpo represents an evolution in NBA skill attribution. Antetokounmpo is still struggling to develop a 3-point shot (26 percent from 3 last season) and there are still big gaps in his ability to play point guard. But he's capable of doing anything on the court, playing any role, any position, any function. A gentle and fun outward character hides what is a fierce and at times straight-up mean competitor; his mental approach is not a concern. We don't know what Antetokounmpo is going to be as an NBA player long-term yet, but that's part of what makes him so exciting, he could be anything. He's lower on this list because, as a restricted free agent, Milwaukee's not letting him go anywhere.
The Stifle Tower. (Or the French Rejection.) A ridiculous physical presence who may be the best interior rim protector in the NBA already at age 25. Brings the shot-blocking mentality you need for an athlete of his size with great defensive awareness and instincts. Terrific finisher in the pick and roll and has decent enough touch around the rim as well. This contract will take him through the majority of his prime, but if he stays healthy, he could be effective until his mid-30s as a starter. Gobert isn't a player you give the ball to and ask to go get you buckets, but he's a guy who can fill in the gaps and his impact on the game drastically overshadows his statistical contributions. He's in line for a max extension or contract, and Utah will inevitably match any offer for him in restricted free agency.
Adams was good from his rookie season on, an invaluable part of the Thunder, but somehow only got the attention he deserved last year. In the wake of Kevin Durant's decision to leave OKC, Adams' role changes and so does his value, but at 24 years old when he comes available, the Thunder can comfortably invest in him long-term and know what they're getting. A straight shooter who plays through whatever injury befalls him, and does so effectively and efficiently. Can score in the post and has a little bit of a short-range jumper. Terrific on offensive putbacks, and can dominate the defensive glass. Sets crushing screens and is a terrific mobile finisher in pick and rolls. He's a guy who just helps you win. Good luck prying him away from Sam Presti in Oklahoma City as a free agent.
At 32, there have to be concerns about diminishing returns. However, Millsap has no major injury history headed into his contract year, and is a do-it-all forward you need in modern times. He can hit from the perimeter, is a savvy and brutal post scorer, a magnificent defender who can switch constantly on to any assignment, a quality rebounder (in good rebounding systems which the Hawks have not emphasized with him) and a smart player who never lets ego get in the way of his contributions. Millsap is a winner who makes your team better. Let me put it this way: The Cavaliers would be considerably better with Paul Millsap at power forward in place of Kevin Love, and Love helped them win a title.
Rudy Gay comes with a whole host of conflicting concepts. He has no real injury history, and at 30, you're likely getting three more years of quality play. His overall production (especially when factoring for pace) dipped last season while his efficiency remained more or less stable. But it should be noted the past two years in Sacramento have seen him play with better overall efficiency. He's less of a mid-range jump shooter and more of a do-it-all combo forward. He's found success as a smallball power forward. Gay has never embraced the idea of being versatile, and it's cost his value. But in a market short on unrestricted free agents and high on suitors, Gay can act as a decent second or third weapon especially if he decides to emphasize rebounding, playmaking and defense with his strength and athleticism. Gay is widely expected to be traded in the next few months.
Elite-level shooter who, thanks to conditioning and discipline, probably has two or three more years of starter-level production in him. An underrated defender and smart passer. One of the best at navigating screens to find shooting opportunities. Definitely a player that makes your team better, but good only for a contender on a long-term deal at this point.
At his very best, a top-level rim protector and versatile defender who can switch on to any opponent while knocking down spot-up shot after spot-up shot all the way to the 3-point corner. Unfortunately, he hasn't been at his best consistently in a few years (most notably since a 2014 calf injury vs. the Spurs in the Western Conference finals). At times, Ibaka can get too focused on offense and it affects his defense. Can't create his own offense reliably and has lost a lot of spring in his step through the years. Clashed with teammates in OKC due to his wanting a larger role offensively. Orlando is likely to max him out due to what it gave up in trade for him on draft night.
One of the sadder sports stories of the past half-decade. Rose was the MVP in 2011 and now has long stretches where you wonder if he's still good enough to be a starter. He'll have a game where he looks quick and elusive, sliding to the rim and hitting the off-balance shots that have been his calling card, then games where he looks flat-footed and unable to impact the game after the way injuries drained his athleticism. A sub-par defender and low-efficiency shooter. You're paying for what Rose used to be instead of what he is, with little sign he can be that player again. He's also looking for a max deal and there's just no way to believe he's worth that at this point, even with another solid five years of starter production in him. But if were able to get back to somewhere close to 2012 ...
Still a dynamic scorer and playmaker who can take over the game. His injury concerns have receded somewhat after a very solid and healthy 2015-16 season, but everyone continues to wait for the wheels to fall of his vehicle. A terrific leader with an established resume of championship success. Do you want him at age 36 or 37? He's still Dwyane Wade, but for how much longer? Wade still wants top dollar to recoup what he gave up for the Heat. Finding a team to give it to him at age 35 will be difficult.
Teague is just a really solid point guard. He has games where he vanishes, and stretches where his shot goes. Overall though, he's quick and elusive, with no real injury concerns, and can do whatever you need him to. His defense slid considerably last season which is a concern, but at his best, he's a lock-down point with length and awareness. Shot 40 percent from 3-point range last year, but there is skepticism he can repeat that. His contributions to a team that made the playoffs every year for seven seasons were real.
Was never able to find a feel for the game to take his considerable skills and incredible athleticism to a higher level. Tries to score through contact too often instead of finding open teammates. Looks to score on his own and has never been more than a decent defender. There are plenty of blocks to like there if he were able to put his whole game together, but at 27 years old, that ship seems to have sailed. Has played over 70 games just three times in seven years. Has shot below 45 percent every year for the past three seasons and is a career 29 percent 3-point shooter. Jack of all trades, master of none, but available on the market and has a lot of games where he really does help you win with his skills. Just needs a higher mental gear.
The good: Long, athletic, and can run point forward. A great slasher and incredible at drawing contact. Has shot over 35 percent from 3-point range in each of his past three seasons. On-ball is a voracious and bothersome defender. Can post-up, spot-up, slash, and get to the line. The bad: A botched knee diagnosis and procedure cost him the entire 2014 season, and he hasn't been the same athletically since. Tends to lag on off-ball defense, particularly in fighting through screens. Has shot over 42 percent from the field once in his career, his rookie season. A ball-dominant player who had one of the highest isolation rates in the league last season... and one of the worst efficiencies in isolation to boot (via Synergy Sport). May be a terrific player as a fourth-weapon on a contender, and can function as the second-best player on a playoff team, but the injury concerns are real.
Amazing defender, terrible offensive weapon. Struggled to play next to Jahlil Okafor at power forward and regressed in some key areas last season. Lost his rookie season to an ACL tear and that's a concern going forward. Questions about his maturity after an incident with a rental home. Isn't as good of a finisher in pick and roll situations as you'd want, and can be worked over in the post still. Unlimited defensive upside. Will likely be retained as a free agent on a big deal by whoever has him (the Sixers or a trade partner). Noel's upside is high, but at 23, it's not other-wordly.
At 31, there won't be many more productive years with Hill as a quality starter, but for a team looking to add a veteran as a short-term fix with no discernible weaknesses, Hill's a great option. He's a solid shooter, understands how to run an offense, isn't reckless or disruptive and blends right into any system. Hill also has no major injury history and should continue to be productive-to-rotation-quality into his mid-30s. A three-year deal for Hill will get what's left of his late prime and fill several needs. If your team isn't in need of a major point guard upgrade, Hill's a good option for a veteran at what will likely be fair market value.
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