Top 25 NBA free agents of 2018: Super class features LeBron, PG-13, Westbrook
Where are the free agents of value next summer, factoring age, production, potential and availability?
But what about next summer's free agent class? There is franchise-altering talent, including three of the past five MVPs. After that, there's a steep drop-off, leaving mostly unproven players coming off rookie contracts and specialists.
These rankings reflect production, talent, skill, age, injury history, expected value and availability. One caveat: Rankings are not indicative of "best player," but best value as an NBA free agent. That's why you won't see Carmelo Anthony. While he's one of the greatest all-time one-on-one scorers, he'll be 34 next summer, plays zero defense and demands a lot of money. The value isn't there. Included are players with options they may decline, starting with Kevin Durant, should he want to give the Warriors another break next summer.
Kevin Durant Golden St. F
|The reigning Finals MVP and 2013-14 league MVP, he's not only the best player on the best team, but also one of the best ever. Durant almost assuredly is going nowhere, as it appears he's in the best spot to contend for or win multiple titles. But if his people call your team, your team should do anything necessary to secure his services.|
LeBron James Cleveland F
|He remains the best player on the planet, even at 33. He's fended off every challenger, but Father time is undefeated -- and James' time is coming. He seemed to indicate as much at times last season, which makes us wonder if he'll consider a new destination next summer. If your team lands James, your team becomes a contender. And in the age of the Warriors, that is large.|
Paul George Oklahoma City F
|The Swiss-Army Knife of wings is a terrific scorer and defender. He's long and physical, athletic and skilled. He can come off screens and knock down shots, or create off the dribble in the pick and roll. He's a terror when pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers and finishing with highlight dunks. He's playoff tested and beloved by other stars. The complete package.|
Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City G
|The nuclear-powered, punk-rock MVP cyborg is arguably the most athletic guard in league history. Unquestionably a franchise player, Westbrook is lightning-bolt scorer who can get to the rim and just had his best 3-point shooting campaign. But the team must build around his game because he's not adapting to a system. His regular-season defensive effort suffers at times because of his absurd usage rate (league-high 41.7 percent last season, league-high 32.6 percent for a career among active players). He's worth whatever a team wants to spend, though he's not as versatile as George.|
DeMarcus Cousins New Orleans C
|If he weren't a professional headache, he'd be the league's best big man. Cousins works over proven defenders like Draymond Green and Robin Lopez, is a terrific passer and screener and has developed a 3-point shot. He had a 64 percent effective field goal percentage on spot-up jumpers after being dealt from Sacramento, which is killer efficiency. Cousins is without a doubt one of the league's most talented players. All this makes his pain-in-the-rump alter ego more incredible. He's 26 and still a hassle, at least on a losing team. But indications are he wants to win, and maybe he matures on a good team. He's a max player, but one with questions.|
Isaiah Thomas Boston G
|A dynamite scorer and relentless competitor who relishes proving critics wrong. Can do more than score, and became more of a playmaker when opponents started game-planning to slow his point production. He's a quality finisher at the rim, not for his size (5-foot-9) -- but any size. While he will battle larger opponents in the post, his size also is a defensive liability, and Thomas also lacks effort at times -- giving up on plays if he's screened, for instance. His dynamic scoring could be a major asset on a championship team.|
Chris Paul Houston G
|Age is showing a bit, but the 32-year-old remains one of the all-time great floor generals, a quality defender and an efficient shooter. It would be stunning if he departs next summer after orchestrating a trade to Houston, but a lot can happen in a year.|
DeAndre Jordan L.A. Clippers C
|A top-notich rim protector and rebounder, Jordan understands his offensive limitations and has been one of the league's best pick-and-roll finishers the past four seasons. The question: Will his value diminish when Paul isn't the point guard lobbing to him?|
Joel Embiid Philadelphia C
|Perhaps the most interesting case in this class. He could get a long-term extension in Philly, or there is the possibility the situation becomes messy. Embiid has played 31 mostly spectacular games (all last season, when he scored 20.2 ppg with a 50.8 effective FG percentage) since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2014. He could have played more if not for a back-to-back-games restriction rendered moot because of another injury. If healthy -- and that's a mighty big if -- Embiid is an elite player, even as a center in a post-big-man world.|
Avery Bradley Detroit G
|Quality all-around guard in his prime. Bradley is no star, but he makes everyone around him better. He worked to improve his shot (46.3 FG pct., 39 percent from 3, 53.3 effective FG pct. last season) and is among the league's most fierce on-ball defenders. Bradley is low-maintenance, high-effort, smart and figures to come in at a price below the max. The Pistons wouldn't have traded for him if they didn't want to re-sign him, but if he's available, teams should be lining up.|
Andrew Wiggins Minnesota G
|Wiggins' talent dictates use as a primary weapon, but he's not efficient. An incredible athlete who effortlessly finishes at the rim and is an excellent cutter, his jump shot is inconsistent. Of 17 players with at least 500 pick-and-roll possessions last season, Wiggins had the second-worst effective field goal percentage. The worst? New teammate Jimmy Butler. Even so, the Wolves figure to extend him or retain him in restricted free agency. There's a good chance he's not on this list next summer.|
Zach LaVine Chicago G
|Instant offense in an offense-dominant world. LaVine proved to be a high-flying and high-volume scorer when the Wolves played him out of position at point guard, which improved his limited playmaking skills. He's not a good defender, and last season's ACL injury will be monitored. The Bulls figure to extend him or make him a restricted free agent.|
Clint N'Dumba-Capela Houston C
|Mobile, super athletic, smart and efficient, he's everything a modern-era rim protector should be. He's great at finishing lobs and never tries to do too much with the ball, though he could be better at keeping it high on put-backs. He more than makes up for that on defense. Capela is a terrific complimentary player in Houston, and would work well on any team with someone who can throw him lobs.|
LaMarcus Aldridge San Antonio F
|A good, veteran power forward whose effectiveness is compromised by wear and tear. Needs a lot of touches and points, and he's never quite adapted to the Spurs' system -- fueling speculation he will depart. Aldridge hits a high percentage of inefficient shots and is OK defensively for a non-rim-protecting big man -- though his status as a true superstar has slipped.|
Jabari Parker Milwaukee F
|A proven scorer -- he was averaging 20.1 points before an ACL tear ended last season after 51 games -- whose defense in 2016-17 was atrocious (ninth percentile in isolation). He has suffered two ACL tears (the first came in 2014), and that history figures to give teams pause regarding his future. But he's a versatile offensive weapon and could be a legit star if he improves defensively. The Bucks are not expected to agree to an extension with Parker, and instead make him a restricted free agent.|
Nikola Jokic Denver C
|In one season, he became one of the league's best passers with an effective field goal percentage of 65 percent to boot. Before Jokic, no player in league history had recorded 1,200 points and 300 assists with an eFG percentage that high. Only three players have hit those thresholds with a field goal percentage higher than 55 percent (Charles Barkley and Walter Davis are the other two). Every teammate's net rating per 100 possessions improved with Jokic on the floor, often by double digits. While the epitome of a player who makes other guys better at one end, he's a poor defender at the other. The Nuggets have a team option in 2018-19, but figure to decline it, making him an RFA -- with re-signing him to a max extension the most likely outcome.|
Jusuf Nurkic Portland C
|After being traded from Denver, Nurkic helped the Blazers make a playoff run. Portland's defense improved by eight points with Nurkic on the floor, and rebounding took a big jump, too. His offensive numbers were a little deceiving. While he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds, he was in the 32nd percentile offensively in half-court sets, including assists, via Synergy. He struggled with conditioning, injuries and focus in Denver. Can he can continue to make an impact for Portland? If he does, it likely means a big deal from the Blazers. This season will decide a lot about his future.|
Aaron Gordon Orlando F
|A terrific athlete most fans know as an amazing dunker. But what is he beyond that? Gordon should find ways to be more versatile; he needs to be more Shawn Marion, less Blake Griffin. Gordon's jumper off the dribble has the same kind of hitch as Griffin, and he's not much of a playmaker. When on the floor with a solid passer, Gordon almost always finishes (89 percent shooting) as a cutter. But if he's going to be more than a complimentary player, he needs to find another weapon or make more plays for teammates.|
Rodney Hood Utah G
|Coming off a subpar season, he's primed to break out because he has the talent to be a great two-way guard. He's consistent, shooting roughly the same percentage on guarded catch-and-shoot opportunities as off the dribble. Hood looked like a vital piece of Utah's future in 2015-16. He needs to get back to that level in an expanded role after the departure of Gordon Hayward.|
Wilson Chandler Denver F
|A versatile veteran forward with good skills on and off the ball. Long and athletic and able to guard every position from 2-5. He will be 31 next summer, but with his ability to play stretch four and adapt to any lineup, he should be a target for most contenders.|
Marcus Smart Boston G
|He's somewhere between unplayable in some situations and radically underrated. Smart is a ferocious on-ball defender with the size and muscle to switch onto any assignment. His off-ball decision-making is sometimes out of whack, but it also figures to improve with experience. Smart's playmaking is valuable with enough firepower around him, but he's a poor shooter -- making the defense's job easier when he's handling the ball. He likely will be a restricted free agent. Will Danny Ainge force him to generate an offer? If Smart gets a big one, will the Celtics match knowing they have Thomas coming up for a deal next summer, too?|
Greg Monroe Milwaukee C
|In an era where non-rim-protecting centers are nearly unplayable and untradeable, Milwaukee has been unable to clear him off the books. But in the past two seasons, Monroe improved in every necessary facet. He's a better passer and was way better defensively last season. Throw in his efficiency and ability to score with both hands and Monroe is worth pursuing for a bench role, something he has accepted since joining the Bucks.|
Elfrid Payton Orlando G
|Payton is a point guard who can't shoot at the worst moment in NBA history to be such a thing. At any other point in time, he would be appreciated. The Magic were better on offense and defense, by considerable margins per 100 possessions, with Payton on the floor last season. He was in the 87th percentile in half-court offense, factoring passes, in 2016-17. He's athletic, crafty and he competes.|
Brook Lopez L.A. Lakers C
|Lopez hasn't had a major foot injury the past two seasons and remains an efficient scorer who grades fine defensively. He's not lockdown, but he contests at the rim. He's efficient and always has been a smart passer and good screener, and even hit 34.6 percent of his 3s last season. He'll be worth a look for a team that doesn't play at a high pace.|
Danny Green San Antonio G
|A sharpshooter and among the league's best all-around defenders. The last time he hit the market, he would up back in San Antonio for pennies on what he's worth. He's older now, but he remains a one-man fast-break-stopper, a terrific cutter and a guy who never complains about his role. A glue guy if ever there were one.|
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