When most NBA observers think of the 2016 free agent class, Kevin Durant is the first name that comes to mind. However, he’s not on top of our inaugural 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. That title is reserved for the player who’s been on top of these rankings since the beginning: LeBron James. Durant’s struggle with a broken foot this past season injects enough doubt into his future that, if 2016 free agency began today, James would seem like a safer bet.
LeBron’s strategy of signing two-year deals with player options lets him capitalize on a rising salary cap as he navigates the prime of his career, and perhaps most importantly, gives him leverage every July. He seems overwhelmingly likely to stay in Cleveland for the foreseeable future, but he, like Durant, isn’t giving too many hints about just what he’ll do.
Of course, the ranking is subject to change, and we’ll no doubt see plenty of movement in this top 10 as we check back on a regular basis between now and next June. Still, even as a few notable names remain in this year’s free agent class, here’s our first look at how they stack up for 2016:
- LeBron James (player option) — Yes, he’s almost four years older than Durant. But LeBron just dragged a banged-up Cavs team to the Eastern Conference title and drew Finals MVP consideration even though he was on the losing team. Durant sat out all but 27 games this past season. Once Durant proves healthy, he probably eclipses LeBron. But for now, King James remains in his throne atop these rankings.
- Kevin Durant — That broken foot keeps him from the top spot, but he needn’t bounce back to his MVP form of 2013/14 to vault to No. 1. He could merely do what he’s done four out of the last six years and win the scoring title. That would give him five scoring titles before his 28th birthday.
- Mike Conley — This ranking might seem high for Conley, who took fewer shot attempts per game than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph did last season, but in what’s increasingly becoming a point guard’s game, Conley, who turns 28 in October, is among the elite. Multiple reports seem to indicate that he’ll follow in Gasol’s footsteps and make the Grizzlies the clear front-runners to re-sign him.
- Dwight Howard (player option) — Howard, like Durant, can climb this list if he proves his health this year. He played in only 41 games and put up some of his lowest numbers in 10 years this past season. Still, he led the playoffs in rebounds per game and helped the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals.
- Andre Drummond (restricted) — Drummond, in many ways, is like a younger version of Howard. They’ve both played for Stan Van Gundy, they’re both top-flight rebounders, and neither can shoot free throws. It remains to be seen if Drummond can become the sort of devastating force that Howard has been, however. It seems more likely that the Pistons will tie up Drummond with an extension than let him hit free agency.
- Al Horford — The Hawks won 38 games in 2013/14, when Horford missed the majority of the season with injury. Atlanta won 60 games when the big man returned healthy last season. That’s no coincidence. He doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but his game doesn’t have many holes, and he’s even showing signs of developing a three-point shot.
- Bradley Beal (restricted) — The Wizards reportedly want some non-guaranteed money in the deal if they’re to sign Beal to a max extension this summer, with health a concern, so an extension that seemed on its way last year might not happen. If that’s the case, Beal would hit restricted free agency just three days after his 23rd birthday, and if he merely keeps up his current career numbers, he can boast 40% three-point accuracy and a scoring average of 15.6 points per game.
- Joakim Noah — Horford’s former Florida teammate is yet another top 2016 free agent whose health is in question. He only missed 15 regular season games this past year, but he clearly wasn’t right, and he was well off the pace of his career year in 2013/14. Part of that had to do with the adjustments he made to play with 2014 free agent signee Pau Gasol. Noah has been the anchor of one of the league’s stoutest defenses for too long to ignore, however.
- DeMar DeRozan (player option) — The shooting guard has posted back-to-back 20-plus PPG seasons while nailing slightly fewer than 30% of his three-pointers the last two years combined, a testament to his ability to get to the basket. The early indications are he’ll opt out, and he has plenty of reason to do so, since the option would pay him only $10.05MM.
- Dwyane Wade — The Heat and Wade settled their differences this summer with a one-year, $20MM deal, and if all players only went year to year on their contracts, Wade might be higher on this list, having just averaged 21.5 PPG this past season. But when he enters the market as a 34-year-old with knee trouble next July, he simply won’t be able to command the sort of long-term money that others will.
These free agents make up the next 10:
- Harrison Barnes (restricted)
- Pau Gasol (player option)
- Al Jefferson
- Timofey Mozgov
- Chandler Parsons (player option)
- Roy Hibbert
- Joe Johnson
- Hassan Whiteside
- David Lee
- Luol Deng
The following three players can also hit free agency in 2016, but they’re far more likely to retire than leave their respective teams. So, we’re listing them here, in a special section of sorts, and in alphabetical order.
Who are your top 10 2016 free agents? Leave a comment to give us your list.