Tuesday is the unofficial start of trade season in the NBA, but most if not all of the moves that take place will happen with this summer’s free agency in mind. So, we’ll update our Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings before players start changing places.
It promises to be a wild offseason, with the salary cap projected to catapult to $89MM. Many executives and agents told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News they believe it’ll go as high as $95MM. The common narrative is that teams will have more money to spend than worthy free agents on which to spend it, though the top of the class is as strong as it gets, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Durant has maintained mystery surrounding his free agency, though he’s given no indication he wants out of Oklahoma City. James almost certainly won’t leave Cleveland. Three others among our top 10 free agents are restricted, giving their respective teams the edge to keep them. Still, intrigue remains, particularly with fluctuating values. Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov and Roy Hibbert opened the season in our top 20, but you won’t find their names below.
We’ll break down each member of this month’s top 10 2016 free agents here:
- Kevin Durant – Encouraging signs for the prize of next summer’s free agent class include his rebounding, as he’s pulling down far more rebounds per 36 minutes than ever before, and his 3-point accuracy, which is at a career-best 44.3%. Even more encouraging for the Thunder is the near silence in the past few weeks regarding his free agency. Last time: No. 1.
- LeBron James (player option) – James, by contrast, is having the worst 3-point shooting season of his career, having connected on just 28% of his attempts thus far. And despite his remark that Kevin Love would be the focal point of the Cavs offense this year, James is taking 19.9 shots per game, his most since 2009/10, the last season before “The Decision.” Last time: No. 2.
- Mike Conley – It’s been an off year of sorts for the 28-year-old point guard, who’s never shot so poorly from the floor as this season’s 40.2% mark. He’s never had quite as high a percentage of his shots come from behind the arc, either. Still, he has significantly more assists and fewer turnovers than he did last season. Last time: No. 3.
- Andre Drummond (restricted) – He’s slowed a bit from his early-season 20-20 pace, but he’s still averaging more rebounds per game than anyone since ex-Piston Dennis Rodman grabbed 16.8 in 1994/95 for the Spurs. He’s fueled the Pistons to a 14-11 mark even after the departure of Greg Monroe. Still, Drummond is almost certain to remain in Detroit. Last time: No. 5.
- Al Horford – The Hawks center is averaging more points per game than Dwight Howard, has a higher PER, and rates better in Basketball-Reference’s Box Plus/Minus and ESPN’s Real Plus minus. Thus, Horford gets the last spot in the top five. Last time: No. 6.
- Dwight Howard (player option) – The good news is that Howard is playing in back-to-backs again. The bad news is that he scored 4 points in the second game of his most recent back-to-back. Still, it seems unlikely that Howard would opt in and miss perhaps his last chance at a max contract this summer. Last time: No. 4.
- Bradley Beal (restricted) – Health is a concern for Beal just as it is for Howard, but unless Beal’s stress reaction lingers much past two weeks, it’s tough to see the Wizards not making the max offer they’ve been planning on. The 22-year-old is averaging a career-high 19.8 points per game. Last time: No. 7.
- DeMar DeRozan (player option) – DeRozan would be higher on this list if not for his lack of a 3-point shot. He scores in plenty of other ways, and the Raptors get enough 3-point shooting from elsewhere in the lineup to make it work. It’s not a given that other teams could make it work just as well, though. Last time: No. 8.
- Hassan Whiteside — The 26-year-old has proven last year was no fluke, and he’s blocking shots like no one since Dikembe Mutombo, the last player to average more than four blocks per game, in 1995/96. Curiously, the Heat aren’t playing him in crunch time, but he still has a strong chance to go from the minimum salary this season to the maximum salary next year. Last time: Out of top 10.
- Harrison Barnes (restricted) – The Warriors only failed to outscore an opponent by 10 or more points five times in the 17 games Harrison Barnes played this year. They’ve failed to do so just as many times in the eight games Barnes has missed with a sprained ankle. Last time: No. 9.
We don’t always carry the rankings past the top 10, but we’re doing so this time. The next 10 leads off with a pair of resurgent veterans and a player who’s appeared to benefit from an offseason trade:
11. Rajon Rondo
12. Dwyane Wade
13. Nicolas Batum
14. Pau Gasol (player option)
15. Al Jefferson
16. Chandler Parsons (player option)
17. Ryan Anderson
18. Jordan Clarkson (restricted)
19. Evan Fournier (restricted)
20. Deron Williams (player option)
Which player do you think should be higher, lower, or off the list entirely? Leave a comment and debate the merits of the 2016 free agents.