After losing arguably the top free agent of the 2016 class to the Warriors, the Thunder ensured that they won’t watch their other superstar walk away next summer, locking up Russell Westbrook to a new contract extension earlier in the offseason. Westbrook’s absence from the 2017 free agent list takes a little star power away from the group, but it’s still an intriuging list.
The players who sit at the top of the first installment of our 2017 free agent power rankings aren’t necessarily expected to change teams next July. It would be a shock to see Kevin Durant leave Golden State after a year, for instance, but he does have a player option for 2017, meaning he could depart, and has to be featured on our list.
Similarly, there are a handful of restricted free agents on our lists who will probably get maximum-salary contracts – or close to it – from their current teams, perhaps even within the next couple months while they’re extension-eligible. For now though, the slim chance that they reach the open market means they have to earn spots on our list.
While this is our first extended look at 2017’s top free agents, it certainly won’t be our last. Injuries, breakout years, trades, or poor performances could affect these rankings significantly over the course of the 2016/17 season, so we’ll be revisiting the list every month or two to make updates and changes.
Our list reflects each player’s expected value on the 2017 free agent market, rather than how we think they’ll perform on the court for the 2016/17 season. For instance, older players like Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph have strong short-term value, but didn’t make our top 20 because they’re unlikely to inspire major bidding wars next summer. In other words, age and long-term value is important.
Here’s the first installment of our 2017 free agent power rankings:
- Stephen Curry, G, Warriors: There are probably some teams around the NBA who would prefer to have Curry’s new teammate on their roster, but it’s hard to place anyone above the two-time reigning MVP at this point. Curry is coming off a historically great season, and while he was nagged by injuries down the stretch, he has displayed impressive durability over the life of his current contract, averaging an incredible 93 games per season (regular season and playoffs) over the last four years.
- Kevin Durant, F, Warriors (player option): After enduring months of speculation about his free agency and meeting with teams for several days in July before finally making his decision, Durant is unlikely to be one-and-done with the Warriors. Still, if things somehow go south in Golden State, perhaps the former MVP will think twice about re-upping with the team next summer.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks (restricted): Antetokounmpo has taken huge steps forward in each of his first three NBA seasons, increasing his averages in nearly every meaningful category from year to year. And while his production last season (16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, .506 FG%, 1.4 BPG) on its own would make him a top free agent, his age (21) suggests the best is yet to come. If the Bucks haven’t already put a maximum-salary offer on the table, it’s only because they’re waiting for cap purposes.
- Blake Griffin, F, Clippers (early termination option): In terms of FG%, PER, and a few other statistics, Griffin is coming off his least effective season, and injuries limited him to just 35 games. However, he’s still just 27 years old, making him a no-doubt candidate for a max deal unless he takes a significant step back in 2016/17.
- Chris Paul, G, Clippers (early termination option): Paul, who has made nine consecutive All-Star teams and led the league in assists in two of the last three seasons, has a more decorated résumé than his teammate Griffin, and the Clippers certainly won’t hesitate to make him a big-time offer to secure him for the next few years. CP3 will turn 32 in the spring though, which means the Clippers – or other bidders – will have to be wary of the last year or two of any deal.
- Gordon Hayward, F, Jazz (player option): Hayward’s scoring average has increased every year since he entered the NBA, and if that trend continues, he should crack 20 PPG, something only 20 players in the league did last season. He also makes three-pointers and isn’t a liability on the defensive end, which should make him attractive to just about every team around the NBA.
- Rudy Gobert, C, Jazz (restricted): Unlike his Utah teammate, Gobert won’t contribute a whole lot on offense, but his defensive prowess makes him a valuable asset. As our Dana Gauruder observed when he examined Gobert’s case for an extension, the Jazz big man should have no trouble scoring a mega payday after relatively unheralded centers like Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahinmi and Bismack Biyombo signed for $16-17MM per year.
- Serge Ibaka, F/C, Magic: Ibaka’s usage rate and his overall numbers were on the decline during his last couple seasons in Oklahoma City, but we’re betting on a strong bounce-back season in Orlando. In addition to protecting the rim on one end of the floor, Ibaka can hit a three-pointer on the other end, making him a rare commodity. The former first-rounder will be a part of a crowded frontcourt with his new team, but given how much the Magic gave up in their trade for Ibaka, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a key part of their game plan.
- Kyle Lowry, G, Raptors (player option): It was a huge year for Lowry, who set a new career-high in points per game, led the Raptors to their deepest postseason run ever, and helped Team USA secure gold at the Olympics. Lowry has been more valuable to the Raptors over the last couple seasons than DeMar DeRozan, so after Toronto gave DeRozan a five-year max deal, it will be interesting to see if the team is willing to invest heavily in Lowry as well — he’ll turn 31 in the spring.
- Nerlens Noel, F/C, 76ers (restricted): Another defense-first big man, Noel has been viewed as more of a trade candidate than an extension candidate this summer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him change teams before the deadline. Any club acquiring Noel would likely do so with an eye toward a big long-term contract for the 22-year-old.
The following 2017 free agents didn’t quite crack our list, earning honorable mention:
- Victor Oladipo, G, Thunder (restricted)
- Steven Adams, C, Thunder (restricted)
- Paul Millsap, F/C, Hawks (player option)
- Danilo Gallinari, F, Nuggets (player option)
- Dennis Schröder, G, Hawks (restricted)
- Jeff Teague, G, Pacers
- Greg Monroe, F/C, Bucks
- Derrick Rose, G, Knicks
- Dirk Nowitzki, F, Mavericks
- Dwyane Wade, G, Bulls
Disagree strongly with any of our rankings? Feel like we omitted any players that should be in the top 20 (or the top 10)? Weigh in below in the comments section to let us know!
Eddie Scarito contributed to this post.