Amid today’s Christmas festivities, it’s easy to overlook that there are about six months until the NBA’s next free agent frenzy begins. With a new labor deal in place and record revenues flowing in, teams are expected to once again do some serious shopping. We’re coming off a record-setting summer for free agent contracts, and there are reasons to believe it will be eclipsed in 2017.
We published our first list in September, but the events of the past three months have made an update necessary. Injuries to Blake Griffin and Nerlens Noel have affected their standing, while extensions for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert have removed them from the list.
Remember that players who are ranked high aren’t necessarily expected to change teams when they hit the open market. Kevin Durant is No. 1, but he just signed with Golden State last summer and there’s no reason to think that he would break up one of the league’s power teams. However, Durant has a player option for 2017, so he could leave the Warriors and become the top free agents for a second consecutive summer, which is why he is on the list.
The rankings reflect each player’s expected value on the 2017 free agent market, rather than how we think they’ll perform on the court for the remainder of the 2016/17 season. Age and long-term value are important in their positions.
Here’s the second installment of our 2017 free agent power rankings:
- Kevin Durant, F, Warriors (player option): The former MVP is proving to be a perfect fit with Golden State. Even with less scoring responsibility than he had in Oklahoma City, Durant is putting up 25.9 points per game and shooting a career-best .541 from the field. The Warriors had to give up some defense to fit Durant under the cap, but at 27-4 they have remained atop the West and appear headed to a third straight NBA Finals.
- Stephen Curry, G, Warriors: Curry’s production is down across the board this season, which is one of the side effects of bringing Durant to the Bay Area. He’s averaging fewer minutes and fewer shots, while his scoring average has dipped from 30.1 to 24.4 points per night. After winning back-to-back MVP Awards, including a unanimous one last season, he’s barely in the discussion this time around. Still, there’s little doubt that he could take over again if needed, and every team with cap room would be interested if he thought seriously about leaving Golden State. Expect the Warriors to reward Curry with a max deal after years of playing at below market value.
- Chris Paul, G, Clippers (early termination option): One of the ongoing stories for the rest of the season is whether the Clippers can justify long-term max deals for both Paul and Blake Griffin. L.A. has strung together four straight 50-win seasons, followed by four straight playoff disappointments. At age 31, Paul remains among the NBA’s best point guards and it’s hard to imagine the Clippers being one of the West’s elite teams without him.
- Gordon Hayward, F, Jazz (player option): The Jazz were reminded how important Hayward is to their success when he missed seven games with a broken finger to start the season. He has been better than ever since returning, averaging career highs in scoring with 22.0 points per game and rebounding with 6.1 per night. He will be Utah’s top priority this summer as the Jazz try to keep a promising young team together.
- Blake Griffin, F, Clippers (early termination option): Griffin’s combination of All-Star talent and relative youth at age 27 still make him a very likely candidate for a max deal. However, there is a growing concern that injuries will haunt him throughout his career. Griffin was limited to just 35 games last season because of a quad injury and a broken hand. He is currently out four to six weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He is also coming off his worst season in terms of field goal percentage and PER. If he does become a free agent, teams will have to weigh the risk involved in giving him a max deal.
- Kyle Lowry, G, Raptors (player option): Age is the only factor working against a maximum contract for Lowry, who will turn 31 in March. He has teamed with DeMar DeRozan to give the Raptors one of the league’s best backcourts and bring a legitimate title contender to Toronto. Lowry has stepped up his game even further this season, averaging a career-best 21.8 points per night to go with 7.3 assists.
- Paul Millsap, F/C, Hawks (player option): The 31-year-old has established himself as one of the NBA’s most reliable power forwards since signing with Atlanta in 2013. He has averaged 17.3 points and 8.4 rebounds as a Hawk and has shown great durability, missing just one game last season. Like Lowry, age is the only thing working against a max deal for Millsap, who will turn 32 in February.
- Serge Ibaka, F/C, Magic: The Magic’s offseason moves haven’t produced the contender they were hoping for, but Ibaka has been a nice addition. The 27-year-old power forward is scoring a career-best 15.3 points per night and is blocking nearly two shots per game. He figures to be part of the long-term future in Orlando.
- Danilo Gallinari, F, Nuggets (player option): Gallinari reportedly blocked a trade at last year’s deadline, so there’s no doubt that the versatile forward is in demand. He’s having another fine season at 16.6 points per game, but repeated injury problems remain a concern. Gallinari hasn’t played more than 59 games since the 2012/13 season.
- George Hill, G, Jazz: Injury problems have limited Hill to just 11 games so far, but when he has been in the lineup, the Jazz have been pleased with the results. Hill is averaging a career-high 20 points per game and is looking like the right guy to run Utah’s offense. Expect the Jazz to try hard to keep Hill after giving up a first-rounder to get him over the summer.
The following 2017 free agents didn’t quite crack our list, earning honorable mention: