Forecasting an NBA player’s payday when he’s still a year away from reaching free agency can be a fool’s errand. For instance, even if many NBA fans and experts were skeptical about Isaiah Thomas‘ chances at a 2018 maximum-salary deal when he made his “Brink’s trunk” comments back in 2017, it would’ve been hard to predict his value falling off as far as it has.
On the flip side, there are several players around the NBA who have increased their value significantly with their on-court performance in 2017/18 and figure to do better in free agency this year as a result. Today, we’ll shine a spotlight on some of these players, identifying seven 2018 free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock with their play this season.
Let’s dive in…
- Julius Randle, PF, Lakers (RFA): Randle started the 2017/18 season on the Lakers‘ bench, and was overshadowed in the early going by Kyle Kuzma‘s hot shooting and Larry Nance‘s high-energy play. Since claiming a full-time spot in L.A.’s starting lineup on December 29 though, Randle has taken off, posting 18.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 3.3 APG in 33 games. Now, he looks like one of the most desirable restricted free agents on the market, and a player who could throw a wrench into the Lakers’ long-term plans for their cap space.
- Tyreke Evans, G, Grizzlies (UFA): Evans has played just four times since January 22, but that’s more a result of the tanking Grizzlies being ultra-cautious with him than the usual indictment of his ability to stay healthy. After signing a one-year, $3.29MM contract last summer, Evans played some of the best ball of his career in his 49 appearances, with 19.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, and 5.1 RPG, plus a .396 3PT%. A full mid-level deal looks like his floor this offseason.
- Fred VanVleet, PG, Raptors (RFA): After flying under the radar for most of the season, VanVleet had a couple signature moments in wins last week over Detroit and Houston and is starting to receive some national attention. VanVleet, who has turned into the de facto leader of the Raptors‘ talented second unit, has been part of most of Toronto’s best lineups — the club has a +14.5 net rating when he’s on the court, compared to a +4.8 mark when he sits. Suddenly, the former Wichita State standout looks like the restricted free agent most likely to sign an Arenas-provision offer sheet this July.
- Mario Hezonja, F, Magic (UFA): The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Hezonja should be on his rookie contract for one more year. However, his underwhelming play in his first two NBA seasons prompted the Magic to turn down his 2018/19 team option last fall. Now he’ll enter unrestricted free agency at age 23, coming off the best season of his young career. Hezonja is still somewhat inconsistent on a night-to-night basis, but he has averaged 12.4 PPG on .466/.350/.817 shooting in his last 37 contests (25.3 MPG) — those are promising numbers for a player with his pedigree who is still entering his prime.
- Kyle Anderson, SF, Spurs (RFA): Like Jonathon Simmons a year ago, Anderson isn’t posting eye-popping numbers for the Spurs, but his years of experience in Gregg Popovich‘s system are starting to pay off. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined for most of the season, Anderson has started 53 games for San Antonio and has done a little of everything for the club, chipping in 8.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 1.5 SPG. A lack of an outside shot will limit Anderson’s value to some extent, but I’d still expect him to draw interest from multiple suitors looking to pry him from the Spurs this offseason.
- Wayne Ellington, SG, Heat (UFA): When the Heat finalized big contracts for James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Kelly Olynyk last July, they structured them in a way that allowed them to keep Ellington’s $6.27MM salary on the roster. That decision looks smarter than ever now, as Ellington has provided valuable outside shooting for Miami this season, recording a career-high 11.1 PPG and 2.9 3PG. The 30-year-old isn’t a flashy player, but three-point marksmen have done very well in free agency in recent years. There aren’t many like Ellington, who has attempted 7.5 threes per game and connected on nearly 39% of them. He’ll be in line for a nice payday.
- Joe Harris, G/F, Nets (UFA): This isn’t the first year that Harris has been a productive rotation player, but the fact that he was able to improve upon his 2016/17 success – rather than just replicating it – makes him a much more intriguing free agent target. Harris, who has averaged 10.5 PPG on .474/.403/.807 shooting, will be in line for a big raise over this year’s $1.5MM salary, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him leave Brooklyn. Although the Nets could afford to keep him, they might not want to invest heavily in a role player like Harris at this point in their rebuild.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.