Extension Candidate

Extension Candidate: Deni Avdija

This is the second 2023 installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like.


The ninth overall pick of the 2020 draft, Deni Avdija received regular playing time as a rookie in 2020/21, averaging 6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists on .417/.315/.644 shooting in 54 games (32 starts, 23.3 minutes).

Avdija was one of a select handful of players to appear in all 82 games (eight starts, 24.2 minutes) in ‘21/22 during his second season, averaging 8.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists on .432/.317/.757 shooting.

Last season, the combo forward once again increased his counting stats and showed more aggression offensively, averaging 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists on .437/.297/.739 shooting in 76 games (40 starts, 26.6 minutes). He averaged 10.2 points, 7.3 boards and 2.9 assists on .443/.310/.708 shooting in 37 games (27.4 minutes) after Washington traded Rui Hachimura to the Lakers in January.

Both of Avdija’s parents are former athletes. His Serbian-born father was a professional player and is now the president of basketball operations of Bnei Herzliya of the Israeli Premier League, while his mother is another former basketball player who also participated in track and field.

As with Jaden McDaniels, whose candidacy we previously examined, Avdija is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which makes him eligible for a rookie scale extension until the start of the ’23/24 regular season.


The first thing that immediately comes to mind with Avdija is that he has a strong feel for the game. He has above-average vision, timing and touch as a passer, and is a plus play-maker.

He can bring the ball up the court, initiate the offense, navigate pick-and-rolls – things you’d normally expect from a guard. But he can also be the roll man and is a strong slasher with good timing on cuts to the basket.

Due to his guard-like skills, Avdija can serve as an offensive hub from several areas on the court. His spontaneity and instinctual ability to make correct reads make him difficult to game-plan against.

Avdija is not someone who should be hidden in the corner waiting for open threes – in order to take advantage of his strengths, he needs to be directly involved in the offense.

When he’s at his best, he’s a solid, switchable defender across multiple positions. He can be stifling one-on-one at times and is a respectable rebounder for a forward, pulling down 8.7 boards per 36 minutes in ‘22/23 (8.0 for his career).

At 6’9” and 210 pounds, Avdija has above-average size for his position. He’s not a top-flight athlete or the strongest player, but he’s tough and doesn’t get pushed around.

Effort in general is a strength for Avdija. He runs the floor hard and has good intangibles when it comes to making winning plays, such as hustling after loose balls and being unselfish.

Just 22 years old, Avdija is still developing and has shown signs of progress in becoming a more confident and aggressive offensive player, which will need to continue in order for him to unlock his potential.


There’s a reason I mentioned that Avdija should not be utilized strictly as a spot-up shooter: He has converted just 31.0% of his threes in 212 NBA games, with his attempts decreasing slightly over time (which is likely by design).

He’s not a total non-shooter from deep, but he lacks confidence in the shot. Having a forward who can’t space the floor effectively isn’t ideal, because there aren’t many centers who can both shoot and protect the rim (the Wizards just traded one in Kristaps Porzingis). Having two subpar shooters in the game mucks up most offenses unless the players around them are supremely talented.

While Avdija is a solid driver and timely cutter, he has not been an efficient scorer inside the arc either, only converting 53% of his twos in ‘22/23, which is right in line with his career average (52.9%). His 53.5% true shooting percentage is subpar, especially for a forward.

He’s just an OK finisher at the rim and has no real semblance of a floater game or touch on short-range bank shots. His feel as a passer doesn’t translate to his touch as a scorer.

That makes Avdija a tricky player to have on your roster. His blend of skills are atypical for someone who spends a lot of time on the wing and is often tasked with defending star wings.

The young forward can get down on himself when he isn’t making open shots, which can bleed into other aspects of his game. He reminds me of Cedi Osman a bit in that regard — his defense and decision-making can be affected by how he’s shooting.

Because he’s not an incredible athlete by NBA standards, Avdija lacks a degree of burst and isn’t a great weak-side rim protector. He can be undisciplined at times on defense and a little bit stiff and upright in his stance, which are normal mistakes for young players. Becoming more consistent from night to night is definitely a goal to work toward.


Avdija’s mix of skills makes him a difficult player to evaluate at the best of times. Ideally, he would be used in a sort of poor man’s Draymond Green-type role offensively, where his passing and play-making can enhance scorers who don’t necessarily need to have the ball in their hands to be effective. He can also leverage that to drive.

Improving his jump shot would change that trajectory. 31% from deep just isn’t good enough to be treated like a threat right now though, which limits Avdija’s appeal as a plug-and-play starter.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Washington’s new front office just took over last month, so it’s impossible to know how they might view Avdija. The prior regime dealt Hachimura last season in part to give Avdija more of an opportunity, but that might be irrelevant now.

In theory, moving Porzingis should open additional minutes for Avdija, and the Wizards don’t really have any proven scorers on the roster beyond Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole. That means the young Israeli has a chance to claim a major rotation role entering his contract year.

It’s hard to come up with contract comparisons for Avdija on a potential extension. He certainly has upside on both ends of the court, and if he gains confidence and consistency, he could blossom. As with many role players, he could also look overpaid if the situation he’s in doesn’t suit his skill set.

Perhaps Kyle Anderson’s two-year, $18MM deal with the Wolves last year sort of works as a reference. There are some similarities between the two players, though Avdija is seven-plus years younger.

I doubt Avdija would receive more than the full mid-level exception right now if he were a free agent on the open market. The MLE starts at $12.4MM in ‘23/24 and maxes out at $53.4MM over four years, or about $13.6MM annually.

Trying to sign him to a deal in the $10-12MM per year range could be reasonable for the Wizards if they like him going forward. Something like Matisse Thybulle’s recent three-year, $33MM offer sheet from Dallas (which Portland matched) could be another reference point. They’re very different players, but it’s in the range of what I think he could get. Locking Avdija into that type of salary could look like a bargain if he improves as a scorer, and a possible larger role in ‘23/24 could boost his numbers ahead of restricted free agency next year if he doesn’t get an extension before the season starts.

On the other hand, waiting a year would give management more time to evaluate him both personally and professionally, and unless he really turns the corner as a shooter and/or finisher, it seems unlikely that his value will drastically change. He might also want to bet on himself.

Avdija is one of many young players on the Wizards roster worth keeping an eye on going forward with new management on board. Since he was drafted by the prior regime, he could also be a trade candidate.

Extension Candidate: Jaden McDaniels

This is the first installment in our 2023 series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like (McDaniels will be extension-eligible when the new league year kicks in at midnight ET on Friday night).


The 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft after one up-and-down college season at Washington, Jaden McDaniels became a rotation player almost immediately as a rookie for the Timberwolves, appearing in 63 games (27 starts) with averages of 6.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 1.0 BPG on .447/.364/.600 shooting in 24.0 MPG.

His second NBA season saw signs of progress in some ways, but regression in others. That isn’t meant to be a criticism – it’s simply a reality for most young players.

For example, his offensive role increased in 2021/22, with McDaniels averaging 9.2 points and 4.2 boards in 70 games (31 starts, 25.8 MPG). He also bolstered his two-point (54.4% to 57.9%) and free throw percentages (60.0% to 80.3%). However, his three-point percentage dropped to 31.7%, which leveled out his efficiency gains in other areas, and his foul rate increased.

Minnesota was bullish on the young forward’s upside, so the team kept him out of the Rudy Gobert trade, reportedly giving up a couple extra first-round picks instead. While that deal certainly was not favorable for the Wolves overall (to put it mildly), retaining McDaniels is at least looking like the correct decision.

Former first round-picks who have both of their team options exercised become eligible for rookie scale extensions in the offseason after their third year, as is the case here. So ‘22/23 was an important season for McDaniels, particularly from a financial perspective.

He responded with a career year, averaging 12.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 SPG and 1.0 BPG on .517/.398/.736 shooting in 79 games, all starts (30.6 MPG). He also posted a career-best 58.8% two-point percentage, with a major leap in his scoring efficiency (61.1% True Shooting percentage, vs. 55.2% and 55.3% in his previous two seasons).

Unfortunately, in the last game of the regular season with the Wolves vying for the postseason during the best individual stretch of basketball of his pro career, he punched a curtain that he didn’t realize had a cement wall behind it and broke his right hand. The fact that both McDaniels and Naz Reid (who just signed a three-year, $42MM extension) were injured for the play-in and playoffs right when they were peaking is an overlooked and promising aspect of the Wolves’ offseason, as there is reason to believe they’ll keep improving.


At 6’9” with a 6’11” wingspan, McDaniels has elite length for a small forward. He’s a smooth, graceful athlete who is fast in the open court and quick on his feet in tight spaces, which is rare for a player his size.

He uses those tools to navigate screens, contest shots and cover ground on the less glamorous end of the court. McDaniels is one of top perimeter defenders in the NBA, as he received the 12th-most votes of any player for the ‘22/23 All-Defensive Teams, just missing out on the honor (I will never understand why there are two only two All-D teams and three All-NBA teams – more defensive players deserve to be recognized).

Despite having a thin frame, McDaniels is tenacious defensively and plays with an edge on both ends when he’s at his best. He doesn’t shy away from contact, especially if he has momentum.

McDaniels is an extremely versatile defender, with the ability to guard four positions – even five at times. He has strong instincts and is almost always tasked with defending the opposing teams’ best perimeter player. He’s elite on the ball, with excellent lateral footwork and recovering ability. McDaniels’ height allows him to see over the top of screens, and his length allows him to play a few feet off some of the point guards he’s tasked with defending, giving him extra space to maneuver. He’s also a strong weak-side rim protector and reacts well in “help the helper” scenarios.

McDaniels is a versatile offensive player, and a big part of his success in ‘22/23 wasn’t what you’d expect for someone who gets the generic “3-and-D” label – he actually attempted more twos and fewer threes.

I think the Wolves were placing McDaniels in a box a bit early in his career as far as only spotting up for threes at times. He showed throughout last season that he’s more effective – and keeps defenders more off balance – when he’s able to use other parts of his game as well.

Being a plus leaper with plus size makes him a natural lob threat. He has good timing when cutting to the basket, and is a good finisher at the rim. He can pump-fake and drive, handle the ball with both hands, initiate a fast break, run a bit of pick and roll, has a mid-range pull-up jumper, and shot nearly 40% from deep. McDaniels is more skilled than his scoring average might lead you to believe.

Granted, McDaniels’ offensive role was fairly modest for much of last season — he averaged just 8.6 shot attempts per game (55 games) leading up to the trade deadline. That number rose to 10.5 per game (23 healthy games) after the Wolves traded D’Angelo Russell (a score-first guard) for Mike Conley (a pass-first point guard) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in February.

Another big benefit for McDaniels is that he won’t turn 23 until the end of September, which means there’s theoretically plenty more time for improvement. He was a top-10 recruit entering college, so it’s not a new thing that he’s viewed as having considerable upside.


While McDaniels is an all-around very strong defender, he’s a subpar rebounder for his position, pulling down just 3.9 boards in 30.6 minutes per game. His other weakness on that end is that he can be foul prone, which can be frustrating when paired with Karl-Anthony Towns’ own undisciplined fouls. That has been an issue in each of his three seasons.

A lack of weight and strength, combined with a high center of gravity, means McDaniels can be bullied off his spots at times. That works against him on both ends of the court, even if his speed and agility help make up for it to an extent. He’s definitely no pushover and doesn’t back down, but if you get into his chest, you can move him.

The 22-year-old’s decision-making can be a little dicey on both ends of the court. He’ll get caught in the air sometimes when going up for a shot, for example, and bites on occasional pump fakes. Cutting down on bad fouls would be a boon for his game. He doesn’t have great feel as a passer.

McDaniels doesn’t always take advantage of mismatches. He’s capable of driving past slower players and shooting over smaller ones, but sometimes he can be passive.

It’s hard to know how legitimate his three-point shooting was in ‘22/23 because his percentages have been all over the place in his career despite fairly consistent attempts. Having a more balanced shot distribution was a positive for his game overall, no doubt, but I’m curious to see if he’ll keep making outside shots at a high level long term.

I could easily see McDaniels becoming a player who scores in the high teens offensively. I’m not sure he can get to 20-plus, though it’s certainly possible if things break the right way. He’s a good ball-handler for his size, but not a great one, and his shot comes and goes.


McDaniels is a young, talented two-way player who brings versatility all over the court. If you were building a wing player from scratch to play defense, he isn’t far off from what you’d be looking for. He has also been pretty durable thus far.

There’s no question that he is highly valued by both the Wolves and all the other 29 teams in the league. He might not be a household name, but he’s going to get a major payday. The question is, how much?

The sample size of McDaniels being a significant contributor to winning is one season. He was very good in that one season, but it’s still only one season. He’s going to get paid based on what he could become just as much as who he currently is. There’s always some risk in that proposition.

McDaniels’ floor in an extension is probably four years, $90MM. That’s what Mikal Bridges got a few years ago and what De’Andre Hunter received before last season started. I thought Hunter got overpaid based on his past results and injury problems, and I would take McDaniels over him in a trade without hesitation.

It’s actually challenging to find a player who compares to McDaniels because he’s only 22, is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league at 6’9”, is a plus athlete, and has an interesting blend of offensive skills. He can’t create his own shot like the former No. 1 overall pick can, but I can see a little bit of Andrew Wiggins in his game. People thought Wiggins was underpaid when he got a four-year, $109MM extension last year.

Something in the middle of those two figures sounds about right to me for McDaniels. If he gets a four-year deal, I think he’s probably in line for around $100MM. The new CBA allows for five-year, non-max rookie scale extensions, and if he wants the extra year of security, I could see him getting about $125MM. $25MM annually is a lot for a role player, but he has a chance to be a special one and was already very good last season.

Extension Candidate: Grant Williams

This is the sixth installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re continuing today with a look at a power forward who had a breakout third season as a two-way contributor.


The No. 22 overall pick of the 2019 draft after three seasons at Tennessee, Grant Williams had a minor role as a rookie for a Celtics team that nearly reached the NBA Finals, ultimately falling to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. In 69 games (15.1 MPG), Williams averaged 3.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG on .412/.250/.722 shooting (.505 true shooting percentage).

In 2020/21, Williams’ second season, he made progress as a shooter, a very important aspect of his role for Boston. His averages – 4.7 PPG and 2.8 RPG on .437/.372/.588 shooting (.546 true) in 63 games (18.1 MPG) – were still fairly modest, but the 12.2% increase in three-point percentage was encouraging.

In year three, Williams emerged as a solid member of Boston’s rotation, averaging 7.8 PPG and 3.6 RPG on a sparkling .475/.411/.905 shooting slash line (.635 true) in 77 games (21 starts, 24.4 MPG).

He had an even bigger playoff role during the Celtics’ run to the Finals, averaging 8.6 PPG and 3.8 RPG on .433/.393/.808 shooting (.599 true) in 24 games (27.3 MPG).


At 6’6” and a listed weight of 236 pounds, Williams has a low center of gravity and is physically very strong (Michael Scotto of HoopsHype was told that Williams was 280 pounds in the playoffs and had dropped to 265 as of October 6). Anyone who watched him (mostly) hold his ground while defending Giannis Antetokounmpo in the post during their second-round series last season can attest to Williams’ strength.

Williams is a solid defender at power forward and can switch at times onto bigger wings and smaller centers. Opponents shot 1.2% worse than their expected field goal percentage in the ‘21/22 regular season with Williams as the closest defender and 4.5% worse than expected in the playoffs, per NBA.com – both above-average marks.

The 23-year-old has improved tremendously as an outside shooter over his three professional seasons, both in terms of volume and efficiency. Nearly 60% of Williams’ shots last season came from behind the arc, up from 45% as a rookie and 51% in year two. He doesn’t exactly look “natural” when he’s shooting, but the fact that he’s become so efficient is a testament to his work ethic and willingness to improve – those are more important factors than natural talent in my opinion, especially for a role player.

Since the Celtics rely so much on stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for offense, with ball movement the key to finding open looks when they’re inevitably faced with a help defender, the grand majority of Williams’ three-point looks came via catch-and-shoot last season. He converted 1.3 of those 3.1 attempts per game, good for 41.7%, per NBA.com. He also converted an impressive 46.8% of his corner threes in ‘21/22 – an important shot for floor spacing.

Williams isn’t known for his athleticism, but he has good timing for blocking shots — his 2.7% block percentage ranked in the 78th percentile last season, per DunksAndThrees.com. He can also do damage down low on the offensive end, though it was very low volume – he shot 68% at the rim in ‘21/22, which was 84th percentile.

Interestingly, Williams has shown a face-up game and the ability to attack defenders off the dribble a little bit via shot fakes during the preseason. We’ll see if that carries over to the regular season, but it’s an encouraging sign that he’s been working on his game and is self-aware enough to know that he needs to be a little more well-rounded offensively.

Improvement Areas:

While Williams generally does pretty well defending bigger players, he sometimes struggles to stay in front of shiftier guards due to his lack of length and quickness. He also can be susceptible to blow-bys when closing out on shooters due to his lack of foot speed.

Neither of those things are unusual for a power forward, but improving on them would help him stay on the court in more difficult matchups (the Warriors exploited both of those weaknesses rather mercilessly in the Finals, which is one reason why his minutes were reduced to 17.0 per game in that series after averaging 29.7 or more in the three previous rounds).

For a big man, Williams is a below-average rebounder, pulling down just 5.3 boards per 36 minutes last season. His relative lack of size and athleticism hurts in that aspect as well, even though he’s a willing contributor on the boards who chases after loose balls.

His three-point improvement definitely seems legitimate, but a lot of his value on offense is tied to converting his open looks to keep opposing defenses honest, and if he’s off that day he hasn’t provided much else on that end. And as good as his outside shooting was last season, his shot is pretty slow and deliberate, so he needs space to get it off. Adding a reliable pump fake and relocation dribble would help.

I was surprised to learn that Williams’ assist rate was an alarmingly low 6% last season, and his turnover rate was 12%, per DunksAndThrees. His overall assist-to-turnover ratio was only 1.25-to-1, which isn’t awful for a big man, but it’s certainly not good.

The reason those findings were surprising is because Williams has displayed soft touch as a passer and can make plays for others in the limited opportunities he’s given. His handle is a little loose sometimes, but I still expected both figures to be better than they were in ‘21/22.


Three-and-D players always have value, especially when they can guard multiple positions. In Williams’ case, that’s the three frontcourt spots. As long as he can keep making 40% of his three-pointers, there’s no doubt that he’s going to get paid, it’s just a matter of how much.

It’s difficult to find players to compare Williams to because of his unique build and skill set. Perhaps the closest comps you can find for Williams currently are Jae Crowder and P.J. Tucker, a couple of short, stocky power forwards who provide versatile defense, energy, toughness, and some outside shooting. Both of those players received three-year deals at the non-taxpayer mid-level exception in recent years – for ‘22/23, that would max out at four years and $45,107,000.

Williams is worth more than that, even if he wasn’t a starter on a very good team like those two veterans were last season. For one, he won’t turn 24 years old until November 30, while Crowder is 32 and Tucker is 37. If they were Williams’ age, they would’ve landed bigger paydays.

Secondly, Williams has shown more potential as a finisher and a shooter than his elder counterparts. His .635 true shooting percentage in ‘21/22 was a higher mark than Crowder (.613 in ‘16/17) or Tucker (.593 last season) has ever posted.

Multiple reports have indicated Williams is seeking a deal in the $14-16MM range annually, and Boston has thus far been reluctant to go that high. It seems like the reason for that is more because the Celtics are a taxpaying team that already has multiple players signed to lucrative long-term contracts rather than not valuing Williams.

I can see both sides of the argument here. Paying a bench player who only averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in ‘21/22 at least $14MM per season seems like a lot. On the other hand, the skill set he provides is coveted around the league, and replacing him would be very difficult due to financial constraints.

If the two sides are unable to reach an extension, Williams would become a restricted free agent next summer. Boston would have the leverage in that scenario because they can match any offer, and it’s rare for rival teams to sign role players to offer sheets since it ties up cap room for multiple days.

If a theoretical new deal still isn’t signed at that point, Williams could accept his qualifying offer and hit unrestricted free agency in 2024, but he’d potentially lose money in the short-term because the QO would almost certainly be less than the first year of an extension. That might be his best bet for landing a big payday from an opposing team.

Having said that, there’s no indication Williams wants to leave the Celtics, nor that they want to lose him. With Robert Williams injured to start the season, and Danilo Gallinari out for the year with a torn ACL, Grant Williams should have an opportunity for a larger role, and if he puts up big numbers on a title contender, he could substantially increase his value.

Ultimately, I think the low end of his rumored asking price (four years, $56MM) is pretty fair for an extension. It’s a little more than I’d prefer to pay him if I were running the Celtics, but it’s not unreasonable since the salary cap is expected to continually rise over the duration of the deal. If the two sides don’t reach a deal today, it will be interesting to monitor Williams’ performance during the ‘22/23 season to see if he can increase his value even further.

Extension Candidate: Brandon Clarke

This is the fifth installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re continuing today with a look at an athletic big man with one of the league’s best floaters.


The No. 21 overall pick of the 2019 draft after three college seasons (the last at Gonzaga), forward Brandon Clarke was technically drafted by the Thunder, who traded his rights to the Grizzlies for the No. 23 overall pick – used on Darius Bazley — and a 2024 second-rounder. Considering Bazley is probably more likely to be waived entering 2022/23 than to receive a rookie scale extension, and Clarke is well-positioned to land a significant payday, it obviously turned out to be a shrewd move by Memphis.

Clarke made an immediate impact in year one, earning a spot on the All-Rookie First Team after averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG while shooting 61.8% from the floor and 75.9% from the line in 58 games (22.4 MPG). He even showed the ability to space the floor at times, though on very low volume: he converted 35.9% of his 64 three-point attempts on the season.

In year two, Clarke was still productive, but he developed a hitch in his shooting motion that caused his percentages to fall across the board. In 59 games (24.0 MPG), he averaged 10.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 0.9 BPG on .517/.260/.690 shooting. He only attempted 1.3 threes per game, so the dip of almost 10% in that category wasn’t nearly as impactful as the 9.3% drop on twos (65.8% to 56.5%).

Instead of focusing on his weaknesses entering his third season in ‘21/22, Clarke chose to enhance his strengths, and the decision paid off with arguably his finest campaign. In 64 games (19.5 MPG), he averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.1 BPG while shooting 64.4% from the field and 65.4% from the line. He all but eliminated the long-distance shot from his arsenal, attempting just 22 threes (converting five, for a 22.7% rate).

Clarke was instrumental in leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves in their first-round playoff series last season, averaging 16.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.7 APG and 1.0 BPG while shooting 67.9% from the floor and 65.7% from the line in six games (29.4 MPG). He also pulled down 3.8 offensive boards per contest, and second-chance points were a huge problem for Minnesota. The Warriors’ elite defense was much more effective in neutralizing Clarke in their second-round series, limiting him to 8.2 PPG and 4.8 RPG with a 51.4% mark from the field and 68.4% from the line in six games (20.0 MPG).


In a league full of incredible athletes, Clarke is a true standout as one of the NBA’s best. He knows how to harness his athleticism to his advantage in multiple ways, making him a unique and versatile player.

Clarke is a matchup problem as a big man because he’s got a very quick first step and has pristine timing for making cuts when defenders aren’t paying attention. He plays with great energy on both ends of the floor, creating extra possessions by hustling for loose balls.

Clarke is a constant pick-and-roll lob threat who is capable of some jaw-dropping dunks. His terrific body control allows him to twist and contort in the air for acrobatic finishes on plays that look like they should be blown up, a rarity for a player his size. Had he qualified, his field goal percentage would have ranked fourth in the NBA last season, and his true shooting percentage (66.0%) ranked fifth.

One of the primary reasons his rim-running is so effective is because Clarke has one of the best floaters in the league. According to Basketball-Reference, 31.1% of Clarke’s shot attempts came from between three and 10 feet and he converted 56.8% of those looks – an elite mark. If a shorter player is on him, he’ll simply rise up over them; if it’s a bigger player, he’ll use his quickness to create space and pull up with feathery-soft touch.

Clarke is an explosive two-footed leaper (40.5″ vertical) with great timing and instincts for blocking shots, ranking in the 93rd percentile of all players in block percentage (4.7%) last season, per DunksAndThrees.com. A quick second jump and a nose for the ball also make him a strong offensive rebounder — his 11% offensive rebounding percentage ranked in the 90th percentile.

Part of what makes the Grizzlies an exciting team to watch is their ability to force a lot of turnovers and excel in transition, and Clarke plays a big part in that. He possesses great speed, is a good enough dribbler to start a fast break, and is an unselfish get-ahead passer in addition to being a tremendous finisher.

He isn’t often asked to make plays for others, but Clarke makes quick, decisive reads with the ball in his hands and is an intelligent ball-mover who rarely turns it over. He posted a 2.53-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in ‘21/22, and his 6.3 turnover percentage would have ranked seventh in the NBA had he qualified, both excellent marks for any player, let alone a power forward.

Finally, Clarke is also a solid defender who can switch across multiple positions. He does a good job limiting his fouls, forcing turnovers (3.1 steals plus blocks per 36 minutes last season), and is an above-average rebounder.

Improvement Areas:

At 6’8” and 215 pounds with a 6’8.25” wingspan, Clarke is built more like a plus-sized wing than a big man. While he’s able to compensate to an extent with his non-stop motor, top-notch athleticism and court awareness, he’s still at a size disadvantage the majority of the time.

There aren’t many players with the post games to exploit Clarke’s relative lack of size, but it’s definitely problematic when the situations arise. He’s stronger than his frame suggests, but he simply lacks the bulk to compete with behemoths down low.

The hitch in Clarke’s jump shot never went away, with his free throw percentage dropping in each of the past two seasons. As deadly as his floater is, its range is still limited, which means that he functions more like a center on offense even though he spends the majority of time at power forward, making him somewhat matchup dependent.

Clarke benefited from the versatility of Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. as frontcourt partners who could make plays and space the floor. However, Memphis let Anderson walk in free agency (to Minnesota) and Jackson is injured to start the season, so Clarke may have to fend for himself in ‘22/23.

Even though he’s the best reserve big man on the roster, Clarke isn’t necessarily an obvious replacement for Jackson in the starting lineup alongside another non-shooter in Steven Adams. It will be interesting to see how head coach Taylor Jenkins toggles the lineups, because he has typically staggered the minutes for Clarke and Adams due to spacing concerns – the two only shared the court for 165 minutes over 32 games last season, 10 fewer minutes than the garbage time pairing of Jarrett Culver and Xavier Tillman, per NBA.com.

Clarke is a decent ball-handler for a player who plays almost exclusively in the frontcourt, but he’s not particularly adept for someone his size. If he tightened his handle, he’d be able to exploit his speed advantage even more.


Clarke has proven to be a high-level role player for the Grizzlies and a steal at No. 21 overall. The fact that Memphis didn’t re-sign Anderson in free agency could be a sign that Clarke is in the team’s long-term plans, and for good reason.

His energy, athleticism, efficiency and high basketball IQ have made Clarke of the league’s best bargains on his rookie deal, which paid him a combined $12.15MM over four years (ending in ‘22/23). He could equal or surpass that total in annual average salary on his next contract.

At 26 years old, Clarke is one of the oldest players in the 2019 draft class. Some might say that’s a negative. Yet despite coming off the bench, he has led the class in win shares and trails only teammate Ja Morant in value over replacement player through three seasons, per Basketball-Reference.

Another positive about Clarke being a few years older than his draft peers is that he doesn’t need more time to develop — he’s already very good — and he’s about to enter his prime years. That’s not to imply he can’t continue to improve, but instead of paying him for what he might become, whichever team ends up paying him (he’ll be a restricted free agent if he doesn’t sign an extension) will be getting a player who already contributes a lot to winning.

If I were representing Clarke, I would point to the deals signed by Marvin Bagley III (three years, $37.5MM) and Chris Boucher (three years, $35.25MM) as a baseline, because Clarke is a more well-rounded and better all-around player than both of them have been over the past three seasons.

Clarke’s game is probably most similar to Richaun Holmes’ — another undersized, energetic and athletic big man with an elite floater who’s also a great finisher. Holmes got $46.5MM over four years in the 2021 offseason. However, I think Clarke is more valuable than Holmes as well, because he’s more versatile on both ends of the court, fouls less, and is a much better passer and decision-maker (Holmes is stronger and a better shooter).

Mitchell Robinson’s four-year, $60MM deal seems a little high for Clarke, but it depends on how the Grizzlies value him. If he puts up big numbers this season and they view him as the long-term starter at power forward with Jackson at center, it could be within reach as a restricted free agent next summer.

The problem with that is the deadline for his rookie scale extension is the day before the ‘22/23 season tips off, and I don’t think the Grizzlies will go that high right now. If an extension is reached, I think Clarke will receive something close to the four-year, $50MM deal Wendell Carter signed a year ago.

Extension Candidate: De’Andre Hunter

This is the fourth installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re continuing today with a look at an oft-injured wing with tantalizing two-way potential.


The No. 4 overall pick of the 2019 draft after two college seasons at Virginia, De’Andre Hunter had a prominent role as a rookie for the Hawks, but his results were a little uneven, which is normal for first-year players. In 63 games (32.0 MPG) in 2019/20, he averaged 12.3 PPG and 4.5 RPG on .410/.355/.764 shooting (.521 true shooting percentage).

Hunter clearly worked hard on his game entering year two, as he got off to a great start, averaging 17.9 PPG and 5.6 RPG on a stellar .517/.375/.877 (.646 true) shooting line in 17 games (33.3 MPG). Unfortunately, things went downhill from there, as right knee discomfort and swelling ultimately led to arthroscopic surgery and multiple setbacks, causing Hunter to miss all but five games the rest of the regular season.

He did appear in all five games of Atlanta’s first-round playoff victory over the Knicks, but didn’t look like the same player. Hunter underwent surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in the same knee shortly thereafter.

Last season, Hunter had a slow start, not quite looking like himself after the meniscus tear. On November 8, he sustained a tendon injury on his right wrist, which required surgery and caused him to miss eight weeks of action (26 games).

Overall, he averaged 13.4 PPG and 3.3 RPG on .442/.379/.765 shooting (.547 true) in 53 games (29.8 MPG). The Hawks were very banged up at the end of the year, causing them to be overmatched in their first-round playoff loss to the Heat, but Hunter was the team’s best performer – he averaged 21.2 PPG and 3.8 RPG on .557/.462/.800 shooting (.674 true).


During that 17-game stretch to start ’20/21, Hunter legitimately looked like he could be a future All-Star, using his length and athleticism to aggressively drive to the hoop. Even though the Hawks lost the game, he had a memorable performance against the eventual champion Bucks, scoring a career-high 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting while fearlessly attacking Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Hunter has plus size for a forward at 6’8″ and 225 pounds with a 7’2″ wingspan, and he’s versatile on both ends of the court. He’s often tasked with guarding the opposing teams’ best perimeter scorers, as Atlanta has lacked reliable wing defenders.

The 24-year-old was a high draft choice in large part due to his defensive upside, and while he shows flashes of being a plus defender, he lacks the consistency necessary to be a true defensive force. The talent is definitely there though, and that’s something you can’t teach.

Hunter gets to the free throw line at a good rate, can score in a variety of ways, and was an above-average three-point shooter in ‘21/22 (37.9%). Nearly all of his attempts from long distance came via catch-and-shoot, and he converted a career-best 40.5% from the corners.

Improvement Areas:

Consistency is the name of the game for Hunter. He has shown flashes of high-level two-way potential, but he hasn’t been able to string it together consistently for any sustained period of time.

Losing time to injuries is out of his control, but it has certainly had an effect on his performance the past couple of years. In order to land a big pay day, he needs to prove that he can stay healthy.

Hunter is a below-average rebounder, and there’s no reason he can’t be better at his size. An average of 3.3 boards per game is unacceptably low for a forward. Even though he’s a versatile scorer, he only shot 55% at the rim last season — 23rd percentile of all players, per DunksAndThrees.com.

He’s also a poor play-maker, recording more turnovers (69) than assists (68) in ‘21/22. Hunter’s 6% assist percentage was only in the 12th percentile. There’s a lot of room for improvement there.


Out of all the players eligible for rookie scale extensions in 2022, Hunter’s market value is one of the most difficult to gauge due to his injury history and inconsistent play. He definitely has a lot to prove in the upcoming season, both for his own future and to the Hawks.

They’re very different players, but maybe someone like Thunder wing Luguentz Dort works as a point of comparison for Hunter – Dort signed a five-year, $82.5MM deal with a fifth-year team option as a restricted free agent this offseason. Dort is a better defender, but Hunter has more offensive upside.

Since he isn’t getting a maximum-salary deal, Atlanta can only offer Hunter four years in an extension. Dort got $64.78MM guaranteed over four years, with an additional $1MM in annual unlikely incentives.

Sources told Jake Fisher of Bleacher Report in July that the Hawks and Hunter’s agents were approximately $20MM apart in their extension discussions. Making an educated guess, I would wager Atlanta was offering around $60MM – perhaps with additional incentives tied to games played – and Hunter was looking for around $80MM.

Hunter could easily outplay a $15MM-per-year contract, but he hasn’t shown he’s worth even that much yet. Analytics are really low on Hunter’s game – I’m more bullish on his potential, assuming he can stay healthy.

I don’t see any reason for the Hawks to budge in what they’re willing to offer, and given his injury history, there are valid reasons for Hunter to consider signing a relatively team-friendly deal. If he turns down an extension and has a breakout fourth season, that’s a good problem to have for Atlanta, because he’d be providing excess value on the final year of his rookie deal and would make it an easier decision to invest in him long term.

Extension Candidate: Cameron Johnson

This is the third installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re continuing today with a look at a former lottery pick who was an important role player for a 64-win team last season.


The Suns shocked a lot of people by selecting Cameron Johnson with the No. 11 overall pick of the 2019 draft, as many scouts had him rated as a late first-rounder. He was technically drafted by the Timberwolves, who traded him along with Dario Saric to acquire the No. 6 pick, used on Jarrett Culver – an unmitigated disaster of a deal for Minnesota.

Part of the reason Johnson was rated lower than where he was drafted was that he was an older prospect. After receiving a redshirt for his freshman year, he wound up playing a full four years afterward – he spent his first few college seasons with Pittsburgh before transferring to North Carolina.

Johnson quickly quieted those critical of the move with a solid rookie season in 2019/20, appearing in 57 games (22.0 MPG) while averaging 8.8 PPG and 3.3 RPG on .435/.390/.807 shooting (.586 true shooting percentage).

His statistics were quite similar in year two: 9.6 PPG and 3.3 RPG on .420/.346/.847 shooting (.563 true) in 60 games (24.0). He was even better during Phoenix’s lengthy postseason run to the Finals, providing a ton of value with his sharpshooting – in 21 playoff games (21.1 MPG), he averaged 8.2 PPG and 3.1 RPG on .500/.466/.906 shooting (.693 true – a phenomenal mark).

Johnson had a breakout third season in ‘21/22, finishing third in Sixth Man of the Year voting after appearing in 66 games (26.2 MPG) with averages of 12.5 PPG and 4.1 RPG on .460/.425/.860 shooting. Among non-centers who averaged at least 12 PPG in 50 or more games, Johnson was fourth in the league in true shooting percentage (.625), trailing only Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and teammate Mikal Bridges.

Despite a disappointing second-round loss to Dallas, the 26-year-old had another strong individual playoff showing offensively last season, putting up 10.8 PPG and 3.5 RPG on .465/.373/.813 shooting (.619 true) in 13 games (24.6 MPG).


Johnson has proven to be a very efficient role player, and more than worthy of his draft slot. His shooting creates space for teammates, which is always valuable.

While he’s primarily known for his outside shooting, which he’s very good at (39% career from three, including 43.8% from the corners), Johnson is an underrated finisher as well. He shot 71% at the rim last season, which was in the 88th percentile of all players, per DunksAndThrees.com.

Johnson is a very self-aware player, particularly on offense. He doesn’t try to do too much, which is a good thing for a complementary player – his 6.7% turnover percentage was the 11th-best mark in the NBA in ‘21/22, per Basketball-Reference. He isn’t asked to make plays for others very often, but he makes quick decisions if he isn’t open and is a willing passer – his career assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.13-to-1, which is a strong mark for a forward.

Phoenix’s offense, which ranked fifth in the league last season, could really soar if head coach Monty Williams gives Johnson a bigger role – he thrived in 16 games as a starter in place of Jae Crowder, averaging 16.3 PPG and 4.9 RPG on .492/.420/.912 shooting (.659 true).

Improvement areas:

At 6’8″ and 210 pounds, Johnson is slender for a power forward, his primary position. He lacks the strength to defend stronger players down low – Luka Doncic repeatedly exploited that fact during the playoffs.

Most advanced stats rated Johnson as a slightly above average defender, but that doesn’t pass the eye test – in most matchups he’s not a liability, but I think he’s closer to league average than above. He does certain things well – he’s pretty quick on his feet, does a good job of staying vertical when contesting shots, and rarely commits fouls.

However, he’s a below average rebounder, and while opponents shot 1.0% worse than expected with Johnson defending them during the regular season, they shot 3.3% better than expected in the playoffs, per NBA.com. Forcing turnovers isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to defense, but Johnson isn’t very good at that either – he recorded 0.9 steals and 0.2 blocks per game in ‘21/22.

Adding strength would help a lot, on both ends of the court. He’s already a very good finisher, but he doesn’t get to the free throw line much – adding some muscle would aid him in that regard. And while he’s a smart decision-maker, his ball-handling is pretty mechanical.


Johnson is going to land a big payday on his next contract, the only question is when and from whom. As was the case with Deandre Ayton, luxury tax concerns will likely limit Phoenix’s interest in giving Johnson a hefty long-term extension (the Suns matched Ayton’s four-year maximum-salary offer sheet from the Pacers, but they could have given him more money – and an additional year – and chose not to).

If I were representing Johnson, I wouldn’t accept a team-friendly discount in the range of $60MM over four years, because he’d provide value to any NBA team with his highly efficient offensive game and (mostly) adequate defense. Whether he might be open to that is something only he knows.

The Spurs’ Keldon Johnson received a four-year extension with a base value of $74MM, and even though he’s four years older, I think Cameron will end up getting a deal similar to that. Despite the possibility of facing the repeater tax, I would imagine Phoenix would match a contract in that range when Johnson reaches restricted free agency next summer, but I’d be a little surprised if they offer it in an extension before the season starts.

If his agents try to point to his teammate Bridges as a reference point, I think that would be a mistake – Bridges is in a completely different class as a defender and is a better overall player. He received a four-year, $90MM extension from the Suns prior to last season, so I think Johnson will get less than that. Something in the range of $70-80MM sounds about right.

Extension Candidate: Jordan Poole

This is the second installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re continuing today with a look at a player who was a key contributor to a championship team in 2022.


The 28th overall pick of the 2019 draft after two years at Michigan, Jordan Poole had a larger-than-expected role as a rookie due to major injuries to Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Unfortunately, he struggled mightily in his first pro season, appearing in 57 games (22.4 MPG) while averaging 8.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG and 2.4 APG on a ghastly .333/.279/.798 shooting line. His .454 true shooting percentage was last in the entire NBA, as was his -6.6 box plus/minus.

Things weren’t much better for Poole during the first few months of his second season in 2020/21, appearing in just 15 of Golden State’s first 36 games and receiving scant playing time (9.6 MPG). Since he wasn’t getting much NBA run, he was sent to the G League in February 2021 to work on his craft.

Poole displayed a newfound confidence and looked like a completely different player upon his return a month later, emerging as a major spark-plug scorer off the bench. Over his final 36 games (23.5 MPG), he averaged 14.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG and 2.4 APG on .433/.354/.870 shooting (.579 true).

In year three, Poole built upon the foundation he laid during that strong second half surge, appearing in 76 games (30.0 MPG) while averaging 18.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.0 APG on .448/.364/.925 shooting. He started 51 of those contests in the backcourt alongside Curry.

Out of all guards who averaged at least 18 points per night, Poole ranked fifth in true shooting percentage at .598 – an excellent mark. His .925 free throw percentage led the NBA.

More importantly, he was also a standout performer in the postseason, averaging 17.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG and 3.8 APG on .508/.391/.915 shooting (.654 true) in 22 games (five starts, 27.5 MPG) during Golden State’s title run.


Poole is an extremely shifty ball-handler who can create space for himself and teammates with ease. While he has a strong first step, what really separates Poole from other ball-handlers is how quickly he can change direction and how decisive he is – if he gains even a slight advantage, he goes straight to the hole.

Another element of Poole’s ball-handling that’s really impressive is that he has counter moves upon counter moves. He can string together a combination of intricate dribble moves in just a second or two, and even if the defender stops the first couple, he might unleash a crossover that leads them reaching on the third.

The 23-year-old is just as comfortable dribbling with his left hand as his right, and doesn’t really show a preference, which makes it really difficult to try to guess which way he’s going to go.

Poole isn’t the most explosive athlete vertically, but he’s very fast with the ball in his hands and excels in the open court. He’s a talented finisher around the basket, converting 62% of his looks at the rim — an above average mark (55th percentile, per DunksAndThrees.com). Many of those shots are very high-difficulty attempts as well.

Poole is an excellent scorer from all over the court. While he didn’t attempt many mid-rangers, he knocked down 46% of those looks (78th percentile). A big part of why he was so efficient is because the majority of his shots came either at the rim or from deep – he also gets to the line at a decent clip.

He employs side-steps and step-backs to create space for three-pointers, and 3.0 of his 7.6 attempts per game from deep came off the bounce, per NBA.com. He’s slithery coming off screens, and he’s very smart about using the screen a second time to free himself for a better look or a drive.

As with all of his teammates, Poole certainly benefits from all the attention Curry draws, but he’s perfectly capable of scoring in bunches on his own. During the last 12 games of the regular season, when Curry was injured, Poole averaged 25.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 6.2 APG on .421/.374/.954 shooting (.586 true) and didn’t look out of place as a primary option.

Poole is also a solid passer when he’s so inclined, though he definitely has a score-first mentality – his 21% assist percentage was in the 80th percentile, per DunksAndThrees.com.

Improvement Areas:

Poole has been a below average defensive player to this point in his career, and in order for him to take another leap as a player, he needs to get better.

According to NBA.com, opponents shot 1.7% better than their expected field goal percentage with Poole defending them — the second-worst mark on the Warriors — and that’s with the team trying to hide him on weaker offensive players. That figure rose to 4.7% better than expected in the playoffs.

Poole doesn’t really excel at anything on defense. He isn’t strong individually or as a help defender, and he doesn’t force many turnovers (0.8 steal and 0.3 block per night).

Poole was definitely a beneficiary of having several strong defenders around him – the Warriors had the second-best defense during the regular season, and that was their main collective strength in winning the championship.

He’s also a below average rebounder, pulling down just 3.4 per night, and at 6’4” he could stand to bump that number up closer to five, though it’s something he’s never been great at, even in college.

Another area of Poole’s game that needs work is his decision making. His 1.39-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in ‘21/22 was quite poor for a high usage player, especially someone who handles the ball as much as he does.

Lastly, while Poole has very deep range and certainly doesn’t lack in confidence, his 36.4% mark from three was only one percent above league average. If that number rises even a little bit, it would help his already very good efficiency.


Poole’s statistics last season were fairly similar to Tyler Herro’s, and like Herro, I think Poole is almost certain to receive a nine-figure payday on his next contract. Since he was a late first-rounder, he has “only” earned a little over $6MM to this point. The prospect of receiving $100MM+, assuming the Warriors offer it, would undoubtedly be appealing.

When comparing Poole, Herro and the other young guards who set the market value this summer (Anfernee Simons, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett all received $100-107MM in guaranteed money over four years), I personally think Poole might have the highest upside. But that doesn’t mean he’ll get the most money of the group, particularly in a theoretical extension.

The primary reason the Warriors might be hesitant to give Poole a lucrative extension is that they’re already a record-setting taxpayer, and they’d owe significantly more in taxes than the actual value of his salary. It would also lock in an extremely expensive roster for years to come.

There’s an argument to be made that Poole is a luxury, not a necessity, especially with Thompson healthy for a full season – I don’t buy that argument, but it’s not entirely baseless. The front office might have to choose between paying just one or two of Poole, Draymond Green or Andrew Wiggins, and all were very valuable contributors last season who are good at different things, so it would be a tough call.

If Poole bets on himself and declines an offer for, say, $110MM — which would carry a good deal of risk since he doesn’t have a long track record (plus injuries are always a concern) — there’s a chance he could get a max deal as a restricted free agent in 2023, which is projected to be worth $142,975,000 over four years.

Extension Candidate: Tyler Herro

This is the first installment in our series examining players who are prime candidates for contract extensions. This series will explore the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and will evaluate what a fair deal between the player and his team might look like. We’re getting underway with a look at the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year.


The No. 13 overall pick of the 2019 draft after one year at Kentucky, Tyler Herro made an immediate impact in 55 games (27.4 minutes) as a rookie, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists on .428/.389/.870 shooting for a Heat team that came within two games of a championship. He had a strong playoff run in the Orlando bubble, bumping those averages up to 16.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 3.7 APG on .433/.375/.870 shooting in 21 contests (33.6 minutes).

Herro improved his counting stats during his second season in ‘20/21, averaging 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, though his efficiency declined slightly, with a .439/.360/.803 shooting line. As opposed to his strong postseason showing as a rookie, Herro, like the rest of Miami’s roster, struggled mightily while being swept by the Bucks in the first round, averaging just 9.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG and 1.8 APG on .316/.316/1.000 shooting in four games (23.3 minutes).

Herro emerged as the league’s most dangerous bench scorer last season, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award after appearing in 66 games (32.6 minutes) while averaging 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on .447/.399/.868 shooting. However, he once again struggled in the playoffs with defenses more focused on slowing him down, averaging 12.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 2.8 APG on .409/.229/.926 shooting in 15 contests (25.4 minutes).


Among players who officially qualified, Herro ranked 21st in the NBA in points per game last season. He is someone opposing defenses are forced to game-plan against.

His primary skill is that he’s an excellent shooter from all over the court, ranking in the 63rd percentile from mid-range, 87th on threes, and 87th from the free throw line, per DunksAndThrees.com.

The threat of Herro’s shooting creates space for teammates, which is really important for a Heat team that struggles at times to space the floor. For as valuable as they are at basically every other aspect of basketball, neither Jimmy Butler nor Bam Adebayo is a three-point threat, so Miami’s offense can be a bit crowded at times, especially in half court settings.

Herro isn’t just a shooter either, as he shows some impressive play-making chops at times. He’s capable of creating high-quality looks for himself and others on both scripted plays and on the fly.

He posted a 21% assist percentage last season, which was in the 79th percentile of all players. He has good vision and is capable of making difficult one-handed cross-court passes, though he definitely looks for his own shot more often than not.

Herro is capable of acting as a lead ball-handler in spot minutes, and while he isn’t the greatest decision-maker yet (1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), he shows flashes of being able to handle those duties. He’s also a solid rebounder, especially on the defensive glass, with a 15% defensive rebounding rate (59th percentile).

Improvement Areas:

Physical limitations will likely always be an issue for Herro, which is something that’s mostly out of his control. Though he has decent height for a shooting guard at 6’5”, his wingspan is only 6’4”, he isn’t the greatest athlete, and he isn’t the strongest player, leading to him getting pushed around at times.

Those limitations show up in two key areas. The first is that he’s a below-the-rim finisher, and while he has good touch on floaters, he rarely gets all the way to the rim.

According to Basketball-Reference, only 13.7% of Herro’s shots came within three feet of the basket, compared to 27.9% of his looks from 10 feet to the three-point line. He prefers to shoot pull-ups rather than initiating contact in the paint.

The fact that he attempts so many mid-rangers and doesn’t get to the line a ton hurts his overall efficiency (of the 27 players who qualified for the scoring title and averaged at least 20 points, Herro was 25th in free throw attempts). His true shooting percentage (56.1%) was a little below league average (56.6%) last season.

The second area that Herro really needs to improve upon is his defense, which has been particularly problematic in the playoffs. He has been repeatedly targeted as a weak defensive link in each of his three postseason trips.

Opponents shot better (45.7%) than expected (44.8%) with Herro defending them in the regular season, and that gap grew during the playoffs (rivals shot 48.9% versus 46% expected), per NBA.com. And that’s with Herro coming off the bench and the Heat trying to hide him on the opposing teams’ weakest offensive players.

Out of 67 players who averaged at least 32 minutes and appeared in at least 30 games, Herro ranked 62nd in deflections per game with 1.2. He rarely draws charges, and averaged less than one stock (steals plus blocks) per game last season, which is quite poor (0.7 SPG and 0.1 BPG). His steal percentage (1.0%) ranked in the 21st percentile of all players, and his block percentage (0.4%) was in the ninth percentile, per DunksAndThrees.


Young players are inherently polarizing because they are not finished products. When you watch them play, you’re ideally looking for positive traits that can be translated into future success, but it’s easy to lose sight of that if they’re on a good team and play a big role.

That’s especially true of Herro, even if it’s a little unfair to someone who’s still only 22 years old. More than most former first-round picks still on their rookie deals, Herro is an eye-of-the-beholder player due to his distinct strengths and weaknesses, some of which have been put under a bigger spotlight because of his team’s success.

Anfernee Simons set the market for emerging young guards this summer with a four-year, $100MM deal as a restricted free agent. That’s probably Herro’s floor for his next contract.

If the Heat believe Herro will continue improving and is worthy of a significant long-term investment, I could see him exceeding RJ Barrett’s deal with the Knicks, which is reportedly worth $107MM guaranteed over four years with unlikely incentives pushing it up to a possible $120MM.

If they want to continue to keep their options open and possibly deal him during the season, the Heat would be wise not to extend Herro to avoid the “poison pill provision,” which would make trading him extremely difficult. Miami would still have the ability to match any offer he might receive as a restricted free agent in 2023.

The risk of not extending him, assuming his agents are open to accepting less than a maximum-salary deal right now, is there’s a non-zero chance he gets a max as a restricted free agent next summer. A four-year maximum contract from a rival team is projected to be worth $142,975,000.

Giving Herro around $30MM a year would lock in an expensive core of Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Kyle Lowry for at least the next two seasons (Lowry is a free agent in 2024). Having said that, extending Herro now could make moving him in the 2023 offseason easier for the Heat in some ways – he’d already be trade-eligible, and his larger contract would make salary-matching for another star less tricky than it is on the end of his rookie deal.

Extension Candidate: Stanley Johnson

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline.

In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Extension Candidate Series]

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Pistons swingman Stanley Johnson. Let’s dive in…

Why the Pistons should give him an extension:

The ability to guard multiple positions has become an increasingly valuable skill in the current NBA. With so many teams going with smaller lineups, defenders must be able to switch onto smaller, quicker players and bigger, stronger opponents alike and still hold their own. Therein lies Johnson’s calling card.

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft, the 6’7” Johnson has proven he can defend four positions. He’s got the strength to mix up with a LeBron James and the athleticism and quickness to match up with a Kyrie Irving.

For the most part, Johnson is assigned to the other team’s top wing player. Given the composition of the Pistons’ roster, Johnson serves as a complimentary piece to the team’s other top wings, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. Bullock and Kennard are known for their perimeter shooting but aren’t considered noteworthy defenders.

New coach Dwane Casey has indicated he’d like to play Johnson at power forward at certain times, which would allow him to attack taller, slower defenders off the dribble.

Why the Pistons should avoid an extension:

If Johnson has shown any growth offensively, it’s been a very gradual process. In his rookie season, he averaged 8.1 PPG while making 37.5% of his shots and 30.7% from long range in 23.1 MPG.

He experimented with a new release in his second year and regressed even from those subpar figures. Johnson’s offensive woes and questions about his work ethic led to a dip in playing time, as he averaged 4.4 PPG while shooting 35.3% from the field and 29.2% on 3-point tries in 17.8 MPG.

He got back in former coach Stan Van Gundy’s good graces last season but remained a work in progress offensively. Johnson averaged 8.7 PPG on 37.5% shooting whiile making just 28.6% of his threes in 27.4 MPG.

Points of comparison:

Among  recent recipients of rookie scale extensions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be the best point of comparison for Johnson. In 2015, the Hornets gave Kidd-Gilchrist a four-year, $52MM deal, mainly due to his reputation as a lockdown defender.

Kidd-Gilchrist has been a fixture in the team’s starting lineup during the first two years of the extension but his offensive numbers have actually gone down compared to his first three seasons in the league. He doesn’t even attempt 3-point baskets, which makes it easier for defenders to load up on Charlotte’s shooters.

Johnson at least provides some hope of developing into a perimeter threat. In six April games last season, he averaged 12.0 PPG and made 36% of his long-distance tries.

Cap outlook:

Due to the acquisition of Blake Griffin and some poor decisions by the previous regime, the Pistons won’t have a lot of flexibility in terms of their payroll next summer.

The trio of Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson alone will eat up $79.6MM of their cap space. The Pistons will still be on the hook for the final years of Jon Leuer‘s and Langston Galloway‘s deals, chewing up another $16.8MM in cap room. And the stretch provision used on Josh Smith will wipe out an additional $5.33MM.

Handing Johnson a deal comparable to Kidd-Gilchrist, i.e. in the $13MM annual range, would leave the Pistons with very little wiggle room to upgrade the roster. They’d have to be convinced that Johnson could expand his game offensively while remaining a bulldog on the defensive end.

It’s not far-fetched, considering Johnson exited college after his freshman season at Arizona. He’s still only 22 and could thrive under the guidance of Casey.


Under a different set of circumstances, the Pistons might consider locking up Johnson at the right price. He can contribute without being a major offensive factor and the Pistons probably don’t need him to become a 15- or 20-point scorer.

They’ve got two All-Star level frontcourt talents in Griffin and Drummond, an offensively-gifted point guard (when healthy) in Jackson, and some quality 3-point shooters dotting the roster. It’s still difficult to make a long-term commitment to Johnson until he becomes at least enough of an offensive threat that defenders have to pay some attention to him.

It’s even more difficult for the Pistons to lavish Johnson with a multi-year deal given their salary constraints next summer. They can still extend a qualifying offer and see how the market plays out when Johnson becomes a restricted free agent.

It’s unlikely Johnson will develop so dramatically that other teams will be beating down his door with lucrative offer sheets. Better to see if Johnson can make the necessary upgrades in his game before giving him long-term security.

Will Johnson get extended by October 15?

Our prediction: No.

Our estimate: RFA in 2019.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: D’Angelo Russell

Twenty-three players became eligible for rookie scale extensions when the 2018/19 NBA league year began in July. One of those 23, Devin Booker, quickly finalized a new deal with the Suns, leaving 22 other players who could sign rookie scale extensions before the October 15 deadline. In the weeks leading up to that deadline, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the strongest candidates for new contracts.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Extension Candidate Series]

Our examination of this year’s candidates for rookie scale extensions continues today with Nets guard D’Angelo Russell. Let’s dive in…

Why the Nets should give him an extension:

The second overall pick in the 2015 draft, Russell was the first player to come off the board after Karl-Anthony Towns was selected. A play-making point guard with size, the former Ohio State star has shown intriguing upside during his first three NBA seasons, averaging 14.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, and 3.6 RPG in 191 games (27.8 MPG).

Given the Nets’ dearth of lottery picks in recent years, a result of their ill-fated trade with the Celtics years ago, the team was willing to surrender longtime center Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for Russell last summer, taking on Timofey Mozgov‘s oversized contract in the process.

That trade signaled that the Nets believed in Russell’s potential, and with the club’s cap now cleared of pricey long-term deals, this could be the time to invest in his future. Injuries and adjustments to Kenny Atkinson‘s system limited Russell’s impact in his first year in Brooklyn, but the club is reportedly excited to see what he can do in year two. If the 22-year-old enjoys a breakout season, he’ll only get more expensive as a restricted free agent in 2019.

Why the Nets should avoid an extension:

Beyond clearing Mozgov’s contract and clearing a path for Lonzo Ball to assume point guard duties, there’s a reason the Lakers were willing to trade Russell in 2017. The young guard faced scrutiny about his work ethic and his drive in Los Angeles, with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson hinting after the trade was completed that the franchise didn’t necessarily view Russell as a “leader.”

Russell’s on-court production may also be a cause for a concern, as he hasn’t shown much improvement in that department since his rookie season. Most players who enter the NBA as 19-year-olds and develop into reliable regulars see their numbers steadily rise over the course of their rookie contracts, but Russell’s 2017/18 stats (15.5 PPG on .414/.324/.740 shooting) look awfully similar to his 2015/16 figures (13.2 PPG on .410/.351/.737 shooting).

Russell didn’t exactly make a strong case for a long-term contract during his first season as a Net, with injuries limiting him to 48 games. He was outplayed by former second-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie at times, and his on/off-court numbers weren’t flattering — Brooklyn had a -7.1 net rating when Russell played, including an ugly 111.7 defensive mark. Those numbers improved to -2.8 and 107.0 when he wasn’t on the court.

Read more