NBA 2021 Free Agency | Top 5 by position

Unlike last offseason, we’re going to see a ton of top end NBA free agents in 2021.

For the organizations, free agency is one of the primary forms of team-building. In addition to trades and the draft, this is where teams hope to find players necessary to move from one tier of competition to another.

Barring the decline of some high-profile players options, this year’s crop of free agents may not be as exciting as some groups from the past. However, help can be had at any of the game’s five traditional positions.

Point Guards

 

 Chris Paul (Player Option)

Chris Paul is showing subtle signs of basketball aging, but a few have fought off Father Time as effectively as he has over the past 2 seasons.

CP will turn 36 this May but he’s still a capable second option.

He is averaging 15.6 points on a 48.4% shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 8.7 assist this season.

If he declines his player option to sigh with a powerhouse somewhere, Paul might even extend his elite effectiveness a bit longer.

 

Lonzo Ball

After a slow 10-game start in which he shot 28.2% from threes, Lonzo Ball has looked darn near the fully realized version of himself that warranted a top-two pick in 2017.

In 42 games this season, he’s averaging 14.2 points on a 41.9% shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

 

Mike Conley

Mike Conley just needed a little bit of a warmup before he got going with the Utah Jazz.

After an up-and-down 2019-20 that was marred by injuries and the learning curve in Quin Snyder’s system, Conley has been dynamite in 2020-21. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 5.7 assists in 45 games this season, while shooting a career-high 41.6% from threes.

Despite his age (33), he can clearly still run an offense and generally stabilize a lineup.

 

Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry‘s box plus/minus (BPM) has steadily declined since he posted a career-high 6.1 in 2016-17, which is to be expected from a smaller point guard in his mid-30s.

He’s averaging 17.1 points on a 43.7% shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists in 40 games this season

Still, even if his defense may be slipping a bit, Lowry is undoubtedly an offensive weapon who could contribute to a number of contenders. Luka Doncic, James Harden and Damian Lillard are the only players in the league this season who match or exceed Lowry’s marks for threes and assists per game.

 

Devonte’ Graham

ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) pegs Devonte’ Graham as the second-best point guard in the league this season, behind only Stephen Curry. Few would argue that’s actually the case, but the numbers must be capturing something good.

On the year, Graham is hitting 3.1 threes per game with a slightly above-average three-point percentage. Additionally, the Charlotte Hornets defense is worlds better when he plays.

He’s averaging 14.2 points on a 37.5% shooting and 5.2 assists in 44 games this season.

He may not be the superstar RPM suggests he is, but the 26-year old has proven himself a helpful player on both ends of the floor.

 

Shooting Guards

 

DeMar DeRozan

After years as an almost 80s or 90s style 2-guard, DeMar DeRozan is now a positionless playmaker averaging a career-high 7.1 assists and often leading lineups as a nominal 4.

He’s adding 21.2 points on a 49.5% shooting.

His off-ball defense and well-below-average marks in three-point percentage and eFG% remain a bit of a concern, but on the right team, he could be a serious floor-raiser.

 

 

Norman Powell (Player Option)

The Raptors are plus-1.9 points per 100 possessions when Lowry and Fred VanVleet play without Norman Powell, and they were plus-8.1 when they played with him. In Portland, the Blazers have a plus-2.9 net rating when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum play without Powell and are plus-19.0 when the play with him.

He’s averaging 19.1 points  and 2.7 threes on a 48.9% shooting this season.

 

Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo is dealing with another injury scare, but imaging following the latest incident reportedly revealed no additional structural damage. That’s obviously good news, but Oladipo remains out and his injury history has reached a point that could scare some suitors away.

In 33 games this season (between the Pacers, Rockets and now the Heat) he’s averaging 19.8 points on a 40.8% shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

If he can stay healthy, attack closeouts as a third or fourth option, hit threes at an average rate and spend time defending opposing stars, the next chapter of his career could be rosier than the last few. The “if” at the start of that sentence is the operative word, though.

 

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is showing this season an above-average efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

In 54 games this season he’s averaging 16 points on a 44.3% shooting. You wouldn’t want Hardaway to be your primary creator, but having wings who can initiate weakside actions and provide a handful of catch-and-shoot opportunities for the star are valuable.

 

Duncan Robinson (Restricted)

Even if his 2019-20 ends up being a bit of a career outlier, though, there’s no doubt Duncan Robinson is still one of the game’s best floor spacers. And on teams whose stars don’t make threes, like the Miami Heat, he can be particularly important.

He’s averaging 13 points per game on a 43.8% shooting.

With the way he moves off the ball and shoots of the catch, Robinson commands the attention of an athletic and high-Q perimeter defender. Keeping whoever that is away from the paint works wonders for the rest of the lineup. And the points per possession on the shots he does get can cover for a lot of inefficiency around the rest of the roster.

 

Small Forwards

 

Kawhi Leonard (Player Option)

Kawhi Leonard declining his player option with the Los Angeles Clippers would dramatically change this summer’s free agency, but it might take a catastrophe for that to happen.

Kawhi is averaging 26 points on a 51.5% shooting, 6.6 rebounds and 5 assists in 45 games this season. If, somehow, he did become available, teams would be scrambling for a meeting. The 29-year-old is a perennial MVP candidate who turns into basketball’s version of Terminator in the playoffs. Even in this condensed season, we’ve heard a lot less about “load management” as it relates to Kawhi.

 

Kelly Oubre Jr.

If you remove the nightmarish opening 10 games in which Kelly Oubre Jr. shot 13.7 percent from three, his numbers look more like what the Golden State Warriors may have expected from him this season.

For the rest of the campaign, he’s at 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 threes and 1.0 steals with a 36.1 three-point percentage.

He certainly has the length and physical tools necessary to contribute on that end, but more consistent effort and awareness would help.

 

 

Evan Fournier

Toiling away in relative anonymity for the Orlando Magic, Evan Fournier now has a chance to showcase his offense for the high-profile Boston Celtics. If his production remains at the level it’s been at since the start of the 2019-20 season, he’ll likely cash in with a solid new contract this summer.

In 30 games this season, he’s averaging 18.6 points on a 45.7% shooting.

 

Will Barton

After one of the best seasons of his career was cut short by knee and back injuries in 2019-20, Will Barton has had something of an up-and-down 2020-21. In his past 10 games, though, he’s averaging 13.2 points, 3.7 assists and 1.6 threes, while shooting 39.0 percent from three.

 

Danny Green

Danny Green is doing what he’s done through his career – hitting threes, effectively taking on tough defensive assignments and positively impacting the bottom line.

In 55 games this season, he’s averaging 9.7 points and shooting 41.4 percent from three and moving the Philadelphia 76ers’ per-100-possession point differential 4.9 ticks in the right direction.

 

Power Forward

 

John Collins (Restricted)

John Collins‘ ability to score above the rim or from behind the arc makes him a nearly ideal offensive big in today’s game. He can seamlessly shift back and forth between pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop weapon.

In 47 games this season, he’s averaging 18.2 points on a 54.5% shooting and 7.4 rebounds.

With only 23 years of age, there’s plenty of time for him to improve.

 

Lauri Markkanen (Restricted)

His rebounding and block percentages have both decreased in each of the past three seasons and he’s struggled to stay healthy his whole career, but there’s still understandable intrigue with Lauri Markkanen.

He’s averaging 14.7 points and a 47.9% shooting this season.

 

Blake Griffin

This Blake Griffin from the Nets is way different from the 2 years in Detroit.

In 9 games with the Brooklyn Nets, he’s averaging 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.7 threes per 75 possessions, with a 62.3 TS%

 

Rudy Gay

Like DeRozan, Rudy Gay has experienced something of a career renaissance with the San Antonio Spurs, where he has transitioned to playing mostly as a small-ball 4.

Despite his age, he still has a slight athletic advantage against  some 4s. He’s averaging 11.1 points on a 41.7% shooting.

 

Paul Millsap

In his age-36 season, Paul Millsap remains a dependable defender and an increasingly dangerous three-point shooter. His playing time has decreased significantly, though.

He’s averaging 8.9 points on a 48.7% shooting in 44 games this season.

 

Centers

 

Jarrett Allen (Restricted)

Jarrett Allen is averaging 13.1 points on a 63.1% shooting and 10 rebounds per game.

In the modern NBA, centers who can protect the rim and draw in opposing defenses as a roller can be extremely valuable.

 

Mitchell Robinson (Team Option)

The New York Knicks picking up Mitchell Robinson‘s team option once felt like a foregone conclusion, but injuries have made the decision a bit more difficult to predict.

In 31 games this season he’s averaging 8.3 points on a 65.3% shooting and 8.1 rebounds.

If he starts to falter on the floor, or the foot issues remain, the Knicks can let him walk. If he can stay healthy and dominant around the rim, they can match any offer sheet he signs in 2022.

 

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond came along 10-20 years too late. His size, athleticism and nose for the boards would’ve made him a perennial All-Star in the 90s or early 2000s, but a lack of perimeter skills quickly torpedoed his value in today’s game.

In early 2020, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for what amounted to little more than a 2023 second-round pick. Just over a year later, he was bought out by the Cavs. Now, he has a chance to rehab his free-agency market ahead of this summer.

In 31 games this season, he’s averaging 16.5 points on a 47.8% shooting and 12.6 rebounds.

 

Bobby Portis (Player Option)

Bobby Portis is having, without question, his best NBA season, posting career highs in BPM, rebounding percentage, block percentage and TS%.

He’s averaging 11.3 points on a 52.2% shooting and 7.1 rebounds in 52 games this season.

 

Montrezl Harrell

Despite a lack of size, outside shooting and defensive chops, Montrezl Harrell makes the top five over all of the above because of his explosive off-the-bench scoring ability.

He’s averaging 14.1 points on a 61.9% shooting and 6.7 rebounds in 57 games this season.

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