1. Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks (restricted):
When healthy, Noel has been one of the more versatile and athletic defensive-minded big men in the league since he entered the NBA. In 2014-15, he became the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. The following season, Noel again patrolled the paint in Philadelphia, leading the 76ers in defensive rebounds and steals and finishing second on the team in blocks. His offensive game will likely never expand outside of the paint, but he has good hands and is a capable finisher around the basket. Despite playing limited minutes throughout his career, he’s been impressively efficient. However, durability has been an issue with Noel. He missed the entire 2013-14 campaign due to an ACL tear and has averaged just 64 games per season in the three years since. Nonetheless, the Mavs valued Noel enough to trade Justin Anderson and a future first-round pick for him back in February. Expect Dallas to match any offer he receives.
2. Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs (player option):
Last summer, Gasol was one of the more attractive free agents on the market. He had averaged 16.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 blocks for the Bulls in 2015-16, becoming just the sixth player in league history to average at least 16/10/4/2 over a full season. Unsurprisingly, after signing in San Antonio, his workload was significantly reduced in 2016-17. Thus, it’s not shocking that he averaged career-lows in points (12.4), assists (2.3) and free throw attempts (2.9) as a Spur, as he also averaged just 25.4 minutes per contest (he had previously never averaged fewer than 31 minutes a night). Make no mistake, Gasol’s resume is incredibly impressive. He is one of only four players in NBA history with 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,500 blocks. (The other three are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.) However, Gasol will turn 37 in July, and it’s fair to speculate just how much gas he has left in the tank. Last week it was reported that Gasol is going to decline his $16.2 million option for 2017-18, but intends to work with the Spurs on a new, multi-year deal to remain in San Antonio.
3. Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets (restricted):
Plumlee is an athletic and mobile big who contributes on both ends of the floor. He protects the paint defensively, cleans the glass and sees the floor relatively well (he ranked fifth among all centers in assists last season). Dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season, only five players have tallied at least 200 steals, 200 blocks and 500 assists: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap, DeMarcus Cousins and Mason Plumlee. His numbers did take a hit in the move from Denver to Portland, as Plumlee saw his playing time reduced. However, Denver did give up Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick to obtain Plumlee, so they clearly think very highly of him. In addition, Nurkic's resurgence with the Blazers puts extra pressure on the Nuggets. As a result, Denver will likely match any reasonable offer sheet Plumlee signs this summer.
4. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (restricted):
In Game 7 of Boston’s series vs. Washington, Olynyk exploded for 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting. In the next round, in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Cleveland, Olynyk scored a total of two points on a combined on 1-of-8 shooting. Then, in Games 3 and 4 of the ECF, he poured in 30. That five-game stretch is somewhat emblematic of Kelly’s career thus far. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but will then often disappointingly disappear. Teams that bid for him this summer have to weigh that frustrating inconsistency with his capacity to break open games when his shot is falling. Fortunately for Olynyk, the positionless nature of today's NBA works in his favor. It’s easier to highlight his strengths (long-range shooting and ability to stretch the floor), while masking his weaknesses (subpar interior defense and inability to board).
5. Dewayne Dedmon, San Antonio Spurs:
Dedmon was an unrestricted free agent last season, but was nowhere near the top-5, let alone top-10 in terms of the most coveted big men on the market. However, after a season spent defending the paint and working the glass in San Antonio, Dedmon is set to cash in. He appeared in 76 games, including 37 starts for the Spurs, averaging 5.1 points (on 62.2 percent shooting) and 6.5 rebounds in 17.5 minutes. He grabbed at least ten rebounds in 13 games and recorded six double-doubles. Dedmon led the team in blocks 21 times and in boards 21 times. Per NBA.com, opponents shot just 44.5 percent at the rim against him, which ranked seventh in the league. In addition, he posted a defensive real plus-minus of 3.94, which was second only to Rudy Gobert among qualified centers.
6. Alan Williams, Phoenix Suns (restricted):
The young Suns center that most Phoenix fans expected to have a breakout season in 2016-17 was the one listed below (Alex Len). Instead, the undrafted Williams surprisingly exceeded all expectations and bullied his way into the Sun rotation, gobbling up Len’s minutes in the process. Williams was particularly productive over the second half of the season. In the 24 games played after the All-Star break, he averaged 11.4 points and 9.1 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per contest. He was also remarkably efficient all year long, posting per-36 minute averages of 17.6 points and 14.8 boards over the course of the season. Per Basketball Reference, he is just the fourth player since the turn of the century to average at least 17 and 14 per-36 over a full season. (The other three are Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside.) Despite measuring in at just 6’8”, Williams’ proved he can bang and board with much bigger opponents. His tenacity and rebounding acumen has earned him a spot in the league; the only question is whether he remains in the Valley of the Sun.
7. Alex Len, Phoenix Suns (restricted):
After a frustratingly slow start to his career, it appeared Len was establishing himself over the second half of the 2015-16 campaign, when he averaged 13.0 points and 10.3 boards over the season’s final 27 games. However, as alluded to above, he failed to launch last season, as his production plateaued. And, despite the Suns benching Tyson Chandler over the final few months to get a closer look at their younger players, Len was not overly impressive in the starting role (9.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 23.0 minutes over 34 starts). As a result, Phoenix has some very difficult decisions to make this summer. The Suns already have 26.5 million in salary committed to Chandler through 2019. They will likely have to choose between Len or Williams going forward. Both players are 24-year old restricted free agents who bring different skill sets to the table. Although he has not yet lived up to the hype, the 7’1” Len is a former top-5 overall pick with pedigree and promise.
8. Nene, Houston Rockets:
Coming into the season, it appeared Father Time was slowly but surely pushing Nene towards retirement, until the Brazilian big man bounced back with bravado in Houston. Due to a limited number of suitors, the Rockets were able to ink Nene to a one-year deal at under $2.9 million for 2016-17. They limited him playing time (17.9 minutes per contest), and he responded with a surprisingly solid all-around season, averaging 9.1 points and shooting a career-best 61.7 percent from the floor. His per-36 minute scoring average (18.3 points) was also the highest mark of his career. Before injuring his groin nine games into Houston’s postseason run, he was averaging 10.0 points and 4.7 boards, while shooting a scorching 70.6 percent, in under 18 minutes per game in the playoffs. Nene and Clint Capela were a terrific tag team for Houston, and the Rockets would surely like to bring Nene back to H-Town, but they’ll have to pay far more than the bargain-basement rate they doled out for him last season.
9. Zaza Pachulia, Golden State Warriors:
The Warriors didn’t ask Zaza to do much. When your two starting guards and two starting forwards are All-NBA quality players, you don’t need a ton of production from your pivot. Thus, Pachulia happily spent last season doing the dirty work in Golden State, playing physical and setting screens. He was content in his role, chipping offensively only when left wide open. Unsurprisingly, considering he was surrounded by teammates who ran defenders ragged, Zaza shot a career-high .533 from the field. His previous best was .499 with Atlanta in 2011-12. He also led the Warriors in offensive rebounding (2.0) and total offensive rebounds (140). Among centers, he had highest plus-minus (+6.0) according to NBA.com/stats.
10. Willie Reed, Miami Heat:
It’s a small sample size of only five contests, but Reed was certainly impressive in the five games he started for Miami last season. He averaged 14.8 points (on 68.6 percent shooting) and 8.2 rebounds in those starts. Reed was also consistently productive in the other 66 games he appeared in off the bench last season as well. Plenty of teams will be interested in bringing him in as a reliable backup big.