Today we will focus on the small forwards set to become free agents next month.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (player option):
KD took a ton of heat last July when he decided to join the Warriors, but was all smiles this June. Durant was incredible throughout the postseason and especially in the championship round vs. Cleveland. He was unanimously named MVP of the Finals after averaging 35.4 points (on 55.6 percent shooting), 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the series. He became the fourth player ever to score at least 30 points in every game of the Finals for the winning team. KD is expected to opt out of his current deal and re-sign with Golden State this summer. He’s obviously worthy of a max contract; however, he may choose to accept slightly less in order to give Golden State the financial flexibility required to flesh out the rest of their roster.
2. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz:
Hayward has steadily improved each year he’s been in the league. This season, he took the most difficult step, from good player to great player. Hayward started his career off in relatively uninspiring fashion, averaging just 5.4 points per game his rookie year, but that number climbed all the way up to 19.3 ppg by his fifth NBA season. In the process, he became one of just three players in NBA history to increase his scoring average by at least two points per game in four consecutive seasons. (Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton are the other two). This past season, Hayward upped his average to a career-high 21.9 points per game. Remarkably, it the seventh straight year in which his season average has increased. Gordon also chipped in 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists, while posting an effective field goal percentage of .536. Only four other players matched those numbers in 2016-17: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. Hayward has also improved significantly as a perimeter defender. He is going to sign a max contract this summer; the only question is where. The Heat have recently been mentioned as potential suitors, but it will likely come down to a two-horse race between Utah and Boston. The Celtics, who finished with the best record in the East, are led by Brad Stevens, who coached Gordon in college at Butler University. However, Hayward has repeatedly stated he's greatly enjoyed his time in Utah, and it is important to note that the Jazz can offer significantly more guaranteed money.
3. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards (restricted):
Much like the Gordon Hayward, gradual improvement has been a hallmark of Porter’s career thus far as well. After a disappointing rookie campaign, in which he averaged 2.1 points per contest, Porter has been rising up the ranks of the NBA’s 3-and-D wings. He has seen his points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage all increase in each of his first four NBA seasons. Offensively, Porter exceeded all expectations in 2016-17, finishing fifth in the NBA in 3-point shooting (.434). In the Eastern Conference, he only trailed Cleveland’s Kyle Korver. Per Basketball Reference, Porter joined Steve Nash as just the second player in NBA history to shoot at least 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from downtown and 83 percent from the free throw line, while attempting at least four 3-pointers per game over the course of a full NBA season. At only 24 years of age, his rare combination of defensive versatility and offensive efficiency make him an extremely valuable commodity. He’s a perfect complement to the Wizards' phenomenal backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal. For that reason, in addition to the fact that the Wizards have no cap flexibility and would thus be unable to replace Porter if they lost him via free agency, expect Washington to match any offer Otto receives.
4. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors:
Considering he came into the league as a high-flier that frequently relied on his incredible athleticism, it’s surprising to see Iguodala still playing at a high level despite creeping towards his mid-30’s. This is partly due to the Warriors limiting his minutes and resting Iguodala when needed. His exceptionally high basketball IQ allows Iggy to remain remarkably effective and efficient despite his advanced age. In 2016-17, he led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, posting a 4.50-to-1 ratio (261 assists to 58 turnovers) and ranked seventh in steals per turnover ratio (1.31, 76 steals and 58 turnovers). Also, Iguodala ranked first among all qualified reserves in plus/minus per game with an on-court differential of +6.9. The Warriors top priorities this offseason will be locking up Durant and Stephen Curry long term; but make no mistake, they are acutely aware that Iguodala is still one of the NBA’s top sixth men and an incredibly valuable part of their rotation. If KD and Curry are willing to settle for a bit of discount, that savings will likely be dedicated to keeping Iggy in Golden State.
5. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (restricted):
It will be very interesting to see what kind of offers Ingles receives this summer. He’s one of those players that appeals far more to the analytics crowd than those that rely primarily on the eye test. Ingles’ form isn’t pretty, yet he is an undeniably accurate long-range shooter. He finished the 2016-17 regular season ranked third in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (.441). At first glance, he doesn’t appear to have the agility or athleticism required to stay in front of lightning-quick wings and guards, yet he is respected league-wide as a tenacious defender. He ranked 18th in steal percentage (2.5) last season and 20th in Defensive Rating. Utah would obviously like to keep Ingles in Salt Lake City, but may not be able to bring back both he and Hayward, especially if they also re-sign point guard George Hill. If Hayward ends up signing elsewhere, that significantly increases the chances Utah matches any reasonable offer sheet Ingles receives.
6. Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder (restricted):
Roberson’s free agency will serve as a fascinating case study in the value of a one-dimensional player in today’s NBA. Roberson is undoubtedly one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league. OKC allowed 4.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with Roberson on the floor last season. Being able to sick Roberson on the opposing team’s top-scoring guard/forward is a tremendous luxury to have. However, that defense comes at a significant cost, as his startling inability to contribute on the offensive end leads to its own set of issues. Amazingly, Roberson shot just 3-of-21 from the free throw line in the 2017 playoffs. He looked legitimately terrified to go to the charity stripe. These issues often get worse, not better (ask Nick Anderson). Roberson also shot just 24.5 percent from 3-point territory during the regular season, despite being wide open on the vast majority of his triple tries. According to Basketball Reference, he is the only player in NBA history to attempt at least 150 treys and make less than 50, and to also attempt more than 100 free throws and make less than 50 in the same season. Still, the Thunder often found ways to effectively hide him on offense, and elite perimeter defenders are undeniably valuable. It will be fascinating to watch what teams are willing to pay, and if Oklahoma City if willing to match.
7. C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers:
Miles led the Pacers and finished 12th in the NBA while shooting a career-best 41.3 percent from long range in 2016-17. Furthermore, among players who attempted at least 400 treys, only three finished with a higher percentage (Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum and J.J. Redick). At a springy 6’6”, Miles is also able to defend multiple positions and hold his own on that end of the floor. Surprisingly, he has averaged fewer than 24 minutes per game in each of his last two seasons in Indiana. Wherever he lands, expect that number to increase next season, along with his annual salary.
8. P.J. Tucker, Toronto Raptors:
Tucker is a big, burly defender who is strong enough to guard four’s, but can also handle quick small forwards. And, while not a great 3-point marksmen, he shoots well enough from deep (35.1 percent for his career) to make defenses respect him. A consummate pro and respected locker room voice, Tucker is an ideal candidate for a contender that’s in the market for a defensive-minded vet.
9. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings:
It's difficult to determine what type of interest Gay will drum up this summer. He’s been a formidable scorer throughout his NBA career, averaging at least 18 points per game in each of his last ten seasons. However, even fully healthy, Gay’s game has flaws. He’s a high-volume shooter (career usage rate of 24.8) that needs the ball in his hands to be effective. He’s also a subpar defender. Gay’s situation is further complicated by the fact that he’s just four months removed from an Achilles tear. Very few players have been able to return to full strength after suffering that type of debilitating injury. When you factor in Gay’s age (he turns 31 in August), it’s difficult to imagine a team breaking the bank to reel him in.
10. Bojan Bogdanovic, Washington Wizards (restricted):
Unlike many of the players listed above, Bogdanovic excels on the offensive end but is defensively deficient. He averaged career-highs in points (13.7), rebounds (3.4) and 3-pointers (1.8) last season. For his career, Bojan shoots 36.9 percent from downtown. He’s probably best suited as an offensive spark off the bench.