By now, diehard NBA fans know which big-name players can become unrestricted free agents this summer. Stars like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward among others can hit the open market and it seems inevitable that they’ll each ink a max deal.
But what about the soon-to-be free agents who aren’t sure how much money they’ll garner when the calendar flips to July? While a lot goes into evaluating an individual as they enter free agency, there’s no question that a strong postseason can boost a player’s stock. Shining on the NBA’s biggest stage can only help an upcoming free agent (just ask Jerome James).
Here are some quality role players who are helping their free-agency case this postseason:
JaVale McGee, Golden State
Due to the constant jokes and focus on his mistakes, McGee has become really underrated as a player. Laugh all you want at his bloopers, but the 29-year-old is an important contributor for the star-studded Warriors. Despite playing just 11.8 minutes per game during these playoffs, McGee is currently averaging 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting 76 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line. To put that into perspective, his per-36 averages are 25 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6.1 blocks. Among all postseason players, McGee ranks second in PER (34.2), second in points per touch (.500, minimum 15 touches), fifth in True Shooting Percentage (76.6 percent), fifth in blocks per game (2) and eighth in Offensive Rebound Rate (13.6). Players are shooting just 31.6 percent at the rim against McGee, which leads all centers in the playoffs. His offensive rating (142) and defensive rating (92) are excellent as well. Sure, the sample size is small, but there’s no doubt McGee has played very well this postseason and taken advantage of his time on the floor.
Last offseason, McGee was considered such a risky addition that his contract with Golden State was for the veteran’s minimum and non-guaranteed. He had to earn his way onto the team and the Warriors could’ve cut him at any time prior to Jan. 10. Now, he’s a key rotation player who is playing extremely well. This summer, will teams still focus on his mental lapses and immaturity? Will they view his success as a bit of a fluke since he was surrounded by All-Stars and strong leaders (and on his best behavior since he was a non-guaranteed deal)? Or will they believe he’s changed and capable of duplicating his success elsewhere? Time will tell, but continuing his excellent play throughout Golden State’s postseason run can only help him.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto
Ibaka’s final season before hitting free agency didn’t exactly go as planned. He was traded to the Orlando Magic last summer, and he never quite fit with the struggling group that had a logjam in the frontcourt. But at the trade deadline, he was dealt to the Toronto Raptors. He was obviously in a much better situation on a contender, but adjusting to a new team, system and city midseason is tough. However, it seems that Ibaka is acclimated now and he has been everything the Raptors hoped for when they acquired him in February.
The 27-year-old is averaging 13.1 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in the playoffs. He’s averaging the fifth-most blocks and eighth-most boards among all postseason players. Also, he ranks third in defensive win shares (.4), fourth in block percentage (5.7), fourth in defensive rating (101) and ninth in rebound percentage (15.7). Opponents are shooting just 39.2 percent at the rim against Ibaka, which ranks second among power forwards in the playoffs. Toronto spent the past several years searching for an upgrade at the four and Ibaka has delivered. Teams want big men who can block shots and stretch the floor and that’s Ibaka’s game. Whether it’s the Raptors or another team, he should still get a lucrative deal this summer even after a year full of ups and downs.
Joe Ingles, Utah
Fans in Salt Lake City (and smart talent evaluators around the league) have been raving about Ingles for quite some time, but it feels like he’s finally getting the credit he deserves on a larger scale. Ingles was extremely important in Utah’s first-round upset of the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 6.4 points, 4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals. While the numbers show that he made his presence felt all over the court, the box score doesn’t really do Ingles’ contributions justice since he makes a lot of plays that don’t show up on the traditional stat sheet. He steps up in big moments, fills his role perfectly and rarely makes mistakes. Perhaps most important is that Ingles has been great defensively, which is backed up by advanced analytics. This postseason, he has the sixth-best Defensive Box Plus/Minus (4.1) and the sixth-best steal percentage (2.9 percent). He could improve his shooting from the field and three-point range since his percentages have dipped from his impressive regular season marks, but there’s no question he’s been huge for Utah.
Every team could use a player like Ingles in their supporting cast. Ironically, every team could’ve had Ingles since he went undrafted in 2009 and bounced around a bit before ultimately sticking with the Jazz. This summer, the 29-year-old shouldn’t have any trouble finding interested suitors. After a strong regular season and impressive postseason, he’ll have plenty of leverage in negotiations.
Earlier this season, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey explained to HoopsHype how he signed Nene last offseason. “He really wanted to come to a winning team and we were fortunate he was available for us,” Morey said. “With the remaining money we had, we signed him. He took every last dollar and we are happy to give it to him.” That decision has certainly paid off for Houston, as Nenê has been terrific for the Rockets in the playoffs. While James Harden deservedly gets most of the credit in Houston and their three-point shooting is obviously a crucial part of their team’s identity, Nenê’s production has also been a big reason for their success thus far.
The 34-year-old big man is currently averaging 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 21 minutes per game, while shooting 81.1 percent from the field. No, that’s not a typo. He’s shooting a ridiculous 92.3 percent off of paint touches and 84.6 percent off of post touches. He has been nearly automatic near the basket. Consider this: Nene ranks 17th among all postseason players in win shares (.7), which puts him ahead of stars like Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Paul George among others. Nenê’s age and injury history made it difficult for him to find a larger deal last offseason, so he took $2,898,000 from Houston to be part of a winning team and play a significant role. With the way he’s played, don’t be surprised if he gets a big raise this summer.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City
Entering the first-round series between the Thunder and Rockets, head coach Mike D’Antoni said that Houston was going to leave Roberson open at the three-point line and dare him to shoot. The strategy made sense, as Roberson made just 24.5 percent of his threes during the regular season and this would allow a Houston defender to roam the court. However, Roberson stepped up and shot better than anyone expected, knocking down 41.2 percent of his threes. While Oklahoma City lost, the 25-year-old had a strong series, averaging 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.4 steals. While his dreadful 14.3 percent free-throw shooting can’t be overlooked, the 25-year-old certainly helped himself with his superb defense, rebounding and three-point shooting.
Roberson ranks second in the postseason in blocks per game (3.4) and second in block percentage (8.8), trailing only Draymond Green in both categories. He also ranks second in steals per game (2.4) and first in steal percentage (3.2). He has the second-best Defensive Box Plus/Minus (6) – once again only trailing Green. Roberson was also excellent on the glass, ranking fifth among all players – and first among guards – in offensive rebounds per game (3.6) while also leading all shooting guards in contested rebounds (3.4 per game) and ranking second among all players in contested rebound percentage (54.8 percent, minimum 30 minutes per game). He increased his production from 6.6 points, 24.5 percent shooting from three and 46.4 percent shooting from the field in the regular season to 11.6 points, 41.2 percent shooting from three and 52.2 percent shooting from the field in the playoffs. It’s important to remember that Roberson is a restricted free agent with a $4,588,840 qualifying offer, and restricted free agency is always unpredictable. However, since Thunder have so much money committed to Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, it’s possible that a team could give Roberson a large, strategically-structured offer sheet that makes matching a difficult decision for Oklahoma City.
Deron Williams, Cleveland
Following the trade deadline, the Dallas Mavericks waived Williams and the Cavaliers scooped him up. When Cleveland added the 32-year-old, it was clear he’d play a significant role as the team’s primary backup point guard behind Kyrie Irving. With Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams no longer on the Cavs, the team desperately needed a veteran floor general who could run the offense and limit turnovers when Irving rested. While he’s obviously not the player he used to be, Williams has fit in really well with Cleveland and is doing exactly what the Cavs need from him this postseason.
Williams’ job is to facilitate, protect the ball and knock down open shots, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. He’s shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range. He’s making an astonishing 80 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers and he actually leads all postseason players in effective field goal percentage at 86.1 percent. Because of his age and decline, Williams isn’t poised for a big payday like some of the other players on this list, but he will receive a significant amount of interest from teams who will want to use him in a similar role. If he doesn’t re-sign with Cleveland, expect other contenders in need of a solid backup point guard to pursue him.
Who are some other upcoming free agents who have improved their stock this postseason? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.
Free Agency, Free Agency, Top, Andre Roberson, Deron Williams, JaVale McGee, Joe Ingles, Nene, Serge Ibaka, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz