Every year, players who are on the verge of hitting free agency experience a phenomenon known as the contract-year boost, in which they perform above their heads for long stretches of the season with the motivation of landing a huge payday pushing them.
That phenomenon sometimes extends itself into the playoffs, where players put up huge performances over limited simple sizes and skew their perception around the league, convincing teams that they may warrant longer looks – and more money – than they were originally slated to receive.
This postseason was no different, with various non-star-level players playing above their heads ahead of what should be a busy summer.
Below, we break down five players who helped raise their stock just before hitting free agency.
Despite playing while fasting for Ramadan, Enes Kanter enjoyed a strong playoff run, averaging 11.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Portland Trail Blazers. The big man also shot 51.4 percent from the floor over 16 games while boasting a solid +3.3 swing rating in those contests.
More than anything, Kanter was able to prove that he can be counted on in the postseason, answering a major question mark that used to surround him prior to joining the Blazers. Lest we forget his former head coach Billy Donovan famously uttering, “Can’t play Kanter,” during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2017 playoff run:
Kanter remains far from a defensive stalwart, but this postseason, he showed he can hold his own end on that side of the floor, colliding with such big men as Steven Adams and Nikola Jokic and helping Portland come out on top in those series.
The outspoken Kanter made sure people remembered the years-old slight on him, too, when he tweeted this following a big performance against Jokic and the Denver Nuggets:
Now headed towards unrestricted free agency, Kanter should draw a good amount of interest as a third-tier option for teams lacking sturdy big-man play, and the fact he proved he can be trusted in high-pressure situations will extend his list of potential suitors to include playoff-caliber clubs.
Kanter wasn’t the only Trail Blazer who helped himself ahead of free agency. Rodney Hood also acquitted himself quite nicely in the postseason, putting up 9.9 points and 2.3 boards nightly while shooting 35.3 percent from the floor.
Hood didn’t display the nightly consistency that Kanter did, but his moments of brilliance legitimately helped Portland swing a crucial outcome, and eventually the series, against Denver.
Without the Duke product’s 19-point, 2-rebound outing in Game 3 against the Nuggets, which included the outing-sealing triple with 18 seconds remaining in quadruple-overtime, the Blazers would have faced a tough 2-1 hole in the series and had a much more difficult time reaching the Western Conference Finals without home-court advantage and momentum.
Portland’s swingman followed that performance up with a 25-point showing in Game 6 – a contest the Blazers won by 11, a victory that pushed the series to seven, and, eventually, in Portland’s favor.
Although Hood struggled with consistency during the regular season, even after a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Blazers, his playoff run undoubtedly helped his stock ahead of free agency. Confident bucket-getters are hard to come by in the NBA, and as long as Hood can maintain that level of confidence he displayed in the postseason, teams around the Association will be interested in attaining his services.
On a team as stacked as the Golden State Warriors, not many expected Kevon Looney to be as important as he has been these playoffs. But due to injuries, Looney was playing over 20 minutes nightly in the postseason prior to going down with his own chest ailment that will cost him the rest of the NBA Finals.
Regardless, Looney was able to do enough over the last four rounds to prove he’s worth an investment this summer, primarily from rebuilding teams lacking young, promising big men. Looney averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per playoff game, and had an absurd +16.2 swing rating during his time on the floor for Golden State.
Looney’s most noteworthy performance came in a series-deciding Game 6 victory for the Warriors against the Houston Rockets, when the UCLA product dropped 14 points and five rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting:
Even in spite of an ill-timed late-season injury, Looney’s stock is definitely rising at the right time ahead of unrestricted free agency.
His play doesn’t merit a max contract offer, but Looney’s defense, finishing ability and short-midrange shooting will make him an interesting option for big man-needy clubs this summer.
Centers who can protect the paint and space the floor from three are a rare archetype, and one that just about every team covets. That’s why Milwaukee Bucks 7-footer Brook Lopez will have so many suitors this offseason.
His play in the postseason didn’t hurt, either.
Lopez averaged 11.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.5 triples per playoff outing for a Milwaukee team that had the best net rating – +8.8 – in the postseason prior to going down against the Toronto Raptors. With Lopez on the floor, the Bucks were 3.7 points per 100 possessions better than when he sat, proving that his raw statistics were far from empty.
The teams with loads of cap space won’t have Lopez atop their list of free-agent targets, but those needing an impactful center will be calling him as soon as the league allows it. Especially those with playoff aspirations next season.
The Los Angeles Clippers may have not made it far in the postseason, falling to the Warriors in a six-game first-round fight, but they were able to push the defending champs thanks to the toughness and grit they were able to display throughout the series.
And no single player embodied that spirit better than Patrick Beverley.
The 30-year-old veteran point guard averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the playoffs, knocking down a fiery 43.3 percent of his three-point looks in the process. He did that while playing outstanding defense on the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and even Kevin Durant.
Because of his playoff performance and the fact that he’ll be cheaper than some of the elite point-guard options, Beverley is going to garner a ton of interest on the open market this offseason.
Look for contenders, especially, to throw their hats into the Beverley sweepstakes, since he’s the perfect low-usage, high-effort option that can help swing playoff games.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.