Now that we’ve just about reached the All-Star break, NBA front offices are going to have some extra time without games to think about how they plan to move forward with their rosters.
Executives around the league always have tough decisions to make about who they plan to re-sign and who they plan to let walk during the offseason. But as the season progresses, it becomes a bit easier to evaluate who would be a good fit for their franchise and who might not be.
As part of our ongoing series at HoopsHype, we are looking at whose free agency stock has gone up – and down – over the last several games.
Stock up: Bruce Brown (Brooklyn)
Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown moved into the starting lineup more consistently starting Feb. 10 and the results have been fascinating. Since that date, even though Kevin Durant has played just once, the Nets have won 10 of 11 games.
Brown may not have the name-recognition of teammates James Harden or Kyrie Irving. But his defensive tenacity and overall versatility have had no small role in the success that his team has had in recent weeks. While he stands just 6-foot-4, Brown has used his 6-foot-9 wingspan to play every position on both sides of the floor, even running at center.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Brown is currently shooting 72 percent at the rim (86th percentile among wings) and 51 percent from midrange (96th percentile) on the season. This is thanks in large part to his floater, which has been one of the most efficient in the league.
Have to give the Nets credit for how they are using Bruce Brown. The cuts are one thing but using him in pick and roll has worked. Not just as a screener but a *roller*. One way to counter putting a big on him. Ability to roll and finish and defenses are caught off guard. pic.twitter.com/EzPlmjcNHr
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) February 24, 2021
Despite his size, he has been a phenomenal pick-and-roll partner for Harden and Irving. Brown is 13-for-17 (76.5 percent) when rolling to the basket on ball-screens so far this season, per Synergy. His offensive rebounds and his putbacks have given Brooklyn dozens of second-chance opportunities, too.
Of late, he has scored at least 12 points in six consecutive games, reaching 29 points on Feb. 23 against the Sacramento Kings. The 24-year-old has grabbed at least 8 or more rebounds three times during that stretch as well. One of his season’s best performances was against the Houston Rockets on March 3. He recorded 17 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists during the victory.
While he is currently signed to a minimum contract, the Nets will surely want to re-sign Brown to a multi-year deal. He is eligible for an extension now and will be again in August. As a restricted free agent, one former executive told Forbes that he could receive approximately $9 to $10 million per season.
For the latest news and rumors on Bruce Brown, click here.
Stock down: LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio)
Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge is in a tough situation with the San Antonio Spurs. Last month, the big man was moved out of the starting lineup for the first time since his rookie season.
The 35-year-old has been dealing with a hip injury and is averaging just 13.7 points per game, the lowest since his first professional campaign. Meanwhile, his 4.5 rebounds per game is a career-low for the veteran.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Aldridge is shooting just 64 percent at the rim (35th percentile among big men) and an abysmal 31 percent from short midrange (15th percentile) so far in 2020-21. Plus, the Spurs have recorded a much better defensive rating when he is not on the floor.
We're exactly a month away from the NBA trade deadline, so we went hot stove with @ZachLowe_NBA, @MarcJSpears and @RamonaShelburne to find out the most likely buyers, sellers and buyout candidates to look for over the next few weeks: pic.twitter.com/AMDJMsHkah
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 26, 2021
Considering how well Jakob Poeltl has played in his new role as a starter, it seems unlikely that Aldridge has much of a future with the organization. But rather than letting him walk in the offseason, per ESPN’s Marc Spears, he is available via trade.
The market is surely going to be thin for an aging frontcourt player like Aldridge. While he may be seen as a short-term rental, unless he pivots to a floor-spacing shooting specialist, it is hard to imagine a team deciding to use much of their cap space to re-sign him in unrestricted free agency.
For the latest news and rumors on LaMarcus Aldridge, click here.
Stock up: Carmelo Anthony (Portland)
It doesn’t matter that Portland’s Carmelo Anthony is nearly 37 years old. The 10-time All-Star is still able to beat almost anyone in the league facing them one-on-one, either posting defenders up or winning in isolation.
Unsurprisingly given his age, Anthony’s 25.6 minutes per game are the fewest he has played in his career. After declaring in 2018 that he wouldn’t come off the bench, however, the 6-foot-8 forward has evolved into one of the better second-unit players in the league.
Carmelo Anthony made 10 shots tonight. All 10 were swishes. Zero rim. I’ve never seen anything like that before. pic.twitter.com/HBaaxMgFbK
— Michael Bodmer (@mbodmer) March 2, 2021
Anthony has scored at least 22 points in three of his last five games, hitting six three-pointers in the Battle of the Melos when Portland defeated LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets on March 1. He swished on literally all ten of his connections from the field and he recorded a remarkable five steals, only one short of his career-best game.
Expect him to very soon pass former MVP and two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon for the 11th-most points in league history.
The veteran agreed to a one-year, league-minimum deal with Portland last offseason. Based on his willingness to fill his role and his ability to score in bursts off the bench, there could be contenders around the league willing to offer something closer to the mid-level or bi-annual exception for next year.
For the latest news and rumors on Carmelo Anthony, click here.
Stock down: Wesley Matthews (LA Lakers)
When watching the Los Angeles Lakers this season, it is easy to forget that just last year Wesley Matthews started all 67 games that he played for the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Matthews, 34, is currently averaging a career-low 4.2 points per game so far this season. He is playing just 20.2 minutes per game, the lowest he has ever recorded as well.
The 6-foot-5 wing needs to be able to hit his jumper to stay in the rotation for the Lakers. But he is shooting just 20-for-70 (28.6 percent) off the catch, per Synergy, which ranks in just the 18th percentile among all NBA players.
Wesley Matthews stats over the last 6 games:
— 🐸₂₄ (@Dodger_Mamba) March 4, 2021
Worse yet, the veteran has been held scoreless in four of the last five games and he is just 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) from the field during that stretch. He has made more than one shot just once in his last eleven appearances.
It would more acceptable if Matthews was a significant contributor as either a playmaker, rebounder or defender. But with none of those skills in his arsenal at this point in his career, the future looks bleak.
He signed a one-year deal for the bi-annual exception during the offseason. If he doesn’t heat up for the second half of the season and/or in the playoffs, he will likely only have offers for minimum deals next season.
For the latest news and rumors on Wesley Matthews, click here.
Stock up: Dennis Smith (Detroit)
Former Top 10 draft pick Dennis Smith Jr., who was awarded NBA All-Rookie 2nd Team back in 2018, was a promising prospect coming out of NC State.
But the guard never made it into the rotation for the New York Knicks this season and instead requested to play in the G League bubble. While that move never materialized, he was included in a deal to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Derrick Rose.
The organization always knew he would be able to throw down ridiculous highlight dunks like what he did against the Sacramento Kings last month.
DENNIS. SMITH. JR. SHEESH. pic.twitter.com/VTBknRjOxM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 27, 2021
Since moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 23, however, he has been filling up the stat sheet and looks better than ever.
Smith was at his best when he recorded a triple-double during a win over the Toronto Raptors on March 3. He pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds and for the second game in a row, added three steals.
The 23-year-old guard is currently in the final year of his rookie deal and he could become a restricted free agent if Detroit extends him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. If he continues to show he is more than just a dunker and keeps hitting his jumpers off the bounce, the Pistons could factor him in as a part of their long-term plans.
For the latest news and rumors on Dennis Smith Jr., click here.
Stock down: Stanley Johnson (Toronto)
During the 2019 offseason, Stanley Johnson signed a two-year, $7.4 million deal with the Toronto Raptors. While he had limited minutes, he was given a slightly bigger role for this year.
Earlier this, Johnson became a regular in the rotation under head coach Nick Nurse. He responded well to the increased responsibility, showcasing easily the best shooting stretch of his professional career.
After the first 17 games, Stanley Johnson was shooting 42-percent from downtown. Over list last 14 he's at 29-percent. Similar amount of volume as well. Hopefully it can creep back up
— Samson Folk (@samfolkk) March 5, 2021
But his jumper hasn’t been falling and Johnson was held scoreless in each of the five games that he played between Feb. 19 and March 3.
In fact, during the 14 games he has played since the start of February, he has failed to record a point in eight appearances.
Toronto never signed Johnson to be a primary scoring option but it has been hard to ignore his struggles on offense. The wing is averaging 0.85 points per possession on offense, per Synergy, which ranks 20th percentile in the NBA.
If he doesn’t increase his productivity, it may be hard for Johnson to get much more than a minimum deal this offseason once his contract expires.
For the latest news and rumors on Stanley Johnson, click here.