US Sports Veteran
Publish Date: 05/29/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The 2021 NBA Playoffs are in full swing, which means many teams are already looking forward to the draft and free agency. This year’s free agent crop only features two All-NBA-caliber players, and it’s unlikely either switches teams. However, there are still plenty of game-changers that could hit the market.
This article ranks the best free agents heading into the 2021 offseason. Check out the league’s official website for the rules governing the NBA’s offseason and player contracts. That page is a great source for new fans or returning readers looking for a deeper understanding of key terms and contract details.
PO- Player Option
TO- Team Option
RFA- Restricted Free Agent
Leonard is still one of the NBA’s best players, and our end-of-year predictions have him earning a Second-Team All-NBA selection. However, the former Defensive Player of the Year is consistently on time management because of knee injuries. Leonard is only two regular seasons removed from carrying the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first title.
The 29-year-old small forward has a player option for 2021. How Los Angeles performs in the playoffs could impact his final decision.
The final year of Paul’s contract is worth over $44 million in base salary. He’s not getting a better option in free agency, which points to the 36-year-old All-Star staying in Phoenix.
After a rocky two-year stint in Houston, Paul re-established himself as an All-NBA guard with Oklahoma City in 2019. His superstar play translated to 2020. After a ten-year playoff drought, the Suns claimed the Western Conference’s second seed.
At 33 years old, Conley finally received an All-Star selection. The aging point guard had a disastrous opening to his time in Utah, but Conley rebounded with a stellar performance in 2020. He set a career-high in three-point percentage, knocking down 41.2% of his 6.6 deep shots per game.
For the longest time, fans couldn’t understand why Lowry made six consecutive All-Star games. Looking back, it’s surprising so many people objected to his success. The 35-year-old Pennsylvania native is a classic jack of all trades. He hustles on both ends of the court, drawing charges and creating openings for his teammates.
DeRozan might deserve the third spot on this article, but he doesn’t shoot threes well and offers nothing special on defense. However, DeRozan is one of the league’s most consistent scorers. He’s one of the few active NBA players to average over 20 points per game in eight consecutive seasons. DeRozan hasn’t scored fewer than 1,200 points in a season since 2011.
Collins and Hawks All-Star Trae Young haven’t always seen eye-to-eye in their young careers. Will their relationship lead to Collins’ departure this offseason, or will making the playoffs heal all wounds? The Hawks are walking a thin line with their borderline All-Star, who just averaged over 20 points per 36 minutes for the third consecutive season.
Collins has a tweener’s build. He’s not the ideal power forward or center, but he’s developed an excellent three-point shot early in his career. The former 19th overall pick made 40.0% of his 355 threes over the past two years. Collins is only 23 years old.
Brooklyn traded Allen to Cleveland in part of the trade for James Harden. Allen played over 30 minutes per game with the Cavaliers and began experimenting with a three-point shot. The lengthy center is a traditional shot-blocking big man capable of averaging a double-double throughout a year. Allen recently turned 23.
After everything they’ve invested in their young core, the Pelicans don’t want Ball walking out the door this summer. The former second overall pick is an above-average defender and recently set career-highs in field goal (41.4%), three-point (37.8%), and free throw (78.1%) percentage. It took a while, but Ball finally has the blueprint for his success in the NBA.
Powell had a breakout season in 2019, and his 2020 campaign only built on that momentum. A mid-season trade out of Toronto disrupted Powell’s momentum slightly. He had a noticeable drop in efficiency with his new team but still made 41.1% of his 416 three-pointers this season. Powell finished the year with 1,283 points.
The 28-year-old guard earned roughly $10 million per year over the previous three years of his deal. His play option is for about $11.6 million. Turning down that much money seems counterintuitive, but lesser players have more expensive options this offseason.
Dinwiddie missed all but three games in 2020 with an ACL injury, but the 28-year-old should still have a significant free agent market. Since the start of 2017, Dinwiddie has authored three 1,000-point seasons, averaged 20 points per game once, and averaged six assists per outing twice. His player option pays out $12.3 million in 2021.
Schröder averaged the second-most points per game on the Thunder in 2019 and recently finished third in that category for the Lakers. He also finished second on Los Angeles’ roster in assists and steals per match. Schröder has a decent outside shot and offers reliable playmaking. The Lakers can’t afford to let him walk in free agency.
Markkanen had an impressive rookie season before the wheels fell off the 24-year-old’s young career. He’s struggled to stay healthy, and the Bulls never found an ideal role for him on the roster. Markkanen is still young and coming off a season where he made 40.2% of his threes and 48.0% of his total shots.
Chicago heavily underutilized and mismanaged the early stage of Markkanen’s career. Hopefully, he signs with a new team that has a better plan for his usage.
Fournier had some quasi-All-Star seasons in Orlando before joining the Celtics in a trade. He was highly efficient for Boston, netting 46.3% of his attempts from downtown, but he took significantly fewer shots. During his five final complete seasons with Orlando, Fournier scored 5,840 points while making 737 of his 1,969 three-pointers.
Harrell was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2019, but the former second-round pick saw his minutes and role heavily reduced with the Lakers. His totals are down across the board, including in per 36 measurements, even if his field goal percentage is up. Winning a championship might smooth things over, but most 27-year-olds don’t take kindly to reduced roles.
Harrell’s player option is worth roughly $9.72 million.
Modern NBA offenses are married to the three-point shot. There aren’t many better snipers in the game than Robinson. Over the past two seasons, he’s attempted 8.4 threes per game and knocked down 42.7% of them. That translates to 1,560 points on 1,219 shots from deep. Robinson doesn’t create much off the dribble and is questionable defensively.
Drummond is still one of the league’s most prolific rebounders, but his offensive and defensive limitations pose serious questions for potential suitors. He can’t space the floor and doesn’t have the quickness to guard pick-and-roll plays. However, Drummond’s size gives him some rim protection capabilities, and around a third of his rebounds come on the offensive glass.
Despite getting drafted into the NBA in 2008, Ibaka is still 31 years old. The former block champion put together an excellent stretch with Toronto before joining the Clippers. Ibaka saw his assist and block averages rise in Los Angeles, but his minutes and three-point averages declined. Unless he has a bounce-back season, Ibaka might be looking at a bench role in 2021.
While Hardaway is far from a star player, he’s as consistent of a producer as they come. He’s scored 5,597 points over the past five seasons. His lowest scoring total for a season during that span was 996 points in 2017. Hardaway stepped up his outside game over the past two years, making 39.4% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Trent developed into a viable starter with the Trail Blazers, but Portland shipped him to Toronto this season. In by far the most productive season of his three-year career, Trent splashed down 38.5% of his 7.4 threes per game. He’s a decent defender, but that three-point shooting is his calling card.
After a disastrous 2016 campaign in New York, Rose returned to Madison Square Garden in 2020 as a reborn player. The 32-year-old former MVP joined the Knicks as part of a trade with the Pistons. He made an immediate impact, playing 26.8 minutes a night while averaging 20 points per 36 minutes. Rose was one of the three finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Before joining New York, Rose hadn’t played a significant role on a winning basketball team since his days in Chicago. Knicks fans hope their team retains the former superstar.
The 76ers never expected Holmes to develop into a starting center when they drafted him at 37th overall in 2015. Fortunately for the 27-year-old, he started all 61 of his appearances this season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes. Holmes won’t shoot threes, but he’s bouncy and a strong finisher.
Oubre peaked with Phoenix in 2019, netting 35.3% of his threes and scoring over 1,000 points. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old saw his shooting percentages across the board take massive hits with Golden State. An injury ultimately ended Oubre’s season before the Warriors made their play-in tournament debut.
Oladipo only made 88 appearances during the past three regular seasons. When he played, the former All-NBA guard never approached the defensive impact and offensive efficiency he flashed as an All-Star in Indiana. Oladipo is 29 and rehabbing from another significant injury. At some point, the league must lower its expectations for the former 2nd overall pick.
Robinson fractured his foot earlier this season, limiting him to 31 games. The former second-round pick played a large role in New York’s rotation since joining the organization, and this was his first season as a full-time starter. Robinson doesn’t attempt threes, but he’s a fantastic rim protector and rebounder with his 7-0 frame and long arms.
Dragić rebounded from a disappointing 2018 campaign by transitioning to a reserve role. He was crucial in Miami’s Eastern Conference Championship season, scoring 953 points. Even at 35 years old, the Slovenian point guard is still a terrific scoring option. He routinely hits around 50.0% of his two-point shots and has a viable three-pointer.
Barton served as a full-time starter for Denver in each of the past three seasons. The Nuggets kept him around for his offensive game, which produced 5,345 points over the past six years. Barton’s improving three-point shot is one of the best additions to his game since entering the NBA. His player option is for roughly $14.7 million.
Williams is one of two players to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award three times. Unfortunately, the winds of change blew in Los Angeles this season, sending Williams to the Hawks. Even before the trade, Williams was playing significantly fewer minutes than in previous years. He converted on 44.4% of his three-pointers with the Hawks.
Portis is a 26-year-old 6-10 forward that just wrapped up the best shooting performance of his career. The Arkansas product made 47.1% of his threes and 52.3% of his total shots this year. While he doesn’t move the needle much on defense, Portis is an offensive asset. His player option is only for $3.8 million. Don’t expect him to accept that.
Millsap’s days as an All-Star are far behind him, but the 36-year-old still brings value to the table. This season, he averaged under ten points per game for the first time since 2007. That’s not shocking considering his age, but Millsap also suffered a significant drop in three-point efficiency (from 43.5% in 2019 to 34.4%). Luckily, the former Hawk is still a plus defender.
Noel never lived up to his status as the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but he’s developed into an excellent rim protector. The former 76er started 41 games this year, averaging 2.2 blocks per game and 3.3 per 36 minutes. According to Basketball-Reference, Noel led the NBA with a 3.5 defensive box plus/minus.
Richardson hasn’t scored 1,000 points in a season since leaving South Beach, but he’s still a starting-caliber shooting guard. Richardson is a plus defender, but he’s a below-average three-point shooter. His option amounts to roughly $11.6 million.
Green is approaching his 34th birthday and just wrapped up a bounce-back season that should secure him a starting job in 2021. Green attempted the most three-pointers per game in his career (6.3) and still made 40.5% of those shots.
Forbes established himself as an ideal three-point shooter during his time with San Antonio. He brought that success to Milwaukee, setting career-highs by making 47.3% of his total shots and 45.2% of his threes this season. The player option is for roughly $2.45 million.
Kanter played a limited role in Boston in 2019 before firing back in 2020. He averaged a double-double and made a career-high 60.4% of his shots. Kanter isn’t a great rim protector, but he’s a fantastic player to have coming off the bench.
Injuries limited Porter to 28 games this season and 14 appearances in 2019. Even dating back to 2018, Porter hasn’t been consistently available. When healthy, Porter is a strong three-point shooter and athletic offensive option capable of scoring 1,000 points.
Caruso is the definition of a three-and-D player. He shot 40.1% from deep this year and finished with a defensive box plus/minus of at least 2.3 for the second straight season. Those types of players always stick around into at least their early 30s.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding Graham’s game. He attempts a ridiculous number of threes (nine per game since 2019) and hits them about 37.4% of the time. However, Graham is a negative on defense and hasn’t made 40.0% of his two-point shots since his rookie season.
Nunn went from being undrafted to a 1,000-point scorer during his 2019 rookie season. Nunn’s size and defense create limitations, but he improved significantly in 2020. The 25-year-old connected on 48.5% of his total shots and 38.1% of his threes.
The Rockets tried scapegoating Anthony in 2018, which almost led to the end of the future Hall of Famer’s career. Luckily, Portland took a shot on the aging star. Signing with Portland already extended Anthony’s NBA career two years, but the move could lead to him landing another job this summer.
Playing the fewest minutes per game of his career, Anthony set career-highs from three (40.9%) and the free throw line (89.0%). Anthony’s 19.7 points per 36 minutes were his most since his last year with the Knicks (2016).
Batum’s NBA career nearly died in Charlotte, but he resuscitated it in Los Angeles. Making 38 starts, he netted 40.4% of his threes and 46.4% of his total shots. Batum’s ability to start on a deep Clippers team reveals that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Howard arguably deserves a spot in the top 40. He only played 17.3 minutes per game this season, but the future Hall of Famer dominated during his opportunities. Howard averaged 8.4 rebounds and seven points per game, which translate to a whopping 17.5 rebounds and 14.5 points per 36 minutes.
It’s incredible that Howard’s NBA career almost ended after his nine-game season in Washington. He’s completely adapted his role to continue making a difference at 35 years old.
Green started 38 games for Brooklyn this year, averaging 27 minutes per night. He set a career-high from three, knocking down 41.2% of his shots from deep. Teams love big men that can shoot. Even at 34 years old, Green can play significant time for a winning team.
Redick is only 50 made threes away from becoming the 11th player in NBA history to make 2,000 three-point shots in his career. The soon-to-be 37-year-old is a well-known face around the league, but he suffered in 2020 from his lowest field goal percentage since 2008. Redick also averaged under 20 minutes per game for the first time since that 2008 campaign.
Despite entering his age 32 season, Mills averaged over ten points per game in 2020 for the fifth time in his career. Mills is an offensive-minded guard capable of netting threes at a high rate. He’s a high-character player from one of the league’s best organizations.
Los Angeles drafted Horton-Tucker with the 46th pick in 2019. He outperformed his draft stock in 2020, averaging 16.2 points per 36 minutes. Horton-Tucker, who is only 20 years old, averaged 20.1 minutes per contest in his 65 appearances for the Lakers.
Tucker is a forward trapped in a guard’s body. The 36-year-old plays above his size, but he’s transitioning out of the starting lineup moving forward. Tucker proved in Milwaukee that he’s still a good enough defensive specialist to get the job done.
McConnell is a scrappy player that made his mark in the NBA by making hustle plays, especially on defense. The 29-year-old guard saw his role in Indiana expand this year, averaging 26 minutes per game. He shot 55.9% from the field and led the NBA with 128 total steals.
Payton won’t develop into the All-Star NBA talent the Magic envisioned when they drafted him tenth overall in 2014. However, the 27-year-old is still a viable facilitator that averaged 6.9 assists per 36 minutes during his time with the Knicks.
Brown is a 24-year-old guard who posted positive defensive box plus/minus scores in each of his first three seasons. He doesn’t offer much from three-point range, but Brown saw significant minutes on the loaded Nets this season.
At 6-8, Theis is undersized for an NBA center. He makes up for his lack of height with fluid footwork and mobility. Theis isn’t afraid to stretch the floor on offense either. He’s a low-end starting center.
Hart earned a reputation as a three-and-D player early in his NBA career. Unfortunately, Hart’s rookie season was an outlier from three. He’s never come close to matching that efficiency again.
McDermott is already 29 years old because of his lengthy stay at Creighton. The former college standout is a modern three-point specialist. Over the past four years, he’s nailed 41.4% of his 1,002 three-pointers.
From 2016 through 2018, Burks failed to average ten points per game. That changed in 2019 and continued in 2020. The former 12th overall pick averaged 14.1 points per game over the last two seasons and knocked down 39.9% of his 547 three-pointers during that time.
Is this spot too low? Too high? Griffin was an All-NBA forward only a few seasons ago, but injuries continued sapping his speed and explosiveness. He settled into a rotational role with the Nets, but not every team wants a 32-year-old former All-Star turned journeyman.
Payne is Paul’s underrated backup. He’s a decent defender that’s gone on a run from three-point land since joining Phoenix last year. Payne made 45.1% of his threes with the Suns. Granted, the Murray State product only appeared in eight games in 2019.
Gay is no longer the perennial 1,000-point scorer he was in Memphis and Sacramento. The 34-year-old adapted his game to the modern NBA, developing a viable three-point shot in San Antonio. He’s made 37.2% of his 682 deep shots over the past three seasons.
Green is a nearly 31-year-old veteran that’s played for three teams in the past three years. He hasn’t averaged over 21.1 minutes per contest during that time. Green is a career 38.0% three-point shooter. His option is worth close to $7.56 million.
Diallo is a springy soon-to-be 23-year-old that is quickly developing a three-point shot. He still has holes on defense and isn’t reliable from deep yet, but plenty of teams will seek his help this summer.
Many journeyman centers in the NBA are either defensive specialists or court spacers. Olynyk is the latter. He’s not worth much on defense and gets pushed around for rebounds. Luckily, the former 13th overall pick hit 36.7% of his threes over the past two years. This season, Olynyk set a new career-high in points scored.
The Knicks moved Bullock into their starting lineup this year, and the 30-year-old responded. Bullock made 41.0% of his threes despite attempting 6.1 per game. He also made 90.9% of his free throws.
Morris had one of his worst three-point shooting seasons this year, converting only 31.1% of his attempts from deep. He made 38.6% of those shots the previous year. Morris is still a decent defensive enforcer, but the 31-year-old’s value is fading fast.
Iguodala is well past his prime and hasn’t developed the reliable three-point shot many aging former stars work tirelessly on. Iguodala is 37 years old and highly inefficient on offense, but he’s still a significant plus on defense.
NBA teams love three-point specialists. Players with Ellington’s shooting stroke can stick around in the league for well over a decade. Ellington played 22 minutes per game for Detroit this season, knocking down 42.2% of his threes.
The former Piston draws plenty of criticism from fans and the media, but Jackson is a reliable backup. He’s averaged over ten points per game in eight consecutive seasons and made a career-high 43.4% of his three-pointers this year. Jackson recently turned 31.
Rivers suited up for five teams in the past four years, but he’s still a valuable scorer off the bench. The Duke product is a solid three-point shooter and consistently plays over 20 minutes per game.
Zeller is a depth center that doesn’t stand out for any part of his game. He’s not a good rim protector and hasn’t posted a positive box plus/minus since 2018. However, Zeller still played 22.7 minutes per game during his eight years with the Hornets.
Matthews played 19.5 minutes per game during the regular season. He’s an average three-point shooter that offers a veteran’s presence and strong defense.
The second year of Jones’ contract with Portland is worth $9.72 million in base salary. Jones likely exercises his player option considering he played worse in 2020 than he did in Miami in 2019.
Gibson moved to the bench this season after five consecutive years as a full-time starter. The former first-round pick is approaching his 36th birthday. Gibson hasn’t scored over 400 points in a season since 2018.
Whiteside has a questionable reputation dating back to his breakout days with Miami. He’s an old-fashioned center that is one of the best shot blockers in the NBA. He came off the bench full-time last year for the first time since 2011.
Zach Collins, C Portland Trail Blazers (RFA)
Selection: 10th overall in 2017
Selection: 5th overall in 2016
Selection: 20th overall in 2017
Selection: 11th overall in 2017
Selection: 37th overall in 2017
Selection: 9th overall in 2017
Selection: 25th overall in 2018
Selection: 10th overall in 2015