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Top NBA free agents and where they might end up
3:57 | NBA
Top NBA free agents and where they might end up
Tuesday June 30th, 2015

As U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann pointed out last year, being an NBA veteran helps immensely during salary negotiations. That’s because a player’s prior production is often valued over what they’ll realistically produce over the duration of their new contract.

The primary setting where this plays out, of course, is the free agent market. Year after year, players whose best days are behind them ink contracts that pay them like they’re in their prime.

That’s why I developed a metric called Free Agent Quotient (FAQ) to help assign a value to pending free agents. FAQ is designed to look ahead to how well each player will perform in the future instead of looking back at their past. So, listen up, all you NBA personnel members reading this article.

• MORE NBA: Free agency: 10 questions FAs due for a raise | Draft grades

The formula for FAQ takes the following statistics into account: a player’s 2014-15 PER, career PER, 2014-15 Win Shares and age, with the first and last variables receiving slightly more weight.

NBA
2015 NBA free agent rankings: Top 25

The general range for FAQ is 0-100, though there are some instances where transcendent superstars exceed 100 (pre-Decision LeBron had a 134.2 FAQ, the best mark for any free agent since 2000) and declining bench players dip into the negatives. Kendrick Perkins, for example, will enter this summer with a scorching -16.9 FAQ.

If a free agent’s FAQ is close to 100, he is an MVP candidate. If it’s greater than 80, he's a superstar. Over 60 is a likely All-Star. Players who are solid starters, or at least have the potential to be, hover around 40, while good role players range between 20-30. 

There are 30 pending free agents with FAQs greater than 40, which means there are plenty of quality starters out there. Those players are listed in order at the bottom of this article. But first, let’s look at five guys who are probably being undervalued as we dive headfirst into the off-season.

Enes Kanter

2014-15 Earnings: $5.7 million (restricted free agent)
Free Agent Quotient: 69.2 (10th among pending free agents)

Kanter is ranked in the top 10 of this free agent class by FAQ, as the former Jazz big man clearly benefits from PER only incorporating blocks and steals as the defensive metrics for its formula. The Turkish center still has a lot to learn on that end of the floor, which doesn’t fully come across in FAQ (though Win Shares does give the formula a better evaluation of defensive ability). 

Still, it’s easy to forget that Kanter is only 23 years old. He should gain a better feel for defensive nuances over the next couple years. Even if he doesn’t, the 7-footer’s prowess on the offensive end makes him an extremely valuable commodity—one who will only get better as he enters his prime during his next contract, especially if he gets more opportunities at the rim.

• MORE NBA: Free agency primer | Position rankings | Burning FA questions


Ed Davis

2014-15 Earnings: $981,084
Free Agent Quotient: 60.7 (14th)

For several years, Davis looked like a lottery bust who’d never fulfill the burgeoning potential he flashed during his lone year under Roy Williams at North Carolina. But last season, the lanky power forward proved himself as an uber-efficient option down low as one of the few bright spots on the Lakers.

Davis averaged 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds in just 23.3 minutes per game, converting 60.1% of his shots. That helped rocket his PER to a career-high 20.0, which John Hollinger classifies as a “borderline All-Star.” My new metric agrees, giving Davis a robust 60.7 FAQ, good for 14th among all pending free agents.

Davis is entering his prime at age 26, so any team in need of bodies down low would be wise to snatch up the former Tar Heel on a multi-year deal.


Cory Joseph

2014-15 Earnings: $2.0 million (restricted free agent)
Free Agent Quotient: 42.4 (28th)

Joseph is a rangy contributor on defense who can neutralize either guard position. The Spurs’ defense was more effective by just about every basic metric with Joseph on the floor.

• MORE NBA: Free agency: 10 questions FAs due for a raise | Draft grades

Though he wasn’t asked to shoulder much of the offensive load in San Antonio, he hasn’t shown that he can’t take on more responsibility on that end if asked. And his shooting improved in a major way last season, bumping up from 47.5% to 50.4% on all field goals and 31.6% to 36.4% on three-pointers.

The Spurs have bigger fish to fry this off-season with Kawhi Leonard’s pending free agency and their alleged flirtation with LaMarcus Aldridge. Could Joseph, a restricted free agent, be lost in the shuffle to a team eager for a young, defensive-minded face in the backcourt?


Brook Lopez

2014-15 Earnings: $15.7 million
Free Agent Quotient: 76.9 (5th)

Lopez looked like his old self after the All-Star break this spring, averaging 19.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. If he hadn’t reclaimed his starting job midway through the season, the Nets probably wouldn’t have snuck into the postseason.

The 7-footer was easily Brooklyn’s most valuable player in their surprisingly competitive playoff series against the Hawks. In addition to netting 19.8 points, 9.0 rebounds (including 3.3 offensive boards) and 2.2 blocks per game against Atlanta’s overmatched frontcourt, the Nets enjoyed a +13.0 net rating when Lopez was on the floor—an unfathomable figure, considering Brooklyn was outscored by 5.5 points per game in the series.

FAQ is higher on Lopez’s value than most because of his stellar PER (22.7) last season, which was third-best among all pending free agents. However, long-term injuries aren’t taken into account by FAQ, and Lopez’s foot injury certainly qualifies as a concern for any prospective suitor.

It’s hard to classify Lopez as a “bargain,” since he’ll likely end up signing a max offer despite the inherent risk involved. But if there were any doubts about his on-court impact, he scuttled those with aplomb down the stretch last season.

• MORE NBA: Complete list of every 2015 NBA free agent (sorted by team)


Greg Monroe

2014-15 Earnings: $5.5 million
Free Agent Quotient: 73.4 (8th)

The perception of Monroe has been hurt by his recent lackluster campaigns in Detroit, which were severely undercut by his ill-advised pairing with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond.

Make no mistake, however, if there’s a team out there who can sign the Georgetown product for less than the max and establish him as the fulcrum of their post game, they should jump at the chance. And it will come with relatively minimal commitment, since Monroe has stated his desire for a two-year contract with an option for a third year so he can take advantage of the anticipated salary cap rise in 2017.

• MORE NBA: SI.com's free agent rankings: Ballhandlers | Wings | Big men

Monroe’s FAQ is 73.4, which puts him a spot above Marc Gasol at No. 8 among the 2015 free agent class and puts him in bona fide All-Star territory. During his five years in the NBA, Monroe (who just turned 25 in June) has averaged 16.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. And teams won’t be pulling out the “Hack-A-Shaq” strategy against him anytime soon—he converted 75% of his free throws last season.

In a sport where big men routinely suffer debilitating leg injuries, it should also be noted that Monroe only missed 16 games in his professional career. Monroe would make a ton of sense for Portland if they are forced to move on from Aldridge, and he’d also fit nicely in Boston, who possesses a pair of centers in Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller who don’t necessarily have to operate in the paint.


Go to the next page for the full FAQ rankings for the 2015 off-season.

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When looking at the full rankings, remember that FAQ is supposed to act as an educated guess as to how the player will perform in the future—not a recognition of what he may or may not have achieved already.

100 = Strong MVP candidate
90 = Weak MVP candidate
80 = Superstar
70 = Bona fide All-Star
60 = Borderline All-Star
50 = Above-average starter
40 = Solid starter
30 = Valued rotation member
20 = Decent role player
10 = Bench player
0 = D-League All-Star

2015 Free Agent Quotient Rankings 

  1. LeBron James, 104.3
  2. DeAndre Jordan, 83.8
  3. Kawhi Leonard, 81.4
  4. Jimmy Butler, 80.5
  5. Brook Lopez, 76.9
  6. LaMarcus Aldridge, 76.8
  7. Kevin Love, 75.5
  8. Greg Monroe, 73.4
  9. Marc Gasol, 73.1
  10. Enes Kanter, 69.2
  11. Tim Duncan, 67.6
  12. Brandan Wright, 66.7
  13. Paul Millsap, 63.1
  14. Ed Davis, 60.7
  15. Tyson Chandler, 60.2
  16. Dwyane Wade, 58.7
  17. Lou Williams, 58.5
  18. Goran Dragic, 53.2
  19. Tobias Harris, 53.1
  20. Amar'e Stoudemire, 51.7
  21. Draymond Green, 51.3
  22. Tristan Thompson, 49.6
  23. Khris Middleton, 48.5
  24. Brandon Knight, 47.7
  25. Reggie Jackson, 47.1
  26. Danny Green, 46.9
  27. Robin Lopez, 43.3
  28. Cory Joseph, 42.4
  29. DeMarre Carroll, 40.7
  30. Wes Matthews, 40.3

More from Will Laws:

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