Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith among top players remaining in free agency
For all intents and purposes, the 2015 NBA off-season has reached its end. The vast majority of big names have inked new contracts, Summer League is in the rearview mirror and depth charts around the league are beginning to take shape.
But even though teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point, there are still some capable and accomplished players remaining on the free-agent market.
Using a new metric, Free Agent Quotient—developed by my PointAfter colleague Will Laws—we’ll tab the best remaining free agents of 2015. FAQ uses a player’s previous year (2014-15) PER, career PER, previous year win shares and age to project his future value. In case you missed it, we already used FAQ to determine free agency’s best bargains, as well as its worst deals.
Here’s a quick review of the FAQ scale, which roughly ranges from 0-100:
100 = Strong MVP candidate
40 = Solid starter
Free Agent Quotient: 49.6 (22nd among free agents)
Back in the early stages of free agency, reports surfaced that Thompson and the Cavaliers were nearing an agreement on a deal set to pay the talented power forward approximately $80 million. Those talks, however, reached a stalemate. Now the two parties are engaged in an awkward game of chicken.
Thompson has shown quite a bit of improvement in the pros, primarily by upping his field goal percentage to a career-best 54.7% last season, and by carving a niche as one of basketball’s best offensive rebounders.
A whopping 42% of his total rebounds were collected on the offensive end. Only Robin Lopez, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers, collected a higher percentage of his total rebounds while on offense. That skill alone makes Thompson a valuable asset, as he can single-handedly rack up second-chance opportunities for his teammates.
While he undoubtedly is the best free agent yet to be signed, his status as a restricted FA gives him significantly less leeway to negotiate—especially now that teams have filled up their available cap space with other options. Of course, even if another team swooped in with an offer, the Cavs would simply match and move forward with the 24 year old in tow. If Thompson is unhappy with his role backing up three-time All-Star Kevin Love, he could potentially sign a $7 million qualifying offer, play out the 2015-16 season and then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The risk of leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table, though, is unappealing—even for a guy as durable as Thompson.
It’s more than likely Thompson winds up back with the Cavaliers. Whether the two sides reach an amicable compromise when that happens remains to be seen.
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Free Agent Quotient: 30.0 (47th among FAs)
Henry Sims probably isn’t a name you expected to see among the best remaining free agents. The 6'10" big man is certainly a candidate for the “good (or at least respectable) stats, bad team” mantra, having played in Philly during the peak tank years.
After he was sent to the 76ers from the Cavaliers via the Spencer Hawes trade in 2014, Sims averaged 11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in 26 appearances (25 starts). The Georgetown product didn’t have as much opportunity this past season with a healthy Nerlens Noel in the mix, but he sports a unique skill set that most pundits might not know about. He has a solid handle for a big, a quick first step and a nose for offensive rebounds. Most intriguing of all, though, is his steady midrange game.
His shooting percentages from midrange didn’t set the world on fire, but he showed the capability to knock down those shots at a league-average clip. His percentages from those zones improved significantly from the year prior, which shows Sims has the potential to continue expanding his offensive game. Three-point shooting—where he finished 4-of-22—is still very much a work in progress, but Sims can undoubtedly have value as a backup big man.
As Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Sims last year, according to CSNPhilly's Dei Lynam, “He is a leader. There is a grumpiness that I like. There is a toughness that I like. I feel he is an NBA player. He’s a keeper.”
Unfortunately for Sims, he’s clearly no longer deemed “a keeper” in Philadelphia’s organization with rookie Jahlil Okafor entering the fray. Though he scored higher than guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Smith and Derrick Williams in FAQ, the 25-year-old may be forced to continue his basketball career overseas.
Free Agent Quotient: 28.8 (53rd among FAs)
Boozer’s FAQ score is propped up by his impressive career PER of 19.5, a statistical category that hasn’t favored the Duke product nearly as much in recent years.
His days of routinely throwing 20 points and 10 rebounds into the box score as a member of the Utah Jazz are far behind him. And while Boozer’s defense remains an eyesore, he’s still a capable scorer and rebounder.
Nevertheless, teams around the league have shown tepid interest in the veteran forward this off-season. At this point, his destiny might be to sign with a contender in need of depth on a basement-level contract.
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Free Agent Quotient: 24.3 (63rd among FAs)
The enigma otherwise known as “J.R. Swish” will move forward as a cautionary tale for other players who are thinking about entering the free-agent pool. Smith decided to opt out of his player option for the 2015-16 season, which would have paid him approximately $6.4 million. He remains unsigned into the month of August. Unless he signs overseas, chances are he’ll be set to earn less money compared to the option.
Smith’s scoring efficiency increased across the board when he was shipped to Cleveland. He was clearly motivated by the prospect of playing for a title contender, but he crumbled on the big stage. In the NBA Finals against Golden State, the tattooed two-guard shot 31.2% from the field and 29.4% from deep. Perhaps it was that letdown that scared teams away from signing him to a fresh contract.
Smith still has some value as he creeps up on 30 years old, but keeping him engaged and active on a regular basis has given some organizations fits. Frankly, there just aren’t a lot of situations that make sense for Smith at the moment. He definitely should have re-upped with Cleveland.
Free Agent Quotient: 7.4 (83rd among FAs)
Now that the Knicks have reportedly signed free-agent center Kevin Seraphin to a one-year deal, one of the few remaining big men on the market is former Nugget Darrell Arthur. Arthur, a former Kansas Jayhawk who played for the Grizzlies before a two-year stint in Denver, didn’t have an ideal contract year.
After knocking down 37.5% of his three-pointers in 2013-14 as a stretch 4 off the bench, Arthur failed to replicate that success by converting just 23.6% of his triples last season. He also grabbed a career-low 2.9 rebounds per game. One of the few attributes he could still hang his hat on was versatile defensive play.
Nuggets opponents were noticeably worse on offense when Arthur was out on the court defending, but his ineptitude on offense didn’t help matters. If a team looking to fill a roster spot is confident that Arthur’s three-point shooting is a salvageable trait, rather than a complete aberration, the 27 year old is worth a look. He’s still a solid defender who may be able to stretch the floor in the right situation.
More from Ben Leibowitz:
- NBA Free Agency’s Most- and Least-Improved Teams
- Re-Picking the Historically Dreadful 2000 NBA Draft
- The Least Valuable Player on Every MLB Team
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