Data Dimes: Backup plans for NBA teams eyeing stars in free agency
In perhaps the most bizarre free-agent saga in NBA history—featuring a Twitter emoji barrage and reported household lockdown—DeAndre Jordan reneged on a deal to join the Dallas Mavericks last summer, opting instead to re-up with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Having lost veteran free agent Tyson Chandler to the Phoenix Suns amid the chaos, Dallas was forced to move quickly to sign a Plan B big man. The Mavs’ front office picked up Zaza Pachulia via trade from the Milwaukee Bucks for a measly second-round pick, and the 32-year-old promptly put together one of the best seasons of his career.
Check out his spike in production below:
While he didn’t make All-NBA First Team or All-Defensive First Team like Jordan did in L.A., Pachulia hauled in a career-best 9.4 rebounds per game in just over 26 minutes per contest for the Mavericks. He was a solid contingency plan for a roster that missed out on a premier talent (especially since Dallas only gave up a second-rounder to acquire him).
The takeaway here is that the majority of teams scouring the free-agent pool this summer aren’t going to come away with their top choice. Hence why it’s important to have a second option.
Using PointAfter visualizations, we’ll break down viable “Plan B” options for teams who miss out on the top talents available.
If you miss out on Kevin Durant... target Marvin Williams or Evan Turner
Kevin Durant is by far the most coveted free agent on the market this year. He’ll reportedly meet with six teams, but only one will move forward with KD on board. And while there’s clearly no other options anywhere close to the level of Durant, there are capable wings available in free agency.
One such versatile forward is Harrison Barnes, but he’s likely going to net a windfall of cash this offseason, and we already explored why he’s absolutely not worth the max contract he’s likely to attract from at least one team.
So, assuming teams strike out during the KD sweepstakes and don’t want to get into a bidding war for the 24-year-old Barnes, what route should they take? Both Marvin Williams and Evan Turner are intriguing options coming off rock-solid contract years.
Compared to Barnes, the 30-year-old Williams averaged an identical amount of points while sinking a career-high 40.2% of his three-pointers (and taking 164 more attempts). Out of all the forwards in the league, only five shot better from three-point range compared to Williams, and none of those guys attempted more threes per game.
Add in the fact that Williams was a more efficient rebounder, better at the free throw line, averaged more "stocks" (steals plus blocks) and had a better PER, and his age compared to Barnes is really the only factor working against him. He fit swimmingly into Charlotte’s system as a stretch four—a role he could absolutely fill elsewhere at a cheaper price tag than other players on the market.
Turner, on the other hand, was far from a three-point specialist. He made just 24.1% of his limited tries from downtown, but made up for that by being steady from mid-range.
Add his playmaking skills to the table (4.4 assists per game last season) and he’s a guy with multiple skills who can play a variety of different positions. Neither of these guys are big names, but if teams miss out on Durant and don’t want to shell out cash for the overrated Barnes, teams could certainly do worse during the off–season.
If you miss out on Whiteside/Horford… target Zaza Pachulia
Even though the NBA continues to move toward a more fluid game with versatile jackknives instead of plodding centers, bigs undoubtedly still have value. Hassan Whiteside will get a max contract somewhere, and Al Horford should see a handsome payday as well despite entering his 30s.
If teams fail to bolster the interior with either of those free-agent prizes, why not go after the aforementioned Pachulia like the Mavericks did a season ago?
Pachulia obviously doesn’t have the shot-blocking ability of Whiteside nor the offensive prowess of Horford, but he’s fundamentally sound. He rebounds, he defends, he sets great screens, he hustles — all the little things you want from a center.
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That prompted Mavs teammate Dirk Nowitzki to say of Pachulia, per NBA.com’s Ian Thomsen, “He is one of the smartest centers I ever played with. He may be undersized some nights, but he’s got a big heart, he fights and he is very, very smart. He will compete for us and I love him to death.”
That’s high praise coming from a future Hall of Famer. The impact Zaza could have at a salary far lower than what Whiteside and Horford will get wouldn’t be a bad short-term option.
If you miss out on DeMar DeRozan...target Allen Crabbe
All signs indicate that DeMar DeRozan intends to re-up with the Toronto Raptors. In fact, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, DeRozan hasn’t even scheduled meetings with other teams.
It already appears time for teams around the league who covet DeRozan to look elsewhere. And while his status as a restricted free agent inherently adds problems, Allen Crabbe is a young wing on the rise who could be worth big money down the line.
As Crabbe became head coach Terry Stotts’s de facto sixth man in his third professional season, his field goal percentage continued to climb. He also drained 39.3% of his three-pointers while taking a career-high 4.9 attempts per contest with added minutes.
The Cal product has work to do on the defensive end, but there’s a lot to like from the 24-year-old (at the right price, of course).
Doormats like the 76ers, Nets and Kings are reportedly showing interest in Crabbe, but Portland can ultimately match any offer. On that basis, it will likely take a steep price tag to pry him away from the Trail Blazers.
If Rip City matches an offer to Crabbe, perhaps teams can roll the dice with a cheap Eric Gordon deal in hopes the 27-year-old (he’s still just 27!) can return to his prior form in the face of numerous injuries.
If you miss out on Mike Conley… target Jeremy Lin
Teams looking for a point guard this summer are faced with a quandary. Mike Conley is clearly the best floor general available. Behind him is a rather large void before you get to Rajon Rondo. He led the NBA in assists last season and he’s a four-time All-Star, but his inability to shoot from deep cramps the offense, as defenses dare him to hoist long-range shots.
He’s not a great playmaker, but Jeremy Lin should garner far more attention this summer than he did last year, when he ultimately signed a two-year deal worth just over $4 million to play for the Hornets. At the time, PointAfter deemed it one of the best bargains of free agency.
J-Lin opted out of the second year of his deal to test free agency. He averaged 16.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per 36 minutes with the Hornets last season, perhaps hinting that he’s worth more than a basement-level deal.
Lin needs to find the right fit, but he has the ability to impact games as a sixth man scoring option or as a situational guard.
What NBA fan wouldn’t want to see him wind up back with the Houston Rockets under former New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni? Perhaps we’ll get Linsanity 2.0 under the same coach if he suits up alongside James Harden next season.