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Ranking the 2017 Free Agent class with advanced metrics

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Here’s a free agency mini primer for next July. Spoiler: the Nuggets need defenders.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With the Denver Nuggets sitting on the sidelines for the NBA playoffs, the organization has turned its attention to offseason matters, most notably the NBA Draft, free agency, and potential trades to be made. All three are key ingredients in the building of a contender, and the landscape of the NBA can change in an instant during free agency. Take Kevin Durant’s decision on July 4th to sign with the Golden State Warriors: that changed the mindset of the majority of teams about their chances of competing for a championship.

For the Nuggets, free agency hasn’t been as kind to them in recent years. In Tim Connelly’s first offseason as general manager, the team made “quick fix” moves to try and continue competing. J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson weren’t exactly the most logical acquisitions at the time, and because of that, the team has been much more careful ever since. The time may be over for being cautious though, as Nikola Jokic has quickly blossomed into a star player in today’s NBA. With the Nuggets possessing more cap space than many teams this offseason, they have an opportunity to recruit some talented players to play with Jokic and the rest of the team. In the end though, Denver must continue to make smart decisions and keep the books “healthy” for when Jokic, Gary Harris, and other young players are ready for a new contract. If the Nuggets can recruit a top tier player, they should absolutely do so. If they can’t cooler heads should prevail and the team can move on.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the upcoming free agent class. Made up of unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, player option candidates, and early termination offers, the below group of 50 players will be ranked entirely using advanced metrics. The metrics are:

All five have been used to form three different rankings: an offensive rank, a defensive rank, and an overall rank, each of which will be shown with the player. For the sake of space, the individual metrics won’t be included, but they can be found at the links provided, along with an explanation of how each metric works.

Without further ado, here are the rankings:

Player Position Offensive Rank Defensive Rank Overall Rank
Kevin Durant SF/PF 4 7 1
Chris Paul PG 2 14 2
Blake Griffin PF 6 17 3
Stephen Curry PG 1 34 4
Paul Millsap PF 21 4 5
Andre Iguodala SF 14 13 6
Kyle Lowry PG 3 32 7
Otto Porter SF/PF 7 27 8
Amir Johnson PF/C 34 6 9
George Hill PG 8 31 10
Patrick Patterson PF 22 24 11
Pau Gasol C 19 10 12
James Johnson PF 25 8 13
Gordon Hayward SF 5 33 14
Manu Ginobili SG 23 16 15
Greg Monroe C 24 17 16
Joe Ingles SG/SF 15 21 17
Jrue Holiday PG 17 21 18
Nikola Mirotic PF 27 19 19
Luc Mbah a Moute SF/PF 43 11 20
Patrick Mills PG 43 11 21
Dewayne Dedmon C 44 1 22
Rudy Gay SF/PF 31 23 23
Andre Roberson SG/SF 45 5 25
J.J. Redick SG 12 47 26
Mason Plumlee C 31 11 27
Danilo Gallinari SF/PF 8 41 28
Jeff Teague PG 11 40 29
Tim Hardaway Jr. SG 13 46 30
Tony Allen SG 47 8 31
Thabo Sefolosha SF 45 2 32
C.J. Miles SG/SF 16 44 33
P.J. Tucker SF 41 14 34
JaMychal Green PF 39 20 35
Kelly Olynyk C 35 26 36
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope SG 18 37 37
Dwyane Wade SG 33 39 39
Serge Ibaka PF/C 37 28 40
Justin Holiday SG 38 37 41
Darren Collison PG 19 49 42
Taj Gibson PF 49 25 43
Shaun Livingston PG/SG 50 29 44
Tony Snell SG/SF 30 42 45
Kyle Korver SG 26 44 46
Derrick Rose PG 28 48 47
Tyreke Evans SF 42 35 48
Bojan Bogdanovic SF/PF 36 50 49
Omri Casspi SF/PF 48 36 50

Takeaways:

The Untouchables

There are certain players the Nuggets should be looking to acquire in free agency. Anyone ranked below 40th defensively should be considered unwise, leaving off some notable names like Derrick Rose, J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver, Patty Mills, and Danilo Gallinari. Mills and Gallinari fit positional needs, so they get a bit of a pass. Acquiring these players doesn’t necessarily make the Nuggets better defensively though.

The other side of the untouchables is players Denver would love to acquire but likely can’t. Everyone in the top eight would be fantastic (with the possible exception of Iguodala), but the likelihood any of them chooses Denver is slim to none. The Nuggets should do their due diligence but not expect anything to come from it.

Some players look like they are ranked too high. That’s okay.

When looking at a free agent list, seeing Andre Iguodala sixth overall, Amir Johnson at ninth, and Patrick Patterson 11th probably isn’t what many had in mind. To understand why they are ranked so high, understanding the situation and understanding the metrics must be taken into account. For Iguodala, he plays for the Golden State Warriors, and because of this he has much less of a burden to bear than the player right below him at seventh, Kyle Lowry. Iggy plays with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, so his numbers are naturally more inflated, as is his absurd Net Rating (4th in this free agent class). Iguodala isn’t likely to replicate those numbers for a lesser team, unless he is in a similar situation as a sixth man.

Patterson is in a similar situation, but he is more likely to replicate his success. He plays with Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, three players that take most of the burden offensively. That being said, Patterson just turned 28, has made over 36 percent on his three pointers in each of the past four years, and carries a heavy burden defensively. He’s a player who will be severely undervalued in the free agency process, and I would take a look at him if I were a team looking for a 3-and-D stretch four (which is everyone).

Don’t be fooled into thinking Serge Ibaka is a max player.

Looking through the numbers for Ibaka, it’s evident that he has focused less and less on the defensive end as his career has worn on. He’s the 28th ranked defensive player using these metrics and the 40th overall, partially due to his 47th ranked net rating. When I think of him, I’m reminded of another former journeyman that was traded to the Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo. Afflalo carried a defensive reputation with him to Orlando, but when he left, there was no substance to show for such a rep. Ibaka is similar, as his defensive box plus-minus has fallen every year since 2013-14. There was a time when I would consider him a perfect fit to play next to Nikola Jokic, but he would be much less effective (and much more pricy) than the player currently backing him up in Patterson.

Defensive Wings and forwards should be another top target.

Any wing or forward player in the top 25 of defensive metrics is a pretty solid option defensively. Wings and forwards have a much more difficult time accumulating high defensive scores because they don’t grab a ton of rebounds like bigs, and they don’t defend on the ball and get a ton of steals like lead guards. Because of this, I pay special attention when a wing or forward ranks highly defensively, and the following players check into the top 25 defensively:

  • Thabo Sefolosha
  • Andre Roberson
  • Kevin Durant
  • James Johnson
  • Tony Allen
  • Luc Mbah a Moute
  • Andre Iguodala
  • P.J. Tucker
  • Manu Ginobili
  • JaMychal Green
  • Joe Ingles
  • Rudy Gay
  • Patrick Patterson

Of the above list of players, only the following show up in the top 25 offensively:

  • Durant
  • Iguodala
  • Ingles
  • Patterson
  • Ginobili
  • Johnson

Assuming Durant and Iguodala stay in Golden State, while Ginobili either retires or plays for the San Antonio Spurs, the top targets on my offseason board just became Joe Ingles, Patrick Patterson, and James Johnson. Any chance of acquiring those players should be taken seriously, even if it means letting Danilo Gallinari walk in free agency.

Mason Plumlee is the fifth ranked center on the free agent market.

He clocks in behind Pau Gasol, Greg Monroe, Dewayne Dedmon, and Nerlens Noel on this list. Gasol and Dedmon both play for the Spurs, and while they could both stay, I would expect one of them to depart due to financial reasons, most likely Dedmon. He’s a stud defensively, and a team could give him the Bismack Biyombo treatment by signing him to a large deal to be a pricy backup. Monroe is trickier because of his player option, but I expect him to decline it and explore his options. Noel is a stud defensively, coming in as the third ranked player defensively. Teams will pay for that rim protection.

What was interesting to see Plumlee come in as the 11th ranked defensive player. NBA Math’s TPA metric loves his contributions defensively, and for a backup center, I agree. He wasn’t great on either end in Denver, but I expect that to change next year as the team surrounds Jokic (and to a lesser extent, Plumlee) with more cohesive pieces. Long story short, I would re-sign Mase to any deal under $50 million in total, whether that be a three or four year deal.

To upgrade or not upgrade at point guard?

There are various point guards in this free agent class that would fit well in Denver...if the Nuggets were committed to winning now. Ranging from George Hill, to Jrue Holiday, to Jeff Teague, to Patty Mills, to Derrick Rose (kidding), there are various veterans on the market who fit what the Nuggets are trying to accomplish while also upgrading the backcourt talent level. Many would balk at the addition of one of these players over developing Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay, but adding the right veteran could add five or more wins to Denver’s record at the end of the year, without factoring internal development. Let’s face it, Nelson, Murray, and Mudiay combined for over 5,200 minutes last year. Imagine if Hill or Holiday played 2,000 or more minutes instead? The Nuggets would likely be in the playoffs right now.

If it were up to me, I would go after one of the above point guards, most likely Hill or Holiday. The Nuggets shouldn’t be wasting an opportunity to capitalize on Nikola Jokic’s stardom, and acquiring a quality veteran point guard makes life infinitely easier for Jokic to grow as a player. If Jamal Murray proves to be an elite player coming off the bench, awesome. He makes the bench better for a playoff caliber team with the potential to be a starter in the long term.

Poll

Who is the best fit for the Nuggets in free agency?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Joe Ingles
    (43 votes)
  • 14%
    Patrick Patterson
    (76 votes)
  • 12%
    James Johnson
    (70 votes)
  • 16%
    George Hill
    (87 votes)
  • 11%
    Jrue Holiday
    (60 votes)
  • 6%
    Patty Mills
    (37 votes)
  • 4%
    Dewayne Dedmon
    (25 votes)
  • 19%
    Danilo Gallinari and Mason Plumlee!!!
    (103 votes)
  • 7%
    Other (Explain in comments)
    (41 votes)
542 votes total Vote Now