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Even in the midst of the 2022 NBA playoffs, teams all over the league are surely laying plans for this summer, when the draft, trades and free agency can dramatically alter the landscape.
That last avenue for team building is our focus. Despite the fact that there is little cap space available this summer, you can be sure plenty of players will switch teams, thanks to exceptions and sign-and-trades.
And over the next several days, Bleacher Report will break down the top 10 available free agents at each position.
As for who qualified for the top 10 in terms of ability, that was even more subjective. Past performance and projection models can help, but there’s no way to perfectly predict the future.
So, with all of that in mind, let’s start with the point guards.
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10. John Wall (Player Option)
Over the last five seasons, John Wall has made just 113 appearances. He missed all of 2019-20 and 2021-22.
Considering his health concerns and the simple fact that teams haven’t been able to analyze the 31-year-old on the floor for a year, it’s hard to imagine he’ll garner much interest. That also makes it difficult to believe he’ll decline his $47.4 million player option.
9. Dennis Schroeder
Dennis Schroeder’s scoring efficiency dipped back below average in each of the last two seasons, but he’s not far removed from a second-place finish in Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2019-20. And since he’s 28 years old, there’s reason to hope for another big year in the right role.
If a team needs some scoring punch and an ability to get to the paint in its second unit, Schroeder will be worth a look.
8. Delon Wright
As the backup point guard to Trae Young, Delon Wright saw his basic numbers fall off a cliff this season. But he had a decent impact in just 18.9 minutes per game, thanks to an ability to play (and defend) multiple positions, hit threes at an above-average rate (37.9 percent) and keep the ball moving.
In 2019-20 and 2020-21, the Atlanta Hawks’ net rating cratered without Trae, but Wright helped to stabilize that issue.
7. Russell Westbrook (Player Option)
As strange as it may be to see Russell Westbrook this far down the list, the numbers suggest we’re finally entering the twilight of his career.
Westbrook scored 153.5 fewer points on his true shooting opportunities than a perfectly average scorer would have (only Julius Randle and Reggie Jackson were worse). And he had one of the 10-worst turnover percentages in the league.
Like Wall, it seems unlikely he’d opt out of his player option (in this case, worth $47.1 million), but whatever team pays him next will have to be very careful about the roster it puts around him (he needs to be surrounded by tons of shooting).
6. Ricky Rubio
A torn ACL ended his season early, but Ricky Rubio was proving himself willing to adapt to a reserve role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He came off the bench in 26 of his 34 appearances, moved the ball early and often, shot an above-average percentage from three (33.9) and acted as a connector on both ends of the floor.
Cleveland was plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the floor and plus-2.1 when he was off.
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One of the biggest storylines to come out of the Memphis Grizzlies’ breakout season was the team’s performance without superstar Ja Morant.
The Grizzlies went 20-5 when he wasn’t in the lineup at all and during the entire season played significantly better without him. When Morant was on the floor, Memphis was a solid plus-4.6 points per 100 possessions, but it was plus-7.8 when he was off.
Of course, there’s some missing context there. And no one would suggest the Grizzlies are better off without Ja, but that difference is notable. And backup point guard Tyus Jones is a big reason it exists.
Jones’ net-rating swing was pretty much the inverse of Morant’s. Memphis was plus-8.2 with him and plus-4.8 without him. And while he didn’t put up the gaudy counting numbers of the man above him on the depth chart, Jones is the kind of guard who can check a lot of boxes without making many mistakes.
Jones averaged 14.6 points, 7.5 assists, 1.9 threes, 1.5 steals and just 1.1 turnovers per 75 possessions, while shooting 39.0 percent from three.
He may not be able to take over games as thoroughly or regularly as a star such as Morant, but he’d make a positive impact as a backup guard for just about any team.
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Anfernee Simons has been in the NBA for four years, but he won’t turn 23 until June. And because he was on a team with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for most of those four years, he didn’t have many opportunities to show his ability.
That, of course, changed in 2021-22, when Lillard went down with an abdominal injury and McCollum was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.
From January 3 (when he entered the starting lineup for good) to the end of the season, Simons averaged 23.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 threes per game while shooting 42.3 percent from three.
And while the Portland Trail Blazers were clearly leaning into a rebuild during those months, Simons’ numbers didn’t seem to be purely the product of a “good stats, bad team” situation. Portland’s net rating was 12.5 points better when Simons was on the floor during that stretch.
Beyond the numbers, the smoothness and confidence with which the 22-year-old played has to be intriguing for teams looking for a young lead playmaker.
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Jalen Brunson was probably going to be one of this offseason’s more coveted guards in any case, but a monster performance in his opening-round series against the Utah Jazz all but ensured that.
With superstar Luka Doncic out because of a calf injury, Brunson dropped 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting and carried the Dallas Mavericks to a Game 2 victory.
Utah’s perimeter defense deserves plenty of blame, but possession after possession, Brunson broke the perimeter and got all the way to the rim. On the occasions the Jazz’s rotations stopped him short, Brunson’s floater was on target. And he even showed an ability to get threes up in volume (he went 6-of-10).
Brunson can score at all three levels, moves the ball well and is generally in the right spots on defense. And 2021-22 proved he can operate as either the lead ball-handler or a secondary threat.
During the regular season, when Doncic was off the floor, Brunson averaged 23.0 points and 7.7 assists per 75 possessions. And when Luka was on the floor, Brunson shot 42.2 percent from deep and his mark for threes per 75 possessions went from 1.2 to 1.6.
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After James Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in February, there was plenty of discussion about how he possibly lost a step. He didn’t appear quite as capable of getting past the initial line of defense as he was in the past, and the step-back wasn’t creating the same kind of separation.
But his numbers weren’t that much different than they were in Brooklyn.
In 21 regular-season appearances with Philly, Harden put up 21.0 points, 10.5 assists, 7.9 free throws, 7.1 rebounds and 2.2 threes per game to go with a 60.1 true shooting percentage.
Even if it doesn’t look like it did with the Houston Rockets, that’s still All-NBA level production. And as the 32-year-old ages further into his 30s, he should still be able to at least approximate that with timing, vision and craftiness as a pick-and-roll creator.
His days of competing for scoring titles are almost certainly behind him, but Harden’s awareness as a playmaker should extend his prime.
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Lack of availability was an issue for Kyrie Irving long before New York City’s vaccine mandate went into effect. He played in just 20 games in 2019-20 and followed that up with 54 in 2020-21.
Prior to that, off-court drama contributed to his unceremonious exits from both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
But if teams can look past years of extracurriculars (and some surely would if he declined his option), Irving probably has more to offer on the floor than any other point guard in free agency.
Kyrie was eighth in the league in offensive estimated plus-minus this season. He averaged 27.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.4 threes per game while shooting 41.8 percent from three.
And in Game 1 of his first-round series against the Celtics, he reminded everyone of what ridiculous peaks he can reach.
Kyrie played the entire fourth quarter of the loss to Boston, scored 18 points on nine shots and was plus-10. And the more Celtics fans went after him, the more determined and able he seemed to burn them.
Pull-up after pull-up, drive after drive, Kyrie was unstoppable. And that ability to completely take over a game would generate multiple suitors if he entered free agency.