The 2019 NBA Draft was just an appetizer. It’s almost time for the main course.
NBA free agency opens for negotiations Sunday, and there’s no shortage of star players available on the open market this summer. Kevin Pelton set the stage for what figures to be an eventful stretch Monday by ranking the top 30 free agents, according to his three-year projections, in a piece published on ESPN.com.
“My projections are stated in terms of wins above replacement player (WARP), factoring in two different metrics: the results of my SCHOENE projection system that uses the development of similar players at the same age based on box score stats and ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) to incorporate how players have impacted team performance while on the court,” Pelton wrote.
While Pelton’s projection system sounds complex, his final top-30 list is rather straightforward. It features the names you’d expect (Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, etc.), as well as some other under-the-radar free agents (Danny Green, Ricky Rubio, Patrick Beverley, etc.), highlighting just how much the NBA landscape could change in the coming weeks.
In addition to ranking this year’s top 30 free agents, Pelton offered “potential fits” for each. The Boston Celtics, who figure to lose Irving and Al Horford, are considered a possible landing spot for three players on Pelton’s list: Nikola Mirotic (No. 13), Nikola Vucevic (No. 20) and Terry Rozier (No. 30).
Rozier, of course, spent the past four seasons with Boston. He’s a restricted free agent, and some public comments he made shortly after the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated the Celtics from the NBA playoffs suggest he wasn’t happy with his role this past season. But Irving’s expected departure could lead to Rozier becoming Boston’s starting point guard for the 2019-20 campaign. Time will tell.
Mirotic and Vucevic are the two more notable names, with each representing an upgrade to Boston’s front court. In addition to Horford leaving in free agency, the Celtics must replace Aron Baynes after trading the veteran center to the Phoenix Suns during last Thursday’s draft.
Here’s what Pelton wrote about Mirotic:
Despite a poorly timed postseason shooting slump that cost him a rotation spot in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Mirotic should be a coveted free agent as the top stretch-4 available for less than the max.
Mirotic will likely be expendable if the Bucks can re-sign their starters, so he’s a good target for teams that want to strike quickly in free agency.
Mirotic, who began his career with the Chicago Bulls, played for the Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans this past season. Pelton lists the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings as other potential fits for Mirotic.
Here’s what Pelton wrote about Vucevic:
Vucevic is the top center in these rankings but just 20th overall, a discrepancy driven by the high replacement level for players at the position.
However, Vucevic still posted 9.7 WARP last season despite that change to my metric, so Vucevic’s projection also reflects how out of line that 2018-19 performance was with the rest of his career. Never previously considered even an average defender, Vucevic anchored a top-10 defense under new coach Steve Clifford and ranked eighth in the entire NBA in defensive RPM.
Whether that performance was a fluke will determine how valuable Vucevic is on his next contract.
Vucevic, who has spent the past seven seasons with the Orlando Magic after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011, is coming off his first career All-Star selection. Pelton lists the Magic and Kings as other potential fits for Vucevic.
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