Most, if not all, of the big names in free agency have their deals locked up, with some of the highest-valued players moments away from inking new deals once the NBA’s moratorium period ends.
The Washington Wizards are expected to match the four-year, $106 million maximum offer sheet Otto Porter signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Zaza Pachulia is expected to re-sign with the Golden State Warriors to further bolster a lineup that now includes Nick Young. Pau Gasol will likely return to the San Antonio Spurs, as will 39-year-old Manu Ginóbili if he decides to stick around for another year.
That leaves role players, unproven commodities and some diamonds in the rough for teams to pick over in hopes of improving their team for the upcoming season, with these five among the best of the bunch.
Ty Lawson, PG, 29 years old, 8 years in the NBA, $1.3 million in 2016-17
The market for point guards is starting to get a little thin, but don’t discount what Lawson can offer a team in need. The 29-year-old averaged 9.9 points, 4.8 assists, two rebounds and 1.1 steals in 25.1 minutes per game for the Sacramento Kings last season. And, despite some off-court issues, he can do two things every team wants their point guard to do: drive to the rim and create points for teammates.
Lawson was second on the team in drives per game (7.3) and created 11.7 points per game off assists. He also has the speed and skill to take the ball coast to coast and create offense in transition, scoring 2.25 points per assist on the break with a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio last season.
Tony Allen, SG, 35, 13 years, $5 million
David Aldridge reports the Clippers are interested in Allen, and for good reason (beyond the Doc Rivers connection). Allen is a proven elite defender who can get his hands in passing lanes (3.3 deflections per game last season for the Memphis Grizzlies, sixth-highest among all NBA guards) with 6.1 contested shots per game.
His offense can be spotty at times, but he averaged 9.1 points per game last year for the Grizzlies and can create offense in the pick and roll, scoring 0.94 of a point per possession in 2016-17, good enough to be in the top half of the league. He got even more efficient (1.23 points per possession) out of the pick and roll when faced with a double team.
Luc Mbah a Moute, SF, 30, 9 years, $2.3 million
Mbah a Moute declined his player option with the Los Angeles Clippers to become an unrestricted free agent after averaging 6.1 points and 2.1 rebounds with 6.7 contested shots per game last season. He also became more of a perimeter shooting threat, increasing his three-point percentage to a career high 39.1 percent in 2016-17. Granted, he took less than two three-point shots per game, but opposing defenses now have to deal with this new wrinkle when they try to stop him in the half court.
This added dimension made him a part of one of the most efficient five-man lineups in the NBA last year. When he shared the floor with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, the Clippers outscored opponents by 14.8 net points per 100 possessions. Only the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors had a better starting five on the court playing at least 500 minutes together.
And before you say Mbah a Moute was just a passenger on that line, consider the defensive rating by the other four players dropped from 99.9 to 109.8 when Mbah a Moute went to the bench.
David Lee, PF, 34, 12 years, $1.58 million
With Pau Gasol looking to stay with the San Antonio Spurs and James Johnson deciding between returning to the Miami Heat or signing with the Utah Jazz, Lee is the best remaining option at power forward.
The former all-star averaged 7.3 points with 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.7 minutes with the Spurs last season, improving his true shooting percentage to 61.3 percent, the highest it’s been since the 2006-07 season, his second year in the league.
No threat to score from three-point range, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man scored 1.28 points per attempt around the basket and almost a point per possession in the post in the regular season and playoffs combined. He also contested 12.7 shots per 36 minutes of play, the 13th most among forwards playing at least 1,400 minutes last season, making him a great fit for any team looking to upgrade or bolster their inside presence.
Dewayne Dedmon, C, 27, 4 years, $2.96 million
Younger than most unrestricted free agents available, Dedmon was a surprise with the Spurs last season, averaging 5.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game in 17.5 minutes. He even started ahead of Gasol at the end of the year, thanks in large part to his defensive acumen.
Dedmon finished the season allowing 82.3 points per 100 possessions, a top-10 efficiency on defense, with an ability to guard the ballhandler on the pick and roll, in isolation or down low in the post. His 16.4 contested shots per 36 minutes were the highest on the Spurs last season which often helped kick-start San Antonio’s offense in transition, in which Dedmon scored 1.31 points per possession with an 81.8 field goal percentage.