When July 1 rolls around the NBA’s free agency period will officially begin and Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka will be provided with the opportunity to drastically speed up the rebuilding process.
With LeBron James and Paul George as their main targets, all eyes are on Los Angeles for what could be a very big summer. As exciting as the arrival of the mega-stars would be, the Lakers also have to be prepared for the possibility that James and George both decide to go elsewhere.
In that scenario, with no other surefire superstars on the market, the Lakers would likely resort to offering one-year contracts in order to keep their salary cap room free to try again in 2019 free agency.
With cap space extremely hard to come by this summer and the Lakers possessing more of it than any other team, it’s possible that they could convince some intriguing players to take a one-year deal and try their luck in a year’s time.
Of course, the Lakers could very well turn to their own free agents like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Isaiah Thomas and Brook Lopez. But for now, let’s take a look at some new faces that deserve consideration as the top 2018 unrestricted free agents who would best suit the team.
It feels like Evans has been in the NBA forever, but it was only 2010 when he won rookie of the year in Sacramento. He never became the star that the Kings thought he would be and as he hit his mid-20’s injuries began to pile up and his production fell off a cliff.
At best, he appeared destined to stick in the league for a few more seasons as a role player before gently going into that good night, aka playing overseas.
Evans landed in Memphis last season on a one-year deal worth only $3.3 million, and against all odds, he played the best basketball of his career. In 52 games he averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists while hitting 40 percent from three.
The advanced stats further illustrate just how good Evans was on offense, where the one-time wing showed mastery of the pick and roll as a ball handler. According to Synergy Sports, Evans ranked in the 86th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler while also ranking in the 83rd percentile in isolation.
With the clock winding down his ability to create offense for himself and score was clutch for a Grizzlies team that lacked offense after Mike Conley went down.
Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball, on the other hand, has struggled badly in the pick-and-roll, landing in just the 18th percentile. With Evans alongside him, head coach Luke Walton would have another option to turn to as a creator while Ball continues to develop.
The cherry on top is that Evans also ranked in the 81st percentile as a defender, allowing him to fit nicely into a Lakers team that developed a positive reputation on that side of the ball last season.
Given his injury history, Evans will almost certainly want a long-term deal, but perhaps a massive one-year deal similar to the one J.J Redick received from the Philadelphia 76ers last summer could convince him to put off signing long-term for one more summer.
Swingmen are all the rage in the NBA right now as teams look to find versatile wings that can do a little bit of everything. Enter Barton, who just turned in the best season of his seven-year NBA career and now appears ready to cash in.
Barton notched 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists despite spending half the season in a reserve role for the Denver Nuggets. While he’s ultimately best-suited to be a super-sub off the bench, his versatility allows him to easily slot into a starting two or three spot in a pinch.
Despite their counting stats looking somewhat similar, Barton doesn’t come close to Evans’ level in terms of advanced metrics. On the offensive end, he rated in the 65th percentile, which is good, but his poor shooting from mid-range held him back. Evans hit just 29 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line, but then jumped up to 37 percent beyond the arc.
That may not be a terrible thing given the modern NBA’s obsession with layups, free throws, and threes, but Barton also struggled mightily to create his own shot in isolation, ranking in the 13th percentile there.
That said, when the team around him is clicking, Barton is a solid slasher and is enough of threat from deep to keep defenses honest. He reads plays well and can make the correct pass when the defense closes out, which is a must for wings these days.
Defensively, Barton checks in at just average, but he’s switchy enough to fit into the Lakers’ schemes.
It’s questionable whether they would want to slot him in as their starting two guard or rather bring him off the bench behind Brandon Ingram, but the Lakers could certainly do worse than Barton on an oversized one-year deal.
That said, it’s likely another team steps up and offers multiple years.
Could Ellington make a return to Los Angeles? He endeared himself to fans in 2014-15, his lone season with the Lakers, and the team could badly use his shooting ability.
Ellington spent last season with the Miami Heat, and while his 11.2 points off the bench don’t exactly jump off the page, he did knock down 39 percent of his threes. Many of which came on the move in a Miami offense that had him curling around picks and firing away on the catch.
It’s in the advanced metrics that Ellington’s impact really shines through. He did nearly all of his damage running off screens, accepting a handoff, or acting as a spot-up shooter while rating highly in all three areas.
The threat of his shooting opened things up for teammates, and while part of the credit certainly has to go to head coach Erik Spoelstra’s set plays, Ellington was still able to take advantage of the opportunities provided for him.
Unfortunately, Ellington is a poor defender, but as a shooter off the bench that can make defenses account for him, he could be a solid backup guard for Los Angeles.
It was only four years ago that Payton was one of the most promising guards of the 2014 Draft class. Now, he’s hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent because the Phoenix Suns, who badly need a point guard, don’t think he is worth the $10 million cap hold they would have had on their books if they had made him a restricted free agent.
As the Suns found out after trading for Payton last season, the 24-year-old isn’t a starting-caliber guard in the NBA. That may not be a terrible thing, though, because the Lakers could use a backup, and Payton figures to have few suitors.
Of course, his 20 percent shooting from three in 19 games with Phoenix is cause for concern, but he actually hit a respectable 37 percent with the Magic prior to being traded, so perhaps there is hope there. Payton’s jumper can be a little flat, but it’s not broken.
For the Lakers’ purposes, Payton does a solid job running pick and roll, rating in the 55th percentile in Orlando and 63rd in Phoenix. He has a nice runner in the paint that he can rely on when he turns the corner and does a good job hitting open teammates when the defense rotates.
Defensively, Payton was a little below average, but he is far from being a lost cause. His 6’4” height and 6’7” wingspan allow him to be a solid rebounder for his position, grabbing 4.3 per game last season, which is something that would play well in the Lakers’ system.
The Lakers certainly wouldn’t be shifting the balance of power in the NBA by signing Payton to play behind Ball, and the questions about his shooting would have to be answered, but he’s still young enough to be worth a look on a one-year, prove it deal.
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