Welcome to the second edition of my free agent rankings. Throughout the month of June, I’ll be going position by position (using the six positions I laid out here), tiering/ranking the players based upon on-court value, and giving my thoughts on where I drew the lines and how the rankings should impact teams looking for players at these positions this offseason. This installment will cover the Combo position. You can find the Point position rankings here.
A lot of players are listed with multiple positions. Those players will show up in both lists but might have more value at one position or the other, depending on their particular skillset and the depth of that position throughout the league. The reason for this is that this is a tiering/ranking of where each player belongs in the grand scheme of the league, not just within that position. Since free agency doesn’t just happen in vacuum, it’s important to consider where these players lie compared to the rest of the league, which informs their value.
There are seven tiers into which a player can fall:
Best Player – a player in this tier can be the best player on a championship team. There are only roughly ten of these players in the league at any given time.
Second Banana – a player in this tier can be the second-best player on a championship team. There are about 20 of these players in the league at any given time.
Starter – a player in this tier is an unquestioned starter on a contending team.
High Rotation – a player in this tier is an unquestioned rotation player on a contending team and would be in most teams’ playoff rotation.
Low Rotation – a player in this tier is a sometimes rotation player on a contending team and would likely find themselves on the outside of most teams’ playoff rotation.
Bench – a player in this tier rarely plays throughout the regular season but provides bench depth in case of injury and fills out the end of the roster.
Fringe – a player in this tier is on the fringes of the NBA and may or may not be in the league at any given time. These are the players who take up a team’s final roster spot or might be on a Two-Way contract.
Last thing: players are ranked in the first three tiers, but the last four have no rankings. Once you get into the High Rotation players, it’s more about player fit than absolute skill and on-court value.
With that out of the way, the Combo rankings:
There are no free agent Combos in this tier. This tier is reserved for the very best players in the world, the guys who can lead a team to a championship. There are Combos in that tier league-wide, just none in this particular free agent class.
Just one player in this tier, which makes it very easy to rank! Klay Thompson is the best free agent Combo available this summer and fully deserves the max contract that’s coming to him. His absence was very detrimental to the Warriors in Game 3 of their NBA Finals matchup with the Toronto Raptors; they were wholly unable to put stops together defensively without him and suffered from a severe lack of spacing and tertiary shot creation offensively. Thompson doesn’t have the primary playmaking skills to be a top guy on a championship team, but as a secondary star, there are few more malleable players in the league. He can defend 1-3 on the perimeter and hit shots at an astronomical rate; his gravity isn’t necessarily as strong as a player like Stephen Curry, but there’s no doubt that teams have to account for him on every offensive possession. A good cutter and post-up option, Thompson’s offensive versatility gives him another extra edge over guys who are strictly shooters.
The one area in Thompson’s game that could be improved over his next contract is in ball handling and passing. These skills can be developed later in a player’s career; just ask J.J. Redick how much better he is as a ball handler and passer than he was ten years ago. Improving in these areas would give Thompson even more offensive versatility, though there’s obviously nothing wrong with his offensive game as it is.
The further toward the middle of the position rankings I go, the more fit becomes a primary concern, especially the further down the tiers I go. In the Point rankings, I put together rankings on the first four tiers, but in the Combo rankings, I’m only going through the first three tiers. Even still, it’s very difficult to measure some of these players against one another for a specific ranking, even if the overall tier makes sense.
My Starter tier, in order: Malcolm Brogdon, D’Angelo Russell, J.J. Redick, Goran Dragic, George Hill, and Patrick Beverley.
A few of these players were already on the Point rankings and retain their Starter level in the Combo rankings, but comparing those three against the other three is somewhat difficult. Russell, Dragic, and Hill get the nod as Starter-tier Combos because of their versatility on one end of the floor or the other; Russell can move into an off-ball role if he’s playing with another primary playmaker, whereas Dragic and Hill have the size and toughness to defend both traditional guard positions.
Brogdon, Redick, and Beverley make up the rest of the tier, in that order, but even ranking these guys against one another is difficult because of the vast differences in their games. Brogdon’s versatility on both ends of the floor gives him the nod as the top Starter Combo in my rankings, as his ability to knock down shots, function as a secondary playmaker, and defend 1-3 puts him in rarefied air among the Combos. Redick’s position in this tier is a nod to the offensive improvements he’s made over the last few years and the fact that he’s still a very high-end shooter at this point in this career. Beverley’s defensive fortitude is his main draw, but his lack of offensive versatility and playmaking hurts his overall value. He’s still strongly within the Starter tier, but given the option to sign a player who can make plays offensively or is as versatile as Brogdon, teams are going to go with the other guys ahead of Beverley.
In the Point rankings, I had these players ranked in order, as it was easier to make delineations at a position that was very offense-focused. Now that we’re getting toward the middle of the lineup, it makes less sense to rank players in a specific order and more sense to throw them all in the same tier, which allows the order to be fungible based on a specific team’s needs.
The High Rotation Combos, in order of their last salary: Tyler Johnson, Ricky Rubio, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Cory Joseph, Tomas Satoransky, Terry Rozier, Elfrid Payton, Seth Curry, Delon Wright, and Austin Rivers.
There are lots of different types of players in this grouping, from playmakers like Johnson, Rubio, and Satoransky, to defense-first guards like Bradley, Caldwell-Pope, Joseph, Rozier, Wright, and Rivers, to a single high-end floor spacer in Curry, who also brings above average defense to the table, which separates him from the other floor spacers in the Low Rotation tier.
A few of these players were also listed as Points and have been moved around the tiers as Combos: Rubio is a Starter-tier Point but a High-Rotation Combo, due to his lack of shooting and somewhat lacking defensive versatility. Satoransky, on the other hand, jumps from Low Rotation as a Point to High Rotation as a Combo, as his size allows him to defend fellow Combos better while still retaining his playmaking acumen.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder with this tier, though there are players who are comparable to one another.
The Low Rotation Combos, sorted by previous salary: Alec Burks, Rajon Rondo, Shaun Livingston, Tony Parker, Emmanuel Mudiay, Troy Daniels, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Rodney McGruder, Derrick Rose, Shelvin Mack, Frank Jackson, Tyrone Wallace, Jeremy Lin, and Michael Carter-Williams.
This is a massive tier of guys who can give you value off the bench but aren’t necessarily good enough to be in most contending teams’ playoff rotation. Of course, Livingston and Connaughton actually are and were in championship contenders’ rotations this postseason, but it’s hard to make an argument that those guys are and were positive contributors to those teams. Livingston in particular has lost at least a full step athletically and looks entirely out of his depths in the NBA Finals, but the Warriors have precious few options with their injury situation.
The Bench Combos, sorted by previous salary: Jerryd Bayless, Devin Harris, Ian Clark, Jamal Crawford, Tyler Dorsey, Ryan Arcidiacano, Shaquille Harrison, Brad Wanamaker, and Nik Stauskas.
Of this group, there are a few who could jump up into the Low Rotation tier over the next year. Dorsey flashed improved shooting and playmaking in his post-deadline stint with the Memphis Grizzlies and both Chicago guards (Arcidiacano and Harrison) have a bit of upside to explore that could see them as backup guards in the near future.
Harris deserves a special shoutout; he was a Low Rotation player for the Mavericks this past season, but I don’t expect that level of play to continue at his age.
Players who finished last season under contract and are technically free agents, but likely don’t have a spot in the league, ranked by previous salary: Jose Calderon, Jimmer Fredette, Walter Lemon Jr., Billy Garrett, Michael Frazier, Jonathan Gibson, and Kendrick Nunn.
Calderon’s inclusion in this tier has everything to do with his age. If he can keep up his level of play, he deserves a spot in the league, but at some point it’s going to completely fall of a cliff for him and with the depth of Low Rotation and Bench guards available, he might not find a job in 2019-20. Of the younger crop of players who may either have to go overseas or find a job in the G League, Lemon is my favorite, but it’s only a very slight lean in his direction.
The full Combo rankings: