Welcome to the third 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 Wing position. You can find the Point position rankings here and the Combo 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 skill set 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 Wing rankings:
We finally have a free agent in the Best Player tier! Kawhi Leonard will be a free agent a few weeks after competing at the absolute highest level of basketball and could be in for an unprecedented move if his (for now) Toronto Raptors are able to close out the Golden State Warriors. The best player on a title-winning team just doesn’t leave, but Leonard is on the market and your guess is as good as mine as to where he’s going to take his talents, win or lose.
For those looking for Kevin Durant among the Wings, he’ll be on the Forward list. At this point in Durant’s career, he’s more of a Forward than a Wing, but he’ll absolutely be in this tier among the Forwards, even taking into account his Achilles injury.
Three Wings are in my Second Banana tier. In order, they are: Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, and Klay Thompson.
Butler is the only member of this tier capable of stepping up into the Best Player tier consistently, so he gets top billing among the group. His scoring and perimeter defense was so important to a Philadelphia team that sometimes struggled in both areas this past season. His postseason performance elevated the 76ers multiple times, including in the Toronto series in Games 2 and 6. He flashed a lot of playmaking in the playoffs as well; outside of a zero-assist Game 1 against Brooklyn and a one-assist Game 7 against Toronto, he never notched fewer than four dimes. The playmaking was one area of his offensive game that was questionable, as he’s been a high-level scorer throughout much of his prime.
Middleton is two years younger than Butler and Thompson, giving him a slight edge in this discussion, particularly when considering signing one of these guys to a four- or five-year max contract. Any of these three would be well worth the max contract they’re sure to get this offseason, but Middleton’s age, isolation scoring, and high-level defensive work takes him a beat ahead of Thompson on this list. Thompson’s a perfect complementary offensive player with his shooting and gravity, but Middleton’s isolation scoring also allows him to step into a larger role in certain situations. Middleton’s defense is also the best of this three-man group, though none of these guys are slouches on that end of the floor. Middleton’s defense against Leonard in the Conference Finals showed just what he is capable of doing on a consistent basis and his combination of size and athleticism makes him a strong option at the Wing or Forward spots.
One of the many illuminating aspects of completing an exercise such as this one is that it gives me a good feel for how the free agency market is shaping up as a whole. So far, three positions have been fully tiered and ranked and there are 17 individual players ranked in tiers Starter or above. Intuitively, that doesn’t feel like very many, particularly when taking into account how many teams seem to need starter-level play on the perimeter and how much money is out there to be spent. The further we get into these offseason previews and free agent position rankings, it’s becoming clearer that there’s more money than spots available, which is the same as was true in 2016 and 2017 and led to some drastic overpays, as teams were left with money in their pockets.
In my rankings, there are four Starters at the Wing position. Ranked in order: Bojan Bogdanovic, Danny Green, J.J. Redick, and Trevor Ariza.
Bogdanovic is one of my favorite potential value pickups on this free agent market. He’s a really strong complementary player who can take a step away from the spotlight and be a team’s tertiary offense option or, if needed, ramp up his usage and become a team’s primary scoring outlet. Over the last two years, he’s been a perfect running mate on the perimeter for Victor Oladipo, toning down his usage as the team needed and becoming hyper-efficient in his role, shooting 57 percent from two-point range and 43 percent from deep while those two shared the floor.
When Oladipo went down for the rest of the 2018-19 season in late January, it was up to Bogdanovic to take the reins. His usage went up 8 points without losing much of the efficiency that made him great in the smaller role – he still shot 55 percent from two and 41 percent from three in the three months without Oladipo.
Things bogged down significantly in Indiana’s four-game loss to the Boston Celtics, as Bogdanovic’s numbers fell through the floor, but that’s why he’s not higher in these tiers. On a championship-level team, a player like Bogdanovic can be an immensely valuable second or third option offensively, but stepping up to by the primary shot creator in the postseason is just outside of his game.
Danny Green, despite being the sixth-best player on a Raptors team that’s either going to win the title this year or collapse in dramatic fashion but will still be great, would be a clear starter on almost any other contender. Toronto happens to have enough depth to push him to the bench in closing lineups, but his combination of three-point shooting, gravity from beyond the arc, and level perimeter defense makes him a very strong free agent addition for a team in need of high-level role players. Green’s downfall is his inconsistency offensively; if the shot isn’t going in, then he becomes somewhat detrimental on that end of the floor, though he’s always opening things up for his teammates and has the respect and attention of defenses every time he’s on the court.
Redick’s age and defensive woes push him further down the list, even though he remains a devastating offensive player, with or without the ball. A much more consistent offensive force than Green, his spot below Green in the rankings have much more to do with his work on the other end of the floor, where teams constantly target him.
Ariza rounds out the Starter tier as a high-end 3-and-D player without necessarily being of the same caliber as Green as a shooter or defender, though Ariza’s added size allows him to defend Forwards and Wings, whereas Green is quicker to defend Wings, Combos, and even Points.
As we get further toward the middle, more and more players appear on each positional list, since the league has moved toward having more versatile players on both ends of the floor rather than specialists. There are a full 73 players remaining among the Wings, tiered between High Rotation and Fringe, and while I’ve normally listed every player in every tier, doing so in this case is entirely a waste of your time. Rather, you can see where I’ve listed various players in the full rankings below, and I’ll hit on a couple of interesting names from across the remaining tiers.
Kelly Oubre is a guy I like who may fall through the cracks of restricted free agency, though his match rights will be exercised by Phoenix if the offer sheet is reasonable. He’s still a bit of a black hole offensively who struggles to create for his teammates, but as a slasher and shooter, he’s a positive contributor offensively. His energy defensively, particularly on the ball, can be infectious for his teammates, though his lineups haven’t defended at an above-average level since his rookie year in Washington.
Once you get down past the High Rotation tier, the rest of the players listed are either heavily skewed toward one end of the floor or the other, or they’re just not quite good enough on either end to hold up consistently in a playoff setting. For a team who is looking to fill out its wing depth, there are lots of options in these lower tiers, but which player management chooses often depends on who the other wings on the roster are and what needs the team still has. Troy Daniels is a good fit for a team who needs his shooting off the bench, but his defensive woes and lack of offensive versatility make him a difficult fit for a playoff rotation. Ditto for Darius Miller, who spent two years overseas before rejoining the Pelicans and has put up strong shooting numbers for two years in New Orleans. David Nwaba will be a restricted free agent in Cleveland and brings his value on the other end of the floor as a strong defensive player, but his offensive profile isn’t great, as he needs the ball to be successful as a scorer but can’t shoot to play off the ball and isn’t a very good creator for his teammates. Dorian Finney-Smith is another strong defender who takes a lot off the table as an offensive player, even more so than Nwaba, who at least has his ability to get to the rim with the ball in his hands.
There are plenty of wings on this year’s free agent market, though the list will be trimmed as contracts become guaranteed, particularly at the bottom of the list. There aren’t very many high-end options, however, which could leave wing-hungry teams in a difficult spot.
My full Wing rankings, including all players with options and non-guarantees in their contracts for 2019-20: