Welcome to the fifth 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 Stretch position. You can find the Point position rankings here, the Combo position rankings here, the Wing position rankings here, and the Forward 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 Stretch rankings:
These days, it’s difficult for the best player on a team to be a big man. Outside of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, who are both Anchors, the rest of the top tier of players is filled with perimeter players – the game is too perimeter-oriented for big men to fully dominate the elite tier of the league like they did years ago. Big men are still immensely important, though the Stretch position is less important than the Anchor spot, which usually provides more value defensively. For the most part, a Stretch big man is too small to be a pure 5 in most circumstances but has more mobility on the perimeter and can provide value in other ways. For that player to be the best player on a championship team is very difficult; only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis would qualify at the Stretch position and rank in my top ten player capable of winning a championship as a team’s best player.
Among this year’s free agent crop, there’s just one player who ranks in the Second Banana tier: Kristaps Porzingis. At this point, it’s hard to say whether he belongs here or in the Starter tier, but if he comes back from injury as the player he was earlier in his career, then he can play second fiddle to Luka Doncic as the team’s best player on a contender sometime very soon. His position here is entirely based on his recovery and he could very easily fall into the Starter tier should things go poorly in his return to the court in the fall.
Derrick Favors, Thaddeus Young, and Paul Millsap make up this tier, in that order. None of these guys are necessarily top two players on a championship-level team going forward, though Millsap was the Nuggets’ second-best player this past season. His age is what knocks him down to third place in this tier among the free agents available this summer. Favors is unlikely to hit the market after Utah completed the Mike Conley trade, which takes another player off the board at the top of the Stretch position. Young and Millsap are very similar players, but Young has a few years on Millsap, which would make me more comfortable giving him a longer-term deal in free agency this summer.
Stretch is a relatively specialized position – for a player to be not big enough to play the Anchor spot and not quick enough to play Forward is relatively rare. There are only 22 free agents this summer who qualify at the Stretch position, compared to 49 Forwards and 52 Anchors, and not every team necessarily needs a high-end Stretch in order to compete for championships.
Just because there aren’t many players who are high-end Second Bananas or Starters on a championship-level team doesn’t mean that the position isn’t valuable to have in a team’s rotation. There are a number of High and Low Rotation Stretch bigs available this summer, with each bringing something different to the table.
Julius Randle’s all-around bully-ball offensive game makes him a tough fit as a starter, unless he’s starting next to a big man capable of spacing the floor, but he remains a very high-end bench option for teams looking for scoring off the bench. Marcus Morris is an all-around 3-and-D Stretch who is right on the borderline of the Starter tier. JaMychal Green broke out in the playoffs as a player who could do a lot of what Morris does, though he’s slightly bigger defensively and is capable of playing the 5 in small alignments.
Further down the list, players like Jared Dudley and Jordan Bell each bring different elements to a team. Dudley is more of a perimeter offensive threat, while Bell is a cutter and rim-runner with more defensive upside as a switch guy on the perimeter.
The Stretch position is an important spot to fill, particularly as a chance-of-pace bench option, but high-end players aren’t usually at this particular position. Teams target these players as non-stars to fill particular holes in their roster and they can be very valuable, but at the right price and in the right role.
My full free agent Stretch rankings: