NBA free agency is set to kick off soon. While deals don’t become official until July 6, we will know where many of the free agents are going after teams begin negotiations at 6 pm ET on June 30. So who are the best players available?
Ranking the top 25 of this class was a lot harder than I expected. There are some decent players at the top, but overall this isn’t a good class. There also isn’t much cap space out there for teams to throw around.
That doesn’t preclude player movement, though. Trades, including sign-and-trades with the players below, may be a bigger vehicle for flipping over rosters this season.
For the purposes of this exercise, players that could technically become free agents but have close to zero chance of doing so are left off this list. I’m looking at you, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.
Without further ado, here’s my list.
2022 NBA top free agents
1. Zach LaVine | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 27
LaVine is coming off his second consecutive All-Star game appearance. He’s one of the most talented scorers in the league, averaging 24.4 points per game last season. While knee problems slowed him down, offseason surgery should remedy those issues. He’s also hitting his prime.
LaVine will be eligible for a five-year, $212 million contract from the Bulls. There was some early speculation that he could switch teams, but those rumors have fizzled out. Barring something shocking, he should sign that maximum deal with the Bulls soon after free agency begins.
2. Bradley Beal | Status: $34.6 million player option | Age: 28
Beal could become a free agent if he declines his player option. HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto indicated that Beal was planning to do just that, although Beal later refuted that report.
Like LaVine, Beal is an ultra-talented scorer that is near his prime. His upcoming deal should pay him through his best years. He had a down year last season shooting the ball, hitting only 30 percent of his 3’s. But his career average of 22.1 points per game on 37 percent shooting from 3 would help any team.
3. James Harden | Status: $47.4 million player option | Age: 32
Harden’s player option will determine what happens with him. The chances are that he takes it and extends his contract with the Sixers, who gave up a lot to get him. But it would be hard for them to stomach paying him his full five-year maximum salary, which would push him past the $60 million mark in his age 37 season. He could bolt if some other team with cap space decides to put the pressure on the Sixers.
READ: What should 76ers do with James Harden? Evaluating contract options, age concerns and Philadelphia’s best path forward
Harden certainly isn’t the player he was even three seasons ago. But he’s still easily a top 20 player in the league. He had an up-and-down season where he struggled putting pressure on the rim but still put up averages of 22.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 10.3 assists. He remains an offensive force and a foul-drawing machine.
4. Kyrie Irving | Status: $36 million player option | Age: 30
Irving will reportedly opt into his $36.5 million player option to remain with the Nets for the final year of his contract, but that won’t become official until he puts pen to paper. Irving has until Wednesday, June 29 at 5 p.m. ET to do so.
Irving is still a top 10 offensive talent, despite his issues. He had one of the most efficient 50-point games of all time last season. His jump shooting and shot creation remain elite.
5. Miles Bridges | Status: Restricted free agent | Age: 24
Bridges’ scoring took a leap last season, averaging 20.2 points per game on a lot of self-created looks. The former 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft is coming off his rookie deal and should get a huge pay increase. I expect him to return to the Hornets and earn over $25 million annually.
6. Deandre Ayton | Status: Restricted free agent | Age: 23
Ayton is the best player that has a decent likelihood of switching teams. Other teams can offer him up to $131 million over four years.
A player of Ayton’s caliber usually wouldn’t be on the move, but Suns ownership doesn’t want to pony up to keep him. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated that they were “very motivated” to find a sign and trade deal for him.
Ayton is turning only 24 years old in July and is already one of the better two-way centers in the league. His rim protection, midrange jumper, and scoring down low could help any team.
7. Jalen Brunson | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 25
Brunson is an ultra-shifty scoring guard whose game is predicated on contact. He’s a smart but undersized defender and plays the best with the ball in his hands, which does pose some difficulty playing alongside Luka Doncic.
READ: Hidden Gems: Jalen Brunson plays an old-school game for Mavs
The Mavs will have to go into the NBA’s luxury tax if they choose to keep Brunson. He should earn over $20 million annually after a good playoff showing and get interest from multiple teams, including the Knicks who are rumored to have cleared massive cap space to go after him.
8. Anfernee Simons | Status: Restricted free agent | Age: 23
Simons was an extremely raw prospect when he was drafted back in 2018 with the 24th pick. He never cracked double-digits in scoring average in his first three years, but injuries to Portland’s roster and a rebuilding year gave him a chance to show what he could do. He upped his scoring to 17.3 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting from 3, showing that he could at the very least put the ball in the basket.
Simons still has a ways to go defensively, but he’s young and has room to improve from an already-impressive level. Given that the Blazers can match any offer, he’s probably staying put.
9. Collin Sexton | Status: Restricted free agent | Age: 23
One would think that a former 8th overall pick who has averaged 20.0 points per game in his four-year career should be an easy candidate to return to his team on a max salary.
But Sexton’s offense has come at the price of middling efficiency. He needs the ball in his hands to score, and his career 3.3 assists per game are nothing to brag about. He appears to try hard on defense, but his impact is a big negative.
Sexton is still young enough to fix his weaknesses, and his shot creation along with the Cavs’ lukewarm interest (the two sides couldn’t agree on an extension last offseason) should make him an appealing target despite those flaws.
10. Mitchell Robinson | Status: restricted free agent | Age: 24
Robinson is yet another young guy from the 2018 draft class. The things he does well, like shot blocking, offensive rebounding, and dunking, he does really well. The things that he does poorly, like shooting jumpers (he has yet to attempt a 3) and free throws (he hit just 49 percent of them last year), he does very poorly.
Robinson pops on the screen. He’s one of the most athletic big men in the league. But his limitations and depressed money for centers more generally will keep him in the modest starter salary range for teams.
11. Jusuf Nurkic | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 27
Nurkic is a solid vet. Aside from his injury history, you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. He’s a good scorer and rebounder, and helps his team win enough that the Blazers overplayed a plantar fasciitis injury to end his season in order to improve their lottery odds.
Nurkic is probably returning to the Blazers. They don’t have a good method to replace him, and their recent acquisition of Jerami Grant shows that they will try to be competitive next season.
12. Kevon Looney | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 26
Looney shined in the last two rounds of the playoffs, fulfilling the role of screener, offensive rebounder, and do-it-all defensive center. Two hip surgeries have taken away much of the mobility of his earlier days, but he can still guard decently well in space. He’s a solid fringe starter or first big man off the bench.
Steve Kerr recently said of Looney, “We’re all rooting for him personally to get a really good contract. Hopefully, it’s from us.”
The Warriors will be deep in the luxury tax, and paying Looney will require many multiples more of his salary to be added to their bill. He could be on the move.
13. Malik Monk | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 24
Monk had a disappointing free agency last summer, signing a prove-it deal on a minimum contract with the Lakers. He should get a much bigger payday this time around. He was one of the few Lakers who overachieved last season, providing solid 3-point shooting and surprisingly competent defense.
That defensive improvement was vital for Monk – He was one of the worst defenders in the league in his earlier years with Charlotte. He’s still not a stopper by any means, but he’s no longer a massive liability.
14. Kyle Anderson | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 28
Slo Mo is one of the hardest players to peg in the league. He somehow finds a way to get to the rim despite moving like molasses. He’s a very underrated defender that can switch onto multiple positions and has decent passing chops and shot creation.
Anderson is limited though by a lack of consistent 3-point range. He can be a tricky player to fit into lineups because of his unique skill set.
15. Bobby Portis | Status: $4.6 million player option | Age: 27
Portis is widely expected to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent. He’s a high-energy big man that can stretch the floor – He’s hit 38 percent of his 3’s for his career. He’s also a good offensive rebounder.
Portis is undoubtedly a bucket-getter, but he’s not much of a passer and he is limited defensively. He is one of the worst shot-blocking big men in the league and can have trouble staying solid guarding on the perimeter. Like Looney, he’s another good fringe starter in the right situation where his weaknesses can be hidden.
16. Bruce Brown | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 25
Brown is another unique player on this list. At 6-4, he played a sort of hybrid big man role for the Nets. He has great versatility defensively, is an active cutter that can score without controlling the ball, and a fantastic finisher at the rim.
Brown is a limited jump shooter, although he hit 40 percent on a very low volume of 3’s last season. He’s a very good role player that could possibly expand his role if he gets more consistent minutes elsewhere.
17. Nicolas Batum | Status: $3.3 million player option | Age: 33
Batum is expected to opt out of his contract, which massively underpaid him relative to the production he gave the Clippers last season. His career looked over in Charlotte, but he regained his shooting stroke, hitting over 40 percent of his triples for the Clippers over the past two seasons.
Batum has sized up to playing mostly power forward these days. He’s still a very smart defender, although the speed of his youth is gone. He’s going to be mostly spotting up and not scoring much. He brings great value as an efficient role player.
18. Otto Porter Jr. | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 29
Porter is coming off a reclamation year, signing on a minimum deal with the Warriors. He was a key bench player for them throughout the year.
Porter has at various times been a big money, big minute player because of the rare skill set that he possesses. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter, hitting 40 percent of his career attempts. He’s also one of the better midrange shooters in the league.
Porter is a very good team defender who can hold up against some of the better wing scorers in the league. He’s not an elite stopper, but he is smart and solid.
Injuries have kept Porter’s value way down and are a real problem for him. He suffers constantly from nagging ailments. He’s averaged only 56 regular season games played over his nine NBA seasons. Still, he should get a bigger payday if he decides not to give the Warriors a discount to come back.
19. T.J. Warren | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 28
Warren has been a forgotten player, missing most of the last two seasons due to a foot injury. If his health is finally fully restored, he will draw plenty of interest. He’s been a bucket-getter throughout his whole career. He was more of a midrange guy in college, but he’s developed his 3-pointer in the last few years.
Warren also improved his defensive reputation dramatically with the Pacers. His screen navigation, communication, and point of attack defense have gone from liability to pretty solid.
20. Victor Oladipo | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 30
Oladipo is another name on this list whose value will depend heavily on how well his body holds up. At his best, he was a multiple-time All-Star and All-Defensive member. But injuries have cost him most of the last four seasons.
Oladipo did get some run with the Heat towards the end of the year to show what he could do. His active hands were still there, allowing him to wreak havoc defensively. He also connected on 42 percent of his regular season 3’s before falling off considerably in the playoffs.
Oladipo’s plus athleticism didn’t look quite the same last season. Who knows if it will ever come back. He may have to change his role to continue his NBA career, but he can still be a solid contributor somewhere.
21. Tyus Jones | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 26
Jones has been a great backup point guard behind Ja Morant in Memphis. They’ve continued to play extremely well when Morant has been out because of Jones’ high level of play.
Jones isn’t a flashy player. He is a good but undersized defender and a smart facilitator on offense. He’s improved to become a capable 3-point shooter. He’s limited as a creator and not going to be a primary option, but he finds ways to positively contribute when he’s on the floor.
22. Mo Bamba | Status: restricted free agent | Age: 24
Bamba could be available because of a logjam on the Magic roster. With incoming No.1 pick Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jonathan Isaac coming back from injury, they have a glut of big men.
Bamba was billed as a stretch big man that could block shots with his enormous 7-10 wingspan. He’s done a little of both, hitting 38 percent of his 3’s last season and blocking 1.7 shots per game.
But the idea of Bamba has always been better than the actual product. He’s been fairly limited offensively, he still has below-average feel, and injuries and inconsistent play have limited his playing time throughout his career.
23. Gary Payton II | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 29
After years of toiling in the G-League and sips of coffee here and there, Payton finally got a consistent role on the Warriors last season. He shined as a defensive menace, locking down players of all sizes.
Payton isn’t a great 3-point shooter or shot creator. He is a plus finisher at the rim, has plus athleticism, and knows how to play a reserve role extremely well. With the Warriors deep in the tax, he could be a nice available bench acquisition.
24. Donte DiVincenzo | Status: Restricted free agent | Age: 25
The Kings traded Serge Ibaka for DiVincenzo last season, presumably with the intent of keeping him. He struggled badly all season in trying to come back from a nasty ankle injury, but he did show some promise in earlier seasons in Milwaukee.
At his best, DiVincenzo is a solid 3-point shooter with some shot creation ability and capable defense. His shot abandoned him last year, and the rest of his game fell apart with it.
25. Gary Harris | Status: Unrestricted free agent | Age: 27
Harris’ career has experienced wild fluctuations. In his earlier seasons in Denver, he was looking like a key cornerstone that could hold down a 3-and-D role alongside Nikola Jokic. But his play fell off a cliff, and he became one of the worst contracts in the league after signing for $84 million over four years in the summer of 2018.
Harris was traded to the Magic as matching salary for Aaron Gordon with low expectations. He had a career revival of sorts. His 3-pointer returned, hitting 38 percent of them last season. And his defense looked closer to what he showed in his early years in Denver.
Harris isn’t the same athlete as he was in his earlier days, but he plays a position of extremely high need. Any team needing volume shooting (in other words, all of them) will look at him.