2019 NBA Free Agents Playing Well in the Playoffs
This summer is destined to be a free-agency bonanza, with multiple A-level stars ready to explore their options, and possibly depart their current organizations for greener pastures elsewhere. However, not all of this summer’s star-studded free agent cast has been up to snuff under the bright lights of the post-season.
The focus here will be to highlight notable upcoming free agents performing at a high level during this playoff run; the following players will almost assuredly be able to translate their performances into more favorable terms on their next contract (or, to solidify the value previously assigned to them, in certain cases).
Please note that all stats are current as of May 9th, 2019.
(GSW 3 – 2 HOU, MIL 4 – 1 BOS, DEN 3 – 2 POR, TOR 3 – 2 PHI)
Playoff Line: 31.2 pts, 8.2 reb, 3.5 ast
There’s not enough one can say about the performance of Kawhi Leonard during the 2018-19 playoffs. He’s carried the Raptors to victory on multiple occasions, bearing the brunt of the offensive load while remaining absurdly efficient; his shooting splits of 57.4/46.6/85.9 (FG/3PT/FT) simply boggle the mind, especially when you factor in the effort he has been expending on the defensive end of the floor. The Klaw has been both a lockdown defender and a supernova scorer – expect him to reap the benefits of his historic post-season performance in the form of multiple bring-out-the-red-carpet free agency pitch meetings and an eventual no-doubter max contract.
Playoff Line: 34.2 pts, 5.2 reb, 4.9 ast
KD has demonstrated that he is indeed worthy of the title of “Best Player In the World” this post-season, casting aside all doubts as he continues to outshine his Bay Area colleagues by orders of magnitude. Never before has Durant operated as the true alpha of the Warriors (a title typically reserved for the franchise’s golden boy, Stephen Curry), but the results speak for themselves. GSW is one win away from yet another Western Conference Finals appearance, and they have Durant to thank for that, as No. 35 has shown up time and time again this playoff run – the same simply cannot be said of Curry, Thompson, or Green. For that principle reason, Golden State will surely attempt to retain Durant’s services this summer – but will his sky-high level of play in the midst of an uncharacteristically limp supporting cast perhaps push him further out the door?
Playoff Line: 19.2 pts, 6.2 reb, 5.3 ast
Jimmy has been getting buckets, without question, but the scoring aspect of his game pales in comparison to the overall heart and motor he has contributed to his Sixers squad. While not necessarily known for his sharpshooting abilities, Butler has been hitting big shots, and putting up points in a hurry against talented competition in an often crowded half-court. Even in games where the rest of his team has given up, Butler’s professionalism and endless determination stand out; he approaches the game with a dogged defensive style and a well-developed offensive skillset. Someone is surely going to cough up a max contract for Butler’s services, be it Philly or elsewhere – he brings top-20 talent, shot-creation, top-option perimeter defense, and veteran savvy to whatever lineup he ends up joining this summer.
Playoff Line: 19.1 pts, 6.0 reb, 4.6 ast
Middleton has been in inspired form during these playoffs as Milwaukee has ripped off an 8-1 start to guarantee a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. He has emerged as the second-best player on the Bucks’ talented roster, perfectly playing the role of Robin to Giannis’ Batman. His perimeter shooting frightens opposing defenses, and he is adept at operating within devastating pick-and-roll sets. Middleton was an All-Star this year, and his post-season play has only built upon a sterling resume that should land him close or equal to a max contract this offseason. Very few teams in the league won’t be willing to throw heaps of cash at a sweet shooting, stretchy wing who can hold his own on the defensive end while serving as an efficient second or third option on offense.
Playoff Line: 13.9pts, 9.0 reb, 4.4 ast
While Boston was unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in 5 games by the Bucks (much to the chagrin of Paul Pierce), very little of the blame falls at the feet of Al Horford. The fact of the matter is, Horford was often Boston’s best player on the court this series, and that speaks volumes of another free-agency destined superstar whose name shall not be mentioned in this particular article. This piece is for players who are playing well, after all, and Horford most certainly played some very attractive basketball despite the shortcomings of his peers. Oftentimes, he appeared to be Boston’s only defensive remedy for Giannis, and was one of the few Celtics who managed to hit open midrange jumpers or catalyze any semblance of routine offense. Horford can turn down his player option to become a free agent this summer, and so his future is very much in limbo; ultimately, Horford is rewarded for his grit and versatility here, while the rest of the basketball world descends upon the media circus that will comprise Boston's offseason.
Playoff Line: 8.3 pts, 4.7 reb, 1.2 ast
Last, and probably least, Brook Lopez has been splashing 3s and dominating the post for the Milwaukee Bucks in limited yet highly effective minutes. His role on this Bucks juggernaut is a stark departure from those 7-footers of basketball past, as he has been tasked with stretching the floor and leveraging his mobility into effective half-court defense. His level of play has been such that Milwaukee may be unable to pay him what he’s worth on the open market this summer (as they have to pay up to retain so many of their other free agents), and that is good news for the 29 other NBA teams, who can all use a relatively cheap, stretchy big who can protect the rim, bust out seasoned post-moves in a pinch, and provide high-quality minutes either as a starter or bench option.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and StatMuse.