• Nick Boylan

Ring Chasers: Bargain Prices for Veteran Production: Bigs


With salary caps tightening, contending teams are being forced to look at savvy veteran minimum signings now more than ever. Thankfully for those looking to dethrone the Los Angeles Lakers at the NBA’s summit, there are a number of players who can add something to those in search of a championship.


This series will look at a selection of veterans looking for their first or next ring, and break them down into the categories of:


  • Resume

  • Skillset

  • Ideal role

  • Suitable teams

  • Cost - Veteran Minimum, Tax-Payer Mid Level Exception, Mid-Level Exception


Already we’ve looked at veteran guards and available wings. In our final Ring Chasers piece, we’ll be assessing the stack of veteran big men that could man the middle for the next NBA champions.


Aron Baynes - 33 years old, 6’10”


Resume:

  • 8 years experience (54 playoff games)

  • NBA champion (2014)


Skillset:


Aron Baynes isn’t just the darling of NBA social media, he’s also a seriously intriguing asset for any would-be contender. All memes and passionate support aside, and with only a sprinkling of my own Australian support, Baynes can seriously play at both ends of the floor.


Coming off a career-year in Phoenix, Baynes continued to show that he’s a bruising menace at the five, pulling down rebounds and scoring inside. However, it was a developing three-point shot that raised most eyebrows around the NBA, with the 33-year old making his threes at 35.1 percent on four attempts per game.


Stepping into the starting lineup in the absence of young Deandre Ayton, Baynes had some big performances in 2019-20, including dropping 37 points (with nine threes) and 16 boards on the Trail Blazers’ heads. Baynes became the second person to ever have 35+ points, 15+ rebounds and 9+ three pointers in a single NBA game.

The other player? James Harden. Have mercy.

Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, Baynes’ grit and toughness combined with a developing outside shot will be a hot commodity for any contenders with frontcourt spots open.


Ideal role: Starting center/first big off bench


Suitable teams: Suns, Mavericks, Warriors, Celtics, Clippers, Pelicans, Raptors


Cost: MLE



Patrick Patterson- 31 years old, 6’8”


Resume:

  • 10 years experience (49 playoff games)


Skillset: Patrick Patterson’s a veteran big who can launch from downtown and is comfortable at either the 4 or 5, though at this stage of his career, center is the best spot for Patterson.


With the Clippers last season, 74 percent of Patterson’s shots were from deep, draining 39 percent in the process. For a stretch big, though, the 31-year old can hold his own in the post with a 6’8”, 235lbs pound frame. He can, however, struggle against more athletic bigs.


For a veteran perhaps nearing the end of his career, contenders could do worse than having Patterson come off the bench as a third big.


Ideal role: Rotation big


Suitable teams: Clippers, Warriors, Lakers, Nets, Bucks


Cost: Vet. Minimum



Dwight Howard - 34 years old, 6’10”


Resume:

  • 16 years experience (113 playoff games)

  • NBA champion (2020)

  • 8x NBA All-Star (2007-2014)

  • 5x All-NBA First Team (2008-2012)

  • All-NBA Second Team (2014)

  • 2x All-NBA Third Team (2007, 2013)

  • 3x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2009-2011)

  • 4x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2009-2012)

  • NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2008)

  • NBA All-Rookie First Team (2005)

  • 4x NBA rebounding leader (2008-2010, 2012, 2013)

  • 2x NBA blocks leader (2009, 2010)

  • NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion (2008)


Skillset: With a refined role for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard returned to form with a vengeance in 2019-20, picking up his first NBA Championship ring in the process. Superman succeeded by keeping things simple - rebounding, blocking shots, running the floor and finishing inside.


Dwight was nearly out of the league before landing back in LA. Having a more defined and limited role, though, proved quite helpful.Despite being 35 and having less bounce than his younger days, Howard still had a great year for the Lakers.


Only playing 18.9 minutes a night, Howard averaged 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, while maintaining a field-goal percentage of a whopping 72.9 percent. Howard also performed well in the playoffs, providing burst minutes against Nikola Jokić to great effect.


Ideal role: First big off the bench or spot starter


Suitable teams: Lakers, Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Mavericks, 76ers


Cost: Vet. Minimum - MLE



Markieff Morris - 31 years old, 6’8”


Resume:

  • 9 years experience (45 playoff games)

  • NBA champion (2020)


Skillset: Markieff Morris is another role player who helped contribute to the Lakers’ 2020 NBA Championship, providing shooting and versatility as coach Frank Vogel decided to go more mobile at the 5.


After joining LA via the buyout market in February, Morris showed his value in the playoffs with a 16 point night against the Rockets in Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinals. Mook dropped four threes in the second quarter that night.


Morris helped the Lakers vanquish Houston’s uber small ball lineups. In the Finals, he offered similar versatility and scoring.


In those two series, ‘Keef averaged 8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, while making 21 3-pointers in those 11 games. For teams looking for a big who can play as a more mobile 5, make shots from deep and provide toughness, Markieff Morris would be an ideal fit.


Ideal role: Stretch 4 or 5 off the bench


Suitable teams: Lakers, Celtics, Warriors, Jazz, Nets,


Cost: Vet. minimum



Marcus Morris - 31 years old, 6’8”


Resume:

  • 9 years experience (45 playoff games)


Skillset:

From one Morris twin to the other, Marcus Morris has proven to be a more refined and consistent shooter from downtown than his twin brother. Marcus shot 40.8 percent from three last year.

Starting the season with the Knicks meant that Morris had the greenest of green lights on offense, but pivoted into a more supplementary role upon joining the Clippers. Overall, Marcus posted 16.7 points per game for the year.


Not only did he provide the Clippers floor spacing, but he was a versatile defender. He can, however, over-extended; he got into it withKristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic, and then with Paul Millsap against the Nuggets.


While sometimes getting tunnel vision and trigger happy with his jumper, Marcus Morris can provide fantastic shooting, defensive versatility and an effective role player who can score in the frontcourt.


Ideal role: Starting power forward or bench stretch big


Suitable teams: Clippers, Celtics, Lakers, Jazz


Cost: MLE



Derrick Favors - 29 years old, 6’9”


Resume:

  • 10 years experience (31 playoff games)

  • NBA All-Rookie Second Team (2011)


Skillset: Derrick Favors is another player who’s transitioned from a power forward to more of a center as the NBA has gotten smaller, quicker and more mobile. There, he’s now an ideal starting or backup veteran 5. Last season, Favors was in the 90th percentile for offensive rebounds and 89th on the defensive glass.


Favors averaged 9.0 points and 9.8 rebounds a game in just 24 minutes per night, while adding 0.9 blocks, showing that in a simplified role, Favors has got plenty to offer a contender in the frontcourt.


Ideal role: Limited starter or first reserve big


Suitable teams: Pelicans, Jazz, Mavericks, Suns, Raptors


Cost: MLE



Tristan Thompson - 29 years old, 6’9”


Resume:

  • 9 years experience (78 playoff games)

  • NBA champion (2016)


Skillset: Tristan Thompson’s can still offer elite rebounding and paint scoring. After another year in NBA purgatory with the Cavaliers, Thompson averaged 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, as Cleveland’s frontcourt rotation got more crowded with the addition of Andre Drummond.


Thompson can still rim run, clean the glass and score inside, but he’ll be needing to buy into a more limited role, as there’s no chance he plays the same 30.2 minutes he averaged per game last season. If Thompson’s willing to sign a cheaper deal for a chance at a second ring, then that contender will get an elite bench big to utilise.


Ideal role: Energy reserve big


Suitable teams: Heat, Lakers, Raptors, Warriors


Cost: MLE



Paul Millsap - 35 years old, 6’7”


Resume:

  • 14 years experience (120 playoff games)

  • 4x NBA All-Star (2014-2017)

  • NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2016)

  • NBA All-Rookie Second Team (2007)


Skillset: Paul Millsap’s is still a savvy frontcourt veteran who can contribute on both ends, albeit in more limited action. Averaging 11.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game last season, Millsap also put forth handy shooting splits of 48.2/43.5/81.6. In the postseason, though, he was less of a factor for the Nuggets, perhaps hurting his free agency stock in the process.


He did have flashes that helped keep Denver afloat in the playoffs, and contenders will have certainly taken notice. In a more limited reserve role, Millsap’s defence, experience, toughness and shooting are exactly what you want off your bench.


Ideal role: Reserve power forward


Suitable teams: Trail Blazers, Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, Jazz


Cost: Vet. Minimum - MLE



Marc Gasol - 35 years old, 6’11”


Resume:

  • 12 years experience (94 playoff games)

  • NBA champion (2019)

  • 3x NBA All-Star (2012, 2015, 2017)

  • All-NBA First Team (2015)

  • All-NBA Second Team (2013)

  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2013)

  • NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2013)

  • NBA All-Rookie Second Team (2009)


Skillset: Marc Gasol’s about as versatile as you can get for a veteran center for a contending team. The Spaniard contributed 7.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, on 42.7/38.5/73.5 shooting splits last season, despite injury setbacks.


Gasol can rebound, block shots, splash threes and showcase why he’s one of the best passing big men in NBA history. Those injuries means that Gasol’s not going to be playing the big minutes we saw during the Raptor’s 2019 Championship run, but as a reserve big, Gasol’s a great fit at a low cost. (That is, of course, if he remains in North America.)


Ideal role: Reserve center


Suitable teams: Warriors, Clippers, Celtics, Mavericks, Lakers, Jazz


Cost: Vet. Minimum



DeMarcus Cousins - 30 years old, 6’10”


Resume:

  • 9 years experience (8 playoff games)

  • 4x NBA All-Star (2015-2018)

  • 2x All-NBA Second Team (2015, 2016)

  • NBA All-Rookie First Team (2011)


Skillset: There’s no doubt that - at full health - DeMarcus Cousins is an offensive force of the highest order. However, injuries have plagued Cousins’ career as of late, leading to missing the entire 2019-20 season with a torn ACL.


Prior to that, Cousins came back from an Achilles tear, where he looked quite solid with the Warriors, with 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per contest.


We know that Cousins can bully defenders inside, hit from downtown and find teammates with great passes, while cleaning the glass with force. What we don’t know is how much of this Cousins can bring to the table as he recovers. With so much talent, a flier on Cousins is something a few contenders should consider.


Ideal role: Rotation center


Suitable teams: Nuggets, Lakers, Celtics, Clippers


Cost: Vet. Minimum



Mason Plumlee - 30 years old, 6’11”


Resume:

  • 7 years experience (60 playoff games)

  • NBA All-Rookie First Team (2014)


Skillset: An effective but limited veteran big, Mason Plumlee is the definition of a steady contributor, turning in 7.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 17.3 minutes a night last season. Plumlee can catch lobs, finish inside, act as an underrated playmaker, and pull down boards, making him a perfectly reliable backup 5.


While prone to some defensive lapses, highlighted against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, Plumlee is a fairly safe option for a contender to call off their bench.


Ideal role: Backup center


Suitable teams: Nuggets, Warriors, Trail Blazers, 76ers, Raptors, Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Jazz


Cost: Vet. Minimum-MLE



Nerlens Noel - 26 years old, 6’10”


Resume:

  • 6 years experience (12 playoff games)

  • NBA All-Rookie First Team (2015)


Skillset: After being selected as the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft back in 2013, Nerlens Noel has quickly seen his NBA niche reduced to defensive specialist. The good thing for contenders is that Noel plays the role very well.


Limited offensively to catching lobs and finishishing at the rim, Noel uses his 7’4” wingspan to pull down boards, block shots (career average of 1.4 per game), and be a force inside. If teams are looking for a bargain rim-running, defensively-oriented big who’s still fairly young - Noel’s the guy.


Ideal role: Reserve center


Suitable teams: Mavericks, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Raptors, Jazz,


Cost: Vet. Minimum-MLE



Robin Lopez - 32 years old, 7’0”




Resume:

  • 12 years experience (31 playoff games)


Skillset: Lopez just opted out of his player option with the Bucks after joining up with brother Brook in Milwaukee. Robin averaged 5.4 points and 2.4 assists a game in 14.5 minutes per night, acting as a reserve enforcer who can score inside, run the pick-and-roll, rebound and play hard.


Lopez is also a terrific teammate, with his veteran presence a clear highlight for the Milwaukee bench. As a second or third big man to bring off the pine, Lopez is going to be an easy and welcome fit for any contender’s frontcourt and locker room. (Or a WWE ring.)


Ideal role: End of rotation big


Suitable teams: Lakers, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Nets, Warriors


Cost: Vet. Minimum-MLE


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