NBA
July 21, 2021

10 Best NBA Free Agents in 2021, Ranked

Free agency is one of the best avenues for NBA franchises to improve and potentially sign a game-changing talent. 

While the 2021 free-agent class might be light on superstars, it’s still loaded with plenty of proven veterans.

A savvy free-agent signing can make or break a team’s fortunes. Filling holes can be hard through the draft since most players aren’t ready to contribute, while trades sometimes open up another weakness.

The class may might not be star studded, sure, but it’s chock-full of players who can contribute toward a championship contender in the right role. Without further ado, let’s get to the 10 best free agents in 2021.

10. Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson's incredible playoff performance with the Clippers proved that the former Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons guard has completely transformed his career from unreliable role player to a scoring stud. 

After losing Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka to injuries, the shorthanded Clippers were desperate for more shot creation, and Jackson delivered. 

Even during the regular season, Jackson morphed himself into an elite spot-up shooter, draining 46% of his attempts, good for the 95th percentile league wide. But in the playoffs, he stepped up in glorious fashion. 

Jackson consistently roasted bigs such as Rudy Gobert off the dribble. He launched feathery step-back three-pointers. He drained contested mid-rangers. 

Whether or not the Clippers can retain him remains to be seen, but if Jackson plays anything like he did during the postseason, the team that signs him will be delighted.

9. Jarrett Allen (RFA)

One of the youngest free agents at 23, Jarrett Allen is going to be in the league for a long time. Even though he’s a restricted free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers might be willing to let him go if they set their sights on USC's Evan Mobley.

While it’s certainly possible Mobley and Allen could fit together, it’s pretty obvious Mobley’s long term position is center, and the Cavs might run into some horrendous spacing issues with both of them on the floor.

Allen is a near automatic double-double. He rarely shoots, but when he does, he nails 61% of his field goals. He’s also a deterrent at the rim who can run for lobs on the other end. He ranks in the 94th percentile in the NBA as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, producing 1.4 points per possession.

Allen has his limitations, of course, but young starting centers are still very valuable.

8. Spencer Dinwiddie

Before Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL just three games into the regular season, the former second-round pick showed that he's a starting-caliber guard while Kevin Durant was recovering from his Achilles tear.

Dinwiddie poured in 20.6 points and 6.8 assists that season. While he may be overstretched as a lead playmaker, he’s an ideal secondary or tertiary option.

He would fit snugly next to Luka Doncic in Dallas, where the Slovenian Sensation has been overworked thanks to the lack of reliable facilitators around him.

7. Lonzo Ball (RFA)

Lonzo Ball is one of the few restricted free agents who seems entirely gettable this offseason amid reports that the Pelicans are willing to say goodbye if the price climbs too high.

After struggling mightily his first few seasons with the Lakers — as a deer-in-the-headlights rookie then as an ill-fitting sidekick to LeBron James — Ball started to grow into a jack-of-all-trades guard in his time in New Orleans. 

This past season, Ball averaged 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 38% from deep. Ball worked extremely hard with Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson to reconstruct his shooting form, and the results paid off.

Ball's still a wily playmaker, but he's best suited as a secondary creator.

6. Tim Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has improved every season he’s been in the league. He’s transformed himself from a low-percentage chucker to an extremely efficient shooter who became Dallas’s second most important player this postseason. He’s single-handedly renamed the “Kristaps Porzingis Trade” into the “Tim Hardaway Jr. Trade.”

Dallas is going to do everything in their power to re-sign him. Wing shooters who can create and guard their position on defense are worth at least $15 million on the open market, and it wouldn't be crazy to see Hardaway Jr. score $20 million per season. He’s also an underrated cutter who takes advantage of all the attention Doncic commands, where he produced 1.5 points per possession.

Hardaway Jr. tallied 17 points on 40% from deep against the Clippers. He sports a lightning-quick release and can shoot from anywhere. He’s a clean fit on virtually any team in the league.

5. Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry has certainly lost a step, but that’s to be expected since he’s 35-years-old and plays a physical brand of basketball.

While Lowry’s days as the lead-scoring option appear to be over, he could still be an invaluable starting point guard on an established squad.

Lowry does it all at the guard position. He’s still a pesky, hard-nosed defender who consistently ranks near the top of the league in charges drawn. He’s comfortable spotting up from deep or burrowing his way into the paint.

He would be an ideal fit for either the Clippers or 76ers. Those two teams could use a sure-handed veteran such as Lowry to align the troops.

4. Mike Conley Jr. 

Mike Conley Jr. has followed the same trajectory as Lowry. They’re two gritty guards who probably shouldn’t be leading a team, but next to a Donovan Mitchell-type of player, they’re just fine.

Conley is still a solid defender who has so many tricks up his sleeve as a ball handler. He averaged 16.2 points, six assists and 1.4 steals on a career-high 55% effective field goal rate this season. He’s been in tons of big moments and should still have a few quality seasons left at 33-years-old. He also finally made his first All-Star Game, which is a nice boost to his legacy.

The Jazz will surely attempt to re-sign Conley, because smart point guards who don’t make many mistakes and aren’t afraid to drain clutch jumpers when it matters are hot commodities on the market. 

3. DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan is set up for a handsome payday this summer as possibly the best free agent who could realistically be on the move. The Spurs couldn’t come to a contract extension with him, and it’s entirely possible San Antonio embraces their youth program moving forward.

But DeRozan is still a star in the prime of his career. He’s grown into a reliable facilitator, ranking in the 84th percentile among pick-and-roll ball handlers. He’s also one of the most efficient one-on-one scorers in the league. Thanks to DeRozan’s beautiful fadeaway jumper, he produced 1.2 points per possession in isolation this past season, good for the 96th percentile league wide. That’s absurd, especially considering DeRozan doesn’t shoot that many threes.

Could a possible Toronto reunion be in the works? If they don’t re-sign Lowry, the Raptors should have a solid amount of cap space. DeRozan is the type of player who could bring a title team over the top if he accepts a lesser role. We’ll just have to wait to find out where he ends up.

2. John Collins (RFA)

John Collins played the best basketball of his life in the postseason. He also played some of the best defense of his career during the Hawks' magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals. He fought for every loose ball and attacked the offensive glass with ferociousness. He was ready for playoff ball, and now awaits a massive contract. But from who? 

It’s still a mystery whether the Hawks will be the team to award him an extension. The franchise's front office admitted that the Hawks might not be able to pay everyone. Losing Collins would certainly be a bold move.

Collins is a fiend in transition, using his trampoline-like bounce to produce 1.5 points per possession, which ranks in the 97th percentile in the NBA. He’s the perfect modern big man at the power forward position.

We think Collins would be the perfect running mate for Doncic in Dallas

1. Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard isn't technically a free agent... yet. He has a $36 million player option for the upcoming campaign, but it's widely expected he'll enter the free-agent market so he makes the list. 

The Klaw's coming one of his most efficient seasons, ranking near the top of the list in isolation, pick-and-rolls, spot-ups and cuts. He’s the Terminator. And before his unfortunate ACL injury, Leonard had the best playoff performance in Clippers franchise history.

It's unclear how long Leonard will be out following surgery on his injured knee, but he's still going to have multiple max offers if he decides to opt-out. 

All signs point to a return to Los Angeles. The Clippers have surrounded him with a deep, versatile supporting cast that could improve this offseason depending on what the front office cooks up. Reports have linked the Clippers to Ball and Lowry, although some cap gymnastics would have to occur for that to happen.

Leonard's best option to win his third title is to re-sign with the Clippers. 

Photo: Getty Images