February 24, 2021

Ranking the NBA's 5 Best Buyout Candidates in 2021

Playing the NBA buyout market is always a hit-or-miss proposition, but every year players who can make a legitimate contribution to championship contenders become available. 

And this year is no different. 

Of course, these players are available for a reason. Whether that's because of a bloated contract or the player has lost a step, they will not be the savior of a franchise. But they can fill a need on an affordable deal. 

Below we've ranked the five best buyout candidates on the market. Will one of them turn into a contributor like Markieff Morris was for last year's Lakers or will they be a bust? 

Let’s get to the candidates.

5. George Hill

George Hill has played 12 seasons with a total of seven different teams while consistently providing smart playmaking, excellent floor spacing and good veteran leadership. Last season, Hill led the entire league in 3-point percentage at 46%. 

While Hill has just played 14 games this season, he’s still draining 3s at a quality rate and is converting shots inside the arc at the highest rate of his career (61%). The Thunder have plummeted from scoring 111 points per 100 possessions with Hill on the floor to a paltry 101 points per 100 when he rests. 

While many will remember Hill for his missed free throw in the 2018 NBA Finals, but the production doesn’t lie. There’s a reason Hill has a career 63.5 win percentage. Good things usually happen when he's on the court.

4. DeMarcus Cousins

It's pretty incredible that DeMarcus Cousins is even on this list. Cousins has suffered a plethora of injuries that many thought would derail his career. While he’s not the same stud he once was, Cousins proved he can contribute as a big man who inhales rebounds while always getting buckets.

Now for the bad news: Cousins has been largely ineffective this season. He’s been unable to produce as a pick-and-roller, and his post-ups haven’t yielded much. 

However, his passing chops are rare for a big man. While 2.4 assists to 1.4 turnovers isn't anything to write home about, it’s pretty good for a big man barely playing 20 minutes per game. Having a secondary playmaker from an unlikely position is something that will never go out of fashion.

If the right team lands Cousins, he could be an asset in the playoffs.

3. Hassan Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside is elite at what he does: rebounding and blocking shots. Unfortunately, the rest of his game is limited. He ranks second in the league in blocks and rebounds per 100 possessions thanks to his laffy-taffy wingspan that allows him to swat opponents away like flies.

He’s also shooting 62% from the floor, but the bottom line is despite his impressive block numbers, that hasn’t always translated to a stifling defense. 

As with most role players though, their team impact is largely thanks to influences outside their control. It’s entirely possible Whiteside moves to a contending team with the proper perimeter defenders who can accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

If he finds the right team, Whiteside could make a huge impact as a defensive presence.

2. Blake Griffin

Watching Blake Griffin devolve from a high-flying leaper to a standstill, low-percentage 3-point shooter has been painful to watch. He hasn’t thrown down a dunk since 2019, and his points per game have plummeted from 24.5 points in 2018-19 to 12.3 this season.

But it’s no fun to focus on what someone can’t do. What does Griffin have left in the tank? For one, he’s still got that playmaking pizzazz in him, averaging 4 assists to 1.6 turnovers this season. And while his 3-point percentages have been subpar this season, he’s been shooting a high volume of off-the-dribble treys, meaning his shooting percentage could rise with spot-up looks. 

There’s no denying Griffin's days are likely finished as a high-usage creator, but he could carve out a valuable role as a sixth man who can create good opportunities for his teammates against opposing bench units. It will also be easier for him to feast in the paint against backups.

Strong play off the bench may not be glamorous, but it would be a much more fulfilling end to Griffin's career.

1. Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond is clearly the best buyout candidate on the market this season. He gobbles up rebounds and shoots 53% from the field, averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.

On the gloomier side, Drummond's not terribly efficient and the Cavaliers embarked on their long losing streak right as his on-ball responsibilities increased.

But Drummond would likely not be asked to carry his new team. It’s been highly rumored that he’s Brooklyn-bound if Cavaliers representatives and his agents come to an agreement. In that scenario, Drummond would be able to focus on what he does best while letting his star teammates bear the brunt of the playmaking and shot-creating burden.

It cannot be emphasized enough that aside from the cream of the crop in the NBA, most players’ production is highly correlated with how well they are utilized in their surroundings.

Take Frank Kaminsky, for example. He was completely miscast with the Kings earlier this season before being waived, but he’s thriving with the Suns as a jack-of-all-trades forward.

With Drummond, the fewer responsibilities he’s given, the more dangerous he could become.

Photo: Getty Images