Point guard is probably the strongest position in this year’s free-agent market, with a max-ish player in Kyrie Irving, a rising star in Jalen Brunson and several other players worth more than the midlevel exception. Center is the only other competition, and we’ll get to that in a few days.
We’ve already broken down the top 25 overall free agents in this summer’s market. Now it’s time to dig deeper. We’re going to start with the point guard market, drilling down well into the depths of the minimum guys, before moving on to the other positions later in the week. Again, we’ll be doing what I’ve done the past two offseasons: Using my BORD$ valuations to help develop an idea of what these players are worth. While this method has some limitations — it’s a value for the coming season only, for instance, and obviously, factors like health, attitude and fit aren’t taken into account — it provides a 10,000-foot view of the marketplace and what valuations might make sense on player contracts for the coming season.
Keep in mind that I’ve only listed reasonably possible free agents here; Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn, for instance, are near-certain to opt in to their deals for 2022-23 and thus were omitted from this list. On the other hand, I did list John Wall, who will most assuredly opt in to his contract for $47 million but is likely to be bought out afterward. By the same token, I’ve also declined to list partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed players who are highly unlikely to be waived (Jose Alvarado, for example). Other players who fall under this category and aren’t listed below include Cory Joseph, Shake Milton, Ayo Dosunmu, Tre Jones and Gabe Vincent.
Tier 1: The max guys
No, BORD$ doesn’t have to deal with Kyrie Irving in the locker room, but he still rates as a hugely valuable player. Irving can opt out of his current deal that pays him $36.9 million next season and become a free agent, where his maximum salary for 2021-22 would be $42.7 million.
Irving will turn 31 next season, so the out years on a four- or five-year deal for his max don’t rate out as profitable, but in the short term, the numbers say he’d be likely to justify a max deal. Even in his limited time last season, he averaged 27 points per game with 59 percent true shooting … and it wasn’t a particularly good year by his standards.
The other piece of this, of course, is assessing what options Irving has besides the Nets. With the cap-room teams mostly rebuilding and not really needing a point guard, and some other teams turned off by the assorted sideshows that accompanied his presence in Boston and Brooklyn, the Nets might be able to negotiate something short of the five-year, $245 million deal he’d be eligible to receive.
Brunson’s strong playoff run for the Mavericks seemingly silenced some of the chatter that A) Dallas might be willing to let him walk and B) another team could get him for well below the max. Now it seems like any serious offer would have to be for at least $100 million over the next four years, somewhat limiting the potential suitors given the greater difficulty of meeting that threshold in a sign-and-trade. (If you’re wondering about the Knicks, for instance, they’d have to dangle a lot of not terribly desirable filler in front of the Mavs to get a deal done. Good luck with that.)
As a small guard coming off a career year, this BORD$ valuation is likely at the high end of where the league sees Brunson, but he should be able to get into the $25 million a year range.
The more interesting question is what this might do for Dallas’ plans. Increasing his salary from a paltry $1.8 million to such a princely sum will also put the Mavs about $30 million over the luxury-tax line and produce a whopping $85 million check to the league. Something’s gotta give here.
Tier II: More than midlevel, less than max
Rubio didn’t play a game for the Pacers last year; he was traded there by Cleveland after tearing his left ACL in late December. While he’ll likely return at some point this coming season, he turns 32 this fall, and it’s his second ACL tear in the same knee.
Delon Wright’s market isn’t likely to go nearly this high; he got the full MLE when he was a free agent four years ago and seems likely to face a similar market at age 30. Offensive limitations, especially as an off-ball 3-point shooter, put a cap on his value for most teams despite another year of sparkling analytics.
Wright didn’t always play major minutes for Atlanta this past season but was one of the Hawks’ most effective players, in particular at the defensive end. On a one- or two-year deal at the midlevel exception, he looks like a solid Plan B for teams that whiff on the top-tier guards, with his ability to moonlight as a shooting guard at 6-foot-5 adding to his value.
Tyus Jones is one of the most fascinating free-agent cases this summer because the Grizzlies have ample cap resources to retain him if they wish, but Jones may be more intrigued by an opportunity to be a full-time starter rather than Ja Morant’s understudy. Certainly places like New York or Washington could offer him a starting gig, but those clubs are limited to offering the full MLE. Jones could get more by re-upping with the Griz or by his involvement in a sign-and-trade.
Jones is undersized and had not shot consistently from deep until this past season (39.0 percent from 3), but he is an elite game manager at the point, has one of the best floater games in basketball and, at 26, a multi-year deal would likely give his next team the best years of his career.
This might be a bit lower than some expect for Anfernee Simons after his offensive exploits when Damian Lillard was out of the lineup. In 30 games as a starter, Simons averaged 22.0 points per game on 60.0 percent true shooting; given that he will only be 23 this summer, it seems like this elevator is still going up, too.
BORD$ balances that production against the fact that Simons is still pretty limited as a distributor, and more importantly, that he has rated his entire career as a destructively bad defensive player. Perhaps that latter issue improves; Simons is young, and at 6-foot-3 with decent athleticism, one would think he can level up to something approaching average.
It seems a foregone conclusion that Portland will re-sign him and the only question is the price, which I’m guessing will come in quite a bit higher than the BORD$ value reflected here.
Tier III: Midlevel exception guys
Eric Bledsoe has a $19.4 million deal for the coming season but only $3.9 million of it is guaranteed; with the Blazers having other players and already playing Lillard and Simons at Bledsoe’s position, it seems highly likely he gets his wings this summer. If so, he’s a pretty good fallback option for teams who can’t nab one of the A-listers and need a defensive point guard, even if his suspect shooting can be a postseason liability.
Tier IV: More than minimum, less than midlevel
Patty Mills has one of the league’s most interesting player-option decisions; his option (for $6.18 million) and his BORD$ value are nearly identical. While it seems likely he’ll be back in a Brooklyn uniform in either event, he’d be eligible for a raise to $7.4 million if he opts out and then re-signs.
John Wall is technically under contract to Houston for the coming season, with a player option for $47 million that he clearly won’t be opting out of. However, given the high likelihood of a quick buyout agreement between player and team, Wall looms as an intriguing free-agent target for teams desperate for point guard help. He looked halfway decent the last time we saw him, for 40 games in Houston in 2020-21, and while he’s only played 72 games in the last four years, there could be something salvageable here.
This is a lot higher than the market has valued Raul Neto during his last few forays into free agency; as ever, players with more value on defense than offense tend to get short shrift in the free-agency marketplace. He’s 30 years old, and his 3-ball escaped him last year (29.2 percent). But he’s a 36.6 percent career marksman who also has made half his career 2s (not many small guards can say this). Throw in his tough defense, and Neto grades out as a pretty decent backup. Just don’t ask him to be a primary shot creator.
Dennis Schröder’s style isn’t for everyone; he’s a shoot-first guard who doesn’t give you a lot defensively and, as a result, wore out his welcome in both L.A. and Boston. That said, he can be an effective sixth man if left in a scoring role and should have some kind of a market this offseason. Boston got him a year ago for the taxpayer MLE, and BORD$ pegs his value right at that level this time around too.
Aaron Holiday has had trouble establishing himself due to shoot-first tendencies and his struggles to finish inside the arc, but he’s 25 years old and a 37.3 percent career 3-point shooter, and like all the Holiday brothers, he’s pretty solid defensively. He wasn’t going to gain much traction in Phoenix’s backcourt, but given his age and skill profile, he could be a solid backup for a rebuilding squad. Holiday is technically a restricted free agent, but it seems unlikely the Suns will issue a $5.8 million qualifying offer to keep his matching rights.
Facundo Campazzo was pushed out of the Nuggets’ backcourt rotation by the development of Bones Hyland, but the numbers say he still can be a useful backup despite standing just 5-foot-10 and turning 31 this year. He’d be more useful in an up-tempo environment, and one suspects he’ll be on a different roster a year from now. A return to Europe also looms as a possibility.
Vasa Micic is one of the more intriguing under-the-radar free agents, a 28-year-old player who was selected in the same draft as Gary Harris and T.J. Warren but may only now end up in the league. His rights are held by the Thunder, who probably don’t need to roster a veteran backup point guard, but it’s pretty easy to imagine another team trading a future second for Micic’s rights and then inking him out of Europe.
Jevon Carter is small and not very effective as an on-ball lead guard, but he can make open jump shots and defends with relentless energy. Those factors make him useful on teams like the Bucks that have alternative ballhandlers, so he should have a market between the midlevel and biannual exception.
Similar to Carter above, Trent Forrest’s value comes mostly at the defensive end, where he’s a handsy, harassing menace. His complete lack of shooting (10 career 3s, 18.9 percent) puts a pretty hard cap on his utility, but his size and defense make him a useful fourth or fifth guard.
Tier V: Minimum guys
17. Goran Dragic, Brooklyn
The Dragon had a rough regular-season ride in Brooklyn but played pretty well in the Nets’ four playoff games, likely rehabbing some of his value in the process. He’s 36 years old and has clearly lost a step but might be able to contribute enough to still be a useful backup.
Ish Smith has a non-guaranteed $4.7 million for this season but rates as a minimum guy. Given the difference in valuation and the Wizards’ luxury-tax constraints, I suspect they will set him free, which also will aid Smith in his quest to play for every single team. He turns 34 this summer and can’t shoot, but he’s still capable of turbocharging tempo by zipping up and down the court.
A veteran Band-Aid for the Cavs’ backup point guard woes, Rajon Rondo is 36 and has been a replacement-level player the past two seasons. He’d likely be looking for work as a third point guard in a veteran mentor role.
Lou Williams fell out of the Hawks’ rotation in 2021-22 and will likely be searching for a new landing spot. He can still score on the right night, but he’s a defensive liability every night, and that’s why his minutes have nosedived the last two years.
Elfrid Payton struggled mightily (7.9 PER) in a limited role in Phoenix, and the former lottery pick’s career might be on life support unless he either improves his shooting or translates his plus defensive tools into average defense.
I’ve been a card-carrying Brandon Goodwin believer, but he needs to convert his shoot-first tendencies into at least average efficiency. Last season’s 50.1 true shooting percentage was a step in the right direction, but he’ll be 27 in October and may be running out of chances.
The undersized, 34-year-old D.J. Augustin struggled in both Houston and L.A. last year; one of the league’s craftiest pick-and-roll operators in his prime, he may be nearing the end of the line.
A low-mistake guy who hung on for 10 forgettable games with the Knicks last season; he might need to look at updating his passport.
(Top photo of Jalen Brunson: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)