With this free agency period set up to be one of the biggest in recent history, this upcoming season looks to be one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory. However, there are a few players to keep your eyes on that haven’t been on anyone’s radar of late. They might not be superstars, but these three players are gonna do a lot more for their teams than most people think they will.
5. Clint Capela
Capela showed the league a little of what he is capable of this season. Drafted near the bottom of the first round in 2014 and not really making an impact for his first three seasons, Caplea came alive in season number 4, averaging a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) all on 65% shooting. While he does have some areas he needs to improve on (namely his 55% free throw shooting), Caplea has more than shown the Rockets that he is deserving of that starting center spot. Yet, there is still some question as to whether or not the Rockets should sign him. Most of that comes down to the cap space they are going to need if they want to sign both Chris Paul and LeBron James in this offseason.
If the Rockets don’t sign Capela he becomes an unrestricted free agent that should be seen as someone who will do some definite damage down low next year. Averaging almost 2 blocks, 13 points, almost 1 steal and 1 assist, and 10 rebounds; Capela showed that he is a problem on both sides of the court. If not Houston, the places most likely to take him this offseason would be the Lakers, the Clippers, and the Timberwolves, due to those teams needing a high caliber 4 or 5. Capela has earned a spot in this league, and he will be a player to watch out for next year.
4. Gorgui Dieng
Dieng is currently the backup to Karl Anthony-Towns on the Minnesota Timberwolves. And, admittedly, his numbers aren’t flashy. He’s averaging just 8 ppg and 6 rpg over his career. However, Dieng has only been in the league for four years, and his numbers are most likely skewed because of an offseason he had this year; partially due to a major reduction in both games and minutes from last season.
In fact, if his numbers had followed the trend that they were on before this season, Dieng career numbers would’ve been about 7,3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.2 bpg, and 9 ppg while playing around 25 mpg. Before this season, Dieng average minutes were around 30 per game. He played 16 mpg this season. When given the time and opportunity, Dieng has shown that he can produce very consistent numbers coming off the bench.
Dieng’s contributions aren’t limited to his stats either. During the Timberwolves 126-114 victory over the Atlanta Hawks this year, the Wolves started out 9-16 (56%) with 2 turnovers and were down 24-20 having never lead in the game. Then Dieng came in, rallied the troops to shoot 6-9 (66%), and the Timberwolves ended the first with a 34-32 lead and a momentum shift. In the end, the Wolves shot 53% and 13 turnovers as a team. KAT even had 56 points, a team record. Dieng works as a motivator both for his fellow bench players and the starters for the Timberwolves.
3. Ricky Rubio
Rubio isn’t a flashy point guard like Russell Westbrook or John Wall. He’s not a prolific scorer. But he’s cut from a Kyle Lowry mold in a sense that he kind of does everything else for his team. Rubio averaged 13 ppg, 1.6 spg, 5 apg, and 4 rpg during his first year with the Utah Jazz. However, during his tenure with the Timberwolves, Rubio showed himself to be a very valuable player; and he’s done no different with the Jazz.
Probably the two most impressive stats would be that the Jazz scored, on average, 4.7 points more than their opponents with Rubio on the court, and 4.8 points less than their opponents with Rubio off the court. Meaning, Rubio could very well be a reason the Jazz win or lose to a certain opponent; which is shown in his career win share of almost 29 wins over his 7-year career. In contrast, Steph Curry has been in the league for 9 years and has gotten a win share of 91 wins. Meaning Curry averaged 10 wins per season and Rubio averaged 4. (Just a note: LeBron averages 14 wins per season).
Rubio is also going to be important in the development of Donovan Mitchell. Rubio is a skilled passer and can find just about any shooter. This is going to give Mitchell plenty of opportunities with the ball and will speed up his development.
2. Isaiah Thomas
Let’s not forget what this dude di on Boston last year. 28 points and 4 assists on 46% shooting. He had a 26 PER, which was near the top of the league. He was insane. But recently, Thomas has found himself in a bit of a bad stretch. This season he averaged 15 points and almost 5 assists on 38% shooting. Now, there could be a few reasons for this. One is that he could still have been recovering from his sister’s death and then his sudden trade. Two huge life moments like that nearly on top of each other can place a huge mental barrier on anyone. Another reason could be confidence. Because he was traded so quickly and then got some heat from the national media, it would have been easy for Thomas to get inside his own head and start messing up. But the biggest reason for the stats drop, he didn’t get the same opportunity as he did on Boston.
Thomas was a consistent starter on the 2016-17 Celtics and they ran the offense through him. He found himself starting all 79 games he played and averaging 33 minutes. However, once he was traded it became a different story. Due to injury, Thomas only played 15 games on the Cavs. Although he started 14 of them, he did find himself averaging less minutes, this time falling around the 27 mark. Then he was traded suddenly again. Once he was on the Lakers, it was basically over for him. He averaged 26 minutes and came off the bench, only starting in one of his 17 games. While Thomas played much below par this year if he can stay healthy and get over the few mental bumps he has in his head Thomas could be a valuable asset at the point guard position.
1. Draymond Green
Although he’s an essential part to the Warriors game plan, Draymond Green still seems to be undervalued by the public. But this shouldn’t be the case. Green was the stat leader in every stat for the Warriors this year except for ppg and rpg. He’s made four all defensive teams, including one DPoY and one steals leader.
Draymond has averaged 6.5 win shares per season in his 6-year career, but during these last 4 years when the Warriors made the finals, Draymond has averaged 8 win shares per season, including a career-high 11 win shares during the Warriors 73-9 season. Last season, Draymond averaged 6 wins, more than Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Jordan Bell, and Shawn Livingston. In fact, the only players who averaged more win shares this season were Steph Curry (9) and Kevin Durant (10).
Draymond is a valuable piece to this Warriors dynasty, and losing him would hurt them more than people think. That’s probably why he’s gone on record as saying he is going to push for a big money contract extension. And it’s more likely than not he’ll get it because with contract, it’s not about what you deserve, but what you have the leverage to negotiate. And Draymond’s got a lot of leverage.