The 2016 NBA Playoffs are set to begin. In addition to what promises to be some hotly-contested series in the second season, there are multiple players that have an opportunity to up their values in free agency with strong postseason performances.
From an important cog in Golden State that’s played second fiddle on that loaded roster to a former first-round bust in Philadelphia now making his name known in Boston, here are five players ready to rake in some serious cash with strong playoff performances.
Remember, some of these soon-to-be free agents will already receive max deals. The reasoning behind having them in this article is simple.
In Harrison Barnes’ case, he’s set to become a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors can match any offer for him. A strong playoff performance will lead to other squads actually taking their time to go hard after him.
In any event, let’s check in on these five players below.
1. Harrison Barnes, forward, Golden State Warriors
Simply based on the fact that there’s going to be a ton of cash being thrown around after the new television money hits each team’s cap this summer, Barnes is already likely to receive a max contract.
Though, his restricted free agent status might make that more difficult. The primary reason for this is Golden State’s willingness to continue going over the luxury tax in order to retain its core players. Short of the team signing Kevin Durant, Barnes is the best option at small forward. This could force teams to look in another direction as to not waste time on a restricted free agent.
We can’t simply look at stats when drawing a conclusion about Barnes’ ability on the court. His importance to the Warriors goes much further than that. He’s also not going to be anywhere near the primary scorer when playing with the rest of the starters on this loaded roster.
That said, the 23-year-old Barnes is coming off the best season of a career that has seen him improve each year. He averaged 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range.
With a solid perimeter game and the ability to rise over defenders for a beautiful jump shot, Barnes is dangerous outside. His athleticism also enables him to slash to the lane unchecked.
Though, Barnes does struggle exposing the ball — something that will be an issue should he face better defenders as a more primary scoring option on another team.
Set to take on a solid defensive three in Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza in the first round, Barnes has an opportunity to show he can score against top-level defenders.
Barnes averaged 13.2 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field in the Warriors’ final 15 regular season games.
2. Nicolas Batum, forward, Charlotte Hornets
Acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, Batum proved his worth to a surprising Hornets squad this season. It’s now likely going to lead to a max contract at some point following the playoffs.
Always considered a top-level defender with the athleticism to make an impact on the wing, Batum’s game become more well-rounded in his first season away from the Pacific Northwest.
He averaged career highs in points (14.9) and assists (5.8) while adding 6.1 rebounds per game.
While the Frenchman is dealing with an ankle injury heading into Charlotte’s first-round series against the Miami Heat, he is expected to be a go. Considering his importance to this squad, it’s going to be interesting to see how he performs.
If Batum’s recent outings are an indication, the Hornets will find themselves in a good position. Prior to missed three of the final seven games and playing on a limited basis in the other four, the former first-round pick averaged 19.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists in his past 15 games.
With elite-level wings becoming more important in today’s NBA, Batum’s value is definitely going to be there during the summer. It just remains to be seen if his playoff performance will guarantee he receives a max deal.
3. Hassan Whiteside, center, Miami Heat
This former D-League player has made it known that he’s upset about being passed over by every NBA team. He’s out there every game with a massive chip on his shoulder, letting them know they made a mistake. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent has also proven it on the court.
Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and an NBA-best 3.7 blocks per game during the regular season. He also shot 61 percent from the field while nabbing 3.3 offensive rebounds per game.
What makes Whiteside such a valuable asset on the open market is the fact that he has multiple low-post moves, something that should enable him to take on a bigger scoring role with another team. Besides that, he’s already a tremendous interior defender.
Set to take on Hornets big man Al Jefferson, this former second-round pick has an opportunity to prove his worth against a player that’s been a darn solid performer for the vast majority of the past decade. If so, then Miami’s center should earn a max deal on the open market.
4. Zaza Pachulia, center, Dallas Mavericks
True centers are a dying breed in today’s NBA. They also aren’t as valued as they were in previous eras with small ball and wing players taking on more importance. That said, there’s still a place for them on well over half the teams around the Association.
Acquired for just a second-round pick last summer, Pachulia was outstanding for Dallas during the regular season. He put up a nine-year high in points (8.6) and a career high in rebounds (9.4) while playing solid low-post defense.
These aren’t great numbers, but they place him in rare air as a true center that can put up double-doubles on a consistent basis.
Pachulia will now have his hands full in maintaining a low-post presence against Steven Adams and Enes Kanter of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. That’s one of the best and most physically imposing center tandems in the entire NBA. If this 32-year-old Georgian is able to hold his own, it will go a long way towards helping him up his value come free agency.
5. Evan Turner, forward, Boston Celtics
Not too often does a player shed the label of being a bust only to go out there and receive a huge contract in free agency. This is something that could very well happen with Turner, a former No. 2 overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Turner isn’t averaging career highs in any category. He has, however, performed at a more steady and consistent clip. Considered a volume scorer earlier in his career, Turner is letting the game come to him more naturally this season. This has led to a dramatic improvement in terms of his all-around play.
He’s averaging 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 28 minutes of action per game. He’s also shooting at a solid 48 percent clip from two-point range and 83 percent from the three-point line.
While Turner’s perimeter game has always been in question, that’s not the type of player he’s going to be asked to be moving forward. Instead, a role that he’s carved out in Boston is as a secondary scoring option that can grab rebounds, dish out assists and play solid defense.
This is what you’d call the best of both worlds for a wing. If he were to go to a team with established scorers, there’s no reason to believe Turner couldn’t act the part of a Andre Iguodala (minus the three-point shot).
Slated to take on Atlanta Hawks forwards Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha in the first round, Turner is going to need his all-around game to show up in this series.
If that happens, he will draw the interest of multiple teams looking for a wing to play an important role next season. That will up Turner’s free-agent value a great deal.