The NBA offseason is always filled with exciting storylines like star free agents and blockbuster trades.
But rather than dwell on the obvious, this series intends to do the opposite: focus on the lower-profile free agents who may have some value to teams. No NBA player is actually “99 Cents,” of course, but these are all players who may be bargains based on their perceived market. Most of the players mentioned will probably go in the $3-5M range in terms of salary. Some exceptions will be marked as “featured items” that may go in the higher $5-10M range. If a player is listed as a “clearance rack,” then they may be on the fringes of NBA rosters and take minimum deals.
This “99 Cent Store“ series has been open for business for the last two offseasons. In the past, we’ve highlighted names like Fred VanVleet (pre breakout), Davis Bertans, and Christian Wood. Not all of the items turn out to be gems (is Nerlens Noel still not a DPOY candidate yet?), but the returns have been largely positive so far. Let’s see if we can keep that momentum going this season.
99 cent store
E’Twaun Moore, New Orleans Pelicans, UFA, 31 years old
Collectively, NBA fans scratched their heads in confusion when the New Orleans Pelicans doled out $8.5M a year for anonymous E’Twaun Moore. After all, this was an unheralded player, a R2 draft pick, a player who hadn’t cracked 10 PPG in any of his first six seasons in the league. For all we knew, he was randomly generated by NBA2k.
Three years later, the contract doesn’t look much better. Moore got buried this past season in a crowded Pelicans lineup, averaging only 18.2 minutes per game. He doesn’t appear to be a part of the franchise’s future plans at all. Moore will be tossed out into the darkness, left with no home, and no chance of matching that $8M salary ever again.
However, we have to be mindful as NBA fans not to lump in an “overpaid” player as a synonym for a “bad” player. Someone like Tobias Harris may not be worth his salary, but he’s still a good starter. On a lower level, E’Twaun Moore may be the same way. He’s not worth $8M a year, but he’s actually a solid addition to a rotation (even if the Pelicans squeezed him out.)
Moore’s primary virtue is as a 3+D wing. At first glance he’s not big enough for that role at 6’4″, but he’s aided by a pelican-like wingspan that stretches to near 6’10”. While he’s not a great defender (now at age 31), he’s passable at both the SG and SF spots. Offensively, he’ll help you as a spacer. He’s hit on 39.0% of his threes for his career, and had actually gotten up to 42% and 43% the prior two seasons before he lost some rhythm this season. Even in a down year, he shot 37.7% from deep.
That combination of skills makes Moore a good rotation player, and perhaps even a low-end starter on the right team. I wouldn’t expect him to get “overpaid” again, but that’s precisely what earns him a place in our store. He’s a potential bargain buy right now. If teams miss out on better 3+D wings like Justin Holiday (an alum of this 99 Cent Store column) then they may fall back on a player like Moore.
BKN. SG Joe Harris is an excellent shooter, but he’s also a free agent. Will the Nets pony up to keep him around? Or will he be jettisoned like others from the pre KD-Kyrie era? If he is, then E’Twaun Moore makes sense as a cheap replacement.
MIL. The shooting guard spot is the biggest question mark for the Bucks, and this offseason may add to the murkiness if Wes Matthews (player option) or Pat Connaughton (UFA) leave town. E’Twaun Moore would be a sensible filler, and platoon with Donte DiVincenzo.
SA. Do Gregg Popovich and the Spurs want to contend for the playoffs in 2020-21? Do they want to blow it up? TBD. But if their intention is to go for the 8th seed, Moore may be an upgrade on the smaller Bryn Forbes, who struggles on the defensive end.
Shaquille Harrison, Chicago Bulls, UFA, 27 years old
Coaches and front offices love to tout that “defense is half the game!” That is, until it’s time to actually pay a defensive player. Or draft a defensive player. Or even invite a defensive player onto the roster for a fully guaranteed contract.
Shaq Harrison has been dealing with that struggle for his entire professional career. Coming out of Tulsa, Harrison always had the chops defensively. He’s long and agile enough to guard 1s and 2s and even some 3s. The trouble is: shooting was never his strong suit. Even as a senior, he only hit 19.5% from deep in the NCAA. Yikes. That’s a surefire recipe to go undrafted, which is exactly what Harrison did.
Since then, Harrison has been trying to improve his shot, the key for him to stick on an NBA roster. This past season, we’ve started to see some glimmers of progress there. He shot a career-high 38.1% from three, and a career-high 78.0% from the line. Now to be fair, those were both extremely small sample sizes (16-42 from three, 39-50 from the line), but it’s still encouraging nonetheless. Because if Harrison can become a passable shooter, then his defensive abilities give him inherent value. He’s legitimately one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. ESPN’s real plus/minus listed his impact as a +3.0 on defense, which ranked as the 15th best player in the entire NBA (out of 503 qualifiers.) If a coaching staff feels confident in their player development and their shooting coaches, then Harrison would be an intriguing investment to make.
John Konchar, Memphis Grizzlies, 24 years old
Last year, I included Philadelphia PG-SG Shake Milton in this column, causing Sixers fans to riot and demand that I mention the team had the right to extend his two-way contract if they wanted. The team did, and Milton will prove to be a bargain for them over the next few years. Similarly, the Memphis Grizzlies will have that opportunity to keep two-way player John Konchar on the team if they want. But if they don’t, I’d be eyeing Konchar as a possible roster addition.
No doubt, there are reasons to doubt John Konchar’s NBA prospects. He comes from a school that’s so small that they didn’t even know what to name it (shifting a few times before settling on “Purdue Fort Wayne”). And at the risk of being politically incorrect, we should also mention that he’s white. That element does impact scouting, whether teams want to admit it or not. When an undersized (6’5″) white dude walks into the gym, NBA GMs don’t exactly sit up and salivate; Liberace showed more excitement at strip clubs.
All that said, Konchar has been productive time and time again. As you’d expect, he can hit the three pointer. Still, he’s not the stereotypical catch-and-shoot spacer. What’s most intriguing about Konchar is his playing strength. He may be only 6’5″ (6’7″ wingspan) but he plays much bigger than that. As a college senior, he grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game and blocked 0.9 shots to boot. He also converted 62.9% of his field goals in two-point range. It may have been low level competition, but he flat-out bullied his opponents.
Naturally you’d presume: there’s no way he can do that in the pros! But so far, so good. Konchar put up similar numbers in the G-League this season, hitting 56.5% from the field and grabbing 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. From there, you’d presume: there’s no way he can do that in the actual NBA! Well, in his 160 minutes of NBA action, Konchar shot 65.7% from the field and averaged 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Clearly, it’s too early to take his success as gospel. Konchar needs to keep proving himself. But eventually, we’re going to have to presume something else: maybe this guy is actually good. If I ran an NBA team, I’d want to run that experiment with Konchar in our uniform and not someone else’s.