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ESPN’s Pelton ranks Jevon Carter ahead of Saric and Baynes in free agency

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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton seems to value Carter being younger and a better defender over Saric and Baynes’ proven production.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

After an initial worry that this NBA offseason might drag just as much as the NBA hiatus in the spring, it’s now looking like the 2021 season will start mid-winter, meaning free agency is fast approaching. That means free agent rankings lists galore! Yet the newest one, from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, leaves us wondering how crazy this offseason could get.

For those who aren’t subscribed to ESPN+, I’ll give away some of what Pelton writes. Using data to understand players’ impact on their team’s success while they were on the floor as well as how their production compared to other players their age, Pelton revealed his rankings of players who could realistically become free agents (that means no Andre Drummond or Gordon Hayward or Mike Conley).

And... Jevon Carter was No. 23! What’s crazier, he’s the only Suns player mentioned on the list. That means no Dario Saric or Aron Baynes! Somehow the beloved bulldog defender who played out of his mind in the Bubble graded out better in Pelton’s high-level stat counting than the two veteran big men.

Here’s what Pelton had to say about Carter:

Projected three-year WARP: 5.4

The Grizzlies and Suns swapped Carter and Melton as part of last summer’s Josh Jackson salary dump, and Carter enjoyed a better sophomore campaign after moving to shooting guard.

Carter is also a tenacious defender, in his case primarily because of his ability to pressure ball handlers. His 42.5% 3-point shooting was a pleasant surprise.

2019-20 RPM: -0.7 | 2019-20 WARP: 2.3

Basically, Carter’s incredible shooting and defense made him more valuable than a typical, similarly aged guard in 2019-20, and while he isn’t projected to be quite as valuable over the next three seasons, it’s good enough to land him in the top 25.

Makes you wonder where Baynes and Saric grade out in three-year WARP, huh? Glancing through Pelton’s rankings, it’s clear that young players who are either elite shooters, elite defenders or both tended to rank highest.

Maybe the stats don’t trust Baynes’ outlier three-point shooting from this past season or think what he does is pretty replaceable (not a bad argument to make). As for Saric, outside of the Bubble, he hasn’t had a truly dominant stretch over his four years in the NBA, and he’s already 26, so I guess he’s less valuable?

Still, players like Shabazz Napier and Chris Chiozza (it’s OK if you don’t know who they are) also finished in the top 25, which signals to me that the bias toward guards in these stats may go a bit too far. These are also only rankings, not a prediction of contracts. It would surprise me a ton if Chiozza got more money than Saric or Baynes this offseason.