The NBA has one more key transactional period before opening night, with the rookie-scale extension deadline landing on Oct. 21. Players from the 2016 draft will have until the late October date to sign extensions with their respective clubs, or choose to move into potential restricted free agency in 2020. Ben Simmons already secured his $170 million deal from the Sixers, as did Jamal Murray in Denver. But a slate of marque players remain extension candidates just over two months before opening night.
Should the Raptors make Pascal Siakam their cornerstone of the future? Will Brandon Ingram cash in before playing a game for the Pelicans? We at The Crossover identified the four premier extension candidates before October’s deadline, advising teams to either extend their impact youngsters early, or wait for another year of data before making a large financial commitment.
Pascal Siakam, Raptors
Toronto’s cap commitments will be minimal following the expiration of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol’s contracts after the 2018-19 season. Even if Lowry re-signs and stays a Raptor for life, Masai Ujiri will still have plenty of money to play with as he rebuilds Toronto’s roster. Siakam should be the centerpiece of that rebuild.
The 25-year-old ran away with the Most Improved Player award last year, and for good reason. He unleashed his elite physical profile on the Eastern Conference and formed a terroristic defensive duo with Kawhi Leonard, proving capable of leading the Raptors even as Kawhi fully embraced a season of load management. Siakam made 70.6% of attempts in the restricted area last season, landing at 18th out of the 196 players with over 200 attempts. He’s an elite cutter and a terrifying transition force, armed with a patented spin move. Few wings in the league are as athletic as Spicy P.
Yet it’s not Siakam’s athletic gifts that should ensure an extension over $150 million with Toronto. Siakam evolved into a meaningful half-court cog in 2018-19, a sizable step from his station underneath the basket in the early part of his career. Siakam can execute either end of the pick-and-roll, and he’s become a three-point shooter, canning 36.9% of his 214 attempts last season. Gasol appeared to impact Siakam in last year’s playoffs as hurried charges to the rim became probing power dribbles. Siakam’s instincts to advance the ball improved tenfold; the ball refused to stick. Siakam remains immensely athletic unlike few players in his conference. Yet its his mental evolution that should give Toronto confidence in a major extension.
Jaylen Brown, Celtics
Brown saw a dip in a slate of statistical categories in 2018-19, dropping his points per game, rebounds per game and three-point percentage last season compared to 2017-18. The Cal product struggled out of the gate and never quite found his footing in Kyrie Irving’s three-ring circus, failing to build on the impressive growth from his sophomore season. But a shaky shooting year shouldn’t deter the Celtics from tabbing Brown as a key member of their future core.
Brown’s versatility and defensive upside are a perfect complement next to Jayson Tatum, and Brown showed nascent playmaking ability in the latter half of 2018-19. His production should rebound this season with fewer mouths to feed for head coach Brad Stevens. Boston has few economic commitments moving forward, especially after the final year of Gordon Hayward’s deal in 2020-21. The Celtics don’t appear to be chasing any supermax players in the near future. They are well positioned to pay full price for Brown and Tatum over the next two seasons, pairing the young wings with Kemba Walker for the next era at TD Garden.
WAIT AND SEE
Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
Ingram is perhaps the most talented player awaiting a rookie-scale extension, though a potential deal with the Pelicans is hard to evision before opening night. There are just too many questions regarding the 21-year-old, both with his health and his future projection. Ingram is likely a better asset than Andrew Wiggins at the moment and more worthy of a nine-figure deal. But David Griffin and Co. would likely want to see some evidence first.
Ingram should enjoy a cleaner fit in New Orleans compared to his final year in Los Angeles. The Duke product is a lanky isolation scorer who isn’t afraid to eat sizable chunks of the shot clock. That style is anathema to the teammates sought by LeBron James, and the inverse of the catch-and-shoot nature of Kyle Kuzma. Ingram and James never quite jelled. Ingram will have plenty of time to monopolize the ball in Zion Williamson’s rookie year, though. Jrue Holiday can thrive without the ball (he played a lot of two guard next to Rajon Rondo) and Lonzo Ball is a low usage point guard. The Pelicans hope to have the fastest pace in the league. Ingram will earn plenty of touches. His production should rise with the increased opportunity, and a full healthy season should lead to the Pelicans making a sizable financial commitment in 2020. But we haven’t seen enough reliability from Ingram thus far for New Orleans to offer a Wiggins-style extension before opening night.
Buddy Hield, Kings
Hield’s 2018-19 went unmentioned by most, but the Oklahoma product deserves a brief moment of adulation for his absolutely en fuego season. Hield’s percentage from beyond the arc held firm at 42.7% last year compared to 43.1% in 2017-18, but his volume shot through the roof. Hield made 278 threes last season, the seventh-most in NBA history, and second-most by any player not named Stephen Curry or James Harden. His destiny as a long-range gunner appears to be fulfilled next to the electric De’Aaron Fox, flinging triples with impunity. Hield has found the perfect destination.
The Kings face an interesting test with Hield in the coming months. They owe Harrison Barnes over $20 million each year through 2021 and $18 million in 2021-22. Fox enters free agency after 2020; Marvin Bagley one year later. Hield is a terrific final piece for a contender, and he could feast in a weak free agent class in July 2020. It could be an unfortunate breakup, but a large commitment to Hield isn’t quite prudent for the Kings, even after a historic shooting season.