RotoWire Partners

NBA Draft Kit: Contract-Year Players 2014-15

Josh Lloyd

Josh Lloyd

Josh writes about fantasy basketball for RotoWire as well as the site he founded, He also is the host of the Red Rock Fantasy Basketball Podcast and loves analysing trends to help fantasy players in seasonal and daily fantasy leagues.

One of the more interesting arguments in professional sports is that of the perceived rise in production of contract-year players.

The general idea behind the contract-year player argument is that they perform at a higher level than usual the season leading into their free agency, as they are trying to convince a team to pay them an inflated salary based on their one year of, what often turns out to be, over-inflated production.

Like most ideas that are accepted as fact by the general public and sports fans, there's an element of truth to it, but the question that comes up is: Are they playing better to try and get a contract, or is the player's production a true measure of their worth.

Last season, Trevor Ariza put together the best season of his NBA career and his production far exceeded his draft position, all while chasing a big contract, which he duly received from the Houston Rockets in July (four years, $32 million).

What we want to know is whether the Ariza scenario is the norm, or is it the exception?

If Ariza's career-best production was a function of him playing for a better contract, than which players on the final year of their contract in 2014-15 will have career-best seasons? Let's look at this idea a bit closer and check out what fantasy nuggets can be gleaned from the free agency class of the summer of 2015.

Below, you'll find the players who were playing in the final year of their contract during the 2013-14 season..

*The fantasy rankings I've used are for eight-category leagues on a per-game basis.

2013-14 Contract-Year Players Review


2013-14 Ranking

2012-13 Ranking

Career Best Ranking

Trevor Ariza



35 (2013-14)

Lance Stephenson



75 (2013-14)

Jodie Meeks



58 (2013-14)

D.J. Augustin



88 (2010-11)

Avery Bradley



127 (2013-14)

Mario Chalmers



72 (2008-09)

Darren Collison



79 (2012-13)

Luol Deng



45 (2006-07)

Channing Frye



64 (2010-11)

Marcin Gortat



45 (2011-12)

Spencer Hawes



49 (2013-14)

Gordon Hayward



45 (2013-14)

Jordan Hill



153 (2013-14)

Shaun Livingston



117 (2006-07)

Kyle Lowry



14 (2013-14)

Isaiah Thomas



24 (2013-14)

Nick Young



105 (2013-14)

Evan Turner



122 (2012-13)

I didn't include the Heat's former Big Three, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were all still under contract for the 2014-15 season but chose to exercise their early-termination options to void their current deals. I also didn't include players clearly at the tail end of their careers like Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, and Pau Gasol, because the view on them in the NBA is what is and would be unlikely to change based on their production (or lack thereof). Nor did I consider lower-tier free agents such as Anthony Morrow or Patrick Patterson who didn't have the opportunity of a large allotment of minutes played last season to produce at unfamiliar levels.

Looking at the table above, of the 18 players who fit the contract-year criteria, 10 posted their best seasons to date in terms of fantasy output, and 15 of the 18 players had better seasons than their respective 2012-13 campaigns. By no means is this a definitive answer to the contract-year phenomenon, but it definitely gives us a reason to look at players who are playing for a new deal this coming season, and it somewhat justifies targeting some of them in fantasy drafts in the hopes of landing an Ariza, Jodie Meeks, Isaiah Thomas, or Lance Stephenson at a discount.

In compiling this list of free agents for the 2015-16 season, some of the potential restricted free agents will be signed to extensions before the deadline, preventing them from entering restricted free agency and obviously, remove them from this exercise of finding candidates for breakout seasons.

The deadline for extending rookie contracts is October 31, a few days after the season has started, so with fantasy drafts almost solely being held prior to the start of the season, we won't know who is and isn't going to agree to an extension, which will alter some of the commentary here.

Last season, there were a couple of surprising extension-eligible players who did not agree to extensions with their teams, notably Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe. So, a few players may not receive extensions and could be playing for big paydays as contract-year players this season, but we won't know who that will be until after our drafts.

Regardless, it's worth diving into all of the players who could try to amass more stats this season in pursuit of more money in free agency next summer

Free Agents in the Summer of 2015

Arron Afflalo [Player Option (PO)] Afflalo is back with the Nuggets and coming off the best season of his career in Orlando. He may be in a minutes crunch with Randy Foye and rookie Gary Harris depending of whether or not he is a victim of coach Brian Shaw's erratic rotation. Ty Lawson was the one Nuggets player who didn't have his minutes blended last season, and it's possible Afflalo could be given steady minutes, as he's a trusted veteran like Lawson. Afflalo will be looking to parlay his return to the Rocky Mountains into a contract worth more than his slated $7.5 million player option for 2015-16. The last time Afflalo was in a contract year was 2010-11, and he had his best season to date, finishing the season as the 93rd ranked player. He was a restricted free agent then and parlayed that into five-year deal. Last season, Afflalo was the 87th ranked player, and is a candidate to be a breakout contract-year player.

LaMarcus Aldridge [Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)] Aldridge has stated he wants to sign a max deal with the Trail Blazers in the summer of 2015, and he is already one of the top 20 players in fantasy. He will almost assuredly receive that max contract in the offseason, so he isn't really a candidate to improve this season as a contract-year breakout player.

Omer Asik (UFA) Asik has two big reasons to be a fantasy breakout player this season. One, he is now back in the starting lineup after an offseason trade from the Rockets to the Pelicans. Two, he will be a free agent next summer. After his second season with the Bulls in 2011-12, when he was a restricted free agent, Asik signed a big money deal with the Rockets, but that wasn't based on his play that season. In fact, before signing that $25 million deal, Asik played only 15 minutes per game and was the 297th ranked player in fantasy hardly the definition of a contract-year player. This time around, with multiple factors in his favor, he should take advantage of the scenario and play himself into another big NBA contract.

Andrea Bargnani (UFA) - Bargnani has never been a free agent in his eight-year NBA career, as he signed a contract extension before the fourth-year of his rookie scale deal. Now, with perceptions of Bargnani's game at an all-time low, he'll be playing to get himself another decent payday. Last season, Bargnani was the 130th ranked player on a per-game basis in the 42 games he played, and with Tyson Chandler now back in Dallas, Bargnani could be relied upon heavily with the Knicks, which could lead to a contract-year breakout.

Patrick Beverley [Restricted Free Agent (RFA)] - Beverley will be the undisputed starter at point guard for the Rockets now that Jeremy Lin is a member of the Lakers. Pair that with the fact that Beverley is playing for a new contract, and he could be a guy to look at late in fantasy drafts. Last season, Beverley was the 100th ranked player while averaging 31 minutes per game, and he could see an increase in both his minutes and rank in 2014-15. After this season, he'll have made less than $2 million total through his first three NBA seasons, so he'll have a lot of motivation to show he deserves a larger contract.

Carlos Boozer (UFA) - Although Boozer will be getting $3.25 million from the Lakers this season, the Bulls will also be giving him $13.55 million to not play for them. In saying that, the veteran forward should be looking to get another decent deal with a bounce-back season with the Lakers after finishing ranked 135th in fantasy last season, the worst ranking of his career. Penciled in as the starter on a poor Lakers' team, Boozer has a chance to put up some nice numbers as he looks to get himself a relatively lucrative deal in 2015.

Corey Brewer (PO) - The last time Brewer was in the final year of a contract was 2012-13, when he was a member of the Nuggets. As a bench player that season, Brewer was the 147th ranked player in fantasy, which was a marked improvement on the 197th rank he finished with the year before. For the Timberwolves, Brewer started and ended last season ranked 101st, and with the Timberwolves likely to lose Kevin Love before this season, Brewer may have extra opportunities to put up stats. Just don't go betting anyone that Brewer will score 50 points in a game again this season. [Editor's note: How utterly hopeless does a team's defense have to be to let a guy score 50 points on you almost solely through fast-break points?]

Chase Budinger (PO) - Budinger has played only 64 games over the last two seasons, with both campaigns drastically shortened by knee and ankle injuries. He's in the second season of a three-year, $15 million deal signed in July 2013, but with a breakout performance, he could opt-out after this season. Budinger finished last season ranked 292nd on a per-game basis, but like Brewer, if the Timberwolves lose Love, Budinger could see his opportunities to produce increase.

Alec Burks (RFA) - Burks is heading into the last season of his rookie deal and is eligible for an extension before October 31 this season. Last season was his most productive. He ranked 157th in fantasy and could eclipse that number with Gordon Hayward playing more at the three with Richard Jefferson now in Dallas. Burks is expected to start at shooting guard this season.

Jimmy Butler (RFA) - Butler experienced his first full-season breakout from a fantasy perspective last season, finishing ranked 71st in eight-category leagues after Derrick Rose's injury and Luol Deng's trade. With Rose back and the Bulls bringing in more talent with the likes of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott, the pressure is on Butler to replicate his 2013-14 season. He'll have a lot of motivation though, with a big pay-day looming.

DeMarre Carroll (UFA) - In his first season as a starter, Carroll was a fantasy surprise, ending the season as the 76th ranked player. He signed a two-year deal with the Hawks in August 2013 and will be looking for a pay bump, but he may find it hard to improve upon his stellar 2013-14.

Tyson Chandler (UFA) - Going into his 14th NBA season, Chandler has a lot of motivation for a big year. He's back with the Mavericks after three seasons in New York and will be looking to secure one more decent contract before he ages out of the league. The last time he was in Dallas as a pending free agent, Chandler improved his fantasy ranking from 189th to 86th in the Mavericks' championship 2010-11 season. Last season, Chandler ranked 108th and will be looking to get back to the form of his first two years in New York, when he ranked 48th and 74th.

Samuel Dalembert (UFA) - Recently, Dalembert has played for a contract, in both 2010-11 and 2012-13, but neither time did it result in a big bump in production from a fantasy perspective. He hasn't played over 26 minutes per game in the past six seasons, and although he's in a good situation now in New York, it's unlikely he'll break out, looking for another deal at the tail end of his career. Last season, Dalembert ranked 155th, and in his two previous contract years, he ended those seasons ranked 135th and 182nd.

Luol Deng (PO) - Deng had one of worst seasons of his career last season, and he should be looking to reclaim some of the value he lost, which would lead to him possibly declining his player option in hopes of securing a longer-term, higher-value deal than the two-year, $20 million deal he signed with the Heat this offseason. This will be his second contract year in a row, and he should be looking to finish higher than the 104th ranking he posted last season. In the four seasons prior to that, Deng's worst finish was 72nd. When Deng last signed a new contract, in the summer of 2008, he was coming off a season where he ranked 92nd, well down from the 45th ranked finish he had the year prior, so his history doesn't exactly indicate a huge bump in production during contract seasons, and it's curious what the reason behind that could be.

Goran Dragic (PO) Dragic may have put together his best season one year too early. It's going to be hard for him to eclipse the 23rd overall ranking he posted last season, especially with Isaiah Thomas now in the fold. Dragic is slated to earn only $7.5 million in 2015-16, and another strong campaign would likely see him decline his player option next offseason to become a free agent.

Jared Dudley [Early-Termination Option (ETO)] Dudley had every chance to cement himself as the Clippers' starting small forward last season, but his subpar play led to him relinquishing that role to Matt Barnes. Barring a catastrophic decline from Barnes, Dudley seems destined to ride the pine. He is due $4.3 million in 2015-16, so exercising his ETO doesn't seem like a wise move at this stage, and Dudley would need to drastically improve on his ranking of 263rd this season, to be a relevant player in standard leagues.

Mike Dunleavy (UFA) Dunleavy has played in a contract year twice recently, in 2010-11 and 2012-13. In only one of those years was there a significant impact to his fantasy value. In 2009-10, the second to last season of his stint with the Pacers, Dunleavy was the 186th ranked fantasy player, but in his contract year, he bumped that up to 111th, a fairly significant increase. After signing a new deal with the Bucks in 2011-12, he ranked 129th and 133rd in his two seasons there, before signing in Chicago in 2012-13. Dunleavy's second season in Milwaukee was hardly a fantasy boon. Although he'll have the motivation for a big year in Chicago this season, he'll also have to battle Tony Snell and rookie Doug McDermott for minutes, so it's going to be hard to top the 120th finish he had in 2013-14.

Monta Ellis (PO) Ellis was a fantasy stud for the Warriors, but when he was traded to the Bucks, his stock took a hit. In his last season in Milwaukee, Ellis was playing in a contract year, but he didn't improve upon his previous season's numbers. Ellis' first season with the Mavericks resulted in him finishing ranked 36th in fantasy, but he had to take less money to sign with a quality organization like the Mavericks. He should now be looking to get a contract more in line with the five-year, $55 million deal he signed coming off of his rookie deal in Golden State, as opposed to his current deal which is paying him just over $8 million per season. Whether Ellis can improve or maintain his numbers with Chandler Parsons now in town is also a legit concern.

Kenneth Faried (RFA) Faried was lost in new coach Brian Shaw's system at the start of last season, but he exploded down the stretch, ranking 40th in final month of the season, compared with his season-long ranking of 88th. He's not a lock to be extended before the deadline, so he could be in line for a monster campaign, playing to get as big of a restricted free agent deal as possible. With another season under Shaw, Faried is one of the top candidates to try and have a huge contract year.

Raymond Felton (PO) Felton has been in the position of playing for a new contract twice, and neither time has his level of play spiked. In 2009-10, he ranked 68th after a ranking of 68th the season before, and in 2011-12, he ranked 86th after having his best season the year before, with a ranking of 30th. He is, however, coming off his worst professional season, ranking 132nd last season with the Knicks, and a good season in Dallas may allow him to decline his 2014-15 option and seek a larger, more lucrative deal. Going by past history, it's going to be tough to bank on a resurgence for Felton.

Marc Gasol (UFA) Gasol was hit by injuries last season, and that impacted his play for a good portion of the season. He was a second-round pick in most leagues last season, but he ended the season ranked 53rd, much worse than his 17th place finish in 2012-13. Assuming that he's healthy all season, Gasol will be in line for a bounce back season. In the final season of his rookie deal in 2010-11, Gasol regressed in the ratings from 39th to 52nd. Regardless of that, Gasol is a decent bet to have an improved season this year and to cash in when the summer of 2015 rolls around.

Rudy Gay (UFA) Gay has been roundly criticized for the size of the contract he signed when he was a restricted free agent in 2010, although that's hardly his fault. He now finds himself on the verge of unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. The season before Gay signed his extension, he only improved his ranking from 65th to 43rd, a mild increase to say the least, and with a ranking of 31st last season, he's unlikely to improve much on that ranking. He has only finished the season ranked higher than 31st twice, in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Eric Gordon (PO) Gordon, much like Gay, is going to find it hard to get paid as much as his current contract is paying him. He cashed in as a restricted free agent in 2012, with the Pelicans (then-Hornets) matching the max offer sheet the Phoenix Suns had given Gordon. Gordon is slated to be paid $15.5 million in 2015-16, so declining his player option seems like an unwise move. Look for him to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

Danny Green (UFA) Green went from the outhouse, after being waived by the Cavaliers in 2009-10, to the penthouse when he was signed by the Spurs, and he's now a starter on an NBA champion. He signed as a restricted free agent in 2012, after putting up the best numbers of his career in 2011-12. Last season, Green finished ranked 112th, and if he's healthy, he could easily approach his career-best ranking of 86th this season as he looks for another deal next summer.

Draymond Green (RFA) Green was one of the surprises of last season, finishing his second NBA season ranked 145th in only 22 minutes per game. With David Lee seemingly falling out of favor in Golden State and Green having the motivation of securing his first big payday as a restricted free agent, a breakout season could be in the cards. He's definitely a player to look at in the latter rounds of drafts.

Gerald Green (UFA) The way Green played last season, you'd think that was his contract season. It was his best season by far, ending the season ranked 64th, after being ranked 301st in 2012-13 while he was with Indiana. The problem for Green is, that with Isaiah Thomas coming across in a trade and the Suns drafting T.J. Warren, the minutes on the wing will be harder to come by, so it's feels like it will be difficult for Green to replicate his 2013-14 campaign.

Jeff Green (PO) Ever since arriving in Boston, Green's fantasy contributions have dropped off. So much so, that it's doubtful he'll decline his player option next offseason, which will pay him $9.2 million in 2015-16. With that said, he has a lot of potential for improvement on a poor Celtics squad after he ranked just 113th last season. So, if he can have a career year, Green may decline the option to pursue a bigger deal.

Tobias Harris (RFA) Harris is slated to be a restricted free agent next offseason, and it doesn't feel like it's a foregone conclusion that the Magic will offer an extension before the October deadline. Since arriving in Orlando after a trade from Milwaukee in early 2013, Harris has shown fantasy owners he can be a legitimate option, but 2013-14, wasn't his best showing. It was his first full season in Orlando, but injuries and inconsistent minutes lead to a ranking of only 115th, which let down many fantasy owners. With Harris now playing for a big deal, and hopefully injury-free, he's a great candidate for a contract-year breakout.

Gerald Henderson (PO) With the Hornets bringing in Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston this offseason, it feels like the Henderson era may be over. Henderson is due $6 million each of the next two seasons, and it's unlikely he'd decline his player option, given his opportunities look to be limited. Last season, Henderson was the 169th ranked fantasy player, so there is room to improve, yet the minutes may not be there to allow it to actualize.

Roy Hibbert (PO) With Hibbert slated to make over $15.5 million in 2015-16, it feels like it would be a huge folly for him to decline his player option.

Reggie Jackson (RFA) The Thunder used Jackson in the starting lineup a lot in the playoffs, and now that he's going into a season where he could become a restricted free agent at year's end, he's a prime candidate for a breakout campaign. Jackson had a mini breakout last season, ending the season ranked 92nd, a ranking somewhat tied to the absence of Russell Westbrook for the bulk of his starts. If he holds down the starting shooting guard job and gets over 30 minutes per game this season, he could be a fantasy darling.

Al Jefferson (PO) In his last season with the Jazz in 2012-13, Jefferson was ranked 31st, after ranking 16th the year before. Obviously, there was no contract-year bump that time around, and with Jefferson still holding a player option of $13.5 million for 2015-16, he's unlikely to hit the market next summer.

Amir Johnson (UFA) In his first season with the Raptors in 2009-10, Johnson was playing for a new deal. He got a new deal, for five years, $34 million, but his fantasy numbers weren't anything spectacular. He was ranked 209th in 2009-10 and has improved considerably since then. Last season, as the starting power forward, Johnson ranked 99th, and he has room for improvement as he looks to prove to general manager Masai Ujiri he's worthy of another big deal.

DeAndre Jordan (UFA) In 2010-11, Jordan was playing to become a restricted free agent, and his fantasy ranking jumped from 315th to 150th. Last season, Jordan ranked 48th, so now that he is looking for another new deal after this season, it'll be a little harder to improve that dramatically over the 48th ranking. He's a good bet for another solid season, but to improve in his contract-year seems a little tougher.

Enes Kanter (RFA) Kanter is one of the more intriguing options for this coming season. With former coach Ty Corbin relegating Kanter to the bench and using Marvin Williams in his place, Kanter was never in a great situation to thrive last season. Now, as Kanter looks to get paid as a restricted free agent, and with a new coach in control in Quin Snyder, he's well placed to improve dramatically on his ranking of 165th from last season. Kanter could be one of this year's contract-year poster boys.

Brandon Knight (RFA) Knight had the best season of his career last season, and it was his first season with the Bucks. He ended the season as the 72nd best player after ranking 141st with the Pistons in 2012-13. This season, though, the Bucks will have Kendall Marshall getting some minutes at point guard and Giannis Antetokounmpo taking minutes at shooting guard, so the ability for Knight to improve upon those numbers, despite him playing for a payday, seems dubious.

Kawhi Leonard (RFA) It seems like a foregone conclusion that Leonard will be extended before the October 31 deadline, coming off a Finals MVP performance in June. Leonard is already a top fantasy player, finishing 30th last season, and it's unlikely the contract-year motivation will come into play here.

Jeremy Lin (UFA) Lin lost his starting job to Patrick Beverley last season and subsequently had the worst fantasy season of his time in Houston, finishing 102nd. He was traded to the Lakers this offseason, and with the injury-prone Steve Nash as his competition for the starting job, as well as the motivation for another payday lingering, Lin is a great option for another breakout campaign. At the zenith of Linsanity, Lin was playing for a payday as an upcoming restricted free agent and finished the season ranked 49th. A ranking similar to that is not out of his grasp this season as he looks to get another lucrative NBA deal.

Brook Lopez (PO) Given Lopez's injury history (he's missed 134 games over the past three seasons), it seems unlikely he'll decline a $16.7 million player option for 2015-16. He's a great fantasy option regardless of contract status, as long as he stays healthy though.

Robin Lopez (UFA) When Lopez was about to enter restricted free agency in 2011-12, he barely saw the court, playing only 14 minutes per game. He still signed a three-year, $15 million deal but only came into his own after being traded to the Trail Blazers last offseason, ranking as the 66th best player in fantasy in 2013-14 and playing in all 82 games for the second consecutive season. Lopez will be unrestricted in the summer of 2015 and will be striving for a potentially bigger deal, so he definitely bears monitoring.

Kevin Love (PO) Love is an elite option regardless of his contract status. You're taking him in the first round for now and the foreseeable future, irrespective of if he's looking for a payday.

Wesley Matthews (UFA) Matthews, who was a restricted free agent after his rookie season, really only started hitting his stride after getting paid and moving to the Trail Blazers. In his last four seasons in Portland, he has finished the season ranked 63rd, 78th, 68th, and 63rd, and now, only slated to earn $6.1 million this season, he'll be looking to cash in with a big payday.

Khris Middleton (RFA) Middleton was somewhat of a throw-in player in the Brandon Knight-Brandon Jennings trade last offseason, but he actually had a very nice season with the Bucks last season while making less than $800k. Although he'll be keen to make the most of his upcoming restricted free agency by having another impressive season, the arrival of Jabari Parker and the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo could have a large negative impact on his playing time. Middleton's ranking of 122nd last season could very well be his peak. Nonetheless, the motivation will be there for the third-year forward.

Paul Millsap (UFA) Millsap's minutes were curtailed some in his last contract year in 2012-13, which resulted in him having less fantasy value. In 2011-12, he was the ninth ranked fantasy player, but when he was looking to get paid, Millsap had some of his minutes given to other players in the midst of a Jazzy youth movement, and he slipped all the way to 54th ranked player. Millsap signed a two-year deal with the Hawks in the summer of 2013 and rebounded, ending last season as a top-20 player. After making his first All-Star Game last season, Millsap should be looking to shine again and secure a longer, more lucrative contract, but it's going to be hard to improve upon last season's finish with Al Horford healthy.

Marcus Morris (RFA) Morris had the best season of his career in 2013-14, finishing ranked 179th, but with the talent assembled by the Suns, the opportunity for him to improve upon last season is limited. The Suns did lose Channing Frye, but they also have T.J. Warren ready to take minutes and a hopefully healthy Alex Len in the frontcourt, so I wouldn't be banking on this half of the Morris twins to blow up in search of a big deal.

Markieff Morris (RFA) Speaking of the Morris twins, Markieff will be a key cog in the Suns' push toward the playoffs. Like his twin brother, he'll be looking for a big contract in restricted free agency, and he has a decent chance at getting it. He finished last season ranked 95th, playing as the team's sixth man, and with Frye now in Orlando, Morris may be the starter at power forward. With potential extra minutes and financial motivation, Morris is one of the key guys to look at in regard to contract-year motivation and performance.

Glen Rice Jr. (RFA) Although currently stuck behind Paul Pierce and Otto Porter Jr. on the depth chart, the Las Vegas Summer League MVP bears mentioning as a candidate here. Rice played just 11 games last season, and if Pierce suffers an injury or Porter struggles, Rice could easily show that he is worthy of a mid-level type NBA deal. He's worth a flier in deep leagues in the hope that he carries on his summer league form throughout training camp and forces coach Randy Wittman's hand into playing him.

Rajon Rondo (UFA) Rondo is the center of much conjecture about where he will be playing basketball in the fall. In 2009-10, Rondo was entering restricted free agency and responded with the second best fantasy season of his career, finishing the season as the 20th best player. It was a marked improvement from the 48th ranking of 2008-09, and a big jump from his 70th ranked finish last season is expected.

Ricky Rubio (RFA) It seems likely they'll extend Rubio before the October 31 deadline.

Iman Shumpert (RFA) Shumpert has been the center of innumerable trade rumors for at least the last 12 months, and it's unlikely the Knicks make an offer to extend his deal before the October 31 deadline, especially with president Phil Jackson looking to maintain as much cap flexibility as possible for the summer of 2015. Shumpert should be looking to play himself into a nice deal, whether that be on the Knicks or another team. Last season, Shumpert struggled, ranking 198th in 27 minutes per game. He's really only shown fantasy value in steals and three-pointers in his career so far and will need to contribute in a lot more categories to be a true breakout player.

Kyle Singler (RFA) Singler, a second-round pick in 2011, played the best basketball of his career last season when he entered the starting lineup and played the shooting guard position for 36 games. He improved upon his rookie year ranking of 189th by finishing 2013-14 in the 164th position. However, with Detroit adding wings such as Jodie Meeks, Cartier Martin, and Caron Butler in the offseason, Singler is going to find it difficult to exceed his production from last season.

J.R. Smith (PO) At the end of his last contract, Smith declined his player option, which was worth $2.93 million to sign a new deal with the Knicks. His player option for 2015-16 is $6.4 million, so he'll need to have a big season to outplay that sort of money. In 2012-13, when he was playing for his current contract, Smith had the best year of his career, ranking 62nd in 33 mpg, primarily in the sixth-man role. After a big drop last season down to 111th, nobody would be surprised if Smith was motivated by a potential new deal and had a dramatic increase in his output. He's worth watching as a potential high-upside player.

Amar'e Stoudemire (UFA) When Stoudemire was healthy in Phoenix, he was an elite fantasy player. His last four seasons in the desert resulted in season rankings of 19th, fourth, 11th, and 22nd, before he opted out and signed a huge five-year, $100 million deal with the Knicks. It's hard to gauge the impact impending free agency had on his performance back in 2009-10, as he was already such a productive player who really had no room to improve upon his rankings, but once injuries hit him in New York, the drop off was precipitous. Last season, Amar'e ranked 177th, but important to note is that the 65 games he played were the most he's played since 2010-11. Stoudemire started to look solid in the latter part of the season. He won't command $20 million per season again this coming offseason, but he will be motivated to show that he is healthy and worthy of a new multi-year deal. With no Tyson Chandler on the roster, Stoudemire may have more of an opportunity to showcase his health and talents and could bounce back some this season.

Mirza Teletovic (RFA) Teletovic will be a restricted free agent in 2015 and has a big chance to be a much improved performer this season. Last season with the Nets, Teletovic ranked 211th on just under 20 minutes a game, but this season, he has a big chance to improve dramatically. Not only is he playing for a big deal, but with Paul Pierce, last season's starting power forward, in Washington, and Kevin Garnett one year older, the Nets could easily go with Teletovic at power forward more than they did last season. Teletovic was a great three-point shooter last season, and if he gets the starting nod, he could be a breakout candidate.

Klay Thompson (RFA) Given how the Warriors have valued Thompson in the Kevin Love trade talks, it would seem highly improbable that they won't extend him to a new deal before the October 31 deadline.

Tristan Thompson (RFA) Thompson has a lot going against him this season. Not only did the Cavaliers bring in LeBron James, who will play some minutes at power forward, they also have Anthony Bennett looking trimmer and much better than last season. To top it off, it appears inevitable that the Cavs bring in Kevin Love, who plays Thompson's position, reducing Thompson to a reserve role. Last season, Thompson regressed, dropping from a ranking of 134th down to 175th in the same minutes, and even though he's playing for a payday, the minutes don't seem like they will be there this season.

Marcus Thornton (UFA) Thornton is in the last season of the four-year, $31.2 million deal he signed in Sacramento back in 2011, and barring a huge reversal of fortune, he's unlikely to see that sort of cash again. He'll have to battle Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart for minutes in Boston, and it doesn't seem like he will have the opportunity to play himself into another big deal. His best fantasy ranking came in 2011-12, after signing his current deal, when he ranked 42nd.

Anderson Varejao (UFA) Before signing his six-year, $48 million deal in July 2009, Varejao was a middling fantasy talent, ranking 164th in 2008-09. He didn't experience a contract-year bump back then, and it's hard to envision him doing the same now, particularly with his susceptibility to injury. Prior to playing 65 games in 2013-14, Varejao played just 50 games combined in the previous two seasons. In those two seasons, his per-game fantasy ranking was great, getting as high as 25th, but it's unlikely he bucks the trend and stays healthy all season.

Nikola Vucevic (RFA) Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Vucevic has been the best asset that was moved during the Dwight Howard trade back in 2012. That's not to say he's a better player than Howard or Andre Iguodala, but the fact that he is still with the Magic counts for a lot. He has been rock-solid for the rebuilding Magic and will be the target of some big offers if the Magic decide not to get an extension signed before October 31. Vucevic has ranked in the top 50 the last two seasons, and with a slightly younger squad this season, he may be relied upon more, giving him a boost. Just bear in mind that he could easily get locked up before hitting free agency, reducing his monetary incentive. Either way, Vucevic is a great fantasy option this season.

Kemba Walker (RFA) Like Vucevic, Walker is a guy I expect to receive an extension before hitting the open market, especially considering that the Hornets have become relevant. His play declined a little last season, down from 26th to 52nd, so a rise back into the top 30 isn't out of the question.

David West (PO) West has a player option for $12.6 million in 2015-16, and at his advancing age, it seems unlikely he'd decline that sort of money. In 2012-13, when he was playing for a new deal as a member of the New Orleans Hornets, he increased his ranking from 88th to 37th, and with the Paul George injury, a lot more of the offensive responsibility could fall on his shoulders this season. The veteran forward could be a dark horse sleeper candidate.

Derrick Williams (RFA) Williams is largely regarded as a bust, but he still has a chance to prove people wrong by busting out in Sacramento. The Kings are still thin at power forward, so with solid play, Williams could make the job his own. He ranked 273rd last season and should be striving for a big NBA contract.

Louis Williams (UFA) Williams returned from his ACL injury last November, and he built up his workload throughout last season. Unfortunately, for his sake, he is now on a stronger team and in more of a battle for minutes with the Raptors after being traded to the team this summer. He goes from the first guard off the bench in Atlanta to being in a battle with Greivis Vasquez for backcourt minutes on the Raptors' bench. Williams ranked 172nd last season as he shook off the injury rust and should be looking for at least one more big NBA deal.

Thaddeus Young (ETO) Young the best season of his career last season as a member of the tanking 76ers, ranking as the 34th best player at the end of the season. If he's still on the 76ers at the start of the season, Young should still be a focal point of the team and be able to put up big numbers, but how much higher than 34th can he get? The last time he was playing for a deal, Young finished 112th, a modest increase on the 124th rank finish from a year earlier. So, as much as I like Young as a fantasy prospect, it's unlikely the money will motivate him to improve dramatically.

And that does it for the list of the NBA's likely free agents for the summer of 2015. As can be seen, there's some truth to the perceived rise in production for contract-year players, but by no means is it an absolute guarantee.

It's just one factor that fantasy owners must weigh into consideration when assessing players' values and the potential for breakout seasons. Maximizing value in your draft is one of the easiest ways of winning your league, so grabbing the right guys that break out can make all the difference. Good luck, and happy drafting this preseason.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to hit me up on Twitter @redrock_bball.