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June 30, 2011
Buyer Beware
Risky Free Agents

by Kevin Pelton


Buyer beware in free agency. Last July, the New Jersey Nets gave Travis Outlaw the biggest contract of the four free agents they signed after striking out on the summer's big prizes, while the Phoenix Suns lured Josh Childress back from Greece with a five-year deal as part of a sign-and-trade with the Atlanta Hawks. Less than 12 months later, both teams would love to get out from those contracts. After Insider's Chris Palmer looked at the top-tier guys, here's a warning that the history of free agency shows more misses than hits. Which players could be risky signings this summer? Here are five who appear overvalued.

J. J. Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks

Let's start by giving Barea his credit. Without his energy and scoring off the bench and as a starter during the NBA Finals, the Mavericks would not be champions. Still, Barea projects a little like a college star who gets hot during the NCAA Tournament and ends up being overdrafted. His PER increased from 14.8 during the regular season to 16.8 in the playoffs--higher still after the opening round, when Barea struggled against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Other teams considering Barea also need to remember that he won't be able to bring Dirk Nowitzki with him. A lot of Barea's success running the high pick-and-roll was due to the attention defenses had to pay to Nowitzki's shooting ability The numbers on Nowitzki's influence are striking. Per NBA StatsCube, Barea shot 44 percent from the field during the playoffs with Nowitzki on the floor, but just 24 percent when the Finals MVP was on the bench.

Jeff Green, F, Boston Celtics

Still a couple of years away from reaching his peak, Green should be an ideal alternative to the fading veterans so common in free agency. Yet instead of getting better during his mid-20s, Green has stagnated or even gone backward in his development. Green's flaws were spotlighted after he was dealt to Boston by the Oklahoma City Thunder at midseason in a deal unpopular among Celtics fans. Green failed to win over the skeptics with his performance and was largely a non-factor during the postseason.

Green was more or less the same player in Boston he was in Oklahoma City, but the bigger stage exposed a national audience to the shortcomings that led the Thunder to deem him expendable. It also dispelled the notion that Green's issue was playing out of position as a power forward for Oklahoma City. Green played both forward positions with the Celtics, and as a small forward his poor outside shooting tended to shrink the floor on offense. The danger is that Boston invested so much in Green that the front office will feel the need to re-sign him as a restricted free agent.

Jason Richardson, SG, Orlando Magic

Richardson turned 30 in January, and that's a dangerous time for swingmen of his ilk. Seventy-two percent of players with a similarity score of 95 or higher to Richardson, based on our SCHOENE Projection System, declined the following season. On average, their overall performance dropped off by nearly 10 percent. Michael Finley, one of Richardson's closest matches, is a good example of what may lie ahead for Richardson. Finley's last above-average season came at age 31, and a year after that the Mavericks used the amnesty provision in the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement to waive him.

As he moves into his 30s, Richardson can continue to offer value as a shooting specialist in a more limited role like Finley played for the San Antonio Spurs. Other players similar to Richardson, like Byron Scott and Dan Majerle, had second careers as reserves. The problem is that Richardson's next contract may pay him more like the starter he has been throughout his NBA career.

Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks

Colleague Chris Palmer ranked Chandler as the top free agent target this offseason, and with good reason: He was even more important than Barea to Dallas' playoff run. He was arguably the second-best player on the NBA champions. But there are reasons for potential buyers to be wary, most notably the fact that Chandler's performance has been so inconsistent from year to year. The previous two seasons, Chandler was a below-average player, which led the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats to trade him away in consecutive summers.

It's not necessarily that Chandler focused in a contract year so much as that his performance tends to be unpredictable. He was terrific his first two years with the Hornets before slipping badly in 2008-09. Injuries that cost Chandler more than 30 games both seasons were surely a factor as his rebounding declined before bouncing back with the Mavericks. When Chandler is right, he is one of the league's better centers. However, whoever signs Chandler cannot count on him being healthy throughout the lifetime of his next contract.

Nick Young, SG, Washington Wizards

No statistic tends to be overvalued in free agency more than scoring, so Young's gaudy average of 17.4 points per game last season figures to catch the eye of some team. Young's scoring substantially overstates his value. His efficiency actually wasn't bad; Young made 38.7 percent of his three-point attempts and shot 81.6 percent from the foul line. Add in how rarely Young turned the ball over and he was an above-average scorer.

The problem is that Young doesn't provide a team anything but points. He's a poor rebounder for a shooting guard, and just three regular players at the position handed out assists less frequently. Add in Young's indifferent effort on defense and he's the NBA equivalent of a candy bar: all empty calories. Even in his breakout campaign, he rated below replacement level.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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