Time is moving swiftly in the NBA these days. In a little over a week, we've crowned a champion, drafted a new crop of rookies and on Sunday, we'll have a fresh group of free agents hitting the marketplace. That's the residual of last fall's nightmarish lockout but, thankfully, once we hit July 1, we're officially into the 2012-13 season and back on a normal calendar. Whew.
Let's take a look at these free agents. I've ranked them according to estimated 2012-13 PER. My method was simply to average the last three years and apply a basic aging adjustment. That latter part was important because too often, teams pay for what a player has done in the past as opposed to what he's going to do in the future. Of course, the younger a player is, the less likely it is that he'll change teams thanks to the vagaries of restricted free agency. Alas.
In each instance, I've indicated whether a player is a restricted (RFA) or an unrestricted free agent (UFA).
1. Ryan Anderson (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 21.8; Status: RFA
Anderson has always had sparkling per-minute numbers and last season, he took a major step forward in playing time. The combination of efficiency and opportunity marked him as an All-Star caliber talent. Unfortunately, his performance lagged after Dwight Howard was injured. With Howard potentially on his way out of Orlando, it's entirely possible that the new Magic regime will view him as too expensive to retain.
2. Brook Lopez (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 21.7; Status: RFA
It was only five games, but last season Lopez's problematic rebounding numbers were unbelievably low for an NBA center. His troubles in that area seem to get worse with each passing season. For the Nets, that may present a problem both in terms of counting on him as a building block and using him as a trade chip. While the defense and rebuilding are lax, few big men have Lopez's upside as a scorer. Brooklyn obviously won't let him walk, but whether or not Lopez remains a Net, he's got to be paired up with an impact interior defender.
3. Jeremy Evans (2013 Age: 25)
Estimated PER: 21.0; Status: RFA
You won't see Evans this high up on many top free agent lists but, again, we're ranking players by a bottom-line metric. The fact of the matter is that Evans has been remarkably efficient so far in his career, posting a .665 true shooting percentage in two NBA seasons. Sure, that's because he dunks about everything he gets his hands on, but he's also got crazy-good shot-blocking numbers. He's only played 680 minutes in two NBA seasons and may be hopelessly stuck behind a logjam of big men in Utah. It would be really interesting to see what Evans could do with a regular rotation role.
4. Tim Duncan (2013 Age: 36)
Estimated PER: 20.9; Status: UFA
As we saw throughout the playoffs, Duncan is still a franchise-type performer. Wouldn't be a gas to see him just up and change teams? But we know that's not going to happen. Whether it's one season, two seasons or more, Duncan is a Spur for life. In the grand scheme of things, that's a really refreshing thought.
5. Deron Williams (2013 Age: 28)
Estimated PER: 20.7; Status: UFA
You might have assumed that Williams would be the default top free agent and, in reality, he is. His estimated PER would rank on top if it were based on his last three seasons in Utah. As a Net, Williams has had to shoulder too much of the scoring load and his efficiency has taken a hit as a result. He's still one of the league's best guards but going into his age-28 season, he's probably as good as he's ever going to be. Still, he's the best unrestricted free agent that may actually switch teams. The problem for the majority of the league is that Williams has pretty much promised to either stay with the Nets or return to his hometown in Dallas. At least he's honest about his intentions.
6. Jeremy Lin (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 20.6; Status: RFA
When you think about it, Lin is kind of like Evans in that he's posted a sparking PER in limited NBA minutes. Of course, most of those minutes came in a super high-profile burst in the nation's media capital, so we know all about it. I personally believe that Lin is a legit 18-20 PER player. My main concerns about investing heavily in him are his playing style and body type. He got bounced around pretty good during all those forays into the lane last season and ultimately wasn't available down the stretch. Still, this is a player the Knicks can work with.
7. JaVale McGee (2013 Age: 25)
Estimated PER: 19.9; Status: RFA
If McGee had not been traded out of Washington, you'd have to consider him a serious candidate to be the rare RFA who moves on. After all, Ernie Grunfeld appeared to be desperate to change the culture in the Wizards' locker room and McGee was a big part of that. The Nuggets liked him fine, though, and he responded by playing the best basketball of his career. Denver will match any offer he gets, hoping he becomes the player he was never likely to become in Washington.
8. Anthony Randolph (2013 Age: 23)
Estimated PER: 19.4; Status: RFA
Randolph remains an undisciplined box score filler, which makes him look better on paper than on the court. His numbers have gotten worse as his career has unfolded, never a good sign. It's bad enough that the 'RFA' may well change to 'UFA' if the Timberwolves decline to make him a qualifying offer. Given Randolph's age and still-considerable raw potential, someone will take a flier. His agent should be looking to sacrifice dollars for an opportunity to play a significant role, even if it's on a really bad team.
9. Louis Williams (2013 Age: 26)
Estimated PER: 19.0; Status: UFA
Guys like Williams are hard to find. He is willing to come off the bench and has done so effectively throughout his career. He can play either backcourt position and offers scoring punch, a change of pace and another option for closing out games. The Sixers are desperate for scoring as it is, so it seems unlikely they'll let Williams slip away.
10. Steve Nash (2013 Age: 38)
Estimated PER: 18.8; Status: UFA
Nash has showed few signs of slowing down but at 38, he's almost certainly in ring-chasing mode at this point in his career. In a league short of pure playmakers, he's still one of the all-time best. You do have to wonder how he'd adapt to a different system. He'd be effective, you'd think, but the issue of diminishing returns could be a problem. His case is the most intriguing of any free agent on the market.
BEST OF THE REST
11. Tiago Splitter (2013 Age: 28)
Estimated PER: 18.7; Status: RFA
Splitter's ability to score in the post gives San Antonio a solid option as Duncan's backup, essential given the veteran's limited minutes these days.
12. Ersan Ilyasova (2013 Age: 25)
Estimated PER: 18.6; Status: UFA
With Milwaukee selected John Henson on Thursday, Ilyasova may prove to be too expensive for the Bucks to retain, making him one of the best players who may actually change teams.
13. Kevin Garnett (2013 Age: 36)
Estimated PER: 18.1; Status: UFA
You have to think it's Boston or nothing for Garnett.
14. Eric Gordon (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 18.0; Status: RFA
While the Hornets talk like Gordon can play alongside Austin Rivers in the New Orleans backcourt, Gordon and his agent may see things differently.
15. Nicolas Batum (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 17.7; Status: RFA
Batum may be developing into one of the best two-way wing players in the league which means he's going to get a some kind of sizable offer that the Blazers will likely have to match.
16. Carl Landry (2013 Age: 29)
Estimated PER: 17.3; Status: UFA
Landry should choose fit over max dollars because if he can find a slot alongside a legit defensive center with face-up ability, his interior scoring would be a boost to a lot of teams.
17. Kris Humphries (2013 Age: 27)
Estimated PER: 17.3; Status: UFA
Rumors of Humphries continued improvement are a little exaggerated; he's a good player who has simply gotten more minutes the last couple of seasons.
18. Chauncey Billups (2013 Age: 36)
Estimated PER: 17.2; Status: UFA
This estimate ignores Billups' torn Achilles, which obviously will limit his options in finding a new employer, though he has said he intends to keep playing.
19. Robin Lopez (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 17.2; Status: RFA
While the default stance is that good restricted free agents are always going to re-sign with their current team, you could envision a scenario where the Lopez lands a good enough offer that the Suns opt to just cast their lot with Marcin Gortat for heavy minutes in the middle.
20. Roy Hibbert (2013 Age: 26)
Estimated PER: 17.1; Status: RFA
Because Hibbert plays a position of scarcity, he'll probably get a big offer and the Pacers will almost certainly match it, but he's at an age where continued improvement is not guaranteed.
21. Marreese Speights (2013 Age: 25)
Estimated PER: 17.1; Status: RFA
While technically Speights is at an age where you'd expect him to get better, the fact of the matter is that he's played worse with each passing season during his four years in the league.
22. Gerald Wallace (2013 Age: 30)
Estimated PER: 17.0; Status: UFA
As long as he doesn't sign with a team that needs him to be a primary scorer, Wallace has the kind of athleticism that ought to age very well as he morphs into the role-playing phase of his career.
23. Rodrigue Beaubois (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 16.9; Status: RFA
Roddy Buckets has ability, no one can deny that, but is it too risky to invest big dollars in a guy who has been derailed by injuries so often since his rookie year?
24. J.J. Hickson (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 16.8; Status: RFA
For a guy that was drafted in the first round, has put up solid numbers and is still on the upward arc of the aging curve, Hickson sure has a hard time finding a team that wants to keep him.
25. Michael Beasley (2013 Age: 24)
Estimated PER: 16.8; Status: RFA
Unlike Anthony Randolph, I think that Beasley should accept a bench-scoring role with a good team in an effort to disprove the notion that he's not capable of being a winning-type player. If he was willing to accept that, he could help a team in the short term and his marketability it he long term.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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