Part One: The Centers
Part Two: The Power Forwards
Part Three: The Small Forwards
Most coverage of the NBA's free-agent market gravitates toward the handful of elite players who change teams. Often, however, it's the smaller signings that end up having a major impact on the season. Last year, the Boston Celtics signed Eddie House and James Posey to relatively small one-year deals and saw both play key minutes in the NBA Finals. Basketball Prospectus goes deeper than anyone else to rank the top 20 free agents at each position. continuing today with the power forwards.
Let's start with the stats, all derived from my player rating system. As a refresher, the system seeks to place a player's performance in the context of a team with four average teammates. Using the estimated Offensive and Defensive Ratings for this lineup, we can come up with a winning percentage for this "team." Finally, playing time is added in to evaluate how many wins the player generates as compared to a replacement-level player.
Player Type Win% ORtg DRtg WARP
Monta Ellis Res .543 107.3 106.0 8.1
J.R. Smith Res .533 107.6 106.6 3.5
Ben Gordon Res .467 106.2 107.2 2.4
Daniel Gibson Res .405 104.5 107.4 -0.4
Sasha Vujacic Res .454 105.4 106.8 1.0
Kelenna Azubuike Res .449 104.6 106.1 1.2
Maurice Evans Un .462 105.8 107.0 1.7
Brent Barry Un .529 107.5 106.6 1.3
Bonzi Wells Un .476 103.3 104.0 2.0
Tony Allen Un .407 102.6 105.4 -0.3
Quinton Ross Un .334 101.2 106.3 -2.6
Michael Finley Un .383 103.0 106.5 -1.5
Kirk Snyder Un .455 104.2 105.5 0.6
C.J. Miles Res .453 104.8 106.3 0.5
Gordan Giricek Un .333 102.0 107.1 -1.4
MickaŽl Gelabale Un .371 102.6 106.5 -0.4
Juan Dixon Un .399 103.7 106.7 -0.2
Fred Jones Un .399 103.8 106.9 -0.6
Shannon Brown Un .236 97.9 106.5 -0.9
Devin Brown Un .403 103.5 106.5 -0.5
I've ranked the players above in a rough approximation of how I'd rate their value on the market. For discussion purposes, we'll put the players in groups.
THE YOUNG STAR
Twenty-two years old and just three years removed from high school, Monta Ellis enters restricted free agency with two years of experience as a full-time starter and having averaged 20.2 points per game last season. The modern NBA's emphasis on speed and quickness on the perimeter has suited Ellis perfectly, and even without a consistent outside shot he hit 53.1 percent of his attempts last season. Ellis is far and away the leader amongst free agent shooting guards. Offering him a new long-term contract is virtually a no-brainer for Golden State.
Next year will tell us a lot about Ellis' future. Depending on where the Warriors go from here in free agency, he should be asked to play point on a more regular basis. Not only will that test his ability to run a team, it also means Ellis is more likely to see the opposition's best backcourt defender. If Ellis shows continued growth next season, it means his ceiling is high.
THE YOUNG SCORERS
When Ben Gordon and J.R. Smith got on the floor last season, they were ready to fire. Smith and Gordon are the two free agent shooting guards who created the most offense in 2007-08; Smith used 25.9 percent of Denver's possessions, while Gordon used 26.2 percent of Chicago's. Smith was more efficient with those possessions, posting a 60.3 percent True Shooting Percentage as compared to 55.8 percent for Gordon. As a result, Smith averaged 25.5 points per 40 minutes, better than Nuggets teammate Allen Iverson (25.3 points per 40).
Neither Gordon nor Smith offers much value outside of their scoring, so Smith's superiority in this area made him the more productive player a year ago even though his minutes were limited. The question is how Smith's game might translate to another team that does not encourage his run-and-shoot tendencies in the same way George Karl did in Denver. He's also yet to demonstrate he can play starter's minutes on a regular basis.
The market of public opinion seems to have made a correction in Gordon's value since he won the Sixth Man Award as a rookie. Gordon is still more or less the same player, but his shortcomings were magnified last season. At 25, Gordon pretty much is what he is right now; Smith has more upside.
THE YOUNG RESERVES
Daniel Gibson's 2007 postseason paralleled Sasha Vujacic's 2008 playoffs. Both players shined for teams that lost in the NBA Finals. Only Vujacic, however, inspired a hilarious series of videos. On the strength of his breakout in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson more than doubled his scoring average from his rookie campaign. What was somewhat disappointing was that he was largely a role player, using just 15.2 percent of the Cavaliers' possessions while he was on the floor. Gibson is useful as a spot-up shooter (he hit 44.0 percent of his threes last season), but he has the talent to do more. That potential puts him at the top of this group.
As for Vujacic, fans who remember just his big nights in the postseason might overestimate his value. Vujacic was still very inconsistent, though that probably comes with the territory for a reserve whose minutes depend heavily on how he shoots the ball coming off the bench cold. Vujacic has become a capable outside shooter and his game is well-rounded enough that he need not be considered a specialist. Re-signing Vujacic should be a priority for the Lakers, though they need to be careful not to overpay. A full mid-level, especially for five years, would be too rich.
A call-up from the D-League midway through the 2006-07 season, Kelenna Azubuike has acquitted himself nicely in a year and a half with the Warriors. He defends, can shoot the ball and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. For a backup swingman, that's acceptable. Tony Allen brings a less common mix of skills. A legitimate stopper on the perimeter, he played point guard regularly for the Celtics last year. He can handle the position for short stretches, although he is turnover-prone and therefore better suited to playing off the ball.
THE VETERAN ROLE PLAYERS
Dealt to Orlando by the Lakers early last season, Maurice Evans ended up as the Magic's starter at shooting guard and averaged 9.3 points per game. With MickaŽl Pietrus signing in Orlando, Evans is likely headed elsewhere, and back to the bench. That's a better role for Evans, who was slightly stretched as a starter. He's a solid shooter who hit a career-best 39.6 percent of his threes last season, as well as being a capable perimeter defender.
Brent Barry is the top shooting specialist on the market, and that ability will always make him valuable to contenders, a number of whom competed to sign Barry last February after he was waived by the Sonics. Barry ended up back where he started in San Antonio; now he's headed across the state to Houston. Gordan Giricek was Phoenix's consolation prize after being unable to sign Barry. He ended up shooting the ball very well for the Suns down the stretch. The problem is Giricek is a good shooter, not a great one, and the strength of his game is in less valuable long two-pointers. When he's not shooting well, Giricek is tough to keep on the floor.
Bonzi Wells is two years removed from averaging 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for a playoff team. That seems like ages ago now, though Wells had his moments last year in both Houston and New Orleans. The right fit is important for Wells because his erratic shooting makes him all wrong for certain systems. Defensive specialist Quinton Ross also needs to find the right fit, a team that needs a defensive specialist off the bench and can live with Ross playing a small role on offense.
Michael Finley started 61 games last season for an elite team. During the playoffs, however, he looked pretty close to done. No longer a standout on the defensive end of the floor, Finley has been reduced to a spot-up shooter on offense, and the Spurs will surely be looking to replace him and get younger on the wings. Dealt for each other at the trade deadline in 2007, Juan Dixon and Fred Jones both had a hard time getting on the floor last season. Devin Brown had his moments in the regular season for Cleveland before completely disappearing during the postseason, when he shot 26.5 percent from the field.
THE UNESTABLISHED YOUNG PLAYERS
The Timberwolves took a flyer on Kirk Snyder, an afterthought in Houston, and saw him start 18 games over the last two months, averaging 8.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Snyder is still young enough to get it and seemed to play with a passion in Minnesota that was previously missing. In limited minutes last season, C.J. Miles finally put up results that matched his reputation as a shooter, hitting 39.0 percent from downtown. Miles still has yet to show that his overall game is NBA caliber.
MickaŽl Gelabale was coming on before tearing his ACL last March. A first-round pick by Cleveland in 2006, Shannon Brown has played sparingly in two seasons.
Derek Anderson, Charlotte - Strictly a veteran presence at this point of his career.
Dermarr Johnson, San Antonio - An effective role player in Denver who was largely out of the league last season.
Flip Murray, Indiana - Always capable of putting points on the board, but not efficiently enough to be valuable.
Andre Owens, Indiana - Started seven games in nondescript season for the Pacers.
Eric Piatkowski, Phoenix - The end might be here for the Polish Rifle after 14 seasons.
Kareem Rush, Indiana - As noted during the draft, the Pacers dealing for his brother Brandon hurts Kareem's chances of returning to Indiana.
Salim Stoudamire, Atlanta - Stoudamire's minutes, points and three-point percentage have all gone downward during his three NBA seasons. That's not a good sign. His attitude has been an issue.
Von Wafer, Portland - Has played well during summer league and in the D-League, but hasn't translated that play to the NBA.
Mario West, Atlanta - Georgia Tech product was something of a reach to stick all year with the Hawks.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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