Part One: The Centers
Part Two: The Power Forwards
Part Three: The Small Forwards
Part Four: The Shooting Guards
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
Jose Calderon Res .651 111.1 106.2 12.2
Baron Davis Un .616 108.5 104.9 13.3
Louis Williams Res .509 106.3 106.0 3.6
Delonte West Res .453 103.6 105.0 1.2
Beno Udrih Un .443 105.1 106.8 1.2
Chris Duhon Un .419 104.4 106.9 0.1
Jason Williams Un .463 104.8 106.0 1.8
Carlos Arroyo Un .449 105.7 107.2 0.9
Roger Mason, Jr. Un .425 105.1 107.4 0.3
Eddie House Un .459 104.1 105.3 1.3
Jannero Pargo Un .389 103.5 106.9 -0.8
Keyon Dooling Un .445 105.7 107.4 0.8
Earl Boykins Un .375 103.6 107.5 -0.5
Sebastian Telfair Un .386 103.9 107.4 -1.2
Shaun Livingston Un DID NOT PLAY
Anthony Carter Un .472 104.6 105.4 2.3
Tyronn Lue Un .392 105.0 108.3 -0.4
Sam Cassell Un .493 106.0 106.3 2.0
Chris Quinn Res .475 105.8 106.5 1.7
Jose Juan Barea Res .392 103.8 107.1 -0.2
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.
After two years of managing an awkward platoon at the point with Jose Calderon and T.J. Ford, the Toronto Raptors chose between the two just before the draft by sending Ford to the Indiana Pacers as the headliner of the package that brought Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto. The other aspect of that decision was a new five-year deal for Calderon.
Offensively, Calderon stands with any point guard in the NBA. Last year, he took efficient play to an extreme. His 5.38 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked fifth in NBA history, and Calderon paired it with a 60.7 percent True Shooting Percentage. The list of point guards who combine those skills is pretty much Calderon and Steve Nash. That's it.
Surprisingly, Calderon has posted poor adjusted plus-minus ratings the last two years. In 2007-08, he rated as having an impact of -5.47 points per 100 possessions for the Raptors. Looking at the numbers, I wonder if Darrick Martin's limited playing time affected how adjusted plus-minus viewed the Toronto point guards. Martin, the team's third point guard, was +47 in 141 minutes of play, an extraordinary fluke season that made Calderon's performance look pedestrian in comparison. That fluke aside, the adjusted plus-minus reflects Calderon's poor defense. Fortunately, in Jermaine O'Neal the Raptors have added a premier shot-blocker behind him. That defense limits Calderon's value, but he's an All-Star-caliber point guard and a perfect fit for the Raptors' pick-and-roll-heavy offense. The chance to be Toronto's full-time starter should bring Calderon more accolades in 2008-09.
Davis is 29, and given his history of back problems, I'm not sure he'll age particularly well. That's enough to knock him below Calderon in my ranking of point guards, though he remains a strong runner-up. Davis is a legitimate star who, like new teammate Marcus Camby, made my All-NBA Third Team at the end of the season. Players like that rarely change teams, so for the Clippers to add Davis is a coup, even if it was overshadowed by Elton Brand's subsequent departure.
THE YOUNG STAR
In terms of 2007-08 value, there was an enormous gap between Calderon and Davis, and Louis Williams. Going forward, that should narrow as Williams develops. Last year saw Williams nearly triple his scoring average, playing just over twice as many minutes per game as he did the previous season. He also became a three-point threat, a skill which will become even more important assuming Williams re-signs with the poor-shooting 76ers.
There are two areas that will determine how far Williams takes his game. The first and most obvious is showing the ability to run a team. Williams split his minutes between the guard spots off the bench last year and averaged 5.4 assists per 40 minutes. The strength of Williams' game is getting to the basket off the dribble, and improved finishing inside would make a huge difference. He shot 57.0 percent on shots in the paint last season. By comparison, Monta Ellis--like Williams a combo guard who was a second-round pick in 2005 out of high school--shot 67.8 percent in the paint.
THE MID-LEVEL FRINGE STARTERS
Delonte West had two very different 2007-08 seasons. In Seattle, West played sparingly as P.J. Carlesimo had to balance playing time for three rotation-caliber point guards. Dealt to Cleveland at the trade deadline, West got the chance to start alongside LeBron James. In the postseason, West averaged 10.8 points and 4.2 assists and had some big games for the Cavaliers. In an ideal world, West is a third guard capable of playing both backcourt positions. His game is versatile enough, however, to handle starting duty. Aside from an occasional tendency to play too fast and recklessly, West has no major weaknesses.
Beno Udrih was the first point guard to get the mid-level exception, and the Kings might ultimately come to regret giving him a five-year deal. Even in a breakout season, Udrih didn't rate as far above replacement level. He's a capable scorer and can adequately run a team. The question is, is that enough for Sacramento to consider the point guard position solved for the next five years? I'm not sure.
There's a drop-off from West and Udrih to Chris Duhon. His deal with New York is a bit rich, but the Knicks wisely limited it to two years. Not coincidentally, that means Duhon will be off the cap just in time for the coveted free-agent crop of 2010. In the meantime, James Dolan will scarcely miss the money. Now the question is how Duhon will fit into a Mike D'Antoni system. He's mostly a caretaker and spot-up shooter on offense, not exactly a pick-and-roll player like Steve Nash. Duhon will definitely help New York on defense. We'll see about the other end.
Lastly, there's Jason Williams, who is the forgotten man in free agency. Williams is only two years removed from starting at the point for a championship team, and aside from shooting the ball better that 2005-06 season in Miami, his numbers have largely been the same the last few years. When exactly did everyone get together and decide that Williams was washed up? Where Williams has been hampered recently is by nagging injuries, and his health doesn't figure to improve next year at age 33. (By the way, can you believe that White Chocolate is in his early 30s now? That stunned me. Where does the time go?) Still, on a short-term deal, Williams could be a bargain.
THE INSTANT-OFFENSE RESERVES
You'd figure that after playing a key role in deciding the outcome of the NBA Finals, Eddie House would be a more coveted free agent. Clearly, that's done more for James Posey than House. Hitting big shots against the Lakers didn't change House's faults--he struggles to run a team, is a poor defender and can be streaky as a shooter--but that hasn't stopped House from contributing to several playoff teams. New Orleans' Jannero Pargo is a similar player, though possibly even streakier. Pargo can credibly defend bigger players more effectively than House can, but the advantage in True Shooting Percentage (53.5 percent versus 46.8 percent) gives the nod to House.
Unwilling to settle on a contract, Earl Boykins was out of the league at the start of last year before signing with Charlotte in midseason. He wasn't nearly as effective with the Bobcats as in his Denver heyday; the combination of his age (32) and his reliance on quickness doesn't bode well for him going forward. Still, Boykins is only a year away from averaging 14.5 points per game between the Nuggets and Bucks.
After a nice run as a backup guard in Atlanta, Tyronn Lue was dealt to Sacramento, bought out and ended up playing sparingly in Dallas down the stretch. Lue is somewhat more efficient than most of his scoring point guard counterparts in this group, though not as effective at creating his own shot.
Sam Cassell could have gone out the way he came into the NBA--as a champion. Well, he still might if he re-signs with the Celtics and they repeat, but it looks like Cassell is planning on giving it another shot. Unfortunately, he looked pretty close to done in the postseason and it's not exactly as if Cassell has gracefully stepped into the background as he's aged.
Carlos Arroyo doesn't exactly fit into this group. He's much more of a pass-first point guard, averaging 6.9 assists per 40 minutes. Combine that with an ability to get into the paint and finish and Arroyo is good enough to start, though he's spent almost the entirety of his post-Utah career coming off the bench to offer a change of pace from the point.
THE DEFENSIVE-MINDED RESERVES
After three undistinguished NBA seasons and two years out of the league, Roger Mason, Jr. got an opportunity when Gilbert Arenas underwent knee surgery. Mason stepped into the role of third guard for the Wizards, even starting nine games at the point when Antonio Daniels joined Arenas on the sidelines. Mason averaged 20.6 points per 40 minutes, shot 39.8 percent from downtown and played solid defense. That's a nice combination, though I'd still like to see Mason keep it up for another season. The Spurs signed him to a reasonable two-year deal worth about $8 million, so their exposure is more in terms of the opportunity cost of using their mid-level to add Mason than it is a bad contract on their cap.
In terms of surprises, Mason's season pales in comparison to what Anthony Carter did in Denver. A complete non-shooter throughout his career, Carter made 45 three-pointers--nearly three times as many as his previous career total. Carter shot well on twos as well, bumping his career True Shooting Percentage of 44.5% all the way up to a respectable 53.1 percent. Don't bet on a repeat at age 33. As long as he retains some of the three-point shooting, Carter is a good enough defender to be a backup point guard.
While we're on the subject of fluke seasons, Keyon Dooling posted a 57.2 percent True Shooting Percentage last year, his previous career high having been 51.3 percent. The improvement came almost entirely on the strength of notoriously inconsistent two-point percentage, so even though Dooling is in his prime, he figures to step back next season. Dooling has made himself into a useful backup combo guard and has made strides in terms of his decision-making.
THE RESERVES WITH UPSIDE
Four years ago, Shaun Livingston and Sebastian Telfair were the first point guards to enter the NBA directly out of college. So far, their careers haven't offered much of an argument against the age limit. Telfair has started 137 games in four seasons, but his play has been uneven at best. Livingston was plagued by injuries that culminated in a catastrophic dislocation of his patella in March 2007.
Take away the Lincoln High School hype and the stereotypes about Telfair and what you have is not uncommon: A decent distributor who simply cannot make enough shots to keep defenses honest and be valuable on offense. Telfair's career True Shooting Percentage is 47.1 percent, and that figure has actually gone down the last two seasons. Right now, Telfair isn't a starter, certainly not on a good team. At 23, he's got time to improve his game, which is why he's a reserve with upside.
As for Livingston, at this point the doctors know more than the basketball analysts. Fifteen months removed from the injury, he was finally cleared for basketball-related activities last month. Patience is going to be in order for whomever signs Livingston, whose rights were renounced by the Clippers last week. Before the injury, Livingston was making progress, cutting his turnovers and improving his shooting percentage. The injury cost Livingston valuable development time that he desperately needed. Whether he'll be able to overcome the setback is anyone's guess.
THE UNESTABLISHED YOUNG PLAYERS
In his second season, injuries forced Chris Quinn into the Heat's rotation and he emerged as a neo-Matt Maloney. A caretaker at the point, Quinn is a strong shooter who knocked down 40.3 percent of his three-pointers last season. The rest of the game, particularly on the defensive end, is limited. Quinn can play a role in this league, but if he's playing 22 minutes a night, that's not a good sign. Jose Juan Barea had some moments early last season in Dallas before Avery Johnson decided to go with the veterans. The Mavericks have already re-signed him, and Rick Carlisle might be encouraged to give Barea more of a chance. He projects as a change of pace off the bench who can bring energy behind Jason Kidd.
Blake Ahearn, Miami - Ace free-throw shooter proved quick study in the D-League before ineffective 12-game stint with the Heat.
Darrell Armstrong, New Jersey - Presumably headed for retirement at age 40. Not bad for a guy who did not become an NBA regular until age 28.
Dan Dickau, L.A. Clippers - Won't embarrass himself if forced into the rotation, as was the case last year with the Clippers.
Lindsey Hunter, Detroit - Surely has a spot in the Pistons' front office or on the coaching staff waiting for him when he decides to hang them up. It's hard to see Hunter, 37 going on 38, contributing much more on the court at this point.
Royal Ivey, Milwaukee - Logged nearly 1,500 minutes last season for the Bucks, which is pretty remarkable given how little production he offers on offense.
Anthony Johnson, Sacramento - Remains an acceptable stopgap as a backup point guard and a solid third option. He's got AJ Custom Doors as a fallback when his playing days are over.
Kevin Ollie, Philadelphia - Has mercifully come to the end of the five-year deal the Cavaliers gave him in the summer of 2003. Ollie is a nice player and a great guy, but also a cautionary example. Don't give long-term deals to replaceable backups. Four years ago, Cleveland swapped him for Eric Snow, who still has a year left on his equally appalling deal.
Smush Parker, L.A. Clippers - Parker's departure proved addition by subtraction for the Lakers. He's not good enough at this point to get away with being a question mark in terms of character.
Damon Stoudamire, San Antonio - Hey, remember when ABC and ESPN were running those "Western Conference changes" graphics in February that included the Spurs signing Stoudamire alongside the Lakers dealing for Pau Gasol? You didn't see those in the playoffs, did you? Nor did you see much of Stoudamire, who appears to have little left in the tank at this point.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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