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July 8, 2010
2010 Free Agency
Small Forwards

by Kevin Pelton

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If you're looking to go deep as the NBA enters free agency for the 2010 off-season, Basketball Prospectus is your place. Over the next several days, we will review the top 20 free agents at each position, looking not only at the stars but also at the role players who will help fill out benches across the league. Players have been arranged into tiers of similar players that generally reflect their overall value in a vacuum, regardless of team need.

Previous Positions:

  • Point Guards
  • Shooting Guards

    Reading the player charts:

    • T is free agent type, either restricted (R) or unrestricted (U).
    • Age as of July 8, 2010.
    • WARP is Wins Above Replacement Player, while Win% is the estimated winning percentage of a team made up of the player and four average teammates.
    • TS% is True Shooting Percentage, the best measure of scoring efficiency.
    • Usg is the player's usage rate, or the percentage of his team's plays the player finished with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover.
    • Reb% is the percentage of available rebounds the player grabbed while on the floor.
    • Pass is a personal junk stat incorporating assists per minute and assist-to-turnover ratio.
    • BS% is the sum of blocks and steals per 100 plays.

    THE SUPERSTAR

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    LeBron James         cle   U   25.5  25.4   .828   .604   .337  10.7   6.01   4.2

    At 25, LeBron James is just entering his prime. He is the two-time defending NBA MVP, and has posted two of the top 10 seasons in modern NBA history in terms of WARP the previous two seasons. A compelling argument can be made that James is the single most valuable free agent in the history of team sports, given that individuals are more important in basketball than in baseball, where Alex Rodriguez represents the only comparable case in recent memory. You may find the hype about his decision disgusting, but don't call it misguided. What James announces tonight on ESPN will irreparably alter the future of the league.

    THE VETERAN STAR

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Paul Pierce          bos   U   32.7   7.6   .568   .613   .240   7.7   0.54   2.8

    Heading into his age-33 season, Pierce probably has another couple of All-Star-caliber seasons left in him. Because of his timetable, Pierce was far more valuable to the Celtics than any other team, and re-signing after opting out of the final year of his contract made a lot of sense for both parties. Besides chasing another championship, Pierce is also building his legacy as one of the greats in Boston's storied history.

    THE GAMBLE

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Rudy Gay             mem   R   23.9   2.8   .459   .535   .227   8.7   0.11   3.4

    For a player who will make an average of more than $16 million a year over the upcoming five seasons, Gay was awfully unimpressive last season. A smaller role in the Memphis offense, which added Zach Randolph, failed to translate into an improvement in Gay's True Shooting Percentage. He's below average on the glass and an inconsistent defensive player.

    On the upside, if you are going to overpay a player, better at least to do so for a young one with the chance of getting better. Based on three-year WARP projections, Gay rates as a better buy than Carlos Boozer, who got a similar deal, and Joe Johnson. It looked like Gay was on the track to stardom after his excellent sophomore season; we'll see if he can get back there.

    THE EXPAT

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Josh Childress       atl   R   27.0   5.4   .531   .647   .159   9.6   0.16   2.3

    Returning to Greece for a second season proved to be a wise move for Childress, who is set up in a much more favorable position this summer. After spending lavishly on Johnson, the Hawks are unlikely to match any offer to Childress, making him effectively an unrestricted free agency. Last year, Childress was part of a large group of free agent threes of the role player variety; this year, he's pretty clearly the best player left on the market. Lastly, teams are far more willing to spend, which could give Childress a chance at doing better than the mid-level exception.

    Childress was much more effective in his second season for Olympiacos, the runners up at the Euroleague Final Four. Childress was fifth in Euroleague scoring, shooting nearly 60 percent on two-point attempts. Advancing his 2007-08 statistics (shown above) two years suggests a multi-year WARP projection of 3.1 / 3.1 / 2.0, which puts Childress in the third tier of free agents or so.

    THE QUALITY RESERVE OPTIONS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Matt Barnes          orl   U   30.3   4.0   .508   .576   .163  12.1   0.24   2.5
    Travis Outlaw        lac   U   25.8   0.9   .475   .503   .215   9.8   0.12   3.0
    Linas Kleiza         den   R   25.5   1.7   .460   .552   .200  10.3   0.05   1.2
    Kyle Korver          uta   U   29.3   1.4   .488   .620   .163   6.8   0.93   2.4

    The itinerant Barnes shows up on this list year after year, and has climbed considerably--he was ranked 10th in 2008 and 11th in 2009. Barnes has established a nice little niche for himself as a role player who will provide toughness and defense without hurting you on offense. Mario Elie and Rick Fox, Barnes' two best comps, are probably the patron saints of this group. All Barnes is missing is the ring. Would he be crazy enough to chase it as part of a super-team? That would be about the best pickup realistically possible at the minimum. If Barnes walks from Orlando, which looks likely after the Magic spent a good chunk of its mid-level exception on Chris Duhon, he'll be missed.

    Outlaw and Kleiza have some similarities as three/fours who stretch the defense and provide scoring punch off the bench. I like Outlaw a bit more because of his defensive superiority. Kleiza, who teamed with Childress for Olympiacos, ended up leading Euroleague in scoring last year and might not be in a big hurry to come back to the NBA.

    2009-10 was the best shooting season of Korver's career. Limited by injury much of the season, he played fewer than a thousand minutes yet still shot 53.6 percent from three-point range, the best mark with at least 100 attempts in NBA history. Considering the need for shooters throughout the league, Korver should get a nice deal somewhere.

    THE FADING VETERANS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Richard Jefferson    sas   U   30.0   1.1   .437   .551   .184   8.2   0.30   2.1
    Josh Howard          was   U   29.5  -0.5   .389   .496   .249   7.8   0.14   2.3

    One way or another, Jefferson will be involved in a major mistake this summer. The question is whether it will be Jefferson's decision to opt out of the last year of his contract or a team that overpays him that makes the mistake. Jefferson is still an efficient scorer, but that came with a significant drop in his usage rate between Milwaukee and San Antonio and Jefferson was a major disappointment in terms of his ability to create offense when the Spurs' stars were out of the game. As we've seen with Johnson projections, 30 is a bad age for wings who aren't superstars. The next couple of years may not be pretty.

    Howard has probably lost almost all his value after a dismal end to his tenure in Dallas, both on and off the court. Add in a torn ACL that will probably cost Howard at least some of next season and the only reason he even ranks this high is because of the lack of depth among free agent small forwards. At least Howard is a has-been rather than a never-was.

    THE OTHER TWO GUYS WHO MIGHT BE USEFUL

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Rodney Carney        phi   U   26.3   1.2   .484   .515   .177   9.5   0.16   3.3
    James Singleton      was   U   29.0   0.6   .447   .452   .155  16.3   0.03   4.8

    Carney was this close to having a very good year for the 76ers. If he only would have shot the ball effectively from three-point range, his improved defensive rebounding and surprising shot blocking would have made him valuable. As it was, Carney dropped from 35.0 percent to 30.4 beyond the arc, and given that threes account for more than half of his offensive plays, that was a problem.

    I've always liked Singleton, who has generally done well when given the chance to play. He's a terrific rebounder and an athletic defender who mostly stays out of the way on offense. Because he's not a shooter, and is undersized for a big man, he's had a difficult time finding a consistent role. As Singleton heads toward 30, it's worth wondering how long his hops are going to hold up.

    THE GUYS WHO INEXPLICABLY PLAY A LOT OF MINUTES

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Joey Graham          den   U   28.1  -1.2   .343   .568   .162   9.3   0.02   2.2
    Damien Wilkins       min   U   30.5   0.0   .417   .515   .142   8.9   0.64   3.2
    Antoine Wright       tor   U   26.4  -1.3   .371   .502   .162   7.9   0.16   1.7

    OK, it's actually not all that hard to understand why Wilkins averaged nearly 20 minutes a game last season, since he was on the worst team this side of the Tri-State Area. All three of these guys can defend a little and score at least in theory, but the results haven't matched the trust they've earned from coaches. Graham managed a career-high True Shooting Percentage in Denver; still, the Nuggets were far worse when he was on the floor and he was a non-factor everywhere else. Wright was the defensive specialist on the league's worst defensive team, which about says it all.

    THE RIFF-RAFF

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg  Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Ime Udoka            sac   U   32.9   0.1   .421   .470   .145  11.7   0.26   2.3
    Dominic McGuire      sac   U   24.7  -1.1   .244   .345   .107  14.9   0.04   1.8
    Jonathan Bender      nyk   U   29.4   0.0   .425   .529   .217  10.2   0.09   4.7
    Steve Novak          lac   U   27.1  -0.2   .388   .505   .143   5.3   0.04   1.4
    Joe Alexander        chi   U   23.5  -0.1   .270   .273   .114   9.6     -    4.4

    It's been a couple of seasons now since Udoka shot the ball acceptably, so while he's still a solid wing defender and had a career year on the glass in 2009-10, his value is fading. After showing some promise as an unorthodox defense-rebounding specialist from the wing in 2008-09, McGuire was horrendous last season. He shot 36.5 percent on twos and, amazingly, did not make a single free throw in 300-plus minutes of action, missing all seven of his attempts. He ranks this high in the small hope he someday finds any kind of a shot.

    Kudos to Bender for working hard to get back to the NBA more than three years after his forced medical retirement. Given the lengthy layoff, Bender wasn't bad at all, blocking a bunch of shots and hitting some threes. Novak is the ultimate specialist, an outstanding three-point shooter who cannot contribute almost anything else. He'll hang around a bench somewhere, though he'll be hard-pressed to find a coach as willing as Mike Dunleavy to put cold reserves in the game.

    A wasted pick by Milwaukee, Alexander bears the stigma of becoming the highest first-round pick to date to have his third-year team option refused, making him an unrestricted free agent. Injuries have kept Alexander off the court and he's done little when he has played, but he is only 23 and a former lottery pick, so someone else will give him a shot.

    THE REST

    Yakhouba Diawara, Miami - A talented, physical defender, Diawara would become coveted if the NBA ever went to football-style platoons. Short of that, his offensive limitations will keep him off the floor.

    Devean George, Golden State - At 32, George improbably posted the best Win% of his 11-year NBA career, largely because he shot a career-best 39.0 percent from beyond the arc. Given his track record playing for winning teams, I could see George on the bench for a super-team.

    J.R. Giddens, New York - In very limited minutes, Giddens rebounded the ball well and shot 56.0 percent on twos. Still, the fact that he rarely got off the bench for the Knicks is an indictment of sorts.

    Stephen Graham, Charlotte - Joey's twin brother played a career-high 804 minutes and posted an acceptable 55.1 percent True Shooting Percentage. He's a decent third small forward.

    Jarvis Hayes, New Jersey - A shooting specialist who, seven years into his NBA career, is still looking to post a league-average True Shooting Percentage for the first time.

    Adam Morrison, L.A. Lakers - One of my all-time favorite Inside the NBA bits is when Magic Johnson and Kenny Smith form the "Champions Club" and security won't let Charles Barkley inside. Ernie Johnson starts running back out and naming obscure players who sat on the bench for NBA champions ("Zan Tabak is going nuts in here!"), with the punchline being Magic's "Jack Haley said not to let you in." Sometime in the 2020s, Morrison will feature prominently in such a skit.

    Bobby Simmons, New Jersey - Before this summer, the last time the Bucks made a big splash in free agency they signed Most Improved Player Simmons to a five-year, $47 million contract. Needless to say, that did not work out well. Simmons wasn't bad in his first season with the Nets, but he saw his three-point percentage plummet from 44.7 percent to 31.7 percent last year, taking his value with it.

    Jawad Williams, Cleveland - At 27, Williams saw regular playing time for the first time in his career. He showed some signs of potentially being useful as a stretch four, but ended up shooting just 32.3 percent on threes and was a total non-factor on the glass.

    Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

    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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    LeBacle (07/09)

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