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July 15, 2010
2010 Free Agency
Centers

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've reviewed 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
  • Small Forwards
  • Power Forwards

    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 CURRENT AND FORMER KNICKS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Amare Stoudemire     phx   U   27.6   9.5   .577   .615   .275   14.3   0.02   3.0
    David Lee            nyk   U   27.2  11.6   .601   .584   .240   18.0   0.75   2.4

    One of this summer's more interesting debates among statistical folks has been whether the Knicks improved at all by signing Stoudemire to replace Lee as their starting center and primary pick-and-roll option. Tom Haberstroh used WARP numbers, among others, to write on ESPN New York that Stoudemire would be no upgrade. While I don't think the difference is anywhere near as large as the way the Knicks hyped Stoudemire would suggest, I do think he is the better of the two players going forward.

    First, Stoudemire was a different player in the second half of the season, boosting his winning percentage to .623--right about where he was in 2006-07. Prior to the midway point, Stoudemire was evidently hampered by missing so much time after eye surgery. His 2008-09 performance can also be discounted because Terry Porter badly mismanaged Stoudemire; he was on his way to picking things up under Alvin Gentry when his season ended abruptly due to his retina injury.

    Even without knowing all of that backstory, SCHOENE still slightly favors Stoudemire over the next three years. Now, as to whether I'd rather have Stoudemire at $100 million over five years or Lee at $80 million over six years, that's a different question and one that is much more favorable to Lee. Strictly on performance terms, though, Stoudemire makes the Knicks somewhat better.

    THE LATEST HIGHLY PAID MAVERICKS CENTER

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Brendan Haywood      dal   U   30.6   5.9   .537   .588   .136   17.5   0.01   5.7

    In the disturbing coincidences file, Haywood's best comparable is Erick Dampier from Dampier's first season in Dallas. Both players got generous and extremely long contracts from the Mavericks. Even if the sixth and final year of Haywood's contract doesn't become guaranteed (it is incentive-based), Dallas will be on the hook for nearly $10 million in 2014-15, when he's 35 years old. The good news is Haywood's effort level shouldn't be hampered by his contract and his production should be fairly stable for the next couple of years before he begins to really feel the impact of age. Still, it feels like the Mavericks could have outbid the rest of the market with a smaller (and shorter) offer.

    THE DECLINING VETERANS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Jermaine O'Neal      mia   U   31.7   3.6   .503   .563   .231   14.3   0.08   4.5
    Ben Wallace          det   U   35.8   6.1   .565   .526   .100   18.6   0.23   5.9
    Shaquille O'Neal     cle   U   38.3   2.5   .515   .565   .253   16.7   0.16   4.5
    Brad Miller          chi   U   34.2   1.2   .447   .530   .182   11.3   0.45   2.3

    Without having his birthdate handy, you'd have a hard time proving Jermaine O'Neal is not yet 32 years old. Not only has O'Neal been around for 14 seasons because he entered the league so young (only Andrew Bynum played in the NBA at a younger age), he's also declined substantially from his prime years, which is why he belongs with the far older players in this group. That said, O'Neal still has something left in the tank. His True Shooting Percentage last season was a career high, and he helped anchor one of the league's better defenses in Miami. On a two-year contract with limited risk, O'Neal was an excellent pickup for the Celtics.

    The other O'Neal on the market, Shaquille, presents a more interesting conundrum. O'Neal still has the tools to be an effective post scorer and interior defender. The issue is that O'Neal really needs an offense tailored around him, and that's difficult to do when he's coming off the bench or splitting minutes in the middle. I'm not sure I see an obvious fit. O'Neal seems to have focused on pitching the Hawks, who are in the right situation--in need of some kind of lift to reach the next level as a team--but have Jamal Crawford to provide bench scoring and don't really need to focus on their offense anyway. So we'll see.

    At 35, Wallace enjoyed an improbable renaissance back where he starred in Detroit, having considered retiring last summer. Wallace's numbers in Cleveland were always strong, so his performance as a starter wasn't a huge surprise in this corner. Content where he was, Wallace signed a bargain deal for two years and $3.8 million that will allow him to help rookie Greg Monroe ease into a key role for the Pistons.

    Until I compiled these rankings, I hadn't really realized quite how much Miller slipped last season. Miller's rebound percentage was a career low, while his True Shooting Percentage dropped from 56.6 percent to 53.0 percent. Miller had shown few signs of aging before last season, so he might be able to bounce back next year. Still, teams pursuing him should be careful, especially with the length of their offers.

    THE SURPRISE SHOOTER

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Channing Frye        phx   U   27.1   7.3   .576   .598   .168   10.6   0.21   3.8

    Frye had a breakthrough 2009-10 campaign, improbably going from making 20 three-pointers in the first four years of his NBA career to hitting 172 of them at a 43.9 percent clip. Because WARP2 places value on floor spacing, Frye suddenly looks like a very good starter. (Plus-minus data agrees). The odds are that Frye will give back some of that improvement next season, and he's had a striking tendency to oscillate between good and bad seasons. But in this market, the Suns' mid-level offer seems fairly reasonable.

    THE INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Ian Mahinmi          sas   U   23.7   0.5   .576   .667   .253   18.3   0.00   4.4

    I'm tagging along with Tom Ziller's bandwagon for Mahinmi, who remains a question mark after three NBA seasons and 188 minutes of game action. For what it's worth, Mahinmi's statistics were very good last season when he did get in, and he's impressed in the D-League. An ankle injury cost Mahinmi the entire 2008-09 season and set back his progress. Dallas is taking a flyer, signing him to a two-year contract for the minimum.

    THE YOUNG RESERVES

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Josh Boone           njn   U   25.6   1.3   .474   .509   .126   17.6   0.03   4.9
    Darko Milicic        min   U   25.1   0.2   .428   .497   .161   12.4   0.32   5.3

    Hey, remember Josh Boone? No? Neither does anyone else, apparently. He's been a solid backup big man for the Nets the last four years, but has been unable to grow into a larger role or attract much if any attention. Meanwhile, Darko Milicic is signing for four years and $20 million. There is certainly lingering value to having been a big prospect. Milicic has had his moments in the league--his last year in Orlando, when he posted 2.7 WARP at age 21, he seemed to be getting it--without ever parlaying them into any sort of consistent success. Good luck to the Timberwolves in trying to coax it out of him.

    THE VETERAN RESERVES

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Zydrunas Ilgauskas   cle   U   35.1  -0.4   .401   .491   .191   15.1   0.05   3.4
    Rasho Nesterovic     tor   U   34.1   0.5   .475   .539   .186   12.7   0.29   4.4
    Kurt Thomas          mil   U   37.8  -0.7   .383   .489   .114   16.1   0.10   4.7

    In his mid-30s, Ilgauskas has become the rarest of specialists: The 7'3" jump shooter. More than half of his shot attempts last season were from 16 feet or farther, per Hoopdata.com. Despite a far lower usage rate, his accuracy from midrange faded quite a bit last season, which explains why Ilgauskas' True Shooting Percentage tumbled. His new employers, the Heat, will hope that rebounds, and Ilgauskas will certainly get plenty of open looks in Miami. Nesterovic does two things and just two things at this stage of his career. Fortunately, those two things--making shots around the rim and controlling the paint on defense--are important ones. Like Ilgauskas, Thomas is largely a mid-range shooter at this point. He plays a much smaller role in the offense but makes up for it with his tough defense and is also a good player to have in the locker room.

    THE SPECIALISTS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Aaron Gray           noh   U   25.6   0.9   .549   .551   .166   19.9   0.31   4.2
    Joel Anthony         mia   R   27.9   0.2   .423   .546   .088   11.1   0.00   7.5
    Kyrylo Fesenko       uta   R   23.5  -0.6   .351   .533   .159   13.0   0.04   4.5

    Gray's specialty is, I suppose, being the size of a tree trunk. He's good for the occasional spot minutes at center, and put up very strong numbers during his 311 minutes last season. Strictly a shot blocker, Anthony was fourth in the league in block percentage last season. If, as expected, he re-signs in Miami, Anthony will patrol the paint and stay out of the way on offense aside from the occasional dunk at the rim. That was essentially Fesenko's role in the Utah offense, and he played it successfully during the postseason. Fesenko is too prone to fouls and mistakes to suggest he'll ever become much more than a role player.

    THE HOPES AND PRAYERS

    Player                Tm   T    Age   WARP  Win%    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Pass   BS%
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Kwame Brown          det   U   28.3  -1.3   .325   .470   .148   16.7   0.03   2.8
    Johan Petro          den   U   24.4  -0.4   .377   .553   .136   17.0   0.03   3.4
    Ike Diogu            noh   U   26.9   0.8   .588   .611   .233   15.0   0.00   1.7

    Unlike Milicic, the value of Brown's potential has apparently finally expired. He was dreadful last season in Detroit and is now age 28. At this point, Brown is what he is, a third big man. Of all the contracts signed this summer, Petro's three-year, $10 million deal might be the most inexplicable. Petro did do some good things last season as a fill-in starter when Kenyon Martin was injured, shooting 54.0 percent on twos and doing good things on the glass. He has poor instincts and bad habits defensively, however, and who else was going to compete to sign him? Diogu might have a tough time making it back following microfracture knee surgery that cost him all of last season (those are his 2008-09 numbers, compiled in limited minutes, above). Like Sean May before him, Diogu will be challenged by the fact that he wasn't in peak condition before the long layoff.

    THE REST

    Hilton Armstrong, Houston - Recently signed by Washington, Armstrong has been able to develop any NBA skills save shot blocking, and he's not even all that great at blocking shots.

    Tony Battie, New Jersey - Strictly a veteran presence at this point, having played sparingly for a 12-win team.

    Primoz Brezec, Milwaukee - Presumably headed back to Europe, which is the right place for him at this point.

    Jarron Collins, Phoenix - Last seen starting games as the Suns won their first two playoff series, which was astounding then and remains so now. A good guy to have around, but not to have play.

    Jason Collins, Atlanta - See above, minus the fact that this Collins made only token cameos defending Dwight Howard in the postseason.

    Adonal Foyle, Orlando - Probably close to retirement after not playing a minute all of last season for the Magic, and he's likely to have a more meaningful post-NBA career.

    Chris Hunter, Golden State - The first of the Warriors' D-League call-ups last season, Hunter was effective as a finisher but surprisingly poor as a rebounder.

    Nathan Jawai, Minnesota - Didn't help his own cause by showing up out of shape to summer league with the Bobcats.

    Jamaal Magloire, Miami - Unfortunately for Magloire, the one thing the Heat certainly doesn't need right now is more big men. Hard to see the former All-Star getting another NBA gig.

    DJ Mbenga, L.A. Lakers - You probably laughed at the excess when you heard that Mbenga has his own publicist, but it's actually because of all Mbenga's admirable charity work in his native Congo.

    Randolph Morris, Atlanta - The former AAU teammate of Howard and Josh Smith is still looking to crack the 200-minute total for a season.

    Fabricio Oberto, Washington - Now 35, and below average as a rebounder last season--not for a center, for any player. That's a problem.

    Theo Ratliff, Charlotte - Perhaps a bit harsh to leave him out of the top 20, since Ratliff was playing meaningful minutes in the playoffs and remains a very good defender. On the other hand, Larry Brown is probably the only coach who would play Ratliff at this point.

    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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    Transaction Analysis (07/14)
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    A Matter of Length (07/16)

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