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The Free Agent Class (07/11)

July 10, 2008
The Free Agent Class
Small Forwards

by Kevin Pelton

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Part One: The Centers
Part Two: The Power 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

Andre Iguodala     Res   .579   106.6   104.2  11.0
Luol Deng          Res   .500   105.6   105.6   3.7
Josh Childress     Res   .553   107.4   105.8   6.5
Corey Maggette     Un    .548   108.0   106.5   6.9
James Posey        Un    .457   103.2   104.5   1.6
Ryan Gomes         Res   .482   105.6   106.1   3.3
Dorell Wright      Res   .492   104.0   104.2   1.8
MickaŽl Pietrus    Un    .459   103.7   104.9   1.2
Carlos Delfino     Res   .469   104.5   105.5   2.1
Matt Barnes        Un    .475   104.4   105.1   1.7
Ricky Davis        Un    .409   103.7   106.5  -0.4
James Jones        Un    .446   105.1   106.8   0.8
Bostjan Nachbar    Un    .409   103.7   106.5  -0.2
Walter Herrmann    Un    .431   104.3   106.4   0.1
Jarvis Hayes       Un    .408   103.4   106.1  -0.2
Marcus Williams    Res   .317    98.5   104.0  -0.1
Demetris Nichols   Res   .137    92.5   105.5  -0.3
Ryan Bowen         Un    .413   103.2   105.8   0.0
Linton Johnson     Un    .321   103.1   108.7  -0.1
Antoine Wright     Un    .347   102.1   106.8  -1.8

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 STARS

Both Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng, like a number of prominent players entering their fourth NBA seasons, opted against signing contract extensions last October. That worked out well for Iguodala and disastrously for Deng, who picked the wrong year to be plagued by injuries and inconsistent play even when he was healthy. If we were comparing the two players a year ago, Deng would probably have been ranked ahead on the strength of an excellent 2006-07 season.

I'm surprised, looking at the numbers carefully for the first time, how similar Deng's last two seasons really were. Besides the injuries that cost him 19 games and cut his minutes when he played, the only significant difference is Deng's field-goal percentage, which dropped from 51.7 percent to 47.9 percent. Given he had shot 43.4 percent and 46.3 percent, respectively, in his first two seasons, 2006-07 might have been more the fluke than 2007-08 was. Adjust the shooting percentage downward and Deng's 2006-07 campaign is no longer quite so impressive, and he slips a fair amount behind Iguodala's performance that season.

Based on that interpretation of the numbers, Iguodala is the top small forward available even accounting for the fact that Deng is more than a year younger. There's some danger for the Sixers in giving Iguodala a max-type contract when he's more of a secondary star than a player who can carry a team, but that's the nature of free agency. As for Deng, he could be a value pickup if teams put too much emphasis on last season. Even though Deng is not really a power forward, the Clippers ought to consider a run at him if they are unable to land Josh Smith or Emeka Okafor. Deng figures to be easier to pry away from Chicago as a restricted free agent.

Josh Childress is in the strange no-man's land of free agency--not as valuable as the first-tier stars, and worth more than the mid-level exception. In a market like this, where few teams have more than the mid-level to offer (and the Clippers have little need for a wing player, while the Warriors have already chosen a different one), Atlanta should have the ability to sit back and wait for the market to die down. As long as they avoid angering Childress with a lowball offer, the Hawks should get him back at a reasonable price.

THE MID-LEVEL VETERANS

Corey Maggette and James Posey could not be much more different as players, but they're the best candidates for mid-level exceptions in this group, with several of the same teams in pursuit. Maggette could get more money if a team with cap space shows interest.

I put Maggette ahead of Posey, but this is a great example of a situation where the right fit is more important than overall value. The veteran contenders looking at the two players (most notably Posey's previous employers, the Celtics, and the Spurs, though also perhaps the Pistons) ask their role players to spot up and shoot a lot of threes. Spot-up shooting is not the strength of Maggette's game (his 38.4 percent shooting from downtown last year was way out of line with his 32.9 percent career shooting) and, as Kelly Dwyer broke down, Maggette shoots best from a spot (the left free-throw line extended) San Antonio, in particular, doesn't like to emphasize.

As it turns out, the matter is moot, as Golden State opted to use part of its cap space to sign Maggette to a deal more lucrative than the mid-level exception. I outlined last week why I'd rather have seen the Warriors go after a younger player. If Golden State must try to win now, Maggette isn't a bad fit and will certainly help pick up some of the scoring lost when Baron Davis went to the Clippers.

As for Posey, guys who can shoot the three and who are terrific defenders at multiple positions can fit in just about anywhere. Posey's newfound ability to play an undersized power forward has really added to his value. The issue with Posey is years. The mid-level isn't a bad deal for Posey at the moment; in fact, given the key role he played in winning Boston the championship, you could argue it's a bargain. The length of the contract is a different issue. A five-year deal would end when Posey is 36, and even if his shooting ability is likely to hold up, his athleticism won't. Whether a team is willing to make that tradeoff depends on how much they think Posey might help their chances of legitimately contending for the next couple of years.

Ricky Davis could be a consolation prize for one of the many teams bidding for Maggette's services. He offers the ability to create offense, albeit at the expense of efficiency. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that Davis is 28; doesn't it seem like he's been around forever? At least in NBA terms, it's an old 28 and I can't see Davis aging particularly well. Short offers are best here.

THE SOMEWHAT NEBULOUS GROUP OF YOUNGISH ROLE PLAYERS

Teams in the market for a younger backup small forward this summer had plenty of options. MickaŽl Pietrus and James Jones are already off the market, both headed to Florida with the Magic and Heat, respectively. Pietrus reportedly got four years and $25 million, James $22 million over five years. Those deals, particularly the length of the latter, seem on the excessive side in what figures to be a shopper's market because of the depth. Even in his career year, Jones rated as below average by my numbers. Though the Blazers were much better when Jones was healthy, his net plus-minus (+3.3 points per 100 possessions) was good, not great. When Jones returns to shooting 38-40 percent from three-point range instead of last year's 44.4 percent, Miami could regret this deal.

Ryan Gomes is different than the rest of this group in that he's not much of a three-point shooter (33.9 percent in his career) and he can play both forward positions. That versatility makes Gomes the most useful reserve of the group, and he's shown the ability to start on weak teams. Dorell Wright has youth in his favor; an early entrant out of high school, he won't be 23 until December and he showed real signs of getting it last year. Wright's athleticism has never been in doubt.

Pietrus, Carlos Delfino and Matt Barnes are tough to distinguish as good defenders who can shoot the three. At 28, Barnes is the oldest player, knocking him to the bottom of the trio. He drew relatively little attention in free agency a year ago and could be a bargain this summer as well. Following three undistinguished seasons in Detroit, Delfino fit in well in Toronto, hitting 120 threes at a 38.2 percent clip.

Jones leads the weaker defending group of shooters. Bostjan Nachbar is something of an enigma. He looked like he had figured it out in 2006-07, when he was a key reserve for the Nets, shooting 42.3 on triples. Last year, his True Shooting Percentage plummeted from 61.4 percent to 53.1 percent, taking his value with it. I don't envy teams who have to figure out which year was the fluke. Fabio lookalike Walter Herrmann gave the Bobcats great minutes off the bench two years ago, then got buried last year before he was dealt to Detroit. It's worth a flyer to see if he can repeat his rookie performance. The Pistons talked up Jarvis Hayes early last year, but by season's end it was clear he was more or less the same player he was in Washington: A one-dimensional specialist who hasn't shot the ball well enough to overcome his other weaknesses. He'll get overpaid (and overplayed) somewhere.

It was something of a surprise when the Nets chose not to pick up the fourth-year option on Antoine Wright's contract. He did little last season to indicate that was a mistake.

THE UNESTABLISHED YOUNG PLAYERS

Demetris Nichols and Marcus Williams both went in the second round of last year's draft and played sparingly as rookies. Nichols bounced from New York to Cleveland to Chicago, while Williams was cut by San Antonio in camp, spent most of the year playing for the Spurs' D-League team and then was signed by the Clippers late in the season. Considering his age, Williams' translated college numbers look pretty good, while Nichols looks iffy. His dream is becoming James Jones.

THE ROLE PLAYERS

When people ask me to compare my game to an NBA player, I'll usually explain that I'm like a really short Ryan Bowen. This is meant to be self-deprecating. That said, if someone else said that about me, I'd take it as a compliment and an indication that I was valuable despite meager skills because of my hustle and heady play. Bowen has translated those qualities into an eight-year NBA career. I'll take Ryan Bowen on my team any day. The same is true of Linton Johnson, a guy whom the Spurs once signed and said he fit their culture and personality as an organization. That's pretty high praise.

OTHERS

Yakhouba Diawara, Denver - A solid perimeter defender who is too erratic offensively to keep on the floor for extended stretches.

Ronald Dupree, Seattle - High jumper who has spent most of his career bouncing between other teams and the Pistons.

Pat Garrity, Orlando - The Magic's longest-tenured player; this could be the end of the line, at least in Orlando.

Devean George, Dallas - Earned a record ratio of column inches to actual production by holding up the first incarnation of the Jason Kidd trade. Still has that proven-veteran cachet, but hasn't been valuable in years.

Casey Jacobsen, Memphis - Jacobsen actually wasn't a bad flyer for the Grizzlies. However, playing him over younger players with more potential quickly alienated Memphis fans, especially because Jacobsen played so poorly.

Ira Newble, L.A. Lakers - A cautionary tale of what happens when you sign role players to five-year contracts. Newble can still defend and should catch on somewhere for the minimum.

Kasib Powell, Miami - Last year's D-League MVP should get a longer look from the Heat.

Jeremy Richardson, Atlanta - Saw action with three NBA teams last year and found time to win MVP honors at the D-League All-Star Game.

Awvee Storey, Milwaukee - Not a lot of upside here.

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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<< Previous Article
Easy Come, Easy Go (07/09)
Next Article >>
The Free Agent Class (07/11)

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