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Free Agency 2009 (07/03)

July 1, 2009
Free Agency 2009
The Point Guards

by Kevin Pelton

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If you're looking to go deep as the NBA enters free agency for the 2009 off-season, Basketball Prospectus is your place. Over the next week-plus, we will rank the top 20 free agents at each position, looking not just at the stars but also at the role players who will help fill out benches across the league. Players have been arranged into tiers that generally reflect their overall value in a vacuum, regardless of team need.

Reading the player charts:

  • T is free agent type, either restricted (R) or unrestricted (U).
  • Age as of the end of the 2008-09 regular season.
  • 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.
  • 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 possessions.

THE PROMISING YOUNGSTER

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%
Ramon Sessions    MIL   R   23.0   0.573    7.1   0.525   7.5   6.44   2.2

The veteran point guards on the market might be preferable to Sessions next year. Over the following three or four? Sessions, who just turned 23, figures to be far more valuable. He followed up a surprising breakout late in his rookie season with a strong campaign split between starting and coming off the bench. Sessions is effective as both a scorer and a passer, and his ability to get to the free-throw line (14 percent of his possessions, more than any other free-agent point guard) bodes well for the future. His five most similar players by age: Kenny Anderson, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, Deron Williams and Terrell Brandon. If the Bucks are unwilling to match due to money concerns, somebody is going to get a starting point guard for the next decade or so.

THE VETERAN STARS

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Andre Miller      PHI   U   33.1   0.575    9.9   0.548   7.4   4.30   2.3
Jason Kidd        DAL   U   36.1   0.614   11.9   0.550   9.9  11.23   3.8
Mike Bibby        ATL   U   30.9   0.528    6.4   0.544   5.9   3.14   2.2

For teams looking to win now, there are three options on the market. Because of his age, I have Miller as the best of the group, though he's also probably the least likely to leave his current team. While unspectacular in any one area (save throwing alley-oops), Miller has such a strong game across the board (save shooting from distance) that he was the league's eighth most valuable point guard in terms of WARP last season.

Kidd is one of the more interesting players out there because of his age and ability. His supposed decline has been somewhat overstated, as Kidd has developed into a competent long-range shooter late in his career and still does a pretty good job defending shooting guards (quicker point guards are another story, which is why Kidd might be a good fit alongside an undersized scorer). Next year, Kidd could make the difference for some team. The question is how much of a hit they'll have to take on the back end of his contract.

I'm much more dubious about Bibby, who enjoyed a bounceback season at age 30 after a rough finish to his time in Sacramento. The difference can be almost entirely attributed to Bibby's shooting, especially beyond the three-point line. If that slips, Bibby will lose a lot of his value, as he has become a defensive liability.

THE YOUNG CONTRIBUTORS

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Nate Robinson     NYK   R   24.9   0.568    7.0   0.549   7.3   1.99   2.3
Raymond Felton    CHA   R   24.8   0.483    4.3   0.483   6.2   3.92   3.0

Robinson and Felton are two first-round picks from 2005 who are restricted free agents after they and their teams were unable to work out extensions last fall. While they are very different players, Robinson and Felton fall in the same general category of player--elite reserve or lower-tier starter. Robinson may always be consigned to a bench role because his game is so unusual, but he demonstrated last year that he can be extremely valuable in the right situation. This is another case where fit is extraordinarily important, as Robinson would chafe under a walk-it-up coach who wanted him to play more traditionally.

Now that Felton is 25, celebrating his birthday last week, it's getting difficult to anticipate him becoming much more than he is right now: A competent starter, but not the kind of player who allows a team to believe it has found the long-term answer at the point; witness Charlotte drafting D.J. Augustin a year ago. Felton is in that awkward position of being worth slightly more than the mid-level, which could make it hard for him to get market value anywhere besides the Bobcats.

THE QUESTION MARK

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Allen Iverson     DET   U   33.9   0.487    3.1   0.504   5.0   1.78   2.5

What to make of Allen Iverson? Iverson has seen his stock tumble after the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons went in opposite directions after exchanging Iverson for Chauncey Billups (and Antonio McDyess). Iverson suffered by comparison to the younger, steadier Billups, who proved a better fit for the Nuggets. Even without that bit of context, it always looked like Iverson's decline years were going to be bumpy, as it's hard to fit his skill set into a defined role. The best role model for Iverson might be, of all people, Atlanta's Flip Murray (himself a free agent and listed with shooting guards). If Iverson can humble himself to be an instant scoring presence off the bench, he might have value on a team starved for offense. Yes, that would certainly include a Charlotte team with whom Iverson has been linked; the Bobcats were 27th in Offensive Rating a year ago.

THE COMPETENT RESERVES

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Jarrett Jack      IND   R   25.5   0.438    1.2   0.554   5.6   1.42   2.0
C.J. Watson       GSW   R   25.0   0.470    2.1   0.564   5.6   1.34   2.6
Anthony Carter    DEN   U   33.8   0.441    0.9   0.490   6.6   4.87   3.2

Jack might balk at being included amongst the reserves after starting 53 games last season in Indiana, but he is stretched in that role and much more effective as the third guard in a three-guard rotation because he can comfortably play either backcourt position. Though he's without Jack's pedigree, Watson has carved out a nice career in Golden State as an undrafted free agent; he brings a similar skill set and had superior numbers last season. With the Warriors dealing for Acie Law and drafting Stephen Curry, Watson would seem to be very available.

Adding Billups pushed Carter to the bench after he spent most of 2007-08 starting alongside Iverson. That role made more sense, especially since Carter was unable to duplicate his career-best shooting from the previous season. As long as he's hitting enough to keep defenses honest, Carter is valuable because of his defense and ballhandling ability. He too figures to be in search of a new address after the Nuggets added Ty Lawson in the draft.

THE THIRD POINT GUARDS

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Ronnie Price      UTA   U   25.8   0.360   -0.9   0.465   5.6   1.84   3.2
Bobby Jackson     SAC   U   36.1   0.433    0.6   0.502   7.9   1.00   2.3
Brevin Knight     UTA   U   33.5   0.417    0.0   0.414   5.6   5.97   4.0
Royal Ivey        PHI   U   27.3   0.335   -1.4   0.465   5.3   0.23   2.8
Stephon Marbury   BOS   U   32.2   0.281   -1.2   0.377   4.0   3.36   1.8
Kevin Ollie       MIN   U   36.3   0.381   -0.6   0.525   5.3   3.22   1.5

With several players in this group seeing rotation minutes a year ago, it should come as little surprise that every one of their teams save Boston drafted a point guard in the first round last Thursday, pushing them to more appropriate limited roles should they return.

I've always had a soft spot for Price, who beat long odds to make the NBA out of Utah Valley State. His 2007-08 numbers with the Jazz showed an ability to contribute, and Price completed what was otherwise a lost season by helping lead a Utah comeback in Game Five against the L.A. Lakers. Of this group, he's the only player with any legitimate upside.

Meanwhile, Jackson stands the best chance of helping a team next year. The ARCO Arena fan favorite put together a decent season in his return to the Kings, and he still offers energy off the bench. Knight is not aging nearly so well, having proven inadequate as the backup to Deron Williams a year ago. As his quickness goes, Knight is left with just his passing and thievery as NBA-caliber skills.

Ivey has always been a quality defender who offers size; to show off his skill at that end of the floor, however, he has to provide at least some semblance of offense, and that has been a challenge. He's also better cast as a shooting guard at the offensive end.

By the numbers, Marbury doesn't belong in this group, but I'm willing to give him some benefit of the doubt after he sat out the first four months of the season. There were some flashes of competence in the playoffs, though ultimately the fuss over Marbury's addition went unrewarded.

Ollie ended up starting 21 games for the Timberwolves last season, and while he didn't entirely embarrass himself, that's the best explanation I've heard yet for drafting two point guards in the top six picks. As a third point guard who can use his experience with no fewer than 11 teams as a teaching tool, Ollie is a reasonable option.

FILLER

Player             Tm   T    Age   Win%    WARP    TS%   Reb%   Pass   BS%

Jacque Vaughn     SAS   U   34.2   0.328   -0.5   0.392   4.4   6.42   1.1
Jason Hart        DEN   U   31.0   0.317   -0.7   0.375   7.6   2.09   2.6
Tyronn Lue        ORL   U   32.0   0.375   -0.4   0.537   4.9   1.72   0.8
Sean Singletary   CHA   R   23.6   0.314   -0.6   0.478   7.1   0.58   1.9

Vaughn's tenure as the backup in San Antonio seems to have mercifully come to an end. Carter and Ollie bring more of the same qualities (passing, defense, leadership) that are all Vaughn has to offer at this point. Hart has gotten plenty of chances recently, including last year when the Clippers were beset by injuries at the point, and he keeps failing. He's been released midway through two of the last three seasons, and that seems about right. Otis Smith dealt for Lue as a stopgap before he could acquire Rafer Alston at last year's trade deadline, and Lue played sparingly as the third point guard (fourth if you count Hedo Turkoglu). The most noteworthy aspect of Singletary's rookie season was that he was traded three times, including twice before he finally saw the court with the Bobcats. He did little during limited playing time to inspire hope for the future.

OTHERS

Lindsey Hunter, Chicago - Will probably be an NBA-caliber defender at age 50 (he's 38 now). Brings nothing at the offensive end.

Damon Jones, Milwaukee - Earned a four-year contract with brilliant shooting as a starter in Miami, then never was the same again. His ego makes him tough to keep as a third point guard.

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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Free Agency 2009 (07/03)

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