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Free Agency 2009 (07/07)
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July 8, 2009
Free Agency 2009
The Power Forwards

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. Starting last week and continuing this week, we will rank 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 that generally reflect their overall value in a vacuum, regardless of team need.

Previously: Free Agency 2009: The Point Guards | The Shooting Guards | Free Agency 2009: The Small Forwards

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 YOUNG STUDS

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

Paul Millsap        UTA   R   24.2   0.602   8.9   0.576   17.0   0.19   4.2
David Lee           NYK   R   26.0   0.583   9.8   0.590   18.8   0.22   1.9

In terms of their potential to contribute over the next five seasons, Paul Millsap and David Lee are probably the two best free agents on the market. Both players were on the fringe of the All-Star discussion this year (you'll remember I gave Millsap a spot on my squad). Millsap in particular is young enough to still have room for growth, while Lee is just entering what should be a productive prime.

Alas, because both players are restricted free agents and their current employers are expected to match any offers, Lee and Millsap have been relegated to the back burner so far during free agency. Portland looks like the only team left that could make a serious run at either player, and with LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward and the duo of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla in the middle, barring an unlikely trade it will be difficult for the Blazers to carve out enough playing time to justify paying big money to part of a four-man frontcourt rotation. That could limit Lee and Millsap to either hammering out a long-term deal to stick around with their current teams or taking the qualifying offer and trying again next year. That leverage is limited by the fact that both qualifying offers, especially Millsap's, are way below market value.

As for choosing between the two players, I'd give the slight edge to Millsap because of his superior work at the defensive end of the floor and the fact that he is two years younger.

THE FLOOR SPACERS

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

Charlie Villanueva  MIL   U   24.7   0.556   6.1   0.529   15.0   0.21   3.4
Rasheed Wallace     DET   U   34.6   0.504   3.9   0.520   13.9   0.14   4.7

The success enjoyed by the Orlando Magic with Rashard Lewis at power forward is just the latest bit of evidence that power forwards who can shoot the three-pointer are highly valuable in the modern NBA. The two best such players on the market this summer are Charlie Villanueva and Rasheed Wallace, and it's no surprise both were highly coveted by contenders looking to match up with the likes of Lewis.

Villanueva enjoyed a career season in 2008-09, ramping up his usage from 24.3 percent of the Bucks' possessions to 28.5 percent while maintaining a respectable True Shooting Percentage. He's also a pretty good rebounder for a spacing four, and will comfortably step into the Pistons' lineup in place of Wallace, who heads to Boston.

My enthusiasm for the Celtics adding Wallace, as described in Unfiltered over the weekend, is dampened slightly by the news that Glen Davis is shopping his wares elsewhere and could end up in San Antonio or Orlando, but I still like the fit. Wallace is another adjusted plus-minus star, combining two traits that usually make for strong adjusted plus-minus ratings--the ability to shoot the three and defensive versatility in terms of piling up blocks and steals. Even in his uneven 2008-09 season, Wallace rated as one of the league's best players by adjusted plus-minus at BasketballValue.com--just behind Lewis, of all people.

THE YOUNG RESERVES

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

Brandon Bass        DAL   U   24.0   0.509   3.1   0.571   13.3   0.02   3.5
Leon Powe           BOS   U   25.2   0.580   4.2   0.591   17.0   0.04   3.5
Hakim Warrick       MEM   R   26.8   0.510   4.0   0.554   12.4   0.04   2.8

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that some team--as yet unnamed--has made Bass a five-year offer for $25 million, slightly less than the value of the full mid-level exception. This strikes me as the kind of classic mid-level deal where the length of the contract proves more problematic than the salary. The good news is Bass is just 24, so a five-year deal essentially takes him through his prime, and he is young enough to potentially grow into more than a reserve. Still, it's always dangerous to guarantee that kind of length for a player who is not dramatically better than replacement level, because any kind of setback could result in their losing all their value.

Leon Powe is a risk of a different kind, as the torn ACL he suffered in last year's postseason will cost him at least the start of the 2009-10 campaign and could render him ineffective until the following season. Nonetheless, a non-contending team would be wise to sign Powe to a cheap two- or three-year deal with heavy incentives and small guarantees, if possible. When healthy, Powe has been highly productive; on a per-minute basis, he belonged with Lee and Millsap last season. He's an extraordinarily efficient offensive player who can create for himself, who rebounds and who is more than passable defensively.

Quietly, Hakim Warrick settled in at power forward last season after years as a tweener and was productive for the Grizzlies. He produced more WARP last season than either Wallace or Bass, though nobody noticed because he was playing in Memphis. If I needed a player to come off the bench at both forward positions, I'd make a run at Warrick and see how valuable the Grizzlies consider him after adding Zach Randolph.

THE VETERAN RESERVES

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

Drew Gooden         SAS   U   27.6   0.509   2.5   0.526   17.0   0.05   2.3
Chris Wilcox        NYK   U   26.6   0.431   0.3   0.518   14.7   0.06   2.4
Joe Smith           CLE   U   33.7   0.491   1.7   0.507   14.0   0.11   3.7
James Singleton     DAL   U   27.8   0.548   2.5   0.615   16.1   0.01   3.8

Some inexplicable cosmic force ties Drew Gooden and Chris Wilcox together. They were both drafted in 2002, became restricted free agents in 2006 and are hitting the market again unrestricted this summer after the worst season of the three-year deals they signed last time. Their value was similar three years ago, and remains so now. Gooden is the better rebounder, Wilcox a superior scorer (last year's numbers in limited minutes aside). What holds both players back is a lack of focus that makes them liabilities at the defensive end of the floor. Right now, they make for stopgap starters or solid backups.

For teams looking for a veteran presence up front, Joe Smith is the best option. He's been a positive contributor the last two postseasons for Cleveland and has developed into a nice pick-and-pop option as well as a positive presence on defense.

An old numbers favorite while with the L.A. Clippers, Singleton returned from a season overseas (and a torn ACL) to be a solid contributor for the Mavericks in a limited role. Singleton remains a good finisher around the rim, a solid rebounder and an active defender. For the minimum, that's a very nice skill set.

THE LOTTERY TICKETS

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

Ike Diogu           SAC   U   25.6   0.588   0.8   0.611   15.0   0.00   1.7
Steve Novak         LAC   R   25.9   0.403  -0.3   0.606    6.4   0.10   1.2
Pops Mensah-Bonsu   TOR   R   25.6   0.537   0.7   0.447   23.5   0.01   3.2
Richard Hendrix      -    U   22.4   

After Singleton, there's a steep drop in terms of 2008-09 production, but some decent young-ish pieces who could become contributors in the right situation. Ike Diogu saw spare action in Portland before salvaging his season with a strong four-game run in Sacramento at the end of the year. In the Kings' final two games, he put up 60 points on 24-of-37 shooting and grabbed 24 rebounds. Throughout his career, Diogu has scored efficiently and done a solid job on the glass. Unfortunately, his size is a major limitation at the defensive end.

Steve Novak is as good a shooter as you'll find at the power forward position, having hit 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts during his NBA career. The rest of his game is not up to NBA standards, especially his rebounding. Six free-agent point guards outrebounded Novak last season.

Coming off a solid run in Toronto late last season, Pops Mensah-Bonsu deserves a legitimate shot. He's an NBA athlete still in search of a complete game. Richard Hendrix was a Prospectus favorite at Alabama and going into last June's draft who slipped a bit and ended up with the Warriors, a bad fit for him. Hendrix was cut early in the season before taking the court, then put up strong numbers in the D-League. Now he's playing in the summer league for the Orlando Magic. He's a quality undersized rebounder and shot-maker in the paint who needs an opportunity.

THE FILLER

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

Sean May            CHA   U   25.0   0.279  -0.9   0.435   14.1   0.02   2.0
Mikki Moore         BOS   U   33.5   0.373  -1.1   0.593   12.8   0.11   2.0
Shelden Williams    MIN   U   25.5   0.498   0.9   0.503   17.9   0.01   5.0
Channing Frye       POR   U   25.9   0.349  -1.0   0.465   11.7   0.04   2.8
Shavlik Randolph    POR   U   25.4   0.623   0.2   0.610   30.1   0.00   2.1

Here's hoping Sean May reads about Michael Sweetney resurfacing with the Boston Celtics' summer squad this week after two years out of professional basketball. Like Sweetney, May is a lottery talent in danger of eating his way out of the league. In fairness, May also had to deal with coming back from microfracture knee surgery in 2008-09, and could be in better condition and more ready to contribute next season. The skills are there.

Believe it or not, Shelden Williams actually put up some decent numbers in 2008-09 in about 500 minutes. Though Williams will never be much of a contributor on offense at the NBA level, he's a competent rebounder and defender who could be a fifth big man.

The Celtics ended up moving too quickly when they signed Mikki Moore after the trade deadline, missing out on the chance to sign Gooden or Smith when they came free. Moore is miscast as a rotation big at this stage of his career because he is weak on the glass and a middling defender. At best, he should be a fourth big in a three-player rotation. That's still ahead of Channing Frye, who brings similar skills without the ability to finish in the paint (though Frye is a superior mid-range jumpshooter).

During garbage minutes, Shavlik Randolph was effective last season in Portland, continuing a career-long trend. That Randolph has been unable to parlay that performance into a more regular role by this point seems to make it unlikely it is going to happen any time soon.

OTHERS

Maceo Baston, Indiana - Now 34, Baston's window of opportunity to become an NBA contributor is probably closed.

Juwan Howard, Charlotte - Years removed from productive play, Howard has earned the distinction of the being the longest NBA-tenured member of the Fab Five.

Othello Hunter, Atlanta - Hunter making the NBA was a bit of a surprise. There were better undersized power forwards out there, including Hendrix.

Rob Kurz, Golden State - Even more than Hunter, Kurz came out of nowhere to make the Warriors roster and play 440 minutes. He played competently in that span, and there's honor in that.

Donyell Marshall, Philadelphia - In Game One of the 76ers' series with Orlando, Marshall reminded everyone he can still make unguarded three-pointers. Unfortunately, that's about where his skills end now.

Josh McRoberts, Indiana - The poor man's Shavlik Randolph.

Malik Rose, Oklahoma City - Mothballed in New York, Rose saw some action for the Thunder after being acquired for Wilcox and was unproductive. He's just now coming to the end of a seven-year contract he signed with San Antonio in the summer of 2002. You can thank deals like that for the NBA now limiting deals to six years at the very most.

Michael Ruffin, Portland - Shortly after the Blazers picked up Ruffin as part of a three-way deal in which they sent Diogu to Sacramento, a writer asked Nate McMillan about whether Ruffin would be used as a defensive specialist. It was quickly made clear that Ruffin was not in Portland's plans, and he played 35 minutes over the next two months.

Cedric Simmons, Sacramento - Still young enough (23) to maybe make good on his potential as a Wilcox-type. So far, we haven't seen much evidence of that.

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 (07/07)
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Free Agency 2009 (07/10)

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