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Free Agency 2009 (07/08)
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July 10, 2009
Free Agency 2009
The Centers

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 concluding today, we 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 | The Small Forwards | The Power 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 STANDOUT DEFENDERS

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

Anderson Varejao    CLE   U   26.6   0.529   5.5   0.565   14.8   0.06   4.0
Marcin Gortat       ORL   R   25.2   0.602   3.1   0.580   20.2   0.01   5.8
Chris Andersen      DEN   U   30.8   0.674   7.9   0.608   17.4   0.01  10.7

Next season, Varejao will play virtually all of his minutes at power forward, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O'Neal splitting time in the middle. Still, in the long term, center is both Varejao's best position and his destiny, and he's the best of this group. A dismal Eastern Conference Finals aside, Varejao had a fine defensive season thanks to his ability to neutralize the pick-and-roll and get back to his man. The pick-and-roll also tends to be Varejao's strength at the offensive end of the floor, as he can finish off-balance in the paint. The six-year, $50 million deal Varejao got from the Cavaliers (according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's excellent Brian Windhorst) is troublingly long, but not unreasonable given his importance to the team.

During the postseason, I joked on Twitter about wanting to be Gortat's agent. Alas, Guy Zucker actually holds that role, and he's a little bit heavier in the pocket now that the Dallas Mavericks have committed their mid-level exception over the full five years to Gortat, an offer the Orlando Magic surely will not match. From the perspective of Gortat's per-minute productivity, it makes a lot of sense. He was one of the league's better rebounders last season, and blocked shots nearly as frequently as Dwight Howard did. We also saw in the postseason how effective Gortat can be as a pick-and-roll option. He's always ready to receive the basketball and takes high-percentage shots. The only cause for concern is that if any group has struggled to translate per-minute performance over longer periods, it's been seven-footers. That said, Gortat definitely passed the eye test during the playoffs, so the gamble seems very reasonable.

It was a storybook season for "The Birdman," who returned from NBA suspension to play a critical role in the Nuggets' run to the Western Conference Finals. By WARP, Andersen was actually the league's most valuable reserve, and to call him and J.R. Smith sparks off the Denver bench in the postseason would be a massive understatement. Andersen ended up with a five-year deal for less than the mid-level, and here the length of the contract makes some sense. The Nuggets are willing to potentially take a hit down the road--Anderson will be nearly 36 when his contract ends--in order to spend less money now because of their precarious position vis--vis the luxury tax.

THE SOLID RESERVES

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

Antonio McDyess     DET   U   34.6   0.552   5.3   0.529   19.4   0.16   3.3
Glen Davis          BOS   R   23.3   0.411  -0.1   0.502   11.1   0.09   2.6
Rasho Nesterovic    IND   U   32.9   0.463   1.2   0.524   10.9   0.70   3.5
Zaza Pachulia       ATL   U   25.2   0.506   2.8   0.571   17.4   0.05   2.7

During a turbulent year in Detroit, McDyess had a very solid season split between starting and coming off the bench. His rebound percentage was the best of his 13-year career, beating out 2000-01, when he was 26. Now, McDyess is headed to San Antonio, which almost makes too much sense. He's got a bit more left in the tank than Kurt Thomas (and certainly more than Fabricio Oberto) does and rounds out a Spurs frontcourt that offers Gregg Popovich a variety of options to complement Tim Duncan--the shooting of Matt Bonner, the brawn of DeJuan Blair and McDyess' well-rounded game. There is little question at this point that San Antonio has had the league's best offseason.

"Big Baby" Davis is certainly the highest-ranked player who rated below replacement level last season. The trend was much more positive, as illustrated well by CelticsHub's Zach Lowe during the year. Davis' development into a threat from midrange culminated in his hitting the game-winning jumper in Game Four of the Eastern Conference semis against Orlando. Just 23, Davis has some more growing to do (as a player; hopefully not physically), and it would be nice if that meant becoming a competent defensive rebounder.

I've long been a Nesterovic fan because he plays good position defense and shoots a solid percentage from the field. Last year saw a dropoff in Nesterovic's shooting percentage and the worst rebounding of his career, and at 33 it's hard to expect that to turn around. Still, Nesterovic should make for a solid backup center the next couple of years.

Until looking at the numbers, I'd been unaware how well Pachulia rated last season. Playing mostly off the bench, he put up the best True Shooting Percentage and rebound percentage of his career. Pachulia isn't much defensively, so the numbers probably slightly overstate his contribution, but you can do a lot worse as a backup five. He'll be back with the Hawks on a four-year deal that takes him through his prime.

THE FRINGE RESERVES

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

Ryan Hollins        DAL   R   24.5   0.480   0.6   0.569   12.6   0.00   6.1
Theo Ratliff        PHI   U   36.0   0.496   1.0   0.560   13.3   0.01   8.1
Joel Anthony        MIA   R   26.7   0.444   0.6   0.521   11.2   0.02   8.2

Just 24, Hollins probably is what he is at this point. He's capable of offering a solid ten minutes a night off the bench and he has stretches when he looks like a very useful center. Hollins will make a lot of dunks, accounting for the solid shooting percentage, and block a lot of shots, and that's about it. Curiously, his evident athleticism hasn't ever really translated on the glass.

Now back to "Theo Ratliff" and no longer "Theo Ratliff's expiring contract" (which was, you'll recall, crucial to the Kevin Garnett deal), Ratliff showed he could still play last year in Philadelphia. He makes for a nice fifth big man at this point of his career. Counting on him for more than that is tough because of his chronic hip injury and his age.

Anthony is a shot-blocker; nothing more, nothing less. He ranked second to Andersen amongst regulars in block percentage in 2008-09, but the rest of his game screams D-League or worse. The combination is just enough to make Anthony playable in a rotation. Starting him, as the Heat did 28 times last season, is a major stretch.

THE PROJECTS

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

Aaron Gray          CHI   R   24.4   0.447   0.5   0.508   17.5   0.23   2.8
Robert Swift        OKC   U   23.4   0.440   0.2   0.551   15.1   0.04   4.4
Johan Petro         DEN   U   23.2   0.346  -0.8   0.429   16.2   0.02   3.8

"Project" probably isn't the right word for Gray. After four years of college in two in the pros, there's not a lot of untapped potential. Gray is a big body who is especially effective on the glass but limited by his lack of defensive mobility. That should add up to a 10-year career as a third center. That the Bulls were willing to extend a qualifying offer to make him restricted is a bit surprising.

Back in 2005-06, the good folks at SonicsCentral.com optimistically nicknamed Swift and Petro Bacardi and Coke, envisioning Seattle's center duo for the next decade. Now, that sentence seems like one of those pictures where you circle all the errors. Amazingly, Swift and Petro are just 23, so it's a tad early to write them off. While he's become more punchline than player, Swift put up decent numbers when he got on the floor last season. Danny Ainge's mancrush on Swift is well-documented, even in book form, so it's little surprise that the redhead is playing for the Celtics' summer squad. Look for him to turn up in camp in Boston on a make-good deal. Petro got buried after being dealt from Oklahoma City to Denver. He's better than his 2008-09 stats.

THE FILLER

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

Stromile Swift      PHX   U   29.4   0.309  -0.4   0.460   14.4   0.00   3.8
Solomon Jones       ATL   R   24.8   0.446   0.4   0.655   12.3   0.01   4.4
Jason Collins       MIN   U   30.4   0.269  -1.3   0.346    9.8   0.03   3.5
Jamaal Magloire     MIA   U   30.9   0.441   0.4   0.505   18.7   0.03   3.7
Jarron Collins      UTA   U   30.4   0.300  -0.5   0.502   11.2   0.05   0.9
Sean Marks          NOH   U   33.7   0.368  -0.8   0.521   13.6   0.01   3.7
Lorenzen Wright     CLE   U   33.5   0.278  -0.4   0.377   11.9   0.01   4.9

Had the Stro Show made its way to Phoenix a couple of years earlier, Swift might have been a perfect fit (in the same role Steven Hunter played in 2004-05). Alas, his athleticism seems to be fading now that he's into his late twenties, and Swift has never had the skills or basketball IQ to make up for that. Solomon Jones' numbers should have been better than they were, given he hit more than 60 percent of his shot attempts last season. He can block a shot and runs well, making him a lesser Hollins.

The Collins brothers are both on the free-agent market. Once upon a time, Jason Collins was an adjusted plus-minus darling despite poor individual advanced statistics. With age, his skills eroded to the point where not even his veteran savvy could keep him on the court. I still prefer him to his brother Jarron because of the possibility he could recapture some of the good things he did in limited minutes.

The nice thing about signing Magloire at this point is you get to write a press release touting the signing of "Former All-Star Jamaal Magloire." He bounced back from a horrendous 2007-08 to offer the Heat a decent season off the bench. He seems much older than 30, now 31.

For whatever reason, Marks keeps ending up on contending teams--San Antonio, Phoenix, and now New Orleans. He played an integral role in the Hornets' lone win over Denver, the highlight in an otherwise-forgettable season. I'd call him the world's best basketball-playing Kiwi, but that seems like damning with faint praise.

At 33, Wright is fading fast. The Cavaliers hoped he could provide a veteran presence off the bench, but he was buried long before Joe Smith came along and filled that role better than Wright ever could have done.

OTHERS

Calvin Booth, Sacramento - Block shots, will travel (and has--seven teams since 2003-04).

Melvin Ely, New Orleans - Was buried in favor of Marks, which says it all about his 2008-09 campaign.

Adonal Foyle, Orlando - A thoughtful, involved human being who no longer can contribute much on the court to an NBA team.

Jake Voskuhl, Toronto - Posted a 0.4 PER in his stint as an injury fill-in with the Raptors.

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 (07/08)
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The Magic's Offseason (07/20)

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