6 Biggest NBA Free-Agent Steals Thus Far

Bob Bajek@bobbajekAnalyst IIIJanuary 25, 2012

6 Biggest NBA Free-Agent Steals Thus Far

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    NBA free agency was really fast and fun this year, with players changing teams quicker than you could say shoot.

    Big names like Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul changed teams, ultimately affecting the NBA's power balance.

    However, there were some smaller moves that might have gone under the radar but provided teams with a significant upgrade.

    Here are the six biggest free-agent steals thus far.

6. Portland Trail Blazers PF/C Kurt Thomas

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    While Jamal Crawford was the most celebrated signing by the Portland Trail Blazers, signing Kurt Thomas away from the Chicago Bulls was perhaps a bigger deal.

    Thomas, the NBA's oldest player at 39, provides the Trail Blazers with a strong defensive post presence the team has lacked since including Joel Przybilla in the trade with the Charlotte Bobcats for Gerald Wallace. 

    The 16-year veteran is a good shot blocker, contests shots well and can draw charges like there is no tomorrow. Thomas has a nice mid-range jumper and plays well around the rim.

    Portland center Marcus Camby missed three games to injury earlier this month, so Thomas just stepped in while averaging 6.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game on 62.5 percent shooting.

    Thomas provides the Trail Blazers with depth if Camby goes down with an injury.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves PG J.J. Barea

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired some electricity off their bench with the signing of J.J. Barea from the Dallas Mavericks.

    Minnesota gets a top reserve who was a key contributor in the Mavericks' championship run a year ago.

    Barea is a speedy Puerto Rican baller who can slash to the hoop or dish out an easy assist.

    Whenever Barea plays with Ricky Rubio on the court, the Timberwolves can play at a blistering pace and score well.

    So far, Barea is averaging 10.8 points and 1.8 assists in six games. He has a strained left hamstring injury at the moment, but he'll jump start the T'wolves when he returns to health.

4. Dallas Mavericks SG Delonte West

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    The Dallas Mavericks needed a backup guard when J.J. Barea left town to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    So the Mavericks went out and signed Delonte West from the Boston Celtics and have no regrets.

    West, an eight-year veteran who balled at St. Joseph's, has a similar role as Barea. He is called to change the game into an uptempo pace while giving some scoring punch.

    The 6'3" West has more length than Barea and also brings starting experience if shooting guard Vince Carter gets injured. He has 8.2 points, 3.4 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 23 minutes per game.

    West, 28, will be key in trying to help the Mavericks defend their NBA title.

3: Indiana Pacers PF David West

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    The Indiana Pacers made a statement when they signed power forward David West from the New Orleans Hornets.

    The 31-year-old West is a former All-Star with the Hornets and has career averages of 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.

    At 6'9" and 240 pounds, West provides the Pacers with a solid post player who plays well off starting center Roy Hibbert. He also makes Indiana deeper as Tyler Hansbrough can play off the bench.

    West's 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds don't tell the whole story. His presence has boosted the Pacers to a 12-5 record, positioning his team to do some damage in the playoffs.

2. Los Angeles Clippers SG Chauncey Billups

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    One of the biggest surprises was when the New York Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups and made him a free agent.

    Billups' services were immediately called upon by the Los Angeles Clippers, and he has been a key contributor as the starting shooting guard.

    While Billups has always been the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, Denver Nuggets and Knicks, he has adjusted nicely to the off-guard position. He is averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 2.6 rebounds a game for the Clippers.

    Not only do the Clippers gain a solid player in Billups, but the savvy 35-year-old veteran has vast playoff experience and an NBA ring to boot.

    The Clippers might have gotten bigger names in Caron Butler and Chris Paul, but Billups was an underrated signing.

1. Chicago Bulls SG Richard Hamilton

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    The Chicago Bulls were one player away from going to the NBA Finals last year, and they seem to have found that missing piece in former Detroit Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton.

    The Pistons bought out the rest of Hamilton's contract and that left him as a free agent. The Bulls signed him up right away, and the 33-year-old veteran from Connecticut has been money.

    Hamilton has averaged 14.3 points, 3.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds a game on 50.9 percent shooting.

    Whenever Hamilton is on the hardwood, he spaces the floor with his movement and superior passing abilities. He can slash to the hoop and has nice length at 6'7".

    What does Hamilton mean to the Bulls exactly? Rip adds so much more offensive potency, as the Bulls average 103.7 points per game when he plays as opposed to just 90.4 points when he was injured.

    Bob Bajek is an NBA Featured Columnist. He is also a freelance reporter and can be followed at Patch.com and Twitter.