NBA Free Agents 2012: 10 Restricted Free Agents Who Will Make Impact Next Season
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Looking back at the 2008 NBA draft four years later, it's amazing to go through the list of draft picks and see just how deep this draft class has turned out to be.
It's not so much that it's top-heavy with All-Stars like the '03 or '98 drafts. Rather, it's the overall depth of the entire class that's eye-catching.
Most players drafted in '08 play significant roles on their respective teams. Eight guys taken outside the lottery even started playoff games for their squads this postseason.
That said, there is top-shelf talent headlining this class. Three of the top five picks—Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love—have made an All-NBA first or second team already, and of course, No. 1 overall pick Rose already has an MVP award to his name. Not surprisingly, those three players signed huge contract extensions last offseason.
However, the vast majority of the '08 draft class are about to enter restricted free agency after completing their fourth seasons in the NBA. Although only one of them has been named an All-Star—Roy Hibbert was selected as the requisite representative for a starless Pacers team that finished third in the Eastern Conference—there are plenty of All-Star caliber players and solid starters looking for a substantial pay raise this summer.
Here are 10 restricted free agents who can change a franchise's fortunes next year, beginning with some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention: Jeremy Lin
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We're only four months removed from the madness of Linsanity, where Jeremy Lin made a lot of scouts and GMs look rather silly for not giving him a contract when he was sitting on the waiver wire.
Rest assured, that won't happen again this summer as Lin will be paid like a proper starting point guard, as much for marketing purposes as his play on the court.
Most likely the Knicks, who are in desperate need of a competent point guard and were at their best this season with Lin in the lineup, will retain the services of 2012's biggest surprise.
Honorable Mention: George Hill
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During the second half of the season, George Hill emerged as the Pacers' starting point guard after being traded to Indiana for Kawhi Leonard on draft night 2011.
He continued his strong play in the postseason, part of an Indiana squad that came close to reaching the conference finals. With no other solution presenting itself at point guard, Hill should stay with the Pacers and see if he can fill the role on a permanent basis.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Rush
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Brandon Rush broke out in 2012 with the Warriors, setting career marks in nearly every category.
Most notably, Rush's offensive game went from nonexistent to deadly, as he shot 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from three. Among NBA guards with at least 35 games played, only James Harden had a higher true shooting percentage and only Dwyane Wade blocked more shots.
As a prototypical complementary wing who defends and spaces the floor, a lot of contenders will vie with each other to acquire Rush this offseason.
The question the Warriors must ask themselves is this: Does Rush's breakout mean he is a building block for the future, or simply a luxury role player they have to overpay to keep on a rebuilding team?
10. Anthony Randolph
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The 22-year-old Randolph has already played for three different teams in his four seasons, but for various reasons has not gotten a real shot at playing time. He hasn't topped 40 games played since his rookie year.
A lack of talent certainly isn't the cause. Over his career, Randolph has averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Last season he posted a higher PER than All-Stars Rajon Rondo and Andre Iguodala.
We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from Randolph. A team with room to give him significant playing time would do well to unleash Randolph's tantalizing potential. The Rockets have shown a penchant for acquiring talented but troubled players and they could use some depth in their frontcourt.
9. Courtney Lee
The Houston Rockets swingman has been a consistent performer throughout his career. He specializes in spacing the court and knocking down open jumpers. Lee has hit 40 percent of his triples in three of his first four seasons.
Also, his commitment to playing defense makes him a valuable commodity. Lee can guard opposing 2s and reliably contain them without fouling.
With an in-demand skill set—teams, especially contenders, are always looking for three-point specialists who can guard the wings—Lee should get a nice contract this offseason. A team like the L.A. Clippers or Chicago Bulls could use him.
8. Michael Beasley
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Beasley, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, has been a major disappointment so far in his career.
After doing nothing playing alongside Dwyane Wade in South Beach, Beasley put up big numbers for one season in Minnesota before having trouble cracking Rick Adelman's rotation last year.
Perhaps it was not totally unrelated that the T'Wolves were a much better team in 2012 than 2011.
Therein lies the conundrum with pursuing Beasley. He's got amazing talent and can score the ball at a high rate, but his attitude, decision-making and questionable effort make him a risky proposition.
In the right situation (namely, a scorer off the bench) Beasley can help a good team like the Lakers or Clippers get over the hump. If he goes to a young team in rebuilding mode, however, he may put up stats, but is unlikely to help much in the locker room or the wins column.
7. Ryan Anderson
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Named the league's Most Improved Player in 2012, Ryan Anderson broke out in his first year as a full-time starter, putting up 16 points and eight boards a game, while also leading the league in three-pointers made.
Anderson will generate some buzz in free agency because he plays a role that is becoming increasingly popular: that of the stretch-4.
No one is better at playing that role than Anderson, whose offensive efficiency ranks up there with the best. Anderson ranked fourth in the NBA in offensive rating in 2012, largely because he shoots nearly 40 percent from three on a league-leading number of attempts and also knocks down 88 percent of his free throws. He hardly ever gives the ball away either, finishing fourth in turnover percentage last year.
Throw in his underrated rebounding—he was sixth in the league last season in offensive boards—and you have a very valuable player. Anderson will probably get major dollars from Orlando this summer, which is good for him because I suspect that a large chunk of his production is driven by the presence of Dwight Howard next to him in the Magic lineup.
6. JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee has been the punchline to a lot of jokes over his first four seasons in the league, making some truly boneheaded plays that made SportsCenter's weekly "Not-Top-10" list.
A lot of the blame for his slow understanding of the game is now being shifted to the situation he endured as a member of the Wizards after he looked good playing for a professional outfit in Denver at the end of last season.
The Nuggets signed Nene to a huge deal last offseason, then promptly traded him to Washington to acquire McGee, so you'd have to think they're committed to him for the long-term.
Denver should make that a reality this summer by re-signing McGee and then hoping that George Karl can turn the talented big man into a legitimate starting center.
5. Nicolas Batum
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Out of all the three-point shooting wing stoppers available on the market, Batum is the most coveted due to his length and athleticism.
Standing at 6'8" with long arms, Batum can guard all three perimeter positions. He's adept at getting into passing lanes and also blocking shots. Batum was one of a small number of players who averaged one steal and one block per game in 2012.
As a 39 percent three-point shooter, Batum can knock down shots from the outside. He's also great at running the floor and finishes well around the basket. He lacks a mid-range game but is still incredibly efficient on the offensive end.
Portland has expressed its desire to keep him in the fold and I expect them to hang on to Batum as one of their building blocks for the future.
4. Brook Lopez
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After not missing a single game over the first three years of his career, Brook Lopez missed all but five contests in 2012.
Still, everyone knows what Lopez brings to the table. He's one of the best scoring big men in the game, capable of efficiently putting up 20 points a game.
On the other hand, he's the worst rebounding center in the league and doesn't provide much on defense other than decent shot-blocking numbers.
Luckily for Lopez, the dearth of high-scoring post players in the league today makes him a valuable asset. The Nets must hang on to Lopez in order to try and coax unrestricted free agent Deron Williams into staying, and we'll probably hear Lopez's name come up constantly in Dwight Howard trade rumors next season.
3. O.J. Mayo
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As the former No. 3 overall pick in 2008, O.J. Mayo hasn't lived up to the hype so far in the NBA, but in my opinion the blame lies with his circumstances, not his abilities.
Over the past few seasons, Memphis has given out huge contracts to Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, so Mayo has been relegated to a fairly low spot on the Grizzlies totem pole.
Also, defensive standout Tony Allen is a more natural fit on the floor with the four big-money players than Mayo is, which has shifted Mayo into an uncomfortable sixth man role.
In addition to being a very polished scorer who can also make plays for his teammates, Mayo is willing to guard the other team's best perimeter player on defense. The Grizzlies even entrusted him with harassing Chris Paul for stretches this postseason.
His numbers haven't wowed anyone so far in his career, and thus the price should be low for this 24-year-old restricted free agent.
And since the Grizzlies have nearly $49 million tied up in the quartet mentioned above next season, they likely won't be matching any substantial offers for Mayo.
The talent is there for Mayo to break out into a star. All he needs is the right opportunity. He would be a great fit as a starter for a team like the Clippers, Celtics or Timberwolves next season.
2. Roy Hibbert
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Roy Hibbert could not have engineered a better year for himself heading into restricted free agency.
Hibbert now has an All-Star nod on his resume, but the biggest driving force behind his selection was the necessity to recognize Indiana's successful season with an All-Star representative. Since the East needed another big man, Hibbert fit the bill.
Don't get me wrong, Hibbert had the best year of his career by far, and has come a long way since entering the league. However, he's going to get a bigger contract than he deserves this summer after shining in the playoffs against substantially inferior competition.
In the 2012 postseason, Hibbert was able to average better than 11 boards and three blocks per game because he got to play the Magic sans Dwight Howard and the Heat sans any legit NBA big man after Chris Bosh (who's not even a center) went down in Game 1 of the series.
Hibbert will be cashing in this summer, as the Pacers will be shelling out a lot of money to keep Hibbert in Indiana long term.
1. Eric Gordon
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Like Brook Lopez, 2012 was basically a lost season for Eric Gordon. He appeared in only nine games for New Orleans. The difference between him and Lopez, though, is that Gordon missed 20-plus games for the third consecutive season, a rather disturbing trend for a player who just turned 23.
That said, Gordon is the most talented restricted free agent on the market. He's just one year removed from averaging better than 22 points per game while dishing out nearly 4.5 assists as well.
Gordon is an offensive machine. Despite his diminutive stature, Gordon's incredible strength and sneaky athleticism fuels his frequent forays to the rim, where he can finish surprisingly well for his size while also earning himself a ton of trips to the free-throw line.
Over the past couple of seasons, Gordon has also shown vast improvement in his ability to find open teammates and has become one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the league. Throw in his gritty defense and you've got a future multiple time All-Star on your hands.
As the primary compensation for giving up Chris Paul, the Hornets won't let Gordon go even if he wants to. Now that they own the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, New Orleans is dreaming of an Eric Gordon/Anthony Davis foundation to build around for years to come.