Predicting the Best Free-Agent Steals of NBA Offseason

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IJune 21, 2012

Predicting the Best Free-Agent Steals of NBA Offseason

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    The collective breaths of most NBA fans are still being held as the Thunder and Heat deliver us a great NBA Finals matchup.

    For those that support the other teams, two things have them in their own state of anticipation: the NBA Draft and free agency.

    The draft comes first, commencing in just over a week.

    But there are only a handful of difference makers in this group of collegiate stars, leaving most teams still wanting.

    This brings us to free agency.

    While most successful teams build through the draft, some of the league's past champions were built mostly through free agency.

    I saw the Pistons reshape their roster almost exclusively through trades and free agency in the 2000s, which helped them compete for nearly the entire decade.

    And while the bulk of the airtime will go to figuring out where the big fish are heading, there are always little fish that turn out to be every bit as important.

    Here are 10 potentially high-impact free-agent sleepers.

Ersan Ilyasova, PF

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    I recently wrote an article in which I compared Ilyasova to Dirk Nowitzki—and not because I wanted hate mail from Mavs fans.

    It's because Ilyasova is one of the best kept secrets in the league.

    He has unlimited range, is a smart passer and is improving as a rebounder.

    He also will be relatively cheap, as in around $5 million to $7 million per season.

    If he can find a team with a physical center and a good point guard (I'm looking at you, Brooklyn), he could post really good numbers.

    Last year, per 36 minutes, he averaged 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds.

    With steady playing time, this kid is going to break out.

Jason Thompson, PF

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    Physical big men are always in high demand.

    Jason Thompson is one of those guys.

    Blessed with tremendous size and a strong motor, Thompson has been largely in the shadows over the past few seasons.

    The only real knocks on him are that he doesn't have tremendous offensive skills and he doesn't block many shots.

    However, he is a steady rebounder, and at nearly 7'0" and 250 pounds, he could quickly bolster a defensive frontcourt.

    My Pistons probably will sniff at him, but they likely can't pay him.

    Instead, I could see Boston making a run at him if they decide to bring the band back together.

Darrell Arthur, PF

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    Darrell Arthur is one of those guys you don't truly appreciate until he is gone.

    Sadly for Memphis, that day is probably fast approaching.

    Sure, they likely will want to bring him back, and he is a restricted free agent.

    But the $3 million qualifying offer isn't going to scare away anyone, especially with a somewhat weak power forward draft class.

    Per 36 minutes, Arthur averaged 16 points and nearly eight rebounds per game with about a block and a half per contest.

    Dallas should really look at Arthur to come off the bench and provide some youth, size and scoring ability. Also, Oklahoma City could use more scoring up front.

Bill Walker, SF

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    Bill Walker found himself buried on the bench each of the last few years, and he has yet to fully find his game.

    But despite playing in four seasons, he is still only 24 years old.

    He also can score in bunches when he has the opportunity (15 points per 36 minutes two years ago), and he has excellent range (career 38 percent three-point shooter).

    A team like Denver could always use another swingman, especially one with outstanding range.

Gerald Green, SF

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    Despite being out of the league for three years, Green burst onto the scene and into the highlight reels with the explosiveness that made him a dunk champion years ago. 

    Still only 26, Green gave New Jersey a spark last year, averaging 18 points and five boards per 36 minutes.

    He also shot very well (39 percent from three-point range) and put together some amazing dunks.

    Portland will need an explosive wing if Nic Batum bolts, and the Lakers could also look to gain his services.

C.J. Miles, G

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    Let's look at what C.J. Miles is.

    He is a young guard with the ability to score and play defense.

    Remind you of someone?

    If you said Wesley Matthews, you probably aren't alone.

    Miles, like Matthews before him, is likely to be a nice bargain for a middle-of-the-road team like the Clippers or the Timberwolves.

    He won't command the big bucks, which will give a team the option of sitting him and making him a very good sub.

Alonzo Gee, SG

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    Alonzo Gee is one of the better kept secrets in basketball.

    A scrapper that wasn't drafted, he found a niche in Cleveland last year.

    Gee has long arms, quick hands and solid athleticism. He even managed to start about half of the Cavs games last year. Per 36 minutes, Gee averaged 13 points, six boards and 1.5 steals.

    Those numbers might not blow you away, but every team can use a gym rat that has a nose for the ball, especially if he can be had for about $2 million per season—double his current salary.

Jeremy Lin, PG

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    So two things will probably jump out at you here.

    One, most of the other players on this list are low-profile, and Lin made the cover of Sports Illustrated in consecutive weeks.

    Two, some have called Lin a product of the system in New York, and even more think he is a fluke.

    Personally, I think this kid can play, although he probably won't be the second coming of Steve Nash like some are hoping.

    Regardless, he is a free agent that showed some major potential last year.

    Also, the sample size of his success is so small it would be hard to justify a major contract.

    Hence, he will probably be a bargain, most likely right around $4-5 million per season.

D.J. Augustin, PG

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    I know he is a restricted free agent and most clubs would be crazy not to keep him around, but the Bobcats are in fact crazy.

    They are giving the team over to Kemba Walker, and most likely will be parting ways with Augustin.

    Augustin is still young (24) and has shown some serious potential.

    He also probably will be had for around $5 or $6 million per season, which—if he plays like I think he can—will be a tremendous bargain.

Chauncey Billups, PG

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    Again, here is a high-profile player on a list of no-names.

    But here is the caveat: Billups is going to be a huge value.

    He likely will sign a small contract for a contender to hopefully ride into retirement a winner.