NBA Free Agents 2012: Underrated Players Who Will Play Vital Roles on New Teams

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Nicolas Batum #88 of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles past Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at Staples Center on February 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

In this year's NBA free-agent pool there have been a handful of marquee names like Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Eric Gordon, but those guys aren't the most interesting players on the market.

I'm talking about the other guys. The guys who will be signed to smaller deals, play a different role and receive less publicity. 

I'm talking about underrated role players. Every team needs their presence. A successful basketball team has several jobs to fill besides "star." These players will either provide a solid short-term plan for a rebuilding squad, or shore up a contender's rotation for the time being.

Let's take a look at a few underrated players who will play vital roles for their new teams this season. They may have signed already, or not, but either way they're presence will be important for one lucky squad.


Nicolas Batum

Batum is versatile and lanky. He plays hard on both ends of the floor, and he can shoot the three ball. He's also a solid ball-handler and can be a matchup nightmare (6'8'', but can play guard). 

That sounds like a perfect role player to me. Batum is the perfect addition for a team that's almost there, which is probably why the Minnesota Timberwolves are in heavy pursuit, according to's Fran Blinebury

The Wolves are evidently getting ready to extend a four-year, $50-million offer to Portland swingman Nic Batum.

Batum would give the Timberwolves something they lack. With Michael Beasley agreeing to a three-year contract with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, the T'Wolves need a scoring presence on the wing. 

Batum is never going to be a star player, but he's 6'8'' and only 23 years old. He shot 39 percent from three-point land last season and averaged nearly 14 points per game. Bringing him to Minnesota would provide a perfect complement to Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Wesley Johnson. 

Of course, Portland would benefit as well if he decided to stay put.

Either way, Batum's signature will make one team extremely happy. 


Brandon Roy

I'll inadvertently stick with the Portland theme here. Roy made the shocking decision to retire before last season because of his ailing knees, but he wants to make a comeback this season. 

The 27-year-old former All-Star will make one team very happy for the right price. He won't command a long-term deal until he proves his health, but his talent makes him worth the risk in the right situation. 

According to, the Cavaliers are interested in Roy's services. 

The Cavs are interested in the former Portland Trail Blazers star, who abruptly retired before last season because of chronic knee pain. A person familiar with Cleveland's interest told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the Cavaliers have not spoken to the 27-year-old or set up a visit with him. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sides are only in preliminary discussions.

The report then goes on to state that the Golden State Warriors are also interested. Both teams would make sense, but I see Cleveland as an ideal situation.

Roy would be able to split time with rookie Dion Waiters in the Cavalier backcourt. He wouldn't have to carry a major load, and he could mentor Waiters on the rigors of the NBA. 

Cleveland would benefit from his scoring (19 points per game for his career) and his versatility (4.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists). He's a dynamic talent whose sole reservation are his insufficient knees. 

Signing Roy is a risk, but Cleveland has the cap room to play with right now. They aren't on the radar for anything you'd consider "blockbuster," so why not give Roy a chance?

It's a perfect situation for both sides. 


Steve Novak

At this point I can honestly say I have no clue where Novak will play next season, but one thing is certain: Someone needs to give him a chance.

There isn't a playoff contender in the NBA that wouldn't benefit from Novak's sharpshooting. Granted, it's the only thing he brings to the table, but the last time I checked three points is more beneficial than two. 

His perimeter shooting alone makes him valuable. 

Novak is 29 years old and 6'10''. His lanky frame always gives him room to get his shot off, and his 44-percent career three-point average is a testament to that.

Last year, Novak averaged nearly nine points per game for the Knicks. His production really took off once Jeremy Lin manned the point, and he wound up shooting 47 percent from three for the entire season.

Spot-up shooters of Novak's variety are necessary to playoff runs. Just look at this year's teams. Miami had Shane Battier and James Jones. San Antonio had Matt Bonner. Oklahoma City (if they ever wanted to use him) had Daequan Cook. Boston had Ray Allen.

Do you get the point?

Guys like Novak don't bring much else to the table, but the element they do bring is extremely important to their team's success.

He isn't the "sexy" signing, but he will make one general manager look savvy.