NBA Free Agency 2012: 5 Best Under-the-Radar Moves so Far
The NBA's free-agent moratorium period ended yesterday, and with the flood gates open, a flurry of signings and trades cascaded down upon the league. Some of these deals we knew were going down long before the 11th, but others developed as soon as the market for the top players at each position cleared out.
Eighteen of Sports Illustrated’s Top 25 Free Agents already know which jersey they’ll be donning this fall, while Jeremy Lin and Eric Gordon are all but locks to be re-signed by their teams as restricted free agents. Some likely NBA starters such as JaVale McGee and O.J. Mayo are undecided right now, but the height of free agency is behind us.
Now, the players here are by no means anonymous—those players that fill out the end of NBA benches are usually the last to find teams in free agency. Still, their arrivals might not be heralded apart from the fans in their new city, but that does not mean that these five will not have a significant impact this upcoming season.
5. Hasheem Thabeet
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In what is sure to become a series with Greg Oden returning in 2013, the Thunder are now hosts of Extreme Makeover: Big Man Edition. Despite looking like a super-sized walking stick insect, Thabeet still has the raw ability to be an able center on the NBA level. Being the tallest man in the league at 7’3” doesn’t hurt either.
The reason this move is perfect for both moves is what each party expects from the other. Thabeet wants to not be the center of attention and scrutiny while earning his playing time, while the Thunder expect a third center that can come in and perhaps team with Cole Aldrich to create a towering frontcourt on the second unit. Also, the young Thunder’s competitiveness is infectious, and Thabeet will have a group of youthful, but emotionally mature teammates to develop with.
His rebounding is suspect and his offensive game as intimidating as the Easter Bunny, but Thabeet’s shot-blocking and presence in the lane will be a factor whenever he is in the game. He needs to improve his footwork in order to reduce fouling, but is more than worth the small risk of his two-year deal.
He could be part of a scary shot-blocking duo with Serge Ibaka or allow for a more offense-focused Thunder lineup with Kevin Durant playing the four. The possibilities are captivating.
4. Michael Beasley
Continuing with the theme of underwhelming No. 2 overall picks, Beasley’s signing was swept under the rug nationally because it occurred in the immediate aftermath of Steve Nash departing to Los Angeles. What should not be discarded is that Beasley’s talent is still in abundance, even if his defense and motivation is not.
Beasley has had numerous issues with marijuana throughout his career (as well as his hair), but his ability to be the most athletic and effective finisher forward on the roster makes him worth the risk at $6 million per year.
Most importantly, the Phoenix Suns are at a point where taking a risk on Beasley is the right thing to do. Coach Alvin Gentry has a player-friendly, but discipline-based coaching style that should make Beasley notice and be motivated to reduce his erratic on-court tendencies while still liking and respecting his coach.
The team is rebuilding behind Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat, so a three-year deal is the perfect time frame for Beasley to prove (or not prove) that he deserves to be a piece of the puzzle in Phoenix.
3. Jarrett Jack
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In a deal that developed early morning yesterday, Jack was traded from the New Orleans Hornets to the Golden State Warriors as part of a three-team deal. The New Orleans Hornets benefited in that they cleared cap space and paved the way for either young gun in Greivis Vasquez or rookie Austin Rivers to start at point guard, but let’s talk about Jack coming to the Warriors in a deal that also sent the disappointing Dorell Wright to Philadelphia.
The Warriors now find themselves with a strong starting-level point guard that they have the luxury of bringing off the bench for either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Jack filled in better than expected last season, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game in the unenviable situation of taking over for the traded Chris Paul. Curry’s knees derailed his season last year, so Jack is top-level insurance in case Curry struggles in coming back.
This is a low risk deal for the Warriors, who have Jack for the final year of his deal for $5.5 million. Jack is probably too expensive to be a long-term backup, but this move is a brilliant safeguard for a Warriors team that does not want their season to derail if Curry or Thompson has to miss extended time with an injury.
2. Jerryd Bayless
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O.J. Mayo’s time in Memphis seems to be done, but Bayless is an able replacement in come in and be the main focus of the bench unit. Even better, he fills small, but still important needs all across the board.
A jolt of scoring as a combo guard off the bench? Check. A three-point threat (42.3 percent in 2011) to replace Mayo? Check. Flexible enough to sometimes play shooting guard on the second unit so first round pick Tony Wroten Jr. can get minutes at point? Check.
Bayless’s contract is $3 million for 2012-13 with a player option for 2013, which likely means two years as the perfect bench scorer for the Grizzlies before Tony Wroten is ready to inherit the role.
1. Lou Williams
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Williams might have considered staying otherwise, but the 76ers’ signing of Nick Young to fill his bench scoring role slammed the door shut on his stay in Philadelphia. Young will drop 30 points more often, but Williams offers much more than Young beyond his shooting abilities. Because of his passing and foul-drawing abilities, Williams is much less likely than Young to put up abominable performances during the nights he does not light up the scoreboard.
After being the first player in almost 20 years to lead team in scoring while coming off the bench with a career high 14.9 points per game, Williams will be Joe Johnson’s replacement at shooting guard with the Hawks. Williams is not the player Johnson is, but for a $15 million difference in salary between the two, the downgrade is not terribly steep.
In fact, $5 million per year at the midlevel exception is a bargain for a starting shooting guard in the league nowadays. Williams made just 40.7 percent of his shots last year, but made a respectable 36.2 percent of his threes and excelled in making his way the free throw line, finishing 14th in the NBA in free throw attempts per 48 minutes and shooting 81.2 percent once he got there.
Williams has never played over 30 minutes per game (he played 29.9 per in 2009-10), but if he can manage the increased role then Atlanta will have obtained a cheap and versatile option at shooting guard to keep around as they make their big run in free agency next summer.