Pros and Cons of the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2012

Pros and Cons of the Top 25 2013 NBA Free Agents

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    The NBA free agent class of 2013 is shaping up to be one of the better classes in recent memory, with a handful of potential franchise-changing superstars entering the final year of their contracts in 2012-13.

    Beyond the Chris Paul's and Dwight Howard's of the world are a slew of quality role players who might not set the world on fire but, at the right price, could become valuable contributors on a championship squad somewhere down the line.

    For the teams with cap space opening up in the summer of 2013, allow this to be your free agency purchasing guide.

    In reverse order, let's go through the positives and negatives of each of the top 25 potential 2013 NBA free agents.

    (Two brief notes: Certain players on this list are likely to sign an extension by Oct. 31, making them ineligible for 2013 free agency. For anyone who's considered a favorite to do so, they've been marked with a * in the title slide.

    Also, I've left off players who would only reach free agency by declining a player option that they have no business declining, such as Andre Iguodala of the Denver Nuggets and Monta Ellis of the Milwaukee Bucks. $10 million+ per year isn't coming as easily in this new CBA market, gentlemen.)

25. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs

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    Pros: Tiago Splitter, in limited minutes for the San Antonio Spurs in 2011-12, put up numbers suggesting he could be a quality starter in the NBA, given the opportunity.

    Per 36 minutes in 2011-12, Tiago Splitter averaged 17.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks on 61.8 percent shooting from the field. The 6'11" Splitter has the size to bang around in the post, which makes him excellent at drawing fouls (6.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes over his career). 

    Casual basketball fans might not know Splitter's name, but he's still in line for a massive raise in the summer of 2013 over the three-year, $11 million contract he's currently finishing up.

    Cons: Splitter's main weakness at this point comes on the defensive end, as he's not the most mobile center in the NBA. That causes him to struggle in pick-and-roll coverage, especially.

    Opposing centers put up a per-48-minute PER of 17.5 against Splitter in 2011-12, according to, which he'll have to improve upon if he hopes to become a starter someday.

    He's already 27 years old, so it's unlikely that he'll improve significantly from this point forward. With that said, if he can repeat his 2011-12 performance stretched over 25 to 30 minutes per game, he'd be guaranteed at least a mid-level deal in the summer of 2013.

24. Eric Maynor, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Pros: For Oklahoma City Thunder fans who lament Russell Westbrook's shoot-first, pass-second nature, Eric Maynor will be, to steal a phrase from Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn, "manna from heaven."

    Maynor's a pass-first, shoot-second guard who finished more than 35 percent of his possessions in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons with assists, according to ESPN's John Hollinger.

    He can also hold his own defensively, having allowed opposing point guards to only average a per-48-minute PER of 14.2 against him during the 2010-11 season, according to

    Cons: Maynor is coming off an ACL tear in his right knee from January, which will likely be enough reason for the Thunder not to offer an extension before Oct. 31.

    Assuming Maynor comes back healthy (he's looked fine to this point), he'll need to focus on boosting his shooting percentage significantly.

    His best-shooting season came when he was a rookie, and his 41.8 percent average from the floor won't exactly qualify him for many All-Star games, to say the least.

23. , Atlanta Hawks

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    Pros: Devin Harris is a pure-bred scoring point guard, which could be a major boon for a team willing to use him in the right way.

    He's averaged nearly five free throws per game over his eight-year career by not being afraid to drive the ball into the paint and going hard to the rim.

    In the 2011-12 season, Harris shot a career-high from three-point range (36.2 percent) and averaged his highest field goal percentage (44.5) since his third season in the league, according to Basketball Reference.

    Cons: Like Russell Westbrook, Harris carries the reputation of being a shoot-first, pass-second point guard, having only averaged five assists per game over his eight-year career.

    Harris also won't be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year any time soon, having allowed opposing point guards to put up a per-48-minute PER of 16.6 against him in the 2011-12, according to

    He could stand to improve his overall field goal percentage, which hasn't been above 45 percent since the 2007-08 season and also needs to develop more consistency with his three-point shot.

22. Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks

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    Pros: Darren Collison could be one of the league's best kept secrets in terms of explosive, speedy point guards.

    He's able to get to the rim in a flash, yet finished with a career-high assist rate (35.4 percent) in 2011-12, according to HoopData.

    Collison started nearly every game for the Indiana Pacers at point guard over the past two and a half years, which should ease his transition the Dallas Mavericks' new starting point guard.

    Cons: Collison's field goal percentage has dropped in each of his three seasons, going from 47.7 percent as a rookie to 44 percent in 2011-12. His PER has, too, going from 16.54 as a rookie to 13.58 in his third season.

    Despite earning more minutes in each of his three seasons, both his scoring and assist numbers have dropped each year. He averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 assists in only 27.8 minutes per game as a rookie, but managed only 11.9 points and 5.5 assists in 31.3 minutes per game in 2011-12.

    As a career 36.3 percent three-point shooter, he could also stand to take more than the 1.5 three-point attempts he's averaged per game over his three-year career.

21. J.J. Redick, Orlando Magic

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    Pros: There's no mentioning J.J. Redick without immediately referencing his three-point shooting ability.

    Redick hasn't been a superstar in the NBA like he was back at Duke, but he is a career 40 percent shooter from three-point range who shot a career-high  41.8 percent from downtown in 2011-12 on a career-high 4.1 attempts per game.

    With Arron Afflalo now in Orlando, Redick's days with the Magic could be limited. Any team in need of a confident shooter should be dialing Magic general manager Rob Hennigan's number before Redick hits free agency in the summer of 2013.

    Cons: Redick has evolved from his days of utilizing the vaunted Duke "flop everywhere" defensive strategy but still isn't a threat to make many game-changing defensive plays.

    He's only averaged 0.3 steals per game over the course of his six-year career and has only blocked 14 total shots during that time.

    Redick also won't be accused of being able to jump out of a gym any time soon. He's not a scoring guard in the mold of Devin Harris or Darren Collison; he's much more content to pick you apart with mid- and long-range jumpers. 

20. Marvin Williams, Utah Jazz

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    Pros: Marvin Williams may be one of the most unrecognized elite wing defenders in the NBA, as he only allowed opposing 3's to put up a per-48-minute PER of 11.8 against him in 2011-12, according to

    He also took a step forward offensively (in some regards) in 2011-12, averaging a career-high 38.9 percent shooting on a career-high 2.6 three-point field goal attempts per game.

    He's not a superstar, but he's a solid role player that won't hurt a team in many respects.

    Cons: Williams has never been an elite scorer, averaging only 11.5 points per game over his seven-year career, and the Utah Jazz shouldn't expect much more than that from him as he enters his athletic prime.

    His field goal percentage plummeted in 2011-12 to a career-low 43.2 percent, despite the sudden boost in three-point shooting, as he struggled converting both at the rim (53.9 percent) and on long two-pointers (34 percent), according to HoopData.

    He's never quite lived up to the five-year, $37.5 million contract Atlanta handed him in 2009 but could opt out of his $7.5 million early termination option in 2013-14 in exchange for longer-term security. 

19. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Pros: After the 2012 All-Star break, Nikola Pekovic averaged 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds (including 3.5 offensive boards) in only 29.8 minutes per game.

    Now that Kevin Love is out for the start of the regular season with a broken hand, the Minnesota Timberwolves will rely on Pekovic for even more frontcourt leadership.

    That's only going to force Pek to take another step forward in his development and likely average 30-35 minutes per game in Love's absence. Nightly averages of close to 20 points and 10 rebounds aren't out of the question in the early going of the 2012-13 season.

    Cons: For a big man with the size (6'11", 290 pounds) of Pekovic, you'd like to see him alter more shots defensively. Over his two-year career, he's averaged fewer than one block per game.  

    He's also not the most mobile defender, but does give the Timberwolves a defensive backbone down in the post against bigs like Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers or Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Love has been singing Pekovic's praises in the preseason about how he's improved as a passer, but his career average of 0.6 assists per game have me in the "let's-wait-and-see" approach. 

18. David West, Indiana Pacers

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    Pros: For a big man, the 6'9" David West is a golden god of the mid-range game, having averaged nearly 46 percent shooting on roughly five shots per game from 10 feet or beyond in 2011-12, according to HoopData.

    With Roy Hibbert manning the middle for the Indiana Pacers, West's shooting ability forces defenders away from the paint. That only helps open easy offensive looks for Hibbert and West's other teammates.

    He's also solid in terms of ball-handling, having averaged over two assists per game for each of his past six seasons.

    Cons: Despite holding opposing 4's to a per-48-minute PER of 14.8 in 2011-12, according to, the 32-year-old West won't be in the running for any All-NBA Defensive teams any time soon.

    He's a little over 18 months removed from an ACL tear, which somewhat limited his mobility during the 2011-12 season.

    West's per-36-minutes scoring stats plunged in 2011-12, and it merits watching whether that trend continues in 2012-13 as West enters a contract season. 

17. Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets

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    Pros: Kevin Martin has long been one of the most efficient scorers in the league, as he excels at drawing and hitting free throws like few other guards can.

    Before the 2011-12 season, his PER hovered around the 20 range for the five seasons prior, suggesting his place as one of the league's top shooting guards.

    Now, with the youth movement afoot in Houston, the Rockets will rely on Martin to be the veteran leader who can guide the way and set the example for their horde of rookies and sophomores.

    Cons: Martin may earn high marks offensively, but defense is another story entirely.

    He showed improvement in 2011-12, allowing opposing 2's to only put up a per-48-minute PER of 12.6 against him, according to, but has been somewhat of a sieve in seasons past.

    Martin also could start carrying the dreaded injury-prone label around. He played 80 games in the 2010-11 season but has missed at least 20 games in each of the other four seasons starting in 2007-08. 

16. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Pros: Defense, defense, defense.

    In the 2012-13 NBA general manager survey, Allen graded out as the top wing defender in the league, with 33.3 percent (10 GM's in all) saying he deserved the distinction.

    It's not hard to see why. In the 2011-12 season, Allen smothered opposing 3's, holding them to a per-48-minute PER of only 11.4, according to

    Cons: Offense, offense, offense.

    For as solid as Allen is on the defensive end, he's that shaky offensively. Blown layups became so routine for Allen that the team started making him pay $100 every missed breakaway, he told Zach Lowe (then with Sports Illustrated) in an interview back in April.

    His career 48.2 percent average from the floor might give him the appearance of a solid scorer, but he's a player that opponents can largely ignore on the offensive end of the court.

15. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

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    Pros: There's virtually no chance the Toronto Raptors sign DeMar DeRozan to an extension before Oct. 31, setting him up for the prospect of a monster contract year in 2012-13.

    DeRozan averaged roughly 17 points per game for the Raptors in each of the past two seasons, proving adept at getting to the charity stripe and knocking down freebies.

    He's still young (only 23 years old) and plenty athletic, too. DeRozan still has much room to grow on the offensive end but has already proven his ability to consistently score in the league.

    Cons: The Raps just drafted Terrence Ross with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 draft, so unless DeRozan can prove he belongs as the starting 3, he could be on his way out of Toronto. 

    That could be a problem for DeRozan. During the 2011-12 season, he allowed opposing 3's to average a per-48-minute PER of 14.5, according to, while he only mustered a 10.4 PER at the 3 offensively.

    He's too one-dimensional, a scorer who's averaged fewer than two assists per game over his three-year career. For someone so focused on points, his career three-point shooting average (20.6 percent) leaves much to be desired, too.

14. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls *

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    Pros: Like Tony Allen, Taj Gibson earns the lion's share of his money on the defensive end of the court.

    Gibson limited opposing power forwards to a per-48-minute PER of 12.6 in 2011-12, according to, and has blocked 1.3 shots per game in each of his three career seasons.

    ESPN's Marc Stein recently reported that "many rival teams expect the Bulls to have Gibson signed to a new deal by month's end," with Gibson the likely heir to the Bulls' starting forward spot and Carlos Boozer a likely amnesty candidate somewhere down the line.

    Cons: Like Allen, Gibson isn't renowned for his offensive play, although he made strides in that department during the 2011-12 season.

    Per 36 minutes, Gibson has never averaged more than 14 points per game, and his defensive rebounding numbers per-36 minutes have fallen in each of his three seasons.

    Gibson lacks the shooting range of a prototypical stretch 4, having shot under 38 percent on all attempts from 10 feet of further in 2011-12, according to In that regard, Boozer remains his superior, by far.

13. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

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    Pros: In Paul Millsap's past two years with the Utah Jazz, he's averaged somewhere around 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block per game.

    He's an efficient scorer (career average of 52.2 percent from the field) who's also developed into a solid free throw shooter, especially for a frontcourt player.

    Millsap can also knock down the mid-range jumper consistently, having averaged 42 percent from 16-23 feet during the 2011-12 season, according to HoopData.

    Cons: At 6'8", Millsap lacks the ideal height to size up to some of the larger 4's in the Western Conference, such as Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    He allowed opposing power forwards to average a per-48-minute PER of 18.3 against him in the 2011-12 season, according to

    Millsap will be battling for minutes in a crowded frontcourt of Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, which could limit his per-game statistical dominance in 2012-13. 

12. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Pros: At 6'4", 205 pounds, Jrue Holiday possesses prototypical size for a point guard, allowing for him to set the tone when playing on-ball defense.

    That size, matched with Holiday's quickness, has helped him boost his steals per game numbers from 1.1 as a rookie to 1.6 in 2011-12.

    He's also none-too-shabby of a three-point shooter, having shot 38 percent from downtown during the 2011-12 season and 37.7 percent over his three-year career to this point.

    Cons: As solid of a three-point shooter as Holiday is, the Sixers could stand to see him average more than the roughly 2.5 three-point tries per game he's taken over his career.

    His true offensive weakness, however, revolves around his ability (or lack thereof) to draw free throws consistently. He averaged fewer than two free throw attempts per game in 2011-12, before nearly doubling that average in the 2012 playoffs.

    Holiday hasn't by any means mastered the point guard position, still often struggling with when to shoot and when to pass. His play with Andrew Bynum in 2012-13 will go a long way in determining his financial future in the summer of 2013.

11. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Pros: Brandon Jennings is yet another lightning-fast scoring point guard from the draft class of 2009 who's up for an extension by Oct. 31, but at this point, it seems unlikely to happen.

    That'll only give Jennings more motivation to go out and continue improving. He's upped his field goal percentage and steals per game numbers in each of his three NBA seasons and should do so in 2012-13 for a fourth straight year.

    With a career average around 17 points per game, Jennings has proven that he's able to become a true scorer at the NBA level, one with continuously improving efficiency.

    Cons: Jennings, like many of the other young point guards on this list, has the score-first, pass-second mentality, as evidenced by his 5.4 assists per game over his young career.

    He's also only about 170 pounds, which can lead to size mismatches defensively when going against guys like Derrick Rose or Deron Williams.

    With Monta Ellis as the starting 2, the Milwaukee Bucks have a relatively undersized starting backcourt, which could expose Jennings defensively in 2012-13. 

10. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

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    Pros: Only four players in NBA history averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists as a rookie. Tyreke Evans is one of them.

    Though the Sacramento Kings haven't yet figured out where he works best position-wise, Evans is a do-it-all combo-guard that's got the potential to be a fantasy basketball monster this year, given the way he fills up the box score.

    The Kings don't appear to have any plans to offer Evans an extension before Oct. 31, giving him all the incentive in the world to regain the luster that's fallen off his career the past two years.

    Cons: Evans' long-range shooting is the No. 1 thing holding him back from becoming an elite point guard like a few of his 2009 draft classmates. (He did tell CowbellKingdom that he's finally developed a jumper, for what it's worth.)

    Evans finished 64.6 percent of his shot attempts at the rim in 2011-12 but shot only 23.5 percent from 10-15 feet, 30 percent from 16-23 feet and 20.2 percent from three-point range, according to HoopData.

    He's 6'6", so he lacks the size to play the 3 full-time if he's bodying up against guys like Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but with the emergence of Isiah Thomas at the 1 and Marcus Thornton at the 2, the Kings already appear set in the backcourt, sans Evans. 

9. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz

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    Pros: How many 27-year-old potential franchise centers will be available on the market in 2013, once Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum decide where to go? Just one: Al Jefferson.

    Jefferson has been averaging close to 20 points, 10 rebounds per game and two blocks per game for the Utah Jazz over the past two seasons, despite toiling in relative obscurity.

    He's also become a much better passer over the years, as evidenced by his career-high 2.2 assists per game in 2011-12.

    Cons: Defensively, Jefferson will struggle to ever become elite, as he's somewhat of a frontcourt tweener.

    At 6'10", 260 pounds, he's too small to go up against 7-footers like Andrew Bynum and expect much success, but sliding him to power forward presents the problem of him having to cover stretch 4's, which isn't quite his forte either.

    Jefferson allowed opposing centers to put up a per-48-minute PER of 15.8 against him in 2011-12 (above league average), according to, but to Jefferson's credit, he put up a 22.5 PER offensively at the 5 to make up for it.

8. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets *

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    Pros: Ty Lawson orchestrated the NBA's most potent offense in 2011-12 (104.1 points per game) and now potentially enters a contract season where he's making only $2.5 million.

    Can anyone say jackpot?

    By any metric, the speedy, diminutive point guard had his best career season in 2011-12, averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in just under 35 minutes a game for the Denver Nuggets.

    Lawson could soon be making his way off this list, as the Denver Nuggets have reportedly offered him a four-year, $45 million extension, according to the Journal Times. If, for whatever reason, he doesn't sign the extension, he'll be one of the most coveted free agents in 2013.

    Cons: At only 5'11", Lawson lacks the size to go up against some of the larger point guards in the league, but overall, he's able to hold his own.

    He allowed opposing 1's to put up a per-48-minute PER of 15.5 against him during the 2011-12 season, according to, but Lawson put up a 19.2 PER of his own on the offensive end.

    Lawson won't be mistaken for a gambler like Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis any time soon, though. He's only averaged one takeaway per game over his three year career, with a career-high 1.3 steals in 2011-12. 

7. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

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    Pros: Players with three NBA championships and a Sixth Man of the Year award don't hit free agency all that regularly, which could make Manu Ginobili's upcoming free agency that much more special.

    There's no doubting that teams will try to pry the sharpshooting Argentinian away from San Antonio, both in an effort to strengthen their own team and to deal the Spurs' Tim Duncan era a mortal wound.

    When Duncan and point guard Tony Parker are having off nights, Ginobili is the engine that keeps the Spurs chugging along at their typical elite level. Statistics don't do Ginobili justice, as he only averaged 23.3 minutes per game in 2011-12, but know this: Per 36 minutes, Ginobili has been a 20 PPG scorer for the past six seasons, according to Basketball Reference.

    Cons: Ginobili is the only player in the top 10 of this list who's on the wrong side of 30. (He's 35 years old, actually.)

    As we witnessed in the summer of 2012, the market for mid-30s shooting guards, despite their career accolades, isn't once what it used to be. Ginobili's days of earning $10 million or more per year will likely be coming to an end in the summer of 2013, if Ray Allen and Jason Terry were any example.

    With that increase in age will come an inevitable erosion in skills, especially on the defensive end. The odds of Ginobili repeating his career-high 52.6 percent that he shot from the field in 2011-12 are slim to none also. 

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors *

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    Pros: The Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves must still be kicking themselves over not picking Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft, despite each having the chance to do so.

    Curry has demonstrated the same shooting proficiency in the NBA as he did during his miracle run through the NCAA tournament with Davidson, having shot 44.1 percent from three-point range over his three-year career.

    He's an elite shooter who could well find himself in the 50-40-90 club sooner rather than later, as he shot 49 percent from the field in 2011-12, and 93.4 percent from the free throw line the season before. The Dubs appear likely to sign him to an extension before Oct. 31, according to's Marc Stein.

    Cons: If Curry's ankles could stay healthy, the Golden State Warriors would have already signed him to an extension. There's little doubt about that.

    Unfortunately, ankle troubles limited Curry to only playing 26 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and limited his effectiveness when he could play.

    At only 185 pounds, Curry also lacks the size to body up against some of the NBA's larger point guards, but that's a minor concern compared to his ankles.

    Considering he's already suffered an ankle tweak that caused him to sit out part of the preseason, Curry will have to prove his durability before earning a contract with the Warriors by Oct. 31 or any other team next summer. 

5. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

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    Pros: Josh Smith is a do-it-all, stat-stuffing fantasy basketball monster, to put it kindly.

    Smith averaged a career-high 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Atlanta Hawks in 2011-12, while also chipping in 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. In doing such, he posted a 21.2 PER that's far above the league average of 15.

    Smith also grades out as a competent defender at both the 4 and the 5, having held opposing centers to a per-48-minute PER of only 12.4, according to

    Cons: Smith's greatest weakness is his tendency to fall in love with 20-foot jumpers, much to the chagrin of everyone not named Josh Smith.

    He attempted a career-high 6.3 field goal attempts from 16-23 feet in 2011-12, but only shot 37 percent from that range, according to HoopData. He also tried nearly two three-point attempts per game last season while only knocking down 25.7 percent of those tries.

    If he'd cut down on the long-range two-pointers, Smith's All-Star case could become hard to deny. Until then, he'll cause fans, players and coaches alike to wince during at least a handful of shot attempts each night. 

4. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder *

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    Pros: If anyone from the 2009 draft class is going to sign an extension before Oct. 31, my money's on James Harden with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Harden has quickly emerged as the third member of Oklahoma City's vaunted young Big Three, as his shooting efficiency makes him the perfect player to pair alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    The 23-year-old southpaw averaged 16.8 points per game on only 10.1 field goal attempts in 2011-12, shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and nearly 85 percent from the line.

    Anyone doubting his max-contract worthiness based on his 2012 NBA Finals performance is ignoring his otherworldly 2011-12 regular season and the two seasons prior, which would be a huge mistake.

    Cons: For someone who's not the team's primary ball-handler, the 2.5 turnovers per game Harden averaged in 2011-12 aren't something you'd like to see from a top-tier player.

    He, like many of the players on this list, also could stand to improve on the defensive end. Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder's starting guard, starts solely due to his defensive prowess.

    If Thunder coach Scotty Brooks could trust Harden to guard the elite 2's in the league like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade consistently, he'd likely be in the starting lineup next to Durant and Westbrook. 

3. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Pros: Behind Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum has the size and skill to be one of the most dominant centers in the NBA.

    Bynum averaged a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 and has since been traded to a team (the Philadelphia 76ers) that's more than ready to build both its offense and defense around him.

    At 7'0", 285 pounds, Bynum has at least an inch and 20 pounds on Howard, making him potentially one of the most dominant players in the league when healthy.

    And, unlike Howard, Bynum can actually knock down his free throws, too.

    Cons: How many different ways can you say "injury concerns"?

    Because, in a nutshell, that's what it boils down to with Bynum.

    In seven career seasons, he's only played in a full 82-game season once. He remained relatively healthy in 2011-12, missing only six games, but already in the 2012 offseason he's flown to Germany for a knee procedure and missed the entire preseason to recover.

    If Bynum's creaky knees could stay injury-free for the long haul, he'd be an unquestioned max-contract player for every team in the league that didn't have Howard. Until then, though, it's a much more difficult call. 

2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Pros: For the time being, Chris Paul has reclaimed the throne of being the best point guard in the NBA.

    Paul averaged 19.8 points and 9.1 assists per game in 2011-12 for the Los Angeles Clippers, while posting a league-high 2.5 steals per game.

    It's the fourth time in the past fifth season that Paul has led the league in steals per game, in fact. He's also led the league in assists per game during two of his seven career seasons.

    With shooting percentages are in the high 40s from the field, the high 30s from three-point range and the high 80s from the free-throw line, Paul has no major offensive weakness, and is one of the deadliest pick-and-roll players in all of the NBA.

    Cons: Any major complaints about Paul are nitpicky at best, but two that could one day concern the Clippers are his size and his health.

    Paul's listed at 6'0" (in reality, it's doubtful he's more than 5'10" or 5'11"), which makes his life tough when forced to defend guards with a couple of inches and 20-30 pounds on him.

    SB Nation's ClipsNation has a comprehensive write-up about Paul's knees, but the short version goes something like this: He tore his meniscus in 2010, had surgery, but appears to have made a full recovery, having played in 60 of 66 games in 2011-12.

    If Paul's knees turn into a chronic problem like Brandon Roy's of the Minnesota Timberwolves, that's when the Clippers (and the NBA as a whole) have a serious problem.

1. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Pros: How often does the best center in the league hit free agency? Barring any major upsets, that's a sure thing in the summer of 2013.

    Dwight Howard gets it done on both ends of the court, but to date, he's more renowned for his defense. Three Defensive Player of the Year awards tend to do that to a guy.

    Career averages of 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game speak to how dominant he's been over his eight-year career. He's lead the league in total rebounds per game in four of the past five seasons, and led the league in blocks back-to-back in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

    In all likelihood, Howard will hit free agency in the summer of 2013, then immediately sign a long-term max contract with the Lakers, securing his future as the next great big man in that long dynasty.

    Cons: Howard is returning from offseason back surgery, raising slight health concerns for Lakers fans.

    At this point, he appears close to being 100 percent again, which spells trouble for all non-Lakers fans.

    Besides health, NBA fans and pundits alike have been pleading with Howard for years to improve his offensive game. Now that he's joined the Lakers, one can only imagine a few one-on-one sessions with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can't be too far away.

    Like Chris Paul, any criticism of Howard is mainly nitpicky. He's the best center in the league, bar none, and the favorite to win the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award, especially now that he's joined the Lakers.