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NBA Free Agents 2013: Breaking Down the Top 5 Players at Every Position

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 29, 2013

NBA Free Agents 2013: Breaking Down the Top 5 Players at Every Position

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    The 2013 class of NBA free agents isn't exactly going to blow you away, but that doesn't mean there aren't quality players to be found at each of the five positions. Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are as good as it gets at their respective spots on the court, ultimately making this collection of players a bit top-heavy. 

    In fact, if you need a franchise big man after this exciting postseason draws to a close, you're probably in luck. There are a number of great frontcourt options available. The same is true for shooting guards and, to a lesser extent, point guards. 

    However, good luck if you're searching for a small forward, because it is slim pickings at the 3-spot.

    Before you read on, please note that all types of free agents were considered for this article. That includes unrestricted and restricted free agents, as well as players with player options, team options or early-termination options. 

Center No. 5: J.J. Hickson

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.6 steals, 19.71 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    J.J. Hickson was on the verge of becoming a career journeyman before finding a home with the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the 2011-12 campaign. Throughout his first full season in Rip City, the athletic big man proved his value time and time again, dominating on the boards and providing a decent amount of offense. 

    Hickson will never be a true game-changer, but there's certainly a place for this new, more mature, much improved big man. 

    In the right role, a motivated Hickson can make a monumental impact on the glass without providing too much damage elsewhere. 

Center No. 4: Nikola Pekovic

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 steals, 20.26 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Nikola Pekovic enjoyed a fantastic season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was impressive enough that a number of teams will end up coveting his services during the 2013 offseason. 

    The 27-year-old isn't much of a passer when the ball is in his mitts, but he's a bruising big man with a knack for physical play. He's developed enough that he can truly overpower opponents on both ends of the court. 

    It's hard to see Pek leaving Minnesota, but T'Wolves management will likely have to end up matching a sizable offer sheet. 

Center No. 3: Al Jefferson

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.0 steals, 20.99 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    It's hard to believe that Al Jefferson is only 28 years old, because it seems like he's been around for much longer. However, Big Al really was drafted in 2004 by the Boston Celtics. He's spent less than a decade in the league thus far. 

    Throughout his time with the Utah Jazz, Jefferson has lived on the left block of EnergySolutions Arena. One of the few remaining back-to-the-basket studs in the Association, Jefferson has owned opponents from that area of his home court for years. 

    When the 2013-14 season kicks off, Jefferson will still dominate that same spot. He just might be doing so on a different home court.

Center No. 2: Andrew Bynum

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers?

    Age: 25

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.5 steals, 23.00 PER (with Los Angeles Lakers)

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? If a player is on a roster but never plays a single minute with the team, is he actually on it?

    I'll let you guess which question is relevant to Andrew Bynum and the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers.

    Bynum, assuming his knees ever allow him to regain his health, is still a dominant center in a league starving for more quality seven-footers. He was truly excellent during his final year with the Los Angeles Lakers, but we've all forgotten about that after his hairstyles trumped his play for an entire season.

    This 25-year-old is an enigma, but he's a talented one. Someone will be willing to roll the dice on him.

    There's no question about that.  

Center No. 1: Dwight Howard

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 19.48 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Even during a season in which he was plagued by roster turmoil, a coaching change, adjusting to new teammates and some serious back injuries, Dwight Howard still played like an elite center. I'd argue that Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol all had better seasons and deserve the All-NBA center spots, but D12 was still undeniably elite. 

    Let's not forget what this guy can do when he's fully healthy. Howard is still only 27 years old, squarely in the middle of his athletic prime. 

    Start preparing yourselves. We're in for another summer dominated by Dwight Howard rumors. 

Power Forward No. 5: Marreese Speights

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.3 steals, 17.35 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Player option

     

    While it's likely that Marreese Speights uses his player option to escape the Cleveland Cavaliers and their messy frontcourt situation, it's also quite possible that he recognizes a team on the rise and takes the guaranteed money. 

    The Florida product is a role player in the truest sense, but in a top-heavy class of power forwards, that's still good enough for him to earn the No. 5 spot. 

    Speights is a quality rebounder, and he possess the ability to stretch the floor with his jump-shooting. There's certainly value enough in that.

Power Forward No. 4: Carl Landry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.4 steals, 17.60 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Player option

     

    Carl Landry isn't exactly the most glamorous player out there, but he gets the job done. The undersized power forward is sneaky athletic, and the number of offensive moves in his arsenal usually allows him to confuse opponents. 

    As the Golden State Warriors have learned, though, that's about all he brings to the table. The former Purdue Boilermaker is a solid rebounder, but he's not exactly going to swing the balance in that respect. 

    When you watch Landry, expect to see a lot of hard work and do a lot of head scratching as you wonder how in the world he got that shot to drop.

Power Forward No. 3: Paul Millsap

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, 19.89 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Paul Millsap is another one of those non-glamorous PFs who seems to get the job done on a nightly basis. 

    An undersized 4 at 6'8" and 260, Millsap thrives because his motor never stops. From the moment the referee throws the ball up in the air until the second the final buzzer sounds, this 28-year-old is going to be in constant energy, hustling as much as possible to make up for his challenges in the height department. 

    If you look at Millsap, you'll wonder how he can be one of the better per-minute rebounders in the league. But if you watch him play, that bewilderment will quickly fade.

Power Forward No. 2: David West

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 32

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.0 steals, 20.15 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Of all the power forwards eligible for free agency, David West had the best 2012-13 season. It's his age and the relative lack of upside that dooms him to the penultimate spot for the position. 

    West's all-around game is simply stellar. There's no denying that. 

    He can score in a variety of ways, whether he's posting up and going to work with his back to the basket or using his mid-range jumper. He's also an elite defender with the strength and speed necessary to negate a variety of offensive styles.

    West found great success with the Indiana Pacers once he fully found his health and role in the lineup. Now he'll get to cash in for what's likely going to be the last big contract of his career. 

Power Forward No. 1: Josh Smith

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals, 17.82 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    In terms of sheer athletic prowess, it's hard to find a more tantalizing prospect than Josh Smith. 

    However, when you factor basketball I.Q. into the equation, your expectations are going to be tempered quite a bit. Smith might dazzle you with his versatility and ability to generate highlights, but he'll also leave you dumbfounded as you watch him waste those natural talents by constantly lofting up questionable shots from the perimeter. 

    Smith's 2012-13 season wasn't quite as impressive as David West's, but the Hawks forward has a much higher ceiling and five fewer years under his belt. 

    For a more fulsome breakdown of Smoove's situation with the Hawks, read here.

Small Forward No. 5: Metta World Peace

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 33

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.6 steals, 12.55 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Early termination option

     

    If a team is looking for a small forward solution this offseason, it better pray for a solid choice in the draft or start hoping a trading option surfaces. Finding a quality 3 in the free-agent pool will be rather difficult. 

    At the beginning of the season, Metta World Peace appeared reinvigorated and ready to provide both offensive and defensive help to the Los Angeles Lakers. That wasn't anything more than a mirage, though, as the 33-year-old quickly declined. 

    The artist formerly known as Ron Artest can hit the occasional three-pointer, although expecting any sort of offense on a consistent basis will prove to be folly. MWP can still provide a team some elite perimeter defense, but that's about all he brings to the table at this stage of his career. 

Small Forward No. 4: Earl Clark

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals, 12.47 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Let's stick with the Los Angeles Lakers for the second slide in a row. 

    Going into the 2012-13 season, Earl Clark was viewed as an end-of-the-bench option. He was the athlete you could bring in and get some hustle plays from during garbage time. No one dreamed that the Lakers would undergo so much turmoil that they'd have to truly utilize and rely on Clark. 

    Well, they did, and Clark exceeded the expectations. 

    The Rick Pitino product is a terrific defender and a great rebounder from the 3. Any offense you get from him is a luxury, although his high-flying ways and willingness to hustle down the floor result in some transition buckets. 

    Earl Clark is exactly the kind of player who ends up earning a major flier from a mid-level team.

Small Forward No. 3: Kyle Korver

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 32

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 steals, 13.93 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    If it weren't for Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver would have received a lot more attention this season. His shooting prowess demanded it, even if it was trumped by Curry's superiority from downtown.

    Only seven different qualified players have attempted at least four three-pointers per game while shooting 45 percent or better from long range in league history (per Basketball-Reference.com). Those shooting studs are Dana Barros, Curry, Dale Ellis, Joe Johnson, Steve Nash (three times), Glen Rice and—you guessed it—Korver. 

    He may be a fairly one-dimensional player, but that single dimension has an insane amount of value.

Small Forward No. 2: Matt Barnes

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 33

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 steals, 15.57 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Matt Barnes is 33 now, but don't try telling him that. Between his occasional immaturity and relentless effort, he plays like he refuses to believe that he's eclipsed the 30-year milestone. 

    The Los Angeles Clippers role player is very much a glue guy at this stage of his career, but he's an elite glue guy. And in a small forward class this weak, that's good enough to earn the No. 2 spot. 

    Barnes has been improving as his career progresses, leading me to believe that it's him, not one of his former teammates, who should be called "Vino." 

Small Forward No. 1: Andrei Kirilenko

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 32

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.5 steals, 17.67 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Player option

     

    Andrei Kirilenko returned to the States and quickly became one of the most underrated players in the Association. Quite frankly, it's shocking how little attention he received dominating for the Minnesota Timberwolves early in the year. 

    Although AK47 is slowing down a little bit as his age creeps up higher and higher, he's still a tremendously well-rounded player capable of stuffing the stat sheet night in and night out. 

    Kirilenko brings a versatile game to the more glamorous end of the court, but he's even more valuable on the other side. Because of his lankiness and athletic abilities, the Russian forward can capably guard a wide variety of players. 

Shooting Guard No. 5: Kevin Martin

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.9 steals, 16.09 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    As long as you play Kevin Martin in the right manner, you're going to get a lot of value out of the 2-guard slot in your lineup. 

    Martin isn't much of a facilitator, but he's a marvelously efficient offensive player who causes the more statistically inclined analysts out there to fall head over heels in love.

    Why? Just take a look at his shot chart. The 30-year-old Martin thrives in two spots: the perimeter, where he can knock down the most valuable shots on the court, and at the rim, where he can either finish the play or draw whistles.

    Given the analytic trends in the NBA, Martin is bound to draw a great deal of interest this offseason.

Shooting Guard No. 4: J.R. Smith

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 17.67 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Player option

     

    Our newest Sixth Man of the Year probably isn't going to be happy with the salary he's owed in 2013-14. Unless he exercises his player option and becomes a true free agent, J.R. Smith will be paid less than $3 million, making him one of the most underpaid players in all the league.

    It seems highly likely that he'll opt out, even if he's planning on re-upping with the New York Knicks for a larger sum. 

    Under the tutelage of Mike Woodson, Smith has finally started putting it all together as a scoring force off the pine for the Knicks. The 27-year-old Smith averaged 18.1 points in the regular season, hit a number of memorable buckets, and made noticeable strides on defense and the glass. 

Shooting Guard No. 3: Tyreke Evans

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals, 18.16 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    The Sacramento Kings have tragically misused Tyreke Evans for far too long now, so here's hoping he gets a fresh start somewhere for the 2013-14 campaign. 

    It took years to figure out Evans' true position—and frankly, I'm still not even sure whether or not I should be listing him at shooting guard—and there was constant upheaval around him. 

    Evans is still a premier backcourt talent, especially when he decides that he's a homing missile set for the rim and abandons his jumper. Plus, he's only 23, with plenty of time left to make some massive strides in his game. 

Shooting Guard No. 2: Monta Ellis

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 steals, 16.30 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Player option

     

    The news out of the Milwaukee Bucks camp in March was that Monta Ellis may choose to stay with the team for another season, earning $11 million in the process. However, that's far from a guarantee, and the brutal defeats at the hands of the Miami Heat could cause him to reconsider. 

    Ellis needs to find a spot where he can thrive as the No. 2 option. 

    When he's the man in charge, he calls upon his jumper far too often, thereby negating all his other excellent tools. Ellis' driving and passing skills are both superb and he has an undeniable knack for finishing circus shots around the rim. 

    He'd be absolutely terrifying coming off the bench and competing for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Talk about an offensive spark plug. 

Shooting Guard No. 1: Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 steals, 15.27 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Early termination option

     

    Andre Iguodala will most likely decide to exercise his early termination option and cash in on one more mega-payday before he finds himself on the wrong end of 30. His earning potential could severely decline if he waits until 2014 to hit the open market. 

    Iggy has been quite valuable to the Denver Nuggets cause. He's thrived on defense, quickly reestablishing himself as one of the (if not the) premier perimeter defenders in the Association. 

    On offense, Iguodala still brings his trademark versatility and athleticism to the table. He's one of those guys with All-Star potential even while failing to top 15 points per game. 

Point Guard No. 5: Darren Collison

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.2 steals, 16.37 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    If you lived outside of Dallas, there's a solid chance that you went the entire 2012-13 season without ever hearing Darren Collison's name. O.J. Mayo and Dirk Nowitzki were at the center of whatever news did come out regarding the Dallas Mavericks, and the 25-year-old point guard was eventually bounced from the starting lineup in favor of Mike James. 

    However, Collison still has a great deal of value, whether he's a low-level starting floor general or an offensive microwave off the bench. 

    In all likelihood, he'll probably find himself in the latter situation. While that might not be best for his psyche, it will maximize his value, as Collison is much more of a gunner than a facilitator. 

Point Guard No. 4: Jarrett Jack

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.8 steals, 15.93 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Jarrett Jack never got enough credit for the work he did replacing Chris Paul in New Orleans, so it was nice to see him rewarded for his effort off the Golden State Warriors this year, finishing third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.

    Jack served as a stellar offensive option when Stephen Curry needed a rest, and Mark Jackson never hesitated to play the veteran guard down the stretch in a tight game. 

    Jack exceeded the expectations to such an extent that he now has a legitimate shot at landing a starting job once more. His mid-range game is still improving, even if he calls his own number a bit too often at times, and he's also notoriously turnover averse. 

    This 29-year-old Jack might not be the most glamorous option out there, but he'll be a cost efficient one. 

Point Guard No. 3: Jeff Teague

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 steals, 16.82 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Jeff Teague has much practice operating the pick-and-roll, running the show for Larry Drew. Although the Atlanta Hawks sometimes run isolations on the wings and love to have shooters curling around screens, the offense consists primarily of PnR sets at the top of the key. 

    It's a system that's allowed Teague to thrive, as he's a quality ball-handler and an explosive player with a quick first step. The young floor general took some major strides during the season, particularly after Lou Williams succumbed to a season-ending ACL tear in January.

    Teague is quite the dynamic offensive player, and he's becoming more and more of a pest on the less glamorous end of the court. 

    Making sure that No. 0 stays in red and blue should be one of Danny Ferry's primary objectives during the offseason.

Point Guard No. 2: Brandon Jennings

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.6 steals, 16.20 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    I wavered back and forth between Jeff Teague and Brandon Jennings for the penultimate slot among point guards, but ultimately decided upon the southpaw because he's slightly younger and possesses a higher ceiling. 

    Jennings can be a frustrating player when he forgets to play defense and fires away time after time despite drawing iron more often than not. But when he's on, he's on. 

    The 23-year-old is a phenomenal scorer with a developing shot, and his passing skills nudge him over the top. Jennings decided that he should rack up the assists at points during the 2012-13 campaign. The results were largely positive, and it's a style of play the young guard should strive to emulate more often. 

Point Guard No. 1: Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.4 steals, 26.43 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, so there's not exactly much debate about his spot here in the free-agent rankings. If we merged together all the different positions, then you could have a legitimate argument about whether he or Dwight Howard deserved the top overall spot. 

    It's tough to envision CP3 leaving the Clippers after what he's helped build in Los Angeles the past couple years. However, he's an unrestricted free agent, essentially making the NBA world his oyster. 

    Paul still has plenty of top-notch years left in the tank, and he brings so much to the table already. Unless one of the young point guards develops quicker than anticipated, he's going to be the class of the position for a while longer. 

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