The urge to seek out the diamond in the rough is etched into the sports fan's DNA. It's like procreating, or booing referees. And there are few better times to exercise that instinct than during the NBA free-agent signing period.
Every coach, general manager and owner began as a fan, which is why it's so endlessly fascinating to dissect their every move and even play along from the armchair as each franchise works—like that old lady at the garage sale with visions of the Antiques Roadshow dancing in her head—to uncover that unsung (and relatively inexpensive) treasure.
Here are a few 2013 NBA free agents who are currently flying below the mainstream radar but could make a real difference for any team that signs them.
Calderon isn't flashy and has spent most of his career on poor Toronto teams. As such, he's not nearly as well known as many of the point guards he tends to outperform. For the 2012-13 regular season, Calderon finished fifth in the league with 11.5 assists per 48 minutes (he had 7.1 per game) and behind only Chris Paul in assist-to-turnover ratio.
What's more, Calderon is a steady floor leader who can hit open shots. He led the league with a 46.1 percentage from three and knocks down free throws at a 90 percent clip. He's definitely a defensive liability, but his strengths would seem to overwhelm his shortcomings. He could be a great final piece for a potential contender in need of a straw to stir the drink.
Dorell Wright, Small Forward, Philadelphia 76ers
This was Wright's first season in Philly and, in many ways, his toughest as a pro. Regularly finding himself in coach Doug Collins' doghouse, Wright played fewer minutes per game than he had since leaving Miami in 2010.
Wright's calling card is his three-point shooting, and from a percentage standpoint, his 37 percent rate from deep compares favorably with his best seasons. Despite being a shooter, Wright is not averse to playing defense or grabbing a few rebounds. He'd make a cheap and interesting reclamation project for the deep end of a rotation (especially one that's offensively challenged).
Nikola Pekovic, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves
Pekovic is a restricted free agent, and the T-Wolves seem interested in re-signing him if the numbers line up. Nevertheless, the 6'11", 290-pound, 27-year-old Montenegro native is a big, strong and very polished player, with a good deal of toughness to complement a highly respectable post game.
He struggled with injuries this year, but still found time to average 16 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes per game. Pekovic might be one of the most underrated players in the NBA right now.
Tony Allen, Shooting Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
With the Celtics and then the Grizz, Allen always found a way to contribute. Usually that's on the defensive end, where he's one of the toughest guys in the league when guarding the ball. His offense is not good and getting worse—he shot just 12 percent from three this season, for example.
But any team that needs a guy who nets 1.5 steals per game and can shut down the other team's shooting guard would be wise to take a close look at this unrestricted free agent.
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