2013 NBA Free Agents: The 10 Sleepers You Need to Know

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

2013 NBA Free Agents: The 10 Sleepers You Need to Know

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    When the 2013 NBA free agents hit the open market, these 10 sleepers won't be making headlines. They'll wallow away in relative degrees of obscurity before getting snatched up by a team. Then they'll make an impact that dramatically exceeds the level of hype received. 

    Players like Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala and Monta Ellis are going to be the media darlings over the summer. They'll be the subject of many articles and hours on SportsCenter as we constantly speculate over where they'll end up. 

    These 10 players won't receive that level of attention. They'd wake up and no longer be sleepers if they did. 

    However, you can bet on one thing: All of them will make sizable impacts, regardless of which team they wind up on. 

     

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.

Tony Allen

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.2 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Tony Allen is a household name at this stage of his career, at least in the houses of fans who appreciate defensive play as much as the highlights that make it onto YouTube

    While the 31-year-old is undeniably a limited offensive player, doing most of his minimal damage in transition or off cuts to the basket, he's a defensive force who plays better perimeter defense than any other player in the NBA. That includes LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, Chris Paul, Avery Bradley or any other names you want to throw out there. 

    According to 82games.com, Allen held opposing shooting guards to an 11.8 PER during the 2012-13 campaign. Remember, the league average is 15.0, and 2-guards are typically known for their scoring contributions. 

    NBA.com's statistical databases tell a similar story.

    With Allen in the lineup, the Memphis Grizzlies allowed just 94.3 points per 100 possessions. And when the defensive ace caught his breath next to Lionel Hollins, that number rose to 101.1.

    That's a massive impact for a perimeter defender, but he's inevitably going to be underpaid because defense apparently doesn't warrant as much attention as offense.

Matt Barnes

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: SF

    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

     

    Speaking of defensive players who don't get enough attention, Matt Barnes hasn't been able to free himself from the stigma that surrounded him throughout the early portion of his career. The high-energy small forward was known more as a player who stirred things up than a valuable contributor. 

    That's no longer true, as Barnes has been getting better and better with age. 

    After posting a 15.5 PER during the 2011-12 season, the 33-year-old small forward proved that it was no fluke, following it up with a 15.57 in 2012-13. 

    But Barnes is one of those players who defies statistical analysis. Sure, you can point to his ability to fill up a stat sheet, but more important are the hustle plays he makes. He is also willing to sacrifice his body from the opening tip until the final buzzer and brings energy when he steps onto the court. 

    Championships aren't won without glue guys, and this small forward has become one of the leading examples of an adhesive character. 

Marco Belinelli

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: SG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 10.43 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Marco Belinelli developed into a surprisingly good defender under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau. And yes, you should be noticing a trend here. Well, two of them, in fact. 

    1. Thibodeau tends to make players better on defense than they were before meeting him. Belinelli is no exception. 
    2. Defense tends to be undervalued in the NBA. Solid defense that results in a missed shot, but no block or steal, doesn't ever show up in the highlights, and it often results in zero credit levied toward the player responsible. 

    According to 82games.com, Belinelli held opposing 2-guards to a 12.3 PER during the 2012-13 campaign. His effect on the team defense was minimized because he had the misfortune of spending a lot of time on the court with Carlos Boozer behind him, but his individual defense was quite solid. 

    The Italian shooting guard has developed into a "3 and D" guy, which is a remarkable upgrade from his former status as a "3 and no D" guy. One word can make a hell of a difference. 

Andray Blatche

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 21.98 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Much like Matt Barnes, Andray Blatche hasn't yet been able to escape his past. His production certainly has rebounded from where it was when he left the Washington Wizards, but the perception of him still hasn't. 

    Blatche is an offensive force off the bench, spreading out defenses and reliably serving as a go-to scoring option in limited minutes. He can still make poor decisions now and then, and his motor isn't as high as it should be, but he can be counted on to score. 

    The big man's 21.98 PER puts him in the elite category. As proof, here are the full rankings of the top 20 from the 2012-13 season: 

    1. LeBron James, 31.6
    2. Kevin Durant, 28.3
    3. Chris Paul, 26.4
    4. Carmelo Anthony, 24.8
    5. Brook Lopez, 24.7
    6. Tim Duncan, 24.4
    7. Dwyane Wade, 24.0
    8. Russell Westbrook, 23.9
    9. Tony Parker, 23.0
    10. Kobe Bryant, 23.0
    11. James Harden, 23.0
    12. Blake Griffin, 22.4
    13. Andray Blatche, 21.9
    14. Anthony Davis, 21.4
    15. Kyrie Irving, 21.4
    16. Stephen Curry, 21.3
    17. Al Jefferson, 20.9
    18. John Wall, 20.8
    19. LaMarcus Aldridge, 20.4
    20. Deron Williams, 20.3

    To be fair, Blatche spent far less time on the court than the rest of the players in those rankings, and there's generally a tradeoff between volume and efficiency. But still, let's give him some credit for having a fantastic offensive season. 

Corey Brewer

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SF 

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 14.7 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Corey Brewer's career didn't get off to a great start, but he's been turning things around with the Denver Nuggets. Toward the end of the season, he was a valuable commodity off the bench, as he would come in and bring a nice level of energy to the lineup. 

    Additionally, Brewer's defense has consistently improved throughout his NBA career, and it's now stellar enough that the Nuggets could live with the occasional gambles. 

    Although Brewer's offense still needs a great deal of work—his long-range shooting in particular—and Denver was worse offensively when he played, the Mile High City residents shut down opponents more effectively with this small forward on the court. 

    NBA.com's databases reveal that Denver allowed 101.4 points per 100 possessions when Brewer was on the floor and 102.5 when he was on the bench. For a deep team filled with solid perimeter defenders, that's a fairly sizable impact. 

    Brewer's developmental curve leads me to believe that he's not done growing as an all-around player yet, and he'll be worth taking a flier on once the free-agency pool starts evaporating. 

Ronnie Brewer

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 10.02 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    We now have so many Brewers listed as free-agency sleepers that you might think you're in Milwaukee. 

    Don't be fooled by Ronnie Brewer's stats from the 2012-13 season. He was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder midway through the campaign, and Scott Brooks basically refused to use him in the rotation. Brooks is notoriously stubborn when it comes to his lineups, so it's not an indictment of the swingman's skills that he floundered away on the bench. 

    In fact, Brewer still possesses the same skills he's always had. 

    He can't shoot effectively, but he's a capable ball-handler and distributor who thrives when he's asked to shut down the opponent's best wing player. More impressively, he usually does that without committing fouls. Throughout his career, Brewer is only averaging 1.7 fouls per 36 minutes. 

    Still only 28 years old, Brewer can stick in a rotation because of his ability to serve as the defensive stopper off the bench.

Chase Budinger

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 12.66 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    This was a lost season for Chase Budinger, as he played in only 23 games. Plagued by injuries throughout the year, the swingman wasn't able to find his stroke from the field, and his production suffered. 

    That's distracted many people from the reality of the situation: Budinger will be healthy for the 2013-14 season, still has insane hops and is ready to make good on his potential. And there's a lot of potential left unrealized. 

    If you want to see the type of player that Budinger could become, turn on the Houston Rockets—coincidentally the Arizona product's former team—and watch Chandler Parsons play. Parsons is a budding star thanks to the well-rounded nature of his game. 

    Similarly, Budinger could thrive once given an opportunity because he can hit threes, dunk with ferocity and play solid, but not quite special, defense. He's a jack of all trades and a master of none. 

Kyle Korver

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: SF

    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

     

    Kyle Korver isn't the type of player who earns eight figures—not even close—in free agency, but he's the kind of guy who can push a team over the top. His three-point shooting is that valuable. 

    Not only do Korver's long-range bombs add points to the scoreboard, but they open things up for the rest of the team. Opponents are forced to respect his shot each and every game he plays, even when he's mired in a mini-slump, and they can't collapse when the ball goes into the paint. If they do, he'll make them pay. 

    There's still a stunning lack of appreciation for the season Korver just put together with the Atlanta Hawks as well. All the hype over Stephen Curry's ridiculousness from the perimeter left Korver's season on the back burners. 

    Let's not do that here. 

    Korver took 5.6 three-pointers per game and drilled them 45.7 percent of the time. Those are nearly unheard of numbers when in the lineup for two weeks, let alone 74 games. And no, that's not an exaggeration. 

    Here's a bit of historical context. 

    Not even Curry matched those numbers. In all the years the NBA has been around, Glen Rice is the only other player who took as many attempts and shot as efficiently from downtown. 

Tiago Splitter

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.72 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Restricted

     

    Here's a game for you. Go on Twitter, search "Tiago Splitter" and see how long it takes you to find a complimentary tweet right now.

    After his performance during the NBA Finals, the world has not been particularly kind to him. The lights have been too bright, his hands too soft and his dunks too easy for LeBron James to block. 

    However, since when do we let one series define a player's career? If we did, James Harden wouldn't have emerged as a superstar this season after he failed to show up in the 2012 NBA Finals. 

    Splitter remains what he's always been: a per-minute stud waiting for an opportunity to fill in a larger role in the lineup. He's not without weaknesses, as his hands remain clumsy and he's incapable of athletically dominating a game, but he's a quality big man. 

    You just wouldn't know it from his performance against the Miami Heat. 

Martell Webster

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: SF

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 13.89 PER

    Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted

     

    Martell Webster thrived as soon as he came to D.C. 

    The improvement he showed after transitioning from the Minnesota Timberwolves to Washington Wizards was stunning, and it happened pretty much across the board.

    Webster scored more. He shot better from the field, long-range and the charity stripe. His assist-to-turnover ratio skyrocketed. He turned the ball over on a lower number of his percentages. He played much better defense. You name it; Webster improved on it.

    All the while, he didn't receive nearly enough credit, especially for his potency from beyond the arc. John Wall's return had a sizable impact on the Wiz, but so too did Webster's ability to spread the court for his rim-seeking floor general. 

    Webster won't make any headlines when he finds a new home, but he will when he starts making a big impact.