Tiering Off 2013 NBA Free Agents

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2013

Tiering Off 2013 NBA Free Agents

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    The 2013 NBA free-agent market may not be what it was during the summer of 2010, but it's still chock-full of good players who can have a huge impact on whichever teams sign them.

    While there are two players who have been stealing all of the headlines recently (you probably don't even need more than two guesses to name them), there are plenty of other worthwhile commodities who will garner a significant amount of attention from multiple clubs over these next couple of months.

    If you really look at who is available, you can definitely see gaps between them in terms of what each of them brings to the table.

    Every front office in the league probably has a list of guys ranked from top-to-bottom, so why not try and guess what those lists may look like?

1st Tier: Dwight Howard

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    In all honesty, there are only two players on the free-agent market who are worthy of a max contract: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

    Yes. Howard is immature, he is limited offensively and he has back problems, but even taking all of those negatives into consideration, the pros outweigh the cons. The fact remains that Dwight is an elite player, and when healthy, he is the best big man in the game.

    Howard averaged 17.1 points and led the league with 12.4 rebounds per game during a "down year" in 2012-13. He also shot 57.8 percent from the floor, slightly better than his career average of 57.7 percent. Oh, and he posted 2.4 blocks a contest, too.

    Given that good big men are rare in the NBA nowadays, Howard is probably the most impactful free agent on the open market.

    The Los Angeles Lakers better hope that extra $30 million (and possibly Phil Jackson) sways Dwight to stay.

1st Tier: Chris Paul

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    Next is the only other first-tier free agent available this summer: Chris Paul.

    Tony Parker is outstanding, Rajon Rondo can be dominant, and Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose are explosive, but Paul is the best point guard in the NBA.

    This is someone who boasts a career average of .244 win shares per 48 minutes. That is absolutely insane.

    Thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers nabbing Doc Rivers, it doesn't look like there will be much of a sweepstakes for CP3 over the next couple of months. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Paul's reps are telling other teams that he will be re-signing with the Clippers.

    At least we know one of the two L.A. teams will likely be retaining their superstar free agent this offseason.

2nd Tier: Josh Smith

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    There is a pretty significant drop-off after Howard and Paul, two guys who are in a tier all to themselves.

    Josh Smith is certainly a good player, but it's very difficult to place someone with a career mark of .099 win shares per 48 minutes on the same level as those two superstars, especially when the league average for that stat is approximately .100.

    Is that to say Smith is below average? Of course not. Win shares are hardly a be-all-end-all statistic, but they undoubtedly tell you something about a player, and what those numbers tell me about Smith is that he is not worth a max contract.

    Nevertheless, Smith is going to help whatever team signs him, and there will certainly be a whole lot of suitors in the running for his services this summer, particularly the teams that may lose out on Dwight.

    What's nice about Smith is that he can play either forward position and defend both spots very well, making him a valuable asset to any ballclub.

    Knowing that he will come a bit cheaper than Howard, you have to think the range of potential destinations for J-Smoove will be larger. The guess here is that Smith ends up somewhere out West. The Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns are all squads that come to mind right off the bat.

    Now if only Smith would learn to stop shooting threes...

2nd Tier: Al Jefferson

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    Al Jefferson could essentially be the consolation prize to whomever misses out on Dwight Howard.

    Jefferson is one of the few players in this league with a refined back-to-the-basket game, and he also possesses a very reliable mid-range jumper.

    What you have to like most about Jefferson, though, is his consistency.

    He has averaged around 18 and 10 while shooting about 50 percent every year for the past four seasons, and his numbers have vacillated very, very little. See for yourself.

    Jefferson also gets a bit of a bad rap defensively. While he is not exactly strong on that end of the floor, he is not nearly as poor as people make him out to be. He posted 3.3 defensive win shares during the 2012-13 campaign, and that is not bad at all.

    Like Josh Smith, Jefferson will probably get slightly less than a max deal.

    There are a whole lot of ballclubs that can use what Big Al brings to the table.

2nd Tier: David West

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    It seems like David West being on the free-agent market is a mere formality. The Indiana Pacers want him back and he wants to stay with the Pacers, and according to Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy, West re-signing with Indiana is inevitable.

    Nevertheless, West is still available, and he is sure to receive some nice offers from other teams.

    West is coming off arguably the best year of his career, as he posted a lifetime-best .179 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13. He also played a pivotal role in leading the Pacers to a Game 7 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    As Stephen A. Smith would say, this is a big boy. West is an extremely physical forward whose mere presence makes his ballclub tougher.

    Even though he turns 33 in August, Indiana would be nuts to let him go. Plus, his age may benefit the Pacers in negotiations, as other organizations may be reluctant to give him a lucrative long-term deal because of it.

3rd Tier: Paul Millsap

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    Then we have the other Utah Jazz free-agent big man: Paul Millsap.

    Millsap is somewhat similar to Jefferson. He has a solid low-post game, and he is very consistent. Unlike Jefferson, however, Millsap can actually play small forward on occasion thanks to his quicker feet.

    Millsap has always been a pretty underrated player, so it's apropos that he is flying under the radar as a free agent.

    The 6'8" forward is very efficient, owning a lifetime field goal percentage of 51.6 percent and a true shooting percentage of 56.3. He has also averaged .156 win shares per 48 minutes over the course of his career.

    Millsap is not going to get money similar to that of a Dwight Howard or even an Al Jefferson, but he will get compensated nicely. Think something along the lines of around $10 million a year.

3rd Tier: Brandon Jennings

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    If Brandon Jennings were a bit more efficient, he would have made the second tier, but he isn't, so it's tough to place him in the same company of players like Jefferson and West.

    Like Indiana's West, Jennings' free agency status may be a bit of a formality, as well, as the Milwaukee Bucks seem intent on matching any offer made to him.

    Rightfully so, too, as the Bucks are probably going to lose Monta Ellis, and Jennings is only 23 years old. There is still plenty of time for him to improve, and it's not like he's been a bad player in his first four seasons. It would just behoove him to become a bit more selective when shooting the basketball. Plus, Jennings does have some solid young talent around him, so working on his distributing skills would help, too.

    Given that Jennings is very young and has proven that he can play, you have to think that he will end up getting a decent-sized contract this summer.

3rd Tier: Nikola Pekovic

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    Nikola Pekovic is another one of those guys who is being overlooked in this free agent pool.

    Pekovic is very sound on the low block, possessing several moves he can use to generate easy buckets. His post game is reflected in his efficiency, as he is a career 53.3 percent shooter and owns a lifetime true shooting percentage of 58.3 percent.

    Perhaps what is most impressive about Pekovic is his free-throw shooting ability. He got to the line 5.2 times a game in 2012-13, and he made 74.4 percent of his foul shots. That is excellent for a man of his size. He knows how to draw contact, and he converts at the charity stripe to boot.

    Like several of the players on this list, however, Pek may end up staying put. He is a restricted free agent, and the Minnesota Timberwolves plan on making re-signing him a priority.

3rd Tier: Tyreke Evans

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    Tyreke Evans is somewhat of an odd player.

    He burst onto the scene in his rookie season, averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent en route to Rookie of the Year honors.

    Evans then suffered the dreaded sophomore slump in 2010-11, battling injuries and shooting only 40.9 percent from the floor. He bounced back a bit in his third year, hitting on 45.3 percent of his shots as he waffled between positions and was a bit unhappy because of it.

    Finally, during his fourth season, Evans put forth his best performance yet, shooting 47.8 percent from the floor while recording a true shooting percentage of 55.8 percent. Plus, he improved his three-point shot, connecting on a career-best 33.8 percent of his long range attempts. While that still isn't anything to write home about, it's certainly better than his previous high of 29.1 percent.

    At just 23 years of age and having the ability to play three different positions, Evans is likely to earn a decent sum of money this summer. The Sacramento Kings certainly have the cap space to match any offer made to the restricted free agent, but whether or not they will is absolutely up for debate.

    Is Evans worth it? Taking his inconsistency into consideration, it's hard to say, but like the aforementioned Jennings, Tyreke is still very young and has ample time to get better.

4th Tier: Jeff Teague

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    Jeff Teague is easily one of the most underrated point guards in the game.

    The 25-year-old quietly averaged 14.6 points and 7.2 assists a contest in 2012-13 and shot 88.1 percent from the free-throw line. In the month of February, Teague averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 assists while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor.

    Face it: the kid can play, and there is a very good chance he ends up taking his talents elsewhere this summer. The Atlanta Hawks selected German point guard Dennis Schroeder in the first round of the draft, signifying that they may be preparing to lose the Wake Forest product.

    In a league where you have point guards like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams, a guy like Teague flies under the radar, but that doesn't mean he isn't a fine player in his own right.

    Someone is going to pay Teague nicely.

4th Tier: Andre Iguodala

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    Many Philadelphia 76ers fans couldn't stand Andre Iguodala when he played there, but much of the criticism was undeserved. He was expected to be the No. 1 option when he is not at all that type of player. Iguodala is at his best when he can focus on defending and facilitating, and a team in need of that kind of guy will compensate him well this summer.

    While Iguodala is hardly a star, he is a fine role player, one that can potentially put a ballclub over the top. Just don't ask him to bring too much scoring to the table, and he'll be fine.

    The question is, how much does Iguodala actually feel he is worth? He probably shouldn't get paid as much as any of the 3rd-tier guys, but he shouldn't make that much less, either.

    One thing though: what in the world happened to Iguodala's free-throw stroke? During the 2006-07 season, he took 7.3 free throws a game and made 82 percent of them. The past two years? 61.7 and 57.4 percent, respectively. Ouch.

4th Tier: Monta Ellis

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    You might be wondering why Brandon Jennings is in the third tier and Monta Ellis is here.

    The reason is age.

    Again, Jennings is only 23, so he has time to grow. Ellis, however, is already 27, and he has been in the league for eight years. The chances of him suddenly improving his shot selection are fairly slim.

    That's not to say Ellis isn't valuable, though.

    This is a guy who can explode offensively and can carry his team for a full game. He is unbelievably quick, possessing a deadly first step and the athleticism to finish above the rim. Ellis also got better defensively in 2012-13, tallying a career-high 3.3 defensive win shares. He averaged 2.1 steals per game, too.

    All of that being said, teams need to be wary of offering Ellis a big contract. He remains a ticking time bomb who can shoot his team out of a game just as soon as he can shoot it back into one. It's that volatility that keeps him from being ranked higher on this list.

4th Tier: JJ Hickson

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    Add JJ Hickson to the list of wildly inconsistent players.

    After two rather poor seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12 which saw him average .032 and .066 win shares per 48 minutes, respectively, Hickson had a breakout year in 2012-13, posting 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds a night while shooting a lifetime-best 56.2 percent from the floor. He also posted career highs in win shares per 48 minutes (.142), true shooting percentage (59.1 percent) and effective field goal percentage (56.2 percent).

    The problem with Hickson, however, is his defense.

    The Portland Trail Blazers ranked last in points in the paint against this past season, and that is in no small part due to JJ's defense--or lack thereof. Also, isn't it strange how Hickson busted out in his contract year? Is he the kind of guy who will go back to being mediocre once he gets paid?

    Teams need to tread very carefully with Hickson. Yes, he is an athletic big man who can rebound, but his defense leaves much to be desired, and he could be another Mark Blount (someone who just plays well in a contract year).

5th Tier: J.R. Smith

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    It'll be interesting to see who gets paid more between Monta Ellis and J.R. Smith, because they are very similar players.

    Like Ellis, Smith can single-handedly win you a game or single-handedly lose you one. He shot only 42.2 percent from the floor this past season, a number that is actually below his career percentage of 42.6.

    Smith has a tendency to dribble out the shot clock and then hoist a contested jump shot rather than use his athleticism to get to the basket, and that type of thing drives coaches crazy.

    Smith also disappeared in the 2013 playoffs, and he made more headlines off the court than on it (unless, of course, you count the elbow he delivered to Jason Terry that earned him a one-game suspension in the first round).

    Things like that are why Smith may not earn the kind of contract he is hoping for.

    The guess here is that Smith ultimately re-signs with the New York Knicks, but if you're the Knicks, do you really want him back?

Tier N/A: Andrew Bynum

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    Andrew Bynum could be a first-tier free agent. Or he could be in the second tier. Or the third. Or...well, you get the picture.

    The fact is that no one knows what in the world to expect from Bynum, a thought-to-be-elite big man who missed the entire 2012-13 season with various knee complications.

    It's not just the injuries that make Bynum so enigmatic, though. It's also that he is the kind of player who sometimes doesn't even show up. He could drop 30 and 20 one night and then go for 10 and seven while only taking five shots the next.

    If I'm a general manager, I'm not touching Bynum with a 10-foot pole unless he comes on the cheap. Giving him a four-year deal worth $10 million or more per just seems like you're asking to get swindled.

    The thing is, he could end up being worth that type of money if he stays healthy and decides to take his craft seriously 100 percent of the time; but can you count on him doing either of those things?