Most Underrated Moves of NBA Free Agency So Far
Acquiring a free agent like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Josh Smith is the easiest way to make noise during the 2013 NBA offseason, but it's often the underrated signings that have big impacts on the landscape of the Association.
Players who fly under the radar during the summer and then make headlines during the actual season tend to do positive things for their new—or, if they re-signed, old—teams. Even if they come off the bench, they can still directly affect whether a squad picks up a few extra wins or losses.
This offseason has been dominated by the big names in a fairly weak class, but there have still been a number of moves that we'll regret not paying more attention to.
They're the most underrated free-agency moves thus far.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Martell Webster Staying with the Washington Wizards
Martell Webster's injury history makes his four-year, $22 million deal a bit riskier than it would be otherwise, but it's still a great signing for the Washington Wizards.
First and foremost, Webster is a great presence in the locker room. He's wise beyond his years at 26. And given the youth of this team—John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all figure to play major roles—that's invaluable.
Washington looks primed to make a serious playoff push during the 2013-14 season, and Webster's on-court abilities will play a large role as well. The swingman used his first season in the nation's capital to break out. Now he'll be looking to turn that into a springboard for even more success.
Last year Webster averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game, and it wasn't solely a function of increased playing time. He was more efficient than ever before, showing off his potency from long range by drilling 42.2 percent of his three-point attempts.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Webster's career true shooting percentage going into the 2012-13 campaign was 54.2, but he blew that away with a single-season mark of 60.1.
The prep-to-pro player's ability to space the court and mentor the young guns in Washington should help him advance to the postseason for the first time since 2009-10, when he and the Portland Trail Blazers were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland Signing with the Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers had one of the worst benches in the league during the 2012-13 season.
According to Hoopsstats.com, only the Portland Trail Blazers scored fewer points off the pine than the Pacers' 24.1. Indiana also had the worst bench field-goal percentage in the NBA and finished ahead of just Rip City in terms of efficiency recap difference (a rudimentary box-score metric designed to show a team's overall performance).
Part of the problem was D.J. Augustin, who seemed determined to prove that he wasn't only incapable of being a starter, but also a primary backup. As shown by NBA.com's statistical databases, the Pacers scored 6.3 fewer points per 100 possessions and allowed 2.6 more when Augustin was on the court.
C.J. Watson will help change that.
The stoic point guard struggled with his shot at times during his final go-around with the Brooklyn Nets, but his offensive abilities still remained valuable because he's a capable dribbler who minimizes mistakes. If he plays alongside Paul George, that will be crucial, because the breakout swingman often coughs the ball up too much when he serves as the primary ball-handler.
Watson's two-year deal allows him to provide some stability to a bench in dire need of some direction. The same can be said for Chris Copeland, the forward who agreed to a two-year deal worth $6.12 million.
Copeland struggled defensively at times during his rookie season with the New York Knicks, but that can be masked by the strength of the Indiana roster on that end of the court. More relevant is his energy and offensive ability.
The Colorado product was a per-minute stud in 2012-13, averaging 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc. His PER of 16.8 shows just how valuable he was to the Knicks' efforts.
Copeland and Watson will both help shore up the second unit, ensuring that there isn't as much of a drop-off this year when the starters catch their breath.
Utah Jazz Getting Brandon Rush
In just the second game of the 2012-13 campaign, Brandon Rush had to deal with an unfortunate amount of pain. He tore his ACL after spending just under two minutes on the court against the Memphis Grizzlies, and that would be his last action for the Golden State Warriors.
Rush was sent to the Utah Jazz as part of the series of moves that brought Andre Iguodala out of a Denver Nuggets uniform, and now he'll make his return from injury in Salt Lake City.
A missed season masked the fact that Rush is still a valuable player. At just 28 years old, he's in the middle of his athletic prime and should be able to capably recover from the ACL tear without it ruining the rest of his career.
During his last healthy season, the Kansas product averaged 9.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game with a 15.2 PER. It was easily the best year of his professional career, and he appeared to be trending upward as a three-point specialist.
Rush shot 45.2 percent from behind the arc during that 2010-11 campaign, which left the rest of his seasons in the dust. If he can maintain that level of shooting efficiency, he'll help form a stellar duo alongside Alec Burks at the 2-guard spot for the Jazz.
He's only owed $4 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent, so the Jazz will get one solid year out of him before having the ability to either re-sign him or let him test the waters and clear up even more cap space for the 2014 offseason.
Chase Budinger Remaining with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Speaking of sneaky-valuable players who are coming off injury and resultantly flying under the radar, how about Chase Budinger?
The former Arizona Wildcat hit free agency this offseason, but he was brought back by the Minnesota Timberwolves on a three-year deal worth $16 million. Now he'll have a chance to actually make an impact in the Land of 10,000 Lakes after playing just 23 games during his first season with the team.
Budinger tore his left meniscus six games into the season and had to fight his way back into the rotation once he returned at the end of the season. After a full offseason of recovery, he should be able to capitalize on the lack of wing depth by showcasing the athleticism that once got him into the Slam Dunk Contest.
Still only 25 years old, Budinger is one of those players who is good at everything and great at nothing. He's a jack of all trades, much like his former teammate, Chandler Parsons. And just as Parsons started to break out for the Houston Rockets during the 2012-13 season, so too could Budinger with the Wolves in 2013-14.
At the very least, he can help space the court out with his three-point shooting.
Budinger hit 32.1 percent of his attempts from downtown as a Timberwolf, but that number was depressed slightly by his attempt to play his way back into shape following the meniscus injury. He was always better than that with the Rockets.
The Arizona product can also serve as a capable stopper out on the perimeter. According to 82games.com, he allowed opposing shooting guards and small forwards to post respective PERs of 11.7 and 15.7 while he was playing for Minnesota.
Jarrett Jack Ready to Back Up Kyrie Irving
Jarrett Jack may have been listed as the backup point guard for the Golden State Warriors—a role he'll continue in different threads after agreeing to sign a four-year, $25 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers—but he was so much more than just a bench player.
The floor general earned Mark Jackson's trust and was often on the court during crunch time, playing alongside Stephen Curry in sets that prominently featured two point guards. He performed admirably throughout the season, keeping up the trend that has left him underrated throughout his professional career.
Now, Jack gets to spell Kyrie Irving, and he'll presumably steal a handful of minutes from Dion Waiters as well. For a young team hoping to make a playoff push in the weaker Eastern Conference, this is good news, especially since the former No. 1 pick seems to have a penchant for racking up injuries.
Although Jack isn't much of a defensive presence, his offense is invaluable. His ability to serve either as a go-to scorer or primary distributor makes teams willing to live with his occasional desire to shoot the ball at inopportune moments.
According to NBA.com, the Dubs were better when Jack was on the court, an impressive feat for a backup to one of the league's better point guards. They allowed more points per 100 possessions, but the 2.3-point offensive boost over the same frame more than made up for the difference.
Jack won't draw many headlines while playing for the Cavs, but he'll be a steady presence off the bench, taking a lot of the offensive pressure off Irving as Cleveland makes a run to the playoffs.
Paul Millsap Signing a Bargain Contract with the Atlanta Hawks
Paul Millsap agreed to one of the biggest bargain contracts of the summer, joining the Atlanta Hawks for two years and making only $19 million over that designated time frame. A player of his caliber should be making eight figures with room to spare, even if he is short for the power forward position.
For Atlanta fans who dealt with the mercurial and enigmatic play of Josh Smith over the last few seasons, Millsap will be a breath of fresh air. He's a steady force who brings a hardworking, tough-nosed mentality to the hardwood each and every game.
Plus he doesn't tend to do things that hurt the team. Despite a prominent role in the Utah Jazz organization throughout recent memory, Millsap has never averaged more than 1.9 turnovers per game.
The undersized big man will form a great, versatile duo with Al Horford, as both have the floor-spacing abilities to function as screeners in pick-and-pop set.
While Millsap won't blow the Hawks away at any point with jaw-dropping performances or highlights that work their way onto SportsCenter, he'll earn that contract one rebound at a time. He'll make good on each penny with his constant efforts on the boards and relentless work in the post.
Additionally, the former Louisiana Tech standout is only under contract for two years. The Hawks left themselves an easy out if Millsap doesn't seem to be working out, so he's either going to speed along the rebuilding process or get out without hindering it.
It's rare that you can get a player this valuable to sign a bargain of a contract without securing his financial status well into the future, but that's exactly what general manager Danny Ferry pulled off.