Biggest Under-the-Radar Steals Remaining on 2013 NBA Free Agent Market

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2013

Biggest Under-the-Radar Steals Remaining on 2013 NBA Free Agent Market

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    Unlike the sometimes threatening objects radar is designed to locate (like missiles and submarines), most of the NBA's free agents aren't actually trying to evade it. In fact, it's safe to say most who've made it this far without finding a deal could actually use a little more radar aimed their way.

    That's a tough sell in many of these cases. Some of the best free agents left on the market spent their 2012-13 seasons with the likes of the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz. It's not about these teams being bad; it's about no one noticing them in the first place.

    And so it is some of their free agents have gone similarly unnoticed, dodging radar like torpedoes headed straight for the Development League. It's too soon to declare them all bound for the D-League, of course. We know that won't be the case for Mo Williams, who the radar simply forgot about. Nor will we see veterans like Leandro Barbosa or Beno Udrih go without one last NBA role-play run.

    Unless they can make a lot more money overseas, anyway.

    It's also worth noting that even if these guys have flown under our radar for the most part, that doesn't mean front offices around the league haven't been watching. There are still roster spots to be filled and still more openings may emerge as prospects get demoted or injuries warrant changes of plans.

    And as we'll see, some of these free agents are already close to joining the ranks of the NBA's employed.

10. Luke Babbitt, F

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    The best argument against signing Luke Babbitt is that for a shooter, he didn't shoot very well last season. That argument has some merit to it.

    Babbitt made fewer than 37 percent of his field-goal attempts, largely because he was making even fewer (just 35 percent) of his bread-and-butter three-point attempts. My theory is this, though. When you pair an inexperienced spot-up shooter with one of the least productive benches in NBA history, he's probably not going to look all that great.

    Spot-up shooters like Babbitt need well-oiled systems within which to work and veterans capable of executing those systems around which to work. Portland offered the 24 year old neither of those things last season.

    A season earlier (when Jamal Crawford was still coming off the Blazers' bench), Babbitt performed significantly better, making 43 percent of his three-point attempts and playing over 13 minutes a game.

    None of that means the Nevada product deserves anything more than a small contract with which to prove himself, but teams needing shooters in their second units could do worse. They could land someone who's never been able to shoot.

    That's not the case with Babbitt. He could still return to form and have a nice career should the perfect situation present itself.

9. Terrence Williams, G/F

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    If the NBA were only about raw talent, Terrence Williams would have found a home long before now—before this summer, even. Instead, the 26-year-old Louisville product is poised to join his fifth team since being taken with the eleventh overall pick in 2009.

    That kind of track record will grab a prospective suitor's eye in all the wrong ways.

    Not all of it is Williams' fault. After a decently impressive rookie season with the New Jersey Nets, Williams' second and third seasons included spotty minutes with the Houston Rockets and a quietly intriguing stint with the Sacramento Kings (a stint that flew under the radar almost axiomatically).

    The Boston Celtics looked to be a promising fit last season and all the more so in retrospect with Danny Ainge's partial rebuilding effort well underway. Wouldn't Williams have added some depth in the short term along with a bit of upside after that?

    Williams' arrest in May probably didn't help things, and Boston's trade with the Brooklyn Nets put a premium on saving money and roster spots alike. So the Celtics waived Williams at the end of June, leaving him once again on the lookout for a team willing to provide one more chance. 

    With some playing time and a veteran locker room within which to grow, Williams could finally stick somewhere. He's an especially heads-up passer for a guy his size, and there's got to be a team out there with a shoot-first point guard who could use that.

8. Sam Young, F

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    Is Sam Young feigning excitement, or did he just realize he was one of the 10 biggest under-the-radar steals left on the free-agent market?

    Young is either a poor man's Ronnie Brewer or a rich man's Ronnie Brewer, depending on exactly how good Ronnie Brewer actually is. Frank Vogel appreciated his ability to guard either forward position, and that speaks to the reality of modern-day rotations. Somewhere on the bench, every team wants a wing defender, a guy who's strong enough or long enough to contribute physically and motivated enough to work.

    Buyers should be aware of a field-goal percentage that hasn't been above 39 percent since the 2010-11 season. That makes it difficult for teams like the Pacers to retain Young's services, because teams like the Pacers already have strong defenders throughout the lineup. They need points.

    For a team that has plenty of scorers, though, Young's a wise luxury in which to invest. 

    A purely speculative fit is the Milwaukee Bucks, who could use a little help at small forward after losing both Luc Mbah a Moute and Mike Dunleavy this summer.

     

7. Tyrus Thomas, F

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    Please tell me the New York Knicks aren't the only team interested in Tyrus Thomas. The Knicks are bound by some kind of universal law to show interest in any and every player who might be willing to play for a minimum contract.

    Having the Knicks show interest is like getting a wink from Kim Kardashian. You feel more used than special.

    You can't help but feel bad for Thomas. Getting amnestied by the Charlotte Bobcats is even worse than getting winked at by Kim Kardashian. If those guys don't want you, the future must be bleak indeed. Oh, but then you can stop feeling bad for Thomas upon remembering he'll be paid another $18 million to not play for the Bobcats.

    Where amazing happens, indeed.

    Aside from the persistent injuries and terrible shooting (35 percent last season), there's a lot to like about Thomas. He's a long-armed, athletic tweener-forward who's shown the ability to impact games defensively at the very least. Also, don't discount the extent to which those injuries and a four-year tenure in Charlotte disrupted Thomas' development.

    With some luck on the health front and a more winning culture, we may see the Thomas who began to blossom with the Chicago Bulls five years ago.

6. Daniel Gibson, G

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    His potential battery charge notwithstanding, Daniel Gibson has still proven himself deserving of a job in this league.

    Even if it's a job on the third string.

    "Boobie" Gibson's problem has never been shooting. For his career, he's made nearly 41 percent of his three-point attempts, which is especially encouraging because those have actually accounted for the majority of his attempts. After seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gibson's status as a three-point specialist has long been established. He's essentially a smaller version of Kyle Korver.

    But it's that "smaller" part that hurts his value so much. Without another discernible skill valued among guards (e.g. stout perimeter defense, play-making for teammates), Gibson's a one-dimensional weapon likely to claim limited minutes in all but the very worst rotations. 

    Fortunately for Gibson, there are still some pretty bad rotations out there.

5. Leandro Barbosa, G

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    You have to hope guys like Leandro Barbosa buy into that notion that it's about the journey rather than the destination. He's had quite the journey since spending his first seven seasons with the Phoenix Suns, seemingly proving once again that Steve Nash made everyone around him look better than they actually were.

    After stops in Toronto, Indiana and Boston, Barbosa has established himself as a role-player rental, maybe even a sixth-man candidate for especially desperate clubs. 

    If said desperate clubs need a solid three-point shooter who can pull up off the dribble, all the better. Barbosa kept his three-point efficiency above 36 percent in each of the last two seasons, and he's pretty fleet of foot for a guy who turned 30 last year.

    Unfortunately, Barbosa has never been a good defender and he's never passed the ball like a point guard should. Those aren't the qualities you like to see in a 6'3" veteran.

    But when injuries start dotting backcourts around the NBA, Barbosa's name will come up in the event he's still available. He's already been linked to the Dallas Mavericks (however credibly), but Devin Harris' deal in Big D might change that.

     

4. Beno Udrih, PG

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    Just when you thought the New York Knicks' backcourt couldn't get any more exciting, is that a Beno Udrih rumor to the rescue?

    ESPN's Marc Stein said New York was "trying hard to convince" Udrih to settle for a minimum offer, truly putting the 31-year-old point guard's desire to win to the test. He could probably make more in Europe, maybe even in the United States if a cap-rich team like the Philadelphia 76ers rented him for their 2013-14 Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes.

    But if Udrih has his heart set on a playoff-bound team, he may not find many offers beyond the Knicks. 

    So what's all the not-all-existent fuss about anyway? Udrih is at best average in most every respect, except that he's a pretty decent, even versatile shooter—at least most of the time. If there's one team with whom Udrih definitely doesn't want to sign, it's with the Milwaukee Bucks. That was the uniform in which Udrih's three-point stroke went horribly cold, below 30 percent even.

    Udrih went on to make the most of his stint with the Orlando Magic, brief though it was. In 27 games and while averaging over 27 minutes, Udrih averaged 10.2 points and 6.1 assists, production good enough to earn him a look from teams contemplating life with Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni running the show again.

3. Ivan Johnson, PF

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    We may just be waiting on Ivan Johnson and the New York Knicks to reach a formal agreement. ESPNNewYork.com's Jared Zwerling reports that the two sides are already in talks according to one source, who also added New York "would be a great fit for Ivan to get big minutes and further prove he can play in this league."

    Let's hope it works out. He can't go back to Korea.

    No, really—he's banned from playing there now.

    The Knicks would be a good fit, though. Johnson brings a decidedly different change of pace when compared to Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, which is to say he actually brings some defensive intensity. Given the likelihood Carmelo Anthony will spend time at power forward, however, the notion that bountiful minutes are awaiting Ivan in New York could be misguided—especially in light of Kenyon Martin's return.

    With rampant injuries risks among those ranks, that could certainly change. But if it's guaranteed minutes Johnson seeks, he may want to remain patient and keep looking.

2. Ronnie Brewer, G/F

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    Ronnie Brewer should find a new home any day now, and it's almost a little surprising he still hasn't.

    Teams want players who can shoot these days. Go figure.

    Offensive deficiencies aside, Brewer is good enough to stick in a rotation, and it's hard to say that unequivocally about most of the remaining free agents. One problem for guys like Brewer is that unless they find a contender, they don't make a lot of sense for rebuilding clubs. They're better-served giving those 15-20 minutes to some prospect.

    Brewer fills an important niche, though. He defends, he's quick and his wingspan is over 6'11" according to DraftExpress.com.

    That skill set alone has won more than a few journeymen consistent work in this league, and Brewer looks to be the latest. Every now and then, he shows a flash of an ability to shoot. He made a career-high 31 percent of his three-point attempts in 46 games with the New York Knicks last season. But the payoffs are few and far between, mired in inconsistency that's been more or less unabated since his first four seasons with the Utah Jazz.

    Brewer can hide his deficiencies in a motion offense that allows him plenty of cuts to the basket. You don't want him spotting up more than he absolutely has to, and you certainly don't want him trying to create offense. Were he to land in some variation of the Princeton offense (like Rick Adelman runs in Minnesota), he could survive in this league as a poor man's Andre Kirilenko.

    That might not be the sexiest sales pitch, but it will resonate with a team sooner or later.

1. Mo Williams, PG

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    Mo Williams is easily the best remaining free agent on the market. Though he only played 46 games last season, mostly due to a thumb injury he suffered in December. Upon returning to action, Williams looked just as good as he had in his last full season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009-10.

    Teams looking to solve their starting point-guard situations (e.g. Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons) didn't look Williams' way, but that says more about his ideal role than his value. Williams doesn't have terrific size at 6'1" and nor does he have a defensive reputation that screams "starter." But when his shot's right, he's an ideal option to come off the bench looking to score.

    That's the role Williams played in 2011-12 for the Los Angeles Clippers. Though his assist totals predictably declined, the shooting efficiency never wavered. In 51 games off the bench, Williams made over 42 percent of his field-goal attempts and 38 percent of his attempts from three-point range. He was exactly what the Clippers needed behind (and for some stretches, alongside) Chris Paul.

    At least until Jamal Crawford came along.

    The Memphis Grizzlies have been linked to Williams, and they'd be an ideal fit in many respects on account of their need for more shooting and scoring off the bench. The unknown variable is whether Williams could be lured over to the Miami Heat instead. Miami has playing time to offer at point guard and a pretty good chance of winning another title. 

    Pretty good choices for a guy still unemployed in August.