Ranking the Best Waiver-Wire Pickups of the 2013-14 NBA Season

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IFebruary 14, 2014

Ranking the Best Waiver-Wire Pickups of the 2013-14 NBA Season

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Every season there are hundreds of players that get passed on in free agency or released by a team early in the year.

    Eventually, if the player is lucky and good enough, they'll get another chance to make an impact for an NBA team. It's rare, but it happens.

    This season, we've actually seen quite a few players bounce back from being waived or going unsigned to start the season. These players who were previously written off and without a team have come back with a vengeance to be valuable contributors.

    Let's rank the best waiver-wire and late free-agency pickups for the 2013-14 season. 

7. Chris Johnson, Boston Celtics

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    After spending just eight games with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2012-13 season, Chris Johnson understandably went through the offseason unsigned.

    The 23-year-old small forward from Dayton latched on with the Rio Grande Vipers of the D-League to begin the season instead, where he performed well in a three-happy, uptempo system. On Jan. 17 of this year, the Celtics, having little to lose and in need of some depth on the wing, called Johnson up and signed him to a 10-day contract.

    Since then, Johnson has been one of the bigger surprises of the season. Although his raw numbers don't jump off the page (20.5 minutes, 7.1 points per game), Johnson's defensive energy and mistake-free play have made him a valuable role player. 

    Rookie head coach Brad Stevens has taken to Johnson's style of play, as he explained after a loss to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:

    After breaking down how the Celtics let the game get away in a disastrous third quarter, Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted, "Maybe I should have played Chris Johnson more and earlier, and then we'd feel better about ourselves."

    Johnson's effort is certainly infectious, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge recognized and rewarded the young forward by recently signing him to a contract for the remainder of the season.

    That's a big moment for any undrafted young player, and given how well he's played, it would be a surprise to see Johnson not stick in Boston moving forward. 

6. James Anderson, Philadelphia 76ers

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    When the Houston Rockets waived James Anderson this offseason, it didn't take long for former Rockets assistant GM Sam Hinkie to snatch up one of his old guys and bring him to Philadelphia.

    Anderson had previously spent three seasons with the Spurs and one with the Rockets, but he couldn't crack the rotation of either Western Conference power. That hasn't been an issue in Philadelphia.

    Anderson has started 36 games at shooting guard this year for the rebuilding Sixers, and he's finally been given ample time on the court to perform and develop.

    In 28.4 minutes a game, Anderson is averaging 9.9 points and four rebounds. 

    While those numbers won't blow anyone away, Anderson has shown solid athleticism, a good knack for rebounding and the ability to make smart cuts off the ball in his time this year.

    At 6'6" with a good frame, Anderson has ideal size to play the 2 and be physical defensively. If the former first-round pick from Oklahoma State could develop a more consistent outside shot, he could become a solid three-and-D option off the bench going forward. Claiming Anderson off waivers was a solid decision. 


5. Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix Suns

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    How often do 31-year-old guards that rely almost solely on their quickness come back and perform at a high level after suffering a devastating ACL injury?

    That's the line of thinking that kept most teams far away from veteran guard Leandro Barbosa this offseason. Since Barbosa wouldn't be ready for opening day, most teams scratched him off their list and looked elsewhere. It didn't help that Barbosa was already declining before the injury, either. You can see why he was left unsigned.

    When the Suns lost Eric Bledsoe to injury, they reached out to their former star and brought him in on a 10-day contract.

    It didn't take long for Barbosa to shake off the rust. In 19.9 minutes a game, Barbosa is scoring 8.4 points a game and providing his usual ability to fly the ball up the court and put pressure on defenses. The Brazilian Blur isn't what he once was, but he's still an effective role player.

    Phoenix didn't take long to realize that, as Barbosa was recently signed for the remainder of the season. His minutes will fall off once Bledsoe returns, but he's a nice piece of insurance for an extremely young playoff team to have on the bench. 

4. Michael Beasley, Miami Heat

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    This is what you would call a win-win situation.

    The Phoenix Suns waived Michael Beasley in September, and it's hard to say that wasn't the right decision. Unexpectedly, the Suns are now a legitimate playoff contender. Whether there's any causation there is tough to decipher, but basically, it's worked out okay for the Suns.

    The Miami Heat signed Beasley after he cleared waivers, so every team in the league technically had its chance at the former No. 2 overall pick. The Heat may have been the only team willing to take a chance, but that's paid off big time so far.

    Although Beasley is in and out of the rotation and is only playing 15 minutes a night, he's been dynamite whenever he's been on the floor. Per 36 minutes this year, Beasley is averaging 20.2 points and eight rebounds with an outstanding true shooting percentage of 57.3 percent and a PER of 17.5.

    We'll see how long his leash is in the playoffs, but this is a reclamation project that seems to be working out wonderfully for the Heat. This is by far the best season of Beasley's six-year career, even if he's a part-time player.

3. James Johnson, Memphis Grizzlies

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    After being waived by the Atlanta Hawks in preseason, James Johnson waited patiently for his next chance. It took about two months, but the Memphis Grizzlies provided it.

    To think that every team passed on Johnson for that long seems insane now. Johnson's per-36 minute averages of 13.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists 1.9 steals and 2.6 blocks have only been actually reached by one wing player in NBA history: Andrei Kirilenko. When you're in the same category as a prime AK47, you're doing something right.

    Johnson has been a savior for the Grizz at small forward with Tayshaun Prince struggling. At 6'9", he's the perfect wing to throw on guys like Nicolas Batum and Kevin Durant, but he's more than just a good athlete with length. Johnson has guard skills in that big frame, as he's a solid ball-handler and an excellent passer. 

    Johnson is only playing 22 minutes a night, but the writing is on the wall. He's a far superior option to Prince at this point, and we should see his minutes slowly start to tick upward as the season goes on. Keep an eye on the 26-year-old forward—he could be the X-factor in the race for the No. 8 in the Western Conference. His impact is felt all over the floor. 


2. Kendall Marshall, Los Angeles Lakers

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    There's nothing quite like burning a team that wouldn't give you a chance.

    Kendall Marshall was an afterthought for the Washington Wizards when they traded for Marcin Gortat, and he was promptly waived once the deal went through. Apparently, the Wizards thought they were just fine at point guard.

    Things can change quickly over a few months, though, and now the Wizards are desperately searching for a backup point guard while Marshall thrives in Los Angeles.

    It's hard to beat up on the Wizards too much, as every team had its shot at giving Marshall a roster spot.

    After a brief stint in the D-League, the 22-year-old former lottery pick was picked up by the Lakers after the entire roster was seemingly wiped out by injuries. Opportunity knocked, and Marshall answered.

    In 32 minutes a game, Marshall has averaged 10.3 points and 9.5 assists and has proven to be a very capable distributor in Mike D'Antoni's point guard-friendly system.

    Perhaps the most surprising part about Marshall's success this year is his shooting. That was the primary reason every team stayed away, but the UNC grad is hitting 46.5 percent from behind the arc this season.

    Picking up Marshall and signing him to a long-term deal nice and early was one of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak's finest moves, and that's saying something giving his track record. Marshall won't be out of the league again.

1. D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls

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    D.J. Augustin's career revival is more shocking than anyone else's on this list.

    Usually when a player is around age 26 with about 9,000 NBA minutes played, you have him pegged for what he is. Augustin looked like nothing more than a career backup point guard with an overrated jumper, small frame and inability to finish in the paint.

    That was the book on Augustin, but after he was waived by the Toronto Raptors in December, the Chicago Bulls decided to give him the unenviable task of replacing Derrick Rose. Things were supposed to get ugly. 

    Somehow though, Augustin has helped keep the Bulls afloat, even after Luol Deng was dealt. With averages of 13.7 points and 5.7 assists, Augustin has been a key reason why the Bulls are still in great position to make the playoffs.  

    No waived player has made a bigger impact or taken on a bigger role for a potential playoff team than Augustin has. This was unexpected, but Augustin is playing by far the best basketball of his career at the most important time.