2014 NBA Free Agents: 15 Sleepers You Need to Know
While it seems very likely that most of the top members of the 2014 NBA free-agent class will end up staying put with their original teams, that doesn't mean there still won't be plenty of value to be had this offseason.
Teams may have to dig a little deeper, but there are multiple quality rotation players flying under the radar in this year's free agency. The focus may not be on them, but as the San Antonio Spurs showed us this season, role players like Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and other bargain-bin finds can swing the outcome of a series.
With that in mind, you'll likely notice a common theme throughout the list. Most of these players will be specialists of some sort, and there will be a big emphasis placed on shooting. That's the skill that's in highest demand as teams look to space the floor, and this list will reflect that.
But how do we define "sleepers" in free agency? We'll use the qualifier that every player's last salary had to be below the mid-level exception ($5.5 million) last season, and that no player can be listed in the top 35 of this list, via HoopsHype.com.
Let's get to the 15 sleepers to keep an eye on in free agency this year.
Devin Harris, UFA
You're probably wondering what happened to the whole "shooters theme" since Dallas Mavericks point guard Devin Harris is here, but Harris is the rare guard who can compensate for a shaky jumper.
Harris had a true shooting percentage of 51.7 percent last season, which certainly isn't great and would've been worse if it weren't for 5.1 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes. Harris is only a career 31.8 percent shooter from behind the arc, which obviously isn't ideal.
But, with all of that said, Harris showed a burst many thought he had lost this year with Dallas. In the opening-round seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs, Harris was routinely one of the best players on the floor on both ends.
Harris is a pesky on-ball defender who can guard either backcourt spot, and offensively, he can spend time both on and off the ball. He's a great first guard off the bench who can really distribute (7.8 assists to 2.6 turnovers per 36 minutes this year) and slash in the pick-and-roll.
Harris is 31 and probably only has a few years left in the tank, so he's a serious threat to latch on with a contender and make a difference off the bench next season.
Ramon Sessions, UFA
Ramon Sessions is certainly a specialist, and teams struggling to create good offense with their second units should target him this offseason.
Sessions does one thing incredibly well, and that's his ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. Sessions averaged 6.6 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes this past season, and he averaged 7.6 the year before. That's a lot of free points on that line for an 80 percent career free-throw shooter.
That's the main reason advanced stats really like him (16.7 career PER), but it's not as though Sessions is a total one-trick pony. He rebounds and defends pretty well for his size, and he typically stays in his lane by only taking wide-open shots when he's not plowing ahead to the rim.
Sessions represents cheap, efficient offense, and that's not always easy to find in free agency. For teams without a scoring sixth man, he makes a lot of sense.
Brian Roberts, RFA
There will be casualties from the lack of demand around the league for point guards, but Brian Roberts has earned his keep.
After bouncing around overseas for most of his youth, the 28-year-old point guard provided solid play for New Orleans over the past two seasons and now heads into the offseason as a restricted free agent.
It seems very possible that New Orleans would hesitate to match any decent offer for Roberts, especially because Austin Rivers will probably need more time as he develops. That could leave Roberts to be snatched up elsewhere, as his career averages of 14.8 points per 36 minutes and 37.2 percent three-point shooting should be attractive.
Roberts doesn't have the size or athleticism that other free-agent guards do, but he's a smart player who can take care of the ball and run an offense, as he showed in spot-start duty last year. He also led the league in free-throw shooting at 94 percent, so he's an asset late in games with a lead.
Roberts' restricted status may hurt him, but he's a nice player for teams in need of backcourt help to monitor this offseason.
C.J. Miles, UFA
This may not be the most flattering description for C.J. Miles, but he's similar to New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith in a lot of ways.
Miles has good size on the wing, a silky-smooth jumper and the ability to heat up out of nowhere and swing a few games over the course of a season. He's not as talented or as athletic as Smith, but he's also not as much of a distraction.
Over the past two seasons, Miles has really focused on becoming a three-point specialist. This past year, he shot a whopping 7.7 attempts per 36 minutes, knocking in 39.3 percent. For teams looking to put up more threes, those numbers should jump off the page.
Miles can play either wing spot, and when engaged, he's not a bad defender. He'll use a lot of possessions for himself, but he's a great source of offense and can keep the floor spread very well.
On a team that could produce open looks more frequently than Cleveland did, Miles could be a seriously scary player. He has some of the "good stats, bad team" stink on him, so there's a good chance the 27-year-old wing will come at a discount.
Patrick Patterson, RFA
The stretch 4 isn't going away anytime soon. Every team needs at least one big man who can shoot on their roster, and that should result in some pretty solid job security for restricted free agent Patrick Patterson.
It's hard to tell if the Toronto Raptors will match on Patterson or not. He's fairly limited because of his lack of length and ability to score inside, and he probably projects as a role player more than anything else.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it just depends on where Toronto is with Kyle Lowry and the rest of the team. Patterson is a 36.8 percent career three-point shooter, and he's particularly dangerous from the corners. He's a high-effort defender who uses his big body well and has a nose for the ball, so he doesn't hurt you nearly as much as some other stretch big men will.
Patterson can run the floor and function well in an uptempo system, but he needs to continue to expand his range and really hone in on becoming a perimeter shooter. Until that happens, he might not get a good deal in free agency, but he could be worth the investment now.
Mike Scott, RFA
Here's another restricted stretch big man who would be well served to spend his entire summer working on the long ball. Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott is a natural scorer with a nice in-between game, but he's only a 31 percent three-point shooter on his career.
There's still a lot of potential here, however, as Scott is athletic and still getting his feet wet in the league. He has a decent little post game and a nice floater, which allows him to really attack based on whoever is guarding him.
Scott's 15.5 career PER is pretty solid, so it's not hard to imagine a team that could use a scoring 4 off the bench will come calling in free agency.
If Atlanta ends up retaining him, Scott can learn a lot from starting power forward Paul Millsap and what he's done to improve. There's a lot of natural ability here, but some improvements with his range and shot selection would go a long way.
P.J. Tucker, RFA
It's hard not to cheer for a guy like Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker. He's one of the perimeter hustle players in the league, he's built like a refrigerator, and he defends some of the game's elite scorers as well as anyone.
Now that Tucker has proven he can overcome his lack of height (he's a 6'5" small forward) and knock in the three-ball consistently (38.7 percent last year), he'll be hotly recruited as a three-and-D guy who can really take scorers out of the game with physical defense.
While there may be some concerns about his athleticism, age (29) and lack of potential as a scorer, Tucker is a nice role player who can fit in just about anywhere.
He may not have the name value of other small forwards in free agency, but his rebounding, defending and three-point shooting make him a very productive player that Phoenix will surely want to try to keep around in free agency.
Jason Smith, UFA
I'm not ready to write him off quite yet. New Orleans Pelicans big man Jason Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury this year, but there's just too much to like from a skill perspective to let him sit in free agency.
While whoever signs Smith will likely have to wait until he's back to full strength, the patience could be rewarded in the form of a 7-footer who can step out and knock in mid-range jumpers with startling regularity.
Before he got hurt in January, Smith was shooting an incredible 47.4 percent from 16 feet and out. He was a weapon offensively, and defensively, he used his size to bang well.
Unfortunately, Smith may lose some of his mobility and shot-blocking thanks to another injury, but as long as he can shoot from range with accuracy, he's worthy of stashing on a roster. He's a pick-and-pop threat who could easily make a difference in the second half of next year.
Anthony Morrow, UFA
There were some bright spots in an otherwise dreary season for the New Orleans Pelicans, and shooting guard Anthony Morrow was one of them.
I've never really understood why Morrow hasn't been able to catch on with a contender. I understand he's not a good defender, rebounder or passer, but the man can shoot the lights out.
Morrow is a 42.8 percent career three-point shooter, and his career true shooting of 57 percent is stellar. It's just not easy to find shooters of this caliber, and Morrow's 13.4 PER would suggest he's worthy of playing time over a lot of the wings in the league.
Morrow has played for five different teams, so he's a bit of a journeyman, but any team looking for shooting on the cheap should covet him in free agency this offseason. Defenses simply can't leave him.
Kevin Seraphin, RFA
There are a few project big men who could be sleepers in free agency, but Kevin Seraphin is probably the most talented of then all.
Seraphin is still just 24 years old, so there's plenty of time for him to develop. He has great size and a nice post game already, so there's a lot to work with here.
Consistency and effort defensively are issues for sure, and it's unclear whether Seraphin has the basketball IQ to be trusted in big situations. There's a reason why Drew Gooden and Al Harrington replaced him in Washington's playoff rotation, and there's a good chance he'll be available as an RFA because of that.
That being said, I'm not fully confident in Washington's ability to develop talent. Andray Blatche became a productive third big man once he left Washington, and it's not hard to see Seraphin following a similar path. The size and skill is there, but he needs a patient staff to work with him.
Ryan Kelly, UFA
How about some more stretch 4 love? Ryan Kelly was a rookie last year who was often asked to cover guys capable of eating him alive, but he survived and put together a decent little campaign for a second-round pick.
Kelly was renowned as a pure shooter coming out of Duke, even if his 33.8 percent shooting didn't reflect that. Kelly was good about not forcing the action, often using pump fakes to probe the D and make the right swing pass. He's a smart player, even if he'll get overwhelmed athletically in the league.
Ideally, Kelly could fill a role similar to a guy like Matt Bonner down the line, except he'll offer more length. That's a useful player, particularly if he's signed to a cheap contract, which seems possible.
Kelly will have to prove he's a much better shooter than he did in his rookie year, but he should latch on to a bench somewhere and continue to hone his most marketable skill—6'11" guys who can shoot from deep tend to stick around.
Kent Bazemore, UFA
Kent Bazemore is just a good player to have on your bench, even if he's not getting a ton of playing time. He brings a lot of energy to the game, and his perimeter defense is exceptional. With great size and athleticism, there are a lot of tools present here.
What Bazemore lacks in skill, he makes up for in willpower, and it's never a bad idea to have a guy like that pushing your starters everyday in practice.
If he learns to exercise more control and change speeds a little better, Bazemore could be a nice combo guard off the bench who can fill a few different roles. He'll need to iron out the wrinkles on his jumper, but that's a skill that can be refined.
Basically, the core components for a really nice rotation player are there. Bazemore would be a wise investment for a team that can focus on developing talent while living through a few mistakes.
Ekpe Udoh, RFA
There are only a handful of players who can protect the rim well and operate out of the high post, and Milwaukee Bucks restricted big man Ekpe Udoh is probably the cheapest one out there.
On his career, Udoh has averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes. That's a pretty solid number, as Udoh's mobility and length are big assets defensively.
There are issues, though. Udoh isn't a good inside player offensively at all. He can't finish at the rim, and his lack of scoring is reflective of his skills and strength in the paint. Although he's a good passer out of the high post, it's hard to run offense through such a limited shooter and scorer with any real regularity.
The hope is that with better teammates, Udoh's passing and defensive abilities could take precedent while his scoring and rebounding weaknesses could be covered up. Udoh should be able to find a role as a third or fourth big man if Milwaukee's frontcourt gets too crowded, and a change of scenery would probably serve him well.
Jordan Hamilton, UFA
Usually when you talk about sleepers, it's someone who has the potential to really perform beyond expectations. Houston Rockets forward Jordan Hamilton is one of those players.
Hamilton, 23, has the ability to put up points in a hurry. He's a streaky scorer, but his big frame and quickness allow him to get his shot off with relative ease. Ideally, you'd like to see Hamilton either shoot threes or get to the rim instead of settling for mid-range attempts, but hopefully Houston's style of play has rubbed off on him.
It's tough to say whether Hamilton will stick with the Rockets or not, but any team in need of some scoring punch off the bench and an elite rebounding wing would be wise to go after Hamilton and keep him out of Houston's price range.
Hamilton would really benefit from consistent playing time, as that's something he's never really been able to get in his career thus far. Out of all of the players on this list, he probably has the most potential to be a full-time starter down the road.
Andrew Goudelock, UFA
If you're not familiar with Andrew Goudelock, don't feel too bad. Goudelock wasn't on an NBA roster last year despite an incredibly successful summer league showing, as he decided instead to play in Russia.
Goudelock performed so well overseas that he won the Eurocup MVP, which undoubtedly put him right back on the radar of NBA teams around the league.
Although he lacks size as a shooting guard, Goudelock can flat-out fill it up from deep. Even though his only pro experience was with the Los Angeles Lakers, his shooting ability could very well land him a roster spot as long as he's willing to accept a lesser role and perhaps more money than he'd receive overseas.
If some of the other three-point specialists are signed early, don't be surprised if Goudelock's name starts to pop up around the league. He's back on the radar.
Any stats used in this article are via basketball-reference.com.
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