Best Under-the-Radar 2014 NBA Free Agents Still Available
Although most prominent free agents have found their homes, whether returning to their old organizations or leaving for a place with greener grass, the market is still full of role players who can make impacts in 2014-15—even if they're largely flying under the radar.
No, Eric Bledsoe, Shawn Marion and Greg Monroe don't count.
Each of them gets a great deal of attention. They're known commodities, and valuable at that, hardly flying under the radar as multiple teams pursue their services.
These are the NBA players who can easily be forgotten about, even if they shouldn't be. They're the veterans who don't have any upside left, the young guys who filled small roles for various teams while starting to define their niche skill and others who have just fallen through the cracks.
Each should find a home by the end of the offseason, even if they're still parts of the open market for the time being.
All statistics, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Last Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 14.4 PER
It was a tale of two teams for Jordan Crawford.
He excelled with the Boston Celtics, as Brad Stevens put the ball in his hands and had confidence in his abilities to serve as a facilitator and scorer at the same time. His numbers with the C's were fantastic, and he was quickly proving himself to be a late bloomer.
"I think he's just given me more of a chance, and I appreciate him for that," Crawford explained to MassLive.com's Jay King while he was still thriving in Boston. "I just want to repay him by just playing hard, doing what I can for the team."
However, Crawford fell off after joining the Golden State Warriors, as his playing style didn't mesh with Mark Jackson's system. The ball wasn't in his hands nearly as often, and he struggled to adjust to playing with his new teammates.
The 25-year-old combo guard clearly has talent, but it's even more clear that he has to be using it with the right set of players around him and under the proper kind of tutelage. Should he find a team that he can latch onto as a solid backup who can lead the second unit, he'll easily emerge as a free-agency steal.
Last Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 9.3 PER
Francisco Garcia may be turning 33 at the very end of 2014, but he can still flat-out stroke the ball.
Back and knee injuries plagued him throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but he was still able to make an impact from beyond the arc. While taking 3.5 shots per game from downtown, he connected at a 35.8 percent clip, numbers that are right in line with his career marks.
Garcia isn't much more than a role player, but he deserves to have a fairly prominent job off the bench. Given the league-wide trend toward having more shooting at every position, he can absolutely prove helpful while serving as an eighth or ninth man.
The Utah Jazz are one team that's expressed interest in the perimeter-oriented small forward, and their mentality, one relayed by Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, is one that quite a few teams should employ:
If the Jazz were to bring him in the fold, he would be used as a shooter off the bench, someone capable of stretching the floor over 15-20 minutes per game. The fact that he can handle the ball and has a good basketball IQ would be a plus.
At his prime, Garcia was somewhat of a point forward. He's slowed a bit, and no longer is capable of playing a role like that. But for what the Jazz want out of free agency—more shooting from more spots—he's an intriguing option to think about bringing aboard.
Last Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 13.2 PER
It's hard to fly further below the radar than Shelvin Mack did during the 2013-14 season.
Even as someone who follows the Atlanta Hawks closely, I was under the impression that the Butler product was far older than 24, presumably thinking so because he's already played for three teams during his brief NBA career and could soon have a fourth on his resume. Yet, he doesn't turn 25 until next April and he's already emerged as a quality veteran presence off the bench.
Mack is not a glamorous option, but he's a consistent player with steady handles who can serve as a stopgap while more prominent players catch their breath. He's an ideal third point guard on a competitive team, one who's already been battle-tested and proved that he isn't going to succumb to pressure.
Despite his young age, Mack doesn't have much upside. But he doesn't have much downside either, which is valuable at the price of a minimum contract, especially at this stage of the free-agency proceedings.
Last Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 13.9 PER
Jameer Nelson is by no means washed up.
Sure, he was waived by the Orlando Magic, one of the bottom-feeding teams in the weak Eastern Conference, but that was nothing more than a cost-cutting move. It wasn't an indication that he was no longer worth playing, especially coming off a season in which he served as the starting point guard and helped mentor Victor Oladipo.
Nelson's days as a starter may be over, but that doesn't mean he's done contributing at a high level. He's still an intelligent player in pick-and-roll sets and can knock down shots while flashing impressive passing skills throughout a game.
Plus, he brings plenty of experience to the table, as he's led a group of young players and served as a key cog on a number of competitive teams, primarily when Dwight Howard was leading the charge for the Magic.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports that Nelson's soon to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, but he's still on the market for now.
Last Team: Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 15.8 PER (for Washington Wizards)
Emeka Okafor sat out the entire 2013-14 season after he was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Phoenix Suns, but he's still a valuable big man...if he's healthy.
That's always going to be the caveat for this 31-year-old after such a long-standing neck injury, as ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon explained when listing Okafor as a potential target for the Dallas Mavericks:
The Mavs’ medical staff would need to give Okafor a thorough examination after he missed the entire season due to a neck injury, but he could be great value as a minimum-salary signing. He’s averaged almost a double-double throughout his career (12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds) and put up 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as Washington’s starting center in 2012-13. If relatively healthy, he’d be a heck of an insurance policy at center.
Okafor can still be more than an insurance policy.
He's a fantastic rebounder and a solid defensive presence on the interior. It's a shame that we don't have access to rim protection stats from SportVU data prior to this past season, or else they would surely indicate that the veteran Okafor is still quite good at deterring makes when opponents get too close to the hoop.
So long as he's healthy, he's poised to become a tremendous value, even if he was overpaid the past few go-rounds.
Last Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 15.3 PER
The Phoenix Suns have a remarkable ability to rejuvenate players, thanks to their magical medical staff.
Jermaine O'Neal looked completely washed up during the two years he spent with the Boston Celtics, but he rebounded with the Suns in 2012-13 and just kept getting better when he played for the Golden State Warriors last year. He still missed nearly half the campaign, but he was playing fantastic basketball at the end of the regular season.
During his final 22 games, he not only served as a veteran leader and defensive presence for the Dubs, but also averaged 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists per contest while shooting a stellar 56 percent from the field. That's the type of production that plenty of teams could use off their respective benches.
O'Neal is still contemplating retirement, and it'd be understandable if he chose to hang up the sneakers, but he still has some quality ball left in the tank.
Last Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.3 PER
Mike Scott only has two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks under his belt, but he's already developed his niche.
The Virginia product is never going to be an elite defender, nor will he even be an average one. He doesn't have the physical tools or the mentality necessary to avoid being a liability on that end of the court.
However, he makes up for it by shooting and scoring efficiently, just as he did during his lengthy—and undeniably impressive—collegiate career. Scott is an underrated finisher and a solid mid-range player, and the addition of a three-point stroke to his arsenal made him quite valuable in 2013-14.
In 40 games during his rookie season, Scott attempted only a single three-pointer: a shot from the right wing against the San Antonio Spurs that failed to find the mark. But as a sophomore, he connected on 31 percent of his attempts while taking 2.5 per game. In the playoffs, those numbers rose to 32.3 and 4.4 respectively.
There's still work to be done, but the progression is encouraging, especially for a player with so many other offensive tools.
Last Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.0 PER
Ramon Sessions isn't an impact player, but he has his strengths.
"He's not a pure anything, neither lethally efficient shooting, or great at managing an offense. He's just an all-around backup point guard, but one that's still experienced and ready to play," wrote CBS Sports' Matt Moore. "The Rockets should take a long look at him, as should the Kings and Warriors."
So should any team in need of a backup point guard.
As Moore tacitly stated, Sessions likely won't be the missing piece for a team that's a player away, nor should he be starting on a competitive team. However, he's an all-around offensive threat who can provide above-average contributions, which is quite valuable in a league that relies so heavily on consistent point guard play.
Sessions' reputation hasn't fully recovered since his playoff failure with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12, but he's continued to put up quality games for the various teams he's played with.
Chances are, that trend will continue moving forward.
Last Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 11.8 PER
Mo Williams struggled off the Portland Trail Blazers' bench in 2013-14, but he was also placed in a strange situation.
The starters played so many minutes that he wasn't able to get in a rhythm very often, and he found it rather difficult leading a second unit that was basically devoid of quality options. It's not an exaggeration to say that the group of players coming off the pine in Rip City was the worst bunch the NBA had to offer, even with Williams' presence.
Whether he returns to the team—complete with a better supporting cast—or finds a new spot, he's still a valuable player. The 31-year-old point guard hasn't lost his shooting touch over the years, even if he's a lackluster defender, and his overall offensive game can be deadly in small spurts.
As Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb suggests, Williams is capable of filling a role similar to the one Jason Terry took on while he was serving as a crucial piece for the Dallas Mavericks' championship run in 2011.
Update: According to Turner Sports' David Aldridge, Al-Farouq Aminu reached a deal with the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. Aminu's contract is reportedly worth $2.1 million over two years.
Last Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 13.2 PER
Al-Farouq Aminu may only be 23 years old, but there shouldn't be much hope of him blossoming into a solid offensive contributor. His jumper is seriously flawed, and he isn't particularly confident with the ball in his hands, leaving him to use his athleticism as the sole method of scoring points.
However, his defense is good enough to make up for him functioning as a liability on the offensive end.
According to 82games.com, the small forward held opposing small forwards to a player efficiency rating of 15.1, which is slightly above the league average but more impressive when you consider the strength of the position and the fact that Aminu was often guarding the other team's best wing player.
He's only going to continue getting better as he gains more experience, and there's value in having a defensive stopper on a cheap contract, especially when he's improving as a transition scorer.
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