NBA Free Agents 2011: Grading the Top 12 Available Unrestricted Free Agents

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IIAugust 4, 2011

NBA Free Agents 2011: Grading the Top 12 Available Unrestricted Free Agents

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    Free agency.

    The NBA has a ways to go before we get there, but when we arrive, let the free-for-all begin.

    Players like Nene, Tyson Chandler, Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford are going to be hot commodities in what is sure to be a frantic free-agency period. With the way NFL free agency is going—namely, warp-speed and super fun for fans—the thought of a similar situation for the NBA will keep diehards salivating until that fateful day when the lockout ends.

    As an NFL fan, was there any other offseason time in the history of football as fun as these last two weeks? As an NBA fan, was there anything even remotely intriguing about the lockout except for the fact that this same exact scenario (that is playing out with the NFL) could present itself in the near future?

    Obviously, the answer to both is a definitive NO.

    NBA fans can take some comfort in knowing that when this godforsaken lockout is over and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant stop talking about playing overseas, there could be a few seriously exhilarating weeks of a shortened NBA free agency.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at the 12 best unrestricted free agents available, their latest news and what their strengths, weaknesses and overall grades are.

    NBA fans, be patient. In the end, it will be all worth it. (Famous last words...)

    *All latest news taken from Rotoworld

    **Check out Part Two here, where I take a look at the top-12 Restricted Free Agents

12. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, F/C, Boston Celtics, Age: 25

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    Latest News: Glen Davis has been on the Boston Celtics his whole career, and he would like to keep it that way. He wants to re-sign with the team he grew up with, but he also wants a pretty big payday. With Boston's selection of JaJuan Johnson in the NBA Draft and with Davis' awful performance in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, they may decide to spend their money elsewhere.

    Strengths: A terrific sixth man for most of the year, Davis was in the discussion for the Sixth Man of the Year award almost all season long. He has a nice 14- to 18-foot jump shot and has gotten a lot better around the hoop. He is one of the best—if not the best—in the NBA at taking charges. He always plays with terrific energy.

    Weaknesses: Sometimes Davis gets a little out of his game and relies on his jumper when the game is dictating that he should attack the hoop. He lacks consistent focus. He is definitely undersized for the power forward position, but it works in Boston.

    Overall Grade: B-.  He would have received a B+, but after his disastrous playoffs, teams will be—and should be—skeptical of his ability to remain consistent against high-level competition.

11. J.J. (Jose Juan) Barea, PG, Dallas Mavericks, Age: 27

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    Latest News: The Dallas Mavericks' spark plug, Jose Juan Barea was a key to the Mavs championship run. He would like to stay, and Dallas would love to have him. But after his spectacular playoffs performance, his price may be high. The Mavs have six free agents they need to negotiate deals with, so if Barea asks for too much, he may be gone. He is rumored to want to play for the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers if things don't work out in Dallas.

    Strengths: Barea can shred a defense to pieces in the pick-and-roll game, as long as he has the right guy to do it with (ahem, Dirk Nowitzki). As far as energy goes, not many in the game come off the bench with as much tenacity as this guy. Has proven himself on the biggest stage. He is unbelievable to watch around the hoop, as his array of trick shots and scoop shots are simply awesome. He will always be a fan favorite.

    Weakness: Defense is definitely his biggest concern. Being a tiny dude in the NBA has its perks, but defensively, it's nothing short of a nightmare. He lacks the foot speed to keep up with athletic guards and gets destroyed by any guard over 6'2". Offensively, he will sometimes get into a bad rhythm and force bad shots/turn the ball over. He needs to work on his three-point shot.

    Overall Grade: C-.  I don't think he is a bad player, but I think he is ridiculously overvalued. He works very well in Dallas, and he should stay there. Should he leave, whoever pays him is going to be sorely disappointed.

10. Samuel Dalembert, C, Sacramento Kings, Age: 30

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    Latest News: Samuel Dalembert is expected to leave the Sacramento Kings and get a big contract in the free-agency market. The need for centers in the NBA is at an all-time high (because there are so few of them), so despite Dalembert's less than stellar numbers, he should find himself a rich man come the end of the lockout. Expect the Miami Heat to make a big push with the limited resources they have, along with any other contender you could think of who is in desperate need of some size.

    Strengths: Dalembert is a fantastic shot-blocker. He has always been good at it and continues to be good at it even though his athletic ability is slowly deteriorating. He is a career 52 percent shooter from the floor, so he is pretty efficient for a big man. He can slam it home with authority without needing much time to gather (we are looking at you, Kendrick Perkins). A very effective rebounder, Dalembert is active on the offensive and defensive glass. He has missed just two games since 2006.

    Weaknesses: He lacks much of an offensive game and scores most of his points off of rebounds, fast breaks and other hustle plays. He is not a threat in the post. Dalembert can get sluggish at times and has always lacked consistency. He has never proven himself to be a big-time player. He doesn't play big minutes, averaging only 24 per game last season, and will disappear for long stretches of games.

    Overall Grade: B.  He might not be such a good player, but his size is something many teams would give anything for. He should get picked up by a fringe contender for too much money.

9. Tayshaun Prince, F, Detroit Pistons, Age: 31

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    Latest News: Tayshaun Prince and the Detroit Pistons should be done. Detroit claims they want him to come back, but that makes no sense whatsoever. He is 31, still has something left in the tank, and the Pistons are going to be a team in the gutter for at least the next year or two (unless they strike gold in the draft again next year). Prince will probably chase the money this offseason, though, so whoever puts up the most money will probably land the lanky, lefty forward.

    Strengths: Prince is a ferocious defender with great length. His long arms can disrupt the game's best small forwards, and he has proven himself in the playoffs time and time again (remember this?). His offensive game has remained steady despite the complete and utter chaos in Detroit. For a guy who is increasingly relying on his jump shot, Prince shoots well from the floor (47 percent FG). He almost never turns the ball over.

    Weaknesses: Prince lacks the explosion that he used to have. His minutes have been dipping, although that could easily have been a product of the instability in Detroit. His three-point shot is all but gone. He turned himself into "cruise" mode once the Pistons stopped winning games. Prince doesn't rebound well for a forward.

    Overall Grade: B+. I've always been partial to a guy like Prince, just because I think that the security of knowing he can perform under pressure is immeasurable. Also, I think he will be very undervalued for some reason. He could be a total steal.

8. Grant Hill, F, Phoenix Suns, Age: 38

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    Latest News: Grant Hill seems like a prime candidate to return to the Phoenix Suns. After all, he rejuvenated his career there, works extremely well with Steve Nash, and has become one of the most beloved members of the Suns' community. He would be a terrific find for any team, especially a championship contender that could offer him 20-22 minutes per game. Ideally, this consummate professional (along with Nash) can go win a championship before he retires.

    Strengths: For a player his age and with his history, Hill is remarkably durable. He has missed just three games in the last three seasons, and he consistently plays 30 minutes per night. Has become a reliable defender to go along with his trademark scoring abilities. Hill can knock down any jump shot, is good in transition and is exceptionally efficient for a shooter. He is an experienced player who won't get rattled in big situations.

    Weaknesses: There is not much to complain about with Hill. He knows what he can and can't do and rarely puts himself in a position to fail. He has trouble guarding bigger forwards and lacks explosiveness (he's 38), but he rarely makes mistakes.

    Overall Grade: A-.  Hill is a terrific value, and like I said, he doesn't make many mistakes. Any and all contenders should extend their hands to this aging veteran.

7. J.R. Smith, G/F, Denver Nuggets,

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    Latest News: J.R. Smith has probably played his last game in that beautiful powder blue Denver Nuggets uniform. The long-range bomber could always stay, but with all of their guard depth, it would make sense for the Nuggets to put their focus on the forward and center positions. I would be very surprised to see Denver go for Smith before they try to retain Nene, their most important free agent.

    Strengths: Smith is probably the streakiest shooter in the league, and that is both a good and bad thing. The good comes when he does stuff like this. He can single-handedly win a game for your team, which is a lot more than most bench players can say for themselves. When Smith plays well, so do the Nuggets. I imagine that whichever team signs him, that principle will remain the norm. He is also a freakish athlete.

    Weaknesses: His bad attitude sometimes leads to disinterest in games. Sometimes his streaky shooting leads to nights where he goes 4-16 from the field. Not good. Smith is not the world's best defender, but if he goes to a team with the right coach, I feel like it could become one of his strengths. His athleticism should allow him to dominate smaller guards and be too quick for forwards, but it just isn't happening defensively. For such an offensive talent, Smith is a terrible free throw shooter.

    Overall Grade: B+.  If he lands on the right team this could turn into an A. On the wrong team (RE: any losing team), he could be a total disaster. He is possibly the most offensively gifted player in free agency.

6. Caron Butler, G/F, Dallas Mavericks, Age: 31

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    Latest News: Almost all reports have Caron Butler re-signing with the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. After a really tough year that saw him lost to injury and watch his teammates go on to succeed without him, Butler's professionalism throughout really showed his high character. Many players wouldn't come to games or support their teammates out of frustration, but Butler was there every step of the way. Mark Cuban should reward him nicely.

    Strengths: Butler is one of those do-it-all offensive small forwards. He's a very accomplished scorer, and he has proven to be a valuable three-point weapon in Dallas, shooting a whopping 43 percent from deep range last season. He is good in transition, especially with Dallas, but he can play almost any style of offense. His defense is solid. For a guy that has the ball as much as he does, Butler rarely turns it over.

    Weaknesses: He is not a good passer. At all. His 1.6 APG last season is kind of pathetic and is even something he should be ashamed of. With his skill, he should be dishing at least three dimes a game. He's not a good rebounder either. At 6'7", 4.1 RPG is not something he should be proud of. Butler has been injury prone the last few seasons.

    Overall Grade: A. One of my favorite players in free agency, I expect Butler to come back with a vengeance this season. He will be had for cheap and, barring injury, should be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

5. Jason Richardson, G/F, Orlando Magic, Age: 30

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    Latest News: Jason Richardson will not be on the Orlando Magic in 2012. He has already stated his demands for a big contract and to be on a contender. While Orlando is certainly a contender with Dwight Howard, they are not likely to give him the type of money he is seeking. J-Rich is an above-average offensive player and should find himself hotly pursued once free agency begins.

    Strengths: Shooting. Lights-out shooting. Richardson's stock was definitely hurt with his time in Orlando, but he was still able to be an above-average scorer. He'll always be a threat to go off from deep, and he has the ability to attack the basket as well. Obviously, he's not the athlete he once was, but he makes up for it with veteran savvy and a higher basketball IQ. J-Rich will barely turn the ball over.

    Weaknesses: Defense, rebounding and free-throw shooting. He's actually a decent defender, but a guy with his athletic ability should be able to lock guys down. It is very clear Richardson relied solely on his leaping skills to get rebounds in his career, as his numbers have dipped to the lowest they have ever been, just 4.1 RPG. That's not good enough for a 6'6" small forward who plays 34 MPG. He needs to improve his free-throw shooting drastically. Seventy percent from the charity stripe is doggone awful.

    Overall Grade: C+.  It depends where he lands. His contract will be heavy, but in the right spot, I think J-Rich could really help a contender. It seems likely his demands for a big contract will have to go down if he wants to remain on a contender.

4. David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets, Age: 30 (31 at Start of Season)

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    Latest News: David West terminated the final year of his contract with the New Orleans Hornets despite surgery on a torn ACL and is expected to test the free-agent market. One of the Hornets' best players the last few years and Chris Paul's running mate, West seems intent on finding a new home. Teams like the Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets (surprise!) have show interest in the scoring forward.

    Strengths: He has a silky smooth mid-range J. His consistency the last six years has been nothing short of a miracle. Despite many injuries, he has basically been a guaranteed 20 PPG on 50 percent shooting, with 8 RPG. Numbers that look great but are always overlooked when it comes to All-Star voting. West is a veteran player who almost always makes the right play.

    Weaknesses: Injuries have been a struggle for West, and the recent ACL tear doesn't help matters. He says he'll be ready to go when the season starts, but we'll see about that. (Maybe he's thinking a delayed start?) The only real knock on his game is that he doesn't play great defense and is undersized for his position. Both valid points, but both are easily overwhelmed by his all-around contribution.

    Overall Grade: A-. West is another guy who I think is being overlooked in free agency. I really like him, but I fear he will be signed for a lot of money by some crummy team. I would love to see him on a contender.

3. Jamal Crawford, G, Atlanta Hawks, Age: 31

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    Latest News: Jamal Crawford is most likely gone from the Atlanta Hawks, and that makes the most sense. Their core has failed to come through yet again. Why keep trying? Crawford will walk, and he could demand pretty hefty numbers considering his contributions to Atlanta in the past few seasons. The Boston Globe reported the Boston Celtics could have an interest in him. Perfect fit, but I think too much money will be asked.

    Strength: The definition of a scoring guard, Crawford can do it all. He can shoot the three, hit the pull-up, take it to the rim and play the pick-and-roll. People like to refer to his game as "instant O." I just call it "dynamite," because this dude can flat out explode. Forget instant offense, he can single-handedly destroy a team's will. He is also armed with a filthy handle and an unparalleled ability to trigger the always elusive and-one three-pointer.

    Weaknesses: Defense. Defense. Defense. Pretty simple. Also, he could use some meat on his bones, pulling 1.7 RPG in 30 MPG on an NBA court would be embarrassing for me, never mind a 6'5" baller.

    Overall Grade: A. The perfect free agent, you know exactly what you are going to get with Crawford. His asking price won't be outrageous, and the rewards will be plentiful. I really hope the Celtics take a chance on this scoring beast.

2. Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks, Age: 28 (29 at Start of Season)

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    Latest News: Tyson Chandler is expected to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks, the team he helped to a NBA Championship with last season. Mark Cuban has the pocket space, and I can imagine if he is going to spend big, Chandler would be his man. It is possible Chandler tries the market, but don't get your hopes up.

    Strengths: A disruptive defensive force, Chandler was the driving force behind the Mavericks shift in philosophy last season. Like Kevin Garnett did to the Boston Celtics in 2008, Chandler brought a toughness and grittiness that forced the rest of the team to follow his lead. Defense first, offense later. He's a good rebounder with good athleticism. Chandler's not a great post threat but can usually give you 8 to 12 PPG on a mixture of dunks, hustle plays and tip-ins. He is ridiculously efficient (65 percent FG).

    Weaknesses: Chandler's not the best free-throw shooter, although he has improved dramatically the last two seasons. For a guy his age and with his talent, he doesn't play a ton of minutes (27 MPG). Chandler should be better offensively than he is. Despite terrific defense, he is not much of a playmaker (a nitpick, I know).

    Overall Grade: A. It's tough to find a competitor like him. His defense makes him invaluable to Dallas, and he should be there for the long haul. Chandler might be the most important free agent.

1. Nene, C, Denver Nuggets, Age: 28 (29 at Start of Season)

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    Latest News: There is a ton of speculation going on about the services of Denver Nuggets center Nene (Hilario). The super talented and athletic big man has terminated his contract and will be the biggest name in free agency this offseason. Teams like the New Jersey Nets, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs (interesting) and New York Knicks are all rumored to have strong interest. Of course, he could stay in Denver, but with gigantic wads of cash being thrown at him from all sides, I expect Nene to land elsewhere.

    Strengths: There are a lot here. He can shoot, finish at the rim (with authority), take you off the dribble or with his back to the basket. He has a very polished offensive game. As far as centers in the NBA go, he might be the third or fourth best, offensively. Despite his offensive game, Nene shoots an astonishingly low 8.7 FG per-game. His efficiency is off the charts, as he averages almost 15 PPG on 61.5 percent shooting.

    Weaknesses: He doesn't rebound well for a center, which is evidenced by his measly 7.6 RPG. Nene will disappear at times. He is sometimes too unselfish in passing the ball off to open teammates. He doesn't dominate like he should (lacking killer instinct, for now), and he came up short in the last two games of the Oklahoma City Thunder playoff series. Nene could use a lesson on how to shoot free throws.

    Overall Grade: A.  It would be hypocritical of me to list him as the top free agent and not give him an A. I am a little worried about him being given an expanded role on a non-contender's offense. He never had to be the man in Denver and could struggle if given too much offensive responsibility.

    What do you think, and where do you think these guys will land? Make sure to let me know in the comments section below. Don't forget to "Like" the page and "Retweet" to your many followers.

    Thanks for reading!