NBA Free Agents 2011: 5 Most Effective Role Players Available
Free agency is the first thing on the NBA's schedule this offseason once this lockout ends. It is both a time when bad teams try to sign superstars in order to become relevant again, and a time where contenders try to find the perfect role players to solidify their bench.
We are going to focus on those role players.
There are obviously some players in free agency that every team would love to have, like Nene from the Denver Nuggets and Tyson Chandler from the Dallas Mavericks, but every year it becomes clearer that having depth is as important as having superstars.
Just take a look at the 2011 NBA Finals for proof.
The Dallas Mavericks centered their team around superstar Dirk Nowitzki, building a perfect roster of role players to complement the German forward. Players like Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, and even Brian Cardinal became integral pieces in the Mavericks' title run.
I have chosen five types of role players: the "Glue Guy," the "Hustle Guy," the "Three-Point Shooter," the "Defensive Specialist," and the "Dynamic Scorer."
None of these players are starters, but they are all guys that should be looked at by contenders who are trying to deepen their bench.
We know that superstars win championships, but we also know that they don't win it without a little help from these next five guys.
*I only chose players who were NOT starters last season (except Chuck Hayes who started because of an injury to starting center Yao Ming).
5. Glue Guy: Brian Cardinal, F, Dallas Mavericks
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Every championship team should have a Brian Cardinal.
I'm not just saying that because he is a big, non-athletic lug of a man who loves cheering for his team from the bench. That is half the reason, though.
The other half is what everyone saw when the Dallas Mavericks were in a tight battle with the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals. Once Cardinal entered the game, the Mavericks really just took over. His heart, hustle and do-whatever-it-takes attitude really sparked the Mavs. They took a commanding lead in the third quarter, and the rest is history.
A real team player, Cardinal is the type of guy that everyone loves to have on their team. He always goes 100 percent, even in practice, and he will be the first guy there to help a teammate up if they fall.
An inexpensive option, Dallas would be plain silly not to keep him.
Other Notables: Brian Scalabrine, Chicago Bulls; Kurt Thomas, Chicago Bulls
4. Hustle Guy: Chuck Hayes, F/C, Houston Rockets
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Chuck Hayes always seems to be chasing after loose balls, or running back on defense to take a charge.
The Houston Rockets have been lucky enough to employ Hayes for his whole career, but I think that is going to change this offseason. A contender should jump at the chance to sign this do-it-all. Hayes, like many other undersized forwards/centers, has the ability to guard a large range of players.
This flexibility is especially helpful in the playoffs, when many teams like to employ a "small" lineup or a "big" lineup depending on the matchups.
Only 6'6" and barely 240 lbs., it is a wonder that Hayes can even play the center position. However, if you watch him play, just once, you will know how he does it.
Hayes averaged a steal and nearly a block per game, while hauling in a ridiculous three offensive rebounds per game. There aren't many guys at 6'6" that are grabbing three offensive rebounds in a game, I can promise you that.
Other Notables: Jared Jeffries, New York Knicks; Reggie Evans, Toronto Raptors
3. Three-Point Shooter: J.R. Smith, G/F, Denver Nuggets
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
J.R. Smith easily could have gone under the "Dynamic Scorer" title, but he is less of a scorer than he is a shooter. And his three-point shot is what really makes his game special.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Smith shot nearly 43 percent from long range, hitting nine threes in the Denver Nuggets' last three playoff games.
I recently wrote this about Smith's 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.
As you can see from that clip, Smith can absolutely go off. I mean, he can destroy an opponent's will.
In the playoffs, teams always need a guy who can come off the bench and hit a few threes to ignite the crowd. This year, it was Peja Stojakovic and DeShawn Stevenson for the Dallas Mavericks, and next year, it could be J.R. Smith.
He certainly has the talent, and his three-point shot alone should get him a pretty lucrative deal this free agency period.
Other Notables: Peja Stojakovic, Dallas Mavericks; Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks
2. Defensive Specialist: Shane Battier, SF, Memphis Grizzlies
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Shane Battier is a consummate professional. He is also a hell of a defensive player.
In his Houston Rockets days, Battier was always asked to match up against the great Kobe Bryant, and a few times, Battier even got the best of him. If he can limit Kobe, then he can limit anyone.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs' second round, Battier was matched up against two-time (2010, 2011) scoring champ, Kevin Durant. While Durant certainly "got his," Battier put up as good of a fight as you'll see. Together with Tony Allen, another defensive menace, Battier was part of one of the best perimeter defending duos in the NBA.
Battier will be 31 years old at the start of the upcoming (hopefully) season.
He remains in terrific shape, and should easily be signed to a two-year deal. Any contender would welcome not only his intense competitiveness, but his veteran leadership.
Other Notables: Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns; DeShawn Stevenson, Dallas Mavericks
1. Dynamic Scorer: Jamal Crawford, G, Atlanta Hawks
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Jamal Crawford is the perfect designation for the "Dynamic Scorer" tag.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Crawford practically single-handedly won the Atlanta Hawks their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. Coming off the bench, he put 23, 23, and 25 points in the Hawks' first three wins, including 10 three-pointers.
The second round was a different story.
Crawford struggled mightily against the stingy Chicago Bulls defense, but who doesn't?
He is definitely the most explosive scorer on the free agent market, capable of carrying his team for quarters at a time. His three-point shot is slightly inconsistent, but he is fantastic at attacking the rim, drawing contact, and nailing his freebies.
I expect Crawford to be a seriously hot commodity come free agency, and for good reason.
Crawford will hopefully land on a contender, where he can showcase his scoring abilities on the road to his first championship ring.
Other Notables: J.R. Smith, Denver Nuggets; Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic
What do you think? Agree or disagree, please let me know in the comments section below.
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