Ranking the Top 2013 NBA Free-Agent Big Men

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIJune 2, 2013

Ranking the Top 2013 NBA Free-Agent Big Men

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    NBA teams have moved towards smaller lineups over the past few years, though this postseason has demonstrated that skilled big men remain crucial to a team's playoff success. Centers and power forwards will be at a premium on the free-agent market this summer. 

    Teams are looking for different qualities in big men. Coaches want mobile centers and power forwards who can score on pick-and-rolls and defend quicker players away from the basket. It has also become increasingly important for big men to be able to step out and knock down a 15-foot jump shot.

    Dwight Howard is the potential franchise big man available in this summer's free-agent pool. After that, teams will search for big men who they believe will fit their specific needs and be a good fit for their system and culture.

Honorable Mention

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    Chris Andersen

    It is hard to believe that no team could find a spot on its roster for Chris Andersen until the Miami Heat picked him up late in the season. The Birdman can no longer soar like he did in his younger days, though he has demonstrated his value as a rim protector during the Heat's playoff run.

    Elton Brand

    Elton Brand's minutes and numbers have declined over the past few seasons, but the 34-year-old still averaged 12.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per 36 minutes for the Dallas Mavericks.

    Brandan Wright

    Brandan Wright is another Maverick big man who will draw some attention this summer. Wright is a high-energy player with excellent shot-blocking ability.

10. J.J. Hickson

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    J.J. Hickson's career was on the skids in winter of 2012 after a promising couple of seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sacramento Kings did not like his attitude and released the young forward months after acquiring him in trade from the Cavs.

    The Portland Trail Blazers gave Hickson a second chance, and he made the most of it. He was a beast on the boards this season, grabbing 10.4 rebounds per game in 29 minutes of play.

    Hickson is a below-average defender and does not contribute much on the offensive end beyond dunks and easy putbacks. But at 24, he has room to grow, and his tenacious rebounding is sure to grab the attention of general managers around the league.

9. Carl Landry (Player Option)

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    Carl Landry will likely decline his $4 million player option for next season after an impressive 2012-13 campaign with the Golden State Warriors. The forward averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench for Mark Jackson's club while shooting an efficient 54 percent from the field.

    Landry can score in the post and has a nice elbow jumper, which lends itself to pick-and-pop sets. He is capable of being the primary scoring option for a team's second unit.

    According to Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times, Landry enjoyed his time with the Warriors and would like to return to the team. The Warriors are over the salary cap but could use their non-Bird exception to sign him. They may have to decide between keeping Landry or free-agent point guard Jarrett Jack.

8. Andrew Bynum

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    Andrew Bynum is the wild card of this summer's free-agent class. The 7-footer averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 and is still just 25 years old.

    The downside to signing Bynum is the uncertainty surrounding his lingering knee problems. He suffered injuries to both knees early in his career and missed the entire 2012-13 season due to an arthritic condition in his knees after being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers last summer. Immaturity has been an issue for Bynum throughout his career as well.

    Teams will be reluctant to commit $75 million over four years for a player with chronic knee problems and will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether Bynum's condition is degenerative.

    At least one team will be willing to take a chance on a player with his size and skill. Do not count out the 76ers, who gave up several assets for Bynum last summer.

7. Tiago Splitter (Restricted Free Agent)

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    It took a few seasons, but Tiago Splitter figured out how to coexist with Tim Duncan. The Brazilian's points usually come as the roll man on pick-and-rolls or off of fundamentally sound post moves.

    He made his greatest strides on defense, where he has developed into a valuable rim protector for the San Antonio Spurs. Splitter's length was key to the Spurs' ability to shut down Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph in the conference finals.

    Splitter averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game this season, which projects to 15.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. He could thrive in a larger role with another team, much like Omer Asik did with the Houston Rockets.

    Splitter is a restricted free agent, and the Spurs would love to keep him, as Duncan is in the twilight of his brilliant career. But a hefty price tag could scare San Antonio off.

6. Nikola Pekovic (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Nikola Pekovic is an old-school, back-to-the-basket center. He boasts a nice array of post moves and effectively uses his girth to get his shot off over longer defenders and grab rebounds in traffic. He makes up for a lack of vertical and lateral mobility with excellent positioning on the defensive end. 

    Pekovic takes care of the dirty work down low for the perimeter-oriented Minnesota Timberwolves, which frees up Kevin Love to score from all over the floor. They can ill afford to lose him.

    Pekovic is a restricted free agent and the safe bet is that the T-Wolves will match any offer he receives. According to Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North, Minnesota's new president of basketball operations, Flip Saunders, expects Pekovic to be back with the team next season.

5. Al Jefferson

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    The Utah Jazz have a difficult decision to make regarding free agents Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. According to Hoopsworld.com, Utah only has $27 million in salary committed for next season and could re-sign both Jefferson and Millsap, who will likely demand around the same amount of money. 

    However, with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, Utah would be wise to spend some of their money on perimeter players. They will likely let one, if not both Jefferson and Millsap sign elsewhere.

    Jefferson averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game and was the No. 1 option on a good Jazz offense. He has a polished post game, but he can be a bit of a black hole on the block. His slow feet also make him a tremendous liability on defense.

    The Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers are two teams that could be interested in his services. The Boston Celtics are another possible destination, especially if Kevin Garnett retires.

4. Paul Millsap

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    Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap is a maximum effort player with a high basketball IQ. He is not talented enough to be a primary scoring option, but he's a solid complementary player who does several things well. Millsap can score in the post, take bigger players off the dribble and is a strong finisher off of pick-and-rolls.

    He contributed 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Jazz, which was down a tick from his previous two seasons (17.3 and 7.6 in 2010-11 and 16.6 and 8.8 in 2011-12). Those numbers should garner around $10 million per year on the market.

    Utah may feel compelled to let Millsap go. The Jazz do not want talented youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to rot away on the bench.

    ESPN's Jackie MacMullan reported (h/t Jeff Clark of SB Nation) that the Boston Celtics are targeting Millsap. They would likely have to unload Paul Pierce's contract in order to make that happen.

3. David West

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    David West is a rugged rebounder with a soft touch and possesses all of the intangibles that coaches look for in a player. He will be in high demand this summer after averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds on 50 percent shooting.

    West turns 33 this summer, so teams will be reluctant to invest in him long-term. Expect him to sign a deal similar to the two-year, $20 million contract he inked with the Indiana Pacers two years ago.

    The two-time All-Star is a perfect fit for the hard-nosed Pacers. He indicated to Chris Thomasson of Fox Sports Florida that he would like to re-sign with the team.

    However, the small-market franchise may have trouble affording him. Indiana signed Roy Hibbert to a max deal last summer and will have to open up the bank for Paul George next year.

2. Josh Smith

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    Basketball insiders are unsure what to make of longtime Atlanta Hawk Josh Smith. He is a superbly gifted player, capable of affecting the game in variety of ways.

    However, Smith's poor decision-making, specifically his proclivity for launching long-range jump shots, often hinders his team. Executives are intrigued by his athleticism and enormous wingspan, but they may not be willing to dish out the maximum contract that he is seeking. 

    The Hawks aggressively shopped Smith at the trade deadline, but do not be shocked if J-Smoove returns to Atlanta. The 27-year-old is from Atlanta, and the Hawks can offer him a fifth year at maximum dollars. 

    The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets may also be interested in Smith if they are unable to land marquee free agents Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul

1. Dwight Howard

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    It was a down year for Dwight Howard, who was recovering from offseason back surgery and suffered a torn labrum. He reportedly feuded with Kobe Bryant and received a large share of the blame for the Los Angeles Lakers' disappointing season.  

    Yet Howard still averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots, and his back should benefit from rest this summer. He is worth a max contract even he does not regain the explosiveness he exhibited prior to the surgery.

    The Lakers are intent on re-signing the center, though the bright lights of Hollywood may not be an ideal fit for the sensitive Howard. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles, Howard also voiced his frustration over the way he was utilized in Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.

    The Lakers can offer Howard the most money. However, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the seven-time All-Star intends to visit with the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets and has given the Rockets "hopeful signals" that he is seriously interested in signing with them.  

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