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NBA PM: Top Four Remaining Free Agents
Posted By Bill Ingram On July 22, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
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Top Four Remaining Free Agents
The NBA’s free agency frenzy is almost over, yet there are still some quality players available for teams looking to finish out a roster or even possibly make a big splash. Here’s a run down of the top four free agents still on the market, including a couple of key restricted free agents.
Nikola Pekovic - In a league where quality big men are extremely hard to come by, there is still one who has yet to receive an offer this summer. The Minnesota Timberwolves have made it known that they intend to match any offer to restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic, but surprisingly no one has been willing to test their willingness to do so. Understanding that the Timberwolves already have a couple of players in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio who expect to be max players in the near future, it seems like it would at least be worth attempting to lure Pekovic away. His camp is seeking a five-year, $60 million deal, and the sticking point for Minnesota appears to be the fifth year.
Offensively, Pekovic was a force to be reckoned with for the injury-riddled Timberwolves last season. He ranked in the 91st percentile overall, scoring 944 points on 933 possessions in the halfcourt set. By comparison, Dwight Howard only managed a 75th percentile rating with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, scoring 1228 points on 1310 possessions. Pekovic was also very good on the defensive end, ranking in the 82nd percentile overall, including an 80th percentile ranking in defending post-up plays. He struggles with screens and pick-and-rolls, but put him against an opposing big man and he’s likely to make the stop.
The Timberwolves are determined to match, but why not test that resolve? Pekovic is certainly worth it.
Gerald Henderson – The Charlotte Bobcats would really like to have Gerald Henderson back in the mix, but his camp is hoping for a significant raise, and the Bobcats aren’t willing to just put one on the table. If another team is willing to sign Henderson to an offer sheet, the Bobcats would consider matching, but so far, inexplicably, the market has been dry for the shooting guard out of Duke.
Playing in Charlotte may have hurt Henderson’s market value, as the team is known more for losing streaks, wasted draft picks and questionable coaching hires than for anything they’ve done on the court. Make no mistake, however, Henderson has been a real bright spot for the Bobcats. The transition game is Henderson’s specialty, and he ranked in the 82nd percentile last season when his team was on the run. He averaged 15.5 points per game, and notably, he improved his three-point efficiency to 33 percent. That was an area where he struggled mightily over his first three seasons.
According to multiple reports, Henderson’s camp would like to start the bidding for his services at $8 million per season, a number the Bobcats are unwilling to commit to, but when reality sets in and numbers become more reasonable, Henderson makes a great deal of sense for a young team looking to continue to develop and build with him.
Brandon Jennings - Perhaps the most well-known remaining free agent is Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. Some might expect him to be closer to the top of this list, but the fact is that the restricted free agent Jennings still has a lot to prove and his camp is asking for a lot of money. The Bucks were actually ready to just move on from Jennings altogether, but when the Atlanta Hawks matched their offer sheet to Jeff Teague it left Milwaukee to once again ponder Jennings.
Efficiency is a huge issue for Jennings, who shot just 39.9 percent from the field last season while averaging 2.54 turnovers per game. He scored 17.5 points per contest last season, but ranked in just the 46th percentile in terms of offensive production. He isn’t a good spot-up shooter, he struggles in transition and he has a hard time creating points in isolation situations. He’s at this best in the pick-and-roll, but only ranked in the 77th percentile there. He struggles even more on the defensive end, where he ranked in just the 35th percentile last season.
Jennings is still a young player, and he certainly has upside, but the question of how much that potential is worth monetarily is still very much up in the air. Based on the lack of interest amongst other teams, it seems like that Jennings may wind up playing for Milwaukee’s qualifying offer and then hope to find his big contract in free agency next summer.
DeJuan Blair – It’s been an interesting NBA career for DeJuan Blair, who has had to prove himself every step of the way. He dropped out of the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft due to rumors of knee issues, falling to the San Antonio Spurs at pick No. 37 in the second round. He wasted no time winning over Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and appeared in all 82 games of his rookie season, averaging 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in the process. In his second year he appeared in 81 of 82 games, starting 65 times, and averaging 8.3 points and 7.0 boards per contest. The truth is, now four seasons into his NBA career, Blair has proven that his knees are not of any apparent concern.
What hurt Blair last season was landing in Popovich’s doghouse, where many have been and from where few have returned. When he was in the Spurs’ rotation, he showed he was an outstanding rebounder and an active body around the basket. In 2011-12, when he played a significant role for the Spurs all season, Blair ranked in the 73rd percentile offensively, getting the vast majority of his points out of halfcourt sets (90.2 percent). His primary job was to use the fact that his defender was often drawn away to guard one of San Antonio’s stars and cut to the basket for easy scores. He got 23.2 percent of his touches in those situations and converted 1.173 points per possession, good for a 51st percentile ranking. He has a tendency to struggle on the defensive end, especially in pick-and-roll situations, and that’s likely why he lost playing time this past season.
Before word of his knee issues surfaced, Blair was projected to be a mid-first round pick in the draft, and to date he has proven that he would have been worthy of such a selection. He might not have star potential, but he does have the ability to be a consistent factor for an NBA team, which makes it somewhat surprising that he is still on the market.
For a more complete look at all of the free agents who are still on the market, be sure to check out HOOPSWORLD’s Lang Greens’s article on the subject here!
Jonas Valanciunas Taking the Next Step
The Toronto Raptors waited for a year to see 2011 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas take the court for their team. He was under contract with the European club Lietuvos Rytas, and had a costly buyout that made it necessary to delay Valanciunas’ NBA debut. When he finally made his debut last season, he struggled at first, as so many European big men do, averaging just 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in November before a broken hand cost him much of the middle of the season. When he returned from the injury, however, Raptors fans finally got a glimpse of the player that former GM Bryan Colangelo was so excited about.
Valanciunas averaged 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 62 percent in March and then nearly 15 points per game in April. He was awarded the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award for his efforts in March, and while the Raptors were disappointed that the team missed the playoffs, they could see they had something special in Valanciunas.
“Even better than expected,” Colangelo said of his rookie in a postseason interview with HOOPSWORLD. “He began the year coming off a two-and-a-half-year stretch without even a day off. He was likely a little overwhelmed at first with his new surroundings, unfamiliar basketball terminology and ideals, but his injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He was able to take a breath and see things from a different perspective. He came back more poised, more deliberate. The game really seemed to slow down for him and he seems much more comfortable on the court. His Rookie of the Month award for March speaks to his rapid development and progress as the year has passed. He’s a wonderful young man, a tremendously hard worker and a budding future star. If I were a stock analyst I would definitely rate him a BUY.”
This summer Valanciunas has lived up to the billing and then some, leading his NBA summer league team in both scoring and rebounding. In four games in Las Vegas, Valanciunas has averaged 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds, shooting 56 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line in the process.
“We say a lot of big guys are pushed to play because they’re tall and sometimes that’s a big question,” current Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said in a recent interview with SB Nation. “With Jonas, it’s never a question. He loves to play the game and that’s huge. He works hard and you don’t have to tell him twice. He’s giving all the effort, he never complains, he never really bitches. It’s all about basketball and that’s great to see.”
The Raptors have made some bold moves of late, adding Rudy Gay to the wing and unloading Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks to acquire better outside shooting. The team will look somewhat different when the curtain goes up on 2013-14, but their playoff chase may depend largely on the improved play and growth of Valanciunas. You never want to read too much into summer league play, but given his performance it’s a safe bet that the second-year big man from Lithuania is ready for the challenge.
Nate Robinson Signs with Denver
Provided you understand what it is that you’re getting, it’s possible to argue that Nate Robinson was the second-best free agent still on the market prior to signing with the Denver Nuggets this afternoon. Robinson is not someone who is going to lead his team to the NBA Finals, but when it comes to putting points on the board in a hurry and giving his team a huge spark off the bench, Robinson is second-to-none.
Robinson engrained himself in the collective psyche of NBA fans with his famous “Kryptonate” dunk when he showed up Dwight Howard’s “Superman” performance at the 2009 Slam Dunk Competition (see it here), but more recently he wowed Chicago Bulls fans with his dramatic postseason performances. He averaged 17.0 points in the first round of this year’s playoffs, shooting 50 percent from the field and 36 percent from three, as he helped the shorthanded Bulls upset the heavily-favored Brooklyn Nets. He’s a decent halfcourt defender, as well, ranking in the 73rd percentile last season, though he was a dismal 23rd percent in transition.
Robinson is not a team-first type of player, which, combined with his expectation of a multi-year deal similar to the one given to Jarrett Jack, is why he wasn’t snapped up quickly at the onset of free agency, but the Nuggets are hoping to contend this season and in Robinson they have a spark plug who won’t back down, no matter the odds. Never hurts to have one of those on the bench, and at two years and $4 million he came at a bargain price, too.
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