Ranking The 2012 NBA Free Agents
It’s never too early to start planning the NBA shopping season for your favorite team. To that end, here are the top five possible free agents at each position.
The full listing of 2012 free agents is here. For reference, here is what each of the options means:
Player Option (PO) – The decision is up to the player. If he invokes the option by June 30th, he is under contract for one more season. If he does nothing, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Team Option (TO) – The decision is up to the team. If the team invokes the option by June 30th, the player is under contract for one more season. If the team does nothing, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent (if the player has three years or less of experience, the team can still then issue him a Qualifying Offer and make him restricted, but this scenario is unlikely).
Early Termination Option (ETO) – Slightly different from the Player Option, but the decision is up to the player. If he invokes the option by June 30th, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he does nothing, he is under contract for the duration of the original deal.
Players marked with an asterisk can be made restricted free agents if their team makes them a Qualifying Offer by June 30, 2012.
From a high level view, this free agent class looks to be top-heavy in point guards, deep at shooting guard, power forward and center, and very, very thin at small forward. Regarding the power forwards specifically there are many, many veterans, players who could command high dollars for the right team but not for all due to their age.
1 – Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets (ETO, $16.4 million): A three-time All-Star, Williams brings career averages of 17.4 points and 9.2 assists to wherever he lands.
2 – Aaron Brooks*, Phoenix Suns: Brooks is currently tied to the Suns, but depending on if he signs a deal upon his return from China with Phoenix he could be an unrestricted free agent. If he doesn’t sign at all, he will be restricted – or he could sign a long-term deal with Phoenix and be off the market completely. Brooks averaged 19.6 points two seasons ago in Houston.
3 – Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns: The Suns would like to keep Nash and he likes it in Phoenix, but a veteran team a point guard away from contending could lure him away. An eight-time All-Star Nash just turned 38, but he led the league in assists six of the last eight seasons, including this one.
4 – Kirk Hinrich, Atlanta Hawks: Hinrich is not spectacular, but he’s a decent shooter (career 38% shooter from three-point range) and makes smart decisions. Teams in the market for a veteran to fill the backup spot could do far worse.
5 – Jeremy Lin*, New York Knicks: It’s still very early for Lin, but assuming he stays on his current path – or even just settles into the role of setting the table for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire – Lin is going to be in demand. If the Knicks make him restricted, teams can only offer him up to the NBA average salary and New York can use their Mid-Level Exception to match offers.
The Next Three: Andre Miller (Denver Nuggets), Goran Dragic* (Houston Rockets), George Hill* (Indiana Pacers)
1 – Eric Gordon*, New Orleans Hornets: Even though Gordon’s time with the Hornets has been plagued by injury he’s still the most talented shooting guard in this class. Presuming his injuries are resolved with no perceived long-term effects he will be paid handsomely this summer.
2 – O.J. Mayo*, Memphis Grizzlies: Mayo’s production has gone down from his first two seasons in the league, but he clearly has the talent to be a starter in the NBA. Memphis may want to keep him in his sixth man role, but someone is going to offer him starter’s money and he will take it.
3 – Lou Williams, Philadelphia 76ers (ETO, $5.4 million): Perhaps closer to a point guard than a shooting guard in size, Williams has thrived the past few seasons as Philly’s third guard. This year he is posting career-highs in points (15.9) and three-point shooting (39%). If he exercises his ETO Philly may lose him.
4 – Ray Allen, Boston Celtics: Yes, Ray Allen turns 37 about the time the next season begins and his scoring average is the lowest it’s been since his rookie season, but if a team needs three-point shooting their search should end with Allen. He’s shooting 50% from three-point range this season, his seventh over 40%.
5 – Landry Fields*, New York Knicks: Fields is not going to overwhelm anyone with his scoring or any other statistic, but he’s a smart player who plays solid defense and can be that glue player in any lineup who doesn’t need to have plays run for him.
The Next Three: Nick Young (Washington Wizards), Courtney Lee* (Houston Rockets), Jodie Meeks* (Philadelphia 76ers)
1 – Nic Batum*, Portland Trail Blazers: Averaging career-highs in steals, blocks and three-point shooting, throughout his first four years Batum has been up and down. If he were to find consistency to go with his talent he’d be everyone’s target.
2 – Wilson Chandler*, Denver Nuggets: What was said above about Aaron Brooks with regards to his status also applies here to Chandler. He does a little bit of everything and could be a very solid player off the bench at multiple positions for many teams, or he could start and be a player capable of defending the other team’s best wing scorer.
3 – Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers (PO, $9.5 million): If Wallace declines his option he will have suitors, but it will likely be at a lower price. He turns 30 in the fall, but is still one of the league’s best rebounders from the three spot.
4 – Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns: Hill will turn 40 this fall, but because of all the injuries suffered in the middle part of his career has lower mileage than most 35-year-olds and keeps himself in fantastic shape. He’s missed just four games the last four seasons.
5 – Chase Budinger, Houston Rockets (TO, $0.9 million): Budinger seems to have fallen out of favor a bit in Houston, but plenty of teams around the league would love to get his shooting (41% from three this season) on their side. Even if the Rockets decline the option he could still be made a restricted free agent.
The Next Three: Sam Young* (Memphis Grizzlies), Matt Barnes (L.A. Lakers), Donte’ Greene* (Sacramento Kings)
1 – Ryan Anderson*, Orlando Magic: Surprised? Yep, so are we. However, Anderson has stepped into the starting lineup this season and is posting career-highs in points, rebounds, steals, field-goal shooting and three-point shooting. Considering his youth, compatibility, and unique talent at his position, that puts him at the top of this list. For now.
2 – Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics: Garnett will be 36 this fall and entering his 18th NBA season. This year he is posting his lowest scoring average since his rookie season, but is still a tenacious rebounder and fiery defender. He won’t fit all teams, but playoff teams will be tripping over themselves to add him.
3 – Kris Humphries, New Jersey Nets: Apparently Humphries’ double-double average last season was not a fluke. This year he has raised his scoring average, blocks and free throw percentage. He may not be the best at anything, but he gets the job done.
4 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: It’s unlikely Duncan signs anywhere but in San Antonio. The 13-time All-Star has dropped off in recent seasons, but he still can turn it on when needed on either end of the floor.
5 – Michael Beasley*, Minnesota Timberwolves: Beasley won’t be a match for every team, or even many teams. He is high maintenance and isn’t too interested in defense, but he is showing in Minnesota he can fill up the hoop off the bench. A team that wants a scorer could do much worse.
The Next Three: Antawn Jamison (Cleveland Cavaliers), Carl Landry (New Orleans Hornets), Brandon Bass (Boston Celtics – PO, $4.3 million)
1 – Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (ETO, $19.5 million): With all due respect to Deron Williams and everyone else, Howard is the best player in this free agent class. He will become a free agent and will have his pick of max contracts to choose from. New Jersey? Dallas? Somewhere else?
2 – Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers (TO, $16.1 million): It’s unlikely the Lakers decline this team option, but if they did Bynum would immediately become the consolation prize to any team who didn’t sign Howard. So far this year he has been healthy and is posting career-highs in points and rebounds.
3 – Roy Hibbert*, Indiana Pacers: Named to his first NBA All-Star Game just last week, Hibbert is a key member of Indiana’s core. Not only will they look to keep him but they will probably pay him handsomely. The idea is to add to the core of Hibbert, Danny Granger and Darren Collison, so coming to terms on a new deal with their center is the first step.
4 – Brook Lopez*, New Jersey Nets: Most players with Lopez’s resume would have earned themselves big extensions by now, but with the future of the Nets apparently dependent on the whims of Dwight Howard that didn’t happen. Sure, he could rebound more, but if paired with a strong rebounding power forward Lopez could help form a dominating frontcourt.
5 – JaVale McGee*, Washington Wizards: Not too many players near the top of a free agent class do things that simply make you shake your head in wonder – not in a good way – like McGee. Then again, he’s also posting career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and steals this season. As a restricted free agent he will also be paid very well.
The Next Three: Chris Kaman (New Orleans Hornets), Marcus Camby (Portland Trail Blazers), Spencer Hawes (Philadelphia 76ers)
Now that we know who the top names in the class will be, later this week we’ll take a look at which teams will have salary cap space this summer. In the meantime, check out the salary pages and see the state of your favorite team.