Categorizing and Ranking the Best of What's Left in NBA Free Agency
We’re now three weeks into free agency and most of the big names have signed on the dotted line. LeBron is going home, Melo is staying in New York, and Bosh and D-Wade will give it a go trying to keep the post-LeBron Heat relevant in the East.
The vast majority of the top targets have fallen into place, but there are still a few recognizable names and rotation-level players left on the market. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more notable players still looking for homes, categorized by what they would bring to a team, and ranked by our own nERD score (an efficiency-based metric which gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with that player as one of their starters).
1. Eric Bledsoe (2.3 nERD)
The Bledsoe situation is a bit baffling. The Suns have supposedly sworn they’ll match any offer he gets as a restricted free agent, but aren’t budging on their four-year, $48 million offer that Bledsoe’s camp has already turned down. Bledsoe thinks he’s worth a five-year, $80 million max, but the Suns aren’t willing to give it to him and no one else will throw him a max without knowing what the Suns will do.
Bledsoe is coming off the best season of his career, his first as a full-time starter, averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest, while shooting 47.7% from the floor. The only problem that might scare teams off is that he comes with injury concerns after playing only 43 games last season due to a torn meniscus. Whoever decides to sign him, however, will have a chance at getting a potential star to build around if he can stay healthy going forward.
2. Greg Monroe (1.1 nERD)
Monroe's situation is a bit touchy as well. He’s got star potential, like Bledsoe, and might be worth a max deal, but no one has slid an offer sheet the restricted free agent’s way yet. The experiment of playing the three-headed monster of Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Josh Smith together clearly didn’t work for the Pistons, but it seems like they’re exploring ways to move Smith before deciding on Monroe.
Whoever lands Monroe gets a talented big man who averaged 15.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game last season and shot 49.7% from the floor. He’s still raw defensively, but he’s got true talent on the offensive end and still has plenty of room to grow at 24 years of age.
1.Jermaine O’Neal (1.8 nERD)
J.O. is a long ways removed from being an All-Star and is currently considering retirement, but he can still be an effective defensive center when given minutes. The 35-year-old, 18-year veteran played in only 44 games for the Warriors last season, but averaged 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks, while shooting 57.7% from the field in 13 starts.
2. Elton Brand (1.4 nERD)
Brand is similar to J.O. in the way he still provides useful production at age 35 and with 15 seasons notched. He managed to play in 73 games for the Hawks last season and even started 15 of them. His per-36 averages are still pretty sparkly at 10.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 2.2 blocks and his 53.9% shooting from the field last season was a career high.
3. Emeka Okafor (0.5 nERD in 2012-13)
Okafor missed all of last season with a neck ailment, but is only a year removed from starting 77 games of his 79 played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13 and averaging 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.0 block per contest in the process. He’s a 51.2% shooter from the field for his career and has always been a plus defender. A player who ranked in the top-11 in defensive rebounding percentage (26.8%), total rebound percentage (18.7%), and defensive rating (99.4) just over a year ago will be a welcome addition to any team if he can return with a clean bill of health.
4. Ray Allen (0.1 nERD)
Allen turns 39 years old today and is strongly considering retiring from the game of basketball. If he does decide to lace them up one more time, there’s a growing consensus that it will be to follow LeBron to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whoever picks him up will get the most prolific long-range shooter of all time who still managed to average 9.6 points and shoot 37.5% from deep in a robust 26.5 minutes per contest last season as the Heat’s sixth man and occasional starter.
5. Shawn Marion (-1.1 nERD)
The Matrix is 36 years old and has played in 15 NBA campaigns, but is still putting up good numbers and playing a lot of quality minutes. He has started every game he’s played for the Mavericks over the last three seasons, including 76 games played at 31.7 minutes per contest last year. His averages of 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and 48.2% shooting from the field and 35.8% from deep last season would still go a long way on a lot of teams.
6. Mo Williams (-3.7 nERD)
Mo Williams is not really a starting-caliber point guard anymore, but he can still do an admirable job of playing backup, as he did last year in Portland. The 74 games he played in were his most in five years and his per-game averages of 9.7 points and 4.3 assists in 24.8 minutes of action were certainly serviceable. Any team lacking competent ball-handlers off the bench or a good catch-and-shooter (Mo shot 40.7% on catch-and-shoot threes last year) could do worse than the 31-year-old.
7. Jameer Nelson (-3.9 nERD)
Nelson has played every single game of his career for the Orlando Magic, but they decided to waive him at the beginning of free agency in favor of a youth movement that didn’t include the 32-year-old. He seemingly has got plenty of good basketball left in him after averaging 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game just last season (his 10th). The major knock on him is that his efficiency has nosedived the last few campaigns, dropping from 50.3% shooting from the floor in 2008-09 to a measly 39.4% last year. Even if starting isn’t a given wherever he ends up, he can still be a useful backup that can be inserted into the starting five in a pinch.
1. Andray Blatche (nERD 0.0)
Blatche has a reputation for being a bit of a head case, but he is still a great first big to have coming off your bench. Over his last two seasons in Brooklyn, Blatche played in 155 games (140 of them off the pine) and averaged 20.5 minutes per contest. His per-36 numbers were excellent, coming in at 18.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 block over the two campaigns. He’s also improved his shooting from the field over that time, connecting at a rate of 49.4%.
2. Ramon Sessions (nERD -1.1)
Sessions is one of the best backup point guards in the business. Last season, he played in 83 games between the Bobcats and Bucks (he was traded mid-season and gained a game in the process) and averaged 12.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 26.7 minutes per contest. He only shot 40.9% from the floor and 22.1% from deep in his first 55 games in Charlotte, but jacked those rates up to 46.1% and 35.7% over the final 28 in Milwaukee. His biggest strength is in his ability to get to the free-throw line at a ridiculous .525 rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt) and hit 80.7% of his freebies when he gets there.
3. Jordan Crawford (nERD -2.0)
Crawford is not the most efficient scorer on the planet (he shot 41.5% from the field and 31.6% from deep last year), but he’s a decent passer and finds ways to get his points when needed. He was a bit buried on the Warriors bench after a trade from Boston last January, but he played well enough in his 39 games as a Celtic, averaging 14.2 points, 6.1 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.3 three-pointers per game over 35 starts. As a fun piece of trivia, he even earned himself Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors once with the Celtics in December.
4. Al-Farouq Aminu (nERD -2.3)
Aminu has yet to really find his niche in the NBA, but is still a relatively solid rotation player and a plus defender. He played 80 games for the Pelicans last season and started 65 of them, averaging 7.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per contest, while shooting 47.4% from the floor. His 27.1% from deep and 66.4% from the line leave plenty to be desired, but he’s still got room to grow at a mere 23 years of age.
1. Greg Oden (nERD 0.2)
Since being drafted first overall in 2007, Oden has played in a grand total of 105 NBA games. After three complete seasons away from the game, he made a comeback attempt last year with the Miami Heat, playing in 23 games and averaging 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in a mere 9.2 minutes per contest. He might never live up to the billing of being the guy selected ahead of Kevin Durant, but he still flashes decent potential in his per-36 numbers (11.4 points, 9.2 boards, 1.2 steals, 2.2 blocks) and efficiency (55.1% shooting from the floor). The whole basketball world is rooting for him to stay healthy and find a team that can get the most out of him, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone takes a flier on the big guy for next year. Believe it or not, he’s still only 26 years old.
2. Michael Beasley (nERD -0.2)
Beasley was the second overall pick in 2008 and is only four years removed from averaging 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists with the Timberwolves. He comes with plenty of risk as a guy with a poor attitude and a history of run-ins with the law, but he has offensive upside for miles. Last year, he hit a career low in minutes per-game (15.1) playing for Miami, but still produced at a rate of 18.9 points 7.5 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes of play and shot a career best 49.9% from the floor and an impressive 38.9% from long range. After bouncing around for his first 6 seasons, it’s still plenty conceivable that Beasley's career can be salvaged at the still very young age of 25 if he lands in the right situation to unlock his talent. His natural position of small forward is one of the thinnest in the game, so a team could come knocking on his door soon enough.
3. Evan Turner (nERD -7.8)
Turner's career has been plenty enigmatic so far. He was the second overall pick in 2010, but was little more than a highly touted role player for his first few seasons in Philly. Turner appeared to be on an upswing as one of the primary options on a pretty barren Sixers roster last year, averaging 17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.0 steal per contest in 54 starts. He went off the proverbial cliff in Indiana, however, after being traded to the Pacers at the deadline. The once dominant team went 14-13 after acquiring him and his plus-minus of -57, -3.2 net rating, and disgusting 44.2% effective field goal percentage (weighted two and threes) earned at least some of the finger pointing that came with the team's collapse. All the same, Turner’s only 25 and still might be an affordable option with upside for a team looking for wing help.