2013 Free Agent Primer: Wing players
Note: The following list only features those players guaranteed or likely to become free agents. Players who — according to reports or current circumstances — are unlikely to decline their player options (PO) or exercise their early termination options (ETO) are not listed. That excluded group includes Andrei Kirilenko (PO), Shawn Marion (ETO), Brandon Rush (PO), Ray Allen (PO), Metta World Peace (ETO), Marvin Williams (ETO) and Ben Gordon (PO).
1. Andre Iguodala (Early termination option)
If, as expected, Iguodala opts out of his $16.2 million contract for next season, he would easily be the top wing player available. The 29-year-old is a marvelous defender whose size and speed allow him to handle all kinds of potential mismatches, whether switched onto an opposing point guard in a pick-and-roll or picking up a big man in transition. He reads passing lanes incredibly well and has a great feel for when it’s appropriate to gamble for a steal. His help is very effective for a wing player, his rotations are precise and his on-ball defense is smothering. It’s difficult for any perimeter player to single-handedly overhaul a defense, but Iguodala has something resembling that potential.
Offensively, though, he’s spent much of his career as a facilitator while fans of his teams clamored for him to become a more conventional star. Iguodala will never be an every-play creator, nor is he likely to refashion himself as a dominant scorer. But he handles and passes the ball well, often against pressure in small, time-sensitive windows. He tends to drive into crowds but has the feel and vision to make the right plays and set up his teammates in what appears to be haphazard fashion. That’s simply Iguodala’s game, and he’s been making those same, productive passes out of those same near-turnovers for years.
Iguodala is a fantastic component for most any team, but at this point he needs to determine if free agency is his best option. He won’t command $16.2 million annually on a new deal, but long-term security (or a desire to switch teams) could easily outweigh Iguodala’s inclination to pocket what he’s owed.
2. O.J. Mayo (Player option)
This might seem a bit high for Mayo — who plans to decline his $4.2 million player option — but the 25-year-old brings less risk and more upside than most in a free-agent class lacking in star talent. Mayo demonstrated in Dallas that he can score well in an open offense, though he still has a lot of work to do as a ball-handler in traffic. Things generally go well for Mayo when he looks to create his own offense, but timing and ball security on pick-and-rolls proved to be a consistent issue for a player Dallas was hoping could be a Jason Terry surrogate. He won’t improve without more reps as a ball handler, but Mayo would be best used alongside a high-level playmaker who could initiate offense, draw attention and afford Mayo a chance to operate against the weak side of the defense.
Still, the ability to create spot offense off the dribble is a valuable skill, particularly when Mayo’s developmental hiccups seem to be problems of practice and approach rather than mental error. He largely makes good, reasonable plays, but tends to commit strange turnovers at unfortunate times and clams up a bit when handling against staunch pressure. These are problems that can be remedied, and such a useful a scorer is likely worth the investment of time and resources.
Mayo’s defense in Dallas was underwhelming. He was victimized often on back cuts and off-ball screens. His lack of awareness on that end is more discouraging, but while playing in Memphis he at least showed he could bother perimeter players without getting burned so consistently. Much of that is the difference between leaning on the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and leaning on the Mavericks’ Chris Kaman or Brandan Wright for help, though it’s clear that Mayo is at best a net neutral defender at this stage of his career.
3. Tyreke Evans (Restricted)
He is still caught somewhere between an optimal role and his preferred one, but I hesitate to shrug off the value of a player with a knack for production and such a noticeable physical advantage. Public opinion of Evans’ game may have cooled, but he’s still a rare athlete with solid individual skills, albeit ones that have yet to be harnessed in a way that would make him a prized asset of a winning team.
Evans, who turns 24 in September, isn’t guaranteed of developing into the player his skill set suggests he’s capable of becoming. But there are enough good omens in his game (the cutting, the successful but infrequent post-up work, the improved shooting percentages, etc.) for general managers around the league to at least be curious about what signing him might bring.
Plus, if nothing else, believe in the disruptive capacity of Sacramento’s disarray. Even if we sidestep the messy transition in ownership and the relocation saga, this is a locker room that openly admitted to having no idea what offense it was running. The Kings draft (and acquire) redundant players, and they’ve yet to much develop any of their most talented prospects. Perhaps the culture will change under new owner Vivek Ranadive and new coach Mike Malone. But the obstacles to progress have been glaring and many, to say nothing of the difficulties in finding the best way to use such an unusual player as Evans.
4. J.J. Redick
There are plenty of other shooters to come on this list, but Redick is the most functional. The balance of his shooting form makes him a threat both off the catch and off the dribble, with the latter becoming an increasingly prevalent aspect of his game as he gets more comfortable in executing pick-and-rolls. That combination of operating as a floor-spacing accessory and a ball-handling complement makes him a wonderful fit for most teams looking for perimeter help; Redick is capable of rounding out a starting five or jump-starting the offense off the bench. Redick (who turns 29 this month) also does a terrific job of locking and trailing on defense and keeping his man in front of him, which helps make up for the fact that he’s a bit undersized in most matchups.
5. Gerald Henderson (Restricted)
Aside from his gravity-defying throwdown early in the season, Henderson had a quiet year in a starting role for one of the worst teams in basketball. That’s not a great way to build a résumé, but Henderson’s performance has been sturdy enough to wonder what he might be capable of in a different context.
The Bobcats were such a mess that it’s difficult to evaluate Henderson’s defensive value within the team concept. The effort was clearly there, but Charlotte’s defenders were so rarely on the same page that it’s hard to know if Henderson was really executing as intended. Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has shown nice defensive potential over the past few seasons, and according to Synergy Sports Technology, Henderson allowed just 0.66 points per play (and 32.3 percent shooting) in isolation situations this season. Clearly reliable enough to stay in front of most perimeter threats, Henderson should do well if empowered by the fundamentals and principles of a more consistent defense.
Offensively, Henderson possesses skills but doesn’t have a specialty. He has dabbled in pick-and-roll play, does well in the post and has improved as a spot-up shooter. He still needs to become a more consistent threat from beyond the arc, but he’s progressively attempted more threes in every season and made a big step toward league-average marksmanship this year by shooting 33 percent. Henderson’s game seems safe and malleable enough to warrant considerable interest.
6. Kevin Martin
Martin, 30, is a difficult player to evaluate and price because his worth hinges on his prospective team’s ability to hide him defensively. His one-on-one coverage is enough of a concern that potential employers need at least two back-line defenders capable of covering for his missteps, to say nothing of what he’ll surrender on the perimeter as a result of being wiped out by screens or manipulated by opponents.
But beneath all that baggage is a useful and efficient scorer, though he doesn’t get to the free-throw line as often as he used to. In his prime, Martin combined off-the-dribble shooting and off-ball work with an uncanny ability to create contact and draw fouls. Those days are gone. After attempting 8.2 free throws per 36 minutes just two seasons earlier, Martin averaged 4.1 attempts for the Thunder this season in a more limited role befitting a slimmer skill set. He’s still a terrific perimeter shooter (particularly when playing off shot creators as dynamic as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant), but his scoring efficiency has dipped without the benefit of those extra free-throw attempts.
Martin also helps with his ability to scurry around screens and create scoring angles. When a shooter of his caliber is sprinting around the court and losing his defender in the process, opponents tend to drift away from their marks ever so slightly in a preemptive attempt to help. Sometimes that’s needed and sometimes it’s not, but Martin’s reputation as a shooter and scorer adds value to his involvement in plays and lineups.
7. Mike Dunleavy
Dunleavy, who turns 33 in September, has established himself as one of the NBA’s finest role players over the last three seasons. His name, high draft selection (No. 3 in 2002) and Duke career still tend to draw sneers, but there’s immense value in a player who can shoot from all over the floor, handle the ball on occasion, defend adequately, make the extra pass consistently and compete on the glass.
The fact that he’s reliant on other shot creators in order to be successful is neither a unique concern among wing players nor a particularly valid one. Dunleavy can complement any manner of NBA offense without risk or hitch, and he should come at a bargain if his previous deal (two years, $7.5 million) is any indication.
8. Kyle Korver
When looking to add a perimeter shooter, why not target the best available? Korver, 32, hit 45.7 percent from three-point range this season, raising his career mark to 41.9. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective because he earns the defense’s complete attention with his potency as a catch-and-shoot option. That shouldn’t be overlooked. While it’s one thing to make three-pointers on spot-up attempts, Korver is adept at running curls on the weak side of the floor to both distract from and complement the dominant action on the strong side. He’s quick enough to get open easily and picks his spots well, making him an outstanding supporting piece on offense.
It’s also worth noting that Korver is a far more serviceable defender than advertised. Though he won’t be assigned to defend ball-dominant scorers anytime soon, he does a perfectly decent job of denying penetration and forcing opponents into tough, pull-up looks.
9. Tony Allen
General managers will have the unenviable task of determining what elite defense — at the cost of offensive spacing and flow — is really worth. Allen, 31, lives up to his reputation as a premier on-ball defender. But the Western Conference finals demonstrated how much of a liability he can be against smart defensive teams, who will move the player assigned to guard Allen into help and pressure all over the floor.
Allen is actually a smart enough cutter to theoretically help offset some of the damage done to his team’s spacing, but he is too wild a finisher to take full advantage of those opportunities. Add the fact that his perimeter shooting is regrettable by any standard (he converted 3-of-24 from three-point range for Memphis this season), and Allen’s presence becomes rather untenable over long stretches. There’s a reason, after all, that Allen averaged only 26.7 minutes this season despite his outstanding defensive play and function as the Grizzlies’ identity incarnate. He is phenomenally good at his particular trade but woefully out of place in a league that places increasing emphasis on space and understands more than ever how to exploit players like Allen to deny opponents room to operate.
10. J.R. Smith (Player option)
Smith can be a tremendous and explosive asset on his best days, but a place in a coach’s rotation — particularly among those who handle the ball so often — requires a certain trust. Somehow, Smith earned Knicks coach Mike Woodson’s faith and responded with one of the most responsible seasons of his nine-year career. Even those circumstances couldn’t completely stop the Sixth Man Award winner from over-dribbling or gunning instinctively, but the improvements in Smith’s offensive game and defensive effort made him a far more tolerable player.
I wish I could say that I trust the soon-to-be 28-year-old enough to think he’s capable of a repeat showing, or of displaying long-term improvement in his approach to the game. But further reflection on Smith’s uncharacteristic season only makes it seem like more of an outlier, inspiring even less reason for confidence in his future performance. Some team will take a chance on Smith (who is set to decline his $2.9 million player option) for his ability to score in waves, though.
11. Matt Barnes
Barnes, 33, has topped $2 million in annual salary only once in 10 years, and he may be enough of a spotty shooter and loose cannon to draw a similarly modest deal this time. But he’s earned a raise from his current $1.2 million salary with his play for the Clippers this season, despite the characteristic inconsistency in his production. Barnes contributes all over the court even when the ball isn’t swinging his way, including solid rebounding and good, meddlesome defense. He uses his length well to challenge shooters and corral ball handlers, and Barnes has proved to be a helpful contributor in several different kinds of defensive systems.
Barnes shot a below-average 34.2 percent from three-point range this season, but he makes up for the come-and-go nature of his jump shot with clever cuts through the weak side and down the baseline. He receives little credit for those plays, but smart decisions and good effort allow him to exploit defensive inattention on a consistent basis.
12. Dorell Wright
Though he lacks the off-the-dribble game necessary to make full use of his athleticism, Wright brings some interesting depth to the archetypal skill set of the spot-up shooter. He has hoisted threes in volume for three straight seasons, finishing a few clicks above league-average accuracy each time (37.4 percent in 2012-13 for Philadelphia). But the 6-9 Wright’s size and athleticism also make him a pretty strong positional rebounder, particularly in comparison to the slighter players who typically specialize in perimeter play.
Wright is not a standout defender by any means, but his build and strength allow him to swing between all kinds of defensive matchups and hold his own in most. He may not finish as well as he should and doesn’t have much of an intermediate game, but Wright combines three-point accuracy with a greater potential to contribute on defense and in the game’s margins than most sharpshooter types.
13. Martell Webster
Webster — still only 26 after coming to the NBA from high school in 2005 — emerged as an unexpectedly valuable role player for the Wizards this season after struggling with injuries in three of the previous four years. At the beginning of the season, Webster seemed to be an uninspired choice to round out Washington’s roster — an uneven shooter poised to steal minutes from players such as No. 3 pick Bradley Beal. But as Webster settled in with a team missing its primary playmaker and various other rotation players, his value became obvious.
Webster proved to be a level-headed player in a strange situation, an effort defender on a team that valued such things and an unexpectedly potent marksman from the corners. According to Vorped, Webster shot an NBA-best 57 percent on three-pointers from the right corner and was among the league leaders from the left corner at 44 percent. Even that caliber of floor spacing wasn’t enough to open things up for Washington’s offense, but Webster made his value known and did so at an opportune time in his career.
Webster signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract last summer amid concern about his back after two surgeries. But after playing 76 games this season and distinguishing himself as a solid two-way player, he should earn a longer, more lucrative contract.
14. Corey Brewer
On the right team, Brewer stands to be significantly more valuable than his ranking here would suggest. He’s an inexhaustible leak-out option for teams seeking to push the pace and a natural cutter in a half-court setting. But the unfortunate quirks of Brewer’s game tend to grow more obvious in any situation that requires the utmost precision — perhaps most notably in the Nuggets’ first-round loss to the Warriors.
Energy alone can help Brewer, 27, wreak havoc and create space, but much of what he does on both ends is exploitable. He’s a long, active defender, but one so slight and so fidgety in coverage that he can be targeted with hard screens. Plus, as useful as Brewer is as a dive cutter, he’s so far below average as a shooter that opponents don’t even feign interest in guarding him beyond the arc.
Though Brewer struggled in the playoffs, Denver seemed to be a perfect stylistic fit for his explosiveness in transition. He’s allowed to attack in the open court with the Nuggets, primarily because his teammates look for him on quick outlet passes. That won’t necessarily be the case if he signs with a team that takes a more deliberate approach, in which case his spirited play wouldn’t achieve the same ends.
15. Francisco Garcia (Team option)
Garcia, 31, is both an eight-year veteran and a relative unknown, thanks to years of toiling on several bad-to-lukewarm Sacramento teams. That will soon be remedied if he lands with a winning franchise. Houston — which acquired Garcia as part of the deal for Thomas Robinson in February — seemed to be a perfect fit, but the Rockets’ pursuit of Dwight Howard will likely require declining Garcia’s $6.4 million team option.
If the Rockets cut him loose, Garcia will draw interest elsewhere for his perimeter shooting and scrappy defense. Garcia is by no means elite in either regard, but an ability to cover either wing position somewhat reliably, combined with a hot postseason run (in which he shot 45.9 percent from three-point range), makes him an enticing, cost-effective option for a team chasing wing depth.
16. Randy Foye
The fact that Foye’s height puts him between positions has led to his mislabeling as a “combo guard,” but consistent failures in the pick-and-roll should make it rather clear that he should be initiating the offense as little as possible. If allowed to merely space the floor, Foye tends to do well. Foye, who turns 30 in September, converted 41.1 percent of his spot-up three-pointers this season with Utah, according to Synergy Sports Technology, and fared nearly as well (37.9 percent) when making the catch off a screen. He may not be dynamic enough to run a second-unit offense, but Foye can succeed in an off-ball role.
17. Marco Belinelli
Belinelli, 27, was stretched to his limits in Chicago this season, but he could be even more helpful in a less demanding role. The key is moderation. Though Belinelli can handle the ball, he’s best when attacking selectively from the weak side or working over the defense with his cutting and curling. Even without the benefit of designed plays or planned screens, Belinelli has a knack for getting open. He has proved to be uncommonly good at converting tough, off-balance shots. That’s not a bad combination of skills for a fairly affordable role player, especially given that Belinelli isn’t a complete pushover defensively.
18. Al-Farouq Aminu
The Pelicans were apparently so underwhelmed with Aminu’s second NBA season, in 2011-12, that they declined last October to pick up their fourth-year option on his rookie deal. As curious as it might’ve been for the Pelicans to give up on a 22-year-old former No. 8 pick so quickly after acquiring him in the Chris Paul trade in December 2011, he was a non-factor offensively and noticeably raw on defense. He made the mistakes that all young players make, but without the silver lining that might justify further investment in his growth.
But as tends to happen with developing players, Aminu’s situation — and production — changed this season. His minimal offensive game was streamlined to feature less off-the-dribble work and fewer long jumpers. As a result of the better shot selection, he improved his field-goal percentage from 41.1 to 47.5. Aminu also got better as a cutter as he refined his sense of timing with more experience.
By embracing what he did relatively well and shying away from what he did poorly, Aminu edged closer to the role-player set that should define his career. He also progressed just enough defensively to show potential as a long-armed irritant, whereas last season he was a walking disadvantage. On top of all that, Aminu transformed into one of the best rebounding wings in the league. He grabbed 16.9 percent of available rebounds while on the floor this season, outranking a majority of NBA power forwards and centers, including David Lee, Roy Hibbert, Al Jefferson and Al Horford.
Even without taking a great leap forward, Aminu found ways to make himself valuable and his minutes worthwhile — a development that should help him score a decent new deal.
19. Anthony Morrow
Morrow, who has already played with four teams since joining the NBA as an undrafted free agent in 2008, possesses one bankable skill: shooting. At his best, he led the NBA in three-point shooting (46.7 percent) with the run-and-gun Warriors in 2008-09; at his worst, he made 37.1 percent from deep for the dysfunctional Nets in 2011-12. His catch-and-shoot potential as largely a spot-up type is exemplary, but the soon-to-be 28-year-old doesn’t offer much else.
20. Chase Budinger
Budinger, 25, missed more than four months this season because of knee surgery, one of several Minnesota players to sustain a major injury. He is a notable athlete even by NBA standards, but Budinger has only managed to use his quickness and bounce so far to establish himself as a functional cutter. He complements that aspect of his game with some respectable work as a spot-up shooter, which in turn allows him to pump fake, put the ball on the floor and attack the rim on occasion. Therein lies the majority of Budinger’s half-court appeal, though his leaping ability will always suggest a greater value hidden beneath a merely serviceable game.
Defensive effort and discipline are also concerns with Budinger, who doesn’t often trail his mark closely enough or fight through off-ball screens. He’s quick enough to keep up in those situations but tends to concede on contact or attempt to draw a foul on the screener while surrendering an open shot. When defending the ball, he would seem similarly capable of cutting off opponent’s dribble or challenging shots, but Budinger’s positioning is often sloppy and he’s a bit too easy to shed with a ball fake.
Still, Budinger — who made $885,120 this season as a former second-round pick — is significantly better than many of the players who filled minutes for Minnesota on the wing. And he’s better (and cheaper) than many of the fringe rotation types coming off the bench around the league.