Free Agent Finds
By Brian Martin
Free agency is officially upon us. As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, team have been courting available players as they look to shape their rosters for the upcoming 2014-15 season.
Of course, the discussion will be dominated by the top-line superstar free agents available -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and others -- but there are also plenty of other players available that can help your favorite team at a smaller price tag.
That's what we want to focus on today, some of the players available that can fit specific needs for a team. Do you need a rim protector, a floor spacer that can knock down 3s, a scoring punch of the bench or a glass cleaner? We check the stats to show some of the top players available with those (insert Liam Neeson voice here) "very particular set of skills."
While contracts cannot be officially signed until July 10, reports of deals are coming fast and furious (you can keep up with it all here).
One of the best stats to come from the SportVU player tracking data that debuted leaguewide in 2013-14 is rim protection. Defense is the toughest aspect of the game to measure statistically, and steals and blocks are not enough to illustrate a player's defensive abilities. While most elite rim protectors will also record a lot of blocked shots, what about the shots that they change, that force a miss without recording a block. That is where the rim protection stats come into play, which measure the opponent's field goal percentage at the rim while it is being defended by a specific player.
Roy Hibbert finished the season ranked fourth in blocked shots at 2.3 per game, but was the leader in rim protection as opponents shot just 41.4% at the rim against him. Robin Lopez was eighth in blocks (1.7) but second in rim protection (42.5%). On the flip side, Anthony Davis led the league in blocks (2.8 per game), but ranked 23rd in rim protection (48.9%).
In looking at both blocked shots and rim protection, there are a handful of free agents that are available that could provide a defensive impact.
In 39 games with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, Kaman averaged only 1.0 blocks per game, but allowed opponents to shoot just 43.3% at the rim against him. That is the third-best mark in the league (behind Hibbert and Lopez) among players that faced at least five shots at the rim per game.
While his blocks average ranks him in the 30s, alongside players like Chris Bosh (52.4% rim protection), LaMarcus Aldridge (49.9%), Greg Stiemsma (50.8%) and Tyson Chandler (51.5%), Kaman's rim protection numbers set him apart from those players.
Since arriving in Miami two years ago, the Birdman's job has been to defend, rebound and score on dunks and putbacks. Last season, Andersen averaged 1.4 blocks (17th in league) and held opponents to 47.8% shooting at the rim (19th in league, min. 5 FGA defended per game).
In addition to his work on defense, Andersen chipped in 6.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in his 19.4 minutes per game. How efficient was he on offense? According to SportVU, Andersen's 0.77 points per half-court touch was second in the league to Detroit's Andre Drummond (0.81).
The league average of 43.1 3-point shots per game in 2013-14 was an all-time high in the NBA. It broke the mark of 39.9 set in 2012-13, which subsequently broke the mark of 36.8 from the previous season. With the 3-point shot becoming such a focal point of NBA offenses, the need for quality shooters has never been higher.
So whether a team is in the market for a guard, a forward or even a center, they will look at a player's ability to shoot from the perimeter and help spread the floor. Here are a few players still available (Patty Mills, Jodie Meeks and CJ Miles are already off the board), at a variety of positions, that can help fill that need.
No player made more corner 3-pointers than Ariza's 81 last season. Only Portland's Wesley Matthews attempted more (183) than Ariza's 180. Ariza made 45.0% of his corner 3s, the sixth-highest make rate among the 29 players that attempted at least 100 corner 3s.
Ariza averaged 14.4 points per game in 2013-14, nearly matching his career-best season average of 14.9 from 2009-10 as a member of the Houston Rockets. It is the first time in his 10-year career that he eclipsed the 40% mark for 3-point shooting accuracy. His 6.2 rebounds were also a career-best and his 11 double-doubles last season matched his total from the previous four seasons combined.
After sitting out the 2012-13 season with a heart condition, Frye returned to the Phoenix Suns for the 2013-14 season like he never missed a beat. Frye played in all 82 games and averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds for the surprising Suns.
While his 37.0% 3-point percentage (T-51st in league) is well below his career-best of 43.9% from 2009-10, Frye remains one of the best outside shooters for a forward-center. Unlike Ariza, who did most of his damage from the corners, Frye is at his best above the break. His 148 above the break 3s are the 11th-most in the league and the second-most among forward-centers (behind Kevin Love's 171).
Early word is that Allen will likely return to the Heat if he decides to return for his 19th NBA season. But we couldn't have a report on free agent floor spacers without mentioning the player that has made more 3-pointers than any other player in NBA history in both the regular season (2,973) and playoffs (385). Will those numbers continue to grow in 2013-14? And, if so, where will he shoot them?
When it comes to analyzing rebounding, SportVU player tracking data lends us a huge assist with the introduction of rebounding chances and contested vs. uncontested rebounds. In addition to looking at rebound rate and per game rebounding numbers, we can look at how many rebounds a player grabbed compared to the number of times he was in the vicinity of the rebound as well as whether or not he had to beat an opponent to secure the rebound.
Take a look at the following numbers from last season for this group of free agent big men.
|Pau Gasol (LAL)||9.7||15.4||62.6%||3.1||6.5||32.5%||16.4%||11.1|
|Marcin Gortat (WAS)||9.5||15.9||59.4%||3.5||6.0||37.1%||16.3%||10.4|
|Greg Monroe (DET)||9.3||16.2||57.1%||4.1||5.2||44.2%||15.5%||10.2|
|Spencer Hawes (CLE)||8.3||14.8||55.7%||2.5||5.2||32.7%||14.3%||9.6|
|Jordan Hill (LAL)||7.4||12.6||58.8%||3.3||4.2||43.7%||19.3%||12.8|
|Kris Humphries (BOS)||5.9||10.5||56.6%||2.3||3.6||38.6%||16.9%||10.7|
CREB: Contested Rebounds; UCREB: Uncontested Rebounds; CREB%: Contested Rebound Percentage
Gasol led the group in rebounds per game as well as the percentage of rebounds he grabbed when he had a chance at the rebound (within 3.5 feet). However, the majority (67.5%) of Gasol's rebounds were uncontested; it's a lot easier to grab rebounds when no one else is fighting you for them.
We know that Gortat is returning to Washington, but wanted to include his numbers as a point of comparison for some of the players that follow.
Two numbers really stand out when looking at Greg Monroe's rebounding stats. The first is his 44.2% contested rebound percentage, the highest among this group. The second is 22.6%, which is the league-best rebound rate of Monroe's teammate Andre Drummond. Monroe put up solid rebounding stats while playing alongside one of the league's best rebounders every night. The Monroe-Drummond duo played 1,668 minutes together compared to 950 minutes apart last season.
While Drummond led the league in rebound rate, Jordan Hill ranked ninth at 19.3% for the Los Angeles Lakers last season. Hill played just over 20 minutes per game, but still grabbed 7.4 rebounds a night. His rebound rate and rebounds per 36 minutes (12.8) leads this group of free agent bigs. And like Monroe, Hill showed the ability to grab contested rebounds (43.7%).
Another player that rebounded well in limited minutes last season was Kris Humphries in Boston. Playing just under 20 minutes a game, Humphries averaged 5.9 rebounds and posted a 16.9% rebound rate. His rebounds per 36 minutes (10.7) top that of Gortat and Monroe.
Every team needs facilitators, either in the starting lineup or off the bench. Once again we look to the SportVU data for more detailed information on passing and assists. Not only can we look at per game numbers and assist rate (percentage of team assists while on the court), now we can see assist opportunities, secondary (hockey) assists, free throw assists and total points crested by assists.
Here's a quick comparison of six available free agent point guards (Kyle Lowry and Darren Collison are already off the board, and Eric Bledsoe will command a much higher number than what we are targeting in this exercise).
PTSAST: Points Created By Assists; PTSAST/48: Points Created By Assists per 48 Minutes
After his sixth NBA season (2011-12 with the New Jersey Nets), Farmar headed overseas and played in Turkey during the 2012-13 season. He returned to the NBA last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he spent the first four seasons in the NBA. Due to a litany of injuries in the Lakers backcourt (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake), Farmar saw just over 22 minutes of play in 41 games in L.A. He averaged 10 points and just under five assists per game, while shooting 43.8% from beyond the arc. A 34.3% assist rate and the sixth-highest 3-point percentage among players that shot at least 100 3s should make Farmar a valuable addition.
Nelson had been locked in as the starting point guard for the Orlando Magic since the beginning of the 2006-07 season. That will change next season as the Magic released the 10-year veteran, making him an unrestricted free agent.
For any team looking for a veteran guard to contribute right away, Nelson could be a great fit. He's coming off a season that saw him average 12.1 points (just below his career average of 12.4) and 7.0 assists (8th in the league and nearly matching his career-best season from 2012-13 at 7.4). Two stats that should definitely help Nelson find suitors this summer are his career bests in both assist rate (34.1%) and assist-to-turnover ration (2.87) from last season.
Only six players in the NBA averaged at least 20 points and six assists last season -- LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. The 5-foot-9 point guard presents a great combination of scoring (20.3, 17th in league) and playmaking (6.3, 11th in league) that sets him apart from the other players we are discussing here.
The restricted free agent from Sacramento has drawn interest from a number of teams and with the Kings having come to terms with Darren Collison, Thomas may find himself on the move.
Having traded Jose Calderon as part of the Tyson Chandler deal, the Mavericks are working hard to keep Devin Harris in Dallas, where he would compete for the starting point guard position with the newly-acquired Raymond Felton. Harris has some numbers from last season that give you pause (career-low shooting percentage of 37.8%, his only season under 40%), but others that give you hope (31.2% assist rate, career-best 3.02 assist-to-turnover ratio).
Also, keep in mind that Harris missed the first half of last season while recovering from offseason foot surgery. He played in 40 games for the Mavericks last year and averaged just 20.4 minutes, the lowest mark since his rookie season. Coming into the season healthy and with more minutes available should boost Harris' production. Will it be in Dallas or will another team try to pull him away?
In 2012-13, Vasquez finished third in the league with 9.0 assists per game for the New Orleans Hornets. However, before the team took the court as the Pelicans last season, Vasquez was traded to Sacramento as part of the Tyreke Evans deal. Then, early in his tenure in Sacramento, he was moved again, this time to Toronto as part of the Rudy Gay deal. Will Vasquez and his 31.0% assist rate from last season join a fourth team in less than two years?
In splitting time between the Lakers and Warriors last season, Blake showed he is fully capable of being productive as either a starter (Lakers) or a reserve (Warriors). Blake's season averages of 6.9 points and 5.6 assists are a bit misleading since his role and minutes dramatically shifted following the midseason trade. In 27 games with the Lakers, Blake averaged 33 minutes and produced 9.5 points and 7.6 assists per game. In 28 games with the Warriors, his minutes dropped to 21.7 per game and his scoring (4.4) and assists (3.6) did as well.
Instead, let's look at his per 36 minutes stats (9.1 points, 7.4 assists, 2.5 turnovers) as well as his 37.6% shooting from beyond the arc and 30.3% assist rate. For a team looking for a veteran player they can trust to run the point, Blake should be a solid candidate.
Here's a look at the top scorers who played at last half of last season (41 games) coming off the bench. Of those top 25, eight are free agents, with one (Patty Mills) already off the market. Here's a closer look at the other seven.
This is a guard-dominated group with Nick Young as the clear standout both in terms of points per game (18.8) and shooting percentages (40.3% from three). Young came off the bench for the Lakers in 55 games last season and started nine games. He was extremely more productive coming off the bench compared to when he was on the court at tipoff.