ONTARIO, Canada — The NBA free agency period has begun and teams with salary cap space are posturing to sign the best available free agents (unrestricted and restricted). While nothing will be official until papers are signed after July 10, there are already multiple stories of teams wooing and dining top players.
The biggest (and probably best) player on the market is Dwight Howard. He is undoubtedly the prized unrestricted free agent after Chris Paul tweeted his decision on staying with the Los Angeles Clippers. Here is a short list of the top available free agents.
1. Dwight Howard
D12 had a subpar season with the Lakers as he struggled playing with Kobe while recovering from major back surgery. Howard averaged just 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds — his lowest numbers in the past 7 years.
Offensively, he was not as dominant like before while his low post skills have not improved. He made only 49% of his free-throws — the 2nd lowest of his career — but his field-goal shooting percentage still ranked him second in the NBA and his rebounds per game still led the league.
Defensively, Dwight was a tad slow on rotations and help defense. Maybe another summer recovering and resting could help him perform at an elite level for next season. Howard is just 27 so he can still improve and his best years are ahead of him. If healthy, only LeBron James is a better two-way player than Howard.
2. Josh Smith
J-Smoove had a solid year for the Hawks last season although his numbers dipped a little in points, rebounds and free-throw shooting. Smith finished with 29 double-doubles which placed him in the top 20.
When focused and motivated, Smith can be a very good two-way player. He can impact the game on both sides of the floor with his shot blocking and powerful dunks, and can also hit the occasional perimeter shot but he is far from being an efficient and reliable shot maker. He is an awful three-point shooter so he must eliminate that shot from his arsenal.
3. Al Jefferson
Big Al is among a dying breed in today’s NBA, a traditional center who is considered one of the best low post players left in the league. He plays below the rim but has wonderful timing and great positioning when it comes to finishing in the paint and grabbing rebounds.
Jefferson is a threat to record double-doubles each time he plays and has finished with at least 30 double-doubles in the past 7 seasons. Jefferson, who led the Utah Jazzin scoring and rebounding last season, has also developed a set shot from about 10-12 feet to keep defenders from sagging off him.
4. Andre Iguodala
Despite being considered an elite perimeter defender, Andre Iguodala has only made the NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team once in 2011. That does not diminish his reputation as a versatile defender who can guard at least 3 positions effectively (PG, SG & SF).
Iggy consistently averages more than 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals while playing exceptional defense against the best perimeter player on the other team. Iguodala has increased his shooting range to beyond the arc and his midrange jumper is reliable. He also has the ability to attack the hoop and finish with a monster dunk.
5. Monta Ellis
Ellis made the mistake of saying that he is similar to Dwyane Wade, just without the rings. That isn’t true but you can admire his confidence.
Monta is a streaky shooter with unlimited range and he can make acrobatic shots near the rim. He is generally an inefficient player who needs the ball in his hands to make a positive impact. Ellis is a below average defender whose slim body and small size prevent him from guarding bigger guards like Wade, Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Ellis has good hands and is great at anticipating passing lanes which landed him in the top 5 in steals.
Sleeper Free Agents
1. Andrew Bynum
Bynum would be considered among the top free agents only IF he played last season. Bynum missed a whole year with problems on both of his knees and his return for next season is still uncertain. His health has been a major problem in the past while his work ethic and attitude are not among his best traits. During his last healthy year with the Lakers, he averaged 19 and 12. Bynum was a better offensive player than Dwight but Howard apparently has the advantage on the defensive side.
2. David West
West is a very good low post player who can also hit the perimeter shot consistently. One of his post moves includes a slithery fade away jumper that is almost automatic. Although, he is not the same player he was back in New Orleans 5 years ago, West can still record a double-double every now and then.
3. JR Smith
Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season but he can start for every team. He is the epitome of a streaky shooter and a gunslinger. He never met a shot he did not like. When engaged, JR can play superb defense and can rebound like a big man. Sometimes, he spends more time on the bench due to his heat checks and cocky attitude.
4. Jarrett Jack
Jack was essential in the Warriors’ playoff success last season. His role allowed the Dubs to run small ball sets with Curry and Thompson. Jack can start for most teams and it’s a bonus that he can play both guard spots. His veteran leadership and decision-making skills are topnotch plus Jack can make clutch shots. His addition to a team can be the difference between making the playoffs or advancing another round.
5. Tony Allen
Allen is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. He has been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team twice and on the Second Team once. He is quick enough to guard most point guards while also being strong enough to guard bigger wingmen. He is still a liability on offense but he has gradually improved his shooting over the past couple of years.
Rolly Mendoza is one of the principal writers in the nationally-recognized sports blog, HoopNut.com. He is based in Ontario, Canada and, quite naturally, roots for anything Toronto. Of course, he also has a sweet spot for former Raptor Chris Bosh, who is a two-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat