View Full Version : Top FAs in 2011

06-28-2011, 12:24 AM

Chris Palmer
ESPN.com Insider

Regardless of whether there is a lockout, many NBA free agents eventually will look for homes. Chris Palmer offers his take on the top-tier free agents this offseason in the first of three installments of ESPN Insider's Free Agent Buyer's Guide.

Although not as heralded as the LeBron James-led 2010 free-agent class, 2011's group has some top-level targets whom teams will look to sign. We evaluated the top tier, ranking its players in order and according to the following categories:

Game-changer: five stars
Franchise cornerstone: four stars
Starter: three stars
Role player: two stars
Second unit: one star

1. Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks

A year ago, Chandler was slogging through a season with the Charlotte Bobcats, posting some of the worst numbers of his career. A year later, it's hard to think of a player who upped his value more in the postseason with his work on the defensive side of the ball than Chandler did. His intensity and aggression proved to be the linchpin to the Mavericks' impressive defense, as he helped shut down LeBron James in the Finals. Chandler also showed few ill effects from the ankle injury that had bothered him for much of the two previous seasons and clearly established himself as one of the best defensive anchors in the league. Bonus: He's still just 28 years old.

Downside: If you're seeking scoring punch or a big who can create his own shot, look elsewhere. That's simply not a part of his game. Most of his 10 points per game come from catching alley-oops and scoring on cleanup buckets on the offensive glass.

Stars: four


2. Nene, C, Denver Nuggets

An absolute brute of a physical banger, Nene is stepping into the prime of his career. His 2010-11 averages of 14.5 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game hovered right around career highs. His .615 shooting percentage from the field was highest for players averaging 14 points or more. With an activity level close to that of Chandler and a pure enthusiasm for the game, Nene would make a good fit just about anywhere. He does an excellent job keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass by tipping it out to teammates, and at 6-foot-11, 250 pounds, he provides tremendous size up front. Reliable centers are hard to come by, and that's a huge bargaining chip for the big man.

Downside: Durability is an issue. He's played the full 82 games only once in nine career seasons.

Stars: four


3. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

A big, tough, smart center, Gasol made some great strides this past season, and his value has risen for a third straight year. His regular-season numbers were a touch off in 2010-11, but there's no question that Gasol has evolved as a player. His unselfishness and excellent passing skills -- particularly from the elbow when looking for backdoor cutters -- would be a plus in any offense. Much like his older brother Pau, he has a feathery touch and accuracy up to 20 feet. At 7-1, 265 pounds, Gasol can bang with the biggest bodies and has excellent shot-blocking skills that only continue to improve. Gasol has transformed himself from a rookie project to a highly sought-after franchise cornerstone. He will command quite a bit of attention from potential suitors.

Downside: His lack of athleticism in a league where athletes thrive is a problem. When Gasol steps out on shooters, he's consistently beaten to the rim.

Stars: four


4. David West, F, New Orleans Hornets

Just call him the big question mark. In the midst of yet another quality season (18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds), West went down with a grisly, potentially career-threatening injury to his left knee in March. It ended his season and clouded his value on the open market. The ACL injury comes at a terrible time for West, who's in the prime of his career and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Looking past the knee, West is a dead-eye shooter from 20 feet and has several quality inside moves, the most effective of which is his jump hook after a hard shoulder fake. The eighth-year player also provides quality muscle underneath that helps keep the Hornets afloat against bigger front lines. He's not the best interior defender around, but that hasn't stopped the Hornets from ranking in the upper third in team defense the past couple of seasons.

Downside: The uncertainty surrounding the knee. Teams will be jittery about investing big cash in a player who might never be the same.

Stars: four (if he's healthy)


5. Thaddeus Young, F, Philadelphia 76ers

Despite constantly shifting roles, Young has been able to adapt and remain a solid contributor in Philadelphia. The Sixers' coaching staff regards him as highly coachable and motivated in getting the most out of his ability. Young has been mired in a bit of a position crisis the past couple of years, essentially coming off the bench to spell forwards Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. At 6-8, Young still is a bit undersized as a starting power forward but makes up for it with his athletic ability and an improving outside shot. When he's able to consistently hit the 18- to 20-foot jumper and stretch defenses, he's sure to see his minutes go up. The Sixers believe he can become an All-Star and possibly a 20-point scorer with some more polish to his game.

Downside: His ceiling could be deceptively lower than once thought. His minutes and scoring average have dropped for a second straight season, which is atypical for a rising young player with vast potential.

Stars: three


6. Jamal Crawford, G, Atlanta Hawks

The saying goes that the former Sixth Man of the Year can shoot you in or out of any game. There's a lot of truth to that, but when plugged into the right system, he's a valuable scoring option who can provide consistent punch off the bench, as he's shown for much of his stay in Atlanta. Crawford is an explosive guard who can score loads of points in a hurry. If a team can figure out how to work him into a game plan without his dominating the ball, he can be a real asset. Crawford thrives coming off screens and is one of the best at creating his own shot off the dribble. The fact that he has a rep for getting along well with teammates and is willing to come off the bench is a plus. A championship contender could do a lot worse than Crawford as a sixth man.

Downside: What you see is what you get. Crawford has never been labeled a defensive ace, and that likely won't change.

Stars: two

06-28-2011, 12:29 AM
I've been out of touch lately, but wasn't Gasol a RFA? Or is he a full free agent?

06-28-2011, 01:12 AM
I've been out of touch lately, but wasn't Gasol a RFA? Or is he a full free agent?
Marc is a RFA and the Grizzlies can match any offer that any Team can give to him.

06-28-2011, 01:18 AM
I think the only players that will change teams on this list are Crawford and West. I don't see any of the others leaving.