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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

5 Impactful Under the Radar Free Agents

Just like every other fan of the NBA, when the clock struck midnight on June 30th signalling the beginning of the free agency period, I thought about what might happen with big ticket players like Steve Nash, Eric Gordon, Deron Williams, Ray Allen and many others who's names have appeared thousands of times in the NBA rumor mills and on the bottom line on ESPN. What I did not realize is that even though the signing of a high-class free agent often drastically changes the future of multiple teams, it is the addition of key role players that slide under the radar of the big spending teams, coming back to haunt all the teams that passed them over during the offseason. This is why I decided to name 5 players who will be relatively unnoticed during the summer, but will have a very significant impact on the team they sign for. So here is the list of the top 5 under the radar free agents that will make a big splash in the league once the season begins:

5. Derek Fisher

The 2011-2012 season marked the end of Fisher's fruitful career with the Los Angeles Lakers, ending up having his contract bought out by the Houston Rockets and being signed to play backup point guard when Eric Maynor went down for the year with an ACL tear. This season produced Fisher's lowest point per game average since his rookie year, in 1996-1997. Fisher has scored over 10,000 points in his 16 year career, averaging 8.6 PPG, 3.1 SPG, and shooting 40% from the field. Fisher's career is clearly nearing its end (he turns 38 in August), but that is definitely not to say that he cannot make an impact this upcoming season. He is a veteran leader who has lots of experience in the league, as well as in the playoffs. In no way is Fisher burnt out. He will thrive as a backup to a star player or an inexperienced starter, coming off the bench to chip in 6 points and 6 assists, hitting big shots while he does it. I could see Fisher ending up with the Bulls or Heat, adding some veteran leadership to these teams with thin depth at the point. I also think that if the Suns are unable to bring back Steve Nash, Fisher would be a nice addition, sharing insight and acting as a mentor to Kendall Marshall in his first year in the league.

4. Raymond Felton

Raymond Felton suffered a relative step back this year, averaging his lowest PPG in his 7 year career for the Portland Trailblazers. Felton showed his true potential when he played for the Knicks after being dealt in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Felton averaged 17.1 PPG and 9 APG in his 51 games for the Knicks, playing alongside Melo and Stoudamire. Felton has proved that he can score and pass the ball, but is often overlooked because of attitude problems that tainted his stay in Portland. Nonetheless, Felton has the potential, if under the right coach, to become an elite scorer at the point guard position and could be a nice addition to a team looking for a scoring weapon off the bench. Unless he gets over his attitude problems and bad demeanor on and off the court, I do not see him being a starting point guard in the NBA this year, but if he is able to sort out some of his issues and improve his game, he has a solid chance at becoming a starting point guard and playing at a high level. Felton's signing could provide a team with a bolt of energy off the bench and could make a borderline team into a serious playoff contender. Several teams have shown interest in Felton this offseason, including the Suns, Knicks, and Lakers. I think that depending what happens with Steve Nash, the best fit for Felton will be wherever Nash turns down. If Nash leaves the Suns, Felton would be a great fit, most likely getting the starting job over rookie Kendall Marshall. Felton would add a dual scoring and passing threat to a team that has had a dynamic point guard since Nash joined them. I think that the Magic may also be a good fit for Felton. With the release of Jameer Nelson, the Magic could use a guard who could create his own shots, as well as dish the ball down low to Dwight. Felton could fit this role perfectly.

3. Michael Beasley

Coming from Minnesota, I know a lot about Michael Beasley. This season, Beasley was constantly my least favorite player. He shot too much to fit into an offense with expert play maker  Ricky Rubio, he lacked work ethic, he never seemed to care what he was doing on the defensive end, but when he caught fire, he looked like a younger version of Carmelo. Beasley has the ability to create his own shot, thriving on isolation plays where he gets into the triple threat position and makes his move and creates just enough space to shoot the ball. This natural ability compares to the NBA's elite; Kobe, Melo, Lebron, Dwyane Wade, and almost all other uncanny shot creators. This talent comes with a hefty price. Beasley has just about the worst attitude I've seen in Minnesota sports. His nonchalant attitude and lack of drive make up his largest downsides. However, when Beasley caught fire, he made everything. Beasley will fit best with a team that lacks a dynamic shot-creating player who is able to score at will. Two teams have expressed interest in Beasley to this point, the Detroit Pistons and the Suns. Personally, I believe that Beasley would fit better with the Pistons who possess play makers Brandon Knight and newly acquired Corey Maggette. Beasley would add another dynamic weapon for the Pistons who ranked 25th in the NBA in field goal makes and field goal percentage. If he is able to get over his work ethic problems and play with energy, Beasley will make a huge impact on a team looking for elite scorers. 

2. Ryan Anderson 

One of the least talked about free agents this year, Ryan Anderson has the opportunity to completely alter the team he signs with. Anderson is one of the two elite shooting big men along with Kevin Love. This year, Anderson set career highs this year, averaging 7.7 RPG and 16.1 PPG, topping his previous average by 6 points. As NBA fans, we know that the biggest momentum boost or mood-changer is a well-timed three point shot. This is Anderson's specialty. He is able to hit big shots in big moments and change the course of the game. Anderson is severely underrated. Think, who are the top few 3-point shooters in the NBA right now? Bet Ryan Anderson did not make that list. He has serious talent. The NBA saw a sneak peek of what Anderson is able to do when given extended playing time, and if that continues, Anderson will be remembered as an elite shooting power forward. Yes, Anderson is still developing his low post game, but with the right coaching, that will become just another weapon to add to his already impressive repertoire. The Kings have been hot in the pursuit of Anderson, and with good reason. They are in dire need of a player who is able to put up 15 points a game and make big shots, especially 3-pointers. This would be a good situation for Anderson to be in. He could thrive as an assassin from behind the arc and learn the post game with help from Demarcus Cousins. Anderson would add a touch of experience, and playoff experience, to a very young and inexperienced King squad.

1. Goran Dragic

Coming off his best year as a pro, Goran Dragic is a developing player who has just started to tap into his fountain of potential. Dragic showed his elite scoring ability in limited minutes behind starter Kyle Lowry. Dragic has demanded that Houston only sign him if they are willing to make him their starter, which it appears the Rockets are wiling to do, even if it means giving up Lowry. However, it still appears that the dynamic Serbian will be changing teams this off season. I remember going to a Timberwolves game this year and looking at the Rockets' roster and seeing Dragic's name and wondering who exactly this backup point guard was. I remember when he came off the bench and scorched the Wolves' defense, getting into the lane and causing problems for the entire game. Dragic brings a great pack of talents to any team willing to sign him. He has the standout ability of penetration in the lane, he can make the occasional outside shot, and his FG percentages are very high for a point guard. For teams looking for a long term solution at the point, Dragic is a great option. He is able to score at will and dish the ball to post players for assists as he showed last year in Houston. Dragic would fit well into the Toronto offense if they were unable to sign Nash. Another good option for Dragic would be the Bulls, where he could take over the point guard responsibilities during Rose's absence. Whoever is able to reel in Dragic will be glad they did.