Jan 24, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) during the first half at an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
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As your favorite NBA team begins to think about free agency, it’s time to do some homework on the deep sleepers who are set to hit the open market.
The 2017 NBA Playoffs may be ongoing, but the time to look forward to free agency has officially arrived. Just two months remain until the most influential period in sports begins, and not every key addition will be a high-profile player.
For a number of teams, the most important moves of the offseason will come in the form of adding quality role players to round out the rotation.
Teams either have their stars in place or they don’t, and more times than not, free agency doesn’t change that. The likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James may have rattled the NBA at its core, but that was due primarily to the fact that superstars rarely change teams in free agency.
Even if that trend is arriving, James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh will be the first players to tell you how important the likes of Shane Battier and Mike Miller were to their title pushes.
In order to find the perfect role players, even the contenders should be taking this time to study film and evaluate fits. A number of underrated pending free agents could be the difference between growth and stunted development in 2017-18 and beyond.
The question is: who are the under-the-radar players whom your team needs to be studying and evaluating in preparation for the 2017 period of free agency?
Mar 27, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Justin Holiday (8) celebrates with Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t let the name on the front of the jersey trick you into thinking Justin Holiday abandoned defense in 2016-17. 10 members of the New York Knicks saw at least 1,000 minutes of court time, and Holiday led them all with a Defensive Rating of 105.0.
That number dropped to 111.4 when he came off the floor—a difference of 6.4 points per 100 possessions.
With a versatile offensive skill set, a high ceiling on defense, and an uncanny ability to make the right play when it’s needed most, Holiday could be the ultimate glue guy for a contender.
Holiday is a solid 3-point shooter who converted 97 of his 273 attempts in 2016-17—good for a clip of 35.5 percent. He’s also a capable ball-handler who can create off the bounce in a pinch, as well as a solid passer who can work the pick and roll.
Holiday may not be a featured offensive player for the team he signs with, but he selflessly works without the ball and picks his spots when he looks to score or create.
Beyond the numbers and the skills is what truly makes Holiday a special player. Whether it’s a 3-point field goal to stymie an opposition’s run, a long rebound that none of his teammates are going for, or a key defensive stop, Holiday simply finds himself in the right place at the right time.
On a team with its stars already in place, Holiday could be the perfect high-level role player to help close out games and round out a championship rotation.
For what it’s worth: of the shooting guards who played at least 20.0 minutes per game in 2016-17, Holiday ranked No. 5 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
Apr 28, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) dribbles the ball against LA Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the fourth quarter in game six of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Ingles, RFA
Position: Small Forward Age: 29 (10/2/1987) Experience: 3rd Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .452/.441/.735 2016-17 Season Averages: 24.0 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 3PM
Joe Ingles showed the world what Utah Jazz fans have been saying for roughly three seasons: the man can play. Although Gordon Hayward may be the star small forward in Utah, Ingles plays a critical role tointhe team’s success on both ends of the floor.
On a 51-win team, Ingles has proven to be selfless offensively, rugged defensively, and one of the more quietly versatile role players in the NBA.
Offensively, Ingles is an accurate 3-point shooter who can work without the ball and find openings to get his shot off. He’s also a capable facilitator who can create at an acceptable level off the bounce and put his teammates in a position to score.
That much was proven when Ingles dished out 11 assists during Utah’s Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
Slow Mo Joe had 15 games with at least five assists in 2016-17, which further supports the belief that he can facilitate. He also held his own on defense as a physical player who isn’t afraid to take a charge or get into a player’s jersey.
Ingles isn’t the type of player who will provide a team with consistently elite production, but he’s an experienced wing who can do a bit of everything and compete on both ends of the floor.
Apr 22, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) drives for the basket during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Patterson, UFA
Position: Power Forward Age: 28 (3/14/1989) Experience: 7th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .401/.372/.717 2016-17 Season Averages: 24.6 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 ORPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 3PM
If you haven’t watched the Toronto Raptors play, then you may assume that Patrick Patterson is a below-average player. He produces at a rather pedestrian level and recorded a poor Player Efficiency Rating of 10.80 in 2016-17.
Patterson is the perfect example of PER’s inherent flaws, however, as he’s one of the most valuable role players at his position.
Patterson undoubtedly needs to improve the efficiency with which he scores, but he’s a quality player. He’s a skilled 3-point shooter who can consistently space the floor, as well as a competitive defender who plays well within the scheme.
Harping on the individual numbers may be fair in fantasy basketball circles, but there are few players who have been more important to Toronto’s success than Patterson.
Patterson finished the 2016-17 regular season ranked No. 31 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, recording positive marks on both ends of the floor. As a team, Toronto had Net Ratings of +10.9 with Patterson on the floor and +0.9 without him.
Toronto will make a concerted effort to re-sign Patterson, but as an unrestricted free agent, he will have the option to sign with a new team.
Apr 5, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Miami Heat forward Willie Reed (35) knocks away the ball from Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) in the second half at Spectrum Center. The Heat won 112-99. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Willie Reed, UFA
Position: Center Age: 26 (5/6/1990) Experience: 2nd Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .568/.250/.557 2016-17 Season Averages: 14.5 MPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 ORPG, 0.7 BPG
This inclusion carries more risk than the other four, but Willie Reed showed promise with the Miami Heat in 2016-17. He played for a solid team that bordered on elite status during the second half of the season with a record of 30-11.
Reed steps onto the court and hustles, and for 30 NBA teams, that’s something that could be both beneficial and, quite frankly, necessary.
Reed was named to the 2015 NBA D-League All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive Teams. In 2016-17, he made a successful transition to the NBA by appearing in 71 games and recording per 36 averages of 13.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.5 offensive rebounds, and 1.6 blocks.
A powerhouse who isn’t afraid to throw his broad shoulders and 7’3″ wingspan around, Reed is the type of grit-and-grind big man whom every coach loves.
Reed should command an affordable salary, albeit with the request of job security. If a team is willing to sign him to a two or three-year deal, then it could have a quality backup who can provide jolts of energy on a nightly basis.
Reed’s offensive value is limited to his offensive rebounding, but he had a positive Defensive Real Plus-Minus and should continue to perform well in that regard.
Mar 26, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights (5) heads down court after a 3 point basket in the second half of the game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. Kings won 98-97. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
It’s entirely possible that Marreese Speights will accept his player option and return to the Los Angeles Clippers. A more likely scenario is that the soon-to-be 30-year-old big man will look for a stronger sense of security and stability with a two or three-year deal.
Speights was paid well below his market value with a $1,403,611 salary in 2016-17, but he can still be had at an affordable rate if a contender wants a floor-spacing 4.
Speights traded long 2s for 3s in 2016-17, and the results were quite intriguing. He entered 2016-17 with just 43 3-point field goals made in eight seasons, but comfortably made 102 3-point field goals on 37.2 percent shooting from distance during the first season he emphasized the shot.
Known for having one of the smoothest strokes amongst big men, it stands to reason that Speights will continue to improve as a 3-point shooter as his career progresses.
Speights is far from an elite defender, but he recorded a positive Defensive Real Plus-Minus in 2016-17. He’s a team player and an NBA champion who would fit well on a contender that actively runs pick-and-pop offense.
For what it’s worth, Speights finished the 2016-17 regular season with averages of 19.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.5 offensive rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 2.9 3-point field goals made per 36 minutes.