Despite an abysmal start to the season, the New Orleans Hornets are considered to be one of the brightest teams in the NBA. They are young (with an average age of 24, second only to Houston), they are brimming with potential–with Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez all having good seasons–and they have a ton of cap space in the summer of 2013.
Which brings me to my next question–who are the best free-agent fits in 2013 that can push the Hornets back into the playoffs? This is a very easy answer so I’ll expand it. We need to ask–who are the five best free-agent signings that will fast track the Hornets contender status? Now that is a harder question.
Getting into the playoffs is easier compared to the mountain you have to climb to be considered a perennial championship contender. So with that, who are the five best and realistic (of course) candidates for the Hornets/Pelicans?
1. Andre Iguodala – SF
The Hornets are a dangerous transition team right now. Per Synergy Sports, they rank as the top transition-scoring team in the league, making almost 58 percent of their field-goal attempts and 52.5 percent of their 3-point attempts while turning the ball over on just 9.6 percent of them. Efficiency defined.
But despite those lofty numbers, they don’t push in transition a lot, particularly because Vasquez is a slow point guard and partly because coach Monty Williams doesn’t want to push the pace just for the sake of pushing the pace. With Andre Iguodala at the helm — who’s a lot quicker than Vasquez, the Pelicans’ fast-break opportunities will become more dangerous and more plentiful. If Iguodala gets the rebound (especially on long rebounds), then he can simply dribble it up the court with Davis and Gordon pushing along side him and Anderson and Vasquez as his trailing shooters (39 percent and 36 percent from deep, respectively).
What’s more, Iguodala will help a team that has struggled to play defense. It’s no surprise that teams that employ Iguodala, currently the Denver Nuggets, are much better defensively. As detailed by Matt Moore here, Iguodala is somebody who can help a defense more than just in isolation (where he is dynamite, regularly ranking among the game’s best isolation defender per Synergy Sports).
Of course, all of this hinges on whether he exercises his Early Termination Option (ETO). If he does, he’ll be a hot commodity for sure. But whether the Hornets can grab him and whether he is worth it are questions to be answered.
At 29, he’s at the tail end of his career and his athleticism (which according to him, is 30 percent of his defense) will start to wane. If the Hornets can get him on a similar contract to Anderson (front loaded, approximately $9 million-$10 million annually), then he’s a good risk to take. Otherwise, I’m not so sure.
2. Brandon Jennings – PG
If there’s anybody that can learn how to take advantage of the Hornets’ potential in transition–it’s this Brandon Jennings.
This guy knows how to push the pace because he’s quick and he knows how to pass. Brandon Jennings will thrive on a team that will not ask him to be the primary scorer (that is Gordon’s job). He can just be a facilitator (a role he’s been quite good at doing). And with a plethora of weapons that he never had with the Milwaukee Bucks–a shooter like Anderson, a pick-and-roll partner like Davis and a perimeter player like Gordon–he can thrive as a facilitator. Jennings is also great at generating steals, ranking among the league’s best at 1.8 steals per game. He can certainly help a Hornets team that struggles to force turnovers (Opponent turnover percentage is just 13 percent, which is sixth-worst in the league).
That said, he’s a restricted free agent this summer–which means Milwaukee has the right to match all offers. Is Jennings worth the max? Probably not. But is he worth $10 million to $12 million? With his age, his potential and the need, he probably is. But it remains to be seen whether Milwaukee matches or not.
3. Jeff Teague – PG
If Jennings isn’t available, then Jeff Teague will certainly be an adequate secondary target. He’s also quick and he’s aggressive–ranking as one of the best finishers among point guards (according to HoopData, he’s 15th in shot attempts at the rim, where he converts at an above-average rate of 62.4 percent).
Jennings’ main advantage over Teague is his ability to take care of the ball–Teague has a turnover rate at or above 15.1 percent (a high number). He’ll have his bumps and bruises (so are other free-agent targets) but he’s also the easiest free agent to get among the trio of Iguodala, Jennings and Teague.
The Atlanta Hawks are at a crossroads right now. With just $18 million–maybe even less–committed to players for next season, Atlanta can go all Miami Heat on us and sign Chris Paul and Dwight Howard off the market and pair them with Al Horford and Louis Williams.
Milwaukee has no such scenario to play for them. It’s either they keep Jennings or lose him for nothing. With Atlanta, they can afford to lose Teague’s rights (or maybe a sign-and-trade) if they can sign Paul. The odds of that happening are very low–Paul looks committed to the Los Angeles Clippers. But rest assured that Atlanta will not leave any stone unturned.
After those three, the free-agent market becomes barren of players that can make an immediate impact to the Hornets.
Nikola Pekovic, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are good players and they can make an impact on any team they go to. But with the plethora of productive bigs that the Hornets have (Davis, Anderson, Lopez and Smith) their impact will be far less impressive than if they signed a perimeter player.
A couple of other names are also viable free agent targets — although they won’t push the Hornets into contender status or even make them a shoo-in to make the playoffs. They are:
Chase Budinger is young, athletic and he’s a good rebounder (a career total rebound percentage (TRB%) of 9.1 percent). He’s also a deadly shooter, especially from the corner (the heaven of offensive efficiency).
But he’s not just a shooter–he’s also a great cutter of a screen or backdoor set. So he would certainly help boost the Hornets’ offensive output.
If I had to describe Corey Brewer‘s game, it would have to be “energy.” This guy plays with energy.
He’s not a particularly good shooter (though his corner 3-point shot is one that people need to respect). He was a good rebounder before he focused his sights on becoming more of a perimeter player. He’s not an off-the-dribble creator and he isn’t a shooter. What he offers though is a specialized skill set–unrelenting energy and corner 3s (where he shoots 40 percent, according to NBA.com).
If the Hornets can’t get any of these players, they’d be better of just signing one-year stopgaps and hope that the 2014 offseason is the answer.
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