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Free Agency Preview Part III: Small Forwards

Taking a detailed look at some of the small forwards available this summer

Nicolas BatumHOUSTON - While the NBA playoffs are heating up, the Rockets are busy getting ready for what promises to be an offseason full of intrigue and great expectations. Armed with a pair of first-round draft picks and a significant amount of financial flexibility, General Manager Daryl Morey and company figure to have options galore this summer when contemplating ways to improve the team and put the franchise on the path to championship contention.

While there's no way to divine what the next few months may bring in terms of player acquisition -- it's always a good idea to remember that Morey's moves have, by and large, come out of the blue and caught most everyone unaware -- there's no better time than the present to get acquainted (or in some cases, reacquainted) with the names that figure to loom large this summer.

We'll tackle the draft in greater detail once the selection order is finalized following the lottery drawing May 30. For now, we're taking a look at some of the free agents who will be on the radar screen of the Rockets and the other 29 teams in the league once the clock strikes midnight July 1.

What follows is a statistical and subjective breakdown of some of the small forwards who are hitting the open market this summer (click here for Part 1 in which we examined the market for centers and here for Part 2 for a look at the top power forwards available. Return to Rockets.com in the days that follow for analysis of the talent available at the other positions. (shot location statistics courtesy of hoopdata.com; Synergy stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology)

Nicolas Batum (RFA):

The basics: 13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 spg, .451 FG%, .391 3-PT%, .836 FT%, 17.32 PER

Advanced stats: 8.8 rebound rate (32nd among qualifying SFs), 12.6 defensive rebound rate (41st), 5.2 offensive rebound rate (15th), 9.5 assist rate (48th), 10.2 turnover rate (34th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 65.3% (SFs averaged 63% from that distance in ’11-‘12), 3-9 feet: 40%, (SF average: 36.1%), 10-15 feet: 25% (SF average: 38.8%), 16-23 feet: 30% (SF average: 36.4%)

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: 1.022 points per possession (72nd percentile), Off screen: .826 ppp (33rd percentile), Transition: 1.333 ppp (84th percentile), Cuts: 1.549 ppp (96th percentile)

Defense: versus post-ups: Spot-ups: 1.053 ppp (22nd percentile), Defending pick-and-roll ball handler: .894 ppp (23rd percentile), Isolation: .709 ppp (69th percentile), Off screen: .977 ppp (36th percentile), Post-ups: 1.079 ppp (11th percentile)

Batum clearly is the cream of a rather weak free agent crop at the small forward position this summer. His timing to hit the open market couldn’t be better; not only is there scant quality competition available at his position but he’s also coming off the best season of his young career to date. He rediscovered his three-point stroke draining nearly 40 percent of his bombs from beyond the arc and continued to be a handful in transition thanks to his length, athleticism and ability to finish around the rim. There remains plenty of room for improvement with regard to the 23-year-old Frenchman, however. He’s merely average as a rebounder, lacks the ability to create offense with the ball in his hands, and despite his ample physical gifts that lead one to believe he could and should be an elite lockdown defender, Batum’s work on that end of the floor still leaves much to be desired.

Steve Novak (UFA)

The basics: 8.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, .478 FG%, .846 FT%, .472 3-PT%, 15.95 PER

Advanced stats: 5.9 rebound rate (61st among qualifying SFs), 10.9 defensive rebound rate (52nd), 1.0 offensive rebound rate (62nd), 3.1 assist rate (63rd), 5.5 turnover rate (2nd)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: (none taken), 3-9 feet: (none taken), 10-15 feet: 25%, 16-23 feet: 55%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: 1.527 ppp (100th percentile), Off screen: 1.167 ppp (89th percentile), Transition: 1.31 ppp (79th percentile)

Defense: Spot-ups: .835 ppp (76th percentile), Isolations: .923 ppp (19th percentile), Post-ups: .714 ppp (79th percentile), as big defender vs. pick-and-roll ball handler): .83 ppp (40th percentile)

Novak is the epitome of a one-trick pony but, wow, what a trick that is. The 28-year-old basketball bohemian finally found a home in New York with the Knicks this year and spent the second half of the season taking full advantage of his time to shine on the Broadway stage. Novak knows who he is and doesn’t deviate from that script; he attempted zero shots from inside 10 feet this season, wisely opting instead to simply seek out open space behind the three-point arc both in half-court sets and transition and fire away when the ball hits his hands. You’ll get no rebounding, no playmaking and very little in the way of defense with the Marquette product, but if you’re searching for a floor spacer extraordinaire, few can fill that void like Novak.

Grant Hill (UFA)

The basics: 10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, .446 FG%, .761 FT%, .264 3-PT%, 12.34 PER

Advanced stats: 7.0 rebound rate (54th among qualifying SFs), 11.5 defensive rebound rate (49th), 2.4 offensive rebound rate (51st), 15.9 assist rate (17th), 9.7 turnover rate (30th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 66%, 3-9 feet: 32%, 10-15 feet: 40%, 16-23 feet: 44%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .809 ppp (36th percentile), Transition: 1.294 ppp (77th percentile), Post-ups: .95 ppp (85th percentile), Isolations: .577 ppp (16th percentile)

Defense: Isolations: .786 ppp (51st percentile), Spot-ups: .826 (78th percentile), Pick-and-roll ball handler: .792 ppp (48th percentile), Off screen: .824 ppp (62nd percentile), Post-ups: .733 ppp (75th percentile)

Hill will be 40 by the time the 2012-13 season rolls around, making his continued productivity all the more amazing. He still has a surprising amount of bounce left in his legs but there’s no question it’s his smarts and off-the-charts basketball IQ that have helped him remain such a useful NBA player. His offensive game is smooth as ever though more muted now; all midrange jumpers, clever passes and an uncanny knack for operating out of the post. But it’s his work on the defensive end that truly mocks Father Time, as Hill’s ability to defend multiple positions -- and do so at a high level -- makes him a valuable piece for any club in search of versatility, experience and consummate professionalism.

Jeff Green (UFA)

The basics (2010-11 stats): 13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, .449 FG%, .811 FT%, .303 3-PT%, 12.92 PER

Advanced stats: 8.8 rebound rate (34th among qualifying SFs), 13.5 defensive rebound rate (34th), 3.7 offensive rebound rate (33rd), 9.5 assist rate (56th), 8.7 turnover rate (24th)

Shooting percentages by location (with OKC): At rim: 74.4%, 3-9 feet: 30.7%, 10-15 feet: 20%, 16-23 feet: 40%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .901 ppp (42nd percentile), Post-ups: .828 ppp (44th percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.103 ppp (74th percentile), Transition: 1.373 ppp (86th percentile), Isolation: .7 ppp (30th percentile), Cuts: 1.373 ppp (79th percentile)

Defense: Spot-ups: 1.21 ppp (8th percentile), Isolations: .993 ppp (18th percentile), as big defender vs. pick-and-roll ball handler: .86 ppp (43rd percentile), Post-ups: 1.022 ppp (18th percentile)

Green missed the entire 2011-12 season after being diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm in December. Health permitting, he figures to be one of the more intriguing players on the open market this summer. A tweener who’s spent time shuttling back and forth between the small and power forward positions, Green’s future seems as if it will be best served by spending the majority of his time going forward at the three-spot. He has shown the ability to be a very good defender out on the wing but has a tendency to get punished when matched up against power forwards who excel in operating out of the low-post. Then take into account his pedestrian rebound rate and it seems quite clear that any team wishing to take full advantage of the 25-year-old’s potential would be doing themselves and Green a disservice by forcing him into extended minutes at the four.

Matt Barnes (UFA)

The basics: 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, .452 FG%, .742 FT%, .333 3-PT%, 15.55 PER

Advanced stats: 13.3 rebound rate (2nd among qualifying SFs), 18.3 defensive rebound rate (5th), 7.9 offensive rebound rate (3rd), 19.6 assist rate (8th), 11.4 turnover rate (47th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 61.6%, 3-9 feet: 33.3%, 10-15 feet: 25%, 16-23 feet: 39%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: 1.019 ppp (72nd percentile), Transition: 1.104 ppp (44th percentile), Cuts: 1.024 ppp (23rd percentile)

Defense: Spot-ups: .958 ppp (42nd percentile), defending pick-and-roll ball-handler: .797 ppp (46th percentile), Isolations: .694 ppp (71st percentile), Off screen: .707 ppp (84th percentile), Post-ups: .8 ppp (57th percentile)

Barnes hits the open market coming off one of the best years of his career (although his postseason struggles certainly took some of the shine off his otherwise solid 2012 performance). The 32-year-old ninth-year pro is an elite rebounder for his position and a pretty good defender, too, despite his slight build. Barnes is never going to light it up on offense but he knows who he is and rarely tries to do anything outside of offensive repertoire. Like most role players who fill his particular niche, much of his value is determined by the ability to effectively space the floor and knock down open shots, especially the corner trey. Unfortunately, Barnes is just an average three-point shooter, hitting 33 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season (his career average is 32.9 percent) and a decent but not exceptional 34.8 percent of his corner threes.

Donte Greene (RFA)

The basics: 5.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .6 apg, .406 FG%, .800 FT%, .238 3-PT%, 11.85 PER

Advanced stats: 9.4 rebound rate (26th among qualifying SFs), 16.9 defensive rebound rate (12th), 2.6 offensive rebound rate (46th), 9.5assist rate (48th), 9.0 turnover rate (23rd)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 71.6%, 3-9 feet: 34.5%, 10-15 feet: 43.8%, 16-23 feet: 35 percent

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .738 ppp (26th percentile), Transition: 1.185 ppp (56th percentile), Isolations: .595 ppp (17th percentile), Cuts: 1.182 ppp (52nd percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .955 ppp (25th percentile), Spot-ups: 1.23 ppp (6th percentile), Isolations: .979 ppp (12th percentile), As big defender vs. pick-and-roll ball-handler: 1.108 ppp (6th percentile)

First the good news: Greene showed improvement, however slight, this season, significantly cutting down on his turnovers, posting a career-high rebound rate with especially good work on the defensive end, and putting his size to good use by finishing extraordinarily well around the basket. But at 24-years of age and after four years of pro ball, Greene is supposed to be showing significnt improvement; the problem is he quite simply hasn’t shown enough. There’s still plenty of time, of course. But the Syracuse product is getting worse instead of better as a three-point shooter and his defense remains more of a myth than a reality at this point; something that is rather inexplicable and largely inexcusable given the considerable physical gifts at his disposal.

Sam Young (RFA)

The basics: 3.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, .4 apg, .354 FG%, .731 FT%, .294 3-PT%, 9.75 PER

Advanced stats: 9.5 rebound rate (25th among qualifying SFs), 13.1 defensive rebound rate (41st), 6.0 offensive rebound rate (11th), 6.2 assist rate (63rd), 9.4 turnover rate (27th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 56.7%, 3-9 feet: 33%, 10-15 feet: 50%, 16-23 feet: 31%

Noteworthy Synergy stats (from 2010-11 with Memphis): Offense: Spot-ups: .866 ppp (38th percentile), Transition: 1.123 ppp (41st percentile), Isolations: .893 ppp (72nd percentile), Cuts: 1.179 ppp (38th), Pick-and-roll roll ball handler: .946 ppp (90th percentile)

Defense: Spot-ups: 1.064 ppp (28th percentile), Isolations: .972 ppp (20th percentile), defending pick-and-roll ball-handler: .686 ppp (84th percentile), Off screens: .754 ppp (77th percentile)

Young can score one-on-one, of that there is no doubt -- just check out his Synergy numbers from his isos and offensive opportunities with the ball in his hands playing off the pick-and-roll (Young’s 2010-11 Synergy stats were used since he saw so little on-court action this season). The problem, of course, is that basketball is a game of five-on-five and within the confines of that particular paradigm Young has failed to truly make his mark as of yet. Powerfully built and tough, the University of Pittsburgh product can overpower smaller wings with his size and strength. He’s also a dogged individual defender, though one with a need for improvement within the team defensive concept. But on the offensive end his game is all tunnel vision and midrange jumpers which is a shame because Young might be blessed with one of the best shot fakes in the game. But that pump fake is rendered far less effective than it could be since he isn’t a threat from deep. If he can extend his range and immerse himself in the nuances of team defense, however, Young should be able to carve out a role for himself as a useful player in this league for years to come.

Devin Ebanks (RFA)

The basics: 4.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .5 spg, .416 FG%, .657 FT%, 8.35 PER

Advanced stats: 13.0 rebound rate (3rd among qualifying SFs), 11.1 defensive rebound rate (52nd), 14.9 offensive rebound rate (1st), 2.9 assist rate (64th), 8.7 turnover rate (17th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 58.3%, 3-9 feet: 27.3%, 10-15 feet: 25%, 16-23 feet: 41%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .71 ppp (22nd percentile), Transition: 1.0 ppp (25th percentile), Offensive rebound put-backs: .938 ppp (25th percentile)

Defense: Spot-ups: 1.324 ppp (2nd percentile), Off screens: .839 ppp (60th percentile), defending pick-and-roll ball handler: .84 ppp (33rd percentile), Isolations: .421 ppp (98th percentile)

Just 22-years-old, Ebanks is still very much a project at this point, in need of adding strength to his wiry frame and shooting touch to his offensive skill-set. With his length and athleticism, Ebanks has the potential to be a tremendous wing defender; a projection strengthened by the results from his work defending spot-ups and isolations this season in limited minutes. On offense, however, he’s largely a liability at this point with his struggles as a shooter severely inhibiting his hopes of making a consistent impact and, as a result, curtailing his opportunity to see more playing time. The best thing he can do this offseason is dedicate himself to embracing and ultimately mastering the art of the corner three; do that, and Ebanks could transform into a coveted player and one of the better bargains on the summer free agent market.

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