Editor's Note: Front-paged as a continuing series. Enjoy!
This is my next post in the series on the Mavs' free agent options in 2012. I've already covered centers, point guards, and shooting guards, so this time I'll be going over our options at small forward.
In the 2011-12 season, the Mavs started Shawn Marion at small forward, with Vince Carter and Lamar Odom getting spot minutes there when Marion sat down. While Marion had an exceptional year defensively, including several lock-down efforts against all-world offensive talents like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, and rebounded more than he ever has in Dallas (7.4 a game), he struggled mightily on offense, managing only 10.6 points-per-game on 44.6% shooting, some of the lowest numbers of his career. The usual array of post hooks, bankers, and peculiar flip shots didn't seem to be nearly as effective for Marion as they were in 2011, and his near-inability to make outside jump shots didn't help either.
The unrelenting 66-game schedule, combined with the loss of solid perimeter defender DeShawn Stevenson, undoubtedly tired him greatly. Due to Jason Kidd's injuries and frequent DNP's, Marion was often asked to check point guards and even some power forwards, leaving him with little spare energy to expend offensively -- a really bad situation for a player who relies heavily on putbacks, offensive rebounds, and physical post play, all of which require a lot of energy.
More after the jump...
Carter had a few notable performances at small forward (usually alongside a backcourt some combination of West/Kidd/Terry). This lineup helped offensive floor spacing because Carter is a good jump shooter, but it was prone to defensive mismatches at the 2 and 3 slots since Carter is not much of a defender and Delonte West is undersized for a 2-guard, and hence not in a good position to check elite scorers like Bryant and Durant. Odom, on the other hand, was pretty much hopeless regardless of what position he played. He usually received some minutes at small forward alongside Dirk Nowitzki, but never appeared comfortable (in fairness, he had only rarely played SF for the Lakers -- usually playing the 4 alongside Bynum or Gasol) or productive.
All in all, the Mavs got decent production out of the small forward slot with Marion and Carter, and it doesn't appear to be nearly as big a need as point guard or center, or even shooting guard. But if the Mavs choose to move Shawn Marion in a trade this summer -- a very real possibility -- then it suddenly becomes pretty important.
Here's a look at the small forwards available on the open market.
Tier 1 -- Above-average to quality starter
1. Nicolas Batum. Batum is unquestionably the most coveted free agent small forward on the market, and it's pretty clear why. He's a very long and athletic player who has shown great year-by-year improvement in his 4 seasons along with an extremely versatile skill set.
Batum has the ability to drive and slash to the hoop, hit jump shots at a good clip (and he's 45% from the field), make three-pointers (around 39%), and utilize his length to play good team defense. On top of all that, he's only 23 and appears to have a lot more room to mature as a player.
In terms of money, I expect Batum to command around $8-$10 million. That almost certainly puts him out of the Mavs' price range if Deron Williams is Plan A. Batum is a restricted free agent, and his agent has put out some pretty strong statements about his impending free agency, even saying, "The first good offer we get, we're going with it. We're not waiting for anything." That doesn't sound very good for the Blazers' prospects of retaining him since they would only have 72 hours to match any offer sheet (as per the new CBA rules) and they have a plethora of decisions to make on how to improve their team this summer.
Batum can be a very good starter on a great team, but I'm not sure he will ever ascend to an All-Star level talent, so I would expect the Mavs to pass here and leave it to some other team to overpay him.
2. Gerald Wallace. Wallace is a soon-to-be-30 swingman who is good for around 13-16 points and 6-8 rebounds a game. He's known as a hard-nosed, reliable, and professional player -- a rep that's backed up by his relatively consistent production despite a few changes in scenery. He was most recently dealt to the now-Brooklyn Nets for Shawne Williams, Mehmet Okur, and a top-3 protected lottery pick, presumably in a misguided attempt to show Deron Williams they're serious about improving the team in the short-term.
Wallace has reached his ceiling a few years ago, but he's still physically strong, a very solid perimeter defender (garnering First-Team All-Defense honors in 2010), and a good offensive player -- he can slash well and finish in the paint, and has historically shot well from the field (47.3% for his career).
This summer, Wallace has a chance to opt into the last year of his deal for $9.5 million if he notifies the Nets by June 13. It's widely expected that he will decline this option and become an unrestricted free agent (due to the financial security of a long-term deal), but Nets GM Billy King has still expressed interest in re-signing Wallace this summer to a multi-year deal. King could technically try and extend Wallace right now for two more years, but only at $9.5 million per year, so Wallace would likely wait and try for a better offer in free agency.
To me, this is kind of hilarious. The Nets made the absolutely boneheaded move of trading away their lottery pick (they have exactly a 25.2% chance of retaining it) and now are forced to probably overpay Wallace this summer so it doesn't look like they did that for nothing (unless David Stern rigs the lottery and gives them Anthony Davis, which is another story). Wallace is a solid player, but he's not worth a top-3 pick, especially when that could be one of their biggest assets in trading for Dwight Howard. It's pretty doubtful Wallace will be worth his next contract and I'm not sure he's the type of player that would sway Deron Williams into re-signing, but maybe Prokhorov and Billy King know more than I do. Again -- doubtful.
Tier 2 -- Wild Card
Jeff Green. I originally had felt Green should be in Tier 1, but his season-ending aortic aneurysm has led me to wonder about what kind of player he'll be when he gets back. Even before that happened, though, Green was adjusting to a bench role with the Celtics, averaging around 23 minutes when he had seen 37 in Oklahoma City. His totals understandably went down, but his per-48-minutes statistics didn't really waver.
His numbers look pretty good. In OKC he averaged around 15 points on 44% shooting with 5.5 rebounds. But I still think he tends to get a little overrated due to his prototypical size and athleticism and mere association with Durant and Westbrook on that upstart Thunder team. Green is certainly not average-quality, but he appears to lack a signature skill or role to fill on a really good team.
The Thunder, at the time of his trade to Boston, were choosing between sending him or James Harden to the Celtics. They smartly, of course, chose to keep Harden, but at the time it was a legitimate debate. Since then, Harden has progressed into an elite shooting guard and propelled the Thunder to a second-straight Western Conference Finals, while Green (through no fault of his own, really) just hasn't improved as a player, even when he was healthy.
Green will be an unrestricted free agent this summer because the Celtics withdrew his qualifying offer and voided his one-year $9 million contract due to his medical issues. I can't see Green making that kind of green (sorry) this summer, especially coming back from a serious heart issue, but I wish him the best in getting his career back on track and overcoming his setback. It's hard to gauge what the market price for him will be, but if he's cheap enough, I would not be surprised to see the Mavs swoop in and give him a chance to prove himself on a 1-year deal (a la Delonte West).
Tier 3 -- Good rotation player
1. Grant Hill. Hill is an old man, basically the small forward version of Jason Kidd. The 39-year-old played around 28 minutes a game for the Suns this year, but had career-low numbers in basically every category. He's still not a bad player by any stretch, but it's clear he's on the way out.
In particular, his body didn't hold up great this year and that will be concerning for potential suitors. That may have been partly a function of the shortened season, but after playing 82, 81, and 80 games the previous 3 seasons, the vaunted Phoenix Suns training staff could only squeeze 49 games out of him this year.
Hill will likely get a 1-year veteran's minimum deal, and I think he would be okay with that. There has been a lot of speculation that he will try to go wherever Steve Nash goes because they've grown close over the last several years and might contemplate retiring together. I don't see the Mavs being interested -- they need to focus on getting younger.
2. Matt Barnes. Barnes is a 32-year-old who made $1.9 million coming off the bench to provide energy, defense, and rebounding for the Lakers this year. He's also well-known to Dallas fans for his part in the 2007 Golden State series and his claim in 2011 that to beat the Mavs, all you gotta do is "punk 'em" and they'll back down.
I'm not going to lie -- I've always thought of Barnes as a real shady, douchey character. But I would like it if the Mavs signed him. He's very much like DeShawn Stevenson in that he's got tattoos, he brings a certain thug quality and edginess to the team (he's not a "milk drinker" as Carlisle would say), and he will probably be pretty cheap since the Lakers went out in bad fashion.
He's not quite as good a perimeter defender as Stevenson and he's merely a decent three-point shooter (around 33% for his career), but he's a very good rebounder (5.5 a game) and could take some of the load off Shawn Marion's shoulders.
3. Andres Nocioni. Nocioni is an interesting 32-year-old Argentine player who used to be quite awesome for the Chicago Bulls, but has seen a big drop-off in his game since injuries (mainly knee tendinitis) and team changes (to the Kings and Sixers) stalled his career. I don't know who reported this, but there's a perception that Rick Carlisle is a huge fan of Nocioni's game and would be interested in acquiring him. These rumors ramped up around March of this year when Nocioni was waived, but nothing materialized.
Personally, I don't think Nocioni has much left in the tank, but I've given him the benefit of the doubt by putting him in this Tier, I guess. He hasn't had a solid year since 2008, when he averaged 11.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg on 42.7% from the field and a great 40% from three. If he can return to the player he was in Chicago, he would be an incredible addition, but that seems like a long shot and the Mavs are already trying to rehabilitate one swingman next year (Kelenna Azubuike) so I think they should and will pass.
4. Steve Novak. Novak is a three-point extraordinaire who really should thank Jeremy Lin for every penny he makes for the rest of his career. A career 43.6% three-point shooter, he inexplicably bounced around for the last few years (including brief stops in both Dallas and San Antonio) despite eye-popping numbers -- like 75% three-point shooting in Dallas and 54.8% in San Antonio. It's astounding to me that 2 of the top franchises would let a shooter like that slip away unnoticed, but it appears he just never really was given an extended opportunity as a role player.
He got that this year, and really flourished and gained publicity as a key scorer (benefiting greatly from Lin's dribble penetration) for the Linsanity-era Knicks of February 2012. He continued to contribute and shoot the lights out for the rest of the season as he shot an unholy 47.2% from three on the year. Quite simply, this year, he was the best spot-up three-point shooter in the game, bar none.
Novak has expressed interest in returning to the Knicks this year, but he will no doubt have countless suitors as an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Knicks are also a bit limited in the type of offer they can make to Novak since they will probably try to re-sign both Lin (probably for the mid-level exception) and Landry Fields (as I noted in the shooting guard post, Fields is eligible for the Early Bird exception, which allows the Knicks to sign him for up to the mid-level exception -- a figure which other teams can't exceed -- and still leave open their mid-level exception to re-sign Lin or another free agent). This would leave open the Knicks' bi-annual exception, which would be worth around $1.98 million next season.
Exceeding that might be a little steep for the Mavs, who would probably only expect Novak to play (at most) 20 minutes and shoot threes. But you can never have too many shooters on a great team, a fact the Mavs know very well given their success in 2011 and the Spurs' success with a similar approach this season.
In the end, I think the Mavs will only be players for the Tier 3 guys, of whom I like Barnes and Novak the most. There are any number of unforeseeable trades and draft picks that could also yield a quality small forward, but those possibilities will become clearer as the summer moves forward.
Once again, thanks for reading for this long and I hope you enjoyed it. My post on power forwards should be forthcoming within the next few days.
I will post it on here as a FanPost, but you can also read it at my new blog The Dirkus Circus -- http://thedirkuscircus.wordpress.com/