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Tuesday June 30, 2009 4:04 PM

Breaking Down The Free Agent Field: Part I

Rockets.com examines available big men with help of advance scout

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff

Houston - Now that the NBA draft has come and gone, the focus shifts immediately to this year's free agent crop. Teams can begin contacting players available on the open market as soon as the clock strikes 11:01 PM CST, and you can be sure that the most sought after players will be bombarded by calls instantaneously.

So in order to get you ready for the free agent frenzy, Rockets.com has put together a three-part series breaking down the key players in this year's pool, and we're doing so with a rather unique twist. We've recruited Rockets' advance scout Pat Zipfel to provide the analysis, and what you're about to read is lifted straight from the pages of the scouting report he compiles for every player in the league.

Today Zipfel breaks down the free agent big men, which should be of keen interest to Rockets' fans since GM Daryl Morey has made no secret of Houston's desire to add help along the frontline this summer. Tomorrow, we'll address the wing players on the open market, before wrapping things up by analyzing the available guards on Thursday.

(Note: Those listed as having a player option have until 4 PM CST today to decide whether to opt-out or exercise the final year year of their contract. Certain players, like Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, are veritable locks to stay with their current teams which is why you won't find them listed below. On the flip side, Utah's Mehmet Okur's agent has stated that his client is likely to opt-out and explore the open market. However, he, too, is absent from this list; primarily because Rockets' fans are surely all too familiar with his game and unique skill-set at this point. In other words, you probably don't need to read a scouting report to know what Okur does best.)

Marcin Gortat (Restricted)

Zipfel says: He is very competitive and a good pick and roll defender. Has good strength and is a plus athlete. Very good defensive rebounder. Has natural gifts as a defender with size and his movement and agility are his strengths.

Jason says: Certain to be one of the summer's hottest commodities, Gortat will likely have no shortage of suitors over the days and weeks to come. The Polish big man raised eyebrows with his solid play while backing up Dwight Howard during the playoffs - and also for stuffing the stat sheet with 11 points and 15 rebounds while starting the series-clincher against Philadelphia - but don't be fooled into thinking he was just a postseason flash in the pan; Gortat posted a very respectable PER of 17.04 - good enough to place him in the top-20 of NBA centers for the '08-09 season. So while his standard stats (3.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and .8 blocks per game) might not leap off the page, Gortat's youth (he's only 25), athleticism and potential will make him an attractive target on the open market; especially in a league where the dearth of quality big men has a natural tendency to create a feeding frenzy this time of year.

Zaza Pachulia (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Extremely physical, aggressive, strong center. He has been one of the top offensive rebounders in the NBA the past few years. Uses ball fakes, can put the ball down right, and shoots the short face-up jumper. Prefers his left shoulder and has a power back to the basket game. Gets to the line at a decent rate. Sets good wide screens and rolls hard. Works hard on the glass on both ends. He is a TOUGH player who is not afraid to mix it up with you inside.

Jason says: Hard to believe, but Pachulia is only 25 years old himself. He's not nearly the athlete Gortat is, but the Georgian won't back down from anyone and is a classic example of a player you love to have on your team but hate to play against.

Mikki Moore (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Long wiry body who plays with a ton of emotion and is a live body rebounder. Rebounds by jumping more than positioning. Pretty athletic—runs well down the floor and will look to finish to his strong right hand. Turns to use his right in the post. Plays with an edge about him. Not afraid to mix it up with you despite his lean body. Tends to play hard around the ball.

Jason says: After putting up some decent numbers during the '06-07 and '07-08 seasons, Moore's stats regressed toward the mean last year. He's not starting material on a contender, but he can certainly provide length, athleticism and depth along the frontcourt, with the added bonus being that he should come relatively cheap.

Anderson Varejao (Player option)

Zipfel says: Active, effort energy player who comes off the bench and gives them an inside rebounding and active player. He runs the floor consistently for layups and early seals. He will duck in with the ball at the high post & in their pick and roll options… In post will spin, uses inside fakes into power moves, jump hook. On perimeter will spot up from free-throw line… goes hard to the offensive glass… active defensively, will circle to deflect vs. post entries. He plays with passion and energy. A constant threat on the glass for tips or rebounds.

Jason says: The Cavs have stated their desire to keep Varejao, but they've also been linked to other unrestricted free agents like Rasheed Wallace and Charlie Villanueva. Who's their No. 1 target? We should find out soon enough, and if Varejao gets left out in the cold there will be no shortage of teams eager to procure the services of a player who does so many of the little things that help win games.

Ryan Hollins (Restricted)

Zipfel says: He is a good shooter with deep shooting range. Has the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive as a straight line driver to the rim. He is one of their better defensive rebounders for minutes played.

Jason says: Rockets' fans surely remember Hollins as the guy whose fronting defense (along with some help from Brandon Bass as well) on Yao Ming gave Houston fits during the second-half of the final game of the regular season; one which would have enabled the Rockets to grab the West's No. 2 seed if they had escaped Dallas with a victory. His size, youth and athleticism are all attractive qualities, and teams would almost certainly not be required to break the bank to pry him away from Dallas. Still, he remains very much in the project-phase of his NBA development and is by no means starter material at this point. But he has improved every year in the league, and by adding more strength and refinement to his game he should be able to carve out a valuable niche for himself as a regular contributor at some point in the near future.

Chris Andersen (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Has good size and runs the floor well. Excellent shot blocker. Plays with high energy and is constantly moving. His best offensive strength is his ability to score off offensive glass and off guard penetration. Can hit the elbow jumper. Will score off of energy and activity.

Jason says: NBA fans know all about the Birdman by now; they know about his baggage, but also about his journey to put those demons in his rearview mirror for good. All indications are that Andersen has done exactly that, as shown by his sterling '08-09 season which made not only made him a fan favorite in Denver, but also one of the best values in the league. Plenty of teams would love to add him to their roster, but the Nuggets have made re-signing him their No. 1 priority and it would be a fairly significant shock to see him leave the Mile High City.

Rasheed Wallace (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Plays very much of a team game, smart and understands how to play. Prefers the left block, will shoot turnaround jumper both ways, and will use a step through move. Likes to pick and pop, and always a threat to take the big shot or 3. Excellent on the ball and team defender where he uses his length well. A perimeter threat in transition from the trailer spot and in drags... will get a hit and fade for a shot.

Jason says: Wallace is coming off a down year by his lofty standards but if you're wondering how much he has left in the tank, all you need to do is look at the teams already said to be lusting after his services. His name has surfaced in rumors involving Cleveland, Boston and San Antonio - title contenders, all. Wallace will be 35 by the time the season starts, but there's no question he can still be a valuable piece of a championship puzzle; especially if he's only asked to contribute about 20-25 minutes per game.

Antonio McDyess (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Can play both big positions. A very aggressive, physical player who gives them toughness and energy. Runs the floor and likes the early deep catch. In the post likes to spin baseline or shoot right shoulder turnaround jumper. Will pick and pop for face-up jumper. Active on defense and helps from the weak side. He screens hard and rolls hard to the basket.

Jason says: The consummate professional. Like Wallace, he, too, will be 35 once the new season begins, but the 16.63 PER he turned in last year shows that he's still capable of producing at a very respectable level; especially impressive when you consider the rash of injuries he suffered through earlier in his career.

Rasho Nesterovic (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: He is a solid post up player who will spin either way in the paint looking for his hook shot. He likes to dive. His move is a good spin and dribble move to the baseline for a reverse lay up. Steady, long, center without much lift or explosiveness. In the post, will step through or shoot turnaround jumper, plus turn left shoulder with his back to the basket.

Jason says: Not a name that is going to get anyone excited, but it's worth mentioning that he's only one year removed from the most productive season ('07-08) of his NBA career. Nesterovic is also rather reliable, having played in at least 70 games for 10 straight seasons.

Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Big inside strong athlete who is aggressive around the basket and runs the floor very well. Excellent rebounder who also will catch and finish near the basket strong. Has a nice jump hook shot near the basket. Good strength—will bump and get after you physically. Most of his points are off put backs and follows. Sets good screens.

Jason says: Wilcox has yet to live up to the potential he flashed as a lottery pick in the 2002 draft. Athletically, there's a lot with which to work and he can certainly finish around the rim, but his inability to develop defensively or on offense in the low-post has, up to this point, hindered his progress toward becoming a potential go-to guy on a winning team. He's only 26 so there's still time, but that transformation needs to happen sooner rather than later lest he follow the path of the similarly-gifted, but ultimately disappointing Stromile Swift.

Adonal Foyle (Unrestricted)

Zipfel says: Favorite move is an up and under move he uses. Great head fakes on the block. Sets solid picks and screens. Gets most of his points on rebounds/put-backs and hustle plays. Good rebounder.

Jason says: Still a solid defender, with nothing to offer on the offensive end. Also happens to be one of the league's classier guys who's acutely aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. Hasn't averaged more than 9.9 minutes per game since the '05-06 season.

Other notables: David Lee and Paul Millsap are both double-double machines and restricted free agents who figure to attract a great deal of interest league-wide. Utah will obviously do everything it can to keep Millsap in the fold, but if Carlos Boozer decides to return to the Jazz for one more year (update: he has exercised his option and will return to the team), Utah might find it difficult to keep both, given the salary cap implications. Similarly, New York has clearly stated its desire to re-sign Lee, but may find it difficult to match a substantial offer for the fan favorite due to the possible conflict with the Knicks No. 1 priority: clearing cap space for the summer of 2010.

And for those of you wondering about Charlie Villanueva's absence from this list, we'll tackle him during tomorrow's column on wings. True, he is a power forward by trade, but since his preference tends to lean more in the direction of being a face the basket perimeter player (similar to Rashard Lewis), I've chosen to place him in the wing category for the purposes of this series.

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