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Friday May 18, 2012 11:26 AM

Free Agency Preview Part 1: Centers


Taking a detailed look at some of the free agent centers available this summer

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - 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 centers who are hitting the open market this summer. 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)

Roy Hibbert (RFA):

The basics: 12.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 bpg, .497 FG%, 71.1 FT%, 19.35 PER

Advanced stats: 16.6 rebound rate (20th among qualifying centers), 20.7 defensive rebound rate (33rd), 12.5 offensive rebound rate (12th), 10.7 assist rate (22nd), 12.7 turnover rate (21st)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 56.8% (centers averaged 65.2% from that distance in ’11-‘12), 3-9 feet: 51.1%, (center average: 40.8%), 10-15 feet: 34.8% (center average: 38%), 16-23 feet: 34% (center average: 39.3%)

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Post-ups: .9 points per possession (74th percentile), pick-and-roll roll man: .987 ppp (55th percentile)

Defense: versus post-ups: .717 ppp (78th percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .776 ppp (55th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .893 ppp (40th percentile)

Hibbert made his first All-Star team this year, posting career highs in points, rebounds and blocks per game while also setting a career best in field goal percentage. As his rebound rate numbers show, the Georgetown product is not great on the glass but he has improved as a rebounder every year he’s been in the league. In fact, “improvement” is really the key word to keep in mind when considering what Hibbert brings to the table. He has made strides as a player every season and though the 25-year-old will likely never be a dominant player, his rare size and productivity certainly make him a valuable asset going forward. 7-2 with long arms, Hibbert adds instant rim protection, though his lack of quickness can be exploited on the pick-and-roll. Nonetheless, the scarcity of impact bigs in the NBA ensures that the Pacers’ center will be a hot commodity; one that Indiana figures to be loathe to let slip through its fingers, especially while holding the trump card that accompanies restricted free agency (The Pacers will have the right to match any offer Hibbert receives).

Brook Lopez (RFA)

The basics (2010-11 stats): 20.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .492 FG%, .787 FT%, 19.33 PER

Advanced stats: 12.6 rebound rate (47th among qualifying centers), 15.6 defensive rebound rate (52nd), 9.5 offensive rebound rate (34th), 7.1 assist rate (47th), 9.6 turnover rate (7th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 62.6%, 3-9 feet: 47%, 10-15 feet: 41.6%, 16-23 feet: 39%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Post-ups: .96 ppp (77th percentile), Isolation: .929 ppp (80th percentile), Transition: 1.307 ppp (76th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .892 ppp (41st percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .869 (41st percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: 1.0 ppp (29th percentile)

After playing all 82 games each of his first three seasons in the league, Lopez suffered through an injury plagued season that limited him to just five games played this year. Of note, Lopez scored 38 and 28 points respectively in his final two full games before being felled by an ankle injury that brought his frustrating ’11-’12 season to a premature close. The Stanford product can score, of that there is no doubt.  He’s very strong offensively operating out of the low-post and is blessed with a nice touch when shooting the ball from midrange as well. What he does not do, however, is rebound or play much defense. Somewhat inexplicably, Lopez’s rebound rate has dipped every year he’s been in the league and his lack of mobility makes him a liability defending pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops. But though he will almost certainly never be a defensive demon, one assumes that, at just 24 years of age, there’s still a chance he can improve to become at least passable on the defensive end -- provided he’s willing to put in the requisite work and effort, of course.

Chris Kaman (UFA)

The basics: 13.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 44.6 FG%, 78.5 FT%, 15.42 PER

Advanced stats: 15.8 rebound rate (29th among qualifying centers), 23.5 defensive rebound rate (14th), 7.9 offensive rebound rate (41st), 11.6 assist rate (19th), 14.8 turnover rate (36th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 52.6%, 3-9 feet: 34.1%, 10-15 feet: 43.6%16-23 feet: 45%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Post-ups: .762 ppp (43rd percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: .82 ppp (24th percentile),

Defense: Post-ups: .9 ppp (33rd percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .946 (18th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .906 ppp (36th percentile)

Kaman has struggled to stay healthy in four of the past five years, but when fully functional he’s proven to be a solid performer. He can operate out of the low-post or face up and knock down jumpers, and he does good work on the defensive glass and blocking shots despite his lack of athleticism. He is not, however, terribly efficient; his shooting percentage hit an all-time low this season in New Orleans and he remains rather turnover prone for his position. Kaman really struggled on the defensive end last year as his Synergy stats show, but it’s worth noting that his metrics in those categories were sparkling just a season ago when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers (on a Clippers club that was quite porous defensively, by the way). Was it the injuries or the unique circumstances surrounding his time in New Orleans that precipitated the drop-off on the defensive end? It’s tough to answer that question with any amount of certainty but at 30-years-old, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Kaman is capable of bouncing back to something closer to his normal form -- provided he can stay healthy, of course.

JaVale McGee (RFA)

The basics: 11.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg, .556 FG%, .461 FT%, 19.9 PER

Advanced stats: 17.7 rebound rate (15th among qualifying centers), 23.3 defensive rebound rate (15th), 12.1 offensive rebound rate (14th), 4.2 assist rate (51st), 11.7 turnover rate (16th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 68.1%, 3-9 feet: 45.8%

Noteworthy Synergy stats (with Washington): Offense: Post-ups: .713 ppp (33rd percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.278 ppp (94th percentile), Cuts: 1.347 ppp (82nd), Transition: 1.256 ppp (69th)

Defense: Post-ups: .943 ppp (27th percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .904 (27th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .818 ppp (55th percentile)

Perhaps the biggest boom or bust player on the 2012 free agent market. Absolutely no one questions his physical gifts and ability; McGee’s freakish length, leaping ability and wingspan make him the envy of nearly every center in the league. The issue with the fourth-year pro out of the University of Nevada, of course, is one of consistency, focus and attitude. He can take your breath away one second and leave you shaking your head the next. He’s just 24-years-old, so perhaps his follies are simply the product of youth with a strong support system and increased maturity all that’s necessary for him to make the leap to All-Star level production. He certainly hinted as much during his short stint in Denver after a deadline day deal sparked his departure from woeful Washington. But gambling on that prospect will not be for the faint of heart; NBA history is littered with overpaid big men who never lived up to their potential and securing McGee’s services is certain to cost upwards of eight figures per season. But if, if he does develop and takes advantage of his prodigious talent, that salary could soon become a massive bargain.

Marcus Camby (UFA)

The basics: 4.9 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .446 FG%, .453 FT%, 14.85 PER

Advanced stats: 22.8 rebound rate (1st among qualifying centers), 32.7 defensive rebound rate (2nd), 13.3 offensive rebound rate (7th), 22.3 assist rate (3rd), 11.9 turnover rate (17th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 47.4% with Portland/53.1% with Houston, 3-9 feet: 14.3% with Portland/50% with Houston, 10-15 feet: 35.7% with Portland/42.9% with Houston, 16-23 feet: 39% with Portland/44% with Houston

Noteworthy Synergy stats (with Houston): Offense: Spot-ups: 1.054 ppp (78th percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: .758 ppp (15th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .857 ppp (43rd percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .764 (60th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .857 ppp (45th percentile)

Rockets fans know all about Marcus Camby after getting a firsthand glimpse of the 38-year-old center during the final six weeks of the season after Houston acquired him in a trade deadline deal with the Blazers. The 2007 Defensive Player of the Year lived up to his reputation and then some during his time with the Rockets, gobbling up every available rebound with his go-go-gadget arms, swatting shots and even providing an unexpected offensive boost with his terrific passing and surprisingly accurate shooting (check out his shooting splits from his time in Houston compared to his work with the Blazers). Factor in the intangibles he brings to the table in terms of leadership and experience, and Camby figures to be a nice addition to any team’s frontline.

Spencer Hawes (UFA)

The basics: 9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.3 bpg, .489 FG%, .727 FT%, 18.19 PER

Advanced stats: 16.3 rebound rate (24th among qualifying centers), 23.3 defensive rebound rate (15th), 9.4 offensive rebound rate (33rd), 19.8 assist rate (4th), 11.1 turnover rate (11th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 65.7%, 3-9 feet: 45%, 10-15 feet: 37.2%, 16-23 feet: 43%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .839 ppp (40th percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.129 ppp (80th percentile), Cuts: 1.013 ppp (22nd percentile), post-ups: .789 ppp (47th percentile)

Defense: Post-ups: .828 ppp (51st percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .638 (83rd percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .808 ppp (60th percentile)

Hawes enjoyed a surprisingly strong year this season; albeit in a limited number of games due to an Achilles injury that forced him to miss a significant chunk of the Sixers’ schedule. Never known for his physicality, Hawes set career highs in rebound rate and blocked shots while showing improved awareness and toughness on the defensive end. His continued development in those areas will be key for Hawes going forward because there is no denying his skills on the offensive end. He’s a good shooter (though he takes too many long 2s) and gifted passer, ranking among the top-5 centers in the league in assist rate. What he does not do, however, is get to the free throw line; Hawes averaged just 1.5 free throw attempts per game this season -- a number that puts him 40th among centers in the NBA.

Omer Asik (RFA)

The basics: 3.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg, .506 FG%, .456 FT%, 13.44 PER

Advanced stats: 20.1 rebound rate (4th among qualifying centers), 25.1 defensive rebound rate (9th), 14.9 offensive rebound rate (2nd), 10.6 assist rate (23rd), 22.6 turnover rate (53rd)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 52%, 3-9 feet: 50%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Cuts: 1.028 ppp (23rd percentile), Post-ups: .815 ppp (55th percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: .75 ppp (14th percentile),

Defense: Post-ups: .718 ppp (77th percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .631 (84th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .75 ppp (70th percentile)

Defense, defense, defense. Asik is an absolute terror on the defensive end of the floor, frequently flummoxing opponents with his length, tenacity, shot blocking and voracious appetite for rebounds of every kind. As the Synergy stats show, he’s dynamite in almost every scenario when it comes to shutting down opponents, defending the post and pick-and-roll with equal aplomb. In fact, use any metric you wish; Asik passes all tests with flying colors -- so long as you stick to those that track defense. On the other end of the floor the 25-year-old Turk is largely limited to put-backs off the offensive rebounds he collects; anything else is an adventure to which his lamentable free throw shooting and high turnover rate attest.

Robin Lopez (RFA)

The basics: 5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .9 bpg, .461 FG%, .714 FT%, 15.23 PER

Advanced stats: 13.2 rebound rate (47th among qualifying centers), 14.8 defensive rebound rate (51st), 11.5 offensive rebound rate (19th), 5.1 assist rate (48th), 10.9 turnover rate (12th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 64.3%, 3-9 feet: 39.5%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Post-ups: .741 ppp (38th percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.151 ppp (83rd percentile), Cuts: 1.286 ppp (71st percentile),

Defense: Post-ups: .759 ppp (68th percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .778 (54th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .75 ppp (70th percentile)

Lopez is not going to wow anyone on either side of the floor but he does have his merits as a back-up big off the bench. He brings good energy on the defensive end and can finish at the basket offensively as the dive man on pick-and-rolls, though it’s fair to wonder if his Synergy stats are somewhat inflated due to the wizardry of Steve Nash. The real mystery, however, surrounds Lopez’s inability to grab rebounds at a rate more befitting a true 7-footer. Though Robin is a slightly better rebounder than his twin brother Brook, his production in that area, especially on the defensive end, still leaves much to be desired. 

Kwame Brown (UFA)

The basics: (2010-11 stats): 7.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, .6 bpg, .517 FG%, .589 FT%, 12.89 PER

Advanced stats: 15.9 rebound rate (30th among qualifying centers), 21.6 defensive rebound rate (26th), 10.3 offensive rebound rate (28th), 7.3 assist rate (43rd), 11.7 turnover rate (22nd)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 63.2%, 3-9 feet: 39.1%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Post-ups: .893 ppp (60th), Cuts: 1.248 ppp (52nd percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.163 ppp (84th percentile),

Defense: Post-ups: .938 ppp (34th percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .858 (44th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .909 ppp (45th percentile)

The former No. 1 overall pick’s season lasted just nine games after a torn pectoral muscle brought a premature end to Brown’s ’11-’12 campaign. Long gone are the days when a team might think itself capable of unlocking and unleashing the potential people saw in Brown prior to the 2001 draft. He is who he is at this point: A decent defensive big who’s a solid pick-and-roll defender thanks to his size and mobility. Brown’s poor hands, shaky free throw shooting and lack of touch make him a non-factor offensively, and his rebounding numbers leave you wanting more, but for teams in search of added depth along the frontline he can be a serviceable option if you can get him at the right price.

Greg Stiemsma (RFA)

The basics: 2.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .545 FG%, .707 FG%, 13.62 PER

Advanced stats: 13.6 rebound rate (44th among qualifying centers), 19.0 defensive rebound rate (39th), 7.7 offensive rebound rate (43rd), 14.0 assist rate (11th), 16.5 turnover rate (47th)

Shooting percentages by location: At rim: 64.3%, 3-9 feet: 33.3%

Noteworthy Synergy stats: Offense: Spot-ups: .956 ppp (58th), Cuts: 1.293 ppp (72nd percentile), Pick-and-roll roll man: 1.3 ppp (95th percentile),

Defense: Post-ups: .823 ppp (52nd percentile), as big defender dealing with the PNR ball-handler: .719 (68th percentile), as big defender dealing with PNR roll man: .346 ppp (97th percentile)

Stiemsma has had his moments this season with Boston, at times giving the Celtics a much-needed boost to their injury-riddled frontcourt with solid defense in the post while displaying a real knack for shot blocking. As one would expect from a 26-year-old rookie getting his feet wet on a roster full of established, well-decorated veterans, Stiemsma was not asked to do much offensively, but when the call did come on that end of the floor he answered it with a fair degree of competence (though please bear in mind that due to his limited minutes Stiemsma’s Synergy stats offer a heaping helping of small sample size theater). The Wisconsin product also proved to be a savvy passer, but going forward he will have to cut down on his turnovers and spike his work rate on the glass. 

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