Fans are fully aware of the importance of Steve Nash's offensive management going to the Lakers, Ray Allen's 3-point shooting going to the Heat, Jeremy Lin's popularity and scoring drives going to the Rockets, and Roy Hibbert's splendid work in the middle remaining on the Pacers. There have been some other free agent signings in July, however, that have been overlooked but that still could have a huge impact for certain clubs.
Landry Fields, Toronto Raptors
$20m for 3 years
Fans continue to undervalue what SF/SG Fields brings to a club, which is intelligent hustle that can mix and match with nearly any combination of teammates on the court because of his versatility. Although his stats slipped this past season, his influence did not as he again lead the Knicks in Advanced Plus/Minus for the second season in a row, plus he topped them in simple Plus/Minus (his +213 nearly doubled Tyson Chandler's time on the floor). There is no one part of his game that wows you, yet he rarely makes a mistake, he does whatever small thing is needed to make a team gel that most NBA players aren't smart or hungry enough to do, and he can fill whatever hole a lineup is lacking (passing, outside shooting, secondary rebounder, defender of multiple positions, etc.). By joining Toronto, Fields' do-it-all game will fit in nicely between the bigs (Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis) and the point guards (Jose Calderon, Kyle Lowry), yet again providing the glue that turns teammates who accrue stats into guys who accrue wins.
J.J. Hickson, Portland Trailblazers
$4m for 1 year
Portland's frontcourt situation has been little more than LaMarcus Aldridge and a patchwork of injured or soon-to-be-injured centers for a few years now. Unfortunatley, LA became the latest Blazer big to go down for the remainder of the season with 8 games left last year. Fortunately, the team had signed unheralded—and then-recently waived by the Kings—power forward J.J. Hickson just two weeks prior. A scrapper who does more fighting under the hoop than in-love-with-15-feet-fadeaways Aldridge, Hickson put up numbers that nearly all bested the All-Star's production for the year. They were (bold numbers topped Aldridge's 2011-12 averages): 18 ppg, 11 rpg, 1.1 blk, 52% FG, 5.3 FTA/gm. Considering Portland's lack of big men next season behind Aldridge—Jared Jeffries, and rookies Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland—they desperately need someone who can be a dependable rebounder and capable interior defender. Luckily they'll have the severely underrated Hickson back for one more year, and if they're smart, longer than that.
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
$8m for 2 years
This was a good signing even if Derrick Rose wasn't going to miss the first half or more of 2012-13. Whereas Rose is an instinctual player who relies upon his amazing athleticism to create what he does, Hinrich is calculated and more risk-averse. He's a very good 3-point shooter and intelligently above-average defender, plus his passing and general offensive management is far more consistent than that of Rose. When the two were paired up together in Chicago a few years ago, great things happened for the Bull's offense. Now that Rose is sidelined and top-flight back-up C.J. Watson was allowed to leave for practically nothing, the team desperately needed a PG to run the show since rookie Marquis Teague's skills beyond “sprinting quickly into bad decisions” are nearly non-existent, which some predicted before his horrendous showing in the Vegas Summer League (29% FG, more turnovers than assists). Captain Kirk's heady play and previous familiarity with the club will allow a Rose-less Chicago to do much better than many fans are assuming, plus we already know his presence on the court improves what Rose does when the superstar returns, so that $4 million salary will soon look like peanuts.
Greg Stiemsma, Minnesota Timberwolves
$2.5-3m for 1 year, team option on second year
The Timberwolves have the league's best young C/PF combo with all-everything Kevin Love recently getting to team up with talented big man Nikola Pekovic. Both are strong and skilled, willing to throw their combined 500 pounds around for a ton of boards and to score baskets at a very high rate. What the pair lacks, however, is defensive grit. Both Love and Pekovic are slow afoot and earth-bound, as the pair combined for 1.2 blocks/game in 67 minutes per night last year -- that's a tremendously poor rate for two bigs, and Minnesota's pitiful-and-going-nowhere defense is the result. Enter Greg "Goldiblocks" Stiemsma, the "where'd he come from?" rookie who averaged 1.5 blocks in 14 minutes/gm for Boston last year. Whereas Minnesota's current bigs were never going to positively affect the team's Defensive Rating enough to turn them into a playoff club, Stiemsma will. He doesn't need many shots, but he makes the ones he takes (55% FG) and gets after the offensive glass, so he's not a hindrance on the offensive end. If Rick Adelman can find a way to get Steimsma real minutes next year so he can do something about the Timberwolves' defensive woes without cutting into the effectiveness of Love or Pekovic, the newby will get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year and a much bigger contract very soon.