In this episode of the Top 50 NBA Free Agents Of 2013 Countdown Extravaganza, we transition into the top half of our set. Now there are players you can actually get (a little) excited about! We begin with a recently traded player whose salary range is about as wide as imaginable.
30. DARREN COLLISON
The Pacers sent Collison to Dallas for Ian Mahinmi in July, giving the Mavericks a credible point guard. The question is whether Collison can be more than that, as he was as a rookie in New Orleans before going to Indiana. Last year in particular, Collison's scoring fell way off despite his starting role. He took more than three attempts per 36 minutes fewer than in his two previous seasons. The Mavericks are really a mystery going into 2012-13, but if Collison returns to form, he'll be a desirable restricted free agent in July, though not on a monster deal. He's a solid starting point guard or an excellent sixth man.
29. DEJUAN BLAIR
Blair has been a regular starter on an insanely good team run by the best coach in the NBA. That said, when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2013, all of those fears about his lack of ACLs will come roaring back. The Spurs were hailed as brilliant for picking up Blair in the second round in 2009 and offering him a four-year deal; the financial commitment was, however, relatively small. They may blanch at paying market value for the offensive rebounding whiz. So might other teams. There will be someone willing to fork over big dollars, though. Production is production, and Blair produces in his minutes.
28. NIKOLA PEKOVIC
Pek Alert! The Timberwolves center, who finally usurped Darko Milicic early last season, will hit the market in 2013, just in time for Minnesota's rise to prominence. The Wolves may have no choice but to pay Pekovic a lucrative salary; it's been difficult for Minnesota to scare up other options next to Kevin Love (I mentioned Darko, right?) and salary is becoming tighter as Love's new deal kicks in. Pekovic has also become a surprisingly good scorer, giving Minnesota a well-rounded line-up, assuming one of these new wings (Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved) works out as planned.
27. EMEKA OKAFOR
Okafor has an early termination option for the 2013-14 season. It's a similar situation to many others with the option: Do you sacrifice one season of really high salary for an opportunity to hit free agency (and land another big contract) at age 30 instead of 31? It's a real balance to consider, and agents surely look at positional depth in each market and other items in order to make the decision. The 2013 free agent class is fairly low on unrestricted big men, so Okafor could end up a free agent. A shiny new four-year, $30-40 million deal could be in the cards for the defensive anchor.
26. JEFF TEAGUE
Like Collison, Teague is a low first-round pick from 2009 who will be hitting restricted free agency in 2013, barring an extension with the Hawks before Oct. 31. Teague's in the interesting position of having to compete with Devin Harris for the starting point guard job in Atlanta. Teague started all 66 games last season, and kept his numbers in line with his previous per-minute production in a larger role. That resulted in about 12 points and five assists per game on better-than-average efficiency. He's not quite the bombastic scorer or aggressive shooter we imagined he would be, but with Joe Johnson gone, that could still come through.
25. GERALD HENDERSON
We knew someone's numbers would benefit from the stunning lack of competitiveness on display from the Bobcats last season. Gerald Henderson proudly picked up that mantle on his way to a 15 ppg season. He stayed on track with his per-36 numbers, as well, and looks like a solid, non-shooting two-guard going forward. On most teams, a shooter is preferred there, but Henderson's defense will keep him high on the respect scale. I can see Charlotte slow-walking his restricted free agency next summer, which could result in Henderson taking a one-year flyer and going unrestricted in 2014.
24. SHAWN MARION
Marion has an early termination option next year. I think that Marion, who has made a lot of dough, will consider Dallas' prospects before making a decision. If Dwight Howard and Chris Paul have committed in L.A. and it doesn't look like the Mavericks will be able to draw a major free agent to buttress the team's championship hopes, it'd be easy to see Marion opt out and take a flyer with a contender. That said, $9 million is a lot to give up. The Matrix will be 35 when 2013 free agency begins.
23. J.J. REDICK
Redick has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the whole churn of Orlando. After a solid shooting season, he's now a career 40 percent on three-pointers, and last year he took four per game. His sixth man role is appropriate -- he could have a Jason Terry-like career if he were to get a little more greedy, which frankly should be easy to do with Dwight Howard gone. This is obviously a big season for Redick as his next deal, to be signed in 2013, ought to be his most lucrative. He'll be celebrating his 29th birthday a week before he comes a free agent.
22. MONTA ELLIS
Ellis, one of the most divisive players in the NBA, has an early termination option for 2013. Ellis would be giving up $11 million to hit free agency at age 27 instead of age 28. The thing is that Ellis can probably get another $11 million annual contract. He's a consistent negative in plus-minus surveys, but he's also averaged more than 20 points and five assists per game in three straight seasons ... and one of those seasons was over 25 points. He recovered fully from the moped escapade, can play a ton of minutes and takes offensive pressure off of all of his teammates. Of course, he's also wildly inefficient and a defensive disaster, so ... someone will pay him $11 million a year, and someone will suffer in the aggregate because he's not worth that much.
21. KEVIN MARTIN
Did someone say high-scoring defensive albatross? That Martin gets a worse rap than Ellis is a joke: neither could stop an old lady in cement shoes, but at least Martin is still pretty efficient. Martin's scoring dipped to 17 per game last season as his efficiency and usage retracted under Kevin McHale, and he was still above league average in total shooting efficiency thanks to a continued ability to draw fouls. Martin was about 50 points better in True Shooting percentage than Ellis last season. Martin hasn't fulfilled his promise in full, but he's still one of the better scoring two-guards in the league. Lots of teams could turn him into an elite sixth man. Which one will do it?
Tomorrow, we move into the top 20 and determine the answer to the eternal question: Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson?
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.