The NBA free agent rush is almost over, but fans kvetching about price tags will never end. Mike Conley! Ryan Anderson! Harrison Barnes! Matthew freakin' Dellavedova!
But which teams really overpaid? To give savvy fans another data point — two, actually — we ranked signings using a couple of all-in-one metrics: Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus Wins.
Neither measure is perfect, (you can bone up on each here, here, here and here) and neither captures the benefit from a better coach or systemic fit. The stats are unkind to recently injured players, and might miss on youthful potential or elder decline.
Despite all that, it's at least fuel for debate over beers, or in the comments.
|Player||New team||2016-17 salaries||15-16 win shares (BBRef)||Dollars-per-win-share||15-16 wins, Real Plus-Minus (ESPN)||$/RPM wins||Years||Win shares - cheap, expensive or average?||RPM - cheap expensive or average?|
|Luc Mbah A Moute||LAC||$1,678,950||1.6||$1,049,344||1.83||$917,459||2||Cheap||Cheap|
Contracts averaged annually over their years, since we don't have yearly breakdowns yet. The average "win" this summer cost about $3.1 million. So we judged contracts under $2.7 million "cheap," over $3.5 million "expensive," and all the rest average.
Win Shares and RPM diverge on a few free agents. Ish Smith and Joe Johnson are pricy by WS, but cheap by RPM. Hassan Whiteside, Evan Fournier and the Twolves' Brandon Rush are WS bargains and RPM ripoffs. However, for most players, there's synchronicity.
One class of players who did very well for themselves can be defined as "Young non-star players who showed something in limited roles." New Orleans made an early and concerted effort on these players with Solomon Hill (Pacers) and E'Twaun Moore (Bulls). They followed up with Langston Galloway (Knicks). The highest profile examples of this rather broad category of player are Kent Bazemore (who re-signed with the Hawks for about $18M per year), and Jordan Clarkson, who re-signed with the Lakers for about $12.5M per.
(You could argue that Harrison Barnes and Hassan Whiteside also belong in this group).
But there are a lot of examples here: Tyler Johnson who signed an offer sheet with the Nets for 4/$50, Austin Rivers, Andrew Nicholson, Jon Leuer, Dwight Powell, Allen Crabbe. Jeremy Lin could be a member of this group. Meanwhile, only a couple of guys who fit into this category got what I would call surprisingly small contracts — Galloway and maybe James Ennis.
A few remarks about these players: Other than Barnes and Rivers, these were all non-lottery picks (and in many cases 2nd-rounders), meaning there is no sheen of disappointment on them. Instead, they are the "secretly interesting" players that smart NBA fans like knowing about. In fact, several of them are guys that smart Canis posters were touting for the Wolves as players who might come cheap: Leuer, Hill, Moore, and Powell in addition to Bazemore and Lin are all guys we've discussed.
However, for the most part, they weren't cheap. And as the spreadsheet helpfully reminds us, teams that signed these guys are betting on potential, because almost all of them got contracts that, based on their previous win shares and/or RPM are "expensive" for their established production.
Also note which teams signed these guys: In some cases they stayed with their teams, which is common in free agency. But the teams that were aggressive in going after these players were teams like the Pelicans (Hill, Moore, Galloway), the Nets (Lin, Johnson, Crabbe), and the Mavs (Barnes, re-signed Powell, Seth Curry (another example). Leuer to the Pistons.
In other words, teams that were not going to get the big-time free agents -- or in the Mavs' case, after they struck out on the big time free agents. These teams saw this group of players as a chance to add talent by offering big contracts to players who had not yet had the huge payday. Whether it pays off or not remains to be seen. The cliche has always been: Be the team that finds these guys late in the draft, not the team that pays them on their second contracts. And yet ... we can't fault teams for signing these guys — the money was there and the need is great.
Another group of players who did well as a whole are bigs. Especially bigs with some sort of defensive nous, real or by reputation. Our first thought was it was mostly younger bigs, but Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol (who turned down even more than he got) are also included here. We have to admit, the Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov contracts early on in the process took us by surprise. That was followed up by big deals for the likes of Bismack Biyombo and Whiteside, which were more expected. Even relative bargains like Cole Aldrich or Jason Smith are getting multiples of what they got in previous deals, even factoring in cap inflation.
And yet, even in this summer of massive cap space, a few guys got left behind. Nene is the best example among the bigs, signing a one year deal for under $3M with the Rockets. His durability is questionable and he's 33, but still. Roy Hibbert, who had a nightmare year, took a 1/$5M deal to try to rejuvenate. Zaza Pachulia's small deal is more understandable: He signed with the Warriors after they got Kevin Durant, though it's worth noting that he must have left a lot of money on the table. Festus Ezeli's deal with the Blazers borders on the inexplicable.
Some of these — particularly Mozgov and Noah, maybe Mahinmi too, will come back to bite their new teams. (Knicks aside: They got a lot more expensive and less durable with the trade for Derrick Rose and the Noah signing; perhaps more talented on paper, but a whole lot has to go right for this to work). Whiteside and Biyombo are at least young/inexperienced enough that you can still dream -- and both showed real defensive quality for good teams this past season. Some of these other guys seem likely to get old in a hurry.
Which brings us to Dwight Howard, who is both a big and a member of another group: "Non-superstars who nonetheless had enough of a reputation that they were able to command near-superstar money given the cap space available." Howard is a member of this group, as are Beal, DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley, Barnes, Nicolas Batum, Anderson, and perhaps Luol Deng, Whiteside, Bazemore, and Noah.
This is not a new thing: This level of player getting big money has been a part of the NBA for a long time, driven by the existence of max contracts. When you artificially cap individual salaries, a lot more guys than the very best will get that max (or close to it). It's a particularly big group for reasons specific to this summer, but not unusual. These are the contracts that are scariest and can be the most debilitating. Some on the list above will work out OK for their teams, but many will not. Note that most of them are "expensive" in terms of dollars-to win shares/rpm (by this method Batum looks like the best deal among those discussed).
The Warriors' David West is the biggest Win Share bargain ($238,000 per), followed by new Net Luis Scola, the aforementioned Pachulia, the Cavs' Richard Jefferson, and the Twolves' Jordan Hill, in a late deal announced Wednesday.
RPM bargains, in order, West, Pachulia, Scola, Nene and the Raps' Jared Sullinger.
As Wolves fans know well, smaller markets have to overpay. The three players Memphis signed (Ennis, Chandler Parsons and Conley) were all expensive, though Parsons was hurt (means the Grizz are gambling) and Conley wasn't realistically replaceable by a cheaper alternative.
To keep Damian Lillard happy, Portland overspent on Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe. Then again, Leonard is 24 and Crabbe was a restricted free agent Brooklyn bid up. Houston also overspent on Anderson and Eric Gordon, with their eye on pleasing Harden and new coach Mike D'Antoni.
Miami drowned its DWade sorrows by signing four players judged RPM-expensive: Udonis Haslem, ex-Wolves Williams and Wayne Ellington, and restricted free-agent keepe Tyler Johnson. Only the Johnson deal is for more than two years, however.
Some frequent over-spenders, like the Knicks, did so for Noah and Brandon Jennings, but got Courtney Lee at a fair price (commence gnashing of Wolves fans' teeth).
At least by RPM, Phoenix overpaid for Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless; they are both guards, and not big ones at that. For a team that already has Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, and the precocious Devin Booker, that seems like a lot of smalls.
There were two groups of teams that were relatively quiet in free agency. The first are already top-notch squads like the Cavaliers (brought back Richard Jefferson) and the Spurs (replaced the retiring — and irreplaceable — Tim Duncan with Pau Gasol).
The other group is typified by the Wolves: teams in unappealing markets that don't have a recent history of winning to offer. The Wolves themselves waited out the market and wound up with Aldrich, Rush, and Jordan Hill. The Utah Jazz pounced on veteran Joe Johnson and did nothing else. The Nuggets re-signed reserve forward Darrell Arthur and have since been quiet. The Pacers — despite their stated interest in getting faster — struck on Al Jefferson, but did nothing else in free agency (though they acquired point guard Jeff Teague in trade).
Whether this is because there was too much competition from other teams, or because these front offices decided it was unwise to play in the overheated market this summer, or a combination of both, one thing is true: These teams did well for themselves by our measures.
As noted, Aldrich and Hill came cheap to the Wolves by both measures, while Rush ($3.5 million) is cheap by win shares. He's expensive by RPM because his value was negative — we chose not to compile $-per-RPM wins, because at a negative value, those players should be paying their owners. Let's just call 'em pricy. Still, Hill's cost is relative at that low raw dollar figure.
Arthur was average/cheap for the Nuggets, Johnson was expensive/cheap for the Jazz, and Jefferson was just plain expensive for the Pacers.
What catches your eye in the chart above? How should we think about this summer's free agency? Talk about it in the comments.
David Brauer is a longtime Twin Cities journalist who has variously been a media critic, sports writer, and radio host. He currently co-hosts the Britt and Brauer podcast with Britt Robson. He is active on Twitter at @dbrauer.