The Boxscore Geeks NBA Free Agency Process

NBA Free Agency is upon and oh boy is it madness. Honestly, the lesson learned is that most NBA teams have no idea what they're doing. This isn't a surprise, but I was expecting some semblance of reasonability. I figured I'd use the current free agency estimates* to show how we'd approach free agency around here.

*Remember that players can't officially sign until the 7th and players/teams can change their minds. DeAndre Jordan showed that last year/

I'm using the CBS Sports Free Agency Tracker, and, of course, will be out of date quickly. As of very early July 4th, here's how things stood.

In a modern era of stats, I find many teams posture with the notion they look at all the data. This can be hard to do efficiently and overwhelming. As the prototypical geek I set up a simple set of questions I'd ask in analyzing free agents. Now, this wouldn't be the end-all be-all I'd use. And as a follow-up to people accusing me of being a stathead that doesn't get it. Teams are using methods like this already, but with worse stats/questions. So my four questions are as follows:

  • How good?
  • How much?
  • How long?
  • How old?

You can pretty much ask these in order. So let's see how NBA teams have been doing.

How Good?

There's a very simple rule in NBA Free Agency I have. No signing below average players. I'll be using the Points over Par per 48 (PoP48) metric, which estimates how many points a team with our player plus four average teammates would beat an average team by in a full game. 0 is average, and to adjust for any "good at defense" or other "outside of the boxscore stats" arguments, I'll give a 0.5 PoP48 bit of wiggle room, so any players below PoP48 of -0.5 for the 2015-2016 season are out! That removes the following from our list. (Full comparison here)

Player Signing Team Contract 2016 Wins 2016 PoP48
Jeremy Lin Nets *3 years, $36M 3.1 -0.8
Luol Deng Lakers *4 years, $72M 3.5 -0.9
Eric Gordon Rockets *4 years, $53M 1.8 -1.3
Bradley Beal Wizards *5 years, $128M 2.1 -1.3
Jordan Clarkson Lakers *4 years, $50M 2.8 -1.5
Jared Dudley Suns *3 years, $30M 2.2 -1.5
Joe Johnson Jazz *2 years, $22M 2.7 -1.6
Arron Afflalo Kings *2 years, $25M 2.3 -1.6
Al Jefferson Pacers *3 years, $30M 1.1 -1.6
Ish Smith Pistons *3 years, $18M 1.9 -1.8
Andrew Nicholson Wizards *4 years, $26M 0.5 -2.1
Austin Rivers Clippers *3 years, $35M 0.4 -2.7
Jamal Crawford Clippers *3 years, $42M 0.4 -2.8
Ryan Anderson Rockets * 4 years, $80M 0.1 -3
Darrell Arthur Nuggets *3 years, $23M 0 -3.1
Mirza Teletovic Bucks *3 years, $30M -0.2 -3.2
Jeff Green Magic *1 year, $15M -2.2 -4.5

The Rockets are doing an amazing job trying to waste money on below average players. Brad Beal is baffling, remember when the Wizards were a "frontrunner" for Durant? Finally, how do Jeff Green and Austin Rivers still have jobs in the NBA? I will say Jared Dudley played out of position last season and might be worth the money. Again, this is a simple starting guide, not the end all be all. Moving on.

How Much?

Now, just because a player is above average doesn't mean they're worth the money. In the modern salary cap, the luxury cap is $114 million. In theory, you'd think that a team should be able to get a 50 win team for that amount, which would set our dollars per win at about $2.3 million. To give some wiggle room, I'll set it at $2.75 millions per win. So who misses the cut? (Full Comparison List Here)

Player Signing Team Contract 2016 Wins 2016 PoP48 Millions per Win
Kent Bazemore Hawks *4 years, $70M 6 1.2 2.9
Jerryd Bayless Sixers *3 years, $27M 3.1 0 2.9
Mike Conley Grizzlies *5 years, $153M 5.9 2 3
Matthew Dellavedova Bucks *4 years, $38M 3.2 -0.5 3
Evan Fournier Magic *5 years, $85M 5.5 0.1 3.1
Solomon Hill Pelicans *4 years, $52M 3.9 3.6 3.3
Al Horford Celtics *4 years, $113M 8.6 1.8 3.3
D.J. Augustin Magic *4 years, $29M 2.2 -0.2 3.3
DeMar DeRozan Raptors *5 years, $139M 7.3 0.8 3.8
Jon Leuer Pistons *4 years, $42M 2.7 0.1 3.9
E'Twaun Moore Pelicans *4 years, $34M 2.2 -0.4 3.9
Timofey Mozgov Lakers *4 years, $65M 3.2 0.6 5.1
Chandler Parsons Grizzlies *4 years, $98.5M 4.5 0.7 5.5
Joakim Noah Knicks *4 years, $72M 2.8 3.5 6.4

This list does get a little more complicated. For instance, Kent Bazemore, Evan Fournier are young enough we might expect some improvement. Regardless, based on their recent performance they're getting overpaid. Joakim Noah, Jon Leuer, and Solomon Hill all might be worth the money if they get more minutes. Noah is the riskiest as he's in his 30s.

I do feel obligated to address Al Horford. Last season he produced 8.6 wins and is considered by many to be a major get by the Celtics. I do think he'll help them next season, but I would argue the Celtics overpaid for him. Many years ago he was indeed star level. Then he missed most of the 2012 season with injuries. He's returned and played well but never close to the same degree. As he's in his 30s, I'm not optimistic he'll make a significant jump. That said, I consider him overpaid but still useful, just to clarify.

How Old / How Long?

The following are players I consider good signings. (Full comparison list here)

Player Signing Team Contract 2016 Wins 2016 PoP48
Hassan Whiteside Heat *4 years, $98M 15.9 8.1
Cole Aldrich Timberwolves *3 years, $22M 4.9 6.1
Andre Drummond Pistons *5 years, $130M 13 4.2
Rajon Rondo Bulls *2 years, $28M 11.9 3.9
Dwight Howard Hawks *3 years, $70.5M 10.7 3.9
Bismack Biyombo Magic * 4 years, $72M 8.5 3.9
Ian Mahinmi Wizards *4 years, $64M 7 2.7
Nicolas Batum Hornets *5 years, $120M 8.9 2.4
Marvin Williams Hornets *4 years, $54.5M 8.2 2.1
Evan Turner Blazers *4 years, $70M 7.8 2
Trevor Booker Nets *2 years, $18M 5.3 1.7
Courtney Lee Knicks *4 years, $50M 5.6 0.5
Wesley Johnson Clippers *3 years, $18M 3.8 0.4
Matt Barnes Kings *2 years, $12M 5 0.3

The following players are ones I view as good free agency signings. The only real thing I'd be nervous about is the length of each contract. Courtney Lee is his 30s is probably the riskiest at four years. Other than that, the other players are all on acceptable contracts. Matt Barnes is 36 and the scariest, but at such a cheap contract, he's worth the risk.

Summing Up

Being an NBA GM is mostly trying to optimize salaries. In some cases, a good player isn't worth the money, and in many cases, it's better off saving your money than wasting it on players (see the first section)  Most teams are falling into the trap of just lighting money on fire. Some are overpaying for decent players (the Grizzlies with Mike Conley for instance) We'll have to see how the rest of Free Agency shakes out, it should be entertaining if nothing else!