NBA skills market 2.0: Grading the predictions

The NBA Skills Market model is an analysis of the current market value of specific skills, abilities, and achievements for NBA players. For the second year in a row, I’ve built this model and published its findings at the start of free agency. July is the month when players’ values are determined, and the Skills Market model is very useful for making predictions about the type of money a player will earn on the open market. No matter how much money a player signs for, writers like myself will constantly critique both the player who signed the contract, and the GM who offered it to him over the entire life of the deal. I believe that turnabout is fair play, so in that spirit, I’ve turned my critical eye to my own model’s predictions to see which free agent contracts it correctly predicted and which it was way off base on. Please weigh in with your own thoughts on free agent contracts and player value in the comments below.

The Good

For as much as I believe in turnabout, I wouldn’t publish the Skills Market and associated columns if it wasn’t right at least some of the time. My predictions for the average annual salary of the following players’ free agent contracts were within 10% or $1 million

Dwight Howard

Predicted Value: $20.8 million

FA Contract: $22 million

Dwight is one of the few players the model valued over $20 million (Kobe, LeBron, Melo, and Durant were the others.) He was always going to get more money that what I predicted because he is a “max” guy, but because he chose not to sign with the Lakers and the heft annual raises they could give him, him actual contract value fell much closer to my prediction. The model’s prediction for Dwight is based on him averaging 20+ points and 13+ rebounds per game. As long as he remains healthy, he should have no problems equally that production in Houston’s up tempo offense.

Josh Smith

Predicted Value: $13.5 million

FA Contract: $13.5 million

A lot of people around the league, including some members of the VOTS staff, don’t like this deal for Detroit. I’m not one of them. As you can see, I think Smith, who is a very consistent producer year-to-year, got the money he deserved. I also don’t believe he’ll clog up the Pistons’ big man rotation at all. On paper, he works well as a frontcourt mate for Greg Monroe, and Drummond is not ready for 30 minutes a night. He may not be able to efficiently play the 3 on offense, but he can certainly guard that spot on defense. Detroit is going big when other teams are going small. If they can find a great point guard to keep all the plates spinning, the Pistons could be a very dangerous team capable of leading the league in rebounding.

Al Jefferson

Predicted Value: $13.4 million

FA Contract: $13.6 million

Pick up Big Al on your fantasy team this year because he’s about to have a big year. Charlotte paid him because they’re ready to compete now. I’m not sure Jefferson’s addition alone is enough for the Bobcats to crack the Top 10 in the East, but I do know that offense is going to center around him for the next few years while their young pieces mature. I expect Al to post career-highs in points and rebounds so long as he stays healthy. If you question whether or not he’s worth the money, just consider the fact that every shot Jefferson takes is an ill-advised three-pointer that Byron Mullens won’t get to jack up.

David West

Predicted Value: $12 million

FA Contract: $12.2 million

I spoke about West’s contract at length in my “Christmas in July” column last week. He’s been an incredibly consistent producer over his career, pre- and post-injury. So long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a well-priced asset to Indiana over the life of his three-year deal.

Tyreke Evans

Predicted Value: $11.2 million

FA Contract: $11 million

In all fairness, I predicted Evans’ salary based on his last four years of stats, which included his Rookie of the Year season. I believe the collective opinion of Evans has been tainted by four years in the sinkhole that is Sacramento. I believe he is more than capable of getting back to his RoY production with a change of scenery. That being said, I’m not sure New Orleans is much of a change. The Pelicans, like the Kings, have a log jam at the guard spots and long track record (In the wake of Chris Paul’s departure) of losing. It’s going to take some coaching magic to get new pieces like Evans and Jrue Holiday to mesh with the oft-injured Eric Gordon. With what they’re paying each of those guys, I don’t think they can bring any of the three off the bench. There are certainly going to be some growing pains in the bayou this season.

Paul Millsap

Predicted Value: $10.3 million

FA Contract: $9.5 million

Millsap should have gotten more money plain and simple. According to Chad Ford, who appeared on the B.S. Report this week, Millsap’s agent went to the market asking for $15 million a year. Teams (rightly) rebuffed that number as ridiculous and refused to negotiate. That’s how the third best power forward on the market got less than eight figures. I think Millsap will use this two-year deal the same way David West did. He’ll prove himself worthy of a bigger annual salary and get more money two seasons from now.

O.J. Mayo

Predicted Value: $7.6 million

FA Contract: $8 million

Mayo has always seemed destined to lead a bad team in scoring and field goal attempts. Now he’ll finally get his chance.

Jeff Teague

Predicted: $7 million

FA Contract: $8 million

Whether Jeff Teague ends up in Milwaukee or Atlanta, the contract he signed is not too much of a stretch, especially for a young player who could still improve. The fact that he and Brandon Jennings both might not get $10 million per year is proof of how saturated the NBA is with good point guards and how that saturation has pushed prices down.

Carl Landry

Predicted Value: $7.4 million

FA Contract: $6.75 million

I’m glad Carl Landry got paid more than the mid-level. He’s a consistently productive player who has worked very hard while bouncing around the league. That said, I hate him going to Sacramento where there is serious congestion at the power forward spot. The Kings had Landry and traded him to remove that congestion just a few seasons ago. All the same players are still on their roster. Unless the Kings make some moves to shed a few forwards, Landry is ensuring his next deal will be for far less money because he won’t get the same opportunity to produce in Sac Town.

Zaza Pachulia

Predicted Value: $4.7 million

FA Contract: $5.3 million

I don’t know if the Bucks can play Larry Sanders and Zaza together, but that’s a frontcourt I’d love to watch from the intimidation standpoint alone. Zaza brings toughness, defensive presence, rebounding, and experience to Milwaukee. $5.3 million seems like a bit much for him, but there are very few contracts in that range that become glaring overpays down the road. This is especially true considering the Bucks still have Drew Gooden under contract for nearly $7 million a year.

Tony Allen

Predicted Value: $4.8 million

FA Contract: $5 million

Even if Allen’s defensive ability starts to decline, $5 million is more than fair money for a lockdown defender who is such a large part of Memphis’ identity. Had he left, the Grizzlies would have missed Tony way more than they’ve ever missed Rudy Gay. People who think this is an overpay are crazy.

Earl Clark

Predicted Value: $4.2 million

FA Contract: $4.5 million

One season in LA and now Earl Clark is a young Lamar Odom. Where was this when he was in Phoenix? I’m just kidding. It will be interesting to see if Clark gets time in Cleveland considering all the depth they have in the front court with Bynum, #1 pick Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and the middle Zeller brother. Had the Cavs known they were getting Bynum, I don’t think they would have offered this contract to Clark.

Marco Belinelli

Predicted Value: $3.1 million

FA Contract: $2.8 million

This contract was one of the first deals agreed to after July 1st. It’s also the least surprising deal in history. Belinelli was always going to be a Spur. Clearly he thought so as he reportedly turned down other, more lucrative offers.

Chris Copeland

Predicted Value: $2.6 million

FA Contract: $3.0 million

Indiana upgraded from Tyler Hansbrough to Chris Copeland and saved money. That shouldn’t be possible. The Pacers are very well stocked for next season. They’ve upgraded nearly every weak spot in their rotation, and they’ll have a healthy Danny Granger to boot.

A Run on Shooters

Not every prediction was quite so accurate. The NBA marketplace is constantly evolving. The biggest change in next year’s Skills Market values will certainly be in the dollar value of 3-point shooting. Typically, teams wait until late in the free agent period to find shooting because the market is full of players who can stretch the floor and connect from beyond the arc. This year severely bucked that trend. I believe this run on shooters was an aberration caused by several teams believing that a great shooter was the one thing missing from their squad last season and there being several elite shooters on the market. I don’t believe this is a sign of drastic change in the market. The following players were signed early and for far more money than I expected or predicted.

J.J. Redick

Predicted Value: $4.7 million

FA Contract: $6.75 million

Kyle Korver

Predicted Value: $4.45 million

FA Contract: $6 million

Redick and Korver got very similar deals. I believe Redick is more worth the money than Korver. Redick has several skills – ball handling, the ability to run the pick and roll, and defensive effort – which aren’t yet quantified in the model. I believe J.J.’s value is much closer to the contract he received than Korver’s. Both guys are going to make a lot of threes over the next four years. If either lose their shooting touch, which shooters have been known to do, these contracts could be weights around the Hawks’ or Clippers’ necks.

Martell Webster

Predicted Value: $4.3 million

FA Contract: $5.5 million

The deal definitely made sense for the Wizards who need to surround John Wall with valuable role players if they are going to convince him to stay in D.C. Webster had a career year last season. It seems as though he’s finally found himself as a player. So long as he continues to stay in his lane and produce, no one will be mad at this contract.

Chase Budinger

Predicted Value: $2.7 million

FA Contract: $5.3 million

I feel bad for under valuing one of my favorite Arizona Wildcat alums. Minnesota needed shooting, though they did sign Kevin Martin. I think Budinger got slightly more than he was worth because he played his butt off for the T-wolves on a minimum contract last season. Chase brings athleticism, shooting, and versatility to Minnesota for a price no one will scoff at.

Taking a Pay Cut

Clearly the Skills Market is not going to predict every salary correctly. NBA teams all have different methods of valuing players and different amounts of financial flexibility. In a perfect marketplace, each player would get exactly what they’re worth. But the NBA is far from a perfect marketplace. There are only 30 teams in the entire league and less than half of them had the money (cap space) to pay free agents this offseason. These financial limitations limit players’ options and in some cases, prevent them from getting a salary that reflects 100% of their worth. With this in mind, the Skills Market can be useful as an indicator of whether a free agent will get a raise, take a pay cut, or continue being paid around the same money. The following are players who the model predicted would take a pay cut, the size of which the model did not accurately capture.

Andrew Bynum

2012-13 Salary: $16,889,000

Predicted Value: $15 million

FA Contract: $12 million

I love Cleveland’s deal for Bynum. If he’s back to his 2011-12 self, then Cleveland is definitely a playoff team with Bynum on a great contract. If not, he’s guaranteed only about $6 million.

Kevin Martin

2012-13 Salary: $12,439,675

Predicted Value: $9.75 million

FA Contract: $7.5 million

I predicted Kevin Martin’s salary based on his last four years of production which reaches back to when he was the leading scorer and go-to guy on a very bad Houston team. Had I predicted simply based on this past season’s production, then I would have predicted the salary he got from Minnesota almost exactly. Martin getting this kind of money, especially from a team like Minnesota which has a track record of bad front office moves, is a sign that the NBA has changed for the better. Minnesota recognized that Martin is probably starting the down slope of his career. They also recognized that his best statistical seasons were on very bad teams. Combine those facts and $7.5 million seems like a good fit.

Manu Ginobli

2012-13 Salary: $14,107,492

Predicted Value: $10 million

FA Contract: $7 million

The same rationale for Martin goes double for Manu who is decidedly on the down slope of his career. Manu isn’t the same player he was and depending on how much he declines next year, what looks like a hometown discount contract could actually be more than he’s worth.

Devin Harris

2012-13 Salary: $8,500,000

Predicted Value: $6.8 million

FA Contract: $3 million

Harris was overpaid and miscast in Utah. That said I had no idea he would get so little money on the open market. As I noted previously, it made no sense for Dallas to pay he and Jose Calderon the money they did. Harris is a victim of the glut of great point guards. Almost every team has one and because of that, there simply is not enough money for lower-tier guys.

Andre Iguodala

2012-13 Salary: $14,968,250

Predicted Value: $10.4 million

FA Contract: $12 million

Iguodala made the interesting decision to opt out of the final year of his deal worth $16 million to gain long-term security. There’s no question he’ll probably be overpaid by year four of his deal, but he makes Golden State legitimate contenders in the West right now, so the contract can’t really be criticized all that much in the short-term.

Jose Calderon

2012-13 Salary: $11,046,591

Predicted Value: $5.4 million

FA Contract: $7.25 million

Calderon is a homeless man’s Steve Nash. He’s a great distributor, takes care of the ball, and shoots excellent percentages. But what made Nash special was his ability to score in a variety of ways and make defenses game plan around him. Calderon is a passive scorer who defenses aren’t all that worried about, especially now that he’s older. I think Devin Harris, who makes less than half of what Calderon makes, has a legit shot to supplant Jose in the next two years as Dallas’ starting point guard.

Getting a Raise

Likewise, the model predicted the following players would get a raise over last season’s salary, but these predictions misfired a bit.

J.R. Smith

2012-13 Salary: $2,806,452

Predicted Value: $11 million

FA Contract: $6.2 million

Had Smith’s game not fallen apart in the playoffs, he definitely would have gotten more money than this. As it is, he took a hometown discount to stay in New York. His personal volatility, the inefficiency in his game, and the potential for regression make this a pretty sound deal.

J.J. Hickson

2012-13 Salary: $4,000,000

Predicted Value: $7.8 million

FA Contract: $5 million

Hickson’s less-than-predicted salary is a product of a fairly crowded free agent market for power forwards. After all the money went to shooters, there was little left for Hickson who definitely is worth more than $5 million a year. I expect him to be very productive this season.

Jarrett Jack

2012-13 Salary: $5,400,000

Predicted Value: $7.5 million

FA Contract: $6.25 million

Seeing how much Jack’s presence helped Golden State and Steph Curry improve, I have nothing but hope for how he’ll do backing up Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. I fully expect Jack to play crunch time minutes alongside Irving this season. Cleveland had plenty of cap space, so Jack possibly could have gotten more. But the Cavs’ are really a perfect situation for him if he wants to play the same role he did last year.

Matt Barnes

2012-13 Salary: $1,229,255

Predicted Value: $5.2 million

FA Contract: $3.7 million

Barnes is a player who does a little bit of everything. He had one of his best seasons as a pro last year, and got a raise and some security for his efforts. The Clippers were financially strapped which is the only reason Barnes didn’t get more to say in his preferred destination.

Carlos Delfino

2012-13 Salary: $3,000,000

Predicted Value: $4.3 million

FA Contract: $3.25 milion

Delfino’s contract has a team-option of $9 million in the third year. That’s almost a 300% raise over years one and two. Unless Delfino starts dueling Steph Curry for the 3-point title, there’s no way that option is getting picked up. That’s why I didn’t include his third year salary in the average annual value for his free agent contract. Had I included it, Delfino would definitely have been part of the “Run on Shooters” section.

Tiago Splitter

2012-13 Salary: $3,944,000

Predicted Value: $5.5 million

FA Contract: $9 million

Splitter got overpaid for two reasons. One, the Spurs need him in order to spell Tim Duncan and keep TD producing at a high level. Two, the market for average 7-foot centers is crazy inflated. DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee make eight figures each. While they are more athletic than Splitter, they’re not as productive or useful as Tiago. From that standpoint, Splitter is a bargain for the Spurs. But from a market value standpoint, Tiago’s production isn’t worth any where near $9 million per year. And I don’t know if he ever will produce at that level, even as Duncan declines. Splitter just doesn’t seem like a player who is capable of handling the scoring load in the paint.

“Samsonite! I Was Way Off”

Chris Paul

Predicted Value: $16 million

FA Contract: $21.4 million

Full disclosure: my model, for some reason, hates Chris Paul. By “hate” I mean it didn’t value him as highly as it did Dwight Howard. The model, as currently constructed, doesn’t account for all the intangibles that Chris Paul brings to the table. He makes all of his teammates better and is a great player in the clutch. Those are both qualities which definitely have value to NBA teams. They’re just attributes I have not yet figured out how to include in the model’s calculations as of yet. I have no doubt that Paul, for the first 2-3 years of this deal at least, will be worth every penny of his contract. But let’s not forget that health has been an issue for him and could be again in the future.

Dorrell Wright

Predicted Value: $6.2 million

FA Contract: $3 million

Mike Dunleavy

Predicted Value: $4.6 million

FA Contract: $3 million

Dunleavy and Wright are both talented role players who bring a ton to the table and take very little off of it. I believed that both players, especially Dorrell Wright, would get more money in free agency than they did.


Tags: Free Agency NBA Skills Market

comments powered by Disqus