In last week’s article, I dove into philosophies of building the Golden State Warriors with respect to salary cap space.
With a limited amount of money to spend on the entire roster, every personnel decision is carefully discussed for days, even weeks, before final decisions are ever made. A bad contract, whether it be too much money and/or too many years, can strangle a franchise’s ability to reach it’s ultimate potential. Players have different levels of basketball competence and should be paid accordingly based on their differing skill sets. But how can we tell if someone is playing as well as their earnings suggest?
A better question: How can we see if a GM knows how to distribute a salary cap?
To answer this question, I will be using Player Efficiency Rating, or PER.
PER was developed by John Hollinger and is used to gauge a player’s overall impact towards a game. It’s an interesting metric because it judges a player’s game without simply looking at how well they shot the ball. Based on the 2012-2013 season, the average PER for a qualifying player was 15. Keep that average in mind as we look at values from this season.
The Warriors’ salary cap situation is interesting. There are spots within the roster that look good and that are worrisome. Here is a table of the current cap situation:
|A. Bogut|| |
|D. Lee|| |
|A. Iguodala|| |
|S. Curry|| |
|M. Speights|| |
|H. Barnes|| |
|K. Thompson|| |
|J. O’ Neal|| |
|T. Douglas|| |
|F. Ezeli|| |
|N. Nedovic|| |
|D. Green|| |
|K. Bazemore|| |
|O. Kuzmic|| |
|D. Dedmon|| |
Since I’m an optimist by nature, it makes sense to reveal the good news before the bad.
There are no players on the roster who are outside the regular rotation making more than $10 million a year (everyone please join me in a sigh of relief). This exact time last season, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson were both occupying a huge portion of Golden State’s salary cap. As a fan, it was concerning thinking about how this team was going to improve with those two players holding the organization hostage due to lack of cap space. Fortunately, Bob Myers found some way to unload both contracts to the Jazz. Now the view of the roster is much less stressful without the sad sight of bad players making insane amounts of money.
The other piece of good news (the word “good” doesn’t do it justice) is Stephen Curry is going to make around $10 million/year over the next four seasons. The Warriors gambled and got lucky by signing him to an extension before his playoff outburst. It is easily one of the biggest bargain contracts in the league and the Warriors will reap the benefits of this deal.
The Jazz seem to be attempting the same gamble with Derrick Favors, signing him to around the same figure and time frame as Curry received last summer. To really put Curry’s contract into perspective, this season Favors would need to not only lead his team into the playoffs, but also make it to the second round and become widely regarded as a top 10 player in the NBA. While I think Favors is going to be a fine NBA player, that leap is farfetched. Having a playoff team’s best player under team control for the next four years while he’s just $10 million/year is ridiculous. Golden State hit the jackpot with the deal and it’s something to be excited about.
Now for some bad news…
David Lee has been an essential contributor towards the turnaround of this franchise. He is an automatic double-double machine who can create and score in the post. But he also has limitations. He is far below average defensively and cannot impose his offensive will like some other impressive forwards in the Western Conference.
When watching the most recent matchup between LaMacus Aldridge and Lee, I saw a player in Aldridge that could get to the paint and free throw line anytime he wanted. Lee wanted to match his success on the other end but was not able to carry out the task. An organization with championship aspirations realizes this game is a business and is about constantly finding ways to improve. The thought would be to find an upgrade for Lee at PF.
However, he is the owner of one of the most untradeable contracts in the league. With three years and $41 million remaining on his deal, the Warriors will have an extremely difficult time finding a trade partner to help improve the PF position without losing multiple core pieces as trade casualties. Unless the organization can work out some serious trade magic, Lee will be the PF for this team. I don’t know if Lee is the starting PF on a championship team, but unfortunately, his contract and limitations put a damper on this organization by representing a ceiling for this team.
The second piece of bad news revolves around the Warriors’ two young prized assets, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson. Both players have shown they not only have NBA staying power in their early careers, but they also have established a strong probability of lucrative contracts when they are no longer the owners of rookie contracts.
It is a good problem to possess for the Warriors, however, it is indeed a problem. With the recent signing/extension of Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut (both 4-year deals), the organization put itself in a position to have to choose only one of these two talents to extend to a long-term contract. So, the question becomes: Who do they choose to extend? Looking at just age and contract status, the simple choice would be to extend Barnes because he is two years younger than Thompson and he has an extra year of club control on his rookie deal. However, Thompson has taken a leap in his third NBA season. His scoring average has increased every year (12, 16, 21) since coming into the league. Plus, watching him and Curry put daggers into teams hearts from behind the arc is amazing to watch.
It will be a tough call for the organization to make. The silver lining is having two years to make the ultimate decision. However, it would be beneficial to decide what they are going to do with each player earlier than later because of possible trade implications. Referring back to how difficult it would be to improve the PF spot with Lee’s contract, adding Barnes to a Lee trade package certainly sweetens a deal. With those two pieces being dangled together, prying Aldridge away from Portland doesn’t sound as crazy as simply a package centered around Lee that was discussed last summer.
With the salary cap situation established, let’s take a look at each player’s 2013-2014 performance against their earnings. The graph below plots each Warriors’ PER against the their respective salary. The bold lines on the graph represent the average PER and yearly salary for all NBA players using data from the 2012/13 season. The lines create four quadrants that will help in the analysis of the players and overall salary cap.
By separating the graph into four quadrants, we can see if a player is outperforming or underperforming their contract based on league averages. To spot a certain player, simply reference the salary cap table to match their dollar figure on the vertical axis.
The area of concern for this plot would be if players resided in the top-left quadrant of the graph. This would imply a player is being overpaid based on performance because his efficiency is below average and his salary is above average. Luckily, none of Golden State’s players are in the top-left quadrant, although Bogut, Lee, and Iguodala are closer to the vertical average PER line than would be ideal. With those three players being the highest paid on team, the Warriors would like to see their PER values more towards the right of the plot to justify their lofty contracts.
Curry and Thompson are the two biggest bargains on the roster. Curry should be the highest paid player on the team based on PER and Thompson is well above league average in efficiency while making no money.
Aside from a few pieces of bad news presented earlier, this salary cap is well put together. The David Lee contract is a problem, but this cannot be blamed on executives because Lee received his extension before Bob Myers was the GM. Myers and his staff have been able to put together a string of solid decisions that have this franchise looking towards success in the present and the future.
All data is through 12/12/2013 and provided by ESPN.com