There was no clear way to measure contracts handed out this summer. The imminent cap increase coupled with a transitory phase of NBA basketball led to a lack of consensus.
I mean, is DeMarre Carroll worth $15 million a year? At first glance, that looks lavish for a 28-year old wing who has only been a starter for two seasons. But then again, he's a strong rebounder, versatile defender, and can shoot the ball. With the growing emphasis on position-less basketball, a player with Carroll's fluidity on defense has never been more important. So how do we assess his changing value? There's just too many variables in play to label deals as 'good' or 'bad.'
Well, that was my long-winded disclaimer for this column, which is all about labeling deals as 'good' or 'bad.' While there's a lot of gray area for contracts this summer, some deals immediately look like steals while some are obviously terrible. ($80 million for Reggie Jackson? Is that the ghost of Joe Dumars calling me from two phones at once?)
For the purposes of this, I'll be avoiding obvious max-deals that any team would've handed out. This shouldn't be a column rewarding the Spurs for landing Aldridge, or the Pelicans keeping Anthony Davis. I also won't look at obvious team discounts (Duncan), or championship-hungry minimum deals (David West).
Brandan Wright to the Grizzlies (3 years - $18 million)
Memphis used its limited cap room this summer to great effect. They designated their full mid-level exception on Wright, a high-efficiency center who is still somehow just 27-years old. The midlevel is the typical rate for a third big, but after Kosta Koufos got 4 years - $33 million Wright's deal looks like a heist. His prowess in the pick-and-roll should work well with Marc Gasol's formidable midrange game.
Of Wright's 358 shot attempts this past season, 334 of them came in the paint, and 236 of those came in the restricted area. He had a shockingly similar style of play to Koufos, who also took over 90% of his shots from the paint. Yet while Wright shot 64% from the field, Koufos managed just a 51% clip. Wright is a clear upgrade over the limited Koufos, and he should be able to play with both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The deal takes Memphis to within $1 million of the tax, but this doesn't really matter. Wright filled out their roster, and was a clear-cut bargain. If he had stayed on the market, a team desperate for a big (Mavericks) could easily have paid him over $9 million per year. As Randolph and Gasol age, Memphis will lean heavily on Wright's ability to play heavy minutes. In a world where Aron Baynes gets 3 years - $20 million, Memphis got a great pickup.
Danny Green re-signs with the Spurs (4 years - $45 million)
While I said I would avoid team-friendly discounts, Green's deal isn't so clear cut as Duncan's. When you look at contracts handed out to other wings, it's obvious Green could have gotten more on the open market. If Khris Middleton can get 5 years - $70 million, and Gordon Hayward is given 4 years - $63 million by two teams, Green is clearly worth more than $11 million per year.
Green is the template for all 3-and-D guys. He gets his open looks in the flow of the offense. Last season, Green attempted the fourth-most 'wide-open-threes' in the league, knocking them down at a 47% clip. But his true value is on defense, where he is a unheralded star alongside Kawhi Leonard.
While a strong on-ball defender, Green is best at disrupting the transition offense. Per SportVU data, he is one of the best in the NBA at preventing scores in 2-on-1 and 1-on-1 transition situations. In addition, he is an underrated shot-blocker who excels at chase-down blocks and weak side deflections. His rare combination of transition defense and shot-blocking was made famous in the 2013 Finals, when he stripped LeBron in overtime.
Since his breakout in those Finals, Green has steadily improved as a player. Despite being the 5th option in the Spurs' offense, he is able to remain engaged at all times. He's worth $11 million on his shooting and energy alone. When you factor in his defense, he's a near-max player.
Tyson Chandler to the Suns (4 years - $52 million)
In the fracas of July 1st, 2015, few noticed Chandler's deal with the Suns. His signing was mostly seen as Aldridge insurance, in case the Suns failed to lure the star big man. In fact, Chandler is a huge get for the Suns, who add a veteran presence to a directionless team, and fortify their interior defense. Phoenix allowed the third most points in the paint last season with the Alex Len-Miles Plumlee combo.
Chandler is a stud rim protector, who held opponents to a net minus 5.1% field goal percentage in the paint compared to the average defender. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year was the only plus defender on a feeble Mavericks team. Unsurprisingly, their three best lineups all included Chandler, the rare rim protector who can also guard outside the paint. He isn't an Omer Asik or Andrew Bogut, someone who can be exposed in the midrange game. Chandler's athleticism allows him to stray from the basket effectively.
In addition, he is a solid offensive threat in the pick-and-roll. He is similar to DeAndre Jordan, who also uses his blinding speed to roll to the hoop and finish at or above the rim. In fact, DJ can be seen as Chandler's successor, as the pick and roll partner with Chris Paul. In the Phoenix offense, Chandler can be used with either Bledsoe or Knight in the pick and roll game. He is content not having plays run for him, and dedicates himself on defense and the glass. With a guy of his ability and character, the Suns have found someone to lead by example, and raise Phoenix from the ashes of a disappointing season.