2015 NBA free agency: Best bargains
My PointAfter colleague Will Laws recently broke down the five worst deals in free agency based on our new metric, Free Agent Quotient (FAQ). The numbers were not kind to Reggie Jackson, Omer Asik and others, but this time around we’ll focus on the best bargains of the off-season.
To be frank, bargains were tough to come by during a free agency period in which a whopping $1.4 billion was committed to free agents on Day 1 alone. Nevertheless, a few dominoes that fell later on in the process were snatched up for very reasonable prices relative to their past (and potential future) production.
As a reminder, FAQ uses a player’s 2014-15 PER, career PER, 2014-15 Win Shares and age to project his future value.
Here’s a quick review of the FAQ scale, which roughly ranges from 0-100:
100 = Strong MVP candidate
40 = Solid starter
Without further ado, here are five of the best bargains from 2015 free agency. We've omitted veterans like David West and Tim Duncan who purposefully took less money to play for a contender.
Contract details: Two years, $4 million (16th cheapest in average annual value among free agents)
Free Agent Quotient: 33.9 (40th among free agents)
When the Twitterverse was exploding as a result of the DeAndre Jordan saga, Jeremy Lin quietly signed with Michael Jordan’s Hornets and nobody even batted an eyelash. When you take a step back and look at the contract figures, though, this is an absolute steal of a signing. The guard’s days of “Linsanity” are far in the rearview mirror at this point, but Lin can still hoop at a respectable level, and he’ll enter the 2015-16 season at just 27 years old.
Lin’s averages with the Lakers a season ago may not look great, but he actually averaged more points, assists, rebounds and steals per 36 minutes compared to the 2013-14 season he spent with the Rockets. Given that Cory Joseph netted a four-year, $30 million deal from the Raptors this summer, Lin’s contract is far below his market value. Perhaps this will make up for the botched Lance Stephenson signing from a year ago.
Contract details: Three years, $18 million (38th cheapest AAV among FAs)
Free Agent Quotient: 66.7 (12th among FAs)
Wright’s impressive efficiency in limited minutes throughout his career has translated into a 20.6 PER overall. The big man was back to his old tricks last season, although he was at his best in Dallas before stints in Boston and Phoenix followed after a pair of trades.
The most eye-popping stats attached to Wright, however, are those in pick-and-roll situations. According to NBA.com, the former Tar Heel scored 1.42 points per possession as the offensive roll man—the same average as LeBron James. The only players who scored more efficiently in such scenarios were Kevin Durant, Shawne Williams and Terrence Jones.
Wright’s teams also scored 71.2% of the time when he acted as the roll man. Only Jones, Durant, Hassan Whiteside and Tyson Chandler had superior scoring frequency on such plays. Former backup Kosta Koufos signed a more lucrative $33 million deal to join the Kings, so Memphis landed a cheaper alternative who can still hold his own.
Lou Williams, Lakers
Contract details: Three years, $21 million (44th cheapest AAV among FAs)
Free Agent Quotient: 58.5 (17th among FAs)
Team fit remains an area of confusion with Williams signing in Lakerland. Since Kobe Bryant, Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson are already in the fold (in addition to No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell), adding another ball-dominant, scoring-first guard is a bit of a head scratcher. With that negative outlook aside, bringing in the reigning Sixth Man of the Year for a more than reasonable $21 million over three seasons is one of the best deals of the off-season, based on FAQ.
En route to averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game with the Raptors throughout 2014-15, Williams made 34% percent of his three-pointers. That percentage was bogged down significantly by his ugly conversion rate above the break (29.4%). If he plays off the ball more in L.A., with Bryant or Russell running the show, Williams could thrive by spotting up in the corners. He drained triples at a clip well above average from each side last season.
Contract details: Three years, $20 million (43rd cheapest AAV among FAs)
Free Agent Quotient: 60.7 (14th among FAs)
There’s a trend forming here that 2015 free agents connected to the 2014 Lakers frequent the best bargains.
Davis, a former Laker like Lin, was snatched up by Portland on a modest contract. The Trail Blazers’ off-season was marred by departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nic Batum (the latter via trade), but adding Davis was an under-the-radar move that helped avoid total disaster.
The 26-year-old is projected to be Portland’s starting power forward next season. That’s an opportunity he’s never been granted before, having started just 82 of his 354 career games. If he can stay out of foul trouble—and far away from the free-throw line—he’ll be primed to have a career year.
Contract details: Two years, league minimum (tied cheapest AAV among FAs)
Free Agent Quotient: 47.2 (25th among FAs)
There’s certainly a chance that Evans will continue to have his minutes limited to garbage time and not be given an opportunity to move the needle with his new team. Of course, there are ways Evans has endeared himself to teammates and coaches over the years without getting action come game time.
As Jody Genessy of the Desert News explained, “Evans’ team loved him for being a pleasant locker room guy, for being a hard worker in practice and for being a consummate professional.” Fans can often get caught up in minutes played and numbers, but great teammates who help build and strengthen team chemistry have immense value. And, as it turns out, the athletic high flyer can perform when given an opportunity.
Making a stout case for Evans is tough with such a limited sample size to work with, but he averaged 12.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes with the Jazz last season while sinking 55.2% of his shots. He has amazing athletic ability (2012 Slam Dunk Champion), is still relatively young (he’ll be 28 in October) and is revered by his teammates. For a team like the Mavs in desperate need of frontcourt depth, why wouldn’t they take a chance on him at the league minimum?
More from Ben Leibowitz:
- Re-Picking the Surprisingly Loaded 2010 NBA Draft
- Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team’s Offseason
- Why Huge NBA Signings Are Not as Insane as They Seem
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