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Let the definitive impressions of 2019 NBA free agency commence.
Enough time has passed in the regular season for us to start rendering verdicts on last summer’s contracts. Perceived bargains and overpays can still end up moving their values in the opposite direction, but for the most part, we’ve seen the amount of basketball necessary to pluck out the best and worst agreements.
These deals, as always, are judged from a front office’s perspective. Criticisms are, in turn, aimed at the teams rather than the players. All free agents should always get as much money as possible. Good for everyone who got two-syllable paid.
Expectations will dictate the separation between good and bad contracts. Tradeability is part of the equation, but selections aren’t based on whether a team must include a sweetener to move a contract or how much they could theoretically get in return for a player.
Total value and the length of each agreement matter more. Free agents are the sole focus, so this overview doesn’t include any rookie-scale deals or extensions. Undrafted newbies (sorry, Terence Davis) and players who signed one-year deals that don’t include any type of option (sorry, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) are excluded to help level the field of eligibility.
Good contracts will be ranked in order of increasing team friendliness. Bad contracts will be ranked in descending order of team friendliness. Remember this pecking order isn’t necessarily final—particularly when it comes to unflattering pacts.
Some of the underachievers will turn things around, just as a handful of the best steals may fall off. Rather than a forever consensus, this is a look at where teams appeared to hit and where they seemed to fail last summer as the regular season nears its quarter pole.
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Ron Hoskins/Getty Images
Contract: Three years, $31.5 million
Left ankle and right hip issues have not kept Jeremy Lamb from making a dent on the Indiana Pacers offense. His three-point shooting is still wonky, but he’s averaging 16.9 points per game while getting to the rim with almost career-high frequency.
Shaky outside efficiency means even less when he’s scoring so well from everywhere else on the floor. He’s shooting 55 percent on mid-range jumpers, including 63 percent on long twos. That’s not an optimal shooting profile, but he’s among the most reliable in-between scorers alive.
Certain holes in Lamb’s game endure. He leaves much to be desired as a playmaker. He’s shooting 58.1 percent on drives but passing on just 20.0 percent of them, the fourth-lowest share among non-injured players averaging at least four downhill attacks per game.
That predictability hasn’t stopped Lamb from serving as an offensive safety net. He’s shooting 28.6 percent in isolation, but he’s among the only Pacers players who don’t require a screen to get their offense going, and he rarely turns the ball over.
Indiana is scoring 117.3 points per 100 possessions in the scant time he’s logged without Malcolm Brogdon. That’s a huge deal, even if the defense is terrible in those minutes.
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Contract: 2 years, $11.7 million (2020-21 player option)
A lot of (deserved) shade has been thrown at the Portland Trail Blazers’ offseason. Rodney Hood’s return is the decision they got right.
Locking him in this year for the mini mid-level exception is proving to be a friggin’ steal—and something that might cost them later. (More on this in a minute.)
Hood has scored at a higher clip in years past but never this efficiently. He’s hitting 46.4 percent of his threes and knocking down 76.5 percent of his looks at the rim. His true shooting percentage sits at a career-high 62.8 despite a personal-worst conversion rate at the foul line.
Hood is not subsisting on gimme attempts from the floor. He’s posting an effective field-goal percentage of 73.1 on catch-and-fire opportunities, but nearly half of his made buckets have gone unassisted. He’s in the 98th percentile of isolation efficiency and posting a 59.8 effective field-goal rate on pull-up jumpers—the second-best mark among 97 players who have appeared in at least five games and are averaging three or more such attempts.
This almost goes without saying, but no wing on Portland is more valuable at the moment. That is both a gift and a curse for the Blazers. They need all the supporting-cast standouts they can get, but Hood is a lock to decline his player option next summer if he keeps this up. This year’s breakout might price him out of town.
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Bill Baptist/Getty Images
Contract: 2 years, $9.8 million (2020-21 player option)
The Los Angeles Clippers are in the same boat with JaMychal Green that the Portland Trail Blazers are in with Rodney Hood. His contract is so valuable now that his player option could price him out of town later.
Green’s deal is the slightly better bargain, if only because he’s more likely to play out its entirety. He already accepted less to stay with the Clippers, and teams aren’t as inclined to throw the kitchen sink at reserve bigs. He could feasibly pick up his $5 million player option. (Though, to be clear, I wouldn’t bet on it.)
That scenario would be decidedly unfair to the rest of the league. The Clippers are comically deep. Championship contenders with two top-12 players who didn’t begin their careers with the franchise have no business fielding a bench that ranks second in point differential per 100 possessions.
Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams monopolize credit for the success of the supporting cast. Rightfully so. But Green is similarly critical.
His three-point shooting is a boon for an offense that’s been so-so or worse from beyond the arc. He is the perfect frontcourt partner for Harrell: someone capable of spacing the floor around his dives and post-ups while grabbing the defensive rebounds he won’t.
The Clippers are nuking opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when Green and Harrell share the floor. They’re a more incomprehensible plus-18.9 when this duo takes the court without Moe Harkless.
All this and Los Angeles has yet to seriously plumb its potential cheat code: lineups featuring Green at center. His minutes at the 5 are always touch-and-go, but he’s defending well enough for the Clippers to explore it. Even if that’s a no-go—and it might be with how Harrell is playing—Green has, at the very least, worked his way into the crunch-time conversation.
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Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Contract: 2 years, $30 million
Inexpensive short-term contracts carry a certain duality. They are great fliers, particularly if a team has full Bird rights at the end, but that value winds up giving way to a massive raise.
Pricier short-term agreements have more value. They minimize both the immediate and big-picture risk by balancing length with compensation. A player who shows out on that deal may still command an annual raise, but his market value won’t invite as much sticker shock.
Kelly Oubre Jr.’s two-year pact falls under the latter umbrella. The Phoenix Suns aren’t into him for too many seasons and have his salary on a declining scale, but he’s earning enough that it’s easier to plan their future around his cost.
Good thing, too. He’s fast becoming indispensable in Phoenix.
Oubre is averaging a career-high 20.2 points per 36 minutes on a personal-best true shooting percentage. His outside touch is still unreliable, but he’s drilling 55.6 percent of his pull-up jumpers inside the arc.
Better spacing has helped him get to the rim more often than ever, and he’s more of an across-the-board scoring threat. He’s thriving in transition, he’s serviceable running pick-and-rolls, and head coach Monty Williams’ offense has him moving without the ball in the half court.
If his three-point accuracy ever approaches the league average, even just off the catch, Oubre is going to make some real noise. As it is, he’s already turned into one of the more underrated offensive wings.
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Contract: 4 years, $109 million ($97 million guaranteed)
Al Horford‘s inclusion will rankle some because it just will. Any celebration of his value is always met with a certain stubbornness, and his price point is high enough that he’s not a smack-you-in-the-face bargain.
Still, he continues to rank among the NBA’s most valuable players.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ spacing concerns would be more dire without Horford’s volume. He’s shooting under 34 percent from beyond the arc but throwing up a career-high 4.7 threes per 36 minutes. His 31.0 percent hit rate on wide-open triples will improve.
Few career centers can make the defensive transition to power forward in this era. More wings populate the 4 than ever. Horford’s defense hasn’t suffered. Most of his minutes still come at the 5, but Philly is holding opponents to just 98.1 points per 100 possessions when he mans power forward.
His impact on the Sixers’ transition defense is real. Rival offenses are running the break 3.5 percent less often when he’s on the court, an absurd differential that places in the 95th percentile. Ditto for his influence on Philly’s culture. He has been instrumental in “organizing dinners,” per ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Most of all, Horford has given the Sixers a steadying force to carry them when Joel Embiid is on the bench.
They are plus-6.1 points per 100 possessions when he plays without his fellow big. That is a breath of fresh air for a team that was minus-5.5 sans Embiid last year, minus-1.1 in 2017-18 and still almost losing the Ben Simmons-without-Embiid minutes overall.
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Jordan Johnson/Getty Images
Contract: 3 years, $11.3 million
Jake Layman, currently dealing with a left toe injury, is providing more bang for his buck than the Minnesota Timberwolves could have expected.
Over his past seven games, which have included two starts, he’s averaging 12.1 points on 59.2 percent true shooting. His outside clip has been a pleasant surprise. He’s always taken a large number of his looks from distance, but this is the first time he’s clearing a 35 percent success rate on his triples. He’s finding nylon on nearly 40 percent of his standstill treys.
Minnesota’s offense is benefiting from Layman’s off-ball movement. He will work to get open in the half court and is among the Timberwolves’ most diligent scorers in transition. He has even turned in some emergency off-the-dribble finishing inside the arc.
Something also worth monitoring: Layman’s defense. Playing him at the 4 has worked. Bigs can still hurt him in post-up situations, but his vertical burst has an easier time shining through. Opponents are shooting just 47.5 percent against him at the rim—a top-16 mark among 142 players who have contested at least as many point-blank looks.
It hasn’t mattered whether the Timberwolves stick him beside Karl-Anthony Towns or Noah Vonleh. They’re allowing just 96.5 points per 100 possessions whenever he’s at the 4.
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Contract: 4 years, $140.8 million (2022-23 player option)
Kemba Walker is not here because he’s a huge upgrade over Kyrie Irving. His numbers are similar, if inferior, to what Irving gave the Boston Celtics last season.
Check out their per-36-minute splits:
- 2019-20 Kemba Walker: 23.5 points, 5.2 assists, 5.3 free-throw attempts, 27.6 usage rate, 56.3 true shooting percentage
- 2018-19 Kyrie Irving: 26.0 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 free-throw-attempts, 34.0 usage rate, 56.1 true shooting percentage
That is close enough that Walker doesn’t represent a drop-off from Irving, which is a win in and of itself.
The bigger victory is Walker’s lower usage. He is a better complement than Irving to all of the pieces around him, a comfier fit that has opened the door for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and, prior to his injury, Gordon Hayward to do more without it feeling forced.
Forty-two percent of Walker’s buckets are coming off assists, a measurable increase from Irving’s 37.3 percent last year. Their average touch time is about the same. Walker is actually controlling the ball for longer and using more dribbles per possession than 2018-19 Kyrie. He’s also burning through fewer frontcourt touches overall, finishing off screens more frequently and operating in isolation much less.
Every little bit helps. Walker’s subtle differences are having a big-time impact. And he’s fit inside the team dynamic without conceding the ridiculous shot-making that fueled last year’s All-NBA case.
Walker is one of four players canning 38 percent of their pull-up threes on five or more attempts, and only six players are matching his crunch-time usage and true shooting through at least five appearances: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Trae Young.
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Barry Gossage/Getty Images
Contract: 2 years, $26.5 million
How the New Orleans Pelicans scooped up JJ Redick on this deal is beyond me. His game continues to defy what we’re supposed to know about the relationship between value and age.
Redick’s efficiency inside the arc has plunged below 40 percent, but he’s still a flamethrower from long distance. He’s shooting 47 percent on 9.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Only one player has ever married this brand of volume and accuracy for an entire season: 2015-16 Stephen Curry.
Many of Redick’s deep balls are coming off the catch, but he’s once again transcending the spot-up-specialist designation ascribed to him long ago. He’s burying a preposterous 46.3 percent of his pull-up triples and scoring at an above-average clip coming off screens. Only three players have jacked more contested threes, on which he’s shooting 42.1 percent.
Spot pick-and-roll initiation is yet again part of Redick’s bag. He’s averaging 1.13 points per possession on these plays, putting him above the 90th percentile for a third consecutive season.
Whether the Pelicans are a genuine postseason threat isn’t yet clear. They clawed their way back within striking distance of the eighth seed, but their schedule is getting tougher and Zion Williamson’s return won’t cure their bottom-five defense.
This is to say, Redick will be a popular trade target once we reach mid-December. Some team will fork over a first-rounder and more for his services. New Orleans is better off resisting those overtures unless Redick becomes visibly disenchanted. His offense is a universal fit and thus timeline-proof, and the Pelicans, along with every other team, could use him if they’re planning to make a postseason push next year.
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Contract: 2 years, $9.8 million
Richaun Holmes entered the Sacramento Kings’ starting lineup five games into their season. He does not have any intention of leaving it.
In the 12 appearances he’s made since, Holmes is averaging 11.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on a ridiculous 69.9 percent true shooting. Sacramento’s net rating improves with him on the court by 17.1 points per 100 possessions, by far the largest swing among the team’s everyday rotation players.
It might be tempting to write off Holmes’ production—or to at least stash him lower on this list. His offense isn’t rooted in the difficult. Almost 80 percent of his made buckets come off assists, and he’s binging on looks around the rim.
But high-percentage scoring should not be conflated with simplicity. Holmes is a whiz at positioning himself around the hoop without short-circuiting the Kings’ spacing and works to beat defenses in the open floor and off screens. He owes his hustle on the offensive glass to no one; he’s grabbing a higher percentage of his team’s misses than Rudy Gobert.
Holmes has also flashed slightly more complicated touch beyond rim runs, put-backs and lob catches. He’s putting down 61.1 percent of his hook shots and shooting 50.0 percent on jumpers. His wheelhouse is larger than it seems.
Sacramento owes Holmes a debt on defense. He still fouls too often and needs to be smarter about battling for position on rebounds and throwing his body into ball-handlers on switches. But opponents are shooting just 55.4 percent when met by him at the basket, and the Kings’ are allowing 4.1 fewer points per 100 half-court plays with him in the lineup, a differential that ranks inside the 76th percentile.
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Contract: 3 years, $103.1 million (2021-22 player option)
Don’t overthink this.
Kawhi Leonard is among the three players—the others being Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James—with equity in the “Best Player Alive” discussion. That the Los Angeles Clippers were able to sign him for less than infinity dollars is a bargain.
Concerns about Leonard’s outside shooting are fair. He’s hitting just 30 percent of his three-pointers, which is unsettling if only because the Clippers are underachieving as a team from behind the rainbow.
Feel free to assume this won’t last. Because, well, it won’t. His effective field-goal percentage is still outperforming his shot quality, according to PBPStats. He’s banging in 40 percent of his wide-open triples, and his shot quality should continue to improve as he gets more reps with Paul George.
Bake in the rest of Leonard’s offensive bag, and his three-point touch, while not ideal, is hardly an issue. He’s still getting to the line at a decent clip, sporting thermonuclear efficiency from mid-range and averaging a career-high 5.5 assists per game.
Expect Leonard’s uptick in passing to persist, even as George eats up some of the volume. The Clippers don’t have a traditional floor general on the roster, so they lean on Leonard as their primary playmaker. Just look at how much time he’s spending as the pick-and-roll ball-handler compared to seasons past:
- 2019-20: 10.1 possessions per game
- 2018-19: 6.3 possessions
- 2017-18 (nine games): 4.4. possessions
- 2016-17: 5.6 possessions
- 2015-16: 2.5 possessions
It was true in July, it’s true now, and it’ll be just as true at the end of this season: Leonard is one of the best offseason acquisitions ever, and the Clippers can’t pay him enough for all he brings to the table.
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Aaron Gash/Associated Press
Contract: 2 years, $9.8 million (2020-21 player option)
Allow me to begin with the player you might be expecting to see here: Harrison Barnes.
His four year, $85 million pact was panned at inception and isn’t earning rave reviews now. The Sacramento Kings paid him like they were the Philadelphia 76ers and he was their Tobias Harris—that fringe star who they could afford to compensate like one because he bolstered their championship case.
Barnes is not that to the Kings. But he is playing well. And unlike the Dallas Mavericks, they’re not miscasting him. They’re paying him to straddle the line between co-star and complement. He’s fully capable of leaking out in transition and raining threes off the catch while dabbling in post-ups and face-ups.
Plus, while Barnes might be overpaid now, his contract unfurls on a declining scale. He has a chance to live up to its value on the back end.
Robin Lopez is much cheaper, his contract much shorter. His fit with the Milwaukee Bucks is also big awkward.
Giving him the green light from three hasn’t helped. Lopez is 7-of-26 from deep (26.9 percent). His offensive diet consists of too many post-ups. He’s shooting 6-of-8 in those situations but has turned the ball over more than 21 percent of the time.
Lopez’s stands at the rim are stingy as ever. Opponents are converting 45.6 percent of their looks at the basket against him, a top-three mark among everyone who’s faced at least 50 such attempts. (Note: The Bucks have two other players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, in the top five.)
This hasn’t equated to macro success. Milwaukee is 9.4 points per 100 possessions better on defense without Lopez, who has been a net negative on offense, as well.
Two-year contracts for the room exception aren’t breaking a franchise. These are also the smaller moves championship teams need to get right.
Lopez won’t be eminently playable in certain matchups and isn’t cracking 14 minutes per game as it stands. He’s certainly an asset for the culture, but assuming he exercises his player option, the Bucks will have intermittently locked themselves into someone who may not work as part of their postseason rotation.
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Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Contract: 2 years, $30.8 million (2020-21 team option)
Insert your favorite “The New York Knicks signed too many power forwards” joke here. Bobby Portis’ issue isn’t his position, per se.
Slightly more than half of his minutes are coming at center, which makes sense. True to the snark, the Knicks signed all the power forwards, and he’s much more of an offensive mismatch at the 5. Stretch bigs are the standard, but he’s splashing in 41.7 percent of his triples, and he can kind of, sort of put the ball down on the floor.
Portis’ utility is capped there.
He doesn’t pass enough out of the post or on his drives to be a featured option, and his defense is a detriment. Opponents aren’t getting to the rim as often when he’s on the floor, but that has more to do with New York giving up a ton of threes. He’s giving up a 67.9 percent conversion rate at the basket, which is actually an improvement over last season’s 71.8 percent mark.
One-year deals are never cataclysmic, and functionally, Portis is an expiring contract. New York can decline his team option next summer and be done with him. That’s not exactly a victory.
Contracts like Portis’ are supposed to be trade chips. He’s played himself out of that territory. His $15 million salary is so egregiously high that the Knicks aren’t moving him unless they’re taking back a bad deal. That means next to nothing when they could’ve gone the bad-money-for-picks route over the summer before they ever went on their short-term spending spree.
Rather than giving Portis any time whatsoever at center, New York should consider ensuring Mitchell Robinson doesn’t rack up so many sub-20-minute outings. He is still fouling too much, but letting him work through the motions does more for their future than playing Portis ever will.
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Ron Hoskins/Getty Images
Contract: 3 years, $29.2 million
Al-Farouq Aminu’s contract is a situational inclusion. He looked out of place on the Orlando Magic from the moment they signed him. The last thing a team stocked with lanky non-shooters needed was another lanky non-shooter.
To be fair, Aminu did knock down 35.3 percent of his treys in the previous four seasons. To be even more fair, he devolved into unplayable by the end of the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2019 playoff run and is hitting just 25.0 percent of his deep looks now.
Other teams could’ve justified forking over the full mid-level exception for Aminu. The Magic were never one of them. Their league-worst offense is even less efficient with him on the court, and his 21.3 minutes per game are his fewest since 2014-15.
Finding time for him won’t get any easier down the road. The Magic don’t have a clear path to beefing up their floor balance this season, and they’ll have redshirt rookie Chuma Okeke, a more dynamic version of Aminu, to groom next year.
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Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Contract: 5 years, $180 million
Tobias Harris is another circumstantial inclusion. His offense has perked up over the past week and a half, and he shouldn’t prove immovable once he becomes trade-eligible.
It helps that Harris’ deal only runs through his age-31 season. The Philadelphia 76ers weren’t the only team that would’ve handed him near-max money over the summer. Certain suitors would still gamble on his fringe stardom at a low enough opportunity cost.
Some endorsement. Harris isn’t merely supposed to be someone the Sixers could maybe, possibly flip for cap relief. (This isn’t to imply they’re considering it.) They’re paying him like a superstar. Granted, their supporting household names afford him some leeway. They’re giving him best-player money without expecting him to be their best player. But he’s falling short of even those adjusted expectations.
At one point this season, he went five straight games without making a three. He’s shooting 50.0 percent from beyond the arc since, but the scars from that cold streak remain. He is now at 30.7 percent from deep overall and has put in just one pull-up triple all season (1-of-15).
Harris hasn’t replaced Jimmy Butler’s late-game scoring, either. His usage rate doesn’t jump significantly in the clutch, and he’s posted a 47.5 true shooting percentage through 10 crunch-time appearances.
Few players on max-ish deals have such straightforward roles. Harris doesn’t need to be a defensive tone-setter or even a No. 1 option. He needs to be a scorer who stretches the defense.
So far, he has most of the scoring down. He’s shooting a career-high 58.3 percent on twos. His outside touch might even be on the come-up. Right now, though, his performance isn’t quite living up to his price point, and that’s a potential problem for a Sixers team locked so tightly into its current core.
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Contract: 4 years, $54 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Terrence Ross’ payday toed the line of tenuous over the summer. Four years is a long time, and $50-plus million is a lot of money for someone who’s always had a JR Smith streakiness about him.
It didn’t take much for the Orlando Magic to defend this deal in the moment. They were bent on remaining competitive after their first playoff berth since 2012, and Ross made himself irreplaceable by season’s end.
From Jan. 1 onward, he averaged 21.9 points and 2.4 assists per 36 minutes while connecting on 38.3 percent of his threes. He never fully helped the Magic navigate Nikola Vucevic’s stints on the bench, but he was a common denominator in the lineups that did tread water. What he lacked in volume at the rim he offset by draining 38.4 percent of his pull-up triples and effectively initiating the occasional pick-and-roll.
Ross’ performance hasn’t carried over into 2019-20.
He’s dropping in 37.8 percent of his treys through his past seven games but still shooting 28.7 percent from downtown for the season. His off-the-bounce jumper isn’t falling. Out of 66 players attempting four or more pull-ups per game, his 39.3 effective field-goal percentage ranks 55th.
There is no way for Ross to overcome a slumping jumper. He doesn’t attack the rim or get to the foul line enough, and his pick-and-roll efficiency has trailed off. Even if he works himself out of this rut—he will—it is painfully clear he doesn’t have the juice to elevate Orlando’s offense without Vucevic.
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Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Contract: 3 years, $26.4 million ($23.9 million guaranteed)
Tyus Jones has the makeup of an ideal backup to Ja Morant. He keeps the rock moving, gets into the ball on defense and has shown he can hit set jumpers.
Time is on Jones’ side—he’s 23 and on a new team—but his first impressions with the Memphis Grizzlies aren’t great. You can’t help but wonder if keeping Delon Wright at a similar price point (three years, $28.1 million) would’ve made more sense.
Wonky shooting splits are part of the Jones experience. Scoring isn’t his first instinct, and he’s never been the most dead-eye jump shooter. His current numbers are something worse. He’s hitting just 17.9 percent of his threes, including an 18.8 percent clip on standstill treys, and converting 35.4 percent of his looks on drives. His 68.4 percent success rate at the foul line is also a career low.
What’s more, the controlled playmaking Jones strung together during his final season with the Minnesota Timberwolves is nowhere to be found. His turnover rate has jumped by more than six percentage points.
Young teams are prone to mistakes. The Grizzlies are nothing if not inexperienced. Only the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls have younger rosters. That matters in the context of everyone’s performances, including Jones’ struggles.
But it doesn’t fully explain them. Memphis paid him like an established backup point guard. He’s yet to meet that bar.
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Will Newton/Getty Images
Contract: 3 years, $37.2 million ($27 million guaranteed)
Select Sacramento Kings fans will push back against Cory Joseph’s inclusion. With only $2.4 million of his salary guaranteed in 2021-22, this deal can be looked at as a two-year, $27 million pact, and he’s proven instrumental to helping them traverse De’Aaron Fox’s absence.
Sacramento’s offensive rating is 12.5 points better per 100 possessions during this stretch with Joseph on the court. He’s still not shooting or scoring at a high clip, but he’s turned in some big playmaking displays.
His defense continues to be solid. The eye test doesn’t quite match up with his on-off splits. He fights over screens and has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.
News flash: He is still waaay overpaid.
View his contract however you please. Two years and $27 million is too much for a backup point guard who’s shooting 20 percent from deep and posting a higher turnover rate than usage rate. He needs to be more efficient, or at least more of a scoring threat, to move down this list.
And even then, so long as he’s on this contract, he’ll never vacate it entirely.
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Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Contract: 4 years, $40 million
DeAndre Jordan never made sense for the Brooklyn Nets. Jarrett Allen is younger and better and, for now, cheaper. Jordan is in Brooklyn because Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decreed it. The Nets did what they needed to do for two of the best stars in the game, but that doesn’t make the big-picture commitment any easier to stomach.
To his credit, Jordan hasn’t been terrible on the surface.
His defensive rebounding rate is above 30 percent for a sixth consecutive season, and the frequency with which rival offenses reach the hoop drops by almost six percentage points with him in the game. Opponents are also shooting 7.2 percentage points below their season average when being challenged by him inside six feet.
This has not translated to tangible defensive value. The Nets are allowing 4.7 more points per 100 possessions with Jordan in the lineup, and as The Ringer’s Dan Devine noted, he has not held up against the brawnier bigs he’s supposed to spare Allen from covering.
Jordan’s place in Brooklyn is even harder to reconcile on offense. He is confined to screening, rolling and put-backs. Allen has more tricks to his game—a hook shot, for instance—and it shows. The Nets offense is taking a nosedive whenever Jordan is in place.
Crummy contracts get more expensive. Jordan is earning roughly mid-level money moving forward. But that’s not nothing to a team without a ton of cap flexibility in the summers to come.
Beyond that, four years of a declining Jordan is a long time.
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Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Contract: 3 years, $40 million ($26.7 million guaranteed)
For Dewayne Dedmon apologists like myself, this cuts to the core.
At no point was his price point a bargain, but it seemed like a savvy gamble by the Sacramento Kings. Dedmon entered last summer’s free-agency period as one of the preeminent floor-spacing rim protectors. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the only player last season who rivaled his defensive rebound, steal and block percentages while making at least 25 three-pointers.
Fast forward to now and Dedmon’s contract is verging on disaster. He’s nailing just 21.6 percent of his threes and barely part of the Kings’ rotation.
The latter is a bigger red flag because it speaks to the depths of his struggles. This isn’t just a matter of Dedmon not making his long balls, as Sactown Royalty’s Tim Maxwell wrote:
“If a shooting slump was the only aspect of Dedmon’s game that was hurting, he would still provide an immense amount of value for this team due to his rebounding and defense, but another problem is currently plaguing his production and eviscerating his on-court effectiveness: turnovers. Although he’s always been a mistake-prone player, typically ranking toward the bottom of centers in turnover rate, Dewayne’s errors have reached an inexcusable level. According to Cleaning the Glass, Dedmon leads the NBA in turnover percentage. Let’s say that again. Dewayne Dedmon leads the NBA in turnover percentage: not James Harden or Luka Doncic or Trae Young or any of the ball-dominant players in the league. Dewayne Dedmon.
“His rate of coughing up the rock has nearly doubled from season to season, increasing from 14.3 percent in his final year with the Hawks to an otherworldly 27.4 percent in Sacramento. For a player who ranks 153rd in usage rate in the league, that simply can’t happen. Perhaps most maddeningly of all is how those turnovers have come about. They’re almost all completely unforced.”
Dedmon is playing up to snuff on defense, and the Kings can treat his contract as a two-year agreement if this funk turns permanent. That helps. It is also of minimal comfort when weighed against who they signed him to be.
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Contract: 3 years, $56.7 million
Terry Rozier isn’t having a terrible start to the season. He also hasn’t been decidedly good. What he is to the Charlotte Hornets remains a mystery.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer put it best: “Terry Rozier is a player who can help the Charlotte Hornets. There’s plenty enough evidence of that in his first 11 games. Precisely what player Rozier should be here is still experimental: How much he should be on the ball. How much he should be off the ball. How much he should play. With whom he is best paired.”
Devonte’ Graham’s ascent has only complicated Rozier’s place in Charlotte. The two are starting together, but who knows if that’ll last. The Hornets are hemorrhaging close to 119 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor.
On the flip side, Charlotte’s defense is a wreck in general. Graham and Rozier have combined for a potent offensive combination. Until the Hornets cobble together better perimeter stoppers, the defensive concessions are worth it.
That still doesn’t help clarify Rozier’s role. Partnering with Graham has diluted his prominence. Their usage rates are about dead even in those minutes, but Graham has entrenched himself as the primary playmaker. He leads the team in total touches and possession time by a comfortable margin.
Spending more time off the ball isn’t a bad thing for Rozier. He’s burying 48.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples, and his off-the-bounce jumper isn’t falling anyway. Among everyone who has attempted 75 or more pull-ups, his 38.1 effective field-goal percentage is the third-lowest, in front of only Collin Sexton and Russell Westbrook.
This is part of the issue. The Hornets didn’t pay Rozier to complement Graham or to plan around his limitations. He’s supposed to be their offensive main course. That he’s so obviously surrendered ground looks like the smart basketball play, but it does nothing to soften perception of his sticker price.
Nor does it make him comparable to Harrison Barnes, the career accessory who is being paid, again, like a star. Barnes has been miscast in the past, but the Sacramento Kings knew what they were getting when they signed him, and he’s shown more as a self-sustaining scorer when afforded the volume.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Tuesday’s games. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, RealGM and Spotrac.