Measuring the value of 2010 free agents

The first round of reported free agency signings have come in, summed up nicely by Brian over at Depressed Fan.  Taking a look, who got their moneys worth, how does it compare to Andre Iguodala, and is Iguodala really being paid like a #1 option ?

Graphic below, with an explanation of what the columns represent.  Click on the image for a larger, more legible, version.

Player: duh 
million: Total, in millions of dollars, remaining on the contract. 
years: Years remaining on the contract 
$/y: Average cost per year of the remaining years on the contract 
win shares/y: Win shares generated by the player during the 2009-2010 season. 
ws/48/82: Win shares per minute, extrapolated out over if the player played every minute of every game of the 2009-2010 season.  This is not meant to represent that the player could actually do this (Wilt doesn't play anymore), but to put an equal footing to demonstrate how effective the player was on a per-minute basis. 
$/win share: Cost, in millions, for each win share the player generated during the 2009-2010 season. 
cost per ws/48/82: Cost, in millions, for each win share the player generated if he played for the entire season during the 2009-2010 season

Cost-per-winshares_medium 

Thoughts and explanations after the jump.

Why include both cost per win share and cost per win share per minute?  The graphic above is sorted by win shares per minute, but that shouldn't be interpreted as being the more meaningful of the two.

 

In my opinion, neither one can be used as definitive proof in a vacuum.  Cost per win share undervalues players who should see an increase in playing time over the previous year, either because of an increased role or due to missing less time from injury.  

Similarly, Win Shares per minute overvalues players who play limited minutes and undervalues players who are relied upon to log big minutes, and doesn't give value to players who are able to stay healthy.  Generally speaking, when players are asked to make significant increases in playing time, their per-minute productivity is prone to suffer.  WS per minute gives players with smaller minutes a chance to compete on an even playing field, but the pendulum could swing a little too far in the other direction as well.

I also included Iguodala's career average and his previous two years as well as just his last season's average.  Why?  Last year was a down year for Iguodala, and he did not produce at the level he had the previous two years.  Was this due to a decline in Iguodala's game?  Probably not.  Going forward, I think it's safe to say that Iguodala is capable of producing, at the very least, near the 0.122 win shares per 48 minute level he has over the course of his career, and possibly closer to the 0.134->0.143 level he had the previous two years.  Will he produce at that level?  Perhaps not, since his role will be diminished this year with the addition of Evan Turner and the increased role of Jrue Holiday.  But I think he's capable, and that's the key.  Iguodala also takes a slight hit because, unlike the other players listed, he's already two years into his contract, and thus his per-year average salary is slightly inflated as his contract escalates.

What you see here is, generally, the guys asked to play the most minutes are also the guys you get the least bang for the buck on.  Iguodala was a slightly better value, on a per-win share basis, than Joe Johnson, and significantly better value than Rudy Gay.  If Iguodala returns to his previous two years form, he becomes significantly better value.

The one anomaly is John Salmons, who performed at a significantly higher rate last year in Milwaukee than he did at any point during his career, despite playing a large role and logging heavy minutes.  His rate of 0.165 win shares per 48 minutes was by far the best of his career, far higher than his career average of 0.079 and significantly better than his previous career best of 0.121 during 2008-2009.  Can you expect him to replicate that?  Probably not.  Still, he should be good value for the Bucks.

Age is another factor.  Joe Johnson recently turned 29, and will be approaching his mid-30's as his contract escalates to outrageous prices.  There's a far better chance that Iguodala maintains his productivity through the remaining years of his deal than Johnson does.  On the other end of the spectrum is Gay, who while only currently 23 could have room to improve.  While he still likely be overpaid?  Probably.

I'll update this once free agency has been completed, or at least when the majority of the big tickets have signed.

Conclusions:

  • Iguodala really isn't being paid like a #1 option, and his production is in line with the value he does bring, and due to his age he should remain productive for the duration of his contract.  
  • Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson are both being drastically overpaid, with Joe Johnson likely to be a sunk cost in his later years, and Rudy Gay needing a tremendous amount of improvement to be fair value for his production.  
  • John Salmons is unlikely to maintain his current productivity, but should represent good value regardless.  Darko would have to play significantly more minutes to be worth his contract.  
  • On first glance Gooden's contract seems fair, but his productivity last year was far ahead of his career norms, and a regression to the norm is likely, which would place him drastically overpaid.  
  • If Amir Johnson maintains his per-minute productivity of 2009-2010, which may be unlikely, he could be worth his contract even while keeping a backup role.
  • Even if Gooden, Darko and Amir Johnson live up to their contracts from a strictly numerical standpoint, these are fungible players that can be easily replaced, and locking them into long term contracts -- particularly just before the reworking of the CBA -- is a move their teams will regret.
For an explanation of the calculation of Win Shares and Win Shares/48, visit Basketball-Reference's glossary page.
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