In this essay I propose a simple 0-to-5 star rating system for NBA assets. Then I apply that system to the assets owned by the Philadelphia 76ers. Of course, there will be players and picks whose value/number of stars is debatable; indeed that’s where much of the fun comes in! But if we can come close to consensus on the ratings, this will be a useful tool as we can then, for example, compare the Sixers to other teams in terms of their total asset value. Note that a team could have higher asset value and a much worse team, since, for example, a high-quality stashed player might be a valuable asset but contribute nothing to wins this year.
So, here’s the system. The first thing to understand is that, just as a local diner might be a terrific place to eat but will still receive zero stars in the famous Michelin restaurant guide — indeed the vast majority of restaurants, even good restaurants, get zero stars — similarly most NBA players are zero-star players, and that doesn’t mean they’re useless. It just means that, under normal circumstances, they won’t be considered as adding meaningful value in a major trade. More on this below.
5 stars: Superstar player or young player who is already very good and is expected to be a superstar. Jimmy Butler is a 5-star asset; he is a superstar. Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum are 5-star assets, they are not playing like superstars yet but they are both very good now and are both expected to be elite players in their prime, or sooner. Arguably there should be a “6-star” category for super-duper-stars like LeBron; in my view currently LeBron, Steph Curry, and perhaps KD and Harden and Anthony Davis could be placed in this group, Kawhi is clearly in it if he returns to his pre-injury level of play. Joel Embiid and Giannis and also Jokic are arguably in the 6-star-asset group, as their combination of youth and already being awesome creates enormous value. For now I’m just going up to 5 stars and not sweating this distinction.
4 stars: To be a four star asset while in or past his prime, a player must be in or around the top 30 players in basketball, basically the guys who would make the All-Star team if the All-Star team took defense and offense into account in proper proportion. To merit 4 stars as an asset such a player must also be fairly paid or underpaid. A young player is a 4-star asset if he is good now and very likely to ascend to that All-Star level, or if he isn’t good yet but is almost sure to be a star and has a bit of superstar potential. 4-star players in their prime are top 30, guys like Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson. Young 4-star assets would be folks who are likely to be stars and also have at least a little superstar potential, and guys who are already pretty much stars or unheralded stars. Gary Harris and Kristaps Porzingis, say (I know some would say KP is a 5-star but I disagree!). Also, draft picks post-lottery that are known to be near the very top, say top 3 in a weak draft or top 5 in a strong draft like last year’s, or draft picks pre-lottery for a team that has finished with one of the very worst records.
3 stars: 3-star assets include minor-star players in their prime, say top 50 or so but not top 30. Of course, contract plays a role here too, an overpaid player of 3-star quality could be a 2- or even 1-star asset; a 3-star player on a real bargain deal could be a 4-star asset. Young three-star assets are players with a good shot to be real, top 30 stars, probably together with a high floor as solid starters. A three-star in his prime might be Eric Gordon. A young three-star asset might be Dennis Smith, Jr. Also, draft picks likely to be in the lottery and with some chance of being top 5, like the Memphis pick Boston now holds, are 3-star assets.
2 stars: Two-star assets include non-star quality starters, draft picks expected to be in the middle of the first round, and young players who might be stars someday but who probably won’t. An established 2-star asset is someone like Andre Roberson. A young 2-star player might be OG Anunoby
1 star: A one-star asset is a draft pick almost sure to be late in the first round, a young player with the potential eequivalent to such a pick, or a player in his prime who is at the level of a below-average starter, with a reasonably team-friendly contract. A one-star player in his prime could be, say, Darren Collison. A young one-star player might be, well, anyone just taken in the last few picks of the first round that just occurred.
0 stars: Zero star assets are everything else; i.e. second-round picks, young players with potential to be rotation guys someday, quality bench players in their prime on fair contracts, etc. Again, these can be important components of a successful team, but in general other teams have their own version of these assets, and so you usually can’t get any value for yours, because they’d be losing not only the draft pick they give you in return, but also the player they’ll have to cut to make room for the guy you’re giving them.
I’m not counting potential cap space as an asset as all the serious teams are at/near the cap right now so I’d have to do it based on cap space after this season and I’m just not sure how to approach that problem. Let’s just say the fact that if the Sixers stand pat and other teams do as well, we’ll have $42M of cap space and some others won’t is a strategic advantage of considerable size, probably worth at least a 4-star asset in expectation.
5 star (2): Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons. Any questions?
4 stars (1): Markelle Fultz. Markelle’s situation is in flux; on Halloween Day he could be up to a five-star asset, or down as low as 2. But for now he is a young player with real superstar potential, cost-controlled for many years, so although he has not proved himself yet, he still deserves 4 stars.
3 star (3): Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Miami 2021 pick. I personally believe Robert Covington is a 4-star asset, a top-30 player on a bargain long-term contract. But I know that if I give him four stars and Dario three, that will be the only thing in the article anyone notices! And while I see these ratings as primarily being ratings of “true” value, I can’t completely overlook the realities of the NBA, which are that certain skills are valued by executives league-wide. So, if I think CJ McCollum is a hugely negative asset, a slightly-above-average player with a monster contract, but the league thinks he’s a valuable asset, well then he has trade value even if he’s actually a disaster, from a roster-building perspective, to have on your team. And so maybe he’s a one-star or even two-star asset, since he’s “really” a negative but is perceived as a three-star. Or something. In any case, similar logic applies to underrated players like Cov; if he puts up another +4 season this year I’m raising him to 4 stars no matter what others say, but for now his undrafted status plus the underrating of defense plus his poor playoff performance mean he is underappreciated, and so I’ll have him at three. As to the others, there’s a case that we’re all being homers about Dario; an outsider looking at the numbers might argue he’s a two star. And I suppose there’s a chance his 39% from 3 was a fluke and he regresses to the mid-30s, in which case they’ll be right. But I believe in his talent and work ethic and will keep him at 3. As to the draft pick, it is elevated by the fact that, a), people think that 2021 is likely a “double draft,” and, b), it’s literally the only unprotected pick in the entire NBA not held by its original team. Without those two considerations it would be a two-star asset.
2 stars (1): Zhaire Smith. I predict that very soon, maybe as soon as this Fall, he’ll be a 3-star but he needs to show why he was a steal at pick 16 before I can move him up.
1 star (10): JJ Redick, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonah Bolden, Landry Shamet, TJ McConnell, Nemanja Bjelica, Amir Johnson, Sixers 2019-2021 first-round picks
I didn’t include picks past 2021 as picks that far out are rarely traded; obviously those are assets too.
The basic things one could argue about here are, first, should JJ be two stars and, second, should any of the others be zero stars? On JJ, I think it’s a pretty clear “no,” I mean, if someone thought he was worth $12M plus a late-first-round pick, someone would have offered him significantly more than we did. On the others, the most controversial is probably Amir. Go ahead and write him off if you must; last year, as in every other year of his career, his RPM or similar was higher than that of most starting NBA centers. When he was on the court last year, we had the best defense in basketball, 101 defensive rating. Ponder that a moment; with Joel off the floor (I believe they played not one single minute together), we had the best defense in the league as long as Amir was playing. If we’d gotten him for $5M I’d have to give him 0 stars, but to get a starting-caliber center while using zero cap space is valuable. Jonah Bolden’s value is probably a little short of late-first-round but it’s close and I gave him the benefit of the doubt; so sue me! Bjelica is a tough call but lots of teams wanted him on the room exception deal, he is of average-starter quality, if we had him for 3 years at that price he’d be a no-brainer 1-star; on a 1-year deal it’s a close call. Furkan was drafted late first, has matured two years, and still has three years left on his cheap rookie contract; he has legit late-first value to the right team. TJ is another tough one, especially with only one cheap year left. In tight cases I’m inclined to call someone a 1 not a 0.
0-star assets worth mentioning so you know I didn’t forget them: Antiks Pasecniks, Wilson Chandler, TLC, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Jerryd Bayless, Mathias Lessort, Shake Milton
Not much to talk about here. Just as there are probably a million songs that are somebody’s favorite song, there is probably, for each player listed here, at least one person reading who thinks I’m crazy to give that guy zero stars. But I think it’s pretty clear that none of these players would draw a first-round pick in a trade right now, not even the #30 pick, not even close. Arguably only Milton and Holmes are even worth a second, maybe AP too but I’m not sure.
As so many have said on clear moonless nights: let’s count the stars! Certainly we can add them up. If I were really clever, I’d have designed the star levels so that two two-star players are worth a four-star, a one and a four make a five, etc. Superstars are so insanely valuable that it won’t work the way I’ve done it. The closest I can come that isn’t absurd on its face, or at least not too absurd, would be to double the value for each extra star. That is:
- 1 star = 1 point
- 2 stars = 2 points
- 3 stars = 4 points
- 4 stars = 8 points
- 5 stars = 16 points
I’m not going to even try to defend that; are 8 JJ Redicks plus 8 Landry Shamets worth one Joel Embiid? The comparison is absurd. Still, if we work harder to compare like to like, it doesn’t sound all that crazy. Klay and Kemba for Butler? Not so far out of line, right? JJ, Bolden and Zhaire worth about as much as Dario? Again, not a million miles off the mark I’d say. Anyway, it’s my article so I’ve decided to add them up this way. Points are boring, so let’s name the unit of account, which is the value of a late first round pick that either hasn’t been used, or, if it’s a player now, has yet to be tested and shown to lack star upside. I dub this unit the “shamet.” The Sixers have:
- 2*16 = 32 shamets for our 5-star assets, Ben and Joel
- 1*8 = 8 shamets for Markelle’s 4 stars
- 3*4 = 12 shamets for our three-star assets, Dario, Cov, and Miami 2021
- 1*2 = 2 shamets for Zhaire
- 10*1 = 10 shamets for our passel of one-star assets
- Total: 64 shamets
If people like this idea, let me know and we can do some other teams that are interesting. I’ll try to do Boston off the top of my head; of course I don’t have all their assets memorized as it’s not my team, and it goes without saying that I have some idiosyncratic views on the C’s; in particular I think Kyrie Irving is a fine player but a normal fine player like Kemba, not a superstar as many others think. But anyway, here goes:
- 5 star = Tatum, 16*1 = 16 points
- 4 star = Irving, Heyward, Horford, Brown, SAC pick; wow!; 8*5 = 40 points
- 3 star = Memphis pick; 1*4 = 4
- 2 star = Rozier; 1*2 = 2
- 1 star = Robert Williams, Ojeleye, Baynes, Theis, Smart; Clippers pick, 3 Boston picks 9*1 = 9
A month ago I’d have said the SAC pick is a 3-star; after all SAC has no incentive to tank so they should easily avoid the bottom 10. But the moves they are making cause me to wonder if they have a side deal in place to deliberately be terrible in order to help out Boston! So I now feel obligated to give it 4 stars.
Al Horford played like a superstar last year, but he’s in his 30s, he’s paid a ton, and while he’s always been good it’s the first time he’s been that good, so I think he’s a clear 4-star. Certainly he should be either tied with Covington or one star ahead, not two ahead.
Some tough calls on the one-stars; they may not resign Smart or they may pay so much he’s no longer a positive asset but I think the Leprechaun will come through and they’ll get to keep him cheap. Baynes just signed for a supposedly market wage but he is good and underpaid so I say he’s an asset. Theis and Semi are young and cheap and good; it’s possible they are 0-star but I’m erring on the side of giving close 0/1 calls a break, as I did with the Sixers.
That gives Boston 71 shamets. The bad news is, they’re ahead of us. The good news is, probably they’re the only team other than Golden State that is! My guess is that there are plenty of teams who total like 20 or 30 shamets. Like, take Phoenix, everyone talks about how awesome their young core is. But I see something like:
- 5 star: none
- 4 star: Booker, Ayton, 2*8 = 16
- 3 star: Josh Jackson, Phoenix 2019 pick, 2*4 = 8
- 2 star: Mikal Bridges, 2020 and 2021 Phoenix picks, 3*2 = 6
- 1 star: Bender, Chriss, Warren, Ariza, 4*1 = 4
Total: 34 shamets
Please don’t tell me Devin Booker is a 5; he’s currently a mediocre player, but he’s so young, and the thing he’s good at, shooting and scoring, is so important I accept he has an excellent chance at legit stardom and some chance at superstardom. But players who have played three seasons and still not had one where they were good don’t get 5 stars in my system! Indeed, with his new contract for over $25 million a year, there’s an argument that Booker is not a positive asset at all. He is unlikely to play well enough next season to be a good deal at that price. By the last couple years of the five-year deal, his game may be sufficiently advanced to merit that kind of compensation. But it’s not a sure thing, and even if he is, it may well be that he wasn’t worth that much of the life of the contract. So personally I would rate him a lot lower than four stars, but I know that I’m bucking consensus here, so I will bow to the conventional wisdom.
Anyway, I haven’t done the work yet on other teams; if anyone wants to estimate some in comments, that’d be fun for me to read! Lakers, anyone?! Let’s count the stars, and the shamets!