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Grades for the Biggest Deals in Free Agency (Part 2)

Josh Smith

 (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Contract: One year, $1.5 million

2014 Stats: 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 14.9 PER

At this point in Smith’s career, the value LA will get for the money SHOULD be crazy good.

But any true NBA fan knows that Josh Smith is an enigma. He has all the size needed, is a decent defender, and can play multiple positions. But he only makes a small clip of the large amount of shots he chucks up, and he is one of the biggest liabilities at the free throw line in basketball right now. I’ll have these 3 stats do the work:

  • He averaged 41% from the field over the last 3 seasons with Pistons and Rockets
  • 15 attempts per game over that time
  • 51% from the line

Despite these discouraging numbers, the Clippers won’t be playing him enough for his weaknesses to affect wins and losses. They’ll give him spot minutes if an opposing forward has a hot hand and a bigger, more athletic defender is needed. Against a small lineup? He can grab some important rebounds.

But Paul Pierce will do much of the shooting. The 37 year old’s role will further diminish Smith’s after an impressive performance as a stretch four in the playoffs last year.

This signing makes the Clippers deeper, but is there enough talent and chemistry at the top of the roster for a championship? We’ll see.

Grade: C+

Roy Hibbert Trade (A Deep Look)

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Pacers Get: 2019 second-round pick and cash

Lakers Get: Hibbert

Contract: One year left, $15.5 million

2014 Stats: 1.84 points saved per game, 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds

My first reaction to this under-the-radar swap? A big win for the 2016 Lakers, considering their performance in free agent negotiations with more decorated players, and the fact that this only costs them a future second-rounder and some cash.

For once a Lakers offseason was not shaping out to be better than the 82 games before it. This was a last ditch effort to get some defense, at any position, after missing out on Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan.

Hibbert is well known as a rim protector at the center position, and that is his only meal ticket right now. His offensive game is extremely streaky. Even when he’s making shots, it’s usually around or below the league average at his position.

The stat most Hibbert-supporters use to explain why he is worth $15 million a pop is his OFG% at the rim. The big man ranks 4th in that stat from a year ago (click on the photo to view a larger version):

Via nba.com/stats
Via nba.com/stats

Only some of the names at the top of that list are known as truly elite defenders. Gobert and Bogut? Sure. But Favors? Not really.

Rim protectors are highly-sought after in this league, and rightfully so. But as the 2015 Warriors showed us, a Finals can be won with no one taller than 6’8” on the court.

The Lakers were second-to-last in defensive efficiency last season, and sorely need help. Drafting Deangelo Russell is one of the worst draft decisions this year, in my opinion. Jordan Clarkson is already there (looking great too, by the way), and Okafor/Cauley-Stein were still on the board. Grabbing a big man may have attracted some of the better free agent guards, like Wesley Matthews or Monta Ellis. But I digress.

Lets look at the stats that I like better than OFG% at the rim — Points Saved/36 Min and Contest%:

Via nyloncalculus.com
Via nyloncalculus.com

Only allowing 40% of shots to go in when a you are at the rim is all well and good, but how many points do you actually save by doing so? A less average amount of points for each opposing team during an 82 game season can really add up.

Rudy Gobert was at the top of almost every defensive stat last season, so it’s a given that he is #1 by a large margin in this one. But Utah had the BEST DEFENSE in the NBA last season by points allowed, which unfairly gives Gobert a boost by playing for a team that didn’t allow many players to get within five feet of the rim. If he was facing a larger sample size, his rating would most likely go down.

The same fact applies to Hibbert; the Pacers were eighth in team defensive efficiency last season (despite lots of injuries to their best players, it was really a great job by Vogel) and had some other great interior defenders like Ian Mahimi.

What we really want to measure is how frequently a player contests shots at the rim relative to the number of possible attempts. Let’s look at Contest%:

Via nyloncalculus.com
Via nyloncalculus.com

Uh oh, where did Hibbert go? Gobert slides down to four, while Bogut is only player with over 60% of shots contested. So which stat is more useful for evaluation? Contest% says that a guy is there, making the effort to stop the shot from going in, against an average amount of attempts. This takes a lot of the team-relative bias out of the calculation.

There are flaws in this stat, though. Hibbert is 10th in Contest% last season, behind players like Chris Kaman and Miles Plumlee. Remember that rim protection is only a portion of a big man’s defensive impact – pick-and-roll coverage, rebounding, individual post defense, and ability to get back in transition are all bigger pieces of the puzzle.

Guys like Chris Kaman give all of their value in rim protection, while posting lackluster numbers in offense (he scored 8.6 PPG in 2014) and rebounding (6.5 RPG). The 33 year-old has bounced around the league while playing inconsistent minutes as both a backup and a starter.

But this IS, in my opinion, the best way to evaluate a big man in one stat.  Based on Contest%, Hibbert will be an upgrade over whatever stump the Lakers in front of the rim last season. But is he worth the $15.5 million LA will pay him next year? Based on their current roster, it’s tough to tell.

Grade: B

DeAndre Jordan

Via imgfreak.net
Via imgfreak.net

Contract: 4 years, $87.6 million

2014 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 15 RPG, 21.05 PER

I won’t be explaining all that went on with Jordan snubbing the Mavericks; it was the most embarrassing NBA saga since the blocked Chris Paul trade. I gave his signing with Dallas a B- in Part 1 of this article series, citing that the title hopes were not as bright in Dallas as they are in LA.

But truly, the Clippers’ chances of winning a championship with Jordan in their entourage don’t go up by much more.

DeAndre Jordan, unlike Hibbert, is a “rebound-first-then-play-defense-big-man.” He averaged 15 boards last year, which shot his PER up to 28th in the NBA. But if he didn’t rebound, his value would plummet. He struggles to score on his own, and 60% of his made shots last year came off of passes from Chris Paul.

That’s why I was afraid for him in Dallas; new point guard Deron Williams has been on a steady downfall since leaving Utah, and he scores almost twice as much (13 ppg in 2014) as he assists.

LA made some other smart signings:

  • Cole Aldrich (3rd in Contest% last season)
  • Wesley Johnson, an athletic energizer to back up Paul Pierce
  • Lance Stephenson to bring some tenacity to their perimeter defense
  • Paul Pierce, to stretch the floor, hit the big shot, and provide wisdom

The frontcourt was very thin before the Josh Smith signing, and like I said before — depth is the biggest plus from that contract.

If Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jordan, and all of these other supporting pieces had just signed this year, I would say that the Clippers had an awesome chance up usurping the Spurs or Warriors and making a Finals appearance. But the big three have been there for three years, and haven’t made it past the first round.

The new names may seem like a huge plus, but the stats say otherwise. Stephenson was HORRID offensively last season with the Hornets, and Smith improved slightly with the Rockets — but is still his old self. Pierce can hit the big shot, but can he stay healthy and defend other athletic small forwards for the whole year?

But from a bigger perspective, this signing saves the Clippers. Cole Aldrich would be the only other center on the roster without it, and the other forwards aren’t exactly rebounders.

Grade: A+

Rajon Rondo

**Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports**
Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

Contract: One year, $9.5 million

2014 Stats: 8.9 PPG, 7.9 APG, 5.5 APG

Plain and simple, the Mavericks were a bad fit. There weren’t enough shooters and too many ball-handlers for Rondo to get comfortable in the system. His tarnished relationship with head coach Rick Carlisle certainly didn’t help. This signing was under-hyped because of that half-year in Dallas; this is truly a season-shifting move for the Kings.

Whatever Rondo didn’t have in Dallas, he has now. A dominant center that can score from almost anywhere on the floor in DeMarcus Cousins. A long, athletic small forward that can shoot and drive in Rudy Gay. A plethora of shooters in Marco Belinelli, Ben McLeMore, Omri Casspi, and James Anderson. There are so many options for Rondo when he dribble-drives — leave off to Cousins on the pick-and-pop, give it to him on the roll, pass out to shooters, let Gay isolate, take it himself — the list goes on.

Here’s a comparison between Rondo, Collison, and Chris Paul (click on the photo to view a larger version):

Via basketballreference.com
Via basketballreference.com

Kosta Koufos will be an awesome backup for Cousins, just like he was for Gasol in Memphis. His contact is also very cap friendly — 4 years, $33 million. That is low considering how high the cap will go in a couple years.

Cauley-Stein was a very intelligent pick. He can give you defense at the power forward and center positions, and will be needed at both. Defending athletic forwards like Jabari Parker is a must in this league now.

All of these assets will have their production jump with Rondo on the team. Collison, the starter last year, is a better fit coming off the bench. He was decent against starters, but will rip up opposing backup points.

Rondo has struggled at defense and at the line. As a whole, this team will struggle defensivly to start. If they can work as a unit and find a system that works for them, all the assets are there for a top-15 defense.

Rondo will be helped on pick-and-rolls with Koufos and Cauley-Stein back there; that athletic frontcourt is something he didn’t have in Dallas and for those last couple years in Boston.

This signing makes the Kings a threat to grab that 8 or 7 seed, all while being one of the more interesting teams to watch on the court this year.
Grade: B

Grant Thomas View All

18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.

One thought on “Grades for the Biggest Deals in Free Agency (Part 2) Leave a comment

  1. Love the article and how you brought an educated argument to the table for these players, especially easily dismissible ones like Hibbert and Rondo. But I do want to ask sir, why you didn’t get a late-signing player in that you don’t like as much? Is there any free agent signing you’re not high on?

    Like

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