What are these guys worth? (Part 1)

You know you’ve made a fair deal when both parties think they got screwed.

It’s that time of year again. Restricted free agents from the class of 2004 (Emeka Okafor, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, etc.) are being wooed by teams that are hoping to make them an offer that their current team won’t match. Likewise, players from the class of 2005 (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut, etc.) can negotiate extensions with their respective teams that will keep them off the free agent market for the foreseeable future.

These negotiations are a battle of will and expectations. The player’s job (via his agent) is usually to squeeze as much money out of the team as he can. The team’s job is to sign the player to a contract that is a good value for the team. Naturally, the player’s camp brings up all the positives about the player while the franchise has to balance this with the player’s negatives to try to convince the agent (or the player) that they aren’t worth what they’re asking. Teams that repeatedly bow to players’ demands are sure to find themselves in salary cap hell before too long.

So in an effort to predict a market value for these players, I am going to take a look at their total value – performance (John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating), age and potential – and try to come up with a yearly salary that fits with what other players of their caliber are making. I’ll list comparable players and their average salaries over the spans of their current contracts.

Let’s start with the class of 2004. These players are free to sign offer sheets from other teams, but their current team can (and usally do) match those offers. These are players that unsuccessfully negotiated extensions last summer, and since many NBA teams are reluctant to extend an offer to a restricted free agent, most of these players are likely to play out the final year of their rookie contract and become unrestricted free agents next summer.

Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Al Jefferson and Kevin Martin took care of their extensions last year, while Beno Udrih just recently re-signed with the Kings. Here are the other big names, in their original draft order…


Emeka Okafor, FC, Charlotte Bobcats
Age: 25
PER: 17.46
Comparables: Rasheed Wallace ($13.7 M), Zach Randolph ($16.0 M), Rashard Lewis ($20.5 M), Chris Wilcox ($6.8 M), Lamar Odom ($14.6 M), Chris Kaman ($10.9 M), Tyson Chandler ($11.4 M)

Okafor’s value is kind of tough to pin down. He’s more of a center-type, but he and the Bobcats want to play him at power forward. His comparables are all over the board, but the two guys who most resemble his game (and don’t have outrageous contracts) are Kaman and Chandler. Like those guys, Okafor is a double-double guy with decent (but not great) offensive skills. Okafor turned down a five-year, $60 million contract last summer, but that’s right in line with his value.
Value: $12.0 M – $12.5 M per year

Ben Gordon, SG, Chicago Bulls
Age: 25
PER: 16.52
Comparables: Richard Hamilton ($11.0 M), Mike Dunleavy ($9.8 M), Joe Johnson ($14.6 M), Mike Miller ($9.4 M), Jamal Crawford ($9.4 M), Leandro Barbosa ($6.6 M)

Last summer, Gordon turned down an extension worth $50 million over five years, which was a fair offer from the Bulls. At 6’3”, Gordon is small for a shooting guard, so he has trouble covering bigger off guards on the defensive end. He’s a terrific scorer, however. Of these comparables, I’d only rather have Hamilton, Johnson and maybe Miller, so I’d say that Gordon’s value is a bit more than what the Bulls offered him last summer.
Value: $10.5 M – $11.0 M per year

Josh Childress, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Age: 25
PER: 17.84
Comparables: Josh Howard ($10.9 M), Ron Artest ($8.5 M), Hedo Turkoglu ($6.9 M), Gerald Wallace ($9.5 M)

Childress continues to fly under the radar for three main reasons: 1) he plays with Josh Smith, 2) he comes off the bench and 3) he’s a jack of all trades and a master of none. His value is depressed because he doesn’t play as many minutes as his comparables, but at 30 minutes per game, he’s only averaging 5-8 fewer minutes that the rest of these guys. Given all the facts, it is unlikely that he’ll sign for his true value, so some lucky team is going to get a nice deal at some point in the next 12 months.
Value: $8.5 M – $9.5 M per year

Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls
Age: 23
PER: 17.07
Comparables: Josh Howard ($10.9 M), Ron Artest ($8.5 M), Hedo Turkoglu ($6.9 M), Gerald Wallace ($9.5 M), Richard Jefferson ($14.1 M)

Like Gordon, Deng turned down a five-year extension worth $50 million, so it’s clear that his camp feels that he has more value than all of his comparables save Jefferson. Deng is a scorer, so his profile is subsequently higher than a guy like Josh Childress. With his name coming up in all the Kobe trade talk, he had a disappointing season, so the perception is he’ll bounce back (though I’d argue that he showed a lack of mental toughness by not playing through that). Plus, at 23, he’s younger than most of the guys on this list, so there is still a lot of upside in his game.
Value: $11.0 M – $12.0 M per year

Andre Iguodala, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
Age: 24
PER: 19.05
Comparables: Paul Pierce ($19.8 M), Josh Howard ($10.9 M), Ron Artest ($8.5 M), Hedo Turkoglu ($6.9 M), Gerald Wallace ($9.5 M), Richard Jefferson ($14.1 M)

Iggy stuffs the stat sheet for a mediocre team, so the Sixers are probably wise to let him test the market a bit. Popular opinion is that he’s not going to be a talent on the same level as Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant, so a max deal should be out of the question. The Bucks went through something similar with Michael Redd a few years back… just because a guy is the best player on his team doesn’t make him a franchise (or a max) player. Iggy turned down a $57 M extension, so it’s clear that he has a lot of confidence in himself.
Value: $12.0 M – $13.0 M per year

Andris Biedrins, C, Golden State Warriors
Age: 22
PER: 19.18
Comparables: Chris Kaman ($10.9 M), Tyson Chandler ($11.4 M)

Biedrins’ value is another tough one to pin down. The Warriors play at a very high pace so his numbers (10.5 points, 9.8 rebounds) are a little inflated. He’s not a guy you can give the ball to on the block and expect him to score. He’s more like Chandler in that he’s going to get his points off put backs, which is why his FG% (63%) is so high. He’s young for his class, which adds to his upside, but one wonders if he’ll ever develop a low post game. I’d rather have Kaman or Chandler, and I don’t know where else Biedrins averages a double-double, so I don’t think he deserves a deal averaging more than $10 M per season.
Value: $8.0 M – $9.0 M per year (buyer beware)

Josh Smith, F, Atlanta Hawks
Age: 22
PER: 19.08
Comparables: David West ($9.1 M), Antawn Jamison ($12.5 M), Zach Randolph ($16.0 M)

Teams are drooling over Smoov’s potential, and they should be. He’s just 22 and is already in the top 40 in PER. For their part, the Hawks have said they will match any offer, but Atlanta’s fractured ownership has a few teams wondering if the Hawks would balk at a max (or a near-max) contract. Is he worth it? I don’t think it’s a no-brainer. His accuracy from long-range and from the charity stripe hasn’t improved over the last three seasons and his FG% (46%) isn’t great for a guy who gets so many dunks. The Hawks offered him $45 million last summer and he (wisely) turned it down. Barring injury, he’s going to get much more either this season or next.
Value: $13.0 M – $14.0 M per year

J.R. Smith, SG, Denver Nuggets
Age: 22
PER: 18.15

Comparables: Richard Hamilton ($11.0 M), Mike Dunleavy ($9.8 M), Joe Johnson ($14.6 M), Mike Miller ($9.4 M), Jamal Crawford ($9.4 M), Leandro Barbosa ($6.6 M)
Smith’s situation is similar to Gordon’s, only he’s three years younger, three inches taller and has a reputation for clashing with coaches and getting in trouble off the court. He has all the offensive ability to be a great off guard in the NBA, but his commitment to defense has been questioned and this, coupled with his bad rep, severely depresses his value around the league.
Value: $6.5 M – $7.5 M per year (buyer beware)

Delonte West, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Age: 24
PER: 12.13
Comparables: Leandro Barbosa ($6.6 M), Beno Udrih ($6.0 M), Jameer Nelson ($6.7 M)

Looking at these comparables, it seems like it would be easy to gauge West’s value. The only problem is that, for the season, West didn’t play as well as Nelson or Barbosa, and I think the Kings overspent on Udrih. West had a PER of 15.11 in his second season with the Celtics and showed similar flashes once he showed up in Cleveland. He’s an injury risk, but I think the Cavs would be wise to lock him up to a less than mid-level deal.
Value: $4.0 M – $5.0 M per year

Sasha Vujacic, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Age: 24
PER: 15.06
Comparables: Leandro Barbosa ($6.6 M), Anthony Parker ($4.6 M), John Salmons ($5.5 M)

The main thing that Vujacic brings is shooting (44% from long range). He is bad off the dribble and can’t do much else offensively. Defensively, he brings a lot of energy, but as Ray Allen proved in the Finals, Sasha doesn’t make great decisions when fighting through screens. The Lakers should be careful here as they are probably bidding against themselves, and history has proven that they don’t do a very good job when they’re in that situatoin. (Exhibit A: Luke Walton’s six-year, $30 million deal.)
Value: $3.0 M – $3.5 M per year

Click here to see the class of 2005.

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