NBA Early Financial Studs & Duds
We’re almost a month into the 2012-2013 NBA season and while some of the usual suspects (Miami Heat & Oklahoma City Thunder) are off to good starts there have been a few pleasant surprises (New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, and Charlotte Bobcats) as well. And while it’s still very early in the season there are a few teams we expect to be playoff bound that have gotten off to slow starts, like the Denver Nuggets.
The same can be said for individual players. Through the first ten or so games we’ve observed at Spotrac a handful of players who in the early going have provided exception returns on the investments placed in them by their respective teams. On the contrary a few have come up short in the expectations placed upon them, largely based on their salaries for this season in relation to their on court performances.
During the offseason the New York Knicks agreed to a deal to bring back shooting guard JR Smith for $2.8 million for this season. The historically erratic Smith has been anything but thus far in his second season in New York. He’s second on the team in scoring and his 16.1 ppg average would be a career high if he’s able to sustain it. The career 43% shooter has increased his percentages across the board, shooting 48% from the floor, 57% from behind the three-point, and 85% from the free-throw line. Smith’s assist numbers are the highest they’ve been since the 2008-2009 season and his turnovers are the lowest since 2005-2006. Smith has a player option for the 2013-2014 season so if he continues his exceptional start he can choose to test the free agent market and likely cash in on his big season. But until then the Knicks are big beneficiary.
The Dallas Mavericks were in need of a scorer to go along with Dirk Nowitzki so they brought in shooting guard O.J. Mayo on a two-year deal that sees him earn just over $4 million this season. Mayo has shown the ability to be a legitimate scorer in the NBA in the past, averaging 17.5 and 18.5 points per game his first two years in the league with the Memphis Grizzlies. As Mayo’s role changed from a starter, playing 35+ minutes a night, to a reserve his output and efficiency as a scorer declined. With Nowitzki recovering from knee surgery Mayo has assumed the role of leading scorer for Dallas. In addition to averaging 21.8 points per game Mayo has increased his percentages across the board much like JR Smith, shooting 49% from the floor, 58% from behind the three-point line (2nd in NBA), and 87% from the free-throw line. His 39 made three-pointers is tops in the league. Also like Smith, Mayo has an option for next season. While his scoring output will likely take a hit when Dirk Nowitzki returns Mayo has reinforced that he is capable of being a big time scorer when given the opportunity. If Mayo chooses to test the market again next summer he should receive an increase in annual salary over what he’s making now, solidifying his status as a bargain for the Mavericks.
Among the list of solid NBA big men Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons often goes unnoticed, probably because Detroit hasn’t been very good since he came into the league. But that doesn’t mean the 22-year old isn’t worth watching. He’s evolving into one of the better low post threats in the NBA and the Pistons were wise to pick up his options for this season at $3.2 million and next season at $4 million. While his scoring and rebounding have increased each year to their current marks of 16.8 and 9.9 respectively added bonuses have been an uptick in his blocks (1.0), steals (1.6), and particularly assists to a career high 3.4 per game, including 11 in his triple-double performance that included 21 points and 12 rebounds earlier this month against the Sacramento Kings. Skilled big men are always a premium in the NBA and with names like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson, and Marc Gasol commanding well over $13 million per season Monroe is working his way up the list at a huge savings for the Pistons.
Greg Monroe’s teammate Rodney Stuckey, Detroit’s second highest paid player this season at $8.5 million, is off to a start that surely has Pistons fans and management scratching their heads considering the three-year $25 million contract he was awarded last year. After averaging over 15 points per game over the last four seasons Stuckey is at just 9.7 so far this year on a career-low 31% shooting from the floor and 22% from behind the three-point line in 32 minutes per game. On a team in need of scoring from the perimeter the Pistons have struggled in the early going this season, much like Stuckey has. There is still a long way to go in the season, and Stuckey has that to his advantage, but it would surely ease the mind of those concerned if he began to string together a few performances like he had with regularity over the last few seasons.
The Indiana Pacers are currently without last year’s leading scorer Danny Granger, who has a knee injury. This should pave the way for center Roy Hibbert to begin justifying the four-year $58 million contract he signed during the offseason which pays him over $13 million this season. After making his first All-Star team last season, and averaging 12.8 points, Hibbert is averaging just 9.7 points per game in the early going, his lowest output since his rookie year. The rebounds (8.4) and blocked shots (2.5) have been there but the 41% field goal shooting for a career 48% shooter coming into this season and current standing of fourth on the team in scoring behind David West, George Hill, and Paul George has fans in Indianapolis wanting and expecting more.
The Denver Nuggets were a popular “sleeper” choice heading into the season as a potential threat to the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference. A 5-6 record and current last place standing in the Northwest division isn’t what many expected heading into Thanksgiving. The struggles of Danilo Gallinari, who agreed to a four-year $42 million contract extension back in January that pays him over $9 million this season, can also be added to that list. While Gallinari’s scoring (15.2) is up a bit from last year (14.6) the disturbing trend has been the decline in his percentages to career-worst numbers of 36% from the floor and 23% from behind the three-point line in a career-high tying 34.8 minutes per game. Head coach George Karl has depth with Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, and Corey Brewer, but if the Nuggets are going to climb out of their early season hole and push for a playoff spot a resurgence from Danilo Gallinari would certainly be welcomed.