The Most Overvalued NBA Free Agent at Every Position
Overpaying an NBA player doesn't necessarily mean that player is bad.
It's quite possible to give someone top-tier money merely to serve as a mid-tier contributor. You can hand someone a contract typically reserved for a starter when they're best suited as a stellar reserve. And when the free-agency class is bereft of too many great options at most positions, those scenarios become almost inevitable.
Such is the case for these five players—one for each of the five positions in an NBA lineup.
Each one has value when pigeonholed into the right role. But certain circumstances—whether reputation, declining skills or the alternative options at the position—make it far more likely they'll be overpaid while looking for work on the open market.
Tread with caution when pursuing any member of this quintet.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Derrick Rose can still be a useful point guard.
He's a dynamic scorer who can put up points in bunches, even if his team has to live with the occasional dry spell and unnecessarily difficult finishes around the hoop. During the 2016-17 campaign, he was one of only 44 players to score at least 18 points per game, though he did so while finishing No. 43 on that list in true shooting percentage.
The more problematic elements of Rose's game stem from his unwillingness to hit open teammates when a driving opportunity presents itself, as well as a complete inability to play high-quality defense. NBA Math's defensive points saved (DPS) indicate that only 23 players throughout the league provided more negative value on the preventing end, while ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM) has Rose at No. 82 among the 91 qualified point guards.
At this stage in his injury-riddled career, Rose would be best utilized as a spark plug off the bench, capable of coming in and providing a quick offensive burst, then retreating to the pine before foes start targeting his turnstile habits. But we all know that isn't going to happen.
"Some close to Rose have told friends he will seek a max contract this summer," Ian Begley reported for ESPN.com in January. "For Rose, that pact would be for five years and nearly $150 million."
That's not going to happen, either. Not even the New York Knicks will throw that much money at him. But someone will inevitably bite, counting on the allure of the name over the declining production of the last few years.
Shooting Guard: JJ Redick
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
JJ Redick's biggest marketable skill has started to decline. Though he still shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc while taking a career-high six attempts per game, that's significantly below last year's league-leading 47.5 percent clip.
However, that's not the problem here.
Even though Redick will celebrate his 33rd birthday before the start of the 2017-18 season, there's no reason he can't enjoy a Kyle Korver trajectory—draining threes deep into his 30s, regardless of the system into which he's placed. But what else does the 2-guard provide?
His defense has never been stellar, and it's not going to get any better as Father Time continues to drain his energy reserves. He doesn't function as a facilitator, and his work on the boards has never been particularly notable. He's a sharpshooter through and through, just with more wear and tear on his tires and less ability to provide the middling defense he's granted the Los Angeles Clippers over the last few seasons.
Does that seem like a sound investment?
And yet, Sam Amick reported for USA Today that Redick's price tag could rise up to $18 million annually.
"Paying that much for Redick reeks of trying to compensate him for the money he didn't get in his last deal," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale subsequently explained while predicting free agency's worst contracts.
"The four-year, $26.9 million contract he signed in 2013 has since turned into one of the Association's best bargains, and with nearly a half-decade's stake in the Clippers, Redick is approaching legacy-deal territory. ... But the soon-to-be 33-year-old isn't getting any better. Forking over anything close to $20 million for more than a year or two cannot be spun as a long-term victory."
And lest we forget, anyone trying to lure him away from Tinseltown might actually have to top that number.
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
Type of Free Agency: Player Option
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks
If Danilo Gallinari opts out of his contract with the Denver Nuggets and another team offers him a chance to be a leading member of the starting lineup while playing small forward, it'll be sorely disappointed. The 28-year-old played 62 percent of his minutes at the 4 in 2016-17, and that number shouldn't decline as his career progresses.
It might if a team falls into the trap of thinking of Gallinari as a small forward, since that's where the world seems to believe he still plays.
But it shouldn't.
Gallinari's advancing age has already started to curtail the lateral quickness and mobility that made him a standout defender earlier in his career. That's not coming back, especially as minor injuries continue to pile up and force him into near-constant rehabilitation periods. He's best suited guarding larger players with less speed, allowing him to body up and conserve energy for the offensive end.
On offense, though, Gallinari is also trending in the wrong direction.
He can still draw plenty of contact and connect at the stripe, which allows him to maintain his scoring efficiency. He's just no longer a bona fide No. 1 option and struggled to accept as much while working alongside Nikola Jokic and the rest of the youthful Nuggets during what could be his final season in the Mile High City.
Unless a team can pay him third-fiddle money, which might not be enough to steal him away from Denver, it'll likely be allocating too much of its cap space for a player beginning to decline on both ends.
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Type of Free Agency: Unrestricted
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks
It may be time to stop thinking of Serge Ibaka as a two-way terror.
The veteran power forward is better than ever as a floor-spacing option, connecting on a career-high 39.1 percent of his three-pointers while taking four attempts per game—also a new high-water mark. But the defensive chops that once made him an award candidate are starting to dry up. After an uninspired tenure with the Orlando Magic, Ibaka struggled to protect the hoop with the Toronto Raptors, only turning around the negative trend during the team's brief playoff run.
Throughout his final season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ibaka held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting at the rim while facing off against 7.6 shots of that variety per game. Those numbers stood at 52.9 and 6.1, respectively, during his time with the Magic, which was bad enough. But in 23 games for Toronto, his increased inspiration still only led him to contest 6.8 shots at the rim per appearance and let opponents connect on 51.6 percent of their looks.
That's not a positive development for a player whose shot-swatting skills were once the envy of big men everywhere. It also helps explain why his score in ESPN.com's DRPM (1.08) ranked No. 31 among power forwards, leaving him directly behind defensive luminaries such as Nick Collison, Jordan Hill and Jarell Martin.
Plus, his offensive value can only rise so high when it stems almost solely from mid-range jumpers and floor-spacing triples. Despite getting significant time alongside superstars in OKC, he still hasn't figured out how to make beneficial passes that aid his teammates.
Does this sound like someone who should be receiving more than $20 million annually? Well, that's the contract with Toronto that's "basically done," per Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler.
Center: Mason Plumlee
Type of Free Agency: Restricted
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks
To be clear, this isn't really a knock on Mason Plumlee.
He remains one of the league's more underrated centers, capable of playing solid interior defense while still finding time to rack up assists with displays of impressive passing chops. According to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) only nine true centers added more value in 2016-17, though that was partially because he found himself in an ideal spot with the Portland Trail Blazers for much of the season. I even had him sitting at No. 56 overall in my year-end rankings of the league's best players.
But the center market in this year's free-agency class still begs for a player such as Plumlee to be overvalued.
This is a tremendously weak group, with Plumlee, Nerlens Noel and Greg Monroe potentially serving as the headliners. Dewayne Dedmon will make plenty of coin after his impressive low-minute efforts for the San Antonio Spurs, but he actually deserves a much larger payday after toiling away in obscurity. His upside demands it.
So when a team in dire need of a center upgrade needs to find someone, it may end up drastically overpaying to lure Plumlee from the Denver Nuggets, who can match any offer and retain his services. Whether it wants him as a starter or top-tier backup who can slide over to the 4 (and be brutally overmatched against stretchy players), it may be willing to pony up.
Plumlee simply doesn't have the upside necessary to justify such a monstrous increase in pay. He is what he is: a solid two-way center capable of filling an unorthodox role with his passing. Asking him to be anything more is a recipe for disaster, but the dearth of top-tier options on the open market may tempt a desperate organization to do exactly that.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.