There's a common perception surrounding Luol Deng's contract, that it is a "bad contract."
I recently got to wondering if those perceptions were accurate. After all, when you look at Deng's numbers, he's not a horrible basketball player. He averages 19 points and 7 boards a game, and you can do a lot worse than that.
Which brings us to the primary question: what makes a contract good or bad?
Essentially, it should come down to whether the player is doing what you're paying him to do. If he's producing on the level of his paycheck, it's not a bad contract.
Now of course, there are exceptions. With his $24 million that he will make this year, Kobe makes 25 percent more than any other player in the NBA. While it's impossible to expect him to produce at a level which is 25 percent higher than any other player, no one questions that Kobe is worth his contract. His value is in more than his production.
On the other hand, the second highest paid player, Rashard Lewis, is probably not earning his 20 million a year, not at 12 points and 4 rebounds a game. Lewis' $20 million contract makes Deng's $11 million contract seem like a steal. Of course just comparing Deng's contract to Lewis' doesn't do anything to validate Deng's contract.
It just proves that you can do a whole lot worse.
To determine whether Deng's contract is worthwhile, I thought I'd try and look at it in a couple of different ways. First, I thought I'd check and see how much he made in comparison to the rest of the NBA.
So I took all the NBA players and their contracts and put them into a spread sheet. A quick sort later, and I was able to determine that Deng is the 45th highest paid player in the NBA, right in between Nene Hilario and Chris Kaman.
So then the next question to answer is: is he one of the top 45 players in the NBA?
Determining the top 45 players in the NBA isn't such an easy trick though. Heck, determining the best player in the NBA is hard enough. So I thought I'd just use a basic, fantasy style "scoring" system to see if he was even in the conversation.
Assigning one point for a point scored, two per assist and rebound, and three for steals and blocks, I added it all into the spread sheet and did another quick sort. Luol Deng came out 47th in the league.
Now considering that my little fantasy formula doesn't take into account defense, and that defense is a real strength of Luol Deng, it's not a huge leap to conclude that he can be argued to be a top 45 player in the NBA.
But wait! There's more!
Not all NBA contracts are equal. Players under their rookie contract, by virtue of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, are automatically more limited in how much money they can make. Therefore comparing Deng's contract to Rose's contract isn't entirely accurate.
For that reason I thought I'd see how Deng stacked up against only players who are being paid at least $10 million this year. In total there are 61 NBA players raking in 8 figures this year before taxes.
Of those, using my "Fantasy Point" structure, Deng was 27th. Of the 26 players who are out-performing Deng and making over $10 million, only 6 of them are making less than Deng.. Of course this could have something to do with Deng being closer to the bottom end of that particular salary spectrum.
So I thought, let's see what they're getting in terms of production per $1 million. Of all players making over $10 million, only Josh Smith, LeBron James, and Manu Ginobli are giving more bang for their buck.
Furthermore, I thought I'd see how he compared among all contacts that were either in the top 100 of production or top 100 in salary. In all that came out to 142 players since there is considerable overlap Deng is 70th out of those 142 in fantasy points per dollar. At worse his contract is reasonable. At best it could be argued that he's actually producing above the market rate.
Which statement do you feel is most accurate?
But wait, there's even more!
In the course of this I found something particularly striking. A player whom many have considered as a potential trade option for Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, may actually have an arguably worse contract. Look at the production per game.
The fact that Deng and Iguodala are so close in terms of both production and price, and that Deng is even arguably more productive per dollar, makes one wonder why Iguodala is seen as a "good" contract while Deng's is considered a "bad" contract. While this doesn't take into account defense, it's fair to say the two are comparable defensively. Ether they are both good, or they are both bad.
Now of course there's still the matter of the Bulls needing another scorer who can create shots off the dribble. However this doesn't mean they need that player instead of Deng. In actuality, they need that player in addition to Deng.
Deng does give the Bulls a player who can play very good defense, and who can create shots without the ball. If they were to get rid of Deng then they'd have that second player who can create off the dribble, but at the same time they'd no longer have that player who can create his own shot without the ball, but still play defense.
Do you really want to see Korver defending LeBron in a seven game series?
No, the team still needs Deng, and his price tag is reasonable. They could stand to have an upgrade at shooting guard offensively, but it's time people stop clamoring for a replacement for Deng at small forward.
Deng it! He's worth it!