Ranking the Most Overpaid and Underpaid Free-Agent Signings in the 2015 Class

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2015

Ranking the Most Overpaid and Underpaid Free-Agent Signings in the 2015 Class

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The 2015 NBA free-agent frenzy has certainly lived up to its title.

    Players have flown off the board, as clubs look to lock in as many deals as they can before the salary cap erupts with the new TV money over the coming summers.

    With knowledge that a dollar spent today isn't as costly as one tomorrow, teams have showered free agents with contracts totaling more than $2 billion. That has made values a little harder to gauge, since there's so much money raining down and almost all of it looks reasonable in light of the league's financial future.

    But this summer still has its share of both overpriced and undervalued contracts. By weighing items such as past performance, future potential and market conditions, we have identified the worst overpays and best value buys of 2015 NBA free agency.

    A quick housekeeping note before getting started: Bargains were defined in NBA terms. In other words, even though LeBron James is worth substantially more than his new $23 million salary, the fact that he's getting the most he's allowed to collect means he isn't underpaid on our list.

    With that taken care of, let's get to the rankings.

Overpaid No. 4: Wesley Matthews

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $70 million, per NBA.com's David Aldridge

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 38.9 three-point field goal percentage, 16.1 PER

    If Wesley Matthews were healthy, there would be no problem with the Dallas Mavericks paying him this rate. Three-and-D wings were among the most coveted commodities on the 2015 market, and Matthews plays the role about as well as any player in the league.

    But he's not healthy. He's been rehabbing a ruptured Achilles tendon since early March, and no one knows when he'll make his return to the hardwood.

    "Matthews...has expressed optimism that he will be ready for the beginning of the regular season," wrote ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. "Mavs owner Mark Cuban said during an interview with 1310 The Ticket in Dallas last week that the team planned to exercise caution with Matthews and was prepared for him to miss significant time to start the season."

    That's a sizable gap between his potential return dates, but it's not the reason Matthews is on this list. Rather, it's the uncertainty surrounding what will happen when he does step back inside the lines.

    "Even if Matthews comes back healthy, there's going to be an adjustment period to get back to NBA-level game action, if he ever does return to his previous level," wrote Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk. "An Achilles injury is no joke, and it's no guarantee that Matthews will be the player he was before it."

    There's way more risk here than anyone would like for a $70 million investment. Especially for a complementary player who needs the assistance of others to properly fill his role.

Underpaid No. 4: Gerald Green

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    Contract: One year, $1.4 million, per CBS Sports' Ken Berger

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 15.4 PER

    Gerald Green doesn't need a substantial role—or a lot of money, apparently—to do major damage as an instant-energy source.

    Consider this: Despite averaging just 19.5 minutes per game last season, Green erupted for 20-plus points 11 different times. He had more such outings than Khris Middleton (10), Danny Green (nine), Draymond Green (nine) and DeMarre Carroll (seven), four players who signed contracts this summer worth a combined $257 million.

    Green will get 0.5 percent of that amount to spark a Miami Heat bench that finished last season ranked 28th in scoring with 26.6 points per game, via HoopsStats.com.

    "Gerald Green at the minimum right now is the best bargain offseason signing," wrote former Brooklyn Nets executive Bobby Marks.

    In 2013-14, Green shot 40 percent from long range while hitting more three-pointers (204) than every player not named Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Damian Lillard. This past season, Green was one of 51 players to appear in at least 70 games, average 11-plus points and post a player efficiency rating at or above the league-average mark of 15.0.

    Nothing about the 29-year-old makes him look like a player worth only the veteran's minimum. Even as a specialist—he doesn't offer much else outside of scoring, perimeter shooting and athleticism—he's an incredible value at this price.

Overpaid No. 3: Reggie Jackson

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    Contract: Five years, $80 million, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 14.5 points, 6.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 17.2 PER

    This had to be the result of a bidding war, right? Why else would the Detroit Pistons give a contract this rich and this long to a player with 76 starts under his belt and a woeful 29.4 three-point field goal percentage in his career?

    But teams weren't tripping over themselves for a shot at Reggie Jackson. Most teams weren't looking to fill a point guard vacancy this summer, and the ones that were had largely addressed that issue before Detroit backed up a Brink's truck in front of Jackson's house.

    "In cold financial terms, Detroit misread the market on Reggie Jackson," wrote Grantland's Zach Lowe. "...Jackson did well running Stan Van Gundy's spread pick-and-roll offense around Andre Drummond, but he can't shoot, and the Pistons had no one to outbid. The point guard market had dried up."

    To make matters worse, the Pistons weren't at risk of losing Jackson. He was a restricted free agent, so Detroit could have matched any offer he received.

    And it's tough—if not impossible—to imagine anyone else viewed him as an $80 million player. His inability to space the floor is a major problem in today's NBA. Even his impressive volume production after landing in Detroit at the deadline (17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per night over his last 27 games) loses some of its appeal since the Pistons went just 10-17 over that stretch.

    Keeping Jackson wasn't a bad idea. The 25-year-old is obviously talented, and he could be the franchise's long-term answer at the lead guard spot. But he's not worth that salary, and the Pistons didn't need to spend so much just to give him the opportunity to prove that he can be one day.

Underpaid No. 3: Danny Green

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    Contract: Four years, $45 million, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 41.8 three-point field goal percentage, 16.5 PER

    No one had a better run through free agency than the San Antonio Spurs, and Danny Green's bargain price tag of $45 million is only one of several examples of that.

    If there's truly a $25 million gap between his value and Matthews', the stat sheet can't find it. Both are similarly skilled perimeter defenders and long-range snipers.

    Matthews held a negligible edge in defensive real-plus minus, ranking sixth among shooting guards with a 2.27 rating compared to Green's eighth-best mark of 2.16, per ESPN.com. But Green had the advantage in both three-point makes (191 to 173) and accuracy rate (Matthews shot 38.9 percent).

    Green is also roughly eight months younger than Matthews, and the Spurs 2-guard isn't attempting to return from a devastating injury. This already looks like a steal for the Alamo City, and the contract could grow even more valuable over the life of the deal.

    "Too often three-and-D types are a stretch in one of those two crucial departments. Green is exemplary in both regards, and yet he’ll be paid significantly less over the life of his next deal than other free agents of comparable roles. To get Green back at this rate at all is a coup for San Antonio," wrote Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney.

    The Spurs do a masterful job with roster management, but this pact looks larcenous even by their standards.

Overpaid No. 2: Omer Asik

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    Contract: Five years, $60 million, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 9.8 rebounds, 7.3 points, 51.7 field-goal percentage, 15.5 PER

    This one is a real head-scratcher.

    Back in April, the New Orleans Pelicans decided they could barely use Omer Asik. They sliced his playing time from 26.1 minutes per game down to 19.8 for their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, and even that was too much. With the plodding, offensively limited 7-footer on the floor, the Pelicans were outscored by 22.5 points per 100 possessions during the series.

    Fast-forward three months, and New Orleans has suddenly decided this apparent liability is now worthy of a $60 million investment. Asik's offensive issues—he might have the worst hands in the league—could be glaring under new head coach Alvin Gentry, and the big man's defense never lived up to his reputation.

    Billed as an intimidating interior presence, Asik posted the worst block percentage of his career last season (2.1). Opponents averaged nearly as much point-blank success against him (51.1 percent shooting at the rim) as they did when matched up with noted sieve Kevin Love (52.6).

    Asik encountered struggles nearly across the board during his Big Easy debut. In terms of per-36-minute production, he failed to match his averages in scoring (10.1, down from 10.3) and blocks (1.0, down from 1.7) from the first four years of his career. His field-goal percentage was the second-lowest he'd ever posted. 

    "Omer Asik's five-year, $60 million deal with the Pelicans was both an overpay and a poor move when you consider how ineffective he was in the playoffs," wrote CBS Sports' Matt Moore.

    The same spread system that forced Asik off the floor during the postseason is one the Pelicans could adopt under Gentry. Even if Asik's basement rises from where it fell to in the playoffs, the 29-year-old's ceiling isn't high enough to justify this salary.

Underpaid No. 2: David West

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    Contract: One year, $1.4 million, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 16.0 PER

    David West's bottom-dollar deal pushed the Spurs' summer from incredible to absurd. Had the 34-year-old simply exercised his player option with the Indiana Pacers for next season, he would have collected $12.6 million.

    But the two-time All-Star decided to prioritize something other than his paycheck.

    "At this point in my career, I just want to win," West told WTHR's Bob Kravitz. "...I don't want to be in a position where we're just fighting to make the playoffs; I want to be in a spot where we can legitimately taste the Finals."

    It's not hard to see why West settled on the Spurs. They are returning the key components of last season's 55-win team, and they significantly bolstered their ranks by landing four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge with a four-year, $80 million deal.

    West will need to find his niche on a loaded San Antonio roster, and he might not see nearly as much playing time as he did last season (28.7 minutes per game). But he's overqualified and grossly underpaid for the supporting role the Spurs will likely set aside for him.

    West was one of seven players to average at least 11 points, six rebounds and three assists while shooting 47-plus percent last season. The lowest-paid player outside of West in that group is Al Horford, who's set to make $12 million in 2015-16.

    The Spurs made several thefts this summer, but signing West to such a steal of a deal wasn't even the biggest one.

Overpaid No. 1: Enes Kanter

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    Contract: Four years, $70 million, per NBA.com's David Aldridge

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 15.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 51.9 field-goal percentage, 20.3 PER

    That's a comical amount for Enes Kanter, regardless who's paying it. The Portland Trail Blazers got the former No. 3 pick to sign their offer sheet, but Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti said, "Our intention has been to match offers on Enes, and nothing has changed in this regard," per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman.

    Kanter only brings value to one end of the floor, and even his offensive skills need polishing before they'll fit in today's pace-and-space game.

    He experimented with the three-point shot last season, but the results were inconclusive (16-of-45, 35.6 percent). He's a good interior scorer (67.8 percent shooting within 10 feet), but hardly any teams are running their offenses from the inside out anymore. Kanter tallied a combined 0.93 points per possession as a pick-and-roll screener with Utah and Oklahoma City, which doesn't even rank in the league's 50th percentile.

    And he typically gives back the offensive production in spades at the other end. The Thunder surrendered 110.4 points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor, which would have been the NBA's worst mark. He allowed opponents to shoot 56.9 percent at the rim, which placed him dead last among high-volume bigs.

    "Kanter is, unequivocally, a bad defensive player," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale. "He cannot guard ball-handlers off the dribble, and his verticals make for terrible block rates."

    If Kanter doesn't sound like a $70 million player, that's because he doesn't play like one. The 23-year-old could develop his skills and that would still be true. This is too much money for a one-way player, especially when his area of expertise isn't the one most often tied to team success.

Underpaid No. 1: Tim Duncan

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    Contract: Two years, $10.8 million, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 22.6 PER

    Seriously, the Spurs slayed this summer. Their haul from the free-agent fishing pond included superstars and door-busting discounts. But Tim Duncan is the league's only player who checks off both boxes.

    The 39-year-old was an All-Star, All-NBA third-teamer and All-Defensive second-team selection last season. And anyone who thinks those honors represented lifetime achievement awards needs to stop using raw per-game marks to assess value.

    Duncan was a beast in 2014-15, even with his playing time sliced to the third-lowest level of his 18-year career. He tallied those above marks in only 28.9 minutes per night. Extrapolated to a per-36-minute scale, his production jumped to 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 blocks.

    All-encompassing stat categories continued to paint him as one of the league's elites. His 5.20 real plus-minus ranked 13th overall, per ESPN.com. Basketball-Reference.com placed Duncan 12th in PER, ninth in box plus-minus (5.5) and 14th in total win shares (9.6).

    That is the caliber of player Duncan still is. And he'll play next season for the budget rate of $5.25 million.

    "In reality, if Duncan had actually entered the open market this summer, there is no doubt he would have been offered a four-year max contract worth close to $94 million, or $23.4 million per year," wrote Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post.

    For everything Duncan has accomplished in his legendary career, his selflessness might be the most impressive part of that story.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.