A couple of weeks ago my father asked me how I felt about Trey Burke. I told him that my favorite part about Trey Burke is that, after his rookie deal, he will not cost more than 8 million per year to keep. It is strange but I think this is very important, especially if we want to contend for a championship. Over the last 5 years I have come to the position that point guard is the 1 position in the NBA that I would be the most hesitant to offer significant money for. I feel like right now there are only 4 pg's worth more than 10m per year (Paul, Parker, Curry, Westbrook) and only 2 worth max contracts (Westbrook and Curry).
For those of you readers who feel like this will be TL;DR, here is the short version. Point Guard has the most abundant talent and hence there are more good contracts available. PG assists aren't worth 2 points. There is little correlation between good PG's and team points per shot or team turnovers. Only 1 pg in the last 20 years has been an all-star and won an nba championship in the same year.
Average Player Importance on Championship Teams
One of the reasons that I have felt like maybe pg's aren't that important is all of the Derek Fisher led title teams. As I mentioned above only 1 pg in the last 20 years has been an all-star and won an NBA championship in the same year, Tony Parker.
Starting from the 1999-00 Lakers and finishing with the 2012-23 Miami Heat I ranked each position on it's importance to that year's championship hopes. For instance, on the 2008 Celtics Kevin Garnett was the most important player, Paul Pierce the 2nd, Ray Allen the 3rd, Rondo the 4th and Kendrick Perkins the 5th. Yes I know that is somewhat arbitrary but I feel like in general this was fairly cut and dried. The hardest team was the 2003-2004 Pistons. Really not a lot of drop off from most important starter to least important.
Every player was assigned a number from 1-5 (1 being most important, 5 being least). These are the average position rankings I found. PG, 3.64, SG, 2.5, SF 3.43, PF 2.71, C 2.71. One take away is that having any of Derek Fisher, Mario Chalmers or the 2006 version of Gary Payton is not enough to sink your championship aspirations.
The other takeaway is that having, in their prime, Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, Wade or Lebron really helps.
PG Production vs. Contract
Even if the historicals are on my side I thought it would make sense to look at some other things.
Right now there are 10 pg's in the league who have PER's of 20 or above, in contrast there are 2 sg's, 4 sf's, 7 pf's and 9 centers w/ PER of above 20. PG is the deepest position in the league. However, despite that production there are only 4 PG's making max money. Compare that to 5 sg's, 5 sf's, 6 pf's and 5 c's. some of those numbers are bound to inflate soon (John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Demarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond will likely all be on max deals). The lesson from this is that at point guard, more than any other position, it is possible to find good contracts (from the team perspective) beyond the rookie contract.
Steph Curry makes just 10 million, Goran Dragic makes 7.5 million, Kyle Lowry 6.2 million. Isiah Thomas is on a rookie deal but despite all his production, PER of 21, he likely won't get much more than Dragic or Lowry (he's undersized and isn't the face of the franchise as Ty Lawson was when he got his 10m per year deal). All those are none rookie deals for players who are starters.
The closest parallel at a different position in Paul Millsap making 9.5 million per year. He gives clear top 10 pf production and yet he makes 4 million less than the average non-rookie top 10 pf contract (13.6 million).
In short there is not another position in the league where you can be a starter, have a PER above 20 and make less than 10 million. There are bargains to be had at the point.
How much is an assist worth?
Very often we like to think of assists being worth at least 2 pts. This has long bothered me. Something I have wanted to look at is what is the actual opportunity cost of assists to unassisted shots. Thanks to SportVU data I actually can. I took the 25 players w/ the most assist opportunities and divided their opportunities by their assists to get assist opportunity fg%. This could be done more comprehensively but I felt like 25 players was a decent sample size. Looking at this baskets are scored on 50.9% of assist opportunities.
I then used that number to find how many of the NBA's FG attempts were from assist opportunities and how many were not. The FG% on non assist opportunites was 39%, versus 50.9% for assist oportunities. I then multiplied the difference of those percentages by how much the average made basket is worth (~2.2 points) and found that an fga from an assist opportunity is on average worth .26 points more than a fga w/ no assist opportunity.
By this methodology Chris Paul's assist opportunities, 20.5 per game and good for best in NBA, are only worth just over 2 points per game more than Mike Conley's 12.4 per game, 20th in the NBA.
Yet CP3 is paid 18.7 million and Conley is paid 8.6 million. Obviously this isn't the only difference between the two, CP3 is a much better shooter, but my point is that CP3's 11.1 assists really aren't worth 10 pts more than Conley's 6.2.
PG and Team TO and Team PPS
Another thing I wanted to look at was what sort of impact does a good PG have on team turnovers. Going by PER these are the top 15 starting PG's in the league and how their team ranks in turnovers per game:
Chris Paul, Tied 5th
Steph Curry, 28th
Goran Dragic, Tied 21st
Russell Westbrook, 27th
Isaiah Thomas, Tied 18th
Mike Conley, 2nd
Kyle Lowry, 9th
John Wall, 14th
Ty Lawson, 25th
Kyrie Irving, 10th
Tony Parker, Tied 18th
Damian Lillard, Tied 5th
Deron Williams, Tied 12th
Kemba Walker, 1st
Jrue Holliday, Tied 5th
Not a lot of correlation between top PG's and low team turnovers. There are 5 teams in the bottom 3rd of turnovers w/ top 10 pgs.
I also wanted to see if there was any connection between top PG's and team Points per Shot. The same list but this time with how their team ranks in PPS:
Chris Paul, 3rd
Steph Curry, 13th
Goran Dragic, Tied 6th
Russell Westbrook, 4th
Isaiah Thomas, Tied 11th
Mike Conley, Tied 24th
Kyle Lowry, tied 13th
John Wall, 19th
Ty Lawson, Tied 16th
Kyrie Irving,Tied 27th
Tony Parker, 5th
Damian Lillard, 10th
Deron Williams, Tied 8th
Kemba Walker, Tied 20th
Jrue Holliday, 18th
It looks more random than anything. Just 4 of the top 10 PPS on the teams w/ the 15 best point guards.
This is mainly just food for thought
I don't know how valid any of this is but it has been on my mind for a while. I look at championship caliber PG's like Mario Chalmers and think that maybe top notch point guards are not a necessity. Then there are also quality PG's that are available for far less than the max. It seems like there are better ways to spend salary cap then on a PG.
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