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The argument against signing Paul Millsap, part 1

Imagine for a moment that the NBA is a nothing more than numbers. There are no basketball players, just numbers on a sheet. Though some of you may point out that that is not how basketball works, for the purpose of determining the value of two different decisions, it is far more useful to first examine the situation in a detached statistical manner. So without further ado, let’s look at the stats.

For the past 5 seasons, Paul Millsap has been worth between 7.2 and 7.8 win shares, and was worth 7.6 win shares last season (to my understanding, win shares is a minutes dependent stat that calculates the number of wins a player contributed to their team). He is also 28 years old. If we were to sign Millsap and re-sign McRoberts, assuming Millsap plays 34 minutes at power forward (and ages as the average nba player would) and McRoberts plays 14 minutes, our power forwards would contribute to 9.2 wins. If we do not sign Millsap, and McRoberts plays 26 minutes at power forward, Mullins plays 12 minutes at power forward and Biz plays 10 minutes at power forward (in case you guys were wondering, the accuracy of the minutes is not that important, additionally, while the addition of this year’s draft pick may throw off these minutes, we don’t know who our potential draftee will be, and thus, we can’t consider them in this), our power forwards would contribute to 3.1 wins. Essentially adding Millsap will add 6.1 wins to our record.

As we all know, adding wins means losing ping pong balls. Last season the bottom 8 teams were separated by only 8 wins, in 2011 (throwing out our legendary record, which skews the spread), the teams from 2-9 were separated by only 6 wins, in 2010 the bottom 6 teams were separated by 7 wins and in 2009, the bottom 3-9 teams were separated by only 3 wins (including new jersey’s 12 wins and Minnesota’s 15 wins skews the sample again). This data from the past few seasons indicates that teams in the early lotto, who are not exceptionally bad, are separated by only a few wins, enough for Millsap to have a considerable impact on our draft status. Our record last year indicates that we will not be legendarily bad like us in 2011, New Jersey in 2009 and Minnesota in 2009. Assuming (if we don’t sign Millsap and sign Mcroberts and Mullins) we’ll be the third worst team next year, adding Millsap would result in an average draft position of 8.25 over the past 4 years. In other words Millsap’s six wins will drop us 5 draft spots.

There’s a website, wagesofwins.com (I’m not affiliated with it), that provides statistical analysis of the NBA. There, they looked at the data for every first round pick, and calculated the average wins each draft position produces. From there, they modeled a best fit curve that more accurately predicts the wins produced from each draft slot. Using this curve, we find that the average third overall pick contributes to 22.2 wins over their first four seasons in the league and the average 8th pick contributes to 14 wins over their first four seasons. Assuming that next year’s draft is average, signing Millsap will cost our draft pick 8.2 wins over four seasons. So, for the signing of Millsap to make sense, he would have to contribute to 8.2 wins more over four years than a comparable signing (in terms of salary) that we could make the next off season.

To see if this is reasonable, we should first calculate the number of wins Millsap will contribute to our team over the next four years. That same website, wageofwins.com, has also compiled the average statistical drop a player goes through over each season in their career. Assuming Millsap isn’t some sort of time bending wizard, and ages like the average NBA player, he will experience a 9% drop in his statistical production next year, an 11% drop the year after, a 17% drop three years from now and a 22% drop four years from now. That means (assuming he plays 36 minutes his first year here), he will contribute to 26.5 wins over his four years here. So, for the signing of Millsap to be worth it the following equation must be true 26.5+14>x+22.2 (here x is equal to the wins over four years produced by a free agent signing, earning roughly the same as Millsap, from next year). That simplifies into 18.3>x. in other words, we need a player who will contribute to less than an average of 4.6 wins a season for signing Millsap to make sense.

Now, let’s move out of the world where all NBA players are numbers and into reality. We’ve found that we need to find a player that is worth more than 4.6 wins in next year’s free agent pool for not signing Millsap to make sense. First though, we should calculate Millsap’s current value. I know a lot of you think that fair market value for Millsap is around 8 mill for 4 years and that we would have to pay around 10 mill for four years to secure his services, however history and his actions indicate that the price could be closer to 12 million for us and 10 million for the rest of the world. Let’s look at the “big” big men signings of last offseason. Asik was signed for 8.3 million over three years (when he hadn’t ever played more than 15 minutes a game), Ilyasova was signed for 9 million over 5 years, Duncan was signed for 12 million over three years (remember, this is before his revival), Lopez was signed for 15.25 million over 4 years, Humphries was signed for 12 mill over two years, McGee was signed for 11 million over 4 years. Millsap is far more proven, and more valuable than any of these guys except maybe Duncan and Lopez. In terms of talent, he should be paid more than Asik, Ilyasova, Humphries and McGee, indicating that his fair market value is going to be in the 10+ region. Further if we use the wagesofwins.com formula for converting wins into salary (one win equals 1.7 million per year), Millsap is worth 11.25 mill. Also, Millsap already rejected an extension valued at 8 million a year. Add in the fact that we’re going to need to out bid most teams for his services, 12 million seems a lot closer to what we would have to pay for his services. This means that we need to be able to find a player for around 10.5 million who contributes to 4.6 wins over a season (we get this number by multiplying 12 by 4, as it will most likely be a four year contract, and subtracting the difference between the salaries of the 3rd overall pick and the 8th overall pick over four years, and then, dividing that resulting number by 4, to get a yearly salary number). Just from eyeballing those numbers, it seems pretty doable to find a player who contributes in that way (from that same formula, a player that contributes to 4.6 wins should only cost 7.8 million a year), and therefore, not worth it to sign Millsap. However in part 2 (hopefully I’ll do if sometime this week), we’ll look realistic candidates in the free agent class of 2014 and see if anyone actually fits these parameters. Further, we will look at the 2014 draft and see if that changes any of our calculations.



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