Evaluating Last Year’s Rookie Scale Extensions

Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Tristan Thompson are among the headliners for this summer’s restricted free agent class, one that would have been more robust if not for the more than $450MM that teams around the league put into rookie scale extensions this past fall. The postseason would have loomed even larger for Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson if they had the value of their next contracts to think about, but both are tied to their teams for the long term, thanks to their extensions.

Such deals are always gambles of sorts for teams as well as players, since they’re based on projections for what someone with three years of experience will be worth after his fourth. Many players eligible for rookie scale extensions aren’t yet 25 years old, so there’s room for growth, but just how much growth will actually happen is difficult to predict.

So, now that a full season has passed for most around the league, barring those who made the playoffs, let’s evaluate how the extensions look now:

  • Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers): Five years, maximum salary: Irving committed to the Cavs before LeBron James did, and it was somewhat surprising given rumors indicating the point guard’s discomfort in Cleveland. But either that discomfort never existed or max money made them go away. Irving agreed to take less than the 30% max that he’d earn if he triggered the Derrick Rose rule, but he did not, making that concession moot. Irving will make the 25% max instead for a team that figures to compete for titles for most if not all of the five years the deal covers, and even with James around, he improved his scoring average this season over last. Verdict: Good deal for both sides
  • Klay Thompson (Warriors): Four years, maximum salary: Thompson and the Warriors also hedged slightly against the max, agreeing that he would make the 25% max next season as long as it didn’t exceed $15.5MM. The max won’t be known until July, and it’ll probably come in right around $15.5MM, or perhaps slightly higher. Regardless, Thompson set career highs in points per game, assists per game and three-point shooting percentage as the Warriors compiled one of the best regular seasons ever. If Thompson doesn’t get the full max, it’ll tilt ever so subtly in the team-friendly category, but for the most part, the extension serves both team and player well. Verdict: Good deal for both sides
  • Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves): Four years, $55MM (plus incentives): Injuries once more befell the point guard, limiting him to a career-low 22 games. Rubio had career-best per-game numbers in assists and rebounding, but his struggles with the long ball continued, as he made just 25.5% of his three-point attempts, his worst percentage as an NBA player. All of it is nonetheless skewed by the diminutive nature of the sample size. Verdict: Better deal for Rubio than for the Timberwolves
  • Kenneth Faried (Nuggets): Four years, $50MM (plus incentives): A report suggested the Nuggets weren’t all that high on the power forward even at the time of his extension. Still, Denver appeared reluctant to put him into a deal at the deadline. His scoring was off slightly this season, the product of fewer shot attempts, though his efficiency was down, as he recorded a career-low 18.4 PER for a Nuggets team that failed to compete for a playoff berth. The leap that he showed for Team USA in the offseason never materialized in Denver. Verdict: Better deal for Faried than for the Nuggets
  • Nikola Vucevic (Magic): Four years, $48MM (plus incentives): The center became the focal point of the Magic offense, leading the team in shot attempts, scoring and rebounding. He’s a minus defensively, as Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus shows, but there’s always been a premium on 7-footers who can put up 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, as Vucevic did this season. Verdict: Better deal for the Magic than for Vucevic
  • Kemba Walker (Hornets): Four years, $48MM: The shine was off the Hornets this season after a playoff berth in 2013/14, but Walker scored at a per-36-minute rate superior to last year, bettered his assist-to-turnover ratio, and increased his PER and steals per game. He’s not an elite point guard in a league full of them, but he represents one of the few parts of the Hornets that’s on the right track. Verdict: Good deal for both sides
  • Alec Burks (Jazz): Four years, $42MM (plus incentives): As with Rubio, Burks missed most of the season with injury. He shot a career-best 38.2% from three-point range, but his scoring was down in the small sample size, and his PER dipped to a subpar 13.0. Verdict: Better deal for Burks than for Jazz
  • Markieff Morris (Suns): Four years, $32MM: Handed a starting job after having played exclusively as a reserve in 2013/14, the per-36-minute scoring and rebounding numbers for Morris went down, as did his PER. He’s relatively cheap for a starter, but the numbers suggest he might be better as a well-paid reserve. Verdict: Better deal for Morris than for Suns
  • Marcus Morris (Suns): Four years, $20MM: The lesser-paid Morris was a part-time starter after mostly coming off the bench last season, but he didn’t see too much more playing time, and his production was largely consistent with what it was last season. Verdict: Good deal for both sides

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