Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson became the first potential restricted free agent in the 2021 class to meet the “starter criteria” earlier this week, increasing the value of his qualifying offer.
As we explain in our glossary entry, a restricted free-agent-to-be is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency, or if he averages 2,000 minutes or 41 starts per season in the two years before his free agency. If a non-lottery pick reaches the starter criteria, the value of his qualifying offer increases; if a lottery pick fails to meet it, the value of his QO decreases.
Because the NBA was unable to play a full season in 2019/20 and only has a 72-game schedule on tap for ’20/21, the thresholds for the starter criteria have been prorated downward. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the criteria will vary from player to player, since it’s now based on games played by his team prior to the hiatus in ’19/20, as well as the 72-game schedule for this season.
For instance, the Heat played 65 games before the coronavirus stoppage last season and will play 72 games this season, for a total of 137 contests. Robinson needed to start at least half of those games (68.5) to meet the starter criteria.
Having started the first nine games of this season, Robinson is technically up to 77 starts over the last two years, but eight of those came in Miami’s summer seeding games and don’t count toward the starter criteria. As such, his 69th start of the last two seasons – which pushed him above the starter criteria threshold – came on Tuesday vs. Philadelphia.
Having met the starter criteria, Robinson – who came into the league as an undrafted free agent – will now be in line for a qualifying offer worth $4,736,102 (equivalent to what the 21st pick would receive if he signed for 100% of his rookie scale amount) instead of $2,122,822.
That bump likely won’t be all that important for Robinson, who figures to sign a lucrative multiyear deal that far exceeds that amount. However, the difference between a standard QO and the starter criteria QO could have a major impact on certain players.
Last season, for example, Kris Dunn met the starter criteria, ensuring that his qualifying offer remained at $7.09MM instead of falling to $4.64MM. The Bulls subsequently opted not to extend him that QO, making him an unrestricted free agent, and he left for the Hawks, signing a new contract with a per-year value ($5MM) in between those two figures. If Dunn hadn’t met the starter criteria, the Bulls may have been more comfortable issuing that QO and his free agency could have played out a whole lot differently.
While Robinson is the first player to reach the starter criteria this season, he won’t be the last. RFAs-to-be like Devonte’ Graham, Jarrett Allen, Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, and John Collins are in position to get there soon if they stay healthy and remain in their teams’ respective starting lineups. Kendrick Nunn isn’t far off either, having started 62 games for Miami before last season’s hiatus, but he isn’t currently a starter for the Heat.