2012 NBA Free Agency I: Three Stretch 4s Who Spread the Floor with Threes

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A power forward who hits from deep presents obvious matchup problems for the defense. Slashing wings and posting bigs have much more space to work if opposing PFs are stuck running around the three point line guarding a legitimate threat.

But the stretch 4 often comes with a tradeoff. Not many players can roam the three-point line and still dive down the baseline or lane into position for offensive rebounds. Sometimes the quickness of the player, which allows them to escape for open outside shots, is at the expense of the strength to guard the position on the other end.

Ideally, stretch 4s hold their own on defense and the boards while wreaking havoc on offense. There are three free agents in this category and I’m going to analyze how much I want to pay each.

1. Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson’s 2012 campaign was outstanding. And there’s a lot of reasons to sign him. First, he’s 6’10” 240 lbs, so, at least he’s the right size to play PF. Second, he’s 24. But most importantly, third, his 2012, on a per-minute basis, was an exact copy of his 2011. GMs should feel confident they’re getting about as perfect a mix as possible of consistent production pointing towards a bright future for a young player. It’s qite possible he’s the most attractive free agent on the market. (Note: A bit different than the year it was LeBron and Wade at the same time.)

So how about that production. In 2012, Anderson threw in 24 points a night on 59% TS%, powered by taking 10!!! three-pointers per 48 minutes. That’s a good thing when you’re making 39% of them. He also took down 11.5 rebounds per 48, almost exactly league average. But that’s the point. He kills you on offense and holds his own elsewhere.

So let’s compare Anderson to another three-point shooting big man, Andrea Bargnani. Anderson rebounds much better and shoots more efficiently. And Bargnani’s pulling down $10M a year for approximately the next 15 years. So how much should Anderson get? I would be willing to go to that figure, though preferably with less than a lifetime contract. But let’s pause a moment to see why he’s worth $10M or maybe more.

How Much Should I Pay My Players

In Saving the Sixers I suggested that doubling down on bench players making $8M+ per year might be bad. But don’t you need good role players?

Say you’re paying your sixth and seventh men $8M each, and each of your starting five players is only as good as those two bench players (obviously not preferable). The combined value of your starting five plus the two $8M bench players is, of course, 7 times $8M = $56M. So you’re within $2M of the cap for 7 players, but your entire starting five are only bench-level players on your valuation.

The bottom line is, players in the $8M range better be starter quality. And if you want a max-level player of two, you can’t afford long-term, expensive bench deals.

Back to Ryan Anderson

As you can see, I like Anderson. Given the forwards in the East he’s definitely an All Star for 2012 if the team is divided into all five positions though that’s partially thanks to many great PFs being in the West.

But you can certainly afford to pay a (borderline) All Star starter level money ($10-12M). And I would be willing to go that high. Given his age and the stability of his numbers the past two years I’d feel good about giving him a multi-year deal. It’s hard to tell given the relative weakness of this year’s free agent class whether he’ll shoot up towards a max deal or remain undervalued. Anderson is a restricted free agent so it’s possible he’ll be retained no matter the price, but it’s hard to predict Orlando’s thinking on anything.

2. Ersan Ilyasova

Ilyasova doesn’t have the steady year by year improvement of Anderson, but this year he shot and rebounded well. He’s been back and forth between Europe and the NBA, including before this year when he took a contract during the lockout. Perhaps he was more ready to play than others players who weren’t on teams during the summer, though that’s only speculation.

Like Anderson, he’s tall and young, so the temptation to overpay is strong. I would not be willing to pay starter money but if he is available for something more like $5M or preferably less then that will be a bargain worth gambling on. Even if regression comes he’s not crippling the cap and he’ll be moveable. I think paying him more is defensible but I want to let other teams make that gamble and I’ll save my cap space.

3. Steve Novak

Steve Novak’s big shots were a fun part of the Knicks’ roller coaster season.

But when you put him up next to say, Ryan Anderson, you can see why there will be a difference in their paychecks. He grabs between half and one-third of the rebounds that Anderson and Ilyasova do. While he did shoot an insane 47% on 13 three-pointers per game, gaining 5 less offensive boards per game is a huge dropoff. That number of possessions, especially ones that might start with the ball in the hands of a big guy near the basket, is a huge difference. The other issue is that Novak has only played significant minutes in two seasons. The previous one was several years ago and his 3FG% was 42%, which is still great but really shrinks the difference in shooting.

This is a reason, then, that Novak often slid to SF whereas Anderson and Ilyasova generally stayed home. (There’s also the obvious team construction differences.) But the whole point of the stretch 4 is that they’re exploiting the defense of an opposing big, not trying to chase around SFs.

However, his shooting is certainly worth a look. If he’s available for very cheap, then I would give him a low price bench spot, but if someone wants to make him a bigger deal I again think I’d rather pay someone else.

Home Stretch

Ilyasova I wouldn’t go more than $5M, as I would not want to be caught paying for his career year. I don’t know if I can get him but that’s OK. The same goes for Novak, but with even less money, $2M or so. Basically, I think he’s good but not so good I want to pay more than my first round pick.

If I can get Anderson for $10M or less I’d feel pretty great about it. I’d be willing to go a bit higher but not by much, as any more and you might as well save your money for a true max player, if you have something to attract their talents such as South Beach or, hopefully, the banks of the Delaware River.

Matt Aquiline - I mean what I write, except when it's wrong--then it was satire. I'm not far along towards my great aspirations. My many interests include sports, satire, religion, reading, politics, privacy, music, married life, and alliteration. - Follow him on Twitter here

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