Me: This NBA offseason hasn’t featured many ludicrous free agent contracts. Most teams seem tempered in their approaches this summer.
New York Knicks: Hold my beer.
In a stunning move, the Knicks’ front office signed guard Tim Hardaway Jr., a restricted free agent, to a four-year, $71 million offer sheet on Thursday. The Atlanta Hawks have the option of matching the offer by Saturday evening but, as USA Today’s Sam Amick points out, are unlikely to because they died of laughter “that far exceeds anything that most NBA executives anticipated for the 25-year-old who was drafted by the Knicks in 2013.”
Hardaway had a career year last season, averaging 14.5 points and 2.3 assists while playing 27.3 minutes per game as a part-time starter (30 of 79 games). He was reliable from beyond the three-point arc (35.7 percent shooting) and as a spot-up shooter (1.15 points per possession, top 14 percent of the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season), finishing the season as the 15th best shooting guard according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus.
But his overall performance contributed just 2.43 wins above replacement, worth approximately $7.5 million on the open market based on what teams must pay replacement-level players (approximately $1.2 million per player), the amount a team spends above and beyond those minimum contracts for a 12-man roster ($86.5 million), and the number of wins it takes to go from replacement-level to league average (25).
For Hardaway to justify a $17.8 million average annual salary, he would have to improve his game to a level seen by Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal during the 2016-17 regular season.
Beal averaged 32.7 points per 100 possessions last season, shooting 40.4 percent from three-point range with an overall true shooting percentage of 60.4 percent. Beal also had a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.1, significantly higher than Hardaway’s end-of-season mark (15.2).
But we haven’t seen a shooting guard at a similar age and experience improve by that much in just one season for more than a decade, which is a generous time frame considering how much the league has changed. Even the comparable players to Hardaway do not inspire much confidence.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO NBA Player Projections (Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization), the 10 most comparable players to Hardaway include Marco Belinelli, Daniel Gibson, Phil Smith, Hubert Davis, Marcus Thornton, Tracy Murray, Brian Winters, Doug West, Johnny Newman and Butch Carter. The most valuable season from this group at age 25 (Hardaway turned 25 in March) was by Smith and Newman, who each produced 4.9 wins above replacement in 1977-78 and 1988-89, respectively, a value of $15.1 million in 2017-18 dollars.
|Player||Season||Age||PER||TS%||Wins Above Replacement|
The more likely scenario is this will be a disaster for either the New York Knicks or Atlanta Hawks, one that won’t be easily corrected on the court.