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Discussing O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have agreed to deals with several free agents in recent days, but what does it all mean? Are O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia good additions? Will the team go after Brandon Jennings or Jeff Teague? We discuss.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As long as the salary cap system exists in the NBA and contracts come with big portions of guaranteed money, the value of every signing will matter immensely. The Bucks have recently agreed to terms with three free agents: shooting guard O.J. Mayo (3yr/$24M), big man Zaza Pachulia (3yr/$15M) and swingman Carlos Delfino (3yr/$10M with team option for third year). They also still have big decisions to make regarding restricted free agent point guards Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague (discussion starts at ~33 min. mark of podcast, note we recorded this before word of a possible double-sign-and-trade blockbuster was reported). Frank and I gathered to discuss these moves and what might happen next on our latest podcast episode:

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If you need to catch up on Milwaukee's recent moves, here are some of the key points from our coverage, and some additional thoughts on the Pachulia deal...

Why the Pachulia Deal Bothers Me the Most (Link)

Here's where the conversation needs to start:

Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden are all under contract for next season, so it's difficult to understand why the Bucks would rush to the front of the line and offer to pay market price for a backup big like Pachulia.

Maybe the Bucks are convinced that Zaza can be a better backup center than Ayon or Udoh could be, but it's important to remember that Larry Sanders has started to soak up more minutes, John Henson put up some impactful performances as a pseduo-center when Sanders was unavailable, and Udoh and Ayon are on expiring deals. The margin to be gained here is small, while the price to pay is high, because it cuts into future flexiblity and forces the team into a situation where they need to trade another big on the roster.

Maybe it's possible to justify the move by saying the Bucks needed to add a physical backup center, but I don't see the need. Gustavo Ayon is on a cheap expiring deal ($1.5M) that would be easy to flip for assets at the deadline if he played well enough, and his career numbers in terms of PER (15.1 vs. 14.0), TS% (54.7 vs. 54.0) and DRB% (20.1 vs. 19.6) are all better than Pachulia's, while Zaza retains the edge in experience (4 yrs vs. 10 yrs) and ORB% (9.3 vs. 12.1).

I do not dispute the fact that Pachulia will provide more value than Ayon, but is the incremental bump worth adding $14M guaranteed money to the books? If Ayon can do 80% of what Pachulia can do, isn't he a better value for a 7-10 seed team like the Bucks?

If you're still nodding your head at the signing, consider this: Zaza is currently the fifth-highest-paid backup center in the NBA, and he's owed the second-most guaranteed money. Is it really worth it to jump to the front of a line that other NBA teams are happy to pass by? For that matter, wouldn't it have been smarter to sign a younger backup with upside like Marreese Speights, or just wait for the market to dry up on the other free agent centers out there?

Backup Centers in the NBA

Team Player 2013-14 salary Total guaranteed money remaining
Knicks Andrea Bargnani $11.4M 2 yrs / $23.4M
Jazz Andris Biedrins $9.0M 1 yr / $9.0M
Suns Channing Frye (?) $6.4M 2 yr / $13.2M (PO)
Kings Chuck Hayes $5.7M 2 yr / $11.7M
Bucks Zaza Pachulia ~$5.2M 3yrs / $15.6M
Spurs Boris Diaw (?) $4.7M 1 yr / $4.7M
Raptors Marcus Camby / Aaron Gray $4.4M / $2.7M 2yrs / $5.4M*(PG) … 1 yr / $2.7M
Pacers Ian Mahinmi $4.0M 3yrs / $12M
Heat Joel Anthony $3.8M 1 yr / $3.8M* (PO)
Sixers Lavoy Allen $3.1M 1yr / $3.1M
Bobcats Bismack Biyombo (?) $3.05M 1 yr / $3.05M (R)
Grizzlies Kosta Koufos $3.0M 1 yr / $3.0M
Timberwolves Greg Stiemsma / Chris Johnson $2.7M / $0.9M 1 yr / $2.7M … 1yr / $0.9M
Pelicans Jason Smith $2.5M 1 yr / $2.5M
Blazers Meyers Leonard $2.2M 1 yr / $2.2M (R)
Hawks Lucas Nogueira (?) ~$1.8M May stay overseas?
Cavaliers Tyler Zeller $1.6M 1 yr / $1.6M* (R)
Pistons Viacheslav Kravtsov $1.5M 1 yr / $1.5M
Rockets Donatas Montiejunas $1.4M 1 yr / $1.4M (R)
Bulls Nazr Muhammad Vet’s minimum? Vet’s minimum?
Nets Andray Blatche (?) ~$1.4M 2 yrs / $2.8M
Celtics Fab Melo (?) $1.3M 1yr / $1.3M
Thunder Hasheem Thabeet / Daniel Orton $1.2 M / $0.9M 2 yr / $2.5M (NG) … 1yr / $0.9M (NG)
Warriors Festus Ezeli $1.1M 1 yr / $1.1M (R)
Lakers Robert Sacre (?) $1M (QO) $1M (QO) ?
Magic Kyle O’Quinn (?) $0.79M N/A – (NG)
Mavericks Bernard James (?) $0.8M N/A – (NG)
Clippers Brandon Davies (?) ~$0.5M N/A – (NG)

Free Agent Centers

Remaining Free Agent Centers
Chris Wilcox Chris Kaman
Marreese Speights Jason Collins
Chris Andersen Johan Petro
Samuel Dalembert Cole Aldrich
Jermaine O’Neal Byron Mullens
Ryan Hollins Earl Barron
DeSagana Diop Joel Przybilla

The Mayo Signing (Link)

Mayo will provide value to the offense as a floor spacer and a three-point threat. He is a very solid shooter from deep (career 38.2% 3PT) coming off his best year from beyond the arc (40.7% 3PT), but his career true shooting percentage (53.6% TS) is nearly identical to the league average (ex: NBA average in 2012-13 was 53.5% TS). He's not the creator that Monta Elliswas for Milwaukee, but he's a more credible threat from the perimeter and there still could be upside to his game.

Unfortunately, Mayo isn't known as a particularly good defender, he doesn't fare well under most advanced statistical models, and when his production is viewed holistically there isn't a lot of value he provides. Mayo has never posted a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) above 15 -- which is scaled to be the league average rating -- and during his "breakout" season with the Mavs the team was +4.1 pts/100 poss when he was off the floor and -1.7 pts/100 poss when he played.

The Delfino Signing (Link)

He's a poor-man's 3-and-D player that the organization knows how to use and is now signed to a cheap deal that could easily be moved if the need arises. He can play a bit of shooting guard and help shore up the small forward position for a team that needed bodies on the wing. He's going to make the Bucks shoot more threes, and he can help space the floor. Here's what Dan had to add:

Delfino played for the Bucks for three seasons (2009-2012) before a mildly messy divorce sent him packing in search of a new home. This followed a lengthy and tumultuous recovery period from a concussion that left Delfino unable to play and even threatened his career. Aside from that serious health concern, Carlos performed reasonably well for Milwaukee, shooting between 36 and 37% from three in each season as a most-of-the-time starter. He doesn't have much more to offer on offense beyond decent three-point shooting (and an occasional "where did that come from?" dunk) and isn't a great defender, but in an ideal bench role he'd be a capable scoring option and useful floor spacer.