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Value in the NBA: Giannis, Giannis, Giannis

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It's a bonus value discussion, focused entirely upon Giannis Antetokounmpo and the level of importance his fifth year will have on the Bucks' aspirations.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

(If you're not up to speed, check out the series introduction here.)

Mitchell: In our piece earlier today, we discussed some of the most (and least!) valuable players in the NBA, and it leads perfectly into a discussion about Milwaukee's favorite Greek, Giannis Antetokounmpo. In our next piece, we're going to dive into evaluating the recent history of value for the Milwaukee Bucks, but Giannis is important enough to get that conversation started now.

Giannis clearly "produced" a surplus relative to his rather paltry rookie scale contract, and it is widely-assumed that he will sign a max contract extension sometime this offseason. So the focus becomes, as Eric pointed out before:

As is often discussed here on this website, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are going to get paid a lot of money in the next five years. When they start receiving that money, they need to make a major impact on the floor.

So here's the math on what we might expect: in 2016-17, 1.0 WS is projected to equate to about $2.7m in salary. Because Giannis is the best, his salary is going to be only $2.99m, meaning in theory he only has to put up 1.1 WS in 2016-17 to return equal value.

Things get a bit dicier in the 2017-18 season. The projected League Average WS Value is $2.94m (a year-over-year increase of ~9%), and Giannis' salary will be in the neighborhood $24-$25 million. If Giannis gets better (a reasonable proposition), then everything is gravy. But if he plateaus and is producing the same amount of win shares as this past season (7.1), he would have an 2017-18 Individual WS value of $3.38m...which is a WS Value Differential of -$440k. That is very much not a good thing for the Bucks.

In order to return equal value once his max contract kicks in, Giannis will need to have his Individual WS Value at least equal the league average of $2.9m per 1.0 WS. That said, he would have to produce at least 8.3 WS, which is roughly 15% more than what he did in 2015-16. Now here's the important part: over the last four years, only the top-30 players in the league produced at least 8.3 WS.

To put it all together, Giannis can only return equal value on his contract if he becomes one of the thirty best players in the NBA...by the end of next season. As much as we all love Giannis, there is no guarantee that this comes to pass.

Thoughts (from Eric):

  • NBA team-building is tough, but fascinating. Obviously, the Bucks were trying to get better last off-season with the Monroe signing, but part of me wonders if ownership thought this upcoming season (2016-17) could be their first BIG year.
  • Please follow me as I head down this rabbit hole.......If Monroe fit better in Milwaukee (and maybe found himself in the Top 20 of the list we showed earlier today), they would have had two budding stars playing on their rookie contracts with a big-time free agent signing performing well in the middle. Even if everything became difficult to manage in the offseason with all of them performing at a high level, they would have had their 50 win season AND been able to show success with free agent signings and developing talent internally.
  • Back to reality, Antetokounmpo is going to be such a ridiculous steal next season, even if he just plays like he did this last season. His rookie deal is a big part of that, but none of that matters without his burgeoning star production.
  • With that being said, I think this season is where it becomes interesting (or more accurately, even more interesting) for Antetokounmpo. Year after year, he has improved drastically from the previous season and added entirely new parts of his game. After his performance in the second half last season, this seems hard to imagine because he was doing so many different things. So, for Antetokounmpo, it now becomes a matter of refining very specific skills and adding subtler things to his game. We saw some of those incremental changes as the season came to close, but as CBS's Matt Moore noted in the tweet above, there is still plenty of room for Antetokounmpo in his point guard play.
  • The obvious major caveat: A jump shot would be a drastic improvement and completely new addition to Antetokounmpo's game. Also keep in mind that we thought a jumper was needed for a major leap last season -- and it wasn't.

Mitchell: With that being said, let's apply what we found and a quick look at next season based on the results of free agency. If the value of a 2016-17 WS is about $2.7m, how many win shares are some of the top paid players around the league needing to produce in order to at least break even on the value of their contracts? Here's a small sampling, based on projected salaries from HoopsHype.com (all salaries as of 08/11):

Player 2016-17 Salary Expected WS
Mike Conley $26,540,100 9.8
James Harden $26,540,100 9.8
DeMar DeRozan $26,540,100 9.8
Al Horford $26,540,100 9.8
Kevin Durant $26,540,100 9.8
Dirk Nowitzki $25,000,000 9.3
Carmelo Anthony $24,559,380 9.1
Damian Lillard $24,328,425 9.0
Dwight Howard $23,500,000 8.7
Dwyane Wade $23,200,000 8.6

This list isn't a particularly shocking one, as it includes some of the top talents in the NBA. But remember that the estimated cut-off for the league's top-20 in win shares production is around 9.3 WS. Are the Dallas Mavericks OK with the value of paying Dirk $25m if he can't break 7.0 WS? Did the Bulls get good value by signing Dwyane Wade to a fat contract when he didn't break 5.0 WS in 2015-16? These are questions that teams hopefully considered when they made their offers...and one that the Bucks may be considering with Giannis (even though I'm firmly in the Max Giannis Now! camp).

Thoughts (from Eric):

  • Maxing Antetokounmpo is definitely the correct decision, but gosh. It is so, so scary. Giving one player that much money makes building a team so much more difficult.
  • Underpaying your best players might not make them particularly happy, but it definitely makes it a lot easier to build an awesome team. The Warriors are so unbelievably lucky to underpay a number of their best players.
  • The decision to max Antetokounmpo is no longer difficult, but the same is not true of the decision to sign Jabari Parker to a max contract. Obviously, they still have another year before they could even make that decision, but it could end up being a fascinating one when they do make it. Parker has shown obvious deficiencies on the defense, which means he'd either need to improve significantly on defense or become a mind-blowing offensive talent to justify the Bucks giving him a max deal. Like Antetokounmpo, this is a significant season for Parker.