Welcome back to the Business Casual Basketball "Salary Series."
In these weekly posts, we will take a look at a particular player or team with an interesting salary structure.
For example, certain contracts around the league have with interesting incentives, rare escalating, or declining dollar amounts, or vary significantly from typical market value.
When it comes to teams, there will be a deep dive on their spending habits, how they got to their current position, and what they can do to take advantage of their spending power. Conversely, if they are deep into luxury tax territory, we will look at what they can do to mitigate the damage as much as possible, both short-term and long-term.
For the next few weeks, we're going to zoom in on some of the contract extensions that were signed before this season started and how they will influence their teams heading into next season when they will actually take effect.
The first case that we will study involves Indiana big man, Myles Turner. His rookie contract expires at the conclusion of this season and he is in line for a big raise in the midst of big questions involving the rest of the roster.
Let's see how he fits into this fascinating puzzle.
One major key for sustained success within the National Basketball Association is securing a sustainable identity. Just take a quick look at players and teams across the league that would be receive a 'failing grade' so far this season. Marqueese Chriss has been an unequivocal bust so far in his three year career because he hasn't been able to find those one or two skills that set him apart from others at his position. He was drafted 8th overall by the Suns in 2016 due to his tantalizing athleticism above all else. Many would argue he was drafted much too high for his raw skillset, but the fact remains that he had a boatload of untapped potential as a 18 year old forward. This upcoming clip should go a long way towards convincing you if you're not quite sure who this young man is.
So let's get a full understanding...this guy wasn't drafted top five for nothing. It may seem ridiculous in hindsight because he's been an absolute disaster in Phoenix, Houston, and now the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers already. There's still hope for him, but his window of opportunity is shrinking fast. If he were to find a way to use his size and leaping ability to become an elite rim runner, or tenacious rebounder for instance, it would reverse his fortunes in a heartbeat.
Speaking of the Suns, the whole reason they've finished with under 25 wins for what will be the fourth straight season is because they failed to find that one thing that can give them an edge over the competition night in and night out. It wouldn't kill them to take a look at Sacramento for inspiration here. Sacramento was a league punching bag for what seems like forever before they got their act together this season behind a revamped fast break attack.
All of that to say, you have to discover what makes you different in the game of basketball to truly have a chance of being successful. It's the same strategy you wold follow if you were looking to make a splash as a business man or woman. If you operate just like everybody else, you'll blend into the crowd and you will fail to make a lasting impression.
Finding his niche
Our man Myles Turner has cracked the code in this department and that makes him well worth the four year/$80 million rookie contract extension coming his way beginning in the 2019-2020 season.
Turner has become an invaluable part of the Indiana Pacers core over the last three years, primarily as a result of his game changing defensive ability. In the beginning of his tenure, he might have been miscast as a future primary scoring option and overall dominant inside-out scorer. He averaged 14.5 ppg as a sophomore next to former Pacer superstar Paul George. He finished third on the team in scoring and shot league average from three on low volume. His shooting touch was on full display from day one and it gave many hope that he could grow into a hyper efficient scorer from every area of the floor.
In his third year, he got the opportunity of a lifetime. George was shipped out of Indiana and Oladipo was brought in to take his place. Finally, Turner could become a go-to scorer for the Pacers and decimate defenses with his buttery stroke and fluid footwork! Well, that's not exactly how this story evolved. Funny thing is, his usage rate only increased by 1% from 17.4% with George to 18.4% without him. Last season, he was fourth on the team in shots per game. He didn't even hit 30 minutes per game. As a matter of fact, he played three minutes less per game lass season than he did in 2016-2017.
So what happened? Wasn't he drafted to be a foundational piece of this team? He certainly has the skill and natural talent for it. Was he suffering from the Andrew Wiggins stagnation effect?
First off, it's probably wrong to compare him to the perpetual disappointment that is former #1 pick Andrew Wiggins. He didn't have the insane expectations thrust upon him that Wiggins did. Turner was drafted outside the top ten of the 2015 draft. Therefore, he had a lower overall ceiling to reach to justify his draft status.
Somewhere along the way, probably between year two and three for Turner, he and his team came to a realization. Based on his tendencies and weaknesses, he was not cut out to be a primary scoring option that would average 20+ point per game and have dozens of plays run for him each game.
After watching his game for any extended period of time, his tendency to drift out to the perimeter after setting a screen is incredibly clear. He'll even do this within the normal flow of the game, which is a clear indicator of the habit he's formed in this area. He's more than happy to leave the heavy lifting to frontcourt counterparts Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis. He certainly doesn't prefer to grind and bang inside with the true behemoths of the league.
This pick & pop action he performs here is a staple of his half-court offense for Indiana. As you can see, Young is occupying the paint area, so they strike a nice inside outside balance here for maximum floor spacing.
What made him so rich?
So you may be asking yourself, what did Myles Turner do throughout his first three years in the league to become worthy of this generous gift from the Indiana organization? His career averages don't exactly jump off the page. 12.8ppg, 6.8reb, 1.2ast. That doesn't add up to $80 million. Not at all. See, the trick here is, we have to look beyond the typical numbers to decipher his value to this team. It lies within the less glamorous end of the floor.
Current Wizards forward Jabari Parker once proclaimed that teams offer big money to offensive minded players first and foremost. He was quoted back in July by ESPN saying, "Look at everybody in the league. They don't pay players to play defense." He was correct in that assessment...to an extent. Offensive specialists obviously earn more on average than defensive specialists. Just look at a few numbers involving these two players that fall on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
- 89th out of 95 qualified power forwards in ESPN Defensive Real Plus Minus raking
- Making $20 million this season
- 1st(!!) out of 96 qualified point guards in ESPN Defensive Real Plus Minus ranking
- Making $11.6 million this season
It's abundantly clear that offense is valued in this league far more than defense. That's been clear for awhile now. What gives Turner the edge over many defensive talents is that he operates as a rim protecting center as opposed to a perimeter stopper like Marcus Smart or Andre Roberson. It's easier to spot the impact that defensive centers have and the defensive stats also favor big men over guards in many cases.
Blocks per game isn't the best indicator of an elite rim protector, because it can't capture the amount of shots a big man influences at the rim and sometimes shot block leaders case them too hard and boost this stat at the cost of overall discipline at the rim.
While it may not be the best measure of rim protection ability, there is a small correlation between blocks and general defense. I mean, if you can make plays like this on a nightly basis, you must be at least competent at being a deterrent at the basket.
This clip in particular was pretty impressive, because he was back peddling to contain both the dribble drive by Lavine and the hard roll by Robin Lopez. He was able to maintain a safe middle ground between the two as to not give up an easy lay in from the guard or a quick dump off to the big man. This all sounds routine and mundane on paper, but make no mistake, it takes most big men several years to grasp their duties as a pick & roll defender and execute this delicate balance consistently throughout a game.
Oh and to top it all off, he secures the block to take away any hope of a point blank bucket. His instincts and timing are second to none down there. Can't draw it up any better than that.
He's pretty light on his feet, which certainly helps in the event he's beaten off the dribble and he has to cover tons of ground quickly in order to recover in time.
Of course, we'd be doing Turner a disservice if we said he only got paid due to his defensive prowess. You can be the greatest lockdown presence in the NBA, but you're not getting close to $18 million a year without some kind of scoring ability, it's just the honest truth of the situation.
It's unlikely that Myles evolves into anything more than a secondary or tertiary scoring option on a winning team, but he is shooting a nice 40% from deep this season on a decent 2.5 attempts per game. He's also improved his finishing at the rim this season to an above average 67th percentile according to Cleaning the Glass.
Basically, he has made his living as a modern day shot blocking, stretch five that can also operate around the rim and generate offense down there in a pinch.
Here are more interesting numbers to solidify his player profile:
15-16: 89th percentile
16-17: 94th percentile
17-18: 91st percentile
18-19: 98th percentile (!!)
Three point percentage:
15-16: didn't meet the minimum three point attempt threshold
16-17: 42nd percentile
17-18: 58th percentile
18-19: 91st percentile
His frequency of three point attempts also spiked quite a bit between his second and third year from 12% to 22%.
He has fully embraced what sets him apart as a center in the NBA and that has brought a solid payday to his doorstep going into the prime years of his career.
What does this mean for the Pacers future?
All things considered, the Pacers re-signed their premier big man to a very reasonable deal. His cap hit for the next four years will only be $18 million flat, or 16.5% of next seasons (projected) $109 million salary cap figure. No doubt this is still a hefty sum, but it is a steal compared to what a comparable player has earned recently.
Consider for a moment the contract extension that defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert received a couple years ago. Back on Halloween of 2016, he signed a deal that was also for four years, but a much greater sum of $102 million. That comes out to an average of $25.5 million per season after incentives and 23% of the total salary cap.
Turner clearly brings more versatility on offense with his smooth mid-range and long range shooting while being almost as impactful as Gobert on defense. The purpose of this analysis is in no way to argue Turner is a better player than Gobert, but the gap might be smaller than you think after factoring in the moderate leap Myles has made in his game this season.
The great reality of this market friendly deal is that it fits in perfectly with the great value of Victor Oladipo's contract. Oladipo will make $21 million the next two seasons, which means Indiana's two best players are under contract through at least 2021 and their salaries will remain constant. This means that they will become even better bargins as the salary cap increases each season.
The only major question mark in regards to Turner's extension is the effect it could have on Sabonis' situation. Since he was acquired with Oladipo in the Paul George trade, he has had trouble co-existing with Turner in the same frontcourt. Ironically enough, the problem seems to be that Turner is a power forward in a centers body and Sabonis is the opposite. At times, they interfere with each others operation on the floor. They've started to find some synergy in year two together, but it's still a big struggle on offense with a putrid 104.5 points scored per 100 possessions after looking at all lineups involving those two on the court together. That's only the 14th percentile among all lineups in the league. Things are much better on defense where they fall into the 97th percentile.
Sabonis has one more season remaining on his rookie contract on the way for next season at $3.5 million. This means that he will also be eligible for a contract extension beginning this Summer as well. Is it in the Pacers best interest to re-sign Sabonis knowing that he might not be the ideal mate for Turner long-term? Only time will tell.
Sabonis has forced his way into the 6th Man of The Year and Most Improved Player conversations through a breakout of his own during this campaign, so he won't be cheap to retain past next season. Indiana will really have to think hard about moving him if they have any concerns about paying up to keep him around. They have close to a year until before next seasons trade deadline to make a decision one way or another before unrestricted free agency, so it is not a urgent matter to attend to yet.
In the meantime, this organization can take heart in knowing that it resigned one of the best defensive big men in the league to an amazing deal that will allow them to be aggressive in free agent negotiations this Summer. With some big names hitting the market, this is shaping up to be the best time to have cap space in several years. With up to nine players currently on this roster hitting free agency this Summer, there will undoubtably be several key decisions made very soon.
However, Turner will not need to be one of them.
This season has been one of setbacks and disappointment with the unfortunate injury of star guard Oladipo, but things are still looking up for blue and gold due in large part to the brilliant deal coming up for Turner. This will put the Pacers in a prime position to be successful for years to come.
Coming Next: Analyzing Jusuf Nurkic's Contract Extension