A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Terrence Ross extension decision, the Jae Crowder deal and the new upside signing in the NBA

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A story of the 2015 offseason is the rocketing salaries for wings who play defense and shoot 3s. A decade ago DeMarre Carroll’s free agency is an afterthought. Now he is a marquee signing by Toronto at 4 years, 60 million. Danny Green’s 4 years, 45 million is considered by many as undervalued. Wesley Matthews hybrid value of 3s and defense while scoring over 15 points per game, earned him 4 years 70 million from Dallas even after an Achilles tear.

Teams not fully adopting 3 point shots are quickly being left behind. Floor spacing alone is becoming essential to offenses functioning before including efficiency advantage of 3s. But winning a championship with any defensive weak link in the lineup remains difficult. Having 3 point shooters who also play championship caliber defense is crucial as the Golden State Warriors title run showed.

Wings like Carroll, Green and Matthews however are scarce enough teams can’t guarantee getting them even with maximum capspace. Three of the best ones just signed long term deals and other desirable options such as Harrison Barnes are protected by restricted free agency. A quality wing like Nicolas Batum may only be out there but because of caveats. Batum is an unrestricted free agent after one season what will be a bloodbath of free agency competition for the Hornets to keep him. His numbers last season were also hampered by health problems.

How smart teams may find these wings is drafting and developing their own or finding unproven gems in the league. Take Boston’s 5 year, 35 million contract to Jae Crowder. Crowder for his impressive, potentially one day elite defense alone could prove to be palatable at 7 million a year which will soon be no more than a league average salary. The deal has significant upside if his shooting takes a leap. With Dallas Crowder shot 32.8% from 3 as a rookie, 33.1% as a sophomore and 34.2% in 25 games his 3rd year before the trade to Boston. In Boston his 3P% dropped to 28.2% but his volume doubled from 1.5 to 3.0 attempts per game. At Marquette Crowder averaged 35.0% from 3 on over 4 attempts a game but only 68% from the FT line. His FT% has improved to 73.5% for his career in the NBA. He’s no guarantee to get there but Crowder has shown respectable enough results to have the upside to develop like Carroll as a shooter. If he does, using Carroll’s contract as a guide Crowder’s market value would double. At 7 million a year this would make him an incredible bargain with the rising salary cap. Crowder’s is an upside contract similar to Toronto extending DeMar Derozan or Atlanta matching Jeff Teague’s offer sheet in hopes their production in traditional areas like scoring or assists would leap to all-star levels, which they did. Except now the upside signing doesn’t just include points, assists and rebounds stat stuffers, but 3 point shooting and defending wings as well.

Consider the case of Terrence Ross. Ross is eligible for an extension coming off a disappointing 3rd season regression. Ross continues to frustrate as despite elite athleticism, due to ball handling struggles he remains one of the most woeful wings in the league at driving to the basket. Averaging 0.7 free throw attempts a game in over 25 minutes is reflective of his inability to penetrate.

As enigmatic is his defense. Despite his fast, athletic feet, poor positional awareness, a skinny frame and an underwhelming wingspan for his heights contribute to disappointing results on this end for Ross. The Raptors were 6.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Ross on the court last year. But unlike his driving to the basket where he has shown no signs of life, Ross has shown some flashes of positive activity defensively when engaged. One can expect his positional awareness to improve in time. When combined with his athleticism there is still time to develop an above average defender.

What keeps Ross intriguing is the shooting. For his career Ross has shot 37.3% from 3 on 4.2 attempts for his career, including a sophomore season high mark of 39.5% from 3 on 5.0 attempts per game, before dipping to a still quality 37.2% on 4.8 attempts per game last year. For Ross his shooting is holding up his game like Crowder’s defense does. His defense is more potential than production as is the case with Crowder’s shooting. Which of the two fixes their weak area enough to end up the more complete package of shooting and defending may be a toss-up.

But Masai Ujiri extending Ross is not as easy as giving him a Crowder-like 7 or 8 million a year. If choosing to play out this season Ross could break out and double his yearly value to make Carroll or Matthews money, with the all time free agency bidding war promised next offseason. Giving up this financial upside for a safe extension, may take several more million per year than Crowder accepted. Utah extended Alec Burks for 4 years, 42 million a year ago when the cap increase in 2016 had been less official. If Ross asks for a Burks deal or more to extend early the Raptors have a difficult decision. As they are rumored to be finalizing a 4 year, 60 million extension for Jonas Valanciuas and DeMar Derozan is set for a huge raise next offseason they may be wary of committing another big contract.

The opportunity cost of extending Ross also includes trades. If Ujiri doesn’t believe Ross is the next Danny Green or DeMarre Carroll, another team may be a believer. The Raptors biggest team need is a starting PF because the projected starters Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas have struggled defensively when paired together. Ideally Patterson would remain the backup PF where he excelled offensively last year and could stagger his minutes with Valanciuns. Ross could be an appealing trade chip to make a run at a starting power forward to complete their lineup. Whether Toronto chooses to extend Ross, trade him or let his next season play out, should be an important decision affecting their path to contention.

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Written by jr.

August 19, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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