ESPN recently held an offseason survey with 20 coaches, executives and scouts getting feedback on six questions such as Who is the best player in the NBA?
One of the other questions was What was the worst move of the summer?
The #1 answer (tied for first with six of the 20 votes)... Ricky Rubio to Phoenix.
Here was some of the reasoning behind the selection.
Phoenix, meanwhile, was both docked for the three-year, $51 million contract it handed to Rubio, but also for the price it paid -- De’Anthony Melton and two second-round picks -- to dump Josh Jackson’s contract to clear the space to sign him in the first place.
”They paid him a lot of money, and he isn’t very good,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “Maybe it was the best they could do to finally get a point guard, but you’re designed for less than mediocrity.”
This analysis won’t delve into the “price it paid” of Melton, Jackson and two second round picks (one of them only if it falls in a 5-pick range or something), which I think is a pittance, but castigating the Suns for the money part seems ridiculous in its own right.
Let’s look at the going rate for a starting caliber NBA point guard.
Something like this can be muddled due to players splitting time at positions and the “combo guard” role... James Harden (included on list) isn’t necessarily a true point guard and there are rumors that LeBron James (not included) will play point guard for the Lakers... some people will probably disagree on a few names on the list.
Even though there are only 30 starting point guard jobs I came up with 34 names to help alleviate some of that ambiguity.
How did the numbers play out?
Not counting the 10 players on rookie contracts, Rubio is
- 19th out of 24 point guards in average salary and
- 21st out of 24 in total money committed
Based on that, one could argue the Suns got a bargain.
Then one could go further to explain Rubio could be even lower on that list.
Reggie Jackson, directly below Rubio in average salary, signed his deal in 2015 when the salary cap was $70 million. It’s $101 million now.
Prorating that, Jackson’s inflation adjusted deal would pay him an average of $23.1 million per year.
Rubio is being paid just under 17% of the Suns cap this season. Jackson was paid 23% of the Thunder’s cap in the first season of his deal.
Let’s keep going.
The average annual salary for those 24 point guards is $26.2 million.
The median ($23.2 million) falls right between Jrue Holiday at $25.2 million and Malcolm Brogdon at $21.25 million.
But maybe Rubio is the very worst player out of those 24 point guards... that could explain it.
Let’s go ahead and concede that the top 13 players on the list are better than Rubio, but in some cases, like John Wall and Chris Paul, the contracts are absolutely horrible.
That leaves 10 more to look at.
Jeff Teague has had a solid career, but is 31 years old and just posted his lowest season scoring average since he was 22 years old. He might be hitting the wall.
Terry Rozier has only started 30 games in his four year career and mostly got paid based off of the 2018 postseason. That’s the only time he has looked like a starting caliber NBA player.
Dennis Schroder is decent at scoring and distributing, but isn’t a great shooter and isn’t a great defender. He is also not Trae Young, which is why he played off the bench for the Thunder instead of starting for the Hawks.
Eric Bledsoe is a solid, average starting point guard. He’s not a liability on either end of the court.
Goran Dragic is 33 and coming off his worst season since 2010-11. He missed 46 games last season.
Reggie Jackson is decent on offense and terrible on defense. A low end starter.
Marcus Smart actually played very well last season at age 24 in his first season as a full time starter. He increased his offensive efficiency enough to keep him from being a liability on that end.
Patrick Beverley is 31 and, while being a very good defender, only averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 assists per game last season.
Spencer Dinwiddie signed his deal midseason (December 2018) and is on a Kelly Oubre prove it type of deal. His third year is a player option. Dinwiddie only started four games last season, but is obviously starter quality.
DJ Augustin turns 32 in November and is a career journeyman. Last season was his first as a full time starter since 2011-12.
Rubio has to at least be middle of that pack.
One thing to note though... four of those 10 players (Teague, Dragic, Beverley, Augustin) are at least 31 years old.
Rubio turns 29 in October.
Based on the fact that age 31 is where decline starts for the overwhelming majority of players, it’s safe to assume these guys are on the way down. Dragic (especially) and Teague were showing definite regression last season.
Rubio’s contract ends when he’s 31. Three years was the perfect length for the contract. No player options... like Dinwiddie’s third year. The Suns are getting prime Rubio. Rubio at 29, 30 and 31 is likely to be much better than Patrick Beverley at 31, 32 and 33. Two years at that age is big... dropoffs can be sudden and salient.
Looking at that group, the average annual salary is $15.3 million. Take out Augustin (sort of an outlier in terms of being well below the group) and the average is $16.1 million.
Rubio is being paid $17 million on average over his contract.
So maybe he was overpaid by like $1 million a year? That’s a ridiculous overpay?
That’s more of the anti-Suns anti-Rubio take.
Take out the Wall and Paul contracts, and concede that Dinwiddie and Smart are better... Rubio’s contract seems to be in that 14-16th best PG range... which would put him around $19 million a season.
It’s just as easy to assert that Rubio is slightly UNDERPAID. Especially considering the Suns are in a position, due to being the worst team in the league over the last four years, where they should expect to pay top of the market for any free agent they sign.
Or we could just conclude it’s a fair deal.
Which it is.
And I’m guessing the survey results might have been a little different if the respondents knew some of these numbers instead of just assuming that the Suns suck, so of course they made the worst move.