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Free Agent Analysis: The best big man the Suns could add this winter is...

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With Dario Saric a free agent, should the Suns upgrade to Grant, Millsap, Bertans or Favors?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

Hi everyone,

It’s MbappeforMVP again for another in-depth study. This time I’m going to focus on potential targets at the (big) forward spot for the Suns in free-agency.

Before showing you the results of this study and my final conclusions about who I think the Suns should/could/would go get I need to make the usual recap of the scope, the data I considered and the methodology I used to end up with those results.


THE SCOPE

I considered as free-agent big forward :

  • Any player who’s not under contract for 2020-21
  • Unrestricted free-agent (there are no RFA fitting that mold anyway, the closest one being Torrey Craig who’s a wing more than a big forward)
  • Player options with a real chance to be declined (that excludes players like Gordon Hayward, James Johnson or Otto Porter)
  • Team options with a high likelihood to be declined
  • Players who have played at least 20 games this season and at least 14 minutes per game
  • Exclusion of Anthony Davis

It resulted in 16 players (in no particular order) :

  • Bobby Portis
  • Christian Wood
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Dario Saric
  • Davis Bertans
  • Derrick Favors
  • Frank Kaminsky
  • Jabari Parker
  • JaMychal Green
  • Jeff Green
  • Jerami Grant
  • Juan Hernangomez
  • Marvin Williams
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Paul Millsap
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  • Serge Ibaka
  • Solomon Hill

I have decided to add 4 other non-free-agent players to that bunch. I chose to add Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., Aaron Gordon and Lauri Markkanen. The former two because I wanted to see how they compare to those potential free-agent targets and the latter ones because they have been the recipient of many trade rumors/scenarii in the Sunsphere for more than a year now.


THE DATA

Before we check the results of this study, let’s look at the data that will help us get a clear view of the value of each player based on 3 main categories :

  • General
  • Offense
  • Defense

Each of these category is split in 2 sub-categories :

  • Advanced stats
  • Basic stats (unit can be per-36, or %, or basis point)

General (advanced) include :

  • Player Efficiency Rating (PER) with 15 being league average (meaning a player with 15 or more is considered an above-average player by this metric)
  • Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) with -2 being “replacement-level player production” (-2 points per 100 possessions)
  • Win-Shares (a player with 3 WS means that player alone has contributed to 3 of the team’s win total)
  • % of WS (it’s a tool I’ve fabricated myself corresponding to “Player X win-shares / Team win total”)
  • WS per 48 (it’s the number of WS for every 48 minutes Player X plays)

General (per-36, %, bp) :

  • Weight per-36 is equal to 36 / number of minutes played by Player X (it is a tool I fabricated, the closest to 1 the better)
  • Fouls per-36
  • % of wins (Wins in which Player X participated / Player X total games played x 100)
  • Durability (Games played by Player X / Total games)

Offense (advanced) :

  • Offensive Win-Shares
  • % of Offensive Win-Shares (Player X Off. WS / Team Total Wins)
  • Offensive On-Off Court Differential (Team Offensive Rating when Player X is on the court – Team Off. Rtg when X is off the court)

Offense (per 36, %, bp) :

  • Points per minute
  • eFG% (Effective Field Goal % takes into account the impact of 3PT vs 2PT giving a real sense of Player X efficiency overall)
  • 2PT made per-36
  • 3PT made per-36
  • FT made per-36
  • FT%
  • Offensive Rebounds per-36
  • Assists per-36
  • TO per-36 (Turnovers)

Defense Advanced :

  • Defensive Win-Shares (same calculation as Offensive WS above, but for defense)
  • % of Defensive Win-Shares (same calculation as Offensive WS above, but for defense)
  • Defensive On-Off Court Differential (same calculation as Off. On-Off Diff. above, but for defense)

Defense (per-36, %, bp)

  • Defensive Rebounds per-36
  • Steals per-36
  • Blocks per-36
  • Opponent Defended Shot Attempts (The total number of shots, 2PT & 3PT, Player X has defended)
  • Opponent eFG% (measures pretty well the overall efficiency of opponents when Player X is the defender)
  • Opp. Defended 2PT Attempts
  • Opp. 2PT DFG% (DFG% for Defended Field Goal Percentage is the defensive version of FG% basically)
  • Opp. 2PT DFG% Differential (measures the difference between Player X defending inside the arc vs how his teammates fare in same area)
  • Opp. Defended 3PT Attempts
  • Opp. 3PT DFG%
  • Opp. 3PT DFG% Differential

Now that I have provided and explained the data I’m using to do this study I need to explain why I choose to use “weights” to weight/ponder those aforementioned metrics. Not all data are created equal, some are much more important than others. I referred to this website https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/stats/9_stats_basketball_coach_should_track.html (among others) to know what stats are correlated the most to Player X individual performance and to team success.

For there I chose to apply weighting to each statistical category to better reflect the “real” impact of a player. I tried to think it as much as I could and probably spent half an hour just going back and forth until I got what seemed like the right mix of weights imo. Know that even other weights applied here and there (or no weights at all) the (players) tiers remain quite the same (more on the tiers below) even if players jockey from a position to another.


THE STUDY


THE RESULTS

As you can see I have a final ranking of players, using this data and methodology, that would probably shock nobody at the very top. But after that I think there are a few surprises, pleasant and unpleasant. Let’s put these guys into tiers first (included non-free-agent in italic) :

Tier-1 : Christian Wood (Top-3 overall, offense AND defense ! Wow !)

Tier-2 : Serge Ibaka, MIKAL BRIDGES (YAYYY!!! :D) and Jerami Grant (only players in the top-8 of each category)

Tier-3 : Danilo Gallinari (FIRST in both general and offense categories ! Dead last on the defense though ! Incredible ! He’s even worse on defense than the “Don’t Touch Them” tiers (last two) !!!)

Tier-4 : Paul Millsap, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Favors

Tier-5 : Davis Bertans, Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Oubre

Tier-6 : Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Dario Saric

Tier-7 : Marvin Williams, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis

Tier-8 : Frank Kaminsky, Maurice Harkless

Tier-9 : Juan Hernangomez, Solomon Hill

What it means?

  • Mikal Bridges is way younger than all those free-agents. He’s also much better than them except for Wood and Ibaka. Going by that study he’s in the same realm as Grant.
  • If the Suns were to position themselves on one of those tier-1, -2 or -3 free agents it would mean they are shopping Oubre because I don’t see any of them coming to PHX to start (and probably finish) the game on the bench. None of Wood, Ibaka, Grant or Gallinari will sign for that.
  • It means that if Oubre is a keeper the best case scenario for the Suns in free-agency would be to go after one of those tier-4 or -5 players (Millsap, Favors or Bertans). They all present very different profiles.
  • Millsap is a pure 4 who can play spot up minutes at the 5 in very small-ball lineups. He’s probably the most versatile, experienced and accomplished of the bunch but he’s also the oldest. If the Suns go after him it shouldn’t be for more than a 2y deal (maybe 3 with a team option).
  • Similar to Millsap, Favors is quite versatile and offers a nice mix of offense-defense. He’s still quite “young” being 29 years old (compared to Millsap 35). He’s best suited to play center (backing up Deandre) than power forward in modern NBA but if he shows a willingness and consistency to shoot from distance (like he’s shown glimpses of in past years) he could become a younger, better version of Aaron Baynes in future years and maybe could he play alongside Ayton?
  • Bertans has way more variance among this tier as he’s THE SECOND BEST PLAYER OF THE BUNCH OFFENSIVELY but also ONE OF THE WORST (19th) on defense !!! He’s like a younger, less bulky version of Gallinari out there. He’s obviously less versatile on offense than Gallo, being more of a 3PT specialist in the Kyle Korver mold.
  • They are not free-agents but the next in line are Markkanen and Oubre. You would think Kelly would fare better on defense while Lauri would get the nod on offense, right?? Wrong! It’s the contrary that is happening, quite to my surprise I must admit. Dealing Kelly for Lauri would be a lateral move imo so if the Suns did something like than (or an Oubre-Gordon swap) it would probably with the intention to better balance the roster and answer specific needs. However, the front office has to take many things into account, tangibles and intangibles. I don’t know how I would feel about an Oubre swap for Markkanen or Gordon (who fares better (7th) than Oubre (11th) overall by the way, where Oubre is better offensively, Gordon is defensively by the same margin).
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has a similar global impact than Dario Saric but in a much different way. I can’t think of 2 players being more opposite to one another lol ! Saric’ salary this year (and his eventual Qualifying Offer) are slightly better than Rondae’s this year and below what Kaminsky signed last summer. If I follow these results, Kaminsky should be waived (unguaranteed 2nd year) and one of Rondae/Saric could be had/kept with a similar offer (room-exception/QO).
  • That tier-7 of free-agents should be viewed as candidates to an exception (room or bi-annual), just like Kaminsky. If the Suns go after one of them with more than that, I’m done.
  • Don’t touch tiers-8 and -9 (meaning bye bye Frank very likely)

THE TARGETS

Now considering age, possible contract offer they might seek, fit, etc. I think the Suns should make those guys a priority the minute off-season starts :

  • Jerami Grant : He’s the best potential target who might be in our price-range (12-15M?) and more importantly be willing to come off-the-bench (if Oubre is kept/offered an extension). He’s my dream scenario! Could be best of both worlds ! Keep Kelly AND add a player in the same mold as Mikal but bigger. Forget about Wood (out of our price range imo unless Oubre is dealt in the process, sign-and-trade?), Ibaka (ditto Wood) and Gallinari (ditto Ibaka).
  • If Grant is a no-go then quickly turn and time for full-court press on Millsap. They won’t keep both him and Grant (salary purposes). He’s the best candidate left imo and would be a great addition.
  • If no Grant/Millsap the only 2 remaining worthy free-agent targets out there are Favors or Bertans. They offer very different profiles but any of these 2 would be a welcomed addition off-the-bench for me (NOLA likely keeps Favors as their starting-center though, hard to beat that, we’ll see).
  • And last resort, if every other scenario above falls apart, either keep Dario with a QO (i.e. he receives no better offer elsewhere, which is still a possibility) or sign Rondae. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand if none of them could be had/kept at that price then just keep Kaminsky.
  • Those moves (keeping/adding Saric or Rondae or Kaminsky) would leave enough cap-room to re-sign Baynes instead of chasing a big forward. Not ideal but still worthy. Offer Baynes a very good 1y deal (in the 10-12M range) to incentivize him to stay in PHX rather than join a contender on a lower offer. Reassess free agency in 2021 or work the trade market (Oubre) if what’s you deem necessary.

So there it is.

I hope you enjoyed it and the chart helped you get a clearer view of what we have (Mikal, Kelly, Dario, Frank) and what we could get in replacement of one or several of them. Obviously Mikal is a keeper so every big FA signee or S&T (Wood, Ibaka, Grant(?)) or trade scenario (Gordon, Markkanen) revolves around Kelly being out of the Suns’ picture.

What do you think Suns’ fans?

What would you do if you were in James Jones’ shoes this coming offseason?? :)

Poll

Which big forward should the Suns sign this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Jerami Grant
    (204 votes)
  • 8%
    Paul Millsap
    (29 votes)
  • 9%
    Davis Bertans
    (30 votes)
  • 8%
    Derrick Favors
    (28 votes)
  • 10%
    Saric or someone else
    (34 votes)
325 votes total Vote Now