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Hollinger: Ayton worth max & Bridges, Shamet worth a lot more than you think

Former front office exec John Hollinger sees Suns owner going deep deep into the tax

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Veteran NBA insider, executive and reporter, at various stages of his career, John Hollinger now writes for the Athletic ($) on many things that a front office executive would use in player and team evaluations.

This week, Hollinger wrote on what the remaining unextended players from the 2018 NBA Draft class — including three on the Phoenix Suns — are worth in rookie contract extensions. So far, only five players from a very very good rookie class have been extended, four of those being at the max or max+ level ($172 million or more) over five seasons.

Already done

  • Luka Doncic — 3rd overall pick — 5 years, max+ of $207 million guaranteed (30% of the cap, because he has already made All-NBA)
  • Trae Young — 5th overall pick — 5 years, $172 million guaranteed (25% of the cap, with escalator to 30% like Luka if he makes 2022 All-NBA for a total of the max+ $207 million)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — 11th overall pick — 5 years, $172 million guaranteed (25% of the cap, no escalators)
  • Michael Porter Jr. — 14th overall pick — 5 years, $148 million guaranteed (if he stays healthy its $172 million, plus escalators for 2022 All-NBA that could bring the total up to the max+ $207 million)
  • Robert Williams — 27th overall pick — 4 years, $48 million

That’s it. Five players, picked in the range of 3rd to 27th overall.

The Suns, with four players from that same 2018 Draft picked in the range of 1-26, have not yet extended anyone. You all know about Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, but Chandler Hutchison and Landry Shamet came from that draft as well. Three of them are eligible for extension: Ayton, Bridges and Shamet.

Remember how the Suns were all focused on getting every 2015 pick in the fold? They still have three picks from the 2015 Draft (Frank Kaminsky/9, Devin Booker/13, Cameron Payne/14) on this roster, and now have four from the 2018 Draft (Ayton/1, Bridges/10, Hutchison/22, Shamet/26). That’s half the roster from two drafts. By comparison, they have three players combined from the ‘16, ‘17, ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21 Drafts.

Hollinger calculates what each player is worth, according to his super-mathematical model called EEV — Expected Extension Value. I could share with you how he calculates it, but I don’t know if you’ve had your caffeine yet today and I don’t want to lose you. Let’s just say it’s something smart. Here’s the link if you want more: Hollinger’s EEV article

Hollinger’s math agrees with the max extensions already given out to the four above ($172+ million each), and was a little more conservative on Williams (Hollinger calculated 4/$30 for him).

What does he think of the Suns players still waiting on extensions?

Hollinger’s EEV for Suns players

Deandre Ayton (1st overall) — EEV: 5 years, $194 million

Well isn’t this interesting. It’s halfway between the low-max of $172 and the max+ of $207 million. My guess is that if Ayton makes All-NBA next year, which would trigger the escalation, Hollinger’s result would adjust accordingly.

Bottom line: Ayton is worth it, even among the mathematically talented.

Based on the cap and BORD$ projections I used, Ayton is a max player, although not by a massive amount. Most of the surplus value on a max deal for Ayton would come in the last three seasons of the deal when the new TV money hits and the cap is projected to run significantly higher. Ayton projects to be worth more than $40 million in each of those seasons, which sounds silly until you remember the cap might be $150 million.

After some cap, projection and production talk, and how nasty an RFA cycle could play out even if the Suns keep him, Hollinger concludes with...

So, it’s complicated. Because of the risk-management side of the equation, I can sympathize with Phoenix’s position; this doesn’t strike me as just Robert Sarver being cheap. But in technical terms, he projects to be worth the five-year max extension if there are no other strings attached.

It should be noted here that Hollinger is VERY VERY VERY dead set on center not being a position around which you build an NBA team, was against every traditional center pick of the last decade, and was never in the Ayton. That he’s come this far on Ayton is a huge accomplishment.

Mikal Bridges (10th overall) — EEV: 4 years, $124 million

Wait, what? First of all, the 4 years for Mikal, instead of 5, is a necessity for two reasons. (1) the Suns can only have two designated five-year max rookie extensions at a time, and Ayton/Booker are them and (2) the league’s CBA only allows five years on a rookie extension IF the players gets a max salary.

TL;DR: the Suns cannot offer Mikal five years this fall unless they’re willing to attach $172+ million to it.

So here we are, in extension land, looking at four years for Mikal at the most.

So how is he a $30 million per year player anyway, according to Hollinger?!? Even he says it’s a calculation thing that he doesn’t see happening in the real world.

How much is that type of player (elite 3 and D) worth, both to Phoenix and on the open market? My numbers say he might be more valuable to the Suns than to, say, a rival team with cap space that still needs an offensive focal point. As a result, that could dampen his perceived value below the near-max EEV number above. In reality, I don’t see him getting $30 million a year, because I don’t see the rival team out there willing to go to that number in the future. But I do think he’s a slam-dunk at $20 million, particularly on this roster, and could probably get $100 million next summer with another good season.

Hollinger also notes Bridges’ advancing age (he’s 25 already) and says that while Ayton’s best years will be years 4 and 5 of his extension, Bridges’ value will begin to dip by that point just as the salary is highest.

Chandler Hutchison (22nd pick) — not listed

Since Hutchison was released prior to this season, before signing with the Suns on a two-way contract, he is not eligible for an extension.

Landry Shamet (26th pick) — EEV: 3 years, $24 million

Hollinger suggests that Shamet might be worth more than Cam Payne got this summer, but that the Suns likely would have to punt on this one until they have all their other contracts figured out. Shamet fits the profile of a guy you can just re-sign next summer as an RFA, with a ceiling likely already set on his value.

As with (Grayson) Allen, Shamet is old enough that an extension probably makes more sense for three years than for four. Given that Phoenix has two much higher-profile cases to tackle this month (see Ayton and Bridges), one wonders if Shamet will be left to deal with after the season. The sharpshooter cost Phoenix a first-round pick this past summer, so losing him after just one season would be rough. However, the Suns’ upcoming luxury-tax situation makes it difficult to pay all three of them.

Hollinger’s analysis, with this EEV value, rates Ayton and Bridges as the most valuable remaining extension-eligible players. No one else calculates out at more than $99 million over four years (Donte DeVincenzo, taken 17th). Coming in 4th on the eligible list is Kevin Huerter (taken 19th) at $85 million.

Wondering if the NBA Draft is a crapshoot?

Take a look at Hollinger’s EEV for the lottery picks from 2018

  1. Ayton — $34.4+ million per year
  2. Marvin Bagley III — $5
  3. Luka Doncic — $41.4
  4. Jaren Jackson Jr. — $15.2
  5. Trae Young — $34.4+
  6. Mo Bamba — $3.1
  7. Wendell Carter Jr. — $12.5
  8. Collin Sexton — $16
  9. Kevin Knox — $3.2
  10. Mikal Bridges — $30
  11. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — $34.4
  12. Miles Bridges — $17.5
  13. Jerome Robinsonreleased, not eligible
  14. Michael Porter Jr. — $34.4+
  15. Troy Brown Jr. — $11
  16. Zhaire Smith — released, not eligible
  17. Donte DeVincenzo — $24.75
  18. Lonnie Walker — $3
  19. Kevin Huerter — $21.25
  20. Josh Okogie — $12
  21. Grayson Allen — $5.6
  22. Chandler Hutchison — released, not eligible
  23. Aaron Holiday — $8.25
  24. Anfernee Simons — $4.5
  25. Moritz Wagner — released, not eligible
  26. Landry Shamet — $8
  27. Robert Williams — $11
  28. Jacob Evans — released, not eligible
  29. Dzanan Musa — released, not eligible
  30. Omari Spellman — released, not eligible

Of the 30 first round picks in one of the best drafts of the last 20 years:

  • 14 are worth more than the league’s mid-level salary (46%)
  • 9 made it to year four, but are worth less than mid-level (30%)
  • 7 failed to even make it through their rookie contract before being waived (23%)

The Suns had a good draft, taking 2 of the top 6 players from the 2018 Draft in terms of Hollinger’s EEV calculations.

If this year matches the last couple of years, at least half dozen of these players will sign extensions by October 18, with almost all of those going down to that last day or two while sides negotiate.

When Ayton and Bridges sign — not if but when — the Suns will their playoff-proven core locked up for years to come.

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