We’ve officially reached the slowest portion of the year-round basketball season. Free agency is all but over. Trade winds have stalled and fallen motionless, or as motionless as such things can (Marc Stein confirmed Caron Butler to Milwaukee whispers as this was being written). Like a roast left to slow cook in a Crockpot, we marinate in our hope, doubt, disappointment, excitement or even dread.
Yet, like bubbles occasionally popping at the surface, bringing with them a quick splash of flavor or scent, sending our thoughts spinning through what could be, what could have been … there occasionally comes something that draws our eye.
In this case, the bubble percolating through our mind comes in the form of an article on WagesofWins.com, where the transactions of the offseason, including players signed, traded or re-signed, are analytically measured and possible outcomes for the upcoming season are predicted … and maybe, just maybe, the word “contender” is used in the same sentence as the Dallas Mavericks, even if predicated on a plethora of “ifs.”
Offseason grades have mostly found the Dallas Mavericks wanting, such as Chad Ford’s “D+”, labeling only the Knicks lower, with a “D.” What began with a swing and miss at Dwight Howard and a never-got-a-chance with Chris Paul left a taint on all that followed.
The horrid misperception that the Mavs “missed” on a player they chose not to pursue in Andrew Bynum further tilted the scales towards negativity.
So, what does someone outside the local web of disappointment find? What does Arturo Galletti of WagesofWins, described on the site as an “avid Boston sports fan” see in the Mavs’ summer, and what’s to follow?
We’ll begin with the most glowing positive: Jose Calderon.
To oversimplify, and likely do some level of injustice to the depth of Galletti’s work, here is a brief synopsis of what his numbers are attempting to show: a player’s worth, as well as his worth compared to his salary.
Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, and just as there is with any set of numbers seeking to define a player by purely numerical values, there are holes – such as the fact that when looking solely at the 2013-14 season, LeBron James is shown as the second most valued player in the league behind Chris Paul with Kawhi Leonard ranking third … again, this is purely based on what his numbers say their salaries, their “market value” should be in the coming season, or their monetary worth.
So, Kawhi Leonard will have more value than Kevin Durant, who ranks sixth, next season, not just in comparison to his salary, but in overall worth (Leonard at $26 million, Durant at $23.1) … oh, and in case you wanted to remember what it feels like to get punched in the gut, Tyson Chandler ranks as the fourth.
Calderon is the highest Mavs player, valued 21st at $17.5 million.
As we’ll discuss further down, there are also some inconsistencies with the players projected minutes per game, whether it be passing out too many minutes to players who are likely to overlap, or allowing injuries from a season ago to weigh too heavily: such as the 22.5 minutes-per-game projected for Dirk Nowitzki.
Despite it’s flaws, there is still more than a few nuggets worth digesting.
We circle back around to Jose Calderon.
Galletti uses the term “Win Delta,” or the “difference between the wins paid for by the player’s contract and the actual wins expected from the player.” The higher the “Win Delta” the greater the player is predicted to outplay his contract.
Of all the players to “move” this summer, including free agents that changed teams and those that were either traded or re-signed, Chris Paul ranks first on his list, providing the most wins above what would be expected from a player compared to his contract.
The next non-rookie on the list: Jose Calderon.
For the 2013-14 season, Chris Paul is projected to provide 13 wins above what would be expected given his contract. Of all players “moved” Calderon comes next with seven.
The kicker for many, over the full course of their new deals, including this summer’s added rookies – who you would expect to be sprinkled heavily near the top of this list, given their low-cost rookie-scale deals – Calderon ranks as the fourth best “value signing.”
Meaning, this does not see Calderon’s four-year deal as a negative, only added value. The numbers do show a gradual decline in his value, but view him as remaining worth more than his salary through all four seasons.
Of players “moved,” here is where Calderon’s “Win Delta” would rank over the life of his contract (again, this only compares to deals signed this summer or already intact this summer for players traded, so the pool gets smaller each year):
2013-14: Win Delta of 7 ranks second
2014-15: Win Delta of 5 ranks third
2014-15: Win Delta of 4 ranks seventh
2015-16: Wind Delta of 3 ranks eighth
In other words, this agrees with Mark Cuban's thoughts when he wonders why so many viewed the Calderon deal as a “bad” one, even at four years.
For the league as a whole (all players), Calderon is ranked ninth in “Win Delta” for the 2013-14 season.
Added to the Calderon signing, of the non-rookie players to have “moved” WagesofWins projects Brandan Wright and Samuel Dalembert as the 12th and 14th ranked signings in “Win Delta” … you soon find Dallas to be ranked near the very top in terms of overall offseason success.
Measured against the expectations of a superstar, this may provide little solace, but … I mean, it’s something. Right?
Maybe we’re the drowning looking for something to cling to. If so, in this time of pressing silence and forced patience, at least it’s something.
From the best in Calderon, we head to the opposite end of the spectrum: Monta Ellis.
Of the 203 players to have “moved” this summer, Ellis is ranked at 201 in “Win Delta” ranking, giving four less wins than should be expected of his salary for each of the three years of his contact.
However, this comes with a caveat we’ve covered at length, a reason to hold on to hope that Ellis can be more than the shot-happy-inefficient-scorer reputation that accompanies him: this projection is based on the recent past.
It does not have the numbers to predict what influence Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the complete shift in environment beyond the relative turmoil of Monta’s past two seasons -- changing teams in the middle of one and coaches in the other – can or will have.
Even with the low grade for the Ellis signing, Galletti shows the Mavs as having the third highest rated offseason by both the 2013-14 “Win Delta” and “Projected Wins” of the players they added (though the high number of these players for Dallas certainly plays some role in that), and considers the Mavs offseason among the best overall, along with the Clippers, Heat, Hawks and Spurs.
So, what do they say this may mean to the outcome of upcoming season?
Dallas is slotted in as the 11th ranked team, sixth in the West with a projected win total ranging from 31.7 (bad) to 44.3 (nominal) to 53.4 (good) (these projections attempt to consider age, injury and ranges of performance).
You may notice the wide margin between the “bad” and “good” projection, a difference of 21.7 wins. This is the ninth widest gap between a team’s “bad” and “good” projections in the league, and further hints at the depth of uncertainty surrounding this team.
Most importantly, will Dirk be healthy?
Wages projects his minutes per game at 22.5. If Dirk is even remotely healthy that number is sure to fall far short of reality (as Galletti addresses to some degree), just as almost every other projection could prove to be more than a little skewed … and the “bad” projections could quickly shrink in the rearview.
Again, what if Monta Ellis pulls a Vince Carter and leaves behind the reputation he arrived with? What if Devin Harris gets healthy? What if Dalembert proves to be the rim protector missed so badly since the departure of Chandler? What if Wright continues to develop? What if DeJuan Blair and Wayne Ellington perfectly fill their roles?
A forest of “what if,” a continent of the unknown.
All of this leaves Galletti to label the Mavs the “real dark horse” of the Western Conference, a team that can be a “contender” if Dirk can return to form or if Blair or Monta “can be redeemed” (side note, isn’t “redeemed” the near perfect word here?).
It’s not a word we’ve thrown around. It’s something we’ve all flinched so quickly away from, deeming it too farfetched a fantasy to consider embracing, a notion buried beneath a galaxy of “what if.”
But, what if …