Stretch Bigs: Show Me the Money

by Spencer Suk

While everyone has been focusing on LeBron James' free agency, there have already been a few signings. Big men with shooting range have been flying off the shelf.  Three have signed with new teams (Channing Frye, Spencer Hawes, and Josh McRoberts), while another took a hometown discount on his new extension (Dirk Nowitzki).

As defenses have developed smarter schemes and game plans, floor spacing and shooting have never been more important.  Thus, teams have been slobbering over big men who can shoot from distance (players also known as stretch bigs), throwing large sums of money their way.  Let's face it, these stretch bigs aren't getting paid for their skills on the defensive end. In fact, some players on the list might actually hurt their team's defensively. So... are all of these stretch bigs really worth it?

In order to analyze these freshly minted contracts, all power forwards and centers who attempted at least three 3-pointers per game last season were studied.  While this obviously excludes stretch bigs who don’t play enough minutes to qualify (see Matt Bonner), there are still enough candidates left to compare our new signees to.  Below are the eight men who qualified as stretch bigs:

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The No Brainer:

Dirk Nowitzki, 3 years for $30 million

No stats should even have to be brought up here (but we’ll do it for kicks).  The 36 year old German is coming off another strong season averaging 21.7 points, while shooting a hair below 40% from the 3-point line.  His rebounding numbers have definitely taken a dip; however, the league hasn’t seen a big man who can shoot and score quite like Nowitzki since Larry Bird.

Nowitzki’s extension puts his annual salary right in between Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson:

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Love is one of the best power forwards in today’s game.  While his defense definitely needs work, he finished 3rd in the entire league in estimated wins added (EWA is the amount of wins a player adds to a team’s total above what a replacement player would produce) and is one of the best rebounders around.  In other words, he is most certainly deserving of his contract.

Anderson, on the other hand, is an interesting case.  He will make $1.5 million less than Dirk next year, yet his statistics are almost identical to the German’s (Anderson’s EWA is much lower because he missed half of the season due to injury).  The main difference between the two players is that Dirk is reliable go-to, all-around scorer, while Anderson is a 3-point gunner, chucking up 7.5 attempts per game and knocking down an outstanding 40.9% of them.  

Regardless, Nowitzki has been a Maverick for life and led them to a championship in 2011.  He easily could have commanded more money in the open market, but chose to take a pay cut in order to bring more talent over to Dallas.  Mark Cuban will sleep snuggly at night knowing his superstar is locked up on this deal.

The Great Fits:

Spencer Hawes, 4 years for $23 million

Josh McRoberts, 4 years for $23 million

Both Hawes and McRoberts are about to fill needs for playoff-bound teams at reasonable prices.  Hawes is about to become the third big man in a rotation that features Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan.  While Griffin and Jordan are extremely talented players, they lack the shooting to create great spacing.  Enter Spencer Hawes, with his 41.6% shooting from downtown (the best shooting percentage of all the players that qualified as stretch bigs).  The Clippers are still in need of a wing player, but they will no longer have to rely on the likes of Ryan Hollins (no offense Ryan, Clipper Nation loves you) and Byron Mullens.

McRoberts would have fit in great alongside Wade, Bosh, and James.  However, James’ departure has changed things a bit.  McRoberts should find a way to really help Miami’s (now) dynamic duo, but it won’t be directly because of his 3-point shooting.

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McRoberts is more of a floor spacer than an actual shooter.  This may sound counterintuitive, but let me explain.  While McRoberts is the third worst shooter (according to percentages) of the eight stretch bigs, he is still capable of knocking down the 3-pointer, forcing rim-protecting defenders to step up on him.  The same can even be said of Thaddeus Young and Pero Antic, who are much worse 3-point shooters than McRoberts.  But what makes McRoberts unique is his athleticism, adding to his diverse skill set on both ends of the court.  Like Boris Diaw, McRoberts excels at catching the ball far away from the hoop and making the right play.  He is a willing passer, averaging an astounding 4.3 assists, but is also ready to launch a shot up if the defense isn’t paying attention.  His game should seamlessly adapt into the Heat system, allowing him to complement Wade and Bosh.

The Head-Scratcher

Channing Frye, 4 years for $32 million

This deal is baffling for two reasons:

First of all, I don’t understand what the Magic are trying to accomplish here.  They already have a frontcourt filled with young, promising players.  Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic are two valuable assets who both had impressive seasons, Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are 21 and 24 years old respectively, and Aaron Gordon was their 4th overall pick this year.  So why go and sign another big man when you already have high-potential players who need playing time at his position?  Maybe the Magic are searching for a veteran who can groom their younger stretch bigs like Aaron Gordon... Maybe the Magic are trying to fill cap space in order meet the minimum payroll... Maybe the Magic are building a system in which Channing Frye can fill an immediate role until the young guns are ready to take the reigns... But nonetheless, the Magic could have done a lot more with $32 million dollars now on the books.

Now the more troubling aspect of the deal: Channing Frye is 31!  The Magic will still be paying Frye $8 million when he is 35.  The final year of his contract is also when the Magic should be expecting their roster to start fulfilling its potential: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic (all very talented players) should all be in or near their primes at this point.  And believe me, the Magic are going to need Frye’s $8 million to pay these young guns once their rookie deals expire

But whatever the Magic's plan, they're one of many teams driving up the price and value of stretch bigs on the open market.