Apropos of nothing, here are the total contract values of all centres in the NBA, not including those on minimum salaries (or with really close to minimum salaries, such as Samardo Samuels). In cases where a player’s position is debatable or flexible, discretion is used, and the player’s primary position is used (i.e. Pau Gasol wouldn’t be listed at centre, even though he essentially backs up there, because he starts at power forward). In the case of someone like Al Jefferson – who was paid to be a power forward but who will now be a centre – the latter option is used. Figures are as accurate as I can get them to be, which is very.
– L.A. Clippers: Chris Kaman (5 years, $52 million)
– L.A. Lakers: Andrew Bynum (4 years, $57.2 million)
– Miami: Joel Anthony (5 years, $18.25 million)
– Washington: JaVale McGee (rookie scale)
By the way, I lied. This was apropos of Joakim Noah’s extension.
Some people out there think Noah is only Varejao’s equal. As such, they think Noah should have been paid roughly equal to that of Varejao. And some people even think Varejao is overpaid, so God knows what they’re expect Noah to have rightfully gotten. Nevertheless, what Noah actually got, as reported by Sam Smith at Bulls.com, is five years and $60 million. The above list attempts to quantify that extension, its value to the team, and examine where it stacks up amongst Noah’s peers.
Joakim Noah averaged 10.7 points and 11.0 rebounds last season. Giving mulligans to Lamar Odom (9.8rpg) and Al Horford (9.9), and not including Earl Barron (who only played 7 games), only 14 players averaged rebounding double-doubles last season. And of those 14, only 7 were centres, one of whom (David Lee) does not figure to be a centre this year. Additionally, Joakim averaged 2.1 assists per game in that time, a 700% increase on Brendan Haywood’s assist total. He blocked 1.2 shots a night, and also averaged 0.7 steals, which is pretty healthy for a centre. And he did all this in only 30 minutes per game.
Calling someone an “energy” player is usually meant pejoratively. Its intent is usually to infer that the player has no skill, and impacts the game only by running around like a blue arsed fly, flailing wildly at the ball while having no ball skills themselves. It’s an accusation often levied at Noah by those wanting to besmirch him. And when it’s not meant only pejoratively, Noah is absolutely an energy player. But he’s also highly skilled, a simple yet important detail that the phrase “energy player” overlooks. And he’s also extremely productive.
Comparable contracts include those of Bogut, Okafor, Nene and Kaman. Bogut was paid during the summer of 2008, at a time in which he had already begun his transition into an elite defensive centre, but before such time that anybody outside of Milwaukee had noticed. He is now underpaid for his services, or would be if it weren’t for bad luck with his health. Okafor is overpaid; he never developed offensively, has gotten worse defensively, does not have centre size, is not very athletic any more, and is best served only as a rebounder. Nene is paid exactly correctly, which is perhaps slightly fortuitous given that he was paid after missing a whole season due to injury, yet ultimately laudable. And Chris Kaman, when he’s in a good year, is also underpaid. You just don’t always know which it will be.
Some of the contracts in that list are close to expiring, and were signed at a time when VFM was different. Lest we forget, it was as recently as 2004 when the salary cap was only $43.9 million, barely enough for two Rashard Lewises. Additionally, those that are currently underpaid, such as Marc Gasol and the unlisted Al Horford, won’t be so for much longer. Bargains such as Kendrick Perkins and Tiago Splitter are the exceptions, not the rule; Boston had the foresight to lock up Perkins before he was good, and San Antonio’s negotiations with Splitter were helped greatly by the fact that they were the only NBA team he could negotiate with. On the open market, both would command a great deal more than that. And next summer, Perkins will get it.
Where you place Noah in the rankings of current NBA centres is up to you. It seems clearcut that Dwight Howard is the best, and that Andrew Bogut is second best. [Note: Tim Duncan has played a lot of centre for many years, but now that Tiago Splitter’s here, next year should see more power forward again, and thus I count him as one accordingly.] How you choose to judge the rest of the list is open to interpretation; however, the group including Noah, Horford, Lopez, Kaman, Yao, Jefferson, Oden, Marc Gasol and Bynum must surely make up the next few spots in whatever order. (Personally, I have him eighth. And I’m not telling you who goes 3-7.) Two of those players, Yao and Oden, are significant injury doubts; it is beyond question that they are better than Noah when they are healthy, but it’s also extremely doubtful that either will ever be 75% healthy again. Their rankings must therefore be adjusted accordingly. With all this to consider, there is never going to be a clearcut answer to a question like that, one which deals in hypotheticals and an ever-changing landscape of variables and personal biases.
Whatever the answer is to you, though, the financial comparison between Noah and those peers reveals results flattering to Chicago. $12 million per annum for a guy who struggles to make shots around the basket, who can’t post up, who can be outmuscled by Rashad McCants, and whose jump shot is fledgling at best, sounds stupid at first glance. Noah is certainly a flawed player. Yet his substantial production, outlined above, is the reason to be cheerful. Noah’s flaws don’t stop him from putting up the kind of statlines that few others are capable of, the ones he will be paid to repeat.
If you put him on the level of Varejao, Jeff Foster, or even Andris Biedrins, then you’re just not trying to appreciate him.
Furthermore, the oft-held idea that Joakim Noah is a nothing offensively is extremely baseless. He is flawed offensively, but he is not Dan Gadzuric out there. Noah is a good passer of the ball, which is why Chicago run offence through him despite his own limited isolation scoring ability. He never takes bad shots, and takes only shots he can make; this, in itself, is a very underrated skill. He has become a good pick-and-roll option, a developing pick and pop options, has a decent left hand, and is particularly adept at a running left handed hook shot that you’ll probably think was just a fluke if e’er he makes it against your team, but which really isn’t. Noah’s jump shot has improved considerably, going from an absolute nothing to a respectable open shooter, and he shoots 75% from the foul line. Your team’s centre probably doesn’t. But his most underrated offensive ability is his ability to run the court. Even if he doesn’t get the ball, Noah will run anyway. And he will either finish with a dunk, or provide a wonderful decoy for another guy to finish. This ability was responsible for about 100 Chicago Bulls points last year; while I’ve admittedly fashioned that number out of my arse, the point stands. These are abilities most centres either don’t have or don’t use, and they must be factored into any evaluation of Joakim’s abilities.
When you combine this with his elite rebounding and his decent defensive skills – which can be overrated at times, but which are still pretty good – then you’re talking about a useful and productive two-way player. Joakim has significant flaws, and it always stings the balls to give $12 million annually to an obviously flawed player. But the flaws are only hugely detrimental if you perceive them to be; considering that Noah’s style of play and resulting effectiveness greatly mitigate these weaknesses, you shouldn’t perceive them to be as important as his production. Players like Brendan Haywood and Dam Salembert have more of what you might call “centre size” – a fact often cited in their defence in comparison with Noah – yet it barely matters that they’re slightly heavier and thus easier to imagine at the spot. The value for money is different at the centre position to what it would be in the backcourt. This list evidences that. And that list doesn’t even include the power forwards.
$12 million annually for Joakim Noah is the most Chicago could pay without the contract becoming “bad”, and Noah will still need to improve some more to justify that amount. A big part of that improvment must come from his health, because he can’t ever be value for money at $12 million annually if he only does what he does for 65 games a year. $2 million a year less would be far more palatable for the team and for the fans, whilst $1 million more would have been difficult to justify. It is still a fair price, though, and reflects the costs of doing business with such a young productive athletic 6’11 centre.
Good big men get 8 figures annually. That’s the game.