With all due respect to that show on ESPN that nobody watches, numbers often lie.
Robin Lopez was the NBA’s most efficient offensive player last season, at 128.1 points per 100 possessions, based on Basketball Reference’s calculations. DeAndre Jordan led the league in field goal percentage, making more than 67 percent of his shots. Joakim Noah was 20th in block percentage, swatting just 3.3 percent of opponent’s shots.
So, was Lopez the best offensive player in the NBA? Was Jordan the best shooter? Was Noah the 20th-best defensive big man?
Of course not. All those numbers came within contexts that need to be acknowledged to understand their true meanings –which brings us to Avery Bradley and his new contract.
Statistics aren’t the only numbers that fail to tell the whole story. In the immediate aftermath of Bradley and the Boston Celtics signing a four-year, $32 million agreement, opinions ranged as to whether the deal was good or bad. Then news of Dirk Nowitzki’s new pact with the Dallas Mavericks broke, though, and suddenly Bradley’s contract was put in a new light.
At a reported $25 million over three years, NBA champion and future Hall of Fame Dirk Nowitzki will make roughly the same on a per-year basis as Bradley, a 23-year-old guard who doesn’t even have a natural position, much less a plaque awaiting him in Springfield, Mass. The comparisons were inevitable. [tweet https://twitter.com/ByJayKing/status/489131803655958528 align=’center’]
We don’t mean to pick on King, who merely pointed out a fact a lot of people were thinking. Except a lot of people took with that idea and ran with it, turning Bradley’s contract into some sort of poison pill and a referendum on Bradley as a player (as King, to his credit, did not). After all, $8 million equals $8 million, right?
No. Not at all. And to pretend it does is either nearsighted or disingenuous.
Like Lopez’s offensive rating, Bradley and Nowitzki’s deals are all about context. Nowitzki is 36 years old, has banked more than $200 million in his 16-year career and took home $22.7 million before taxes last season. All he wants at this point in his career is a shot at another ring. With the Mavs signing Chandler Parsons to a sizable three-year, $36 million contract, Nowitzki had to make some financial concessions to keep that shot alive.
Meanwhile, Bradley doesn’t turn 24 until November. He has earned less in his entire career to date ($7.1 million) than Nowitzki will make at a discounted rate next season. Finally, he will be paid like the starting NBA guard he is.
This doesn’t mean winning is less important to Bradley or that he is greedy. It’s the natural progression of any person’s professional life: Starting out, everyone tries to establish themselves and maximize their earning potential. Later on, after the bills are (hopefully) paid and the kids are out of the house, they can pursue their dream of motorcycling across the country, or whatever. Bradley is at the beginning of that process. Nowitzki is near the end.
The thing is, as much as contracts are payoffs for players, they are also bets for teams. At this point, Bradley is still an unsure bet, but one that could turn out to be worth far than $8 million per year. Nowitzki is a known commodity, an all-time great whose skills, regrettably, keep declining every year. By 2017, Nowitzki’s $8 million might be a drag on Dallas’ payroll, for all anyone knows.
But Bradley’s deal isn’t about Nowitzki, or anyone else for that matter. It’s about him and the Celtics. After years of being underpaid relative to the NBA system, Bradley has finally reached a number that fits him.