Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
When Bill Simmons wrote at Grantland last week that Nikola Vucevic has the 11th-best bargain contract in the NBA, he was not just whistling Dixie. Not only is Vucevic averaging a double-double (12.3 ppg and 11.4 rpg), he’s also shown the capacity to put up huge numbers (just ask the Miami Heat). And the kicker is that he’s doing it all for $1.7 million this season.
Simmons breaks down his bargains, but I tend to think there are only two real types of value contracts in the landscape of the new CBA: 1.) a superstar on a max contract like LeBron James or Kevin Durant and 2.) a player on a rookie-scale contract that’s already a stud — guys like Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis come to mind immediately.
Vucevic definitely belongs in the second category. I think the best way to realize his ridiculous value is to compare his production with those around him and then find out what his contemporaries are getting paid.
For instance, right now Vucevic has a Player Efficiency Rating (17.4) that’s on par with Emeka Okafor (16.3) and DeAndre Jordan (16.8), who make $13.5 million and $10.5 million respectively. Vucevic, I repeat, makes $1.7 million this season and is putting up comparable numbers when examining all three players side-by-side. That alone shows that Vucevic is a bargain for the Orlando Magic.
But Vucevic’s value doesn’t stop there. He’s going to remain on a rookie-scale contract until the end of the 2014-2015 season, which ultimately means that the Magic have a very productive center for pennies on the dollar as they attempt to rebuild over the next two and a half seasons. This is an outrageously positive starting block for Orlando. What probably does not get mentioned enough is that it’s the absolute best-case scenario for the Magic following the Dwight Howard trade.
Vucevic’s ceiling is high, too. We’re talking about a second-year man who has shown the capacity to fill up the stat sheet and drop huge double-doubles on his opponent. We’re also talking about a guy who has gotten better in his second year. But mostly, we’re talking about a guy who appears to be progressively improving his game and probably has the threshold to be a top-tier center in the next season or two.
The worst-case scenario is that Vucevic levels out over the next two or three seasons, loses some value, and never ends up costing the Magic too much money when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2016. So any way you spin the Vucevic picture, it generally comes out as a decidedly good thing for Orlando. There again we can view him as a bargain.
I’m more interested in long-term value, though, and Vucevic being a bargain in the immediate does not do a whole lot for me, as it doesn’t put wins on the schedule and doesn’t put Orlando any closer to a playoff berth. To me, a real bargain is someone who gives you those wins.
That’s why it’s crucial for Vucevic to keep improving and for the Magic to continue building around him. There’s a sense that this should be a semi-rapid process and this off-season will be extremely telling about how the Magic are going to look in the future.
Yes, Vucevic is a bargain right now, but how much more of a bargain would he be next year with other crucial pieces around him and the Magic bordering on being a .500 team again with a shot at the playoffs?
We’ll find out, I guess.
For now, we can rest assured that Vucevic is ready to handle whatever is thrown at him and the Magic can only hope they can fully capitalize on this situation before Vucevic’s big payday arrives.