The New York Knicks waived Jalen Rose last Monday. And now it has been announced that he will be joining the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns appear to be getting quite a deal. As noted by CBS Sportline (via hoopshype.com), Rose was scheduled to be the 13th highest paid player in the NBA in 2005-06. The Knicks paid Rose $14.5 million to get him off their roster. Consequently Phoenix was able to sign Rose for merely $1.5 million. Clearly a player who was schedule to earn one of the top salaries in the league must be immensely talented. And to get such a player for little more than the veteran’s minimum must be quite a coup.
Well, maybe not. Rose entered the NBA in 1994 as a first round draft choice of the Denver Nuggets. In twelve seasons he has played for five teams – the Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and New York Knicks – and posted a career scoring average of 14.7 points per game. His best three seasons – in terms of scoring – were the 00-01, 01-02, and 02-03 campaigns, when his scoring average topped twenty points per game each season.
Of course there is more to the game than just scoring. Rose is a swingman, which means he primarily plays shooting guard and small forward (although he can also play point guard). If we compare what Rose offers relative to the average shooting guard and small forward, we see a player who can score and pass. On a per-minute basis he is above average with respect to points and assists.
But with respect to every other aspect of the game, Rose is average or below average. And the fact that his shooting efficiency is a bit below average, negates his above average per-minute scoring totals. As we argue in The Wages of Wins, inefficient scoring does not create wins. The ball actually has to go through the hoop for the shot to help.
If we look at Rose’s entire career we see a player who has produced 32.1 wins. And per 48 minutes, has posted a below average mark of 0.056 (average Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] 0.100). In the three seasons when he was scoring more than twenty points per game he offered 8.3 wins and a WP48 of 0.042. In sum, Rose offers his teams a few assists, some inefficient scoring, and not much else.
Still, he has earned more than $100 million in the Association. Why has Rose been paid so well to play basketball? As noted in the post Addition by Subtraction, the NBA suffers from scoring illusion. Players who score, even if the scoring is done inefficiently, tend to get paid quite well. In sum, teams will pay for scoring even if the scoring doesn’t help the team win games.
Does this mean that Rose will not help the Suns? Well, in a loss to the Jazz last night Phoenix was primarily playing at the 1-2-3 slots a combination of Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, Marcus Banks, and James Jones. Except for Nash, all of these players were below average last year. If the Suns transfer the minutes of players like Jones and Banks to Rose, well the team is not any worse off. Not much better off, but not any worse off either.
Oh, and not to over-react to three games – but I did pick the Suns to win the Western Conference. When I made that choice I assumed the team was actually going to play its better players. As long as Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire combine for 33 minutes, its hard to see this team competing with the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. Players must actually play to be helpful.
So this post offers two important yet painfully obvious lessons: In the NBA it helps if shots go in the basket. It also helps if productive players actually appear on the court.