Are Luol Deng and Ben Gordon Both Worth $50 Million?

One story we told in The Wages of Wins was about Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.  The Chicago Bulls drafted each big man in 2001.  Four years later – in the summer of 2005 – it was time to make a decision.  Should the team re-sign Chandler and/or Curry to long-term extensions?  In the end, both players signed very similar deals.  In other words, the market said each player was about the same.  As we noted in the book, though, it was pretty clear in 2005 (and even clearer today) that Chandler was by far the more productive player.  In sum, the market over-valued what Curry did in 2005.

Ultimately it was New York, not Chicago, that was hurt by this over-valuation.  Back in 2005 Curry was sent to the Knicks in a deal that ultimately netted Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah for the Bulls.  Given how little Curry has actually done for New York (and again, this was expected in 2005), this was a good deal for Chicago.

This summer the Bulls once again faced a similar problem.  On draft night in 2004 the team acquired both Ben Gordon and Luol Deng.  This past summer Chicago had to decide – would it sign Gordon and/or Deng to long term deals?

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, each player was offered the same deal: $50 million for 5 years.  And each player rejected the offer.  So next summer the negotiations will open again, with each player now able to field offers from other teams.  But as restricted free agents, both will not quite see the offers a free market might provide.

Whether or not either player is retained next summer is not the story today.   The story – assuming the Sun-Times got the offers right – is that the Bulls regard each player as basically the same.  Is that true?

Points Scored and the “Efficiency” Metrics

To answer this question we need to evaluate performance.  The most commonly cited performance metric is points scored per game.  Here is how much scoring each player has offered in his career:

Luol Deng

2004-05: 11.7

2005-06: 14.3

2006-07: 18.8

Career: 15.2

Ben Gordon

2004-05: 15.1

2005-06: 16.9

2006-07: 21.4

Career: 17.8

At every point in each player’s career, Gordon has proven to be the better player. At least, that’s true if all you look at is points scored per game.

What if we use a summary measure like NBA Efficiency (per 48 minutes) or John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER)?

Luol Deng

2004-05: 20.7, 14.2

2005-06: 22.3, 15.8

2006-07: 25.7, 18.7

Career: 23.4, 16.7

Ben Gordon

2004-05: 19.9, 14.9

2005-06: 19.0, 14.5

2006-07: 24.0, 18.2

Career: 21.1, 16.0

The average small forward offers a per 48 minutes NBA Efficiency mark of 20.3.  The average shooting guard has a 19.6 value.  Hollinger’s metric is constructed so that average is 15.0, although I am not sure that’s true for all positions.

Regardless, by these metrics each player was well above average in 2006-07 and has been above average for their respective careers.  Still, Deng is rated as a better player, although the difference – especially with respect to PERs – is rather small.  In sum, if PERs is the metric of choice, the identical $50 million offers might make sense.

Looking at Wins Produced

As noted last year, both NBA Efficiency and PERs over-value scoring.  So how does our perspective change when we turn to measure that doesn’t have this bias?  Yes, let’s now turn to Wins Produce and Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48].

Luol Deng

2004-05: 5.1, 0.147

2005-06: 10.9, 0.200

2006-07: 14.9, 0.232

Career: 30.8, 0.202

Ben Gordon

2004-05: -0.7, -0.016

2005-06: 1.0, 0.020

2006-07: 4.5, 0.081

Career: 4.9, 0.033

Okay, now we have a difference.  Deng produced more wins his rookie season (his worst as a pro) than Gordon has produced his entire career.  What explains such a discrepancy?

To see this, let’s turn to the individual stats.

Table One and Two: The Careers of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon

In each table, above average marks are in black, below average in red. And given this color code, we see that Gordon’s table just bleeds.  Yes, he can score and get assists.  But after these two activities on the offensive end, he is below average.  Specifically, Gordon is below average with respect to rebounds, steals, blocked shots, turnovers, and personal fouls.  Given all this red, it’s not surprising to see a below average Win Score (and as noted above, below average WP48 and Wins Produced).

Looking at Deng we see very little red.   Deng is only below average in his career with respect to steals and assists.  He is above average with respect to scoring, rebounds, blocked shots, turnovers, and personal fouls.

When we look at all the statistics, and we consider the value of these statistics in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency (which Wins Produced does), the choice for Chicago is clear.  Luol Deng needs to be re-signed.  And given how many wins he produces, $10 million per year is a bit low.  A win – as noted in the Anderson Varejao piece – is worth at least $1 million (at least, I am pretty sure about this).

On the other hand, giving $10 million to Gordon is a bit too much.  Yes, Gordon is developing into an average player.  But $10 million per year is an above average wage.  Unless Gordon suddenly develops into an all-around player (like Deng), the Bulls would be better off letting Gordon go and using some of his money to sign Deng.

Certainly what we see from each player in 2007-08 will ultimately make this decision.  Perhaps Gordon will suddenly improve (possible, but unlikely).  Or maybe Deng will get hurt (again, possible).  As it stands in November, though, Deng should cash in next summer.  Gordon probably will also, but I doubt he will ever generate enough wins (and revenue) to justify the deal he will sign in 2008.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

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