Flipping Mitch?

We start the week by examining the current contract situation with Mitchell Robinson, and whether it could alter his long term future with the Knicks.

Good morning! We are now t-minus one week away from the opening of camp for the Knicks. As such, I’ll spend the next week finishing up the last of the Ask Macri questions I’ve received over the course of the summer in addition to getting into some NBA preview stuff for the season ahead. As always, if you’d like to get in on the action and start receiving this newsletter five days per week (plus the occasional weekend) you know what to do:

🗣 News & Notes ✍️

🏀 No real news this weekend, but I thought it was a good time to highlight where all the prominent Knicks stand as far as the betting odds for individual awards.

Courtesy of Vegas Insider:

  • Julius Randle is tied for the 21st best odds for MVP at +6600. For the non-gamblers out there, this means you need to bet $100 to win $6600. Luka Doncic is the favorite at +400.

  • Deuce McBride has the exact same odds (+6600) for Rookie of the Year as Randle does for MVP, tying him with six other players for 22nd best. Cade Cunningham is the favorite at +250.

  • Derrick Rose has the best individual awards odds of any Knick; he’s +1600 for Sixth Man of the Year, putting him in a tie for 5th behind last year’s winner and the 2021-22 fave, Jordan Clarkson, at +550.

  • Three Knicks appear on the odds list for Defensive Player of the Year, and two of them play the same position: Mitchell Robinson (+5000, t-15th) Nerlens Noel (+8000, t-25th) and Julius Randle (+15000, t-34th). Rudy Gobert, who has won three of the last four trophies, is tied with Ben Simmons as the favorite at +350.

  • Robinson appears again, with slightly longer odds for Most Improved Player at +6600, but he’s not the Knick with the best odds. That would be RJ Barrett, who is tied for 19th at +3000. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Zion Willimson are the co-favorites at +7000.

  • Talk about no respect; last year’s Coach of the Year winner Tom Thibodeau places 16th in the odds race this year at +2500, far behind the favorite Steve Nash. Will he have to share the award with Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Nets if he wins?

  • Finally, a few Knicks appear in the odds listings for a few league-leaders: Randle for scoring at +15000, and Randle (+6600) and Robinson (+15000) for rebounding.

Of these, I’m sure Barrett will get a lot of local love for Most Improved, and justifiably so. I don’t love the value for any of the listed Knicks enough to plop down any cash though. The one pick I find pretty interesting? Anthony Davis for DPOY at 10-to-1 odds. He finished 2nd just two seasons ago.


Flipping Mitch?

We have a double dip for today’s Ask Macri…

With Mitchell Robinson apparently hitting the weight room hard over the summer and Julius Randle singing his praises at the end of last week, the topic of Robinson’s future with the Knicks has once again become a topic of discussion.

A quick refresher on where things stand: Unlike most contract extensions, the Knicks have no deadline on an extension. They can still extend Mitch at any point between now and the start of free agency next summer. The only restriction is that if they extend him before the beginning of free agency in 2022, they can’t give him more than four more years and can’t start him at an annual salary higher than about $12 million1.

If he makes it to free agency, he’ll be unrestricted, meaning he can sign with any team and there’s nothing the Knicks can do about it. That being said, the Knicks have full Bird rights on Robinson, meaning that if he hits free agency, they can sign him for up to five additional years at his max (i.e., they won’t be restricted by the $12 million cap).

This last part might not seem like a big deal at first. If we’re basing Robinson’s market on recent contracts signed by centers (Richaun Holmes for four years, $46.5 million; Robert Williams for four years, $55 million; Nerlens Noel for three years, $27.7 million with a team option for year-three), then the Knicks probably aren’t going to want to exceed that $12 million figure by much, even if he hits the open market.2

While that may be true, the number of cap space teams in 2022 should be severely limited. It’s too early to know anything for sure, what with trades and contract decisions still to be made between now and July, but at the moment, only four teams are projected to have money to spend over the midlevel: Detroit, San Antonio, Orlando and Minnesota. Of those, the Spurs are the likeliest to view Robinson as a significant upgrade over their current starter (Jakob Poetl, signed for two more seasons at a very reasonable $18 million total). Robinson might also find himself as the third most desired center on the open market after Jonas Valanciunas and Jusuf Nurkic.

In other words, there’s a significant chance that when Mitch gets to July, whether it’s with the Knicks or some other team, he may not like what he finds.

Factoring all this in, I don’t think the Knicks are going to be nearly as frightened of Robinson hitting unrestricted free agency as Knicks Lyfe’s question makes it seem. My guess is that even if the two sides are far apart in contract talks now or ahead of the deadline, New York would still hang onto Robinson in the hope that a) they could still bridge the gap, or worst case scenario, b) they would be able to facilitate a sign and trade in the summer.

There’s a complication here, however, as well. If you’ve listened to the pod before, you’ve likely heard Jeremy discuss the complex issues of base-year compensation whenever the topic of trading Mitch arrises. Without getting too much into the weeds of the CBA, I’ll just point out that if the Knicks sign and trade Robinson, he’ll only count as 50 percent of his outgoing salary.

Put much simpler: let’s say New York signs him to a four-year contract that pays him $15 million annually as part of a sign and trade. He’ll count as $15 million in incoming salary for the team that acquires him but only $7.5 million in outgoing salary for the Knicks.

Play this out, and you can see where the issues arise. Due to salary matching rules, if (again, using the $15 salary as an example) the Knicks send out $7.5 million in outgoing salary, they most they can take back is $12.5 million3. On the flip side, the team acquiring Mitch has to treat him as a $15 million incoming salary, meaning they have to send out at least $10 million. Add it all up, and in this scenario, the Knicks could only take back a player or players making between $10 and $12.5 million in the trade4.

If we up Mitch’s new annual salary to anything north of $20 million, it would make a sign and trade virtually impossible5. But this just gets us back to square one, and the paucity of teams with that much cap space to throw around. In other words, while a sign and trade isn’t necessarily easy, it is by no means impossible. It’s also why Robinson’s Bird rights are important; instead of limiting his market to the few teams with more than the midlevel exception to spend, it opens up the possibility of sending him to another team that may be more willing to open their wallet.

Aside from all this, there’s the very likely scenario that the Knicks simply sign Mitch to a deal with the intention of keeping him, either to be a part of their core for the foreseeable future or to be a trade chip to use at a later time. I know Knicks Lyfe asks me to assume that this won’t be the case, but I find it hard to believe that the two sides would be that far apart. Assuming he’s fully healed and there are no significant off-court issues that scare the front office, it’s hard to imagine Robinson’s camp demanding so much as to make the Knicks think the contract would be impossible to flip if need be.

For all these reasons, I’d be very surprised if there was a trade at any point before next summer. There is, however, one scenario where I could imagine New York flipping Robinson at the deadline, and it’s not one any of us care to think about right now: the Knicks are bad.

Good teams, irrespective of how uncertain they are about their own free agents, rarely make themselves weaker in the midst of a playoff run. Maybe there’s a trade at the deadline that sends Mitch out and strengthens the Knicks roster, but aside from the obvious possibility of a deal for a star, I find that hard to envision.

New York seems set at three of the other four starting spots. Maybe there’s a non-star upgrade for Fournier that could be had for Robinson and, say, a pick or a lesser young player, but that player would have to be making almost no money, as Robinson is still on a dirt-cheap contract. In other words, it would have to be someone on a rookie contract. Assuming Robinson’s play makes him dispensable enough to be dealt, no one is giving up a good young player in a trade. I guess at that point, New York could consider trading him for another team’s disappointment who plays a position of greater need, but what position is that? On the flip side, if Robinson suddenly looks like the second coming of Bill Russell and the Knicks are good, Tom Thibodeau would murder the front office in their sleep if he send out the backbone of his defense.

Injuries, both here and around the league, could obviously factor in, but absent that, the only way I see a deal transpiring is if this season spiraled out of control and Leon Rose decided to start selling off anything of value. In other words, I don’t see it.

As for whether Mitch extends before the season, while nothing would surprise me, I’m more optimistic about an extension now than I was a few months ago. To Ray’s point, Julius saying what he said seems significant, as does the Knicks’ official Twitter account showing some love:

Interestingly enough though, New York’s Twitter account took down a tweet that Mitch retweeted regarding his weight gain (he said in a video that he entered the league at 235 and is now up around 280). I wouldn’t read too much into it…maybe on second thought they just felt it was a little too high on the propaganda scale and took it down.

Even so, I’ve had a gut feeling for some time now that there’s hesitation on New York’s part regarding extending Mitch long term6. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, and it’s probably just my neuroses acting up, but it’s there. I hope I’m wrong. I love Mitch and don’t want to see him in another uniform anytime soon. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose.

But extension or no extension, based on my read of the situation at least, I’d be surprised if Mitch wasn’t wearing orange and blue for the entirety of the 2021-22 season. On the court, there’s no question that’s for the best.


Stat of the Day

Continuing the informational project we began last week, today we’re going to get into something that has become a big part of NBA parlance in recent years: usage rate.

Put in simplest terms, usage rate measures the number of a team’s possessions in which a player is directly involved in the outcome. To measure it, we start with the fact that there are three ways that a possession can end for a team: a shot, a turnover, or free throws. Usage rate roughly adds how many shots, turnovers and free throw trips a player makes in a game7, and then divides it by the team totals for those three categories.

Unlike some statistics, the all-time single season leaders for usage rate are largely skewed towards recent years. This is due to the advent of “do everything” offensive engines that dominate possessions for their team in every conceivable way:

In terms of how we use usage rate to interpret other statistics, the most common line of thinking is that the higher a player’s usage rate is, the greater the burden that player takes on because he is responsible for so many of his team’s possessions. As a result, it becomes easier to overlook slightly lower efficiency for high usage guys. On the flip side, players with high efficiency often get less credit because they have a lower usage rate.

There is no bright line differentiator between high usage and low usage, or where the cut off is for a player who deserves the benefit of the doubt for lower efficiency versus one who doesn’t, but a quick look at the top 12 finishers in eFG% (minimum 30 minutes per game) and their corresponding usage rates will give you a good idea of who slots in where:

You can quickly see three distinct camps represented here:

  • High Usage Guys: Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo all have usage rates around 29 or higher. The fact that Curry was so ridiculously efficient despite a usage rate this high is part of why he finished 3rd in MVP despite playing for an 8th seed.

  • Mid Usage Guys: Well…more like “guy” because it’s just Michael Porter Jr at 21.4. These are players who definitely control several possessions per game, but also benefit from not having to be the main guy, and get fed more often than they do the feeding (or the cooking). Think between 20 and 26/27 or so. It’s where a lot of the league’s rotation players exist.

  • Low Usage Guys: It’s probably unfair to group Deandre Ayton and his 17.9 usage rate in with Dorian Finney-Smith and his 12.0 usage rate, but the fact remains that anyone below 20 is on the low end of the usage scale. Of 100 players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game, only 24 had a usage rate below this benchmark. These are often centers and 3 & D players.

While this definitely helps us understand the importance of players to their teams, usage rate isn’t the be all, end all. Chris Paul had a usage rate of 22.1 last season, yet was positively vital to the Suns every minute he was on the court, regardless of if he had the ball. Draymond Green, Golden State’s de facto point guard, came in at 12.8.

But these are more the exceptions than the rule, as Green and Paul are the unique brand of star player who doesn’t really care to shoot (in Green’s instance, because he stinks at it). For the most part though, the best of the best have the highest usages.

Last thing: having a super high usage rate can also be incredibly detrimental, as there’s some thought that the worst thing an NBA team can have is a high usage guy who is dreadfully inefficient. The most obvious examples here are two players who were traded for each other last summer: John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Each had one of the highest usage rates in the league last season, but were two of the least efficient players from the field.

And there you have it! We’ll finish up this project with a look at some advanced statistics later on this week.

🏀

That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter

1

The first year of the extension can be for an amount up to 120% of the average annual salary, which is about $10 million.

2

There is, of course, the possibility that Robinson sees himself as more in Clint Capela’s class, who just added two years and $46 million to his contract. Deandre Ayton, fresh off a Finals run, is also a decent bet to get a max extension before the season starts.

3

Any outgoing salary between $6.5 million and $19.6 million can only return an incoming salary within $5 million of the outgoing number.

4

Normally, if a player makes between $6,533,334 to $19.6 million, he can return salary in a trade that is within $5 million in either direction. In other words, if Robinson’s new contract in a sign and trade started at $15 million, the returning salary to New York could be as little as $10 million and as much as $20 million, which would offer the Knicks a good deal more flexibility to find a trade partner.

5

I say “virtually” because I’m sure there’s some multi-team scenario or other loophole I’m not thinking of, but whatever it is, it won’t be easy.

6

A feeling informed by the fact that they selected not to make him a restricted free agent this summer.

7

The exact formula: 100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV) * (TmMP / 5)) / (MP * (TmFGA + 0.44 * TmFTA + TmTOV))