But behind Tim Duncan’s staid, middle of the road public persona lies a hidden deviancy: his shooting arc. Using location data tracked by the NBA’s SportVU camera system, we can analyze player shooting mechanics in exhaustive detail. For more background, see my introductory post on this topic from last year, as well as some more recent research on free throw shooting. At the bottom of that recent post is a sortable table in which I have compiled free throw shot arc metrics for 304 NBA players. If you sort that table by launch angle, you’ll see that Tim Duncan has the lowest launch angle out of those 304 players. Duncan’s median release angle for free throws is just 45.2 degrees (Mike Conley has the highest release angle at 57.2 degrees). The chart below shows how Duncan compares to other 6’11 players (taller players have lower release angles, so comparisons against shorter players would be misleading):
As you can see, CARMELO thinks many of these free agents are likely to underperform the dollar amount of the contracts they’ve agreed to. There’s a reason for this. Let’s use Kevin Durant as an example. Durant is harder to pin down than the average free agent. If he re-signs with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he could sign a five-year contract worth $153 million; if he signs with a different team, the most he could sign for is four years and $114 million — about $2 million less annually.2 But because of the way pay structure works in the NBA, Durant will have accrued enough “experience” in the league to jump up a tier in maximum pay after next season. That means both of those long-term figures could increase dramatically if Durant signs a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first year and then signs long-term next season.
This is a test of Durant’s risk tolerance for his personal finances, but for teams looking to sign Durant, it’s immaterial — Durant is a bargain at any price. Like other top players, his value on the court far exceeds the max salary. Last season, he played at a rate equal to a $54 million annual salary on the open market; over the next five seasons, CARMELO projects that he will be worth $268 million in production. Over the same five-year period, CARMELO projects that Steph Curry will produce about $404 million in value, Russell Westbrook will produce about $344 million, and LeBron James will produce about $309 million. Karl-Anthony Towns, who has at least three years left on his rookie deal, projects at $290 million. (It’s important to remember that these projections essentially reflect an environment without a max salary but with a salary cap; in an uncapped scenario, they could very well be higher.) Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the best players in the league can’t come close to reaching those salaries.
Magic Johnson revolutionized the point guard position at 6-foot-9 — for his aptitude in the half-court game but, more so, for the impressive way a man his size could lead the way in transition and make smart decisions with the ball. (Magic had 11.2 assists and 3.9 turnovers per game for his career.) No one is expecting Simmons to do that in the NBA, but he is surprisingly well-versed in transition offense and being the initiator of the offense. Per Synergy Sports Tech’s numbers, Simmons was involved in transition for 26 percent of his total offensive plays at LSU — more than any other type.
If we compare his numbers during the regular season to his Finals stats, it’s clear he struggled and bears some responsibility. Curry’s scoring average went from 30.1 ppg between October and April to just 22.6 ppg in the championship series vs. Cleveland. That 7.5 ppg dropoff is the second-largest by an MVP in the Finals in the last 35 years. Only Magic Johnson in 1989 had a bigger one. Keep in mind, though, the Laker legend played a mere 75 minutes due to injury vs. the Pistons.