Did the Clippers, Spurs, Heat, or Magic Win the Stretch Big Sweepstakes?
Stretch bigs who can set screens and be effective in pick-and-pop scenarios with their effective long-range shooting are all the rage in the NBA these days. While everyone was waiting impatiently for news about LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony over the last week and a half, four power forward / centers that can hit the long ball got snatched up.
First, Spencer Hawes agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Clippers on a four-year, $23 million contract (which he made official on Thursday). Then, the San Antonio Spurs locked up one of the key cogs of their recent championship run by agreeing with Boris Diaw on a three-year, $22.5 million deal. The Miami Heat joined in on the stretch four sweepstakes by taking Josh McRoberts away from the Hornets for four years at $23 million. Finally, the Orlando Magic got some shooting and veteran leadership that they so sorely needed when they netted Channing Frye for $32 million over 4 years.
Four bigs with (relatively) interchangeable skill sets signed eerily similar contracts. Two of the teams are contenders (Clippers and Spurs), one is picking up the pieces (Heat), and one is in full rebuild mode (Magic). Sure, these role players don’t have the same allure as the big name free agents, but they’re all likely to make a sizeable impact on their respective teams. Obviously the situations are different, but who got the best deal?
The Decision 2.0 and Melo Watch wore us all a little thin, so let’s take a break from refreshing our phones and have a Stretch Big Beauty Pageant for fun (where “beauty” means basketball ability, of course).
|Player||Age||Years Pro||Career Minutes||Height||Weight|
|Spencer Hawes||26||7||12,435||7’0”||245 lbs|
|Boris Diaw||32||11||24,115||6’8”||215 lbs|
|Josh McRoberts||27||7||6,993||6’10"||240 lbs|
|Channing Frye||31||8||14,268||6’11"||248 lbs|
Note: All heights and weights are according to basketball-reference.com. If you've seen Boris Diaw lately and have a hard time trusting the accuracy of his 215-pound listing, bear in mind that these could very well be outdated.
Obviously the most important thing about being a stretch big is shooting ability (that is what “stretches” the defense, after all), but still having the size and strength to body up against opposing, more traditional bigs on defense is a major asset as well. Diaw, having come into the league as an oversized point guard (understatement) and now a somewhat undersized big, loses that side of the battle with the other three by giving up a couple inches.
Next, with every free agent deal, it’s hard not to look at the age of the player at the time of the signing and how old he’ll be when the contract is done. With Diaw and Frye both over 30, the McRoberts and Hawes signings seem to leave more room for growth in the later years. McRoberts gets the edge in the end, because he combines the size and strength, relatively young age, and fewest miles on his body (logging just shy of 7,000 minutes in his seven-year career so far) for the complete package.
Diaw had far and away the best shooting percentage last season, but at the lowest volume of attempts (7.3 per game) of the group. Out of the four, he was admittedly the least responsible for carrying the scoring load for his team, so he’s out of the running here. McRoberts, having the lowest long-distance shooting percentage of the group, falls a little short as well.
That leaves Hawes and Frye. They took roughly the same number of attempts per game from the field and distance, but Hawes shot ever so slightly better. Their effective field goal percentages (weighted twos and threes) are only separated by 0.6%, so it’s close.
Considering that Frye will serve the role as practically the only shooter on the Magic - a team devoid of them - and Hawes will slot into a role backing up Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for the Clippers, we’ll give Frye the edge for just how important his shooting will be to his team.
Even if on the floor primarily as a shooter, stretch bigs still need to rebound the ball to be considered effective.
Any way you slice this, Spencer Hawes is the best rebounder out of the quartet. He beats the lot of them in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and total rebounds per game and per 36 minutes (a measurement I’m using throughout this process in order to eliminate the minute differential). He’s even the easy favorite in rebound percentage, which estimates the percentage of available rebounds a player is able to grab while he’s on the floor.
|Player||Def Rtg||Opp FGA at Rim||OPP FG% at Rim|
Although a lot of people look at blocks and steals as a way to measure defensive ability, those traditional stats fall a bit short. For a big man, it’s all about rim protection.
Spencer Hawes was among the league leaders in shots faced at the rim last season and held opponents to a respectable percentage, but his Sixers (and eventually Cavaliers) were so bad on defense with him as a the anchor (as evidenced by his sky-high defensive rating) that he’s out of the running.
Neither of the remaining guys are really known for being particularly stifling defenders either, but Diaw and McRoberts played on elite defensive teams last year (Spurs were 3rd and Bobcats were 5th in defensive efficiency last year, according to our metrics), and their defensive ratings reflect that. Even so, Diaw’s rim protection is suspect, especially considering he played alongside two of the best at it in the league in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, and McRoberts simply didn’t face a lot of shots at the rim either.
The unexpected winner here is Frye. He started all 82 games for the Suns last year and played two thirds of his time at the center position, banging bodies with some of the biggest and best the Western Conference had to offer in the middle. He faced the second most shots at the rim per game out of our four subjects and held opponents to the lowest percentage. His 104.4 defensive rating isn’t all that stellar, but respectable with his team in the middle of the pack at 103.8 on the season.
|Player||Contract $||Contract Years||nERD||WS/48|
|Spencer Hawes||$23 million||4||-1.3||0.088|
|Boris Diaw||$22.5 million||3||1.8||0.120|
|Josh McRoberts||$23 million||4||3.0||0.132|
|Channing Frye||$32 million||4||1.5||0.109|
McRoberts beats the other three guys in both win shares per 48 minutes and our own nERD metric, both of which measure a player’s overall effectiveness based on efficiency and reduce statistical biases created by minute and usage differentials. He also tied with Hawes for the cheapest per-year salary among the group. Considering his relatively young age, cheap contract, projected starting role, and underrated production from last season, McRoberts wins this category in a landslide.
Diaw is the only player of the four that is returning to the same team and he’s doing so because he was a key part of their recent championship run. He might be on the wrong side of 30, but his swiss army knife package of passing, shooting, defending, anything is a big part of what the Spurs do. He doesn’t need to win beauty contests to prove his worth, he’s got a ring to show for it.
Hawes is leaving the life of being a starting stretch big putting up inflated numbers for the lowly Sixers and formerly lowly Cavaliers to being the first big off the bench for the title-contending Clippers, adding strong rebounding and shooting to their core. His stats will see a dip, but he fills a big need for Doc Rivers’ squad.
Frye is joining an incredibly young team and fills two needs that practically no one else on the roster can; solid shooting and veteran leadership. His underrated defensive abilities should also fit in nicely with this Orlando’s growingly defensive-minded core. To say he’s been through a lot would be an understatement, considering he’s only a year removed from the season he missed due to a heart ailment. His contract is rather steep for a guy his age, but his stronger-than-ever heart will be a valuable addition to this young squad.
Which brings us to McRoberts. Apart from being a big body that can stretch the floor, he is also the best passer of the bunch, averaging 5.1 assists per 36 minutes and clocking in with a leading assist rate (estimate of teammates’ field goals he assisted on while on the floor) of 21.9%. Now locked into a very favorable contract for a team looking for new answers in a post-LeBron world, McRoberts wins our little “beauty” contest.
Of course, with that wonderful hair and beard combination, was there ever really any doubt?
Winner: Josh McRoberts