Zion Williamson is not even worth half of his newly signed max-level deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, at least according to FiveThirtyEight’s 2022-23 NBA Five-Year Projections. The “projection system identifies similar players throughout NBA history and uses them to develop a probabilistic forecast of what a current NBA player’s future might look like.”
The ink is still drying on Williamson’s five-year, $188 million rookie max contract extension. Some reports put his price tag at $193 million but the 2019 first overall pick could cash in for $230 million if certain All-NBA thresholds are met this season. Yet FiveThirtyEight’s projection only gives Williamson credit for $89 million in on-court value for the New Orleans Pelicans.
This is likely due to the small 85 game in three years sample size due to injuries although the projections dock Williamson for poor free-throw and three-point shooting as well. The former Duke Blue Devil is only considered average at playing defense and passing the ball. And Williamson is not the only player FiveThirtyEight projects to be a negative return on investment.
Brandon Ingram, the 25-year-old All-Star who just signed a five-year, $187 million dollar extension, is expected to diminish in value after this season. The projections categorized Ingram as an ‘Average Starter’ which shows computers do not watch NBA Playoff games.
Perhaps Ingram’s value is diminished somewhat by sharing the ball with CJ McCollum and Williamson but to the point of being worth only $76 million? Over five years? Herb Jones will get more than that on his next deal. In fact, Jones ($100M) and Jose Alvarado ($90M) are the only Pelican valued at substantially more than his current deal. Budgeting for Not on Herb’s next contract is already a priority.
Projections are perhaps best suited for recently drafted prospects. Jaxson Hayes is playing for his next deal this season. FiveThirtyEight would only give him a five-year valuation of $25 million at the negotiation tables. Hayes could get an offer sheet worth far more next summer, which puts the Pelicans on the clock to make a decision before the trade deadline.
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Dyson Daniels ($46M) is projected to live up to his lottery pick draft status. Kira Lewis Jr. ($26M) has a chance to make a comeback but there is a risk of getting buried on the depth chart. Obviously, this would cost him millions on the next deal. Trey Murphy III ($37M) is on track for a full MLE level extension according to these projections.
McCollum ($60M), Jonas Valanciunas ($63M), and Larry Nance Jr. ($22M) get some veteran respect. Devonte’ Graham is labeled as a below-average rotational piece. McCollum is due over $68 million over the next two seasons, and Valanciunas is guaranteed approximately $30 million over the same timeframe. Nance Jr. is on a $9 million expiring contract but has expressed interest in signing an extension with New Orleans.
These FiveThirtyEight charts suggest Williamson is vastly overpaid considering his achievements and McCollum is in line for a massive pay reduction in two years. Their agents and the NBA Free Agent market will most certainly disagree. Every team would have signed Williamson to the same max-level deal. The Pelicans can expect to pay at least $20 million per season at a minimum to keep the former Trail Blazer in town.
Jones and Alavardo are bargains. Hayes and Murphy III know they have to play better or risk becoming mid-level journeymen on movable deals. Williamson and Ingram are already maxed out financially. Seeing this kind of slight could provide a little extra motivation for the two former All-Stars to reach those All-NBA, contract escalating milestones.
In that case, Gayle Benson will gladly pay the contract premiums while enjoying another NBA Playoffs run.
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