All-Stocking Stuffer Team: The NBA’s best low-budget gifts of 2013
“The Point Forward All-Stars” will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members.
This week, SI.com names its All-Stocking Stuffer Team, a collection of the best low-budget performers who were gifted to their current teams in 2013.
The All-Stocking Stuffer Team
This week’s list is self-explanatory: We’re looking for players on affordable contracts who have been delivering the goods this season. To add in the Christmas component, the players must have been “gifted” to their current team sometime during the 2013 calendar year, whether by trade, signing or the draft. The cheaper, the better! All players will be subjected to hokey Christmas gift comparisons. You’ve been forewarned.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
The longer Phoenix keeps winning, the better their offseason trade for Bledsoe looks. The Suns enter the Christmas break at 17-10, good for the fifth-best record in the West, and Bledsoe is nestled among the very best Player Efficiency Rating performers at his position, enjoying a spot near the top of the charts alongside the likes of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Tony Parker.
Both player and team qualify among the league’s most pleasant surprises, and Bledsoe is right near the top of the charts when it comes to bang for the buck production. In the final year of his rookie contract, Bledsoe is averaging 18.9 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 49.5 percent from the field, all while earning just $2.6 million. By comparison, the Bulls paid Derrick Rose $1.8 million per game for the 10 appearances he made prior to his season-ending knee injury.
Suns GM Ryan McDonough hasn’t gotten enough hype for plucking Bledsoe, and there’s an argument to be made that his trade for Bledsoe belongs in the same discussion as Houston’s trade for James Harden, especially when it comes to short-term results. By comparison, Bledsoe is cheaper than Harden was because of his draft order slot, the Suns are overachieving more than the Rockets did last season (so far), Bledsoe’s 21.5 PER is comparable to Harden’s 23 PER from last season, there’s little question that Bledsoe is a better two-way player (in that he actually competes on both ends), and Phoenix’s return package has been a pittance compared to Houston’s bounty for Harden.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey is credited for making one of the best trades in recent years in snagging Harden — and rightfully so — but he did part with a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, a young prospect who has blossomed into a rotation player and a lottery pick to get it done. What did McDonough pay to get Bledsoe? Jared Dudley, a 2014 second-round pick and the money owed to Caron Butler, whose contract he later ditched for two lower-cost players. As for Dudley, he has a PER of 8.9, which ranks among the worst for starters at his position. “I been playing like s—. It’s been downright embarrassing,” he tweeted earlier this month. Well then. Even if Dudley turns things around, this was a highway robbery price for a franchise building block like Bledsoe; The Point Forward gave Phoenix an “A+” for the move at the time, which may have been missing three or four “plusses” at the end of the grade.
The fact that Bledsoe will command a max-type extension next summer does dampen the excitement here just a touch, but his acquisition was a little bit like waking up on Christmas morning to find the keys to a Mercedes in your stocking. Yes, there will be expensive insurance and maintenance costs to consider down the road but that’s not exactly killing the vibe, not when you just upgraded from a Hyundai out of nowhere.
Joining Bledsoe in consideration for this list? Jordan Farmar, who gave Lakers fans good reason to fall in love with him for the second time after returning from overseas. A hamstring injury has put his season on hold, but he’s powered one of the league’s better benches by averaged 9.2 points and 4.4 assists in 18.9 minutes per game. Rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams, who dropped to the No. 11 spot in the draft, has provided excitement and an excellent return on his $2.2 million rookie deal.
SG: Marco Belinelli, Spurs
Wouldn’t you know it? Playing on Tony Parker’s Spurs has a beneficial impact on your shooting numbers compared to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls, who were led by the likes of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marquis last season. Writing that statement off as Captain Obvious material would be selling short Bellineli’s pre-Christmas shooting acumen by a lot.
Entering the holiday, San Antonio’s biggest offseason addition is averaging 10.3 points and shooting a mouth-watering 51.1 percent from deep. As the San Antonio Express-News noted this week, Belinelli joins Hawks forward Kyle Korver as the only three-point shooters hitting above 50 percent on at least three attempts per game. More than half of Belinelli’s three-point attempts are coming from simple spot-up situations, per Synergy Sports, and he’s a cool 50 percent on such knockdown attempts. Bang bang. Hold on, I’m getting a premonition. It’s Belinelli and Danny Green going tit-for-tat during the 2014 playoffs, delivering back-and-forth daggers as the television announcers wonder how they keep getting so wide open.
What makes Belinelli’s addition so great is that the summer of 2013 saw shooters command serious coin around the league, and yet the Spurs added the Italian guard for just $5.6 million over two years. Compare that to the likes of Korver ($24 million over four years), J.J. Redick ($27 million over four years) or Martell Webster ($22 million over four years), and you’re looking at a situation where, as the saying goes, San Antonio is receiving three-quarters of the production for a quarter of the cost. This might not be quite as good as Miami robbing Boston of Ray Allen in 2012, but we were reminded once again that winning has a funny way of attracting quality players at affordable prices. “Rich kids always get the best presents,” you can hear opponents whining under their breath, and Belinelli equates to a pair of luxury sunglasses bought at an outlet store.
Two other stand-out values worth mentioning: Celtics guard Jordan Crawford and Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. Washington essentially paid Crawford to go away back in February, and he’s rewarded Boston’s management by posting a career-high 17.3 PER, shooting a career-high 43.4 points and dishing out a career-high 5.4 assists per game during Rajon Rondo’s absence. Not bad for $2.2 million. Hardaway has been one of the few bright spots during this trainwreck of a season for New York; finding a 21-year-old guard capable of scoring from day one and posting a PER above league average with the No. 24 pick is no easy task.