What is Anthony Davis Worth?

It’s official: Anthony Davis has requested a trade.

One of the consensus top-5 players in the NBA changing teams, especially with still a year and a half left on his contract, has the potential to make huge waves within the NBA. Could he team up with LeBron James on the Lakers? Could he go to the East and shift the power balance between the conferences? Anything is possible at this point, as it’s likely 29 GMs are currently awake, coffee in hand (except for Danny Ainge), constructing packages for the Pelicans’ big man.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe has said, accurately, that Davis changing hands could be the biggest trade of a player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sent to the Lakers in 1975. At just 25 years of age, he ranks 3rd overall in CornerThree WAR, 3rd overall in RPM Wins, and 5th overall in PIPM. Despite his just barely scraping the beginning of his prime, he’s already made 3 All-NBA 1st teams and 2 All-NBA 2nd teams. Here’s how that compares to recently traded superstars:

Player Year Age RPM Rank Years Left
Anthony Davis 2019 25 3 <2
Jimmy Butler 2018 29 28 <1
Kawhi Leonard 2018 27 5* 1
Kyrie Irving 2017 25 53 2
Paul George 2017 27 37 1
Chris Paul 2017 32 2 1
Jimmy Butler 2017 27 7 2
DeMarcus Cousins 2017 26 19 <2

*Leonard’s RPM rank in his most recent healthy season

With due respect to Blake Griffin, I excluded him from the chart due to his enormous contract likely being a negative, not positive, aspect of his trade value. In terms of RPM rank, the only other stars of Davis’ caliber were Kawhi Leonard (outranked by Davis, coming with serious injury baggage concerns, 2 years older than Davis, and only 1 year left on his deal), Chris Paul (7 years older than Davis, and only 1 year left), and Jimmy Butler’s first trade (outranked by Davis, 2 years older). The only star as young as Davis was Kyrie Irving, who, at that point, was nowhere near the caliber player Davis is now. It can be helpful to visualize this table – here’s age vs. RPM rank for these stars, with a bigger bubble denoting contract time remaining:

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 10.19.37 PM.png

Clearly, AD is in a company all his own when you use any combination of youth, production, and team control. What will that pull on the trade market, and who can provide it? Using FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO, here’s how many wins each player was projected to accrue over the remainder of their contract when traded:

Player CARMELO
Anthony Davis 11.6
Jimmy Butler (2) 4.2
Kawhi Leonard 5.6
Kyrie Irving 11.0
Paul George 7.0
Chris Paul 8.9
Jimmy Butler (1) 17.6
DeMarcus Cousins 8.6

Davis ranks 2nd to Butler here, but considering his youth, a potential contract extension could be more valuable for him than it would have been (or still is) for Butler. Of those 3 eligible (Cousins, Paul, and George), 2 re-signed with the team that traded for them, Here’s each player’s CARMELO 5-year market value at the time of their trade, assuming a 2/3 chance of re-signing:

Player 5-year Value (MM)
Anthony Davis $218.1
Jimmy Butler $179.6
Kawhi Leonard $123.3
Kyrie Irving $162.1
Paul George $160.0
Chris Paul $209.0
Jimmy Butler $239.2
DeMarcus Cousins $157.8

Once again, the only player valued higher than Davis was Butler (his first trade), though he does carry different types of off-the-court baggage than Davis (we still love him, of course). Will the league consensus on AD’s value align more with the bubble chart or the CARMELO projection? It is interesting to remember what these stars have been commanding in trades – it isn’t much:

Davis is probably the most valuable of the bunch, but once a player demands a trade, their team loses leverage, and value goes down. The Spurs’ excellent front office shipped a starting caliber wing in Danny Green to Toronto along with Kawhi Leonard! If anything, we shouldn’t be surprised if Davis goes for less than it “feels like” he’s worth. Would Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram fill the void? Kristaps Porzingis or a shot at Zion Williamson? In 1975, Kareem was traded for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, and two picks that turned into Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. I’ll forgive you if you hadn’t heard of any of them.

A conundrum – as has been widely reported today, thanks to the Rose Rule, the Celtics, who probably have the most assets of any team in the sweepstakes (including a potential trump card in Jayson Tatum) can’t trade for Davis until the offseason (assuming they don’t trade Kyrie), when, of course, AD’s remaining contract is shorter by a whole playoff run. Is waiting for the Celtics’ potential haul worth any value Davis may lose with his shorter team control? New Orleans GM Dell Demps will gauge the market, and decide whether a package now from the Lakers, Knicks, or other potential partner feels safer than waiting it out. A brutal decision, and his job may depend on it.

 

by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University

 

 

2 thoughts on “What is Anthony Davis Worth?

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