Defining Martell Webster: Role and Rate
Martell Webster, in his first year as a member of the Wizards, has had an excellent season and a profound impact on the team. His 3-point shooting and unique style of play has been a great fit, especially with Wall at the helm and Beal with him on the wing. Compare Webster’s pertinent statistics on a month-by-month basis this season:
November: 12 games played, 257 total minutes, 103 total points, 43.8% FG, 41.7% 3P
December: 14 games played, 438 total minutes, 132 total points, 39.4% FG, 40.0% 3P
January: 16 games played, 445 total minutes, 195 total points, 46.3% FG, 41.4% 3P
February: 12 games played, 381 total minutes, 149 total points, 51.5% FG, 56.4% 3P
March: 15 games played, 506 total minutes, 224 total points, 43.7% FG, 39.0% 3P
April: 5 games played, 123 total minutes, 45 total points, 34.1% FG, 25.0% 3P
On the season? 29 minutes per game, 11.4 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists per game, 44.4% FG, 42.2% 3P.
Let’s read between the lines a bit, because numbers enjoy the companionship of context. What is the mark for “excellent” NBA 3-point shooting? That’s debatable, but for argument’s sake, let’s say being one of the top 25 3-point shooters in the NBA. The current 25th best, OJ Mayo, hits 40.6 percent of the time. Webster has been above that mark in three out of the six available months (excluding that lonely October game). Two of those months, January and February 2013, came with heavy minutes from John Wall and Bradley Beal. While Wall’s ability to buttress his teammates’ shooting ability has been well-documented, the less publicized point about Webster’s career year has been how well he and Beal have played together.
One could even argue that Beal’s impact on Webster’s game is more meaningful than Wall’s, though the concinnity provided by having all three on the floor is ideal. While Webster’s shooting in the pre-Wall part of the season didn’t reach his lights-out February level (54.6%), the effect of Beal’s absence has been a more dramatic shift.
Beal played in 23 of the 28 games that Webster started in January and February (where he averaged 48.9% from 3), while only playing in 7 of the 16 games in March and April. Without Beal, Webster saw a drop to sub-40 percent 3-point shooting (39.0% in March and 25.0% in April). On the season, Webster is just outside the top 10 in 3-point percentage, but in the last month and a half, he’s well outside the top 50. In March, even Wall outperformed Webster from behind the 3-point line, shooting a surprising 45.5 percent and coming in at No. 41 in the NBA in 3-point percentage.
Fair Market Value?
Many Washington fans, and Washington players (John Wall being the most vocal) would like the team to offer Martell employment beyond the 2012-2013 season. Webster has expressed on several occasions that Washington is an ideal future employer. A match made in heaven! Except… he’s played this year on a paltry (by NBA standards) $1,600,000 salary, and will be due a well-deserved increase in pay. Although the Wizards have very little flexibility to make signings this off-season (the cap is $58,044,000 for this year and the Wizards have committed $57,395,704) they do have their mid-level exception (MLE) available.
Last season, the MLE was worth just over $5 million, with slight increases each year for a maximum of four years. The net result of that contract, extended for all four years, would be a four-year, $22 million deal. The biggest challenge for the team’s front office will be to play Goldilocks, and determine what amount meets Webster’s demands, but doesn’t exceed his value going forward. Nothing stalls a team’s ascendancy in the NBA more than overpaid non-stars (I hesitate to call any starter a “role player,” although the term is technically correct). So, how much do you pay a starting small forward coming off his best year as a pro and a one-year contract that paid him $1.6 million?
Unfortunately for the Wizards, the answer may very well be “more than you’ve got.” Here are a few examples of Martell’s peers that will be paid more than the mid-level exception in 2013-2014 for their services :
Jeff Green: $8,700,000 – 12.6 points, 3.8 reb, 1.5 ast, 47.1% FG, 38.1% 3P
Wilson Chandler: $6,344,164 – 12.1 points, 4.9 reb, 1.2 ast, 45.3% FG, 40.8% 3P
Shawn Marion: $9,316,796 – 11.8 points, 7.8 reb, 2.4 ast, 51.1% FG, 31.3% 3P
Caron Butler: $8,000,000 – 10.5 points, 2.9 reb, 1.0 ast, 42.0% FG, 38.4% 3P
Tayshaun Prince: $7,235,955 – 10.5 points, 4.6 reb, 2.5 ast, 43.7% FG, 38.8% 3P
Nicolas Batum: $11,950,000 – 14.3 points, 5.6 reb, 4.9 ast, 42.3% FG, 37.2% 3P
Trevor Ariza: $7,727,280 – 9.5 points, 4.8 reb, 2.0 ast, 41.7% FG, 36.4% 3P
Martell Webster: UFA, 11.9 points, 3.9 reb, 1.9 ast, 44.4% FG, 42.2% 3P
Webster not only scores with these well-paid NBA starters, he also shoots more efficiently from the 3-point line than any of the players listed, shoots better overall from the floor and garners more assists than three of the players listed, and rebounds better than two of the players listed. He also averaged more minutes than every player on the above list other than Prince and Marion. These are all players at different points in their careers, and some are producing at different levels than when they signed their current deal. It’s worth noting that it may be an equally, or more valuable exercise to look back and see what these players did in the year directly preceding their new deal. For example, Nic Batum put up 13.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game in the season before he signed his contract (look familiar?!) while Dorell Wright (discussed below) put up 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. The results of these “contract years” were wildly different, with Batum signing a far more lucrative deal.
Butler, Prince, and Marion are all older veterans playing out what might be their last big contracts, while Batum and Green are playing in the first year of a new deal. The best comparison might be Wilson Chandler, one of the many cogs in the Denver machine. However, Chandler, as noted above, makes more than the MLE and has actually played five less minutes per game (24.1) than Webster (backed up by the highly-compensated Ariza) so far in 2012-2013.
There is an obvious demand for wing forwards who can score, and depending on the interest that Webster receives from teams around the NBA, and Martell’s willingness to sacrifice millions of dollars in potential compensation to “keep the gang together,” the Wizards may simply be out of the running. On the other hand, there are examples which support an annual salary at or less than the MLE. The following small forwards, relatively comparable to Webster in terms of production, are compensated at or below the current MLE:
Carlos Delfino: $3,000,000 team option, 10.7 points, 3.3 reb, 2.0 ast, 40.5% FG, 37.2% 3P
Alonzo Gee: $3,250,000, 10.4 points, 3.9 reb, 1.7 ast, 40.8% FG, 30.8% 3P
Kyle Korver: $5,000,000 this year, UFA next year, 11.0 points, 4.0 reb. 2.0 ast, 45.8% FG, 45.5% 3P
Dorell Wright: $4,160,000 this year, UFA next year, 8.7 points, 3.8 reb, 1.8 ast, 38.8% FG, 37.2% 3P
Gee, Wright, and Delfino were much poorer shooters than Webster this season, while Korver is a better shooter who scores less with greater efficiency. Does that mean Webster’s value is somewhere between Gee and Korver, or does it mean it’s somewhere between Korver and Chandler, or even Korver and Green? It all depends on what the market dictates, and Webster will be a primary target for teams looking for an unselfish, non-star scorer, along with Kyle Korver (who could command more than the $5,000,000 he was paid this year).
Webster’s defensive rating (DRtg) is 105, which ties him with Marion and Korver, is worse than Green (104), Ariza (101), and Prince (103), but better than Batum (108), Butler (107), Gee (109), and Delfino (107). Martell is not an elite defender, but is in pretty good company when it comes to providing value on the oft-forgotten defensive end of the floor. Batum, the highest-paid player listed above, is hailed as a defensive stalwart, and yet Webster has outperformed him. The ability to make stops is one of the key points that Webster’s agent will undoubtedly emphasize, and what may increase his value beyond that of a player like Steve Novak (DRtg of 110), who is earning $3,750,001 next season.
If the Wizards decide that Webster is worth more, or less, than the mid-level exception, they will most likely have to make room via a trade, or by restructuring a deal. Prime candidates for such restructurings are Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, but by agreeing to restructure a player-friendly one-year deal, both of those players would ask for more years to offset the reduced annual pay.
Another troubling issue is that, other than Korver, there aren’t many options to replace Webster’s 3-point shooting (much less his locker-room leadership and other slippery “intangibles”). Of the top 20 3-point shooting players in the NBA, only Korver and Webster play the small forward position and are available via free agency. Washington’s best lineup this season, at plus-82 in plus/minus differential, is Wall-Beal-Webster-Nene-Okafor. If Washington were to replace Webster with a small forward who couldn’t hit from 3, they wouldn’t have the requisite counterbalance to the decidedly paint-focused play of Nene and Okafor. And there’s no doubt that the Wizards need that diversification: switch Temple in for Beal, and that lineup has a plus/minus of minus-4. If you put Ariza in for Webster (Wall-Beal-Ariza-Nene-Okafor) the difference is just as pronounced: that lineup has produced a minus-1 on the season.
The Wizards as currently constructed are fragile, and the events which surround Webster’s signing this off-season will have a deeper impact than anyone could have anticipated last summer. If Webster’s expectations don’t jive with what the front office is offering, the team could lose a player who has redefined their identity as a strong 3-point shooting team. But if the team makes room for a Webster deal over the MLE by restructuring another player’s deal, the team may kick the can too far down the road, limiting themselves in the years after the “evaluation” summer of 2014.