Even at the time of the signing, I had a hunch that Malik Beasley might be underpaid, but you wouldn’t have known that based on the coverage at the time, both around the league and within Minnesota Timberwolves media. At the time, Beasley made headlines throughout the league for his eccentric off-court activities, but thankfully, Beasley has also begun to make waves around the league as a basketball player.
He’s made his way onto scouting reports, and some in the national media have begun to take notice. He’s averaging a career high in points (20.7), assists (2.5), rebounds (4.9), steals (0.8), and blocks (0.2) per game while also averaging near career highs on all of his shooting splits. His true shooting is 57.5%, which is particularly solid considering the volume and difficulty of the shots. On Wednesday, we also learned that Malik Beasley was the fastest player in Timberwolves history to 100 three-point makes.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that Beasley’s numbers weren’t quite strong enough for him to get serious Most Improved Player consideration. This week, I’m wondering if his contract is among the most team-friendly in the NBA. The first thing we need is a fun table of last year’s average salaries (click below):
Shoutout to Chelanga Langason, who helped me with some data entry on this monster.
I selected the five starters based on the five players who started the most games on each team last year. Unfortunately this disqualifies players like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Then, to determine their position, I used Basketball Reference’s play-by-play to find who played the most at each position. Finally, I sorted players 6-10 based purely on minutes played. Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, and Jae Crowder all played for multiple teams during this time, so I used the team on which they played the most minutes.
While collecting data, I also realized that rookie scale contracts unfairly weigh down the average player salary. For example, Jaylen Brown and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were worth more than $6.5 million and $4 million last year, respectively. Because of this, I decided to throw out all rookie scale contracts in a separate calculation of salary averages.
Now, what do we make of the average salaries from last year? On one hand, the salary cap is exactly the same as it was last year, so salaries have the same cap weight. However, the majority of contracts increase over time, and Beasley’s contract starts at $13.4 million this year and increases to $16.5 million in 2023-24. Therefore, the average salaries for starters this year will likely be even higher than last, not to mention the fact that there have been fewer season-ending injuries this year (let’s have a moment of well wishes for D’Angelo Russell’s loose bodies).
So why did I use the numbers from last year? Seeing as we’re only 40% through the season, I thought that finding a definitive “starter” may not be accurate by the end of the season.
Coincidentally, Beasley is making almost exactly the same amount of money this year as the average NBA starter did last year ($13.4 million). Excluding rookie contracts, he is making almost $3 million less than the average NBA starter from last year ($16.2 million). Naturally, I couldn’t help myself from digging deeper, so I looked at positions. The average shooting guard in the NBA, excluding rookie contracts, made $13.7 million in 2019-20, almost $300k more than Beasley does this year.
Beasley has proven this year that he isn’t your “average” starting shooting guard. He’s better than that. Among shooting guards who have played at least half as many minutes, Beasley is 14th in BPM (0.3) and tied for 11th in VORP (0.6). Of the players ahead of Malik in either of those categories, only Gilgeous-Alexander, in his age-22 season, is younger.
With the return of Karl-Anthony Towns, I expect the Wolves to stay more competitive than they were in games 3-20 or so. Because team efficiency is improving, Beasley’s advanced numbers could even go up from here.
Recent Shooting Guard Signings
In lieu of having a table for 2020-21 starter salaries, let’s look at some comparisons from recent signings:
Buddy Hield, 4 years | $85M
Buddy is not only 28 years old, but the sharpshooter’s advanced statistics have dipped in each year since 2018-19. It’s similar to the way his salary dips each year. This year he’s paid $24.7 million, and in the last year of his contract (2023-24) he’ll be paid a guaranteed $18.8 million — still more than Malik’s $16.2 million TEAM OPTION for that year.
Derrick White, 4 years | $70M
White signed a four-year extension before the season, with each year being worth more than Malik’s contract. He’s 26, and while he’s shown more of a defensive upside than Beasley, he hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy. He’s just beginning to play this month, and the last year of his contract carries a cap hit of $19.3 million guaranteed.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, 4 years | $72M
Bogdan was one of the only moving pieces during the 2020 RFA period. Were the Atlanta Hawks bidding against themselves? Possibly, and Bogdanovic, 28, wasn’t looking promising in his first nine games mostly coming off the bench. He is currently recovering from an avulsion fracture in his right knee and is now performing in on-court activities, according to the team.
Eric Gordon, 4 years | $75M
At face value, the Houston Rockets look like they got rocked by giving such a large contract to an injury-prone 32-year-old shooting guard who relies on athleticism, but the final year at $20.9 million is non-guaranteed, so think of it as a three-year, $54 million deal.
This is still significantly more than Beasley’s three-year, $43 million equivalent deal before the team option. But unlike Malik, Gordon is a well-proven commodity. Still, Beasley is having a similar season already, just ahead of Gordon in VORP and just behind in BPM, and Beasley is the more likely one to improve in years two through four as well.
Justin Holiday, 3 years | $18M
Okay, Holiday was more of a bargain-bin type of contract, but he’s shown out, starting every game since the T.J. Warren injury and subsequent Victor Oladipo trade. His advanced stats are very similar to Beasley’s, and he has proven over the last couple of years that he can be a positive fifth starter or seventh guy off the bench.
He doesn’t have the same scoring punch as Malik, but he also doesn’t fall apart on defense as often. Holiday is turning 32 this season though, so while this may seem like a fantastic value contract, neither the contract nor the player has as much upside as Threesley.
Jordan Clarkson, 4 years | $51.5M
Clarkson is having his best year as a pro by far, and given that he’s 28, this could very well be his peak. He signed this deal in November after proving that he could provide some much-needed bench scoring. At this point in the season he’s the de facto Sixth Man of the Year, and he’s even getting some very faint All-Star buzz.
Clarkson’s contract is the clear winner of the bunch so far, but is it better than Beasley’s? For me, I keep coming back to the two key advantages to Beasley’s contract:
- His age. Most 24-year-olds who look this good seem to get close to $20 million a year on the open market. He hasn’t shown the on-ball creation of Donovan Mitchell, but Mitchell commanded a no-brainer max extension this season, and both players are putting up similar advanced stats, even with a terrible Timberwolves team that was getting blown out for half of the year.
- The team option. Even if Malik doesn’t work out as an NBA player, the team option could prove very useful for teams needing to unload salary.
At the end of the day, Beasley has arguably the most team-friendly non-rookie scale contract among shooting guards in the league. It’s going to age like a fine wine, and since we have endured so many albatross contracts in our days as fans, let’s just say it: Malik Beasley has the most affordable contract in the NBA.