Erik Murphy and the (Potential) Value of a Second Round Pick

courtesy Chicago Tribune
courtesy Chicago Tribune

When the NBA and its Players Union finally came to an agreement on the collective bargaining agreement in the fall of 2011, there was one thing that most of the owners never wanted to do again: overpay for mediocre talent. Owners for years were seemingly unable to resist the temptation to hand out terrible contracts to players who would never be worth what they were making. Every summer there would be a slew of “wow THAT guy got paid?” conversations with my friends. In order to protect themselves from themselves, the owners implemented incredibly strict tax penalties that would cost owners so much they wouldn’t have a choice but to adhere to the salary cap in place.

The new, harsher tax penalties have led to lots of interesting developments across the league, but perhaps the most interesting is the way that teams value (and hoard in some cases) both first and second round draft picks. Rookie contracts have become the new market inefficiency as they present teams with four years of control over a very cheap asset. Take for example Kyrie Irving: Irving, on the open market, would make easily $10 million a year. But 2013-14 will only be the former #1 pick’s third season in the league, which means he is only able to make about $4.8 million.

But the real gold lies in places not so easy to find: the second round. Guys drafted in the second round do not automatically receive guaranteed deals. Historically, players who aren’t chosen in the top 30 do not have long and prosperous NBA careers. NBA teams in the past have used that round two pick on a “project” player, or sometimes on someone from overseas. But more and more teams are closely scouting players who they project to slip past every team at least once. The potential upside is astronomical.

Chandler Parsons is the poster child of second round success stories: Last season, Parsons averaged 15.5 points 3.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds on 48% field goal shooting and averaging 38.5% from three. Parsons, at 6’9″, is the incredibly valuable stretch forward, a guy who is able to draw the attention of the defense when he’s dotted around the perimeter. By draggin an opposing forward a few steps out of the lane, the entire offense opens up and is capable of executing several different offensive actions. The beauty of Parsons is that he is providing all this production and floor spacing while making $900K. In 2013-14, Parsons will enter into the third year of his guaranteed four year contract which will in total pay him a little less than $4 million over its life span.

The last two offseasons have been exciting in Houston. Last summer saw the mega trade that brought James Harden into town, where he was promptly handed a hefty extension. And this summer’s biggest free agent, Dwight Howard, decided to team up with Harden and try and return the title to Houston. Those two huge moves would not have been remotely possible without the financial flexibility afforded to the Rockets by Chandler Parsons and his super cheap contract.

Erik Murphy was the second round pick for the Chicago Bulls, going #49 overall. Murphy is listed at 6’10” and can play either power forward or center. To be clear, Murphy is not the prototypical stopper that Tom Thibodeau loves to have on the floor. Although the former Gator is blessed with great size, he is not exactly fast, agile or much of a jumper. In his senior year at Florida, Murphy only averaged about 5 rebounds a game, a pretty small number for a big dude.

So why did the Bulls decide Murphy was worth a roll of the dice? Last season, Murphy shot 45.3% from three. Murphy averaged two made three balls a game. In 2012-13, the Chicago Bulls averaged only 5.4 threes a game, the second lowest mark in the entire league. They also attempted the second fewest threes in the league, barely edging out the Memphis Grizzlies in both categories.

Coach Thibodeau is one of the most highly regarded and respected minds in the game of basketball today. His overload defensive schemes, made popular by the championship winning 2008 Celtics before he brought it to Chicago, is one of the most commonly replicated defensive systems in the league today. The system has many principles and is difficult to describe, let alone execute on the floor. But one of the most interesting parts of the scheme is the way it limits opponents three point attempts, especially from the corners. The Bulls allowed opponents to shoot just 35.8% from behind the arc, good for the fourth best percentage in the league. Obviously, the architect of this system understands the value of the three point shot. And while most of his energy has previously been expended on preventing them, this season the Bulls brain trust will surely focus on how to more effectively incorporate the shot into the offense. Jimmy Butler made a big leap in regards to his shooting and many fans hope that his averages can tick up a few more percentage points. But Butler alone as a deep threat is not enough. That’s where Murphy becomes interesting.

Last season, Murphy posted a true shooting percentage, or TS% of 64.3%. To put that in perspective, Lebron James put up a 64% TS% in his historically great war path through the NBA. TS%, for those who either don’t know, gives extra weight to three point accuracy, Murphy’s specialty. Murphy, despite his status as a rookie drafted in the second round, is going to force defenses to pay attention to him whenever he is on the floor.

And that’s where things potentially get interesting for the Bulls. Coach Thibodeau is a perfectionist by nature, and I’m sure that he has spent the summer thinking about how he needs to improve as a coach. The most glaring flaw in Thibs’ style is the number of minutes his best players are on the floor. This season, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich and hopefully Tony Snell can pick up some minutes at small forward to allow Luol Deng to stay fresh for the post season. The biggest disappointment for Bulls fans this summer was that the overuse of Joakim Noah seemingly went ignored in free agency. The Bulls brought back Narz Mohammed to play backup center, despite the fact that he was born in the crustacean period.

Perhaps Gar Forman and the front office view Murphy as the (incredibly cheap) solution to finding minutes for Joakim to rest. Obviously a Murphy-Boozer frontcourt would become a layup line, but if the rookie is paired with the tenacious Taj Gibson the Bulls D could hold up over short stretches of time.

Murphy’s presence on the floor could be a big help to that Rose guy who’s coming back from an ACL injury. Rose, who’s greatest ability is slicing through the lane and getting to the rim, will only find it easier to score from close when an opposing big man is forced to play 15 feet from the basket in anticipation of a kick out to Murphy.

The beauty of it all is that while second round picks are more valuable now than ever, it’s still such a minuscule investment in the grand scheme of things that if he totally flops it won’t be that big of a deal. But if he turns into a cog in the rotation, that super team friendly contract either becomes a potential trade asset or allows the Bulls to address other pressing needs via free agency.

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