Ian Mahinmi’s vs. Joakim Noah — Which Contract is Worse?

Shoutout Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks!

If not for the Knicks, and Noah, the Wizards (see: Grunfeld, Ernie) might be responsible for the worst contract currently on the books in the NBA. Noah’s deal gets the nod, but Mahinmi’s contract gets very serious consideration.

There are a handful of other contracts that are worthy of this debate — Timofey Mozgov, Allen Crabbe, Andrew Nicholson (hey Ernie!) and others deserve a look — but let’s just focus on these two for now.

Noah: 4 years, $72.6 million
Mahnimi: 4 years, $64 million

Right off the bat, Noah has an edge, as he is making roughly $2 million more per season. Point: Noah

Both deals were signed in the fateful 2016 offseason, but the situations were very different. The Knicks thought they were completing a superteam (nobody else thought this) by adding Noah, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The Wizards were spurned by Kevin Durant, then missed out on Al Horford, so responded by overpaying for a backup center. The Knicks paid a starter, the Wizards paid a backup center (at a time in which the value of traditional centers couldn’t be much lower). Point: Mahinmi

Noah is almost two years older than Mahinmi — the latter turned 31 earlier this month while the former turns 33 in February — so he gets another box checked there. Point: Noah

As for production, well, it’s basically a toss-up. Here are the totals for each player since they joined their new teams last season (better stat bolded):

Noah: 46 games, 1,015 minutes, 232 points (.490 FG%), 403 rebounds, 103 assists, 37 blocks, 30 steals, 58 turnovers, 127 fouls

Mahinmi: 44 games, 719 minutes, 218 points (.562 FG%), 199 rebounds, 27 assists, 29 blocks, 38 steals, 53 turnovers, 130 fouls

The two centers are remarkably close in many of these categories — they’re hardly distinguishable in games played, points, turnovers and fouls, and they’re not far apart in blocks and steals. Noah has played considerably more minutes despite just two additional appearances, but he has also started each game he’s played for the Knicks while Mahinmi has come off the bench for each of his games in a Wizards uniform.

The three other major differences are rebounds, assists and field-goal percentage.

Neither player has much range on his jumper, though Mahinmi has taken ever-so-slightly more shots away from the basket; last season, 24.3 percent of Mahinmi’s shots came from at least six feet while just 6.3 percent of Noah’s did, but neither player took more than four shots outside of 10 feet. In other words, Mahinmi’s field-goal shooting advantage is legitimate.

But there’s no getting around the massive differential in rebounds and assists. Noah was, for a time, regularly considered one of the league’s premier passing big men. Marc and Pau Gasol have long been contenders, Draymond Green entered the conversation a few years ago and Nikola Jokic is likely the No. 1 seed by now, but Noah’s among the best passers at his position. Mahinmi has 238 assists in his career, a number Noah has surpassed in three separate seasons.

And Noah is a much better rebounder, nor is it especially close. The Knicks center has averaged at least 11 rebounds per 36 minutes in eight of his 10 seasons; Mahinmi has reached that mark twice in his 10 seasons.

For traditional stats, the answer is pretty clear. Point: Mahinmi

As for advanced stats, it gets a little tricky. Noah’s defensive rating of 111.0 last season was abysmal, but he also played for a Knicks team that was the sixth-worst in the league in defensive rating. Mahinmi’s 104.0 defensive rating was much better (and his 103.3 this year is even better), but there is much more support around him, even on a subpar defensive team like Washington.

That said, Mahinmi’s been the better defender so far, and Noah has been better on offense (105.0 offensive rating for Noah, 104.3 last year for Mahinmi, 100.7 this year for Mahinmi).

Using VORP, which is how much value a player has over a replacement player, Mahinmi gets less credit. He’s been good for just 0.4 total VORP since coming to Washington, while Noah gets a 1.1 mark. Similarly, Noah’s 15.2 Player Efficiency Rating with the Knicks is modestly better than Mahinmi’s 12.9 with the Wizards.

For advanced stats, it’s hard to really give either player a nod. We’ll call it a tie.

You could certainly make the case for either player being on a worse contract, and in a vacuum, you’d probably give the nod to Noah. He’s being paid more money, and he’s older.

But in closing, I’d like to point to the following facts:

  • Noah and Mahinmi have each missed substantial time since signing their contracts, but 20 of Noah’s absences have come due to a drug suspension, while all of Mahinmi’s have come via leg injury. The reason that’s notable is Mahinmi’s injuries are likely to have more of a negative, lasting effect going forward whereas Noah’s suspension does not put wear-and-tear on his body. If anything, it provided extra rest.
  • Noah was added to a bad roster that everybody outside of New York expected to fail, and fail it did. The Knicks are now in rebuild mode, and they don’t realistically have plans of competing any time soon. Mahinmi, on the other hand, was added to upgrade a shoddy bench unit and provide stability to a second-tier team on the rise. The Wizards have continued to rise, but Mahinmi’s monstrous deal remains a roadblock in any attempts to upgrade the roster. In other words, this contract could singlehandedly limit Washington’s ability to reach contending status.

Mahinmi’s contract is a huge detriment to the immediate, promising future of Washington during its peak window. Noah’s contract is just one of many barriers preventing the Knicks from being good, the chief of which is the Knicks shooting themselves in the foot at every turn. If anything, Noah’s contract might result in more losses for New York, which would lead to higher draft picks.

So what’s the verdict? Which deal truly is the worst?

Again, still probably Noah’s, when it comes down to it. But you could absolutely make the case that Mahinmi’s contract is more detrimental to the Wizards than Noah’s is to the Knicks. And that’s a remarkable thing for Ernie Grunfeld to have on his resume.

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