The Los Angeles Clippers are about to self-combust. In the six seasons Chris Paul has been with the team, the Clippers have achieved a 5th seed or higher all six times. What they have never accomplished is advance to a conference finals, only ever advancing to the second round twice. The duo of Paul and Blake Griffin has been great for winning games in the regular season, but when the playoffs hit, they are too easily neutralized.
The starters around the main duo have been mostly the same as well. DeAndre Jordan has become a force around the rim at both ends, and J.J. Redick has been an elite floor spacer. What the team needed for years was a defensive glue guy who wasn’t a complete liability on offense: enter Luc Mbah a Moute.
Mbah a Moute started 76 out of the 80 games he played in this season, and while his averages were modest, his impact on the Clippers stretched beyond the numbers. TThe Clippers won’t make him a priority to re-sign with Paul, Griffin, Redick, and others all expiring, so the Nuggets should consider Mbah a Moute as a potential option in free agency. They can pay him more money than other teams can afford, and they have a need for his defensive capabilities.
Mbah a Moute has been in the NBA for nine seasons, and he has never averaged more than 10 points per game. The name of his game will always be defense. Among advanced metrics utilized in the ranking of free agents, Mbah a Moute clocks in as the 11th best defender. Using TPA, his defensive points saved total is right between Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah. He impacts the game defensively using his basketball IQ and wingspan that reaches over seven feet. Even as a forward, Mbah a Moute accumulated a steal percentage of 2.3%, a number which ranks 9th among forwards between Otto Porter and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Mbah a Moute also spent time guarding the best wing and forward players on the opposing team. With Paul being too small, Redick being inadequate defensively, and Griffin saving his energy, Mbah a Moute defended the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, and Danilo Gallinari for the majority of his minutes. As the main defender of the best offensive players in the NBA, the fact that he was so successful should point to his abilities impacting the game.
Where most falter in their appreciation for Mbah a Moute is his lack of contribution on offense. After all, how valuable can a player be when he only averages 4.7 shots a game as a forward?
Shooting 39.1% from behind the 3-point line helps, even in limited volume. Mbah a Moute attempted 73.8% of his shots either within 0-3 feet of the basket or from behind the arc, a good way to mask his limitations. He shot 62.7% from the 0-3 feet range, so he has to at least be guarded on those shots.
The most important part of Mbah a Moute’s offensive game is that it doesn’t negatively affect a team. His low usage means that he won’t be excessively relied upon, and the Clippers were still effective offensively. When Mbah a Moute was on the floor, the Clippers put up a 111.0 offensive rating, meaning that his sole presence on the floor won’t negatively affect the offense.
On the Nuggets, Mbah a Moute would likely serve as a bench forward who comes in and plays a large role as a defensive stopper. He could also be a starter and check big wings or power forwards depending on who is still on the Nuggets. I see him filling the role of Wilson Chandler, a hybrid starter/bench guy depending on the matchup, except with far more impactful defense. With Nikola Jokic assuming the majority of ball handling duties, Mbah a Moute’s role offensively would be similar to his current role in Los Angeles.
As a spot up shooter, Mbah a Moute was in the 82nd percentile for efficiency on 166 attempts. The Nuggets can make that work for 20-25 minutes a night.
There are very few complications in offering Mbah a Moute a medium sized contract, other than him opting back into a contract with the Clippers. If he opts out, it’s because he’s searching for more money on the open market. As a nine year vet and 30 years old, Mbah a Moute is in line for what is likely his last major contract. He hasn’t earned an excessive amount of money over his career, and with the salary cap increasing again, he could be paid in between eight and 13 million annually if he sought such a contract.
Denver also has a lot of forwards on the roster that fit the role Mbah a Moute would likely play as a hybrid forward. With Gallinari opting to explore free agency, Chandler unhappy with his role, Darrell Arthur unable to stay healthy, and Juancho Hernangomez still young and unproven, Mbah a Moute would bring some certainty to the position if Denver is willing to let go of one or two of the veteran forwards.
Here are some similar contracts dished out to players at Mbah a Moute’s age, position, and skill over the last season:
- Darrell Arthur - 3 years, $23 million
- Meyers Leonard - 4 years, $41 million
- James Johnson - 1 year, $4 million
- Mirza Teletovic - 3 years, $31.5 million
- Jared Dudley - 3 years, $30 million
- Lance Thomas - 4 years, $27.5 million
Basically, the Nuggets are looking at a three year deal worth somewhere in the eight to ten million annual range. For a team like Denver, this should be easy. Even if the Nuggets re-sign Danilo Gallinari to a sizable deal and put out a qualifying offer to Mason Plumlee, they will have enough room to sign Mbah a Moute outright. If they were to offer him a contract, I would expect it to be around 3 years, $30-35 million.
If the Nuggets truly want to get better defensively and put a value on players who can help them there, I would expect this likelihood to be pretty high. In order to get better defensively, Denver must go outside the organization for new personnel. That’s not to say that the majority of players in Denver can’t improve defensively, because they can, but Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray are going to need as much assistance as possible. Signing a quality defender in Mbah a Moute helps in this regard, as he is able to show-and-recover, switch assignments, and use his activity level and wingspan to win possessions defensively.
The biggest question is current personnel: Denver still needs to consolidate and likely decide between retaining Gallinari and retaining Chandler. If the Nuggets do end up picking one, sliding Mbah a Moute into the forward rotation makes more sense:
- Danilo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler - 30-35 minutes a night
- Luc Mbah a Moute - 20-25 minutes a night
- Kenneth Faried - 20-25 minutes a night
- Juancho Hernangomez - 15-20 minutes a night
If the Nuggets are in fact serious about getting defensive, they will consider one of the best defensive options this free agent class has to offer. Luc Mbah a Moute is affordable, talented defensively, not a massive liability offensively, and his low usage will allow younger players to continue to grow. It all hinges on clearing space at the forward spot though, which means letting at least one of Gallinari, Chandler, or even Faried go.