The Heat are expected to sign free agent Mike Bibby after he was bought out by the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. As per league rules, the Heat will pay the 32-year-old point guard the prorated veteran minimum for the rest of the season. Bibby will replace Carlos Arroyo on the Heat roster, whom the Heat waived on Tuesday.
Bibby has carved out a successful career in the NBA. He's reached the playoffs eight times in 12 seasons while averaging 15.4 points and 5.7 assists per game. With a career 16.4 PER, he is probably one of the most accomplished point guards to never make the All-Star game, which admittedly sounds like a backhand compliment.
But those above-average days are long gone. His quickness has gone by the wayside the last few seasons, something that tends to happen when players approach their mid-thirties, and his productivity has suffered as a result.
What's left in the tank? At Basketball Prospectus, author Kevin Pelton ranks Bibby as the best free agent via buyout ahead of fellow cast-offs Troy Murphy and Corey Brewer. His take:
Bibby's skills are exactly what you'd want from a point guard in the Heat's offense. He's a sure-handed ballhandler and a dangerous three-point shooter who figures to thrive with all the open shots Miami's Big Three creates. The tradeoff comes at the other end of the floor, where Bibby is one of the league's worst defenders. Per Basketball Prospectus' numbers, opposing point guards had been 20.5 percent more productive than usual against Atlanta this season.
Pelton goes on to say that Bibby's defensive liabilities can be curbed by the Heat's strong defenders including LeBron James who can cover for Bibby against tougher assignments. Pelton's numbers confirm what our eyes see (a defense-less point guard) even if it doesn't bear out in his surprisingly rosy plus-minus data.
In his PER Diem column, ESPN Insider John Hollinger calls the deal "an obvious home run" for the Heat citing his spot-up abilities and ball handling skills.
But not all numbers-oriented analysts are in agreement. At his Wages of Wins blog, Dave Berri runs his numbers on Bibby and doesn't see him as a difference-maker compared to what the Heat already had:
To make this move happen, Bibby accepted a buyout that will cost him $6.2 million. He did this so that he can win a title. And that may actually happen. ButI don’t think – given the numbers posted by Bibby, Chalmers, and Arroyo – that Bibby is really going to improve the Heat. So if the Heat do win a title, this move is not going to be the reason why that happens.
While I agree with Berri's conclusion that Bibby won't definitively put the Heat over the top, I see little evidence to suggest he won't be an upgrade. Bibby is one of the best spot-up point guards in the league and that's a context-sensitive commodity. Synergy ranks him second behind Stephen Curry in catch-and-shoot efficiency among point guards with a minimum 100 shot attempts and that type of skill-set should flourish alongside James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
Bibby may not be an average point guard anymore, but at the price the Heat are paying him, he won't need to be.