The Second Contract: How players like Kyrie Irving can take the next step

Jun 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the third quarter in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the third quarter in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

From the moment a player gets drafted, they are put under the rookie scale. Rookie scale contracts are all similar for first round picks: Each lasts four years, with the third and fourth year being a team option that must be picked up before October 31 of the previous year.

The year and where a player is drafted dictates the amount of money they are eligible to make. There is a set number that teams can negotiate with players for as low as 80 percent of the figure or as high as 120 percent of the figure. More often than not, teams agree to give their first round picks 120 percent of their rookie scale amount.

For example, Karl-Anthony Towns, this year’s No. 1 pick, had a rookie scale set at four years, $21.4 million. He signed for 120 percent of the rookie scale, making his contract four years, $25.7 million.

If a player makes it through all four years of their rookie scale contract, they become a restricted free agent as long as their team extends them a qualifying offer. Being a restricted free agent allows the team to match any offer a player may sign elsewhere. We saw that this year when the Portland Trailblazers inked Enes Kanter to a four year deal, only for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kanter’s previous team, to swoop in and match the offer in order to retain him.

Restricted free agents rarely jump ship. Only six players since 2008 have signed offer sheets from other teams, and five of the six have been matched (Chandler Parsons in 2014 is the only anomaly). With the team having that player’s Bird Rights, they can sign them to a contract up to five years in length.

With all of this knowledge, it is safe to assume a player is going to be with the same team for the first eight or nine years of their career.

This means teams see a player all the way through the development of their career, from the early stages of learning the game straight through the tail end of their prime. The key about the second contract is when the team decides on how much the player is worth going forward. You are not only paying for what the player has done in the past, but also for what they have the potential to become. It’s more justifiable to overpay a player coming off of rookie scale contract than it is a superstar at the end of his second or third contract. It makes it easier when you realize that the max salary for players coming off their rookie scales is lower, too.

For a player to live up the amount of their second contract, they are expected to add things to their game and improve in certain areas in order to make the leap. Each player is unique and has something different to work on, but there are a few general things to watch for as a guard or forward transitions from their first to second contract.


NBA defenses are becoming more meticulous and advanced every season. Rotations have to be exact and teams are always implementing new designs for their schemes. Add in how fast the game is played and it can be overwhelming for a young player to catch on.

You can be the best on ball defender coming out of college and still get lost in rotations and lose track of your assignment off the ball. Andrew Wiggins does a tremendous job here on James Harden one-on-one, for example, but needs to stay with Donatas Motiejunas a little longer in order to prevent the slip from happening in the clip after.

I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t believe that Wiggins will be an elite defender in due time. Like almost every rookie, he needs a few years to learn the ins and outs of NBA schemes.


Most rookies struggle to adjust to the extended 3-point line in their first season. Normally, by year five, it settles into the percentage that the player will most likely shoot during their career.

Take a look at both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s 3-point shooting percentages and notice how from their fifth year (first year of their second contract) onwards, their percentages stay in the same range.

  • Kevin Durant: 28.8 percent, 42.2 percent, 36.5 percent, 35.0 percent, 38.7 percent, 41.6 percent, 39.1 percent, 40.3 percent
  • Russell Westbrook: 27.1 percent, 22.1 percent, 33.0 percent, 31.6 percent, 32.3 percent, 31.8 percent, 29.9 percent

You can only do so much to change shot mechanics. Everyone likes to point to Kawhi Leonard and Jason Kidd, but the fact of the matter is they are two generational talents among thousands of players that have come in and out of the league throughout their careers. It’s nice to think that a player can improve, but it doesn’t happen often.


Other than those two indicators, most of the stuff can be based on an individual level. Here are a few players to watch for next season that are beginning their second contract and could add a new dimension to their game that we haven’t seen before.

Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie has been the butt of jokes about his defense during his first four years in the league, and justifiably so — there have been plenty of instances, such as this one, that stick out like a sore thumb in people’s mind.

Monta Ellis caught Kyrie standing straight up and flat footed, blowing right by him in a straight line. It’s plays like these that people tend to capture and remember, then turn and label the player as a bad defender.

What most people don’t ever see, however, is improvement and work ethic. I remember a particular game against the Spurs that went down to the wire when Irving was fighting like a maniac over every screen, staying on Tony Parker’s hip and making sure he felt uncomfortable all night long.

The biggest defensive play Kyrie has ever made was his block on Steph Curry during Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals. On two bad legs, he was able to stay on Curry’s back and make an incredible effort to prevent an easy bucket.

Kyrie is one example of a player who seems primed to make a leap on the defensive end next season. We saw with James Harden that you can be an average defender in this league if you put in the work ethic and pay attention to detail. Kyrie has shown that ability to be the two-way player the Cavaliers need.

Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

Since entering the league, Thompson has had to play second fiddle to one of the best point guards in the game and arguably the greatest shooter of all-time. Klay has always been known as a lights out shooter who drills 3s in any capacity; coming off screens, spotting up, you name it.

One of the things he has always been pigeonholed as, however, is someone who can’t really create his own shot off the bounce after one or two dribbles. Klay showed improvement in that area this season, being able to get buckets inside the arc by using some crafty dribble moves.

Curry may be the best shooter in the NBA, but Thompson might have the prettiest stroke I’ve ever seen. Not only is it fast, the shot pocket is in the perfect placement; high and with his elbow tucked in for a perfect 90 degree angle. Being able to shoot off the bounce while adding combo moves to his game would make Klay an absolute murderer.

Tobias Harris, F, Orlando Magic

Harris is a fascinating player that many people will be keeping tabs on this season. The Magic gave him a huge contract this offseason to make him a key piece of their team going forward. While Harris is a jack of all trades, he is a multi-tool forward who can be plugged in at either the three or the four and be relied on to get a bucket.

One of the things Harris has been inconsistent with, however, is his 3-point shot. Over his first four years in the league, he’s hovered around the 30 percent clip. Obviously Harris was an above average shooter last season (36.4 percent), showing that he can possibly be a threat to space the floor for a Magic team that desperately needs it. The big question is whether or not it was a fluke, or if he can continue to shoot at a solid rate from deep and be a legitimate floor spacing forward.

That is definitely something to monitor with him this upcoming season.