Having started his 21st game of the season on Wednesday night, Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball has now met the “starter criteria,” which will have a significant impact on the value of his qualifying offer this offseason.
The starter criteria applies to players who will be eligible for restricted free agency at season’s end. Typically, a player is required to average 41 starts during the two seasons prior to his free agency to meet the criteria, but that threshold has been adjusted and varies from player to player this year, since each of the last two NBA seasons have been shortened.
In Ball’s case, the Pelicans played 64 games prior to the hiatus last season and will play 72 this season, for a total of 136. He needed to start half of them (34 per year, or 68 in total) to meet the starter criteria. After starting 47 of those pre-hiatus contests a year ago, he now has 21 starts this season.
In order to make a player a restricted free agent, a team must extend him a qualifying offer, which is essentially a guaranteed one-year contract offer that gives the team the right of first refusal on a rival offer sheet. Meeting the starter criteria makes a player eligible for a larger qualifying offer than he would have been if he’d fallen short of that criteria.
That difference is especially important for Ball, whose qualifying offer would only have been worth about $7MM if he hadn’t reached the starter criteria. Now, his QO – assuming he receives one – will be worth $14.36MM.
Ball has been the subject of some recent trade rumors, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll still be a Pelican when he reaches free agency later this year. However, he has played some of his best basketball as of late, averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 4.8 APG on .476/.484/.909 shooting in his last eight games. If he continues to produce at that level, his team at season’s end – whether it’s New Orleans or another franchise – likely won’t bat an eye at issuing that $14MM+ QO.