By Kurt Bullard
It’s crazy to think that the world is only one week removed from the instant classic that was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But with the draft having come and passed, the basketball world has all but moved on to free agency and the trade market. Every year, some players who come in hot commodities end up flopping, while some overlooked players end up being steals for some teams. Most notably, due to his health problems in the early portion of his career, Steph Curry made just $11 million last season, almost $1 million less than Timberwolves’ guard Ricky Rubio, who shot 33 percent from three and barely averaged 10 points per game. It was a discount so large that it allowed Bob Myers to extend Draymond through 2020 for $82 million without losing any flexibility in maintaining last year’s Championship roster.
It’s no secret that Steph’s contract is part of the reason the Warriors were able to build and maintain the caliber of the team that they were—at least in the regular season. I was interested in quantifying how much of an advantage it was to have Steph locked up on such a cheap deal.
To do so, I ran a regression using a general additive model of Win Shares per Basketball Reference against a player’s contract last season. A general additive model allows for nonlinear effects of predictor variables (i.e. the increase in WS from $2 million to $3 million might not be the same as the increase from $10 to $11 million), which helps account for some of the current NBA contract rules set up.
Before running the analysis, I normalized Win Shares so that they reflected what a player’s WS would be had they played all 82 games. I normalized over games and not minutes in order to try to preserve a player’s expected usage in a game in an effort to try to see how they would have contributed over a full season. I also removed Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson from the analysis, since they were the two-highest paid players (and did not perform like it) and therefore were leverage points that influenced the model.
The following is a graph of the WS gained (or lost) versus the average NBA player (~2 WS). As is pretty obvious, the more someone makes, the more value they added to a team on average.
I was interested in seeing who the most underpaid and overpaid players in the Association were last season. The following are tables of the five best deals last season.
Curry leads the list, even though he still makes millions of dollars per year (and is probably doing fine endorsement-wise). Steph gets paid like someone who adds six wins per year, when in reality he’s doing three times that. Hassan Whiteside follows pretty closely behind, however, as he’s paid under a million dollars to produce 11.6 adjusted Win Shares. The story is similar for Gobert, who is joined by KD and Kawhi to round out the list.
The following is a table showing the five most overpaid players last season.
The big news before the NBA Draft was that Derrick Rose was heading to Manhattan to play for the Knicks. Well, Derrick Rose was pretty bad last year, and this only confirms it. Derrick Rose was paid about $40 million per win he generated for the Bulls, and his contract took away about nine wins that the team could have gained by properly paying Rose and acquiring someone else. Mudiay had an awful rookie year by most standards, so he was dramatically overpaid even when on his rookie deal. Ty Lawson had a rough year, to put it nicely, so being overpaid is probably the least of his concerns.
As someone who is living in Manhattan this summer, I understand that the cost of living in the city is high and that consequently salaries are somewhat inflated. But paying D-Rose $20 million is probably just a tad too much, although the Knicks probably feel right at home doing so.