Ranking the Best and Worst Contracts of the 2017 Season
The 2016-17 NBA season is in the books, and with that, we can officially evaluate the performances that we saw from every player. We did this last year and discovered to little surprise that Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson played the furthest below their massive salaries, while Steph Curry and Damian Lillard outplayed their contracts the most. This season, I tinkered with the mechanics of the “Estimated Value Calculator” to better portray a player’s production. You can see that process at the bottom under the “How It Works” section, but in general the same rules apply as last year:
It isn’t easy to pinpoint who has been outperforming their salaries or by how much. I try my best to do this using my “Estimated Value Calculator”. If you are interested in what this calculator entails, feel free to skip to the “How It Works” section at the bottom of this article for all of the nerdy mechanics of the model.
In this case, since we are concentrating on the best and worst contracts, we’re looking at the difference in a player’s salary and the value they provided for this season. Players like LeBron James and Chris Paul are some of the most valuable players in the association, but they make massive salaries which balance out their output enough to leave them towards the middle of the pack in terms of value (the ‘able’ makes a big difference).
Keeping this in mind, let’s start the analysis.
25 Best Contracts
So who were the best value players of the 2016-17 season? Here’s the top 25:
Alright, so there’s some clear things to note here.
The new model (which again will be gone over soon) favors defense heavily. That was a flaw last year, where steals and blocks weren’t weighted as heavily as they should’ve been. Now, those two statistics are the most critical in determining value, so defensive stat sheet stuffers like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner, and Anthony Davis get massive boosts.
Like last year, it is mostly rookie contracts that make young studs climb up this list. It’s easy to forget that Giannis, Gobert, Turner, and Nikola Jokic all made less than $3 million each this season.
Meanwhile, players like Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins have dramatically advanced their games since signing their last contracts. So given their old and cheap deals, their production carried even more value.
For mediocre players like Mason Plumlee, Elfrid Payton, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, just remember that their inexpensive salaries make their decent production look more valuable. Plus, playing on bad teams like the Magic and the Sixers gave them higher usage and more playing time than they may have gotten elsewhere.
25 Worst Contracts
These players, for some reason or another, failed to provide the value that their teams paid for this year. Here are the worst 25:
Not too many surprises here, but let’s analyze why some of the players are here.
Chandler Parsons hardly played all season, creating a humungous separation between his salary and his value on the year. There are numerous other athletes here that were limited by injuries, thus producing far less than they were paid for.
The Lakers clearly hit it out of the park during free agency last summer…NOT. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov were both head-scratching acquisitions by L.A., and it’s now clear that they didn’t perform anywhere close to the money that they were paid.
You may be wondering how Jerryd Bayless’ value on the year is in the negative. Well, the new model will explain how turnovers negatively impact players’ production. Therefore, Bayless must’ve gotten such little playing time this year that the impact of his turnovers outweighed the rest of his production.
There’s a fair number of big names on here who are just declining with age. They may get the big time money since they are household names, but guys such as Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony are simply not worth the money they are getting paid anymore.
Looking at both of these lists, Otto Porter versus Carmelo Anthony is the perfect example. Porter posted 13.4 points a night on 51.6% from the field, 43.4% from three, and 83.2% from the line. He also grabbed 6.4 boards and stole 1.5 possessions a game. Melo, on the other hand, averaged 22.4 points, but shot just 43.3% from the floor, 35.9% from deep, and 83.3% at the stripe. He also had fewer rebounds and steals than Porter. Yet, Melo made $24.5 million this season, while Porter just $5.9 million. Similar production on a significantly smaller contract makes Porter a much better value player than Carmelo.
So there you have it. Please NBA front offices, stop overpaying. Having many “value players” create so much financial flexibility and helps you build a championship roster. Throwing $16 million at Mozgov or $23 million at a 35-year-old DWade is not a reliable strategy in the least. I know this sounds like an obvious concept, but NBA teams really are continuing to waste money. In last year’s edition, I warned and joked about how some team would be dumb enough to overpay for Bismack Biyombo…and I was SPOT ON:
Hopefully, teams will learn from this and figure out how to get the most production out of their limited money…Wait what was that? Bismack Biyombo signed a $18 million deal? Well nevermind (don’t worry he didn’t actually).
Except that it actually ended up happening…the Magic tossed $72 million at him for four years, which comes out to – yup, you guessed it – $18 million a year. Come on now, Orlando!
For those of you who are already eager to find the faults within the Estimated Value Calculator, here’s an explanation of how it works.
How It Works
This year, I altered the Estimated Value Calculator to properly account for the most important statistics and impacts that players have. As mentioned, measuring defensive impact was a major flaw of last year’s model, so I put an emphasis on weighing defensive stats correctly. While it still has many things to work on, I believe this year’s model is a step in the right direction compared to the one from the previous season.
Now, the model looks at a player’s total scaled production on the year. That includes the six major statistics of points, assists, rebounds, turnovers, steals, and blocks. However, it is scaled based on the value that each stat has on the outcome of a game. This is a concept studied in a fascinating article by FiveThirtyEight, in which the following value was found for each point:
So this is how I weighted the total production for each player. I inserted these factors into a formula to compute the weighted production for every NBA player:
Next, to get a bigger picture of a player’s impact, the model looks at advanced stats to get a grasp for a player’s involvement on their team. It takes Value Over Replacement Level (VORP), Win Shares (WS), and Usage Percentage (USG%) and scales them to get a total value estimate. Here is the scaled formula inserted into the model:
It then takes an average of players’ true shooting and effective field goal percentage to get a grasp of their shooting efficiencies.
With these three factors (weighted production, weighted value, and weighted shooting efficiency), the model compares the score of each to the league average. this creates a ratio showing how far above or below average a player performed in each category. Finally, with the system taking those three ratios, a sum or ratios formula was created to properly scale for each. The sum of ratios formula is as follows:
Lastly, using the sum of ratios, an estimated salary is computed by multiplying it by a base salary of $2,500,000. And that’s it!
What do you think of the new Estimated Value Calculator? Does it give too much value to steals and blocks, thus skewing the data for defensive studs like Giannis and Gobert? Or is that how it should be? Let me know your thoughts.
Featured photo via Flickr