Anyone who has ever played MyFranchise mode in NBA 2K knows that finding good players with valuable contracts is a thrill. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Steph Curry is worth top dollar, but it does take some work to secure a solid appetizer at a below-market price. But what makes a bargain? Which players give their teams the most bang for their buck?
I wanted to be analytical about this, so I devised a simple method that compares a player’s salary for this season (prorated for the number of games their team has played) to the number of winnings shares they have accumulated to date.
According to the basketball reference, the total salary for players this season is $4.53 billion (of which 90% appears to come from the Warriors and Clippers). We know that every 82-game season results in exactly 1,230 wins across the league. So if we divide the total salary by the total number of wins, we get that one win is worth $3.7 million.
Win Shares is a flawed but generally solid metric that attempts to calculate exactly how many of a team’s wins are attributable to each player. It inherently favors players from better performing teams, so you won’t see too many players from bad teams on this list…but that’s a feature, not a bug. How much bargain can one player grab when their team watches Wembanyama highlights all day?
By comparing win percentages to a player’s salary, we can see which players add value to their team. For example, if a player is worth 2.0 win shares up to this point, but their split salary is $5.0M, then we would say their “Extra Value” is $2.4M (2 win shares * 3, $7M per win = $7.4M generated). . Subtract the $5.0 from her salary and you get $2.4 million in added value.
There are two caveats based on current CBA restrictions: Rookie Deals and Max Players. As in any salary-restricted league, an NBA team has a significant advantage if it can scout players who perform at star level during their rookie deal since those salaries are capped at a low rate. Maximum players are also capped at below market value; If there wasn’t a maximum contract, guys like Curry would be making tens of millions more to get fair value for their production on the pitch.
If you look at any type of advanced metric divided by dollar methodology, you’ll see guys like Tyrese Haliburton (All-Star performance on a rookie deal) and Luka Doncic (All-World performance on a capped max deal) see at the top. I will exclude rookie deals and max contract players as they would not be able to earn more even if they did it in an open marketplace.
That leaves us with a very intriguing list of unexpected names.