The top 10 NBA players for the buck
Cleveland has been in quite a huff. The selfish, ungrateful King, LeBron James(notes), abandoned the city, taking his talents to South Beach. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert went ballistic, fans burned his jersey and then turned LeBron’s return last week with the Miami Heat into an insult-fest akin to a George W. Bush visit to Berkeley.
Talk about ungrateful. Instead of vilifying James, Clevelanders ought to be thanking him for the great ride. Gilbert should be thanking him too – the salary he doled out to James was a pittance compared to the victories and money that rolled in during his Cleveland reign.
Yes, at $15.8 million, LeBron was the NBA’s most underpaid player in 2009-10. At almost 30 points and nine assists per game, 50.5% shooting and 39 minutes a night on the floor, James produced more wins for his club (27.2) than any player in the league. All while earning less than Zach Randolph(notes) and Pau Gasol(notes), and about the same as slightly lesser stars Dwight Howard(notes) and James’ new Miami runningmate, Dwayne Wade. James edges out Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant(notes) and Boston’s Rajon Rondo(notes) as the player who delivered the most for the money last season.
A couple of weeks ago we published our run-down of The NBA’s Most Overpaid Players. For both lists we compared players’ salaries to the number of wins they produced last season, as calculated by sports economist David Berri, author of the book “Stumbling on Wins.” Berri crunches points, rebounds, turnovers, steals, assists and shooting percentages per team possessions in a typical game, the better to account for how much a player’s numbers are dictated by team style (an up-tempo team tends to play higher-scoring games, inflating its players’ points and assists totals, for example). No methodology is perfect, to be sure, but one that looks at a player’s overall game within the team concept is as accurate as any.
Adding up NBA payrolls shows that clubs spend an average of $1.7 million on each win, meaning that the 27.2 wins LeBron brought were worth $46.5 million in salary to the Cavaliers. That netted the club $30.7 million worth of wins above what they paid him.
Durant, an explosive forward who played more minutes and scored more points than any player in the league while grabbing seven rebounds a game last season, contributed 19.7 wins (worth $33.7 million in salary by the league-wide average) to the Thunder. His 2009-10 salary: $4.8 million. Boston’s Rondo, a fourth-year guard out of Kentucky, added a pair of young legs to the Celtics aging “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett(notes), Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes), reaching career highs last season in minutes, points, assists and shooting percentage while leading his club to within a game of the NBA championship. Rondo is credited with producing 17 wins for the Celtics ($29 million value) while earning just $2.1 million.