Through his first nine seasons in the NBA, Rashard Lewis(notes) grew impressively from a part-timer into a featured player in Seattle. Wielding the three-point shot as his main weapon – Lewis has drained nearly 4,000 of them during his career, seventh-most all-time – he became one of the league's top scorers, averaging over 20 points per game between 2004 and 2007.
His reward: a six-year, $110-million contract with the Orlando Magic. The only problem is, aside from taking aim beyond the three-point arc, Lewis doesn't do much on the court to help win games. He's never been known for his defense or his passing, averaging fewer than two assists per game for his career. His rebounding also fell off in Orlando – he's never averaged as many as six boards a game in three-plus years there, after doing so five times in Seattle. For a 6-foot-10 forward, that's a problem. Then there's his less-than-stellar shooting percentage: 43.5 percent last season, below his 45.6 percent average for his career.
Add it all up, and Lewis stands as the NBA's most overpaid player, based on the last completed season of 2009-10.
He noses out Boston's Jermaine O'Neal(notes) (who played in Miami last season), who averaged 13.5 in 28 minutes a game while making $23 million, and Philadelphia's $14.5-million big man Elton Brand(notes), whose scoring dropped to 13 points a game last year. Filling out the top five: Miami center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) (who was with Cleveland last season), a 44-percent shooter and tepid shot blocker who got $11.5 million, and Houston's Brad Miller(notes) (who was with Chicago last season), who made over $12 million for mostly part-time duty.
Sports economist David Berri, author of the book Stumbling on Wins, has crunched the numbers to determine the collection of stats typically found on winning teams. What he found: Taking a player's major stats – points, rebounds, turnovers, steals, assists and blocked shots, along with field goal and free throw percentage – and weighing them against the average number of possessions a team gets per game (the more possessions, the more chances to score, etc.) – goes a long way toward determining a player's contribution to the outcome of the game. So negatives like turnovers and missed shots are equally counted against points and rebounds on the win-building scale.
Is the economic-style analysis perfect? Probably not, but it certainly goes a long way toward including a player's total game in determining his value on the floor toward winning. Berri calls it "Wins Produced," which we measured for each NBA player for 2009-10. On the pay side: adding up team payrolls shows that a typical NBA club spent $1.7 million for each win in 2009-10. So figuring players' contributions vs. their pay comes down to comparing the value of the wins they produced to the value of their contracts. To distinguish between players that just didn't produce from those that were hurt, we included only those that played in at least 75 percent of their team's games last season. That means injury exemptions for players like Shaquille O'Neal(notes), Tracy McGrady(notes) and Eddy Curry(notes).
Example: LeBron James(notes), playing in Cleveland last season, produced a league-leading 27.2 wins for the Cavs, according to Berri's calculations. At $1.7 million a pop, those wins were worth some $46.5 million to the team, more than $30 million above James' $15.8 million salary. Just behind LeBron: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant(notes) ($4.8 million salary for 19.7 wins worth $33.7 million) and Boston's Rajon Rondo(notes) ($2 million salary for 17 wins worth $26.9 million).
Then there's the flip side – those making big bucks for producing very few wins (or in some cases, contributing negatively to their teams' win totals). In Lewis' case, the stats evened out to produce a flat contribution – he gave the Magic a small fraction of one win last year, a $248,000 value. Lewis' salary last season: $18.9 million. O'Neal, who made $23 million in Miami last year, gets credit for 3.1 Wins Produced, while Philly's Brand, who averaged 13 points and six rebounds a game, was good for just a fraction of a win while making $14.9 million.
One take from the all-overpaid list: NBA general managers may make mistakes, but they learn from them. Six of last season's 10 most overpaid players – O'Neal, Ilgauskas, Miller, Al Harrington(notes), Andres Nocioni(notes), and Darius Songaila(notes) – are playing in other cities this year. The Magic, unfortunately, are stuck with Lewis for three more years.
The "top" five:
1. Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic: Slideshow
2. Jermaine O'Neal, Boston Celtics: Slideshow
3. Elton Brand, Philadelphia 76ers: Slideshow
4. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavaliers: Slideshow
5. Brad Miller, Houston Rockets: Slideshow
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