April 26, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) loses control of the ball next to San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) and Spurs guard Danny Green (4) in the first quarter at ORACLE Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
NBA teams have a lot of money at their disposal. In fact, they need to spend upwards of $60 million per season to comply with league rules. But deciphering whether teams are operating at optimal efficiency — or, in much simpler terms, whether teams are getting enough return on their investment — is much more abstract.
With the help of win shares, an advanced statistic adopted from baseball and turned into an estimate that measures amount of wins a player produced in a given season, this seemingly complex calculus is reduced to a simple equation. Once you find the the amount of money a team typically pays for a win then you can easily ascertain the value of any player in the NBA. (Hat-tip to Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie and Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post for the methodology.)
Win shares certainly are not perfect but they are a much more accurate indicator of value than most metrics, as it also takes into account defense, and therefore good enough for our purposes. The following table illustrates the value of each Spurs player, using $1,560,000 as the going rate for a win last season.
(Quick clarification: Value is derived by multiplying win shares times $1,560,000. Over/Underpaid is found by subtracting the number we found for value from their salary last year. %Over/Underpaid is this number on a percentage scale and calculated by dividing value by salary and multiplying by 100. Numbers above 100% indicate they exceeded their salary. To make it easier on the eyes, bold denotes a player who exceeded his salary.)
— While we know that Duncan was unlikely to match the value of his enormous contract, it is still a bit jarring to see that he was overpaid by about $12 million. Duncan is still an incredibly effective player but a $21 million salary should only be reserved for the truly elite players in the league. Duncan was one of those players in his prime. This does not make his salary a bad investment, though, as San Antonio overpaid to keep the franchise’s most important underpinning and a player that perfectly accentuates Gregg Popovich. For those who are wondering, Duncan would have needed to produce at least 13.6 win shares to justify his salary. Only LeBron James exceeded that mark last season. Duncan has exceeded that production twice in his entire career.
— Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were technically overpaid, too. Ginobili was productive on a per-minute basis and had he played more last season, his win shares would have rose. He still would not have been worth his $12.98 million salary but his value would not looked so disproportionate as illustrated in the table. Parker was only slightly overpaid; he produced 7.1 win shares last season. He needed at least eight to break even. Parker is likely to be a good value this season, however, as he has exceeded eight win shares five times and will still receive the bulk of the offensive touches.
— Stephen Jackson was an awful value last season. I am willing to bet that will change with a full season in San Antonio.
— Once you skim past the Spurs highest paid players, you realize the efficacy of the Spurs organization. They are among the best talent evaluators, and they place role players in niches that suit their ability, and this table surely reflects this. The majority of their supporting cast — excluding James Anderson and Cory Joseph, who logged 80 games between them — vastly outperformed their contract, especially Danny Green, who outproduced his salary by 821.6%.
For reference, the Spurs supporting cast — we will include every Spur not named Duncan, Ginobili or Parker — were worth approximately $43.99 million last season. Instead, they were paid $19.9 million. That means they outproduced their salaries by more than 200%, or two times the value. This a structural efficiency that most NBA teams will likely be nowhere close to.
— The Spurs produced $70.83 million of value last season. They paid $70.22 million for a net value of $610,000.