In a Ball Don't Lie post Monday afternoon, Dan Devine deconstructed some comments New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith made regarding his salary. "I think anything is a bargain with me," Smith told ZagsBlog, "whether I'm playing for a dollar or $20 million it's a bargain because I'm going to play hard no matter what." Devine used Win Shares, an advanced metric Bill James invented for baseball and Justin Kubatko adapted for basketball, to evaluate Smith's claim.
Estimating the value of a win in the 2011/12 season as $1.56 million, Devine found that Smith indeed provided the Knicks with a bargain: Smith posted 2.5 win shares, which production is worth $3.9 million, yet New York paid him just $2.8 million.
I applied Devine's framework to the Orlando Magic's payroll in 2011/12 to see if their players lived up to their salaries. Given the disappointing nature of their season, and the headline of this post, you can probably guess the results.
The data aren't kind to Orlando, which went 37-29 and, for the second straight season, lost in the first round of the playoffs. Here are the ugly figures:
1: per ShamSports' salary database|
2: per basketball-reference.com
3: Win Shares * $1,560,000
4: Value - Salary
5: Value / Salary, expressed as a percentage; a number greater than 100.0 indicates the player outperformed the value of his contract, while a number less than 100.0 indicates the player underperformed the value of his contract.
Some raw facts from the above table:
By this analysis, 14 of Orlando's 16 players underperformed, relative to their salaries, in 2011/12. The previous season, only seven of the Magic's 12 players underperformed.
Further, five Magic players produced at less than 50 percent of their salary.
For Orlando to have justified its $69.4 million payroll, it would have needed to win 45 games or more.
Let us now go into some greater depth:
Hedo Turkoglu fell off a cliff: In the 2010/11 season, Turkoglu outperformed his salary, despite the fact that a majority of NBA observers regard him as overpaid. He regressed sharply in the most recent season, however, fulfilling just 29.7 percent of his contract, the worst figure among Magic regulars.
To justify his salary, Turkoglu would have needed to account for 7.1 win shares. For some perspective, only 23 players had more than seven win shares in 2011/12. In effect, Turkoglu is paid like a player in the league's 95th percentile.
Trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis and Von Wafer didn't quite work out: Just before training camp, Otis Smith dealt Bass--on a contract paying just $4 million annually--to the Boston Celtics for Davis and Wafer. Davis responded by providing $2,652,000 of value on a $6.3 million salary, while Wafer hardly played, as coach Stan Van Gundy elected to rely on the steadier Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick at shooting guard.
Meanwhile, in Beantown, Bass produced 4.7 wins, for a value of $7.322 million.
In fact, none of Smith's offseason moves worked out: Swapping Bass for Davis and Wafer was only the most drastic of Smith's offseason tinkering. He also re-signed Earl Clark and Jason Richardson. Both players took a pay cut... and both players still didn't perform up to their salaries. The team's rookie trio of Justin Harper, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton also failed to impress, while training-camp holdover Larry Hughes managed to produce -0.5 win shares in just 114 minutes.
Of the players named above, only Davis and Harper are still with the team. The Magic cut Hughes in February and dealt away Richardson and Clark in the Dwight Howard trade, while Liggins and Orton have accepted invitations to the Oklahoma City Thunder's training camp.
Ryan Anderson went bananas: Perhaps this bit doesn't qualify as analysis--Anderson won the Most Improved Player award, after all--but it does bear mentioning that Anderson, in the last year of his rookie contract, led the team in win shares. Rob Hennigan's first personnel move as the Magic's general manager was to sign-and-trade Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets rather than match the $8 million offer sheet the Cal product was set to sign with the club.
Even if one accepts the premise that Anderson won't be nearly as effective without Howard drawing attention from him in the paint, he'd only need to produce 5.1 wins per season to be worth that salary. Did Howard's presence inflate Anderson's production to such a degree? I rather doubt it.
Letting Anderson walk looks even more puzzling when one considers the position in which Orlando now finds itself. Even a rebuilding team needs someone to score, and there's no question--not in my mind, anyway--that Anderson could put in a reasonably efficient 15-plus points per game with the rebuilding Magic. Instead, his shot attempts figure to go to the less efficient Davis and Al Harrington.
Even if Howard had stayed healthy, he'd have been overpaid: the 2011/12 season wasn't Howard's strongest by any means, and though in the broader sense he is worth every penny of his maximum salary, he didn't demonstrate it in his most recent campaign. He'd need to account for 11.6 win shares to be paid fairly, in the prism of this analysis, and he came up well short at 7.7. While it's true that a herniated disk injury ended Howard's season prematurely, at the rate at which he was accruing win shares he would have finished with just 9.6 had he played in all 66 of Orlando's games.
Smith's resignation in May paved the way for Hennigan's hire, and his moves so far have resulted in a cheaper roster, albeit one that looks set to lose 60-plus games.