Magic salaries: Youngsters provide good value, but veterans come up short

Tobias Harris - USA TODAY Sports

Orlando shelled out more than $66 million in salary and had the league's worst record to show for it. Orlando Pinstriped Post examines where the Magic spent wisely and where they didn't.

Determining a given NBA player's value is a tricky task, one that's bedeviled the league's general managers forever. No one catch-all stat is perfect, given that, even in these advanced times, these stats can only capture contributions which the box score records. However, the Win Shares metric, which Bill James developed for baseball and Justin Kubatko adapted for basketball, works nicely because it credits a team's wins to individual players based on their performances. Again, Win Shares isn't an ideal stat, but it suits our purposes for this exercise.

Estimating the value of one NBA win at $1,628,895--a figure reached at dividing the league's overall payroll outlay in 2012/13 by the number of wins available--I wanted to see how fairly the Orlando Magic paid their players in that season, one in which they finished with the league's worst record as they began their post-Dwight Howard rebuilding project.

If this project sounds familiar, it should: Orlando Pinstriped Post did similar analyses in 2010/11 and 2011/12. Here are the results for Orlando's rebuilding year. Note that, in the interests of fairness and accuracy, I've attempted to adjust the salaries of players who arrived in midseason trades.

Player Salary1 Adj. salary2 Win shares3 Value4 Over/
Underpaid5
% fulfillment6
Arron Afflalo $7,750,000 2.0 $3,257,790 $4,492,210 42.0
Glen Davis $6,400,000 0.8 $1,303,116 $5,096,884 20.4
Maurice Harkless $1,731,960 2.4 $3,909,348 $2,177,388 225.7
Al Harrington $6,687,400 0.0 $0 $6,687,400 0.0
Tobias Harris $1,482,000 $506,049 1.9 $3,094,901 $2,588,852 611.6
DeQuan Jones $473,604 0.1 $162,890 $310,715 34.4
Doron Lamb $650,000 $221,951 0.1 $162,890 $59,062 73.4
E'Twaun Moore $762,195 0.2 $325,779 $436,416 42.7
Jameer Nelson $8,600,000 2.1 $3,420,680 $5,179,321 39.8
Andrew Nicholson $1,418,160 1.7 $2,769,122 $1,350,962 195.3
Kyle O'Quinn $788,872 1.4 $2,280,453 $1,491,581 289.1
Hedo Türkoğlu $11,815,850 -0.5 -$814,448 $12,630,298 -6.9
Beno Udrih $7,372,200 $2,517,337 1.1 $1,791,785 $725,552 71.2
Nikola Vučević $1,719,480 5.7 $9,284,702 $7,565,222 540.0
1: per ShamSports' salary database
2: Salary * (games with team/82), to more fairly evaluate players who arrived or departed during the season
3: per basketball-reference.com
4: Win Shares * $1,628,895
5: Value - Adj. Salary
6: Value / Adj. 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.

We can draw several conclusions from these data.

  • Rob Hennigan knows how to pick 'em: Unless you're selecting at or near the top of the Draft, your goal as a general manager is to find players who can provide good value for their Draft position. In young big men Andrew Nicholson (19th overall in 2012) and Kyle O'Quinn (53rd), Hennigan found two bargains. Whether their continued growth will mean they'll remain bargains after their first NBA contracts expire is an open question, but for now, Nicholson and O'Quinn look like strong pickups for Hennigan.

    We also shouldn't ignore that Maurice Harkless and Nik Vučević, the two prospects whom Hennigan acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Howard trade, also worked out well. Vučević was, in terms of Win Shares, the Magic's top player in 2012/13, while Harkless demonstrated remarkable growth as the season wore on. Orlando won't contend for the playoffs, much less a title, if Vučević is its best player, but his excellent sophomore season bodes well for the Magic as they move forward. And speaking of super sophomores...

  • Tobias Harris was a Godsend: When Hennigan acquired second-year combo forward Tobias Harris at the NBA trading deadline, the Milwaukee Bucks had already paid a majority of his salary. With per-game averages of 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.3 combined steals and blocks, the former Volunteer vastly outproduced the roughly half-million Orlando owed him: Harris offered more than $3 million in value, according to this analysis. One wonders what value the Magic will reap from a full season of production at his bargain, rookie-scale salary.

  • The veterans underperformed: In less encouraging news, Orlando's core of veteran leaders--co-captains Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis, as well as Arron Afflalo--did not produce at levels commensurate with their salaries. Nelson would have needed to accrue 5.3 Win Shares to justify his $8.6 million salary, but he finished with just 2.1.

    It's true that injuries limited Davis to just 34 appearances in 2012/13, but even if he had played twice as many minutes as he did, he would have fulfilled about 40 percent of his salary; barring a surprising uptick in efficiency, it's unlikely that he'll ever produce enough wins to warrant what he's owed.

    But the Davis news has some upside: his absence in the latter half of the 2012/13 season allowed the Magic to find playing time for Harris. And as we've discussed, Harris used that playing time brilliantly.

  • Hedo Türkoğlu continues to be an albatross: Türkoğlu is paid like a player who should produce 7.3 wins, a level which just 7.5 percent of the league's players (35 of 469) reached in 2012/13. In 11 appearances, Türkoğlu actually cost the Magic half a win, making him Orlando's most overpaid player.

    That Türkoğlu is overpaid is hardly news, but the extent of the Toronto Raptors' largesse--they're the team that signed Türkoğlu to his current deal--is surprising. It's easy to understand why Orlando is reportedly working to reach a buyout with the veteran forward who, despite everything, is one of the Magic's greatest all-time players.

Keep up with all of our Magic coverage

Below, I've listed the four players who opened the season with Orlando but ended it elsewhere.

Player Salary Adj. salary Win shares Value Over/
Underpaid
% fulfillment
Gustavo Ayón $1,500,000 $987,805 0.7 $1,140,227 $152,422 115.4
Josh McRoberts $3,135,000 $2,064,512 0.7 $1,140,227 $924,286 55.2
J.J. Redick $6,190,000 $4,076,341 3.2 $5,212,464 $1,136,123 127.9
Ish Smith $910,491 $599,592 -0.6 -$977,337 $1,576,929 -163.0

Gustavo Ayón, a throw-in from the New Orleans Hornets in the Ryan Anderson sign-and-trade, provided decent value in his brief stay in pinstripes, so that transaction wasn't a total bust. J.J. Redick, too, gave the Magic fans to whom he had endeared himself something for which to cheer before departing in the Harris trade: among Orlando players not on rookie contracts, Redick was the most fairly paid.

Ish Smith was a surprising signing by Orlando in 2012, given Otis Smith's general indifference to the NBA D-League. Unfortunately, Ish Smith's story isn't one of success: his inability to use effectively his blinding speed, coupled with his poor outside shot, made him a real liability on the floor. Even at a bargain price, Smith wound up being Orlando's most overpaid player on a percentage basis; even Türkoğlu offered more bang for the DeVos family's buck. We'll always have this monstrous dunk, though.

These observations, of course, are only my own. What takeaways do you have from these data? Let's hear it in the comments.

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