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Off The Court Numbers: A Look At The Wizards True Value Based On Their Salary And PER

How many points should a $10 million a year player score? Does getting paid more than $ 5 million a year mean you need at least “x” amount of assists and “y” amount of rebounds? Sports salaries are tough to hack and NBA players are no exception. Generally guaranteed, based on future projections, and so dependent on timing, NBA player contracts can lead to many head scratching moments. A current example of this is reigning NBA MVP and Champion, Stephen Curry. These recent accolades and his recent boredom with normal 3-point shots don’t change the fact that he’s he’s the 64th highest paid NBA player this season. While the reason behind his current contract is widely attributed to his multiple ankle injuries in his earlier years, it doesn’t change the fact that the NBA’s current best player and reigning MVP has a contract that pays him less than 63 other NBA players, making little to no sense if purely measured by produced figures.

The District Ninja team does not have the answer to the player contract enigma, but it does have some serious Washington Wizards fans. We also love us some number crunching and data visualizing. We combined our two loves and decided to do a post on how the Wizards salary dollars are working for the team. Where are we paying a lot and getting little? Are there certain players who are just a total financial steal right now? To answer these questions, we relied on the NBA 2015-16 season data from Basketball Reference.

The salary figures represent 2015-16 contract figures up to February 20, 2016. In order to determine who is getting paid and underpaid, we used each player’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Minutes Played (MP). We know, we know, the PER has well-documented shortcomings. That aside, it’s a much discussed and updated multi-faceted data figure so we went with it. PER’s creator describes PER as a calculation that adds up a player’s total positive contribution (ex: Field Goals) and subtracts them by his negative contributions (ex: Missed Shots).

Visual #1: Final Salary Position Table

Click on image to view interactive chart

Final_Salary (2)

In order to appreciate who is getting overpaid or underpaid, it helps to know who gets paid what first. This first visual shows us how the Wizard’s salary cap is spread by each team position. If you drag your mouse across each player’s bar, you can see more information about that player, like how the Wizards acquired him, his league debut, career experience, and more.

It looks like the Center position may also have the tallest figure when it comes to the Wizards bank account. 13.3% of the team makes up for 31.2% of the entire salary cap. In contrast, it’s interesting to see the differences in the 4 spot. Markieff Morris’ $8,000,000 salary accounts for more of the Wizards salary cap space than combined value of  Drew Gooden and Jared Dudley’s salaries combined. I think we know who needs to turn up for the 4 slot? We’ll confirm soon, but Dudley’s play this year has been a true bargain for the Wizards. When it comes to salaries, there’s no question John Wall produces for the big bucks and has no problem calling out players he thinks get paid too much. That said, it was really interesting to see his salary cap space percentage greater than that of all the power forwards, small forwards, and shooting guards. Now that we have a better idea of how the money is spread, we can have a better idea of how to spread expectations.

Visual # 2: Final Bar Chart Salary by Position

Click on image to view interactive chart

Final_PER_Ratings (2)

This visual represents each player’s PER figure classified by position played. If you drag your mouse over each player, you can see more information like games played, minutes played, and true shooting percentage. Given that Morris played one game at the time of this post, his PER figure was -5.30 and therefore omitted. This should be taken into consideration when viewing power forward averages in particular. To provide some general context on these numbers, the PER league average is 15.00 every season. While just about any player can technically have a PER rating, we used the Qualified Player PER list which ranks players who have played at least 6.09 Minutes Per Game in the season. On to the data!

Right away we can see that the center position is costing us dearly, literally and figuratively. While he is a great guy who has had major on and off the court setbacks, Nene simply is not (arguably never has) produced the type of stats we need from someone who accounts for roughly 20% of our salary cap space. After all, he’s the 9th highest paid center in the league this year yet ranks at #37 out of 60 in the PER ratings for Centers. Top 10% salary for bottom 50% production= face palm. Fortunately, the Wizards are doing pretty well in some other positions, especially when it comes to their “return” on the point guard position this season.

The point guard position currently has the best overall PER rating and it’s not just because of the 2 total players or the Wallstar. Ramon “I draw fouls like artwork” Sessions has been producing big numbers for someone who accounts for a mere 2% of the team’s entire salary cap space. Despite a salary outside the top 50 paid point guard and within the 60% of players league wide, Sessions PER rating fell just outside the top 20 for all point guards in the league. It’s also interesting to see that Dudley’s PER rating is not even close to cracking the top 20, but he’s been a much larger producer than expected and has topped league-wide ratings such as three-point percentage. Then again, these types of outcomes are part of the reason the PER is critiqued the way it is. To provide some context to the Wizards PER ratings, we put together a table of the average PER rating for each Wizards position and how it compares to the NBA’s top 20 PER ratings for that position.

Position   Wizards PER Average NBA Top 20 PER Range (#20 – #1)
Center 17.3 18.15 – 24.23
Power Forward 10.0 17.09 – 25.98
Small Forward 11.5 14.27 – 28.09
Shooting Guard 13.7 14.06 – 25.33
Point Guard 18.5 16.74 – 32.32

At the end of the day, it’s not easy figuring out how much to pay NBA players given how quickly one player can get injured, play nothing like the season before, and many other factors outside of the front office’s control. That being said, the Wizards front office has significantly overpaid for the level of performance it has received. It’s no secret who is to blame here and it seems like people are slowly but surely starting to make noise that it’s really time for a change. The District Ninja team agrees and as some others have said about numbers and data,”For Wizards, the Stats Really Do Tell the Tale.”


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