Sports fans hold strong opinions about which pro basketball players deserve their massive salaries, and which ones don’t. One fan, however, has gone further than the average barstool commentator --- Southern Utah University economics professor David Berri.
Berri is co-author of the 2006 book “The Wages of Wins,” which determines which players are overpaid with a statistical method called "Wins Produced" that he and his co-authors developed.
According to Berri, NBA players are paid for high scoring, so the more points an athlete racks up, the more money he earns. Berri believes that this overlooks other factors that contribute to a victory, such as shots taken, turnovers, rebounds and fouls.
These and other elements are included in the “Wins Produced” algorithm.
“Wins in basketball are primarily about a team’s ability to get and keep possession of the ball and then turning those possessions into points,” Berri told CNBC.com in an e-mail. “In 2011-12, NBA teams paid $1.9 billion for 990 regular season wins. This means that the cost per win was $1.946 million. Given the cost of each win and knowing both how many victories each player produced and his salary allows us to see which players were overpaid.”
CNBC.com presents the list compiled by Berri and his team of the most overpaid players in the NBA, as determined by the “Wins Produced” algorithm.
All salary information was provided by Berri, who used data from the NBA draft projection site DraftExpress.com and from basketball analyst Patricia Bender. All data was compiled by Berri’s colleague Arturo Galletti.
Read ahead to see David Berri’s 10 most overpaid players in the NBA.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 15 June 2012
Overpaid by: $12,459,225
Value of Wins: -$5,153,440
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Minutes Played: 1,013
Wins Produced: -2.65
Tyrus Thomas was a hot commodity when he re-signed with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010. "Re-signing Tyrus was one of our top offseason priorities," General Manager Rod Higgins said. So did the team get their money’s worth out of the deal?
Not according to Berri. “His effective field goal percentage was below 40% and he was below average on the boards,” he told CNBC.com. “So although Thomas didn’t get paid as much as many players on this list, his productivity was so low he cost the Bobcats a large sum of money.”
Overpaid by: $12,784,867
Value of Wins: $3,862,313
Team: New Jersey Nets
Minutes Played: 1,995
Wins Produced: 1.98
Deron Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2011 after six seasons with the Utah Jazz. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, he was unhappy with the way the trade was handled – he learned about it while watching ESPN.
According to Berri, Williams’ level of play declined with his new team. “His shooting efficiency has dropped,” he said. “This could be because he doesn’t believe his teammates are a better option. … Whatever the reason, Williams has not been productive in New Jersey.”
Overpaid by: $12,851,295
Value of Wins: $4,427,323
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Minutes Played: 2,079
Wins Produced: 2.27
Dirk Nowitzki has been on the roster of the Dallas Mavericks since 1998, and Berri describes his performance during most of those years as “above average.” Today, however, he characterizes the 33-year-old German as overpaid.
“He doesn’t rebound, block shots, or get steals,” he said. “Consequently, his productivity is no longer consistent with this pay or reputation. ... Once you look past his scoring totals (totals driven by above average shot attempts), Nowitzki is no longer a top NBA player.”
Overpaid by: $12,862,248
Value of Wins: -$2,600,179
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Minutes Played: 881
Wins Produced: -1.34
Corey Maggette,32, has been in the NBA since 1999 and has played for the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks. He has been a member of the Charlotte Bobcats since 2011.
Berri describes Maggette as “old” and characterizes his performance as not particularly productive, leading to his inclusion on this list.
Overpaid by: $12,988,657
Value of Wins: -$2,098,657
Team: New Jersey Nets
Minutes Played: 453
Wins Produced: -1.08
Mehmet Okur, 33, is a native of Turkey and joined the New Jersey Nets in 2011. Berri puts him in the same column as Maggette with regard to his performance and worth to his team.
“Mehmet Okur and Corey Maggette are both old,” Berri told CNBC.com. “And neither played many minutes. Plus they weren’t that productive when they did play. So it is not surprising to see both on this list.”
Overpaid by: $14,613,480
Value of Wins: -$2,413,480
Team: New Orleans Hornets
Minutes Played: 1,372
Wins Produced: -1.24
Chris Kaman played with the Los Angeles Clippers from 2003 until 2011, when he was traded to New Orleans. He proved an asset immediately, recording 10 points and 5 rebounds in his first game. Still, Berri says that the player is overpaid.
“The numbers tell us that Kaman probably isn’t going to be the answer to anyone’s prayers,” Berri said. “Although he is capable of launching shots at the basket, he isn’t very good at getting the shots to go in. Plus he isn’t a great rebounder. And that means he is very much overpaid.”
Overpaid by: $14,918,309
Value of Wins: $3,299,396
Team: New York Knicks
Minutes Played: 1,543
Wins Produced: 1.7
Amar’e Stoudemire’s professional career began in 2002 with the Phoenix Suns. During his eight years with the team, he suffered from a knee injury and a detached retina, then after joining the Knicks in 2010, he suffered injuries to his back and his hand.
According to Berri, all that damage adds up, and it’s had a negative impact on Stoudemire’s performance. “His shooting efficiency has declined,” he said “He also is below average on the boards. He still gets paid like a star, though.”
Overpaid by: $17,402,350
Value of Wins: -$2,325,635
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Minutes Played: 2,151
Wins Produced: -1.19
Antawn Jamison has been in the NBA since 1998. According to Berri, Jamison’s long career is exactly the problem. At 35, Jamison relatively advanced age makes him a liability to the team’s bottom line, Berri said.
“Players in the NBA tend to peak around 25 years of age,” he said. “Once upon a time Jamison could be close to an average NBA player. But at 35, his inability to score efficiently and rebound results in a level of productivity that is in the negative range.”
Overpaid by: $19,693,258
Value of Wins: $5,551,235
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Minutes Played: 2,232
Wins Produced: 2.85
Kobe Bryant is a basketball legend, and as such many people may bristle at his inclusion on this list. However, Berri contends that the player’s sterling reputation is something of a mirage. “The media says Kobe was one of the best players in the game in 2011-12,” he said “But the numbers tell a different story.”
According to Berri, Bryant’s scoring simply comes down to the fact that he takes a lot of shots. “But in contrast to past years, Kobe’s shooting efficiency was below average for a shooting guard, and inefficient shooting doesn’t produce wins,” he said. “However, if you take enough shots you can still score enough points to convince fans – and the media – that you are actually helping a team win.”
But doesn’t Bryant’s star power attract enough fans to help the team’s bottom line? No, according to Berri. “The study of gate revenue reveals that it is wins that drive revenue. Star power is far less important.”
Overpaid by: $21,167,231
Value of Wins: -$30,601
Team: Washington Wizards
Minutes Played: 729
Wins Produced: -0.02
According to the “Wins Produced” algorithm, Rashard Lewis is the most overpaid player in the NBA. “Once upon a time he was a player who took an above average number of shots and had an above average level of shooting efficiency,” Berri said.
Still, Berri points out that “he never did much beyond scoring,” and now that’s a thing of the past. “His efficiency is also below average,” Berri said. “Consequently, he didn’t produce any wins for the Washington Wizards this past year while collecting more than $20 million.”