Terrible Contracts: The Worst NBA Team Money Can Buy

When the discussion comes up about who in the NBA has the worst contract, the discussion often turns to guys like Chris Paul and John Wall, aging superstars with supermax contracts who can’t stay on the floor and who cost their teams millions on top of millions to effectively pay a guy to spend more time on the bench during the game than an assistant coach.

But when Paul and Wall are out on the floor, they’re actually good. When they’re effective, Rockets and Wizards fans start dreaming of big things until they get hurt again and those dreams are dashed against the rocks in Biblical Old Testament fashion.

The guys with worse contracts are the guys who would be doing their teams an actual favor by tearing both of their ACLs and never playing again. These are the guys who, while they’re on the floor, might as well be on the other team because they are united with their opponents in the aim of doing everything they can to help their team lose.

Yes, I’m talking about Andrew Wiggins and last year’s version of Carmelo Anthony.

The truly awful contracts are the ones for the guys with negative VORP or, even worse, negative Win Shares.

Again using Wiggins as an example, consider his 2018-19 season. The Timberwolves paid him 25 and a half million genuine United States dollars to put up a minus-0.6 VORP (his fifth time in five pro seasons failing to post a number better than what you’d hope for out of a guy you fished out of the G-League) and a career-worst .012 Win Shares per 48 minutes.

An entire team of guys with .012 WS/48 would be expected to go 5-77.

Wiggins played 2,543 minutes for the Wolves, A player who played every minute of the season (including the Wolves’ six total overtimes) would play 3,966 minutes.

So rounding Wiggins’ contract a bit to clean up the math, Minnesota would be paying an entire team of Andrew Wigginses $200 million if everyone was paid the same per-minute-played rate Wiggins was in 2018-19.

And that team would’ve been expected to go 5-77. That’s between 14 and 20 wins worse than an actual team of replacement-NBA-level G-League players would make (consider this Pace and Space piece where I did that math.)

Minnesota would’ve been better off statistically if Wiggins had, five minutes into the season, crumbled with two torn ACLs and two of Gordon Hayward‘s 2017-18 ankles, and the team had played literally anyone else in the other 2,538 minutes Wiggins played.

So here’s what I’m going to do for the rest of this study (since we’ve pretty much decided Wiggins is our starting small forward.)

I’m going to take everyone who played at least 1,968 minutes (24 x 82, or half of a team’s minutes available excluding overtimes), sort them by VORP in the Basketball Reference Play Index, then note the worst combination of salary and advanced stats to put together a simple advanced stats-backed Worst Team Money Can Buy.

This method should exclude guys who were injured for a major part of the season, guys who got benched and started racking up DNP-CDs, guys on rookie contracts, basically guys who may stink but not in true burning dumpster fire fashion.

Point Guard: Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder

Schroder played 2,314 minutes as Russell Westbrook‘s backup in Oklahoma City, made $15.5 million, and posted a minus-0.6 VORP and a .060 WS/48.

Using the Wiggins Factor of salary per minute played to extrapolate to a team full of Schroders, that’s a payroll of $131.8 million for a team expected to go 25-57. Not nearly as bad as Wiggins, but then again, nobody in the league is as bad as Wiggins.

Keep in mind, the luxury tax line was $123.7 million in 2018-19.

Shooting Guard: Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets

Doc’s son has always been bad, but this year he was especially putrid, his already bad stats falling completely off a cliff. Before we even get to the payroll vs. wins thing, he managed a 7.7 PER. How do you do that while still being allowed to play 2,028 minutes? He played for the Wizards and Rockets this season, so you can’t even blame “coach’s son” for this. Maybe because Chris Paul and Eric Gordon (more on him later) couldn’t stay on the floor?

Rivers stole $12 million to post a .028 WS/48 and a minus-0.7 VORP. That’s a Wiggins Factor of $116.4 million for an 11-71 team.

Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Example was, of course, given earlier, but let’s recap it here: Wiggins would be on a team with a payroll of $200 million and a 5-77 record.

Power Forward: Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings

Barnes played 82 percent of his minutes in Dallas at power forward according to Basketball Reference and 38 percent of his minutes with the Kings there. Close enough.

But on the other hand, he played 2,533 minutes, put up a minus-0.2 VORP, and posted a .068 WS/48 while making $24.1 million (you’ll notice I’m rounding quite a bit with these contracts, but if you want to quibble about a couple of thousand dollars, you have too much time on your hands.)

A team full of Barneses goes 28-54 and pays $187.2 million to do it.

Center: Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors

Here’s the weird thing about centers. Advanced stats are so heavily weighted toward the counting stats that centers easily put up (high-TS% because of lots of shots close to the basket and even the worst centers tend to be at least decent rebounders) that you cannot find a center who truly sucks.

To wit, despite rotting in Memphis for most of the season, Gasol still managed a .118 WS/48, the worst of any center or “center-forward” or “forward-center” that played more than half of his team’s total minutes during the season.

Gasol had a 3.0 VORP; for perspective, LeBron James, as a rookie, had 3.1 and Luka Doncic this year had a 3.6.

A team of Marc Gasols would be expected to go 48-34!

But it would also have a payroll of $194.9 million, and someone had to occupy this spot. Sorry, Marc. Go make me look dumb in the Finals against the Warriors!

Dishonorable Mentions

A few other guys who stunk enough to “merit” consideration on this list:

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

I hate to do this to Pacers fans, since Gordon is being seriously considered in trade rumors as Daryl Morey has announced a fire sale of everyone in Houston who isn’t James Harden.

But Gordon got paid $13.5 million to put up a Wiggins-like minus-0.6 VORP and a .059 WS/48 in 2,158 minutes.

Once again applying the Wiggins Factor, that’s a payroll of $123.1 million for a 24-58 team.

Jordan Clarkson, Cleveland Cavaliers

Playing for the Cavs would be enough to ruin anyone’s advanced stats, because when you play for a team that actually went 19-63, saying an entire team full of you would go 16-66 based on your .039 WS/48 hardly counts as a particularly damning insult.

But on the other hand, a guy gets paid $12.5 million to play on the bench for a team that couldn’t even win 20 games with guys supposedly better than he is? Rules are rules, and the Cavs…well, OK, their actual payroll was an inflated mess thanks to J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson combining to eat up $32 million of their cap.

But let’s run the numbers…yep. Clarkson and his 0.0 VORP ran the Cavs a Wiggins Factor of $111.1 million for a 16-66 record. Yikes. That somehow managed to be worse than what Cleveland actually barfed out.

The Sub-Zero Club: Josh Jackson, Kevin Knox, and Collin Sexton

A second-year player and two rookies combined to actually break this formula. Knox and Sexton were bad, but Jackson was dead last in the NBA among players with over 1,968 minutes (he played 1,988 and gets to curse the basketball gods that I didn’t just pick a round number like 2,000 as the cutoff) and a minus-.040 WS/48.

How bad is a -.040 WS/48? It’s so bad that a team with all Josh Jacksons on it would be expected to lose 98 games in an 82-game season. They would go minus-16 and 98.

Knox (-.030) and Sexton (-.011) were bad. But Jackson was so bad, so deliriously putrid, that even his comparatively small $59.8 million Wiggins Factor, nearly $32 million below the NBA’s team salary floor of $91.6 million and $42 million—a supermax contract’s worth of money!—below the $101.9 million salary cap is not enough to overcome the simple fact that the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft could’ve fallen into the Grand Canyon and done his team more of a favor than actually playing basketball for them.

Jackson got his team option picked up for 2019-20. If the Suns pick up his option for 2020-21, they will be paying $8 million to a guy who even other rookies who had lousy years look down at from their perch in mediocrity-with-potential on the stat sheet.

Of course, the lowest WS/48 for someone not on a rookie deal was Mr. 5-77, Andrew Maple Jordan Wiggins, who is the gift that keeps on giving for those of us who write about NBA garbage.

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