The Wiggins Factor: A New Way to Evaluate NBA Contracts

Back in May, we took a look at the worst contracts in the NBA, using the human garbage fire that is Andrew Wiggins as our model for determining just how bad a contract can be.

The Version 0.5 beta formula for Wiggins Factor is salary divided by (Minutes Played/3936), then multiplied by 5 if you’re applying it to estimated team stats off an individual player’s performance.

So for Wiggins himself in 2018-19, that’s approximately $39.4 million.

This sum is particularly egregious considering that Wiggins got paid all that money to post a career-worst .012 Win Shares per 48 minutes, a mark so awful that an entire team of players with that advanced stat would be expected to go 5-77.

But this got the gears turning in my head. In that original article, you see me dance around the point by saying a player had “$X Wiggins Factor (team version) to go (some gods-awful record that would be bad by tanking standards.)”

This is needlessly cumbersome, so let’s see if we can put this stat back in the oven and bake it a little bit more.

Specifically, let’s bake WS/48 into the stat itself. We’ll start with the dollar-value Wiggins Salary using the formula already provided. That is, essentially, a minute-weighted salary calculation, and it ignores overtime for a simple reason, namely that players who see significant minutes in overtime get a reward for being valuable enough to their teams to goose their time played in “free basketball”.

Sure, sometimes that guy getting the “free” minutes sucks (Wiggins, for example), but it saves anyone trying to calculate the stat a trip to Basketball Reference to try and sort out if, say, a player traded midseason played in more of one team’s overtimes and fewer of another’s. It normalizes the math. 48 minutes times 82 games.

Anyway, let’s give that salary a score of one point for each million dollars. So Wiggins’ score is 39.4 so far.

Now let’s multiply that number by the reciprocal of WS/48. An average starter (.100 WS/48) gets a factor of 10. An All-Star caliber player (.200 WS/48) gets a multiplier of 5. A scrub (Wiggins) gets a factor of 83.33. And a guy like Collin Sexton (-.011 WS/48)…hoo boy. Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

Wiggins sets the standard here, such as it is, with a score of (39.4×83.33) or 3,283.2. Obviously, the lower the score, the better, so over 3,000 is atrocious.

Let’s contrast some players who are superstars and some players who are mid-level role players and see how they do. All salaries and stats are per Basketball Reference and for the 2018-19 season.

The Superstars

Stephen Curry

Salary: $37.46 million
Minutes: 2,331
WS/48: .199
Wiggins Factor: 317.9.

This is what happens when a player who is actually good gets put through the formula. You still don’t necessarily want to tie up $37.5 million of your cap on a player if you can help it just because that’s bad for team depth and a disaster if he gets hurt, but when Steph is on the floor, he’s tremendously valuable.

Let’s further illustrate this point with Curry’s former teammate…

Kevin Durant

Salary: $30 million
Minutes: 2,702
WS/48: .206
Wiggins Factor: 212.1.

Durant was healthy during the regular season, so he played more minutes, and that’s how he ended up at just 212.1 points on this scale. Let’s keep playing this game with…

James Harden

Salary: $30.43 million
Minutes: 2,867
WS/48: .254
Wiggins Factor: 164.4.

Now we’re getting somewhere. MVP-caliber player, Wiggins Factor just over five times his actual salary. Let’s see if we can go one better with…

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Salary: $24.16 million
Minutes: 2,358
WS/48: .292 (led league)
Wiggins Factor: 138.11

Gold standard set. Here’s what a superstar can be. Let’s take this ball and run with it as we go to the other end of the spectrum:

Bargain Bench Guys

Do the high salaries of the superstars give them an unfair disadvantage when considering their context in a holistic context? Well, let’s talk about Sixth Man of the Year type players and see where they rank, shall we?

Domantas Sabonis

Salary: $2.66 million
Minutes: 1,838
WS/48: .197
Wiggins Factor: 28.91

Well. Let’s just say that this stat either isn’t particularly holistic or, more likely, shows you just how insanely valuable a great player still on his rookie contract can be.

I suppose that argument makes a measure of sense. You compare big-money players to big-money players and role players to role players and build your cap accordingly.

And besides, championships aren’t solely built on superstars. You win championships with depth. Just ask the Warriors, who fell apart when Durant got hurt. When you lose a big-money guy, you’d better have some real good small-money guys.

Let’s continue on this theme with a guy who was most decidedly NOT on a rookie deal in 2019…

Lou Williams

Salary: $8 million
Minutes: 1,993
WS/48: .123
Wiggins Factor: 128.44

Well NOW we’re learning something. What we have essentially learned is that relative to their role, Lou Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo bring similar value for the money they’re paid. Sabonis remains a flat-out bonkers outlier, but anyone who saw him play for the Pacers could tell you that having a guy of his caliber on a rookie deal is almost unquantifiable value.

If Williams had starter’s minutes, his Wiggins Factor would be higher and he’d be less valuable. If he had starter’s minutes and a starter’s salary, he’d be a waste of money.

But with sixth man minutes and a sub-$10 million contract? There’s not a GM in the league who wouldn’t want that, just like there’s not a GM in the NBA who wouldn’t drool at the prospect of having Giannis for only $24 million. It’s a great contract for what you’re paying the guy to do.

And finally in this tier…

Montrezl Harrell

Salary: $6 million
Minutes: 2,158
WS/48: .193
Wiggins Factor: 56.7

Yeah…the numbers don’t lie. $6 million worth of Trezz, $8 million worth of Lou-Will, and the Clippers have them at that price in 2019-20 as well…you combine that with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and no wonder the Clippers just became the trendy pick to win the title.

The Scale-Breakers

What on earth do you do with the guys with negative Win Shares? After all, they are so awful, so utterly putrid, that they break the scale entirely. In a game where the object is to post the lowest score possible, these guys are at less than zero, which should make them the best of the best, right?

Obviously not. So let’s do a tweak to the formula.

Same salary calculation. But the Factor multiplier becomes WS/48×1000 and the further the number is below zero, the worse the player. So you’re still measuring in units of suckage, with the sign denoting what kind of scale we’re talking and serving as convenient shorthand (albeit shorthand that breaks spreadsheets.)

Let’s take three examples.

Collin Sexton

Salary: $4.07 million
Minutes: 2,605
WS/48: -0.011
Wiggins Factor: -67.64

So Sexton has 67 negative suckage units. OK, that’s a start, and probably a sign that playing lots of minutes as a trash rookie is going to provide a saving grace. I suspect this is going to be something of a pattern in these three data points, so let’s move on to…

Kevin Knox

Salary: $3.74 million
Minutes: 2,158
WS/48: -0.030
Wiggins Factor: -204.64

Yep. Fewer minutes for a similar salary at a worse rate of Win Shares means more suckage units. Let’s see if this carries to its logical conclusion with one of the worst players in all of basketball…

Josh Jackson

Salary: $6.04 million
Minutes: 1,988
WS/48: -0.040
Wiggins Factor: -478.34

And that, friends, is what true garbage looks like. To call Jackson anything other than an absolutely colossal draft bust is to sell short just how bad he’s been since coming into the league and pooping out the stats he stinks out the joint with on a nightly basis.

Now, these are just 11 examples from a big pool of players. Which means…you guessed it, a whole data set to plow through and plenty of time in this long offseason to plow through it!

Stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading!