NBA Best And Worst Contracts Part I: Atlantic Division

We have talked extensively on the subject of Wiggins Factor, a formula designed to relate NBA salary to Win Shares on a per-minute basis and determine which players provide the most bang for the buck in terms of powering good teams to titles…or, by contrast, the players who are such a waste of money that every minute they’re on the floor all they do is bring your team closer to the draft lottery.

But now it’s time to pull all the data together from across the league and give all those raw numbers some context. Over the next six days, we’re going to look division by division at every player in the league—except for rookies and players on two-way deals, who don’t have NBA WS/48 data and don’t fit proper salary models, respectively—and determine which players are the best value for the money in terms of salary and whether there are patterns that emerge that tend to separate the great teams from the lousy ones.

All players’ Wiggins Factor is calculated based on 2018-19 statistics and 2019-20 salaries, so this year’s money for last year’s numbers.

Furthermore, I made a tweak to WS/48 to reflect that players on good teams naturally put up more Win Shares than players on bad teams; I took a weighted average of the player’s 2018-19 teams’ win totals and applied a simple multiplier to prorate their WS for the team they’ll be on in 2019-20.

If players are on the same team as last year, this multiplier is 1. If they were on a 25-win team and they’re joining a 50-win team, their WS/48 get doubled (and vice versa; players going from a 50-win team to a 25-win team have their WS/48 halved.) In the event of a player traded midseason, I took a games-weighted average of the games they played for the teams they were on, so if a player played half his games on a 50-win team and half on a 30-win team, he’s considered as having played on a 40-win team for the entire season.

These lists are sorted by minutes played.

Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam: $2.35 million salary, 20.74 Wiggins Factor
Marc Gasol: $25.6M, 243.44
Kyle Lowry: $33.3M, 411.30
Serge Ibaka: $23.27M, 312.11
Fred VanVleet: $9M, 172.03
OG Anunoby: $2.28M, 94.82
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: $1.74M, 85.51
Stanley Johnson: $3.62M, 375.93
Norman Powell: $10.12M, 346.81
Patrick McCaw: $4M, 567.72
Chris Boucher: $1.59M, 197.91
Devin Robinson: $1.62M, 211.61
Malcolm Miller: $1.59M, 718.51

The first thing you notice is that having a guy on a rookie deal or a veteran minimum skews Wiggins Factor way downward. Siakam’s is only 20.74, which is microscopic.

But think about it. If you could have Siakam’s production from 2018-19 (.175 WS/48, 3.5 VORP, .628 True Shooting Percentage, in 31.9 minutes per game) for only $2.35 million, wouldn’t you absolutely jump at the chance?

Siakam is the absolute dream contract. A late first-round pick salary scale for All-Star production. That’s why guys like Siakam get paid huge money as soon as they come on the free agent market.

Perhaps more telling is Lowry’s 411.30 Wiggins Factor, a sign that as good as Lowry is, he’s probably not $33.3 million good. One Kyle Lowry costs you like 15 Pascal Siakams.

One thing I’ve noticed about this stat is that it’s best when used to compare players on a similar salary tier. Siakam’s Wiggins Factor is 8.83 times his salary. Lowry’s is 12.35 times. And Gasol’s is 9.51 times his salary.

This sets a benchmark of sorts. The raw number is an absolute statement of value and proves that the real depth of a championship team is in value off the bench creating depth, injury-proofing, and the ability to hold leads in the second and fourth quarters with the starters on the bench (we’ll see this in full force when we get to the Clippers later this week.)

But converted to a rate stat, it tells you about what to expect at all possible salary tiers.

Let’s flesh out the data set with…

Philadelphia 76ers

Tobias Harris: $31.03M, 343.40
Ben Simmons: $8.11M, 80.98
Josh Richardson: $10.1M, 112.95
Joel Embiid: $27.27M, 256.86
Al Horford: $28M, 296.51
Mike Scott: $4.32M, 221.10
James Ennis: $1.88M, 59.99
Jonah Bolden: $1.7M, 98.79
Raul Neto: $1.74M, 122.11
Kyle O’Quinn: $2.03M, 162.16
Shake Milton: $1.45M, 360.94
Zhaire Smith: $3.06M, 2260.54

Well, for one thing, if we’ve learned anything from Smith’s monstrous Wiggins Factor, it’s that only playing 111 minutes and putting up a rotten .048 WS/48 is a good way to make every dollar look pretty lousy.

But what’s particularly telling is Simmons being the best rotation player in terms of value-for-salary on this team. If a guy like Simmons, who can’t shoot and who contributes poorly to efforts at spacing is only making $8.11 million, that’s a team-friendly contract and he’s absolutely more than worth $8 million.

But if Simmons were making a max contract and his Wiggins Factor rose accordingly up over 300? That makes him a much worse value.

Likewise, as good as Tobias Harris is, if he’s the highest-paid player on your team, are you really using your resources in the best way possible?

And James Ennis may have the lowest raw Wiggins Factor at just under 60, but that’s also over 30:1 in terms of value per dollar at a $1.88 million salary. He’s not terrible—in fact, at $1.88 million, he does have actual value—but he does not provide bang for the buck the way Simmons or Embiid or even Harris do.

Richardson, meanwhile, is a great value play at $10.1 million. His 11 ratio is pretty solid at that price.

Boston Celtics

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering where Kemba Walker fits into the Celtics’ value plays for 2019-20…

Kemba Walker: $32.75M, 291.35
Jayson Tatum: $7.83M, 129.42
Marcus Smart: $12.55M, 193.56
Jaylen Brown: $5.17M, 139.96
Gordon Hayward: $32.7M, 548.30 (!)
Enes Kanter: $4.77M, 41.89
Daniel Theis: $5M, 115.29
Semi Ojeleye: $1.62M, 188.33
Brad Wanamaker: $1.45M, 124.17
Robert Williams: $1.94M, 134.24

The Celtics have only two players with a Wiggins Factor over 200. One is Walker, who brings about a 9:1 ratio to the table for the huge salary he’s paid—it’s worth noting that when he was in Charlotte, he made only around $12 million, which would drop his Wiggins Factor down almost below 100.

The other is Gordon Hayward, and I’m pretty sure that we’re going to establish that a Wiggins Factor over 500 is where you start to get into the terrible-at-any-price contract tiers.

And then there’s Kanter, possibly the most underrated player in the league, providing great value, as anyone who watched him last year in Portland could’ve told you. He gets a boost to his “effective WS/48” from having played on the Knicks last year, but he’s incredible bang-for-the-buck under $5 million.

Considering Jaylen Brown (who had a zero VORP last year) has a Wiggins Factor three times higher than Kanter’s and a multiplier 2.5 times higher, you see just what a great value play Kanter is for the Celtics.

Brooklyn Nets

Funny thing about stats based on a previous season; they tend not to know what happened in the playoffs…

Kevin Durant: $37.2M, 360.50
Joe Harris: $7.67M, 113.50
Kyrie Irving: $31.74M, 334.17
Jarrett Allen: $2.38M, 25.54
DeAndre Jordan: $9.88M, 77.44
Garrett Temple: $4.77M, 160.97
Spencer Dinwiddie: $10.6M, 180.15
Taurean Prince: $3.48M, 129.66
Rodions Kurucs: $1.7M, 87.64
Wilson Chandler: $2.56M, 164.77
Caris LeVert: $2.63M, 126.47
David Nwaba: $1.68M, 44.06
Theo Pinson: $1.45M, 6762.09 (!)
Dzanan Musa: $1.91M, -29,300 (!!!)

Musa is an interesting demonstration both (a) of the “flip side” of this formula, that applies a multiplier based on negative WS/48 because the traditional stat breaks when you bring negative numbers into it, and (b) of what happens when a player only plays 39 minutes, especially if he stinks out the joint.

Durant stands as proof that it is highly dangerous even in the best possible circumstances to pay a guy $37.2 million, because unless he puts up some truly game-changing WS/48 numbers in very heavy minutes, like iron man level minutes, you massively reduce your margin of error by signing a guy like that.

If you’re going to tie up your cap, you better be sure you know what you’re getting, otherwise you’re going to have to nail every single salary below that superstar level.

Meanwhile, look at Jarrett Allen representing the power of the rookie contract. A 25.54 Wiggins Factor is what I mean by nailing those lower salaries. He’d be a fair play (WF below 200) even at $18 million. That’s a sign of a rookie who’s going to be highly sought-after in restricted free agency.

To wit, let’s consider…

New York Knicks

A certain young star-in-the-making demonstrates the value of the rookie contract every bit as well as Siakam and Allen have so far.

Julius Randle: $18M, 470.36
Kevin Knox: $4.38M, -239.66 (!)
Marcus Morris: $15M, 782.54 (!!)
Damyean Dotson: $1.62M, 85.99
Reggie Bullock: $4M, 251.43
Taj Gibson: $9.8M, 336.45
Dennis Smith Jr.: $4.46M, 18,262.60 (!!!)
Allonzo Trier: $3.55M, 319.23
Mitchell Robinson: $1.56M, 20.81
Bobby Portis: $15M, 1229.83
Wayne Ellington: $7.8M, 575.04
Elfrid Payton: $8M, 843.09
Frank Ntilikina: $4.86M, -952.22 (!!!!)


Mitchell Robinson, at 20.81, has the second-lowest Wiggins Factor of any player in our study so far, trailing Siakam by just 0.07 points.

Dennis Smith Jr., by virtue of his microscopic 0.001 WS/48, gets a massive multiplier and only avoids the negative Win Shares drop zone because he didn’t completely erase the 0.2 Win Shares he put up in Dallas once he got to New York. His production in a Knicks uniform was minus-0.014 WS/48, down there with Ntilikina (who stinks) and Knox (who had the second-worst season by VORP in NBA history behind only Michael Olowokandi‘s suckalicious 1999-2000 campaign) in the Knicks’ Dumpster fire of a roster.

Nobody on this team with the exception of Robinson is good relative to the money he’s making. Randle is good but nowhere near $18 million worth of good, Morris is similarly grotesquely overpaid at $15 million, and when Reggie Bullock and Allonzo Trier are your second- and third-best value contracts, you have problems.

I thought my data entry was in error when I put this into the spreadsheet. I had to check it to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put the negativity multiplier on a player with a positive number.

Nope. The Knicks are just that bad at giving value contracts to players. Probably shouldn’t be a surprise that a newly-minted stat proves itself by saying “the Knicks suck.”

Lessons So Far

So far, we’ve learned a few things.

One, rookie contracts, if the rookie in question puts up big numbers in his first four years in the league, are the best contracts in basketball. The NBA is like the NFL in this regard; draft well and you can afford a max free agent or two on a deep team.

Speaking of max free agents, they tend to be poor value because while they are unquestionably excellent players, they chew up a LOT of salary for the production they give you. You can only get so many Win Shares.

Then again, if you don’t have a superstar, ideally two and probably three, you don’t win titles in this league, so the moral of the story is look for the lowest possible ratio of Wiggins Factor to dollars spent.

And for the guys in between, signing guys who can contribute to wins out of proportion to their lower salaries is why the Celtics might be the sleeper in the East this year after winning only 49 games in 2018-19. If Hayward can get his putrid Wiggins Factor well under 500 and actually be worth the money he’s paid, Boston is set for a deep playoff run behind a loaded roster that gives more than their paychecks say they should; this is exactly how they made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017-18 despite injuries to Irving and Hayward and came one LeBron away from winning that series and going to the NBA Finals.

TOMORROW IN PART II: The Central Division.