Editor’s Note: This is the second column in a series discussing Value Added in the NBA. Click here for Part I. Check back tomorrow for the third and final entry, Value Added Power Rankings. As always, scroll over content underlined in red for additional commentary.
The term “Most Valuable Player” is one of the most contentious and oft discussed terms among NBA fans and analysts. Whether they’re arguing about which player deserves the honor or what the definition of “value” really is, people can never seem to agree when the letters M-V-P are strung together. As part of this series on Value Added, I would like to weigh in on the MVP discussion. But instead of debating players’ candidacy quantitatively or qualitatively, I thought it best to examine things financially. Below is a list of the Top 15 most valuable players in terms of their Value Added and salary. Included in the list are the players’ total Value Added (updated through February 23rd), current annual salary, and cost per point of Value Added ($/VA).
Yes you’re reading that correctly. Andray Blatche is the most valuable player in the NBA. At first blush, this seems insane. Wasn’t Blatche the poster-child for dysfunction in D.C.? Didn’t the Wizards basically leave him for dead? Yes and yes, but nevertheless, Blatche is having an incredible year. Brooklyn’s reserve forward is currently 15th in the league in PER. His mark of 22.12 is the highest of his career by four and a half points. Yet he, like several other players on this list, is playing for the veteran’s minimum salary ($854,389). The Nets have five players making eight figures, but only one of them, Brook Lopez, has a higher PER than Andray. Brooklyn is in the middle of a playoff race, but they might be on the outside looking in if it weren’t for Blatche and his incredibly efficient 19 minutes per game.
In addition to minimum salary vets like Blatche, , Matt Barnes, and Nate Robinson, this list has a few non-guaranteed fliers like Greg Smith and Brian Roberts as well as some short-term, low money guys like Brandan Wright and DeMarre Carroll. NBA franchises prize guys like LeBron, Durant, and Rose as long term centerpieces, but next to the max-money superstars, finds like Robinson, Barnes, and Carroll are what GM’s covet the most. These guys are playing for their future in the league, and all their hard work and production comes at a bargain price. High performers like the ones on this list might seek greener pastures elsewhere when their contract expires, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable right now.
There is perhaps nothing more valuable in the game that a productive player on a rookie contract. Looking at the list above, guys on their rookie deals make up more than half of the Top 15. Here’s a list of the Top 15 most valuable players still on a rookie contract.
The players on this list are the . They are some of the most productive players in the league, and they cost a fraction of what an established veteran player would. To their teams, these guys are the most valuable assets on the roster because their contracts are very favorable, as are their teams’ chances of resigning them .
The biggest surprise in the Top 15 is James Harden who just barely made this list. Even though Harden is third overall in Value Added/Game, trailing only LeBron and Durant, he’s unable to crack the Top 10 among rookies because he makes too much money. Harden makes twice as much as every player on this list with the exception of Greg Monroe. His salary hurts him in this case despite how prolific he’s been this year. Especially considering that the most valuable rookie contract player, Kenneth Faried, has contributed half as much value for 25% of Harden’s salary.
That salary is taking a big hike next season. Harden, along with Serge Ibaka and Jrue Holiday, has already signed a big contract extension. Each of these three will earn eight figures per year over the life of their next deal. And thus, we’ll look for them next season on the next list below.
Once again, LeBron and Durant are in a class unto . The group behind is kind of a mixed bag of obvious choices and . As the shepherds of the second and fourth rated offenses respectively, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker were locks to make this list. Al Horford and Brook Lopez have produced at this level before, but the fact that they’re doing it a year after serious injury is quite impressive. David West continues to be the “Old Faithful” of productive forwards despite the fact he’s only two years removed from a major injury and coming up on a decade in the NBA. The clear cut biggest surprise is Jose Calderon. Despite being moved by Toronto in the Rudy Gay trade, Calderon is having a renaissance year. He’s producing at levels that make his contract, which at times during the last three years was thought to be untradeable, somewhat of a bargain.
It also must be mentioned that Tim Duncan would have ranked fifth on this list except he no longer makes eight figures. Duncan has been elite or near elite for a decade and a half. That’s the kind of value that stands out no matter how you analyze it.
The final entry is a list of the worst values in the NBA. These are players earning a lot of money and playing at sub-replacement level.
As I covered in Part I, Austin Rivers has been the worst player in the league thus far. Despite the fact that he’s a rookie making just over $2 million, his painfully bad stats land him on this list. Stephen Jackson and Marvin Williams are high dollar reserves who haven’t lived up to their contracts. Lamar Odom and Kendrick Perkins play with some incredibly productive teammates. They find themselves on this list because they make a great deal of money and are asked to do things for their teams that don’t end up in the box score. They are both overpaid, but they are necessarily detracting from their teams as much as their inclusion on this list . The most interesting name here is Andris Biedrins. Given the precipitous decline in his game since signing his big contract, it’s not all that surprising to see him ranked among the worst values. What’s surprising is that he’s made this list while playing less than 10 minutes per game.