You’ve probably heard that Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is on a roll lately, averaging over 40 points in his past four games to help his team extend a winning streak that has now reached 12 games. Only mild surprise there: the focal point of the Knicks’ offense all season, Anthony now leads Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant by a whisker in the race for the NBA scoring title.Except, Anthony isn’t Durant. Despite making about $2.7 million more this season, he isn’t even close. Durant gets his points taking four fewer shots per game than Anthony does (18 vs. 22). He shoots 50.5% from the floor to Anthony’s 44%. Durant averages 4.4 assists per game compared to Anthony’s 2.6, and 7.9 rebounds to Anthony’s 6.4.
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As the new breed of statistical analysts like to point out, a primary scorer using extra shots to get his points means fewer shots for others (and hence fewer chances for additional points for the team). Assists lead directly to points, and every rebound gives your team a possession, which means a chance to score. Durant, in short, is an efficient player whose numbers translate into wins for his club. The same is true for LeBron James, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan. But not for Carmelo Anthony. And that’s why, at a 2012-13 salary of $19.4 million, Anthony tops our list as the NBA’s most overpaid player.
Following closely behind: Charlotte Bobcats’ guard Ben Gordon ($12.4 million; -2.1 wins produced), Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson ($19.75 million; 1.5 wins produced) and Orlando Magic guard Helo Turkoglu ($11.8 million; -0.6 wins produced). The pattern is pretty clear: scorers that don’t do other things well and that don’t shoot a solid percentage from the field tend to be overvalued.
TheNBAGeek.com, a website run by Patrick Minton that features the work of Southern Utah economics professor David Berri, attempts to translate players’ efficiencies into what’s known as wins produced - largely how many possessions a player gains for his team during a typical game, and how many of his own scoring opportunities he’s cashing in. The model probably isn’t perfect, but the gist of it makes sense – a player taking a lot of shots to score while doing little in the way of passing or rebounding isn’t helping to win many games.
A note on making judgment calls for hurt players: we generally didn’t include strong players that have missed significant time with injuries recently, like Derrick Rose or Amare Stoudemire. But we did include those that have has trouble staying healthy for extended periods (at some point you need to show you can stay on the court), or whose performance had been fading for awhile anyway (like Hedo Turkoglu).
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Anthony has certainly had the efficiency numbers during his recent hot streak, shooting better than 50%. But these games aren’t the norm. More common are two other recent games: an 11-for-28 night with zero assists against Charlotte on March 29, preceded by a 10-for-30 night with one assist against Boston on March 26.
Add it all up, and Anthony’s big scoring season and $19.4 million salary has produced less than one full win (0.7) for the Knicks, whose biggest contributor to a 48-26 record is center Tyson Chandler (10 points and 11 rebounds a game while shooting 64%). And for the record, Durant and James, premium scorers that are also efficient and multifaceted, have both contributed over 18 wins to their respective clubs, according to the numbers. No, Anthony is no Durant. He’s not even Tyson Chandler.
Advanced metrics show that in the NBA, scoring is overvalued. Stats compiled by David Berri, economist and author of "Stumbling on Wins," rates players' contributions to wins not only by scoring but shooting percentage, assists, rebounds and turnovers, all measured against opportunities to accumulate those stats (a faster paced game with more shots equals more rebound opportunities, etc.).
Here are the ten players whose 2012-13 salaries are most out of whack with win contribution. Note: we omitted injured players like Amare Stoudemire, Derrick Rose and others, but not those who have played most of the season (Dirk Nowitzki) or whose performance has been in decline for awhile anyway (Hedo Turkoglu).
New York Knicks
Salary: $19.4 million
Wins produced: 0.7
Big time scorer who can really get on a roll at times - just very inefficient. Anthony shoots 44% and gets fewer than three assists per game. Forget LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Anthony doesn’t even measure up to former Knick Zack Randolph, who makes $3 million less playing in Memphis.
Salary: $12.4 million
Wins produced: -2.1
Career 43% shooter (41% this year) whose scoring has declined dramatically since leaving the Bulls after the 2008-09 season.
Salary: $19.75 million
Wins produced: 1.5
Looking to load up on a couple of big names for their big move, the Nets traded for Johnson and marketed him with Deron Williams as “Brooklyn’s Backcourt.” The team is having a solid year, but Johnson’s scoring average (16.4 a game) is his lowest since 2004, as he shoots just 42.3%. And he doesn’t rebound or pass much.
Salary: $11.8 million
Wins produced: -0.6
Only 11 games this year due to injury, normally a qualification for some slack. But Turkoglu has been fading for awhile since averaging 19.5 points a game in 2007-08. Averaged just 11 points last year on 41% shooting.
Salary: $20.9 million
Wins produced: 3.3
An obvious Hall of Famer, and yes, he was hurt earlier this season. But Nowitzki’s numbers have dipped for a couple of years now as he pushes age 35. The stats say he’s worth about $13 million at this point of his career.
Salary: $10.9 million
Wins produced: -0.8
Another whose recent injury doesn’t give him a pass: Maggette has never played a full 82-game season in his 14-year career. He can score, but with career averages of 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 45% shooting, he’s just not a premium player.
Toronto Raptors Salary: $16.5 million
Wins produced: 1.8
Another one-dimensional scorer getting big bucks. Gay is shooting at a .411 clip this season. No wonder the Memphis Grizzlies dumped him at mid-season: they’re 23-9 since dealing Gay to Toronto.
San Antonio Spurs
Salary: $10.1 million
Wins produced: -0.2
A 41% career shooter, with three assists and four rebounds a game.
Dallas Mavericks Salary: $8 million
Wins produced: -0.6
Ten points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes a game. A couple of nice years for the Clippers in the past, but never lived up to his status as the sixth overall pick in 2003.
Salary: $7.8 million
Wins produced: -0.4
Shoots 30% on three-pointers and 44% overall, not enough for a scorer who averages three assists a game.