In my previous article, I attempted to identify the most underpaid players of the 2019-20 NBA regular season. Now, I’ll apply the same methodology in order to find the league’s most overpaid players.
The basic idea is that we can determine each player’s expected salary based on their individual performance in the 2019-20 season. I’m choosing to quantify player performance with Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM), a metric that estimates a player’s value using luck-adjusted plus-minus data among other things. You can read about it in detail from the creator himself, Jacob Goldstein, in this article.
Here’s a graph depicting the relationship between player salary and Player Impact Plus-Minus:
In general, players with greater value earn more money.
Using this basic linear regression, each player’s expected salary can be calculated based on their value. If their actual salary is greater than their expected salary (a positive residual), they are considered overpaid by this methodology.
Without further ado, here are the 10 most overpaid players of the 2019-20 NBA regular season.
10. Terry Rozier, Hornets
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -3.05
Actual Salary: $19,894,737
Expected Salary: $2,985,300
It was pretty mind-baffling when it was announced that the Hornets had signed Rozier to a three-year, $58 million contract. But ten months later … nah, just kidding, it still doesn’t make sense. Both his O-PIPM of -1.24 and his D-PIPM of -1.88 are horrendous. And the team’s net rating is a whopping 9.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rozier isn’t on the court. He hasn’t exactly been performing like a $20 million per year player.
9. Tobias Harris, 76ers
Player Impact Plus-Minus: 1.48
Actual Salary: $31,034,483
Expected Salary: $13,477,270
Tobias Harris hasn’t been a completely negative asset on the court like some of the players on this list. But he is the 18th highest paid player in the league this year yet hasn’t been performing at that level on either side of the ball. He’s been an average shooter from beyond the arc, his scoring efficiency is below average, and his defense has not been particularly impressive either. I sure hope he can get things together before he’s set to make $40 million in 2024. But I guess the $180 million he’s already guaranteed over the next five years won’t be giving him much motivation to improve.
8. Chris Paul, Thunder
Player Impact Plus-Minus: 4.63
Actual Salary: $38,506,482
Expected Salary: $20,773,012
Alright, it feels wrong to have Chris Paul on this list. While he’s definitely old, he’s still one of the greatest point guards in league history and is still playing at a very high level. Absolutely nobody expected the Thunder to be on pace for 51 wins and the five seed at this point in the season, but they are, and it’s mostly due to the performance of CP3. Yeah, he is the second-highest paid player in the league this year, which is a bit ridiculous. He will be raking in over $44 million in 2022 as a 37-year-old, which will almost certainly not work out for whatever team he’s signed to. But as of now, he’s still a baller. And this linear regression simply considers any player making as much money as Paul to be overrated. He doesn’t really belong in the same category as Andrew Wiggins and Terry Rozier.
7. Andrew Wiggins, Warriors
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -0.16
Actual Salary: $27,504,630
Expected Salary: $9,678,853
Of course Wiggins is on this list. He’s basically the poster boy for being overpaid in the NBA. The former first-overall pick was one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory. And it’s not like he immediately disappointed. He won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award, putting up 17 points per game as a 19-year-old. But he simply has not improved as much as the Timberwolves anticipated when they signed him to a $148 million contract extension in 2017. He’s still a rather inefficient scorer and a negative asset on defense. If playing alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (if he gets the chance, of course) next season doesn’t spark a resurgence in his play, I doubt anything will.
6. Gordon Hayward, Celtics
Player Impact Plus-Minus: 1.94
Actual Salary: $32,700,690
Expected Salary: $14,542,680
Unlike many other players on this list, Gordon Hayward hasn’t really been disappointing at all. He’s having the most efficient scoring season of his career and is averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. And he could probably be playing at an even higher level right now if it wasn’t for his unfortunate season-ending injury in his debut for the Celtics two years ago. But at the end of the day, he’s the 15th highest paid player in the NBA this season and he isn’t that good.
5. D’Angelo Russell, Timberwolves
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -0.64
Actual Salary: $27,285,000
Expected Salary: $8,567,121
There’s a bunch of players in the NBA who are really talented offensively but are negatives on the defensive end. D’Angelo Russell is one of these defensive liabilities. There’s nothing wrong with his O-PIPM of 1.66, but his D-PIPM of -2.30 just demonstrates his negative value on the defensive end. He’s a very good player, but he needs to get far closer to average on defense in order to live up to his valuation.
4. Kevin Love, Cavaliers
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -0.03
Actual Salary: $28,900,000
Expected Salary: $9,979,947
Kevin Love’s place in history is secure as a key member of the 2015-16 NBA Champions, but it’s been downhill in Cleveland ever since the departure of LeBron James. That includes signing Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million contract extension. Love is a negative defender and unfortunately his offensive game relies on having other players faciliate for him, which he simply doesn’t have in Cleveland. I think he can still be a positive player, but there’s really nothing for him to do for the Cavaliers — he’s certainly not worth the $29 million they’re paying him this year.
3. DeMar DeRozan, Spurs
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -0.92
Actual Salary: $27,739,975
Expected Salary: $7,918,610
Here’s a wild fact: in every season of DeRozan’s career, his team’s net rating improved when he was off the court. This season, for instance, DeRozan’s Spurs score 1.5 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. However, their defense also happens to allow 5.9 more points per 100 possessions with DeRozan in the mix. That’s a -4.4 net rating for DeRozan, a player making nearly $28 million. Not good. Of course, simply looking at on/off ratings is a flawed approach due to variation in lineups, but the fact that this holds true for the 11 years of DeRozan’s career — and tenures with two different teams — is unprecedented for a player of his caliber. And it isn’t that surprising if you think about it: his offensive game is predicated around taking the most inefficient shot in basketball, and his D-PIPM of -2.10 makes him a legitimate liability on that end of the floor.
2. Mike Conley, Jazz
Player Impact Plus-Minus: -0.60
Actual Salary: $32,511,623
Expected Salary: $8,659,765
The Jazz really looked exciting heading into this season. Their lineup was set to include Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and the underappreciated Royce O’Neale. Unfortunately, the acquisition of Conley has been a complete disappointment. Despite being surrounded by plenty of talent to open things up for him, Conley is averaging just 13.8 points per game with a lackluster true shooting percentage of 52.7%. The team actually scores 2.2 more points per 100 possessions when he’s off the court. Yikes.
1. Russell Westbrook, Rockets
Player Impact Plus-Minus: 0.70
Actual Salary: $38,178,000
Expected Salary: $11,670,706
According to our methodology, the most overpaid player in the league is the 2017 NBA MVP: Russell Westbrook. Westbrook’s incredible 2020 salary is the third-highest in the league, behind only Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. Yet he’s far from the third-best player in the league. While he has certainly improved over the course of the season, he is still an inefficient jump shooter with unimpressive defensive skills playing alongside a superstar in James Harden who is also best with the ball in their hands. Westbrook is certainly a net positive player and the Rockets won’t win a title without him playing well, but he is simply not worth $38 million. That much is clear.