Training camp for the 2022-23 NBA season will be here before we know it, and while a number of teams will enter the season believing they can win it all, only one team will emerge victorious next June.
But, could more teams be in the mix if they didn’t overpay for that one player?
To be clear, we at the Shadow League aren’t watching anyone’s pockets. If you have the leverage to get paid like a superstar while not performing like one, more power to you.
But in a salary cap league overpaying for a player who doesn’t live up to the contract can hurt your chances for contention.
Who are the five most overpaid players in the NBA heading into next season? We will look at current salary, age, Dunks and Threes estimated wins (eW) stat, and the TrueHoop calculation of $3.35 million to win an NBA game.
#5. Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets $30.075 million
The 32-year-old forward has been plagued by the injury bug the last few seasons. He has two years and a little over $60 million left on his deal and is no longer the All-Star caliber player he was in Utah.
He ranked in the 75th percentile in eW last season with a 4.1. Based on that his salary should be roughly $13.7 million. The Hornets are overpaying him, based on production, by almost $17 million. Money they could surely use elsewhere.
#4. Kristaps Porzingis, Washington Wizards $33.8 million
Another all-injury team candidate, Porzingis hasn’t played in at least 60 games since his second year in the league with the New York Knicks. He has this season and a player option for $36 million next year that he will certainly exercise.
He was good when he played last season, finishing with 6.0 eW, placing him in the 84th percentile. Based on that production his salary should be $20.1 million. A $13.7 million overpay for a team that is going nowhere.
#3. Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers $37.6 million
When he signed his five-year, $180 million contract a few seasons ago it raised a ton of eyebrows. Nothing he has done on the floor since has changed that sentiment.
Unlike the previous two members of this list, Harris has been available for the majority of his career. He’s played in over 90 percent of the available games.
The problem is his play is just fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. You need above average players in your rotation if you want to be a very good to great team. But Harris is being paid like an all-star.
He finished with 5.1 eW which puts him in the 82nd percentile. That’s good. But his salary should be $17 million. He’s being paid an extra $20.6 million. That makes his contract a little harder to move and of course limits the 76ers when it comes to adding other players that could help them get over the hump.
There are a number of players earning above $37.6 million next season who based on their productivity last year are very overpaid. They include: Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis.
Many of those players were injured but have proved more in their careers than everyone on this list thus far, so we are giving them a pass.
In the case of Simmons, despite how far he’s fallen out of favor, he’s been an All-NBA and two-time All-Defensive player.
The enigma that is Irving is just that. A brilliant player when he shows up to work, but he rarely does for various reasons. Even still, we can’t quite call him overpaid.
But should either of these players underwhelm again this season for any reason, they’ll be added to the list.
#2. Klay Thompson, $40.6 million Golden State Warriors
It seems blasphemous to have Thompson on this list coming off a championship, his ESPY for comeback player of the year, and the two debilitating injuries he suffered that caused him to miss two seasons.
But this list is about the most overpaid players, strictly by dollars. He has this coming season and next season at $43.2 million left on his deal.
This past season he was in the 74th percentile at 3.9 eW. That’s in line with a $13 million salary. But you’re thinking it’s his first year back after those injuries he’ll be better next season.
Let’s assume at 32 he gets back to his last healthy season in terms of production. In 2019 he was in the 93rd percentile in eW at 9.3. Even using that number he’s overpaid. That type of production merits a $31.1 million salary.
Do you think coming off those injuries Thompson will get back to that level?
#1. Russell Westbrook, $47.06 million Los Angeles Lakers
The good news is this is the last year of his deal and that’s expiring money. The bad news is, Westbrook doesn’t impact winning to the level of that salary.
He ranked in the 71st percentile in eW with 3.2, which is fine. That puts him on par with above-average role players and starters in the NBA. But he isn’t being paid like those players. He’s being paid like an MVP candidate.
Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokoumnpo were the top three MVP finishers this past season. They were first, second and fourth in eW. All three will also be paid less than Westbrook this season.
This list isn’t about these players being trash. It’s more about a pay system in the NBA that causes these imbalances. A player’s value is suppressed when he enters the league because of rookie scale deals. His future earnings are then controlled by the team that holds his Bird rights.
If and when a player excels to All-Star, All-NBA, and MVP level then they are given supermax deals. With basketball-related income rising every year along with the salary cap, this usually means a lot of the huge contracts are held by players in their 30s.
Of the top 15 salaries next season, 12 are for players age 30 and older.
We know that older players typically are not the best players over the course of an entire season. When you have contracts that will soon pay $50 and $60 million annually, based on the dollar cost of winning, which players will be worth that kind of money?
Of the top 15 finishers in eW last season, 10 are aged 30 and younger.
Three players over the age of 34 are in the top 10 in salary for next season and finished in the top 10 for eW last season. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.