Recently, I walked through the NBA’s top five best-value contracts in 2015-16 based on salary this year and the number of win shares accrued to date. Unsurprisingly, players on minimum or near-minimum deals dominated the list, as their dollar-per-win-share rate is far superior to even top-tier superstars like Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook, who sit atop the win shares leaderboard.
Today, let’s look at the inverse: players doing the least while earning the most.
Of the 444 players who have taken the court for at least a single minute this season, 363 have accrued at least 0.1 win shares, and an additional 40 sit at 0.0. That leaves just 41 players sitting in the realm of negative win shares, with Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay leading the way by far with a minus-1.9.
Mudiay avoids the indignity of being one of the league’s worst-value contracts, however, thanks to his relatively low salary ($3.1 million). While productive players on dirt-cheap contracts fare especially well in the dollars-per-win-share metric, the same isn’t true for those who are struggling. Instead, highly paid players dominate this list, many of whom should come as no surprise.
Honorable Mention: Lance Stephenson
2015-16 salary: $9,000,000
Win shares: 0.4
When the Los Angeles Clippers traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to obtain Lance Stephenson this past June, it was an undeniable gamble. Though he looked like a young stud on the rise after averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game with the Indiana Pacers in 2013-14—he was one of just four players to go off for at least 13-7-4 that season—he imploded with the Charlotte Hornets the following year. His averages dropped across the board (8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists), while he shot a dismal 37.6 percent from the field and found himself firmly in the doghouse of head coach Steve Clifford.
Thus far, Stephenson’s stint in Los Angeles more closely resembles his Charlotte days than his time with the Pacers. Through 33 games, the former Cincinnati Bearcat has averaged just 4.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 16.3 minutes a night, setting four-year lows in each of those categories. Lately, both he and Josh Smith have struggled even getting off the bench, racking up four DNP-CDs in the Clippers’ past five games.
Though Stephenson told Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis Star in early December that he “definitely [felt] better than when I was in Charlotte,” the feeling apparently isn’t mutual. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, the Clippers “gauged trade interest” in both he and Smith in November, although one executive said “there is not much of a market for them,” referring to both as “buyout candidates.” Seeing as Smith and Stephenson have the two worst net ratings of any regular Clippers rotation player, at minus-8.8 and minus-3.8, respectively, it’s clear why Doc Rivers is treating both like they’re radioactive when doling out playing time.
In addition to their dismal marks in net rating, Smith and Stephenson are tied for the fewest win shares on the team—yes, trailing Cole Aldridge, who has played less than half as much as either one. Thankfully for the Clippers, most of Smith’s 2015-16 salary is coming from the Detroit Pistons, who will be paying him $5.4 million annually for the next half-decade not to play basketball for them. Stephenson, meanwhile, is stealing $9 million this year from the coffers of owner Steve Ballmer, adding yet another feather to the cap of Rivers’ general manager resume.
5. Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets
2015-16 salary: $12,404,495
Win shares: 0.3
Remember when the Houston Rockets’ acquisition of Ty Lawson in July was supposed to vault them into the top tier of Western Conference title contenders? About that.
Though the Rockets have battled back from their early-season malaise to move above .500, Lawson has little to do with that. In fact, he’s played in just eight of Houston’s last 14 games, as he received two separate suspensions from the NBA for his pair of DUI incidents in 2015. In the eight games he did play over that span, he averaged just 7.3 points, 3.8 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.8 triples in just 20.6 minutes per game, nearly earning a “trillion” during the Rockets’ blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. (He just had to get one personal foul.)
The Rockets started the year with Lawson as their starting point guard, but that arrangement lasted all of 11 games. After the embattled UNC product averaged just 8.9 points on 33.3 percent shooting, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.8 treys as a starter, interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff moved him to the bench immediately upon taking over, where he’s languished ever since. Despite the move to the reserve unit, where Lawson should theoretically be able to feast on weaker foes, he has the third-worst net rating of any Houston player (minus-4.9), ahead of just Terrence Jones and rookie Montrezl Harrell.
Among Rockets who have played at least 200 minutes this season, Lawson ranks dead last in terms of win shares (0.3), just ahead of Harrell (0.4) and the 38-year-old Jason Terry (0.5). Unsurprisingly, the trade market for him is “minimal,” according to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, which could perhaps lead the Rockets to waive him following the mid-February trade deadline. Though Houston didn’t give up a whole lot of valuable assets for Lawson, aside from a potential first-round pick, its return on investment has been nearly nonexistent.
4. Markieff Morris
2015-16 salary: $8,000,000
Win shares: -0.8
Spoiler alert: When a player openly discusses his desire to be traded during the offseason, earning himself a $10,000 fine in the process, he’s rarely bluffing. The odds of him having a productive campaign following such an aggressive burning of bridges significantly diminish the longer he’s stuck on his incumbent team.
That sums up Markieff Morris’ 2015-16 season to date, as he’s still stuck on a Phoenix Suns team that he has no interest in playing for. After the Suns surprisingly traded his twin brother, Marcus, in a salary dump to free up enough space for their long-shot attempt of signing both Tyson Chandler and LaMarcus Aldridge, Markieff seemingly checked out on the organization mentally. Though head coach Jeff Hornacek expressed optimism about his chances of smoothing over any tensions heading into training camp, that quickly deteriorated as the season began.
Hornacek kept Morris in the Suns’ starting lineup through the first month of the season, but after he averaged just 12.3 points on 38.9 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 triples and 0.8 steals in 26.1 minutes a night, the head coach had little choice but to move him to the bench. From there, ‘Kieff began racking up DNP-CDs left and right, culminating in an incident where Morris threw a towel at Hornacek during a game. The Suns suspended him two games as a result.
Morris sits dead last in win shares among all Phoenix players, and he has the worst player efficiency rating of any regular rotation player, too. He has the second-worst net rating of any Sun who has played at least 100 minutes (minus-8.5), trailing just Chandler (minus-14.5). Is it any wonder, then, that Morris’ trade value has plunged to the point “that other teams are asking [for] an asset—[Archie] Goodwin, for instance—in exchange for taking him,” according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe? With Phoenix’s season firmly in the toilet, the #FreeKieff campaign is in full effect.
3. Joe Johnson
2015-16 salary: $24,894,863
Win shares: 0.3
Joe Johnson has been a permanent fixture on this list thanks to the mammoth six-year, $123.7 million contract he signed with the Atlanta Hawks prior to the 2010-11 season. Undeterred from the catastrophic effects his contract would have in later seasons, the Brooklyn Nets decided to acquire Johnson during the 2012 offseason to convince Deron Williams to re-sign with them. In other words, they compounded three massive mistakes—trading for Williams, trading for Johnson and re-signing Williams—in one fell swoop. Billy King, everyone!
Though D-Will and Johnson led the Nets to three straight playoff appearances after a five-year postseason drought, one series victory wasn’t worth the $100-plus million the two earned over that three-year span. Johnson’s numbers predictably took a nosedive immediately upon his arrival in Brooklyn—shockingly, a 2-guard on the wrong side of 30 began to regress!—leaving the Nets footing a massive luxury-tax bill with little to show for it.
This year, despite playing 34.7 minutes per game, Johnson is averaging just 11.4 points on a career-worst 38.1 percent shooting and is setting career lows in PER (9.6), win shares per 48 minutes (.011), box plus/minus (minus-1.9) and value over replacement player (0.0). Yes, that’s right—the league’s second-highest player has been no better than a “replacement player” in 2015-16, which helps explain Brooklyn’s 11-29 record.
Remarkably, Johnson is sixth on the team in box plus/minus and value over replacement player and 10th in PER and win shares, but that’s more of a statement about just how awful the Nets’ rotation players are. To wit: Not a single Brooklyn player has a positive net rating, although Johnson’s off-court offensive rating (90.3) speaks to just how rudderless the Nets offense is without him. Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov must be counting the days until Iso Joe’s contract expires.
2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Win shares: 0.0
Five years ago, Derrick Rose looked like one of the NBA’s most promising young superstars, averaging 25.0 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 triples and 1.0 steals per game en route to becoming the youngest MVP in league history. The basketball world was his oyster, even though LeBron James and the “Hollywood as hell” Miami Heat knocked off Rose’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Three devastating knee injuries later, the three-time All-Star is a shell of the player he once was. Through his first 20 games this season, Rose knocked down at least half of his shots just twice. Over that span, he averaged 12.9 points on 36.7 percent shooting, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.6 triples in 32.4 minutes a night. Though he’s begun to round into form as of late—over his last 13 games, he averaged 17.8 points on 44.4 percent shooting, 3.7 assists, 2.9 boards, 0.7 steals and 0.6 treys in 32.9 minutes a night—it’s still a far cry from his peak form.
Rose currently ranks ninth on the Bulls in PER (11.1), ahead of just Doug McDermott, E’Twaun Moore, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow—hardly a crew of world-beaters. He’s also dead last on the team in both win shares (0.0) and value over replacement player (minus-0.5), along with third-worst in box plus/minus (minus-4.0), which is hardly ideal for the team’s highest-paid player. Throw in his dismal net rating—he has the third-worst mark of any Bull (minus-1.5), and the team is 4.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench—and it’s easy to see why Chicago may be having buyer’s remorse with Rose.
At this point, the Bulls can’t ever realistically expect Rose to return to an MVP-caliber player. The best they can hope for is him avoiding another serious injury and playing at even a league-average level. Though he’ll be drastically overpaid both this season and next—he’s owed $21,323,252 in 2016-17—Chicago can’t do anything about that now, as it’s difficult to imagine a booming trade market for him. Though a storybook ending for the hometown hero appears to be out of the question, Rose is still young enough to salvage what’s left of his career…just not at $20 million a year.
1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
2015-16 salary: $25,000,000
Win shares: -0.6
Not to pile on here, but… yeah. Kobe Bryant’s farewell campaign isn’t exactly faring so well when taking on-court production into account.
Though he’s shooting a career-worst 34.8 percent from the field, it hasn’t detracted him from jacking up 17.0 shots per game. The 17.0 points per game he’s averaging is the third-lowest mark of his career (not counting his injury-shortened 2013-14 campaign), ahead of just his rookie and sophomore seasons. He’s setting career lows in PER (13.3), win shares per 48 minutes (minus-0.03), box plus/minus (minus-3.0) and value over replacement player (minus-0.3).
In Bryant’s defense, he’s wading into uncharted territory this year. Only six players in NBA history have remained active for 20 or more seasons, and none had played more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 22.9 minutes per game prior to the Mamba. Anyone who expected him to recapture his prime form for one final go-round doesn’t understand the effect that 55,000-plus regular-season and playoff minutes have on someone’s body. Bryant deserves credit for gutting through this season, particularly considering how easily he could have called it a career after tearing his rotator cuff in January 2015.
That said, it’s long past time for him to take a backseat to some of the Lakers’ up-and-comers. After all, they’re the franchise’s future, and the theoretical selling points to any prospective free-agent targets this summer. Among the 166 times in NBA history that a player has attempted at least 15 shots per game while consuming 30 or more percent of his team’s possessions while he’s on the court, Bryant’s field-goal percentage of 34.8 percent is by far the lowest ever. Abdul-Jabbar and the other four 20-season veterans recognized their limitations, averaging no more than 8.9 shots per game, but Bryant appears committed to shooting his way into retirement, for better or worse.