Measuring the spending of NBA teams in 2014-15: dollars per win

To some teams, spending more money means a higher chance that the team will win more games. In other sports, this has proven to sometimes be true and sometimes be false. The NBA is not exempt from this. Last year, the Knicks and Nets had two of the highest payrolls in the league, but were both average or worse as a team. Plus, they were in the eastern conference, which has been very weak in recent years. So what’s the advantage of spending so much money?

That could be a huge debate, and that’s not the point of the article. Last year I measured the spending of all the NBA teams and compared it to their team salary, essentially finding a “dollars/win” total. The results were interesting, and a bit surprising if you don’t think about it first. Sometimes it’s the teams with the worst records that have the best “dollars/win,” but in their case, does it really matter? It certainly matters if they’re trying to contend for a playoff spot or a championship, but it doesn’t if you’re a team like the 76ers that clearly isn’t trying to win right now. They have an extremely low payroll. But for teams like the Nets and Knicks last year who tried very hard to win and still failed, then it’s bad.

The salary cap for the 2014-15 season is just over $63 million, with the tax level sitting at $76.829 million. The minimum team salary is $56.759 million. All team salary cap data is courtesy of HoopsHype and is updated as of Feb. 12, according to the site.

Here’s an analysis of how teams are doing at the All-Star break:

Atlanta Hawks: 43 wins
Team Salary: $58,090,269
Dollars/Win: $1,350,936.49

Golden State Warriors: 42 wins
Team Salary: $73,411,218
Dollars/Win: $1,747,886.14

Memphis Grizzlies: 39 wins
Team Salary: $74,887,200
Dollars/Win: $1,920,184.62

Houston Rockets: 36 wins
Team Salary: $74,517,002
Dollars/Win: $2,069,916.72

Portland Trail Blazers: 36 wins
Team Salary: $67,226,812
Dollars/Win: $1,867,411.44

Toronto Raptors: 36 wins
Team Salary: $81,074,903
Dollars/Win: $2,252,080.64

Dallas Mavericks: 36 wins
Team Salary: $76,245,860
Dollars/Win: $2,117,940.56

Los Angeles Clippers: 35 wins
Team Salary: $84,863,452
Dollars/Win: $2,424,670.06

San Antonio Spurs: 34 wins
Team Salary: $70,387,408
Dollars/Win: $2,070,217.88

Chicago Bulls: 34 wins
Team Salary: $67,414,682
Dollars/Win: $1,982,784.77

Washington Wizards: 33 wins
Team Salary: $75,920,974
Dollars/Win: $2,300,635.58

Cleveland Cavaliers: 33 wins
Team Salary: $82,158,280
Dollars/Win: $2,489,644.85

Milwaukee Bucks: 30 wins
Team Salary: $56,676,070
Dollars/Win: $1,889,202.33

Phoenix Suns: 29 wins
Team Salary: $63,780,722
Dollars/Win: $2,199,335.24

Oklahoma City Thunder: 28 wins
Team Salary: $80,134,264
Dollars/Win: $2,861,938.00

New Orleans Pelicans: 27 wins
Team Salary: $77,512,399
Dollars/Win: $2,870,829.59

Charlotte Hornets: 22 wins
Team Salary: $66,739,100
Dollars/Win: $3,033,595.46

Miami Heat: 22 wins
Team Salary: $72,127,037
Dollars/Win: $3,278,501.68

Brooklyn Nets: 21 wins
Team Salary: $91,218,121
Dollars/Win: $4,343,720.05

Detroit Pistons: 21 wins
Team Salary: $63,669,229
Dollars/Win: $3,031,868.05

Indiana Pacers: 21 wins
Team Salary: $74,793,526
Dollars/Win: $3,561,596.48

Denver Nuggets: 20 wins
Team Salary: $69,832,805
Dollars/Win: $3,491,640.25

Boston Celtics: 20 wins
Team Salary: $65,139,338
Dollars/Win: $3,256,966.90

Utah Jazz: 19 wins
Team Salary: $59,546,213
Dollars/Win: $3,134,011.21

Sacramento Kings: 18 wins
Team Salary: $70,741,542
Dollars/Win: $3,930,085.67

Orlando Magic: 17 wins
Team Salary: $59,629,210
Dollars/Win: $3,507,600.59

Los Angeles Lakers: 13 wins
Team Salary: $77,345,994
Dollars/Win: $5,949,691.85

Philadelphia 76ers: 12 wins
Team Salary: $41,637,592
Dollars/Win: $3,469,799.33

Minnesota Timberwolves: 11 wins
Team Salary: $66,086,042
Dollars/Win: $6,007,822.00

New York Knicks: 10 wins
Team Salary: $81,689,373
Dollars/Win: $8,168,937.30

The one thing that immediately sticks out to me is how much more teams are spending this year in order to get wins. Last year at the All-Star break, the Rockets had the best ratio at $1.48 million/win and the Bucks had the worst ratio at $4.84 million/win. There were far more teams that had ratios of less than $2 million/win last year, and zero teams that had a ratio over $5 million/win. It is much different this year. Both the top five best and worst ratios have a much larger range than last year, which is interesting. Let’s take a look at the best ratios from this year:

Top 5 Best Ratios

1. Hawks: $1.35 million/win
2. Warriors: $1.75 million/win
3. Trail Blazers: $1.87 million/win
4. Bucks: $1.89 million/win
5. Grizzlies: $1.92 million/win

Four out of these five teams should come as no surprise considering how good their teams are. The Hawks are the best team in the Eastern Conference and the Warriors are the best team in the Western Conference, and are unsurprisingly number one and two respectively considering they have way more wins than other teams. The Trail Blazers and Grizzlies are also top teams in the west, but the most surprising is the Bucks. At this time last year, the Bucks actually had the worst ratio out of any team, spending over $53 million for just 11 wins. This year, they’re spending only a few million more on team salary, but are already at the 30 win mark, more than their season total last year. They may have the fourth best ratio, but they likely have the most undervalued team in the league. Well done to them.

Here are the worst ratios in the league:

Top 5 Worst Ratios

1. Knicks: $8.17 million/win
2. Timberwolves: $6.01 million/win
3. Lakers: $5.95 million/win
4. Nets: $4.34 million/win
5. Kings: $3.93 million/win

Returning to the list from the midway point last year are three teams- the Knicks, Lakers and Nets. The disturbing part is that all three times have higher ratios than last year, including a mind-boggling $8.2 million/win for the Knicks. That’s absolutely crazy. They’ve spent over $80 million and have won just 10 times, despite having one of the best players in the league in Carmelo Anthony. He’s likely to be shut down for the season, and they just reached a buyout with A’mare Stoudemire, who combined make up more than half of the team’s salary. So, I don’t expect them to win many more games. They’re on their way to being the least efficient financial team in as long as I can remember.

The ratios are obviously going to be higher considering the raise in salary cap between the two years, although it didn’t raise enough to make up for the more drastic raise in ratios. Obviously the teams with low win totals are going to have worse ratios, but they really shouldn’t have ratios quite as high as they do right now. The Knicks, Timberwolves and Lakers all have dealt with big injuries over the season, which explains at least a part of their poor ratios, but at the same time, they’re just not spending their money right. None of the teams in the top five worst ratios were intentionally tanking when the season started, although it seems like the Knicks are clearly going that route now.

The overall range of ratios for the league last year at this point in the season was just $3.36 million, while the range just between the top five worst ratios is higher than that. The overall range this year is $6.82 million, more than double last year. Atlanta has a better ratio right now than any team this year or last year halfway through the season. They’ve managed to win more games than any other team so far with the third lowest salary. If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

The trade deadline is coming up and teams are going to be shifting around players, thus changing team salaries. But teams will also start to win more games (or at least most teams) until the season ends. I will recalculate these rates once the season is over and compare them to what they are now. All teams’ ratios should be lower, but the top five worst ratios could look a whole lot different since they have the most room to improve. All in all, it will be interesting to see if the best teams can maintain that spot and if other teams begin to fall to the bottom.

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