Measuring the spending of NBA teams in 2015-16: dollars per win

I don’t write about the NBA often, especially about things other than the Philadelphia 76ers, but when I do, it’s mostly about analytics. That’s what my annual “dollars per win” pieces are about.

If you’re unfamiliar with these pieces, my article on the 2013-14 season is here and the one on the 2014-15 season is here. The last two years, I calculated each team’s dollars/win at the all-star break as well as the end of the season, but this year I decided to just go with the end of season edition. As usual, all salary cap data is thanks to Hoopshype. Without further ado, here is each NBA team’s dollars per win in descending order of wins this season:

Golden State Warriors: 73 wins
Team Salary: $93,631,286
Dollars/Win: $1,282,620.36

San Antonio Spurs: 67 wins
Team Salary: $87,832,839
Dollars/Win: $1,310,937.90

Cleveland Cavaliers: 57 wins
Team Salary: $108,300,458
Dollars/Win: $1,900,008.04

Toronto Raptors: 56 wins
Team Salary: $71,337,189
Dollars/Win: $1,273,878.38

Oklahoma City Thunder: 55 wins
Team Salary: $96,680,659
Dollars/Win: $1,757,830.16

Los Angeles Clippers: 53 wins
Team Salary: $97,019,321
Dollars/Win: $1,830,553.23

Miami Heat: 48 wins
Team Salary: $85,764,781
Dollars/Win: $1,786,766.27

Atlanta Hawks: 48 wins
Team Salary: $71,661,760
Dollars/Win: $1,492,953.33

Boston Celtics: 48 wins
Team Salary: $77,141,919
Dollars/Win: $1,607,123.31

Charlotte Hornets: 48 wins
Team Salary: $76,860,006
Dollars/Win: $1,601,250.13

Indiana Pacers: 45 wins
Team Salary: $71,605,233
Dollars/Win: $1,591,227.40

Portland Trail Blazers: 44 wins
Team Salary: $61,685,814
Dollars/Win: $1,401,950.32

Detroit Pistons: 44 wins
Team Salary: $85,828,165
Dollars/Win: $1,950,640.11

Dallas Mavericks: 42 wins
Team Salary: $75,397,067
Dollars/Win: $1,795,168.26

Memphis Grizzlies: 42 wins
Team Salary: $83,223,881
Dollars/Win: $1,981,520.98

Chicago Bulls: 42 wins
Team Salary: $87,073,838
Dollars/Win: $2,073,186.62

Houston Rockets: 41 wins
Team Salary: $89,792,263
Dollars/Win: $2,190,055.20

Washington Wizards: 41 wins
Team Salary: $83,055,155
Dollars/Win: $2,025,735.49

Utah Jazz: 40 wins
Team Salary: $63,083,332
Dollars/Win: $1,577,083.30

Orlando Magic: 35 wins
Team Salary: $63,199,651
Dollars/Win: $1,805,704.31

Sacramento Kings: 33 wins
Team Salary: $70,610,560
Dollars/Win: $2,139,713.94

Denver Nuggets: 33 wins
Team Salary: $72,589,023
Dollars/Win: $2,199,667.36

Milwaukee Bucks: 33 wins
Team Salary: $73,843,541
Dollars/Win: $2,237,683.06

New York Knicks: 32 wins
Team Salary: $74,237,021
Dollars/Win: $2,319,906.91

New Orleans Pelicans: 30 wins
Team Salary: $82,523,587
Dollars/Win: $2,750,786.23

Minnesota Timberwolves: 29 wins
Team Salary: $72,287,243
Dollars/Win: $2,492,663.55

Phoenix Suns: 23 wins
Team Salary: $70,095,365
Dollars/Win: $3,047,624.57

Brooklyn Nets: 21 wins
Team Salary: $88,013,939
Dollars/Win: $4,191,139.95

Los Angeles Lakers: 17 wins
Team Salary: $72,169,259
Dollars/Win: $4,245,250,53

Philadelphia 76ers: 10 wins
Team Salary: $64,583,220
Dollars/Win: $6,458,322.00

As with past years, because there’s a larger relative range between teams’ win totals than their salaries, the worst teams are going to likely end up with some of the worst ratios. In 2013-14, the worst team in the league (Bucks- 15 wins) also had the worst ratio, and in 2014-15, the second worst team in the league (Knicks- 17 wins) had the worst ratio. Here are the top five worst ratios of this season:

Top 5 worst ratios

1. Philadelphia 76ers ($6.46 million/win)
2. Los Angeles Lakers ($4.25 million/win)
3. Brooklyn Nets ($4.19 million/win)
4. Phoenix Suns ($3.04 million/win)
5. New Orleans Pelicans ($2.75 million/win)

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the Sixers were No. 1 on this list. They had another pitiful season, recording just 10 wins. It didn’t help that they spent almost $10 million more than in the past two years, mostly due to absorbing the salaries of other bad teams in trades to acquire draft picks. For the third year in a row, the Lakers were in this list as well, mostly due to the enormous contract of Kobe Bryant, which will finally be off the books for next year. With yet another top five pick in the draft, they should probably find themselves off this list next year.

As with most teams that fall into this list, it’s teams that were either incredibly disappointing or spent an incredible amount of money and only had an average year. This year, the five worst ratios were from the bottom six teams in the NBA, suggesting that there’s a closer correlation between ratio and poor performance. In the past three years, the team with the most wins to still have one of the top five worst ratios was actually this year’s Pelicans (30 wins). Despite having three times as many victories as the Sixers, they spent a lot of money, and that’s even without the new Anthony Davis deal kicking in. Injuries obviously played a big factor, but with the 13th highest team salary and sixth lowest win total, they were clearly a disappointment.

Top 5 best ratios

1. Toronto Raptors ($1.27 million/win)
2. Golden State Warriors ($1.28 million/win)
3. San Antonio Spurs ($1.31 million/win)
4. Portland Trail Blazers ($1.40 million/win)
5. Atlanta Hawks ($1.49 million/win)

Somehow, the team with the most wins in a season in NBA history still couldn’t crack the No. 1 spot for the teams with the best ratios. The Raptors just edged them out do to spending over $22 million less than Golden State. However, with how close the ratios were, it’d be difficult to argue the Raptors had a more financially efficient season than the Warriors. All five of these teams made the playoffs, but the Spurs were the only team to appear on the list all three years. The Hawks appeared on it last year and were actually the No. 1 most efficient team. The Warriors also appeared on it last year, while the Trail Blazers were on it two years ago.

It’s interesting to note that all five of these ratios would have been outside the top five in 2013-14. The rising salary cap is the obvious reason for this, as teams have ramped up their spending, and even with increased win totals, still have a lower relative ratio than in the past. I expect these top ratios to continue to go up a little bit each year. The range between the top five teams was smaller this year than last year ($0.22 million in 2015-16 compared to $0.38 million in 2014-15). The ratio in 2013-14 was smaller than either year, coming in at just $0.17 million). It appears that last year was more top heavy, as the difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams was $0.19 million, larger than the entire range of the top five teams in 2013-14.


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