The Best and Worst NBA Contract at Each Position

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 27, 2015

The Best and Worst NBA Contract at Each Position

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    With the NBA's salary cap set to burst like a faulty water main in the coming summers, contract values are seemingly changing by the second.

    Bad deals are becoming less burdensome, and bargain ones are jumping off the page like limited-quantity Black Friday sales items.

    Most NBA contracts fit players fairly well. With numerous talent evaluators weighing both their production and future potential, plus a rapidly expanding set of analytical tools to help make those assessments, a majority of big-league talent is priced accordingly with their skills.

    But there are still good and bad contracts to be found at all five positions. And we have uncovered the best and worst ones at every spot.

    Both quantity and quality statistics were used to help make these measurements. Injuries past and present also played a part in discovering the league's most problematic big-money deals.

    One quick note before getting started: We're grading based off what the league's collective bargaining agreement allows. In other words, even though we recognize that some players are worth more than they're allowed to collect (LeBron James, for instance), we're not considering anyone holding a max contract as a bargain.

    Also, we're not considering rookie-scale deals, either. Any good player working on one of those is an enormous value.

    With those guidelines set, let's break down the best and worst money spent at every position on the floor.

Point Guard Best: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Remaining Salary: Two years, $23.5 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 28.0 PER

    The value portion of Stephen Curry's MVP award is comically extreme.

    Last season, he ranked third in the NBA in player efficiency rating, second in effective field-goal percentage, sixth in scoring, sixth in assists and 50th in salary ($10.6 million). Next season, he's slated to collect only the fifth-highest salary on the Golden State Warriors.

    This is all the result of a wildly successful gamble Golden State placed in October 2012.

    Back then, Curry's present and future were enveloped in uncertainty. He'd had some magical moments on the NBA hardwood, but they were sprinkled between frustrating battles with his balky ankles. He underwent surgery in May 2011, missed 40 games of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign to injury and went back under the knife in April 2012.

    The Dubs had seen enough by that point to know they wanted to keep him, but they had to safeguard their investment given his injury history. They reached agreement on a four-year, $44 million extension, a deal Curry always felt he'd be worth as soon as his ankles cooperated.

    "I was confident I'd be able to get back, but I didn't know how long the road was going to be to get back to 100 percent and take my game to the next level," Curry said, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "But, I've never second-guessed my decision, because I thought it was right."

    Curry, who quarterbacked the Warriors to their first title in 40 years last season, has clearly reached that next level. But he won't command next-level prices for another two years.

    Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies (one year, $9.6 million)

Point Guard Worst: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Remaining Salary: Two years, $41.4 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 17.7 points, 4.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 15.9 PER

    The bright spots of Derrick Rose's career feel like they occurred a lifetime ago.

    It was only back in May 2011 when the explosive point guard became the youngest MVP in NBA history, but he's endured a series of deflating injuries ever since. He suffered an ACL tear in his left knee during the opening round of the 2012 postseason, then twice tore his meniscus in his right knee (first in November 2013, then in February 2015).

    Over the four seasons that have passed since his MVP campaign, Rose has made a total of 100 regular-season appearances. Making matters worse, he's never looked like the same dominating player again.

    During his award-winning run, he tallied 25.0 points on 44.5 percent shooting, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. He's managed just 17.4 points on 39.6 percent shooting the past two seasons while nearly canceling out his 4.8 assists with 3.2 turnovers.

    His PER now sits a hair above the league-average 15.0 mark, but he'll enter next season with the league's 10th-highest salary. Even with the cap climbing to a record $70 million, his deal still takes up nearly 29 percent of that.

    Rose needs to actually suit up for the Chicago Bulls to have a shot at earning that money, something he hasn't done consistently in five seasons. But that's only the first part of the challenge. He can't be the inefficient volume contributor he's been of late if he hopes to justify his pay grade.

    Dishonorable Mention: Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (five years, $80 million)

Shooting Guard Best: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Remaining Salary: Four years, $40 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 41.8 three-point percentage, 16.5 PER

    Danny Green wasn't the most notable signing for the San Antonio Spurs this summer. That honor was split among LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and (if inking an extension counts) Kawhi Leonard. Green probably wasn't the best value, either. It's hard to take that label away from David West and his veteran's minimum salary.

    But Green was perhaps the best example of how absurdly good this offseason was for the Alamo City. While fellow three-and-D players Khris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll and Wesley Matthews all cashed out on the open market, Green did what most Spurs seem to do: stay in San Antonio on a bargain-priced deal.

    CBS Sports' Zach Harper explained:

    Middleton received five years, $70 million to stay with Milwaukee. Carroll signed for four years and $60 million to join Toronto. Matthews received four years and $70 million to go to Dallas, despite recovering from an Achilles' tendon injury last season. In terms of being a defender and a shooter, Green is on par with all of those guys.

    Green fills this trendy role as well as anyone.

    He's one of only three players to have made at least 100 triples and shot 40-plus percent from downtown in each of the last four seasons. Defensively, he held opposing shooting guards to a 13.0 PER, and small forwards managed only an 11.5 PER against him last season, via 82games.com.

    As a lights-out shooter and suffocating defender, Green is an absolute steal at this salary.

    Honorable Mention: Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks (two years, $11 million)

Shooting Guard Worst: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 36

    Remaining Salary: One year, $25 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 17.6 PER

    The Los Angeles Lakers had their reasons for handing Kobe Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension in November 2013.

    There was a certain sense of pride in ensuring that an all-time great would spend the entirety of his career in purple and gold. It also seemingly didn't hurt to have Bryant as a marketing tool, whether to pacify a fanbase still reeling from Dwight Howard's departure the previous summer or to give the Lakers a recognizable face for their top-shelf free-agent pursuits.

    But even if the intentions were sound, the execution was sloppy. The Lakers had a 35-year-old coming off a torn Achilles', and they guaranteed he'd be the league's highest-paid player over the life of his new deal.

    "It was the wrong move at the worst time," wrote Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. "In trying to honor Bryant, they dishonored their fans. In attempting to say thank you to one of their greatest players, they actually scripted his painful farewell."

    The burden of Bryant's pact, combined with the team's mounting loss column, has kept the Lakers from finding any quick-fix options in free agency. But even without that impact, this deal would still rank as the position's worst.

    Bryant has played 41 games the past two seasons combined. He's shooting 37.8 percent (28.5 from three), averaging 4.0 turnovers a night and posting a slightly above-average 16.7 PER over that stretch.

    Between the injuries and inefficiencies, the 36-year-old is clearly not a $25 million player.

    Dishonorable Mention: Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets (one year, $24.9 million)

Small Forward Best: Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Remaining Salary: Three years, $23.4 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 12.7 PER

    It's hard to overstate the importance of a perimeter stopper in today's NBA.

    Last season, 14 of the league's top-20 scorers were either guards or small forwards. Luckily for the Houston Rockets, 6'8" swingman Trevor Ariza has the athleticism, length, quickness and strength to defend all three positions.

    "Ariza’s smothering, multi-positional defense borders on All-NBA caliber," wrote Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney. "Any player with that kind of preventative power and even marginal offensive skill generally works out to be a net positive—​Ariza even more so based on his three-point shooting competence and role in creating supplemental offense."

    Last season, the Rockets were 2.0 points per 100 possessions better when they had Ariza on the floor.

    His 7'2" wingspan (per DraftExpress) is an incredible asset at the defensive end. And as Mahoney said, Ariza is a solid offensive player, thanks to his ability to shoot the long ball and serve as a complementary playmaker.

    He struggled a bit with his outside shot last season (35.0 percent). But in 2013-14, he was one of only six players with at least 175 perimeter makes and a 40-plus three-point percentage.

    Anyone with a semblance of Ariza's three-and-D skills scored an eight-figure salary this summer. With his contract taking up just 11.7 percent of a $70 million cap, he's an exceptional value.

    Honorable Mention: James Johnson, Toronto Raptors (one year, $2.5 million)

Small Forward Worst: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 31

    Remaining Salary: Four years, $101.6 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 24.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 21.5 PER

    Is Carmelo Anthony a $100 million scorer? If not, it's hard to see him proving his worth on the exorbitant contract the New York Knicks handed him last summer.

    There is no list of essentials for a max-contract player, but a few traits are ideally present: health, multidimensional skills and an innate ability to elevate the supporting cast.

    Anthony packs a lethal scoring punch, but he brings little else to the table.

    During his first 12 NBA seasons, his teams have won a total of three playoff series. He's not a prolific passer, nor an impact defender. Oh, and he's coming off left knee surgery that he seemingly delayed in order to participate in this past season's Madison Square Garden-hosted All-Star Game.

    "Nothing in Anthony's history with the New York Knicks suggests he's capable of being the best player on a team with realistic championship hopes," wrote Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes. "The knocks haven't changed: He doesn't make teammates better, he's a sporadically interested defender and he's a ball-movement killer."

    Does that sound like a player worth a nine-figure contract? There are too many holes in Anthony's game to cover his high-priced salary.

    Dishonorable Mention: Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks (two years, $31.5 million)

Power Forward Best: Dirk Nowitzki

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Age: 37

    Remaining Salary: Two years, $17.0 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 38.0 three-point percentage, 19.2 PER

    Dirk Nowitzki didn't have to give the Dallas Mavericks such a team-friendly deal.

    His resume alone could have netted something significantly higher than his current pay rate: 13 All-Star trips, one league MVP award, an NBA title in 2011 and a Finals MVP nod for that series. For a 7-footer with a true shooting stroke and a borderline unguardable fadeaway jumper, his game is built to age gracefully.

    And his present could have been much more lucrative than it is. When Nowitzki took a three-year, $25 million deal from Dallas last summer, he turned down overtures from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers that included "max-level money," sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

    "Dirk is a true professional and he's so loyal to Dallas and to this organization," Chandler Parsons said, via Mavs.com's Earl K. Sneed. "Those are the type of guys that you want in the locker room and those are the type of guys that you want to play with."

    The 37-year-old Nowitzki has yet to cede his spot among the NBA's elites.

    Last season, he had the 11th-highest true shooting percentage among the 35 players who averaged 17-plus points (56.0). Even though he's lost a few steps at the defensive end, he still made Dallas 2.0 points per 100 possessions better just by being on the floor.

    Honorable Mention: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (two years, $24.6 million)

Power Forward Worst: Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Remaining Salary: Four years, $50 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 12.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 18.4 PER

    Kenneth Faried's list of strengths doesn't come close to measuring up to his weaknesses.

    He plays with a ton of energy and typically makes his presence felt on the offensive glass (top 10 in offensive rebounds during three of his four NBA seasons). But he's neither a floor spacer nor a back-to-the-basket scorer. His defense is spotty at best, and he adds nothing in the way of rim protection.

    He's a hustler at heart, but he has the salary of a star. His skill set isn't deep enough to warrant that type of investment. Complicating that issue, he reportedly views himself as someone more valuable than what he's been inside the lines.

    "Faried has gained a reputation as a prima donna whose opinion of his own game is inflated," wrote Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post.

    Eight-figure players shouldn't depend on others to create their scoring chances. The few that can afford to are the ones who make their presence felt at the opposite side.

    Faried has yet to find a niche for the Denver Nuggets that carries a value anywhere near his cost. Last season, he ranked 17th among power forwards with a 2.15 real plus-minus, per ESPN.com. That placed him two spots below Tyler Hansbrough and one above Lavoy Allen. When is the last time anyone tried labeling either of those two as a star?

    Faried isn't in that group, either. He's just paid like he should be.

    Dishonorable Mention: David Lee (one year, $15.5 million)

Center Best: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Age: 39

    Remaining Salary: Two years, $10.9 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 22.6 PER

    Try to forget about Tim Duncan's legendary run with the San Antonio Spurs. Remembering it is only going to make his current contract harder to fathom.

    But even if you're able to wipe away visions of those 15 All-Star selections, five NBA titles, three Finals MVP awards and two regular-season MVP honors, this salary still looks ridiculous, doesn't it?

    Duncan's ageless gifts are still nearly as potent as they've ever been. The biggest detriment to his production has been Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's practice of careful minutes management. Extrapolate Duncan's numbers over a per-36-minute scale, and he's still a dominant player: 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 blocks last season.

    If that's not convincing enough, just check what he did during San Antonio's seven playoff games: 17.9 points, 11.1 boards, 3.3 dimes and 1.4 rejections in 35.7 minutes a night.

    "The $5 million salary figure should inspire guffaws even under these unusual circumstances," wrote Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver. "... San Antonio got a first-ballot Hall of Famer with plenty of game left at a journeyman's price."

    Duncan added to his legacy last season with selections to the All-Defensive second team and All-NBA third team.

    He remains a premier player by every measure—except for his door-busting bargain salary. 

    Honorable Mention: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat (one year, $981,348)

Center Worst: Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Remaining Salary: Three years, $35.8 million

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 42.4 field-goal percentage, 16.6 PER

    Nikola Pekovic has played five NBA seasons. The next time he clears the 70-game mark will be the first.

    Ankle and foot problems have continually forced him into an observer's role. He last suited up for the Minnesota Timberwolves in mid-March, before his season was cut short for surgery on the aching Achilles' tendon in his right heel. 

    The 6'11", 285-pound brawler admitted he's concerned about what the future might hold.

    "Of course I am," Pekovic said in April, via Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I'm pretty much worrying about how this is going to affect my life in 10 years. I mean, I'm still thinking about basketball [too]. But when you deal so much with something like this ... It's a big deal, I think."

    Even when Pekovic plays, it's a stretch to say he's worth the money.

    He's a skilled scorer from close range, but he loses all effectiveness if he strays outside the restricted area. He's more of a good rebounder than a great one (career 9.8 boards per 36 minutes), and his defense doesn't even register as serviceable. He has had a negative defensive box plus-minus during each of his five seasons.

    The rebuilding Timberwolves don't need him. They already have potential upgrades on the roster in Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. But unloading Pekovic won't be easy with the money he's owed, the injuries he's endured and the underwhelming results he's produced.

    Dishonorable Mention: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (Four years, $70.1 million)

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.