The NBA's Most Overpaid Underperformers for 2018-19
If you've happened upon this space looking for a comprehensive overview of the NBA's worst contracts, you're in the wrong place.
That procedure is necessary in its own right. But this is something different—and equally essential. We're trafficking in both pricey pacts and expectations. Some of the most notorious no-good, really bad deals will make cameos, but only if they're whiffing on their adjusted bars for performance.
Context is key, so we'll use these tiers:
- Impacted By Injury, But Yeah: Availability is a skill. Anyone who has yet to play this season will be spared, but small samples are fair game. These players are far from locks to match their pay grade, even if they're being held to the lowest possible bar.
- Contract-Year Under-Performers: Expiring contracts of players who are, as of now, costing themselves money. Anyone whose value is being impacted by a dearth of importance to the bigger picture or who was deliberately overpaid in the offseason will be excluded. Think: Trevor Ariza, DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Zach Randolph, etc.
- Barely In/Out of the Rotation: Players absent from the rotation for reasons not related to injuries or youth-movement politics. No one here is supposed to be a major factor, but they are less than blips on the radar and don't have strong arguments for more playing time.
- Need More Playing Time, But Still: Players who overlap with the previous category, except they have a case for more minutes.
- Near-Immovable Money: A greatest-hits group. Everyone here is frequently mentioned among the league's worst contracts (shout-out, Summer of 2016). And they have managed to become less valuable by the year. Call them "The Untradeables" if you wish, but as we've seen time and time again, no contract is truly immovable.
- They're Supposed to Be Better Than This: Obviously overpaid, but worse than projected and needed.
- Superstar Money Problems: Stars and non-stars earning star money who aren't living up to this season's pay stub.
Placement within these tiers isn't permanent. Some have the opportunity to dig themselves out of their hole. Just remember that not all the worst contracts will show up, and that we're dealing with 2018-19 salaries alone.
Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr., George Hill (shoulder injury) Evan Turner, Hassan Whiteside, et al. remain overpaid but are either better or as expected. John Wall (comfortably) misses the cut, because he's being viewed against his current pay grade and not against a raise that has yet to take effect.
Impacted by Injury, but Yeah...
James Johnson, Miami Heat
Contract Details: 3 years, $46 million (player option in 2020-21)
2018-19 salary: $14.7 million
James Johnson began the season on the shelf recovering from a sports hernia, which considerably warps his sample size. And to his credit, he has helped Miami's offensive aesthetic.
The Heat rank 26th in half-court efficiency, according to Cleaning The Glass. Johnson gives them another much-needed ball-handler and triggerman.
"He's aggressive, physical, and just a tad bit slippery with the ball in his hands," Heat Beat's Nekias Duncan wrote. "He's able to run pick-and-rolls in a pinch. The quickness with which he pivots from ball-handler to screener consistently frees up shooters. Eight of his 12 assists from last week were on three-pointers."
That added layer of playmaking goes only so far if Johnson isn't hitting shots. He made just six buckets through his first four appearances and is getting bageled at the rim, and his rocky outside touch persists. His scoring needs to turn, and fast, if Miami is going to creep back into the playoff picture.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contract Details: 5 years, $144.5 million
2018-19 Salary: $24.1 million
Kevin Love isn't being judged relative to his four-year, $120.4 million extension. It will be a problem but doesn't kick in until next season.
And he deserves some benefit of the doubt as he recovers from toe surgery. His career-worst effective field-goal percentage won't hold up once he pieces together more than four appearances.
At the same time, let's be painfully honest: What are the odds he produces like a $24.1 million player upon return?
Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies
Contract Details: 2 years, $49.2 million
2018-19 salary: $24.1 million
Knee and back problems have limited Parsons to three games this season, and he's racked up just 45 appearances since signing with the Grizzlies in 2016. His shot wasn't falling upon exiting the rotation, again, but he showed last year he can still be a useful floor-spacer and quasi-mismatch at the 4.
The caveat: Parsons needs to be healthy. And he's never healthy. His surgically repaired knees seem done.
Pretty, pretty please, spare us the fuss over his salary. The Grizzlies offered him this money in 2016, he took it, and so, he's earned it. He shouldn't have to apologize.
Disgruntled fans can direct the ire at the front office, the 2016 salary-cap boon or both. But no one from the Grizzlies or their fanbase will reach actual closure until all traces of expectations are purged from discourse.
This won't be the year Parsons stays healthy enough to contribute as a bit component. Next season won't, either. If it happens, if this sentiment is wrong, then hooray! Just don't bank on the tiniest bit of redemption. It sets up awkward conversations like this one.
Notable names who've yet to play this season: Brandon Knight, Houston Rockets; Timofey Mozgov, Orlando Magic; Dion Waiters, Miami Heat
Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz
Contract Details: 1 year, $15 million
Ricky Rubio's annual end-of-season shooting surge kept on keeping on last year. Except this time, unlike all the other times, it was supposed to be for real.
All the evidence appeared to be there. Rubio's improved marksmanship wasn't so much an 11th-hour uptick as a hybrid normal. He shot 38.8 percent from beyond the arc over his final 61 games and 40.9 percent after the All-Star break, all on significant volume.
"The Jazz hoped Rubio could hit catch-and-shoot three-pointers at an acceptable rate, and helped soften the trajectory of his shot," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "He drained 38 percent of those catch-and-shoot threes, including a memorable game-winner in Toronto, and 35 percent from the corners."
Even if Rubio's shooting curtailed a tad, he entered this season on course to make himself a lot of money. He has since steered off that track.
Rubio is canning under 31 percent of his catch-and-fire threes and fewer than 34 percent of his wide-open triples. His finishing around the rim is above his career average, but it is still bad. He's throwing some bizzare passes, and not in a good way. His long-two volume remains an outlier in Utah's offense—though he's putting down almost 46 percent of those looks.
Along with Joe Ingles, Rubio is supposed to be masking the Jazz's absence of a cemented No. 2. So far, he's failing.
Austin Rivers, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: 1 year, $12.7 million
Austin Rivers has not armed the Wizards' second unit with a steadying hand. Here are Washington's net ratings when he plays without one or both of Bradley Beal and John Wall, per Cleaning the Glass:
- Without Beal (431 possessions): minus-11.2
- Without Wall (421 possessions): minus-10.3
- Without Beal and Wall (277 possessions): minus-18.1
Naysayers have always been a touch too critical of Rivers. It comes with the territory of having Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers for a father, and with having said papa bear pay him too much money in 2016.
Last year, in fact, the younger Rivers was pretty darn not bad. He set personal records across the board amid career playing time while entrenching himself among the game's top pull-up three-point shooters.
That production has not carried over to Washington. Rivers isn't playing nearly as much, as expected, but he's flat-lining from long range and remains curiously unreliable from the free-throw line. Visions of his being paid like a crucial super sub this summer are fading fast and hard.
Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls
Contract Details: 2 years, $40 million (team option in 2019-20)
2018-19 Salary: $20 million
Jabari Parker technically isn't on an expiring contract. Then again, he kind of is.
He hasn't given the Bulls a reason to exercise his team option. His counting stats are buoyed by volume rather than progress. He remains adequate converting looks around the basket, but he's barely clearing 30 percent shooting from downtown.
Parker doesn't have the quickness to beat wings or even most 4s in space anymore, and it shows. He shouldn't be allowed to take pull-up jumpers and could stand to dribble into fewer contested shots within the paint.
The Bulls are dead friggin' last in points scored per 100 possessions, but they're scoring less efficiently with Parker on the court. Double-triple-quadruple yikes. His defense, meanwhile, remains as advertised: liable to make Zach LaVine look like an All-NBA defender in comparison. (FYI: LaVine is trying really hard on the less-glamorous end.)
They Need More Playing Time, but Still
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves
Contract Details: 3 years, $48.7 million
2018-19 salary: $15.2 million
Some of us remain Gorgui Dieng believers—with "some of us" referring to me. His over-the-top contract is always going to skew perception of his play, and Minnesota's roster makeup isn't doing him any favors.
Finding minutes for Dieng with Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver and Karl-Anthony Towns was hard enough. It has become next to impossible following the arrival of Dario Saric. The Timberwolves don't have room to use Dieng at the 4 even if they want to (they don't), and backup center minutes equate to scraps with Towns logging north of 33 minutes per game.
It doesn't help that Dieng isn't playing well enough to force coach-president Tom Thibodeau's hand. His shooting splits outside the restricted area are all over the place. Minnesota's offense doesn't allow for a tremendous amount of exploration, but his expanded range has yet to manifest in volume.
Dieng isn't terribly overmatched as a roving rim protector. The Timberwolves should test more bench-heavy units that pair him up front with Saric or Tolliver. But playing him beside Gibson or Towns for long spurts is out of the question and forever depresses his value.
JR Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contract Details: 2 years, $30.4 million ($3.9 million guaranteed in 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $14.7 million
Mutual exile is not the only thing fueling JR Smith's decline. Nor is it primarily his steep price tag. It isn't even the Cavaliers' pivot into a youth movement.
His 30.8 percent clip from behind the rainbow is the second-lowest of his career, and he's shooting a combined 29.4 percent (10-of-34) on open and wide-open threes.
A better situation might do Smith some good, but even by his own roller-coaster standards, his offensive dependability began atypical fluctuation last year—most prominently during the playoffs. And when you're paid primarily to be a three-point spark plug, plummeting outside accuracy amounts to a fundamental letdown.
Another team may be willing to bet Smith drains more treys and cuts down on over-dribbling excursions, and he does hold some trade value. Next year's partial guarantee appeals to any front office looking to trim salary from the bottom line ahead of free agency. But the Cavaliers must first be amenable to taking back long-term money.
Even then, the likelihood of Cleveland striking a trade this season tilts toward the lower end. Smith's contract predates the current collective bargaining agreement, so his outgoing value will stand at next year's full salary ($15.8 million) before it guarantees on June 30. If he signed the deal under the new rules, he'd be worth just his partial guarantee.
Unless the Cavaliers field an offer that blows them away, they have every incentive to try capitalizing on this summer's pre-July cap-clearing frenzy.
Barely In/Out of the Rotation
Matthew Dellavedova, Milwaukee Bucks
Contract Details: 2 years, $19.2 million
2018-19 salary: $9.6 million
Matthew Dellavedova's court time is taking a nosedive under head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Whatever minutes the Bucks play without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe are usually populated by both Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton. That distribution renders Dellavedova an afterthought.
Donte DiVincenzo's day-to-day knee injury hasn't even opened the door for him to get appreciably more run. Sterling Brown has been the bigger beneficiary.
Coming up with an argument for Dellavedova to get more spin is hard. He drills his threes at a high enough clip, but he is shooting 39.3 percent on two-pointers since signing with Milwaukee. And while his defensive hustle isn't a complete myth, the Bucks are correctly prioritizing length and playmakers. Their league-best offense and half-court defense have little use for someone with such a constrictive wheelhouse.
Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls
Contract Details: 3 years, $24.2 million
2018-19 salary: $8.5 million
Cristiano Felicio has failed to crack even the periphery of a rotation that includes an absent Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. Aside from a stretch at the beginning of the season in which he averaged 20 minutes across eight appearances, he's been a non-factor. Chicago is still inclined to roll with Robin Lopez, a 30-year-old and eventual buyout candidate, over him.
Wendell Carter Jr. makes it difficult to sprinkle in burn for Felicio, but not impossible. Coming up with a reason to play him is the tougher task. Felicio is neither rim protector nor floor-spacer, and Chicago doesn't have the shooters to maximize his short rolls. He has some nifty moves in the post, but the half-court offense is strained enough without letting him eat away at their flow.
That the Bulls gave Felicio a four-year, $32 million deal after the summer of 2016 remains a boneheaded move.
Solomon Hill, New Orleans Pelicans
Contract Details: 2 years, $25.0 million
2018-19 salary: $12.3 million
Solomon Hill does have a torn left hamstring to use as an excuse for his mounting irrelevance this time around—unless, of course, you believe his injury has since precluded him from tallying true-wing minutes. Which, maybe.
New Orleans has entirely removed Hill from the rotation. He's made just one appearance since the start of November, with no cause for change in sight.
Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle are sponging up most of the minutes at power forward, and lineups with Hill at the 4 haven't been stingy enough on defense to keep him in the fold.
Putting him at the 2 or 3 is an unassailable death sentence. The Pelicans have the offensive flair to navigate Hill's nonexistent three-point shooting, but they're allowing 112 and 117.8 points per 100 possessions, respectively, when he mans shooting guard and small forward, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Barring an injury to Wesley Johnson, Darius Miller or E'Twaun Moore, Hill figures to remain on the outskirts of New Orleans' rotation. His contract, already an overpay, now verges on a total sunk cost.
Jon Leuer, Detroit Pistons
Contract Details: 2 years, $19.5 million
2018-19 salary: $10.0 million
Left ankle surgery limited Jon Leuer to eight games last season. This year, he's a rotation footnote caught behind Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin...and Stanley-Johnson-at-the-4...and Zaza Pachulia.
Maybe the Pistons chance a role reversal if their offense continues toeing the line between middling and sub-mediocre. They probably won't.
Leuer has not hit—or attempted—many threes since coming to Detroit, and the center rotation is harder to crack than the power forward slot. Head coach Dwane Casey, like Stan Van Gundy, has tried trotting him out at the 4, but that's a dead end. Bet on Leuer struggling to shine while undertaking end-of-bench duty.
Ryan Anderson, Phoenix Suns
Contract Details: 2 years, $41.7 million ($15.6 million guaranteed in 2019-20)
2018-19 Salary: $20.4 million
Acquiring Ryan Anderson never made much sense for Phoenix. It was a move driven by the intention of competing in the Western Conference with a roster unfit to do so.
The Suns' decision looks even worse now. Not only are they decidedly outside the West's playoff bubble, but Anderson is burying just 22.6 percent of his three-balls and has received five consecutive DNPs following his one-game return from lower-back tightness.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
Contract Details: 2 years, $34 million (player option in 2019-20)
2018-19 Salary: $17.0 million
Bismack Biyombo's lack of portability has torpedoed his already negative value. Hornets head coach James Borrego has a thing for playing smaller 4s, which tightens the center rotation by default.
Willy Hernangomez, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller all garner higher priority. The same also goes for Frank Kaminsky and lineups that feature a healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist masquerading as a 5.
Allen Crabbe, Brooklyn Nets
Contract Details: 2 years, $37 million (player option in 2019-20)
2018-19 Salary: $18.5 million
Is it worth playing Allen Crabbe when he's shooting 32.4 percent from distance and under 28 percent on two-pointers? Probably not.
With Caris LeVert on the sidelines, though, the Nets don't have much of a choice. And for what it's worth, Crabbe is dropping in almost 41 percent of his threes over the past seven games. So, there's that.
Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat
Contract Details: 2 years, $38.5 million (player option in 2019-20)
2018-19 Salary: $19.3 million
Hopes of Tyler Johnson, who is currently nursing a right hamstring injury, growing into more than an off-ball sniper with a scrappy defensive work ethic have officially given way to reality. He is not an operable jump-shooter off the dribble and is barely hitting 40 percent of his looks on drives.
This isn't breaking news. The Heat's investment in developing both Josh Richardson's and Rodney McGruder's featured-player arcs says a great deal about where Johnson stands. But his cold standstill shooting is an unexpected downer.
Johnson is making 31.7 percent of his catch-and-fire threes after hitting 37.5 percent of those same looks last season. Though he found something resembling an offensive groove prior to his hamstring injury, some of his minutes could be at stake if the Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Dion Waiters (yet to play this year) are all available at the same time.
Ian Mahinmi, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: 2 years, $31.4 million
2018-19 Salary: $15.4 million
The summer of 2016 was really something.
They're Supposed to Be Better Than This
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets
Contract Details: 3 years, $76.7 million (player option in 2020-21)
2018-19 salary: $24.0 million
Nicolas Batum's 2016 contract quickly turned into an irremediable burden, but he's plumbing new levels of near-invisibility.
Charlotte initially viewed him as Kemba Walker's second in command—a stretch but not totally absurd. Batum is now 10th on the Hornets in the percentage of plays he's finishing with a shot, free throw or turnover...behind Cody Zeller.
Tantalizing efficiency coupled with infinite Kemba Walker detonations originally helped mask this mushrooming obscurity.
Batum has regained some of that low-usage swag in recent games. But still, the Hornets are paying him superstar money to be a high-end and involved role player, not an eight-field-goal-attempts, sweeter-shooting Kyle Anderson who may, on any given night, forfeit crunch-time minutes to Dwayne Bacon.
Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
Contract Details: 2 years, $35.1 million
2018-19 salary: $17.0 million
Reggie Jackson went boom in the fourth quarter and overtime during a Nov. 23 victory over the Rockets. A good chunk of his offense came at the end of the bonus period, after the Pistons started pulling away, but he was a key cog in helping them get to that point.
Detroit needed the mini-explosion from him. Handing the reins to Blake Griffin displaces Jackson from the ball, which has never been his strong suit. He's splashing in 35 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, but he's not supplementing that so-so clip with off-the-bounce efficiency.
Jackson is knocking down under 31 percent of his pull-up jumpers and fewer than 45 percent of his attempts on drives. Neither mark is serviceable. His free-throw-rate is at an all-time high, but he doesn't have the same burst.
The left knee and right ankle issues he's battled with the Pistons have left him scrambling on attacks. He is twitchy and spastic in the lane, which adds finite value, if any at all, to an offense with imperfect floor balance.
All the usual defensive issues are dogging Jackson. His activity on the ball waxes and wanes. Rival offenses don't have to worry about him party-crashing passing lanes, and he gets lit up when guarding inside the arc. Detroit's defensive rating is still at its worst with him in the lineup.
Promising offensive flashes are par for the Reggie Jackson experience. The Pistons need something more.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
Contract Details: 3 years, $81.8 million (player option in 2020-21)
2018-19 salary: $26.0 million
Otto Porter is not good enough to be the Wizards' highest-paid player. That has never not been true. His price point was workable, because plug-and-play shooters who defend across four positions are complementary goldmines. But the money he's making has never approached favorable.
The distance between Porter's pay grade and actual value has only grown this season. His already modest usage has dropped off a cliff, and he's no longer banging in 40-plus percent of his three-pointers.
Washington doesn't need him to throw up 15 shots per game, but the number of times he's ghosted on them is alarming. He attempted 10 or more shots on just three occasions through his first 12 games and has been unable to even out the defense of various starting lineups getting torched from the jump.
Porter's offense has about-faced over the past week or so. He cleared 10 attempts in consecutive games against the Pelicans and Toronto Raptors, hasn't looked as despondent while orbiting Bradley Beal and John Wall drives and has been more aggressive.
"He has opportunities," Wall said after the Nov. 24 victory over Toronto, per the Washington Post's Candace Buckner. "Early on tonight, he got his threes to go. And he’s got to be aggressive in knocking down some pull-ups and ... anytime we got stagnant in the game, he [was] aggressive."
Whether Porter's U-turn lasts is an unknowable matter. He has the chops to play himself out of this tier, but the Wizards have spent the entire season staving off implosion. Any and all feel-good 180s are subject to vanish as quickly as they come.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Contract Details: 3 years, $72.3 million ($7 million guaranteed in 2020-21)
2018-19 Salary: $22.3 million
This one stings. LaMarcus Aldridge ferried the Spurs to 47 victories and a playoff berth last season while grinding his way into the fringe-MVP discussion. Appearing here merely months later takes an uncomfortable admission of regression.
The degree of difficulty on Aldridge's scoring opportunities is finally catching up with him. Almost two-thirds of his looks came when a defender was inside four feet of him last season—attempts on which he shot 57.7 percent.
Fewer of his buckets are getting contested this year, but he's still working hard for his points. About 60 percent of his looks come when a defender is within four feet, and his accuracy in these situations has ducked below 44 percent.
Cramped spacing is no doubt a culprit. The Spurs are third in three-point success rate but rank 28th in attempts per 100 possessions. DeMar DeRozan has helped alleviate Aldridge's workload without making his job any easier. He's shooting better with DeRozan on the court, but defenses can more freely double-team him so long as San Antonio is averse to jacking up the three-point volume.
Aldridge's slump doesn't have to be permanent. He's no stranger to jumping through hoops for his points. He's also 33. He may well need more firepower around him to optimize his shot-making.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
Contract Details: 3 years, $98.1 million (player option in 2020-21)
2018-19 Salary: $31.2 million
Gordon Hayward doesn't get a reprieve after missing basically all of 2017-18—not at this season's quarter-pole. He still looks out of sorts. Defenses are targeting him in pick-and-rolls, and he's not as aggressive handling the ball.
Moving him to the bench has not incited a renaissance. The Celtics are outscoring opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions with him on the court since the swap, but his shooting percentages continue to seesaw, and we're dealing with a sub-110-minute sample size versus non-powerhouses.
Boston's entire offense is prone to fits and starts. Only the Bulls, Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns are scoring fewer points per 100 possessions on the season, and the Celtics have not been much better over their past 10 games.
Like the rest of his team, Hayward deserves time. His pay grade is not a lost cause when looking at the bigger picture, into 2019-20 and beyond. This season, though? Yeah, it might be.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Contract Details: 5 years, $147.7 million
2018-19 Salary: $25.5 million
Some would be reluctant to include Andrew Wiggins in this exercise at all. People have already given up on him in abundance. But this is the first year of his max deal. Expectations live on for at least that long.
Beyond that? Well, it doesn't look good.
Jimmy Butler's departure has not unleashed Wiggins. He's slashing 33.3/32.4/63.6 since the trade, including an 0-of-12 clunker against the Bulls—the Bulls!—on Nov. 24.
Searching for silver linings is futile. Wiggins is shooting a career low around the rim and under 35 percent on wide-open threes. He's been relatively efficient off the catch, but the Timberwolves need to expand his pull-up volume following Butler's exit. That's not going to end well.
Keeping Wiggins' from-scratch touches where they are wouldn't even be a source of comfort. Among the 101 players who have appeared in at least three games and are averaging three or more pull-up attempts, his effective field-goal percentage (28.6) ranks 99th.