Which Lakers Earned Their Paycheck?

We recently completed our player report card series in which we graded every player who put on the purple and gold this season. These report cards were based on how the players performed relative to our expectations. Now with the lockout upon us, everyone is talking salaries. Rather than looking at player performance based on expectations, it would seem appropriate instead to see who did and did not earn their paychecks.

The method I've used to determine what each player's performance was worth was based on data from Basketball Reference. I've used a statistic called win shares for the analysis. Win shares are the estimated number of wins contributed by a player. It attempts to capture the entirety of a player's offensive and defensive contributions. I won't explain how it's calculated but the website has a glossary and an explanation if you're interested.

The idea is to determine how much a single win share was worth and then apply that amount to the win shares for each player. I used both regular season and playoff win shares. I think we can all agree that a win in the playoffs is more important than a win in the regular season, so I multiplied the playoff win shares by three, meaning a win in the playoffs is worth three times the money as a win in the regular season. I totaled the league wide salaries and divided by the total win shares to determine the value of a single win share. The result is that each win share is worth $1,331,670.

Before we get to the player results, two caveats warrant mentioning. This determination of a fair salary only reflects the on-the-court game contributions. It does not take into account other items. Kobe Bryant not only contributes wins, but he puts butts in the seats, sells jerseys, draws TV ratings, etc… All of these things have a value to Dr. Buss and thus Kobe’s salary reflects both on the court production and additional revenue generation. This analysis ignores the latter. This analysis also ignores contributions during practice. Each team needs to practice and this is the area where third string players often contribute. This analysis ignores any contributions provided during practice.

Now on to the players…

Third-String Players (AKA Insurance Policies)

Sasha Vujacic: -0.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $900,000*, Fair Salary -$133,167

Sasha wasn’t on the team long this year, making an appearance in only 11 games for a total of 54 minutes. During that time he was paid roughly $900,000 by my estimate as he was then traded to New Jersey and they paid the remainder of his $5.5 million salary. During those 54 minutes, according to win shares, he contributed nothing defensively and actually hurt the offense. As a result, he did more harm than good and should have actually cut a check to Dr. Buss for being able to step on the floor.

Joe Smith: -0.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,100,000*, Fair Salary -$133,167

Smith was the player the Lakers got in return for Sasha. He was merely an insurance policy for the front line. He only played in 55 minutes during the season. When on the floor he had positive win shares defensively but his offensive contributions were of the negative variety and in total he actually contributed to losses instead of wins. As a result, like the player he was traded for, he too should cut Dr. Buss a check for his playing time.

Theo Ratliff: 0.0 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,352,181, Fair Salary $0

Ratliff, like Joe Smith, was an insurance policy for the front line should Bynum’s knees blow up again. Unfortunately he himself needed an insurance policy as he dealt with his own injury issues.  Win shares show that when he was on the court (he played only 72 minutes), he contributed on defense but hurt the offense. The results were offsetting giving him no wins contributed.

Trey Johnson: 0.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $89,670, Fair Salary $133,167

Johnson was a late season call-up from the D League and brought on board when the Lakers' only backup point guard was dealing with chicken pox. He proved to be a little spark plug and a pleasant surprise given the low expectations. He contributed on offense while holding his own defensively. In his 25 minutes of playing time he outperformed his modest salary. Dr. Buss thanks you for your services, Trey.

Rookies

Derrick Caracter: 0.3 Win Shares, Actual Salary $473,604, Fair Salary: $399,501

Caracter was the Lakers’ second pick in the 2010 draft, taken 58th overall. His solid rebounding ability and underrated shot blocking skills actually made him an asset on defense. Offensively he was turnover prone and contributed little. The result was that he played fairly close to his salary. Once one considers the other duties that rookies have to do, such as carrying bags, getting food for the team, etc… he probably pulled his own weight. Dr. Buss thanks you for your contributions.

Devin Ebanks: 0.4 Win Shares, Actual Salary $473,604, Fair Salary: $532,668

Devin was the Lakers' first pick in the 2010 draft, taken 43rd overall. His length and athleticism allowed him to contribute both offensively and defensively. He is the first player on the list to have a positive impact on both ends of floor. He constantly crashed the offensive glass and actually led the Lakers in offensive rebound rate. He also did not succumb to the turnover problems that plague most rookies. In the end he proved to be a very solid player and could have a decent career ahead of him as a role player in this league. He outperformed his salary. Dr. Buss would thank you, Devin, but he's too busy trying to get ahold of Phil Jackson, who has run off to Montana, to ask him why you only played 118 minutes while the next player on our list played four times that many.

Role Players

Luke Walton: -0.5 Win Shares, Actual Salary $5,260,000, Fair Salary: -$665,835

Walton has become a lon time punching bag for Lakers fan, but it isn’t without merit. His contributions this season were poor and not just mildly poor. They were of the epic variety. Luke’s contributions have always come from his passing ability on the offensive end while his defense has been subpar. This year his offensive win shares in the regular season were negative 0.7. He had the highest turnover rate on the team among players who played at least 100 minutes. When your biggest strength is worse than all the other players on the team, it doesn’t bode well for your performance.

He was actually assigned a slightly positive win share on the defensive end but this was likely due to the way defensive win shares are calculated. It's difficult to assign wins on defense because current statistics do not capture individual defensive contributions all that well. He likely gained these win shares because he was on the floor with other good defensive players. Even with the generous defensive win shares given him, he still should have cut a rather large check to Dr. Buss. Instead he collected a very large check while hurting the team every moment he was on the court. Dr. Buss is a huge fan of poker and if you asked him about Walton, I am fairly certain he would say, "Walton is like being dealt a two and seven off-suit and going all in… not only are you certain you will lose, but you will give up a lot of money to do it."

Steve Blake: 2.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $4,000,000, Fair Salary: $2,796,508

Blake was brought in to eventually take over the starting point guard spot from Derek Fisher. His strong three-point shooting ability, skilled passing and hard-nosed effort defensively made him almost a sure thing to be worth the $4 million the Lakers were paying him. Unfortunately he failed to meet expectations. While he did shoot ball fairly well (38% on threes), he became hesitant and reluctant to shoot. The Lakers need a point guard to spread the floor and his unwillingness to take the shot hurt spacing and ultimately the team. He also struggled mightily with turnovers, certainly not a quality desired of any position let alone a point guard. In the end, his first season was a disappointment and while he did contribute, he didn't measure up to the salary that Dr. Buss was paying him. Dr. Buss thanks you for the effort but asks that you improve next year or expect to be sent packing.

Matt Barnes: 3.3 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,675,000, Fair Salary $4,394,512

Barnes was acquired with the remaining cash from the Lakers' mid-level exemption after Blake was signed. As a backup small forward he contributed as expected (a C+ in our report card) but given the great deal the Lakers got in signing him he definitely was an A+ in terms of value. He contributed on both ends of floor right at expectations. The only disappointment was the injury he suffered that opened the door for Luke Walton to get minutes. While Barnes isn’t a game changer, he is one of the best players in the league making under $1.7 million that isn’t on a rookie contract. Dr. Buss can look himself in the mirror and smile knowing he got more than his money’s worth with Barnes.

Shannon Brown: 3.7 Win Shares, Actual Salary $2,200,000, Fair Salary: $4,927,181

Brown is the last of the "Killer B’s" on the list. He started the year on an incredible hot streak shooting the three. He was so good that it made the decision to trade away the more expensive Vujacic rather easy. It wasn’t long after the trade, though, that his shooting touch reverted back to his career norm. He still finished the year at nearly 35% from behind the arc. Other than shooting the three and having a weekly reservation on ESPN’s top dunks, he brings little else to the game. His salary of $2.2million is pretty fair for a bench player with minor contributions. It was the unbelievable start to the season that helped make him a player who contributed well above his pay last year. Given that performance, it should come as no surprise that he opted out of the final year of his contract to try to earn a bigger paycheck. Dr. Buss is probably hoping that no one offers Shannon a significantly higher contract as I think he would love to have Shannon back for anything under $3 million a year.

That brings us to the end of the role players. The only players left are the starters and Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom. In part two, we'll look at these main contributors and see who did and did not earn their paychecks.

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