Yesterday we began a two-part series examining the salary of each Lakers player this season and compared it with what their salary should have been given their on-court performance, as measured by win shares. Win shares, as we discussed, are an imperfect but still useful attempt to capture the entirety of a player's performance both offensively and defensively. We've already covered the young projects and veterans that fell out of the rotation. Today we look at the Lakers eight main rotation players.
So without further ado...
The Role Players
Derek Fisher: 1.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,753,125, Fair Salary $1,491,174
Derek Fisher was paid not for his production, but for his intangibles... or at least that is what everyone in the Lakers organization told themselves at night in order to sleep better. Fisher brought many positive things to the Lakers locker room. He was an unquestioned leader, motivator, and respected teammate. Unfortunately, when he stepped on the floor, his positive contributions were few and far between.
I was a little surprised when I saw that Fisher was actually credited with 1.1 win shares which almost justified his salary. I was certain it would be less. Then one of the major pitfalls of win shares (and most other basketball stats) revealed itself. How do you quantify defensive contributions? Win shares more or less uses the team's defensive rating when a player is on the court to assign defensive win shares. What's missing is whether said player actually contributed to that defense. Needless to say, Fisher spent the majority of the time with Bynum and Gasol and thus benefited greatly from their ability to protect the rim. Fisher's 1.1 win shares can be broken down into 0.2 on offense and 0.9 on defense. The offensive win shares is probably correct. The defensive win shares is overstated. His offense was worth about $270,000. Assign whatever you feel his defense was worth and you will see he fell far short of his actual salary.
I am sure Dr. Buss wishes Fisher the best with his new team but is probably glad to see him go. He had to be tired of overpaying for "intangibles". That and he probably isn't happy that Fisher helped negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement that will make it tougher for Buss to spend money and build championship teams in the future.
Ramon Sessions: 1.3 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,231,632, Fair Salary $1,762,297
Sessions was acquired at the trade deadline and the Lakers offense instantly shifted into high gear. Fisher and Blake both had offensive ratings of roughly 99, Sessions had a 111. Sessions' offensive win shares for the Lakers was 1.4 in one-third of the season, meanwhile Fisher and Blake were 0.2 in two and three times the number of games, respectively. Sessions appeared to be the answer at the PG position as the Lakers offense finally found its groove going into the playoffs. Then the playoffs happened.
The Lakers must have missed a shift, burned the clutch, or flat dropped the transmission because that extra gear was gone. Sessions had zero offensive win shares in the playoffs. None. If that wasn't bad enough, he was worse defensively, posting a -0.2 win shares. Was it the pressure of his first post-season? Was it the tougher defense he faced? Who knows? But Lakers nation went from "Sessions the savior" to "trade him" in less than a month's time.
Despite the quick flame-out in the playoffs, what he accomplished in such a short period of time to end the regular season was well worth the small pro-rated salary the Lakers paid him. Enjoy your summer in L.A. Ramon, there is no guarantee you will be back.
Steve Blake: 1.6 Win Shares, Actual Salary $3,213,512, Fair Salary $2,168,981
Blake struggled mightily in the regular season before finally stepping up in the playoffs. Blake made only 33.5% of his three-point attempts in the regular season, by far the poorest percentage since his early days in Washington. Prior to this season, Steve Blake was neck-and-neck with Reggie Miller and Ray Allen on the career three-point shooting percentage list. He was supposed to be the Lakers' sharp-shooter at the point but just couldn't hit the target.
The poor regular season shooting proved to be only a minor blip though as he rediscovered his shooting stroke in the playoffs, making 18 of 43 attempts (42%). Blake's offensive rating went from 98 in the regular season to 109 in the playoffs. His rebound was well timed as his fellow point guard in the back-court struggled. His defense still left much to be desired but he was mainly acquired to shoot the ball, and he did well in this regards in the playoffs.
Overall Blake failed to earn his full salary primarily because of his shooting woes in the regular season. Had he shot the ball like he did in the playoffs for the full year, he would have had approximately one more win share which would have been worth an additional $1.3 million and he would have earned his salary.
Matt Barnes: 3.1 Win Shares, Actual Salary $1,534,259, Fair Salary $4,202,201
Matt Barnes had a great regular season. He was easily the Lakers' best player outside of the big thee prior to Sessions' arrival. He posted career highs in rebound rate and block rate and the second best season of his career in assist rate and turnover rate. He was right on his career average in shooting the ball as well. The combination of shooting to his average but improving in all the other stats resulted in the highest PER and highest win shares per 48 minutes of his career.
Unfortunately he, like Sessions, couldn't seem to do much when the post season began. Barnes has never been a great three-point shooter but he hasn't been awful either. He has made at least 31% of his attempts in each of the last four seasons. In the playoffs though he only made 5 for 31 (16%). Quick side note: Sessions was equally bad at 4 for 25 (16%). The Lakers' two best regular season role players went 9 for 56 on threes when it mattered most and this is a major reason why they are watching the rest of the playoffs from home. Barnes also saw his rebound rate drop and his turnover rate rise. This resulted in Barnes outdoing Sessions for worst post-season and producing a -0.4 win shares.
Barnes was not being paid much and regular season performance was so strong that he was easily worth his small salary. His poor performance in the playoffs however left a bitter taste in everyone's mouths. There are two ways to look at it though. On the bright side, his poor performance in the playoffs likely hurt his market value and so the Lakers may be able to re-sign him relatively cheaply. On the other hand, this is now the second straight post-season that he shot 16% from behind the arc (he was 2 for 12 last post-season). What good is a player who seems to disappear when needed most? You decide if the glass is half empty or half full.
Metta World Peace: 3.8 Win Shares, Actual Salary $5,465,637, Fair Salary $5,151,330
Metta World Peace began the season out of shape. His extra weight led to quicker fatigue and many struggles shooting the ball. He made less than 30% of his three-point attempts after 5 straight seasons shooting over 35% from deep. This year was the lowest three-point shooting percentage for him since his days in Chicago over a decade ago. As the season progressed and he played his way into shape, his stroke began to come around. Over the final three months of the season he made 52 of his 123 three point attempts, good for 42%. He also began to play the stifling defense we all enjoy.
Then in a despicable act of aggression and stupidity, he threw an elbow into James Harden that landed him a seven-game suspension. World Peace missed half the playoffs as a result. He was solid in the games he did play, making 39% of his threes, reducing his turnovers, and playing tough defense. He fell just shy of earning his full paycheck this season and had he not missed the first half of the playoffs he most certainly would have earned every penny.
Dr. Buss now faces a difficult off-season decision with World Peace. The Lakers are looking to cut salary and Artest makes more than any role player on the team. However his contributions support his current salary. Furthermore, the Lakers need role players around their stars that can do two things well: defend and space the floor. Metta can do both. So, will the Lakers consider moving a player who does the two things they need of a role player, and who has a salary commensurate with his contributions just to save some money? It certainly is a possibility and for anyone doubting it, look how quickly they shipped out the former 6th man of the year just to dump salary.
The Big Three
Pau Gasol: 10.7 Win Shares, Actual Salary $15,062,609, Fair Salary $14,505,060
Gasol found himself down a notch on the pecking order this year. A new system and a new role found him in unfamiliar positions, oftentimes at the high post trying to find cutters or taking mid-range jumpers. The post-ups on the low block were no longer available to him unless he was playing with the second unit. Further complicating matters was the fact that he was initially traded to start the season and even though it was vetoed, the clouds of trade rumors hung over his head all season long.
Gasol had a very poor year by his standards. He had the lowest scoring average of his career due in part to fewer attempts along with the second lowest shooting percentage he's ever had. Overall he posted a PER of 20.5 which while still very good, also is the lowest since his rookie season. His streak of three consecutive all-star appearances came to an end.
The hope for all Lakers fans was that once the trade deadline passed and the rumors subsided, we would once again have the old Gasol. Not only did that not happen, his play was so bad in the playoffs than many simply wanted the regular season Gasol back. His PER declined to 17.2 (basically a slightly above average player). His field goal percentage was 43%, nearly a 10% decline from his career average. Both his rebound and assist rates also dropped. While he wasn't solely to blame for the Lakers' season coming to an end (see Barnes and Sessions' shooting), he was a big reason for it and an easy scapegoat as he is capable of doing so much on the floor.
His poor post-season saw him fail to earn his full salary for the first time in his career. Gasol is the most likely player to be traded this off-season as he is skilled enough to land a quality player or two in return and his salary makes him the logical choice. Unfortunately for the Lakers, this is now two straight post seasons where Gasol had a PER of 17 and a shooting percentage in the low 40s. This may hurt his market value this summer.
Rumor has it that Buss is quite the poker player. He knows when to hold them and when to fold them. It appears he may have held on and played this hand with Gasol for a little too long. Of course, he did try to fold it once and then the dealer told him it wasn't allowed and he had to keep his cards. No one could have anticipated that occurring.
Andrew Bynum: 12.8 Win Shares, Actual Salary $11,992,683, Fair Salary $17,351,847
Andrew Bynum had what was considered a break-out season by most (I happened to disagree). He made his first All Star game of what will likely be many to come. He set a career high in PER, points per game, and rebounds per game. He cemented his status as the 2nd best center in the league, with some pundits even claiming him to be number one. He also made it through a season with no major injury which is no minor feat. There is no denying the talent and potential the big man has.
The biggest problem for Andrew Bynum is that he is now seven seasons into the league and people still use the word "potential" when describing him. His career began as a raw teenager with immense size and soft hands. He had the potential to develop his game and be a very good player. Then after a few year he was a talented big man who had the potential to be dominant if he could ever stay healthy. Now he is a dominant big man who has the potential to be a Hall of Fame caliber center if he ever matured. The first two hurdles, developing skills and staying healthy, were somewhat easier to clear. The first comes with practice which can be enforced by the team. The second comes from not having bad luck with freak injuries. The final hurdle of immaturity is more difficult. The team has no way to force maturity and the immaturity won't just go away. Some will point to the man being only 24 years old and "still a kid". However, 179 players in the league (3 out of 8) are Bynum's age or younger and two-thirds of the league has played in seven or fewer seasons. I don't recall seeing stories about 3 out of 8 players parking in handicap spots, lifting playboy playmates during knee-rehab, or taking ill-advised threes (ok, maybe that one does occur). Maturity is the biggest downfall for Bynum, both on and off the court.
In the playoffs, Bynum displayed his full potential along with why he isn't considered the best center by many. He kicked off the playoffs with a triple double as he blocked 10 shots and completely shut down Denver's offense. He followed that up with a 27 point night in Game 2 and the Lakers took a 2-0 series lead and looked to be in control. The Lakers then lost 3 of the next 4 games as Bynum would fail to score 20 points in any game and took all four games to match the block total he had in Game 1. Only in Game 7 would he display his potential once again with a line of 16 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 blocks as the Lakers moved on to the next round. In the second round he failed to perform as he averaged fewer than 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting only 43.4% from the field (while still being frustrated by a lack of touches). He and Gasol were supposed to be the big advantage the Lakers had over their opposition but they both played poorly and the Lakers quietly exited the playoffs in the second round again.
Bynum has everything needed to be a Hall of Fame center. He just needs to mature and learn how to work hard every night. He was still more than good enough to warrant his relatively cheap salary. Hopefully he figures "it" out soon because the Lakers' future currently rests on his giant shoulders.
Kobe Bryant: 10.7 Win Shares, Actual Salary $20,318,738, Fair Salary $14,505,060
Kobe Bryant, at the advanced age of 33, is beginning to show the signs of father time. He is no doubt one of the best players in the league, but no longer is he the almost super-human video game-like player we all love. He has more average nights than great ones. This season he led the league in usage rate but shot only 43% from the field (his lowest since he was a teenager coming off the bench) and only 30% from behind the arc (lowest since the Shaq-Kobe era). He did have moments where we saw the Black Mamba which triggered nostalgic memories of what used to be the best player in the league. They just did not come often enough.
The Lakers face a difficult road ahead with Bryant at the helm. His extremely high salary prevents any chance of them getting under the salary cap and their lack of assets outside of Gasol and Bynum makes it tough to improve the rest of the roster. The man is only going to get older and the salary will only increase until he reaches the final year of his deal in which he will make over $30 million. It also is becoming evident that he may no longer be the best player on the team. When faced with a situation of an aging superstar and a young stud waiting to take over, Kobe was not so graceful in trying to take over the top spot and neither was Shaq in relinquishing his position at the top of the food chain. How will Kobe handle this transition? We can only hope it will be more gracefully.
As for money, this is the third season in a row in which his on-court production has not matched his high salary. It doesn't mean he isn't worth the money to Dr. Buss though. The rest of the gap between what he is being paid and his on court production is easily made up in tickets sales, merchandise, and TV revenue that he generates. There is also value in the intangibles that he brings as a role model of hard work and dedication. However, at what point are the intangibles no longer worth the price being paid and what happens then? For an example of that, see Derek Fisher. We as Lakers fans can only hope that when the time comes, Kobe will re-sign on a very cheap deal and finish out his career chasing history in a Lakers uniform while fully earning his salary along the way.
Lakers Team: 46 wins, Actual Salary: $70.5M, Fair Salary: $68.6M
The Lakers as a team fell just shy of producing enough wins to justify their overall salaries. The Lakers needed one more win to provide Dr. Buss with a return equal to the league average. One more win would have also meant another home game, more ticket revenue, and more TV advertising money. In the end it wasn't a bad deal, but not quite what was expected of a team with championship aspirations and salaries to match.