NBA Power Rankings, Moneyball Edition: Teams That Played Above Payroll in 2018

NBA Power Rankings, Moneyball Edition: Teams That Played Above Payroll in 2018

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30. Memphis Grizzlies: minus-18.02
Payroll: $110,273,309 (No. 17)
Wins: 22 (No. 29)
Expected Wins: 40.02
This shouldn’t be even remotely surprising. Not when the Memphis Grizzlies’ three highest-paid players in 2017-18 were Mike Conley ($28,530,608; played in just 12 games before heel issues shut him down), Chandler Parsons ($23,112,004; self-explanatory) and Marc Gasol ($22,642,350; finally showing cracks and suffered severe slippage on both ends of the court). 
Memphis can expect a bounce-back season in 2018-19 when its key contributors are healthy, but this is an expensive payroll for a team that, at its best, is still only a fringe playoff contender in the Western Conference. 
       
29. Atlanta Hawks: minus-10.53
Payroll: $100,414,016 (No. 23)
Wins: 24 (No. 27)
Expected Wins: 34.53
As opposed to the Grizzlies, the Atlanta Hawks were never expected to be even remotely competitive in 2017-18. And they weren’t, riding the coattails of marginal starters such as Dennis Schroder ($15,500,000) and Kent Bazemore ($16,910,113) to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and earning strong lottery odds for the 2018 NBA draft. 
Atlanta doesn’t have any particularly egregious salaries, but the numbers still add up to the No. 23 payroll in the Association. Dead money after buyouts for Jamal Crawford ($10,942,762), Marco Belinelli ($6,306,060) and Ersan Ilyasova ($6,000,000) also don’t help. If those numbers were simply wiped from the ledger, the expected wins would plunge to 21.58 and actually leave the youthful, talent-deprived Hawks as slight overachievers. 
      
28. Phoenix Suns: minus-10.41
Payroll: $94,818,333 (No. 27)
Wins: 21 (No. 30)
Expected Wins: 31.41
Though the contributions of youngsters such as Devin Booker ($2,319,360) and second-half Josh Jackson ($5,090,040) helped keep the Phoenix Suns somewhat respectable, their cap sheet is a glaring eyesore. Not only did they buy out Greg Monroe ($17,884,176) after acquiring him from the Milwaukee Bucks, but their four highest-enduring salaries were all troublesome. 
Phoenix owed the most money to Brandon Knight ($13,618,750), whose torn ACL during the offseason prevented him from logging even a single minute for the desert-based organization. Next up was Tyson Chandler ($13,000,000), who fell out of the rotation by the end of the year. Jared Dudley ($10,000,000) and Alan Williams ($6,000,000) were limited and/or injured, with the former playing 14.3 minutes per game over the course of 48 appearances while the latter logged an even 14 minutes per game in five showings and didn’t debut until a March 26 loss against the Boston Celtics. 
      
27. New York Knicks: minus-9.68
Payroll: $107,855,405 (No. 19)
Wins: 29 (No. 22)
Expected Wins: 38.68
Maybe this would’ve been different if Kristaps Porzingis ($4,503,600) had remained healthy throughout the season. The New York Knicks were a far more respectable 23-32 when he went down with a torn ACL in a Feb. 6 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, and they’d even earned a 0.1 net rating while he was on the floor. 
Alas, tanking followed the devastating injury to the face of the franchise. And Enes Kanter ($20,566,802), Joakim Noah ($17,765,000) and Tim Hardaway Jr. ($16,500,000) leading the squad in salary while showcasing significant limitations, leaving the team and making only 57 mediocre appearances, respectively, is not a recipe for success. 
       
26. Orlando Magic: minus-8.34
Payroll: $98,284,645 (No. 24)
Wins: 25 (No. 26)
Expected Wins: 33.34
Remember when the Orlando Magic started the season in red-hot fashion and looked to be making strides toward playoff contention in the NBA’s weaker half? That was quickly followed by prolonged periods of misery as the Magic fell down the standings and wound up with the league’s fifth-worst record. 
Of course, that shouldn’t be particularly shocking. Orlando doesn’t have any max players on the roster, and its only four eight-figure expenditures come courtesy of Terrence Ross ($10,500,000), Nikola Vucevic ($12,250,000), Bismack Biyombo ($17,000,000) and Evan Fournier ($17,000,000). Maybe better health from the first two could’ve moved the Magic a bit higher in these rankings, but there are plenty of reasons former head coach Frank Vogel spent much of 2017-18 looking like what he watched on the court was upsetting his stomach. 
         
25. Charlotte Hornets: minus-7.9
Payroll: $117,228,164 (No. 13)
Wins: 36 (No. 20)
Expected Wins: 43.9
Is paying $23,500,000 to Dwight Howard and $22,434,783 to Nicolas Batum ideal for the Charlotte Hornets? Definitely not, especially when doing so squanders another year of bargain-bin expenditures for All-Star point guard Kemba Walker ($12,000,000). 
But the Hornets could also help their cause by not functioning as such chronic underachievers. Based not on payroll but Pythagorean Wins, which look solely at margin of victory and strength of schedule, only the Dallas Mavericks boasted a larger discrepancy between actual and expected victories. Their quality of play was indicative of a 42-40 squad, leaving them just shy of the 43.9 wins indicated by their payroll. And that difference, rather than the one between 43.9 and their actual 36-46 record, would’ve bumped them up to No. 15 in this countdown. 
      
24. Miami Heat: minus-7.69
Payroll: $131,222,624 (No. 4)
Wins: 44 (No. 15)
Expected Wins: 51.69
Because of a technicality, the Miami Heat are being severely disadvantaged here. Chris Bosh, who was confirmed to have suffered a career-ending illness via a medical review conducted by both the NBA and the players’ union, is still on the team’s payroll, earning $25,289,390 for the 2017-18 season. Though he no longer counts against the salary cap, he does technically make money paid by the Heat and can’t be written off in this analysis. 
If we did strike his salary from the equation, Miami’s expected wins would drop to 37.6 and make the Heat overachievers. Even though they’re doling out noteworthy salaries to plenty of good-but-not-great contributors scattered throughout the roster, they’d jump up to No. 8 in this analysis—a credit to the brilliant work of head coach Erik Spoelstra. 
Essentially, take this ignominious placement with a heaping helping of salt. 
       
23. Detroit Pistons: minus-6.49
Payroll: $120,086,105 (No. 7)
Wins: 39 (No. 19)
Expected Wins: 45.49
Fun fact (well, not so fun if you’re a Detroit Pistons fan): This organization still owes Josh Smith $5,400,000 annually until the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. That doesn’t help a team already on the hook for Blake Griffin ($29,512,900), Andre Drummond ($23,775,506), Reggie Jackson ($16,000,000) and Jon Leuer ($10,497,319). 
Going forward, the Pistons are in a bit of a conundrum. Though their roster is solid enough to compete for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference (and should only get better as the Griffin-Drummond frontcourt tandem gains more experience and chemistry), the cap sheet looks awful. It leaves Detroit nearly devoid of ways to make substantial strides without landing draft-day gems and squeezing every ounce of upside from the incumbents. 
       
22. Oklahoma City Thunder: minus-5.4
Payroll: $134,294,056 (No. 3)
Wins: 48 (No. 8)
Expected Wins: 53.4
Perhaps the Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn’t have traded for Carmelo Anthony when he was still owed $26,243,760 for 2017-18 (and another $27,928,140 in 2018-19 if he doesn’t use his early termination option). After leaving the New York Knicks, the small forward continued his quick decline by refusing to improve on the defensive end and struggling to embrace a role that needed him serving as a spot-up specialist. 
When Anthony sat on the pine while Russell Westbrook ($28,530,608), Steven Adams ($22,471,910) and Paul George ($19,508,958) operated as a bona fide Big Three, the Thunder posted a 15.3 net rating over the course of 213 minutes. But when each member of the expensive quartet graced the hardwood, they could only outscore the opposition by a more restrained 5.4 points per 100 possessions. 
        
21. Cleveland Cavaliers: minus-5.11
Payroll: $137,362,708 (No. 2)
Wins: 50 (No. 6)
Expected Wins: 55.11
After all the roster turnover and tumult throughout the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers wound up with six players making eight-figure salaries: LeBron James ($33,285,709), Kevin Love ($22,642,350), George Hill ($20,000,000), Tristan Thompson ($16,400,000), J.R. Smith ($13,760,000) and Jordan Clarkson ($11,562,500). Aside from the first one, that’s a troubling list of names, filled with men who suffered significant injuries, were relegated to smaller roles or just flat-out struggled their way through the 2017-18 campaign. 
The Cavaliers’ payroll lagged behind only that of their long-time NBA Finals foes, which isn’t a positive for a team that looked inconsistent on offense and incompetent on defense throughout the first 82 games. Fifty wins is nothing to sniff at (and the playoffs are, thus far, going swimmingly), but that made for a disappointing season—relative to both preseason expectations and payroll predictions. 

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