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Value in the NBA: Where the Milwaukee Bucks Currently Stand

Money talks. What does it say about the Milwaukee Bucks, and how wisely they’ve spent it?

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the value of a win? Last summer, we went over the idea of "value" from the perspective of how player salaries correlate to Win Shares, and taken a look at how the Milwaukee Bucks have fared in recent history. Though imperfect, that series helped us boil everything all down to one metric that translates universally: money. From our conclusion in October:

...we already know that every team competes for the same limited commodity (wins) by spending a common resource (salary). By translating wins into a dollar figure (using Win Shares), and determining how much money each win is "worth" under the salary cap, we can determine the Win Share value differential, which shows how much more (or less) any NBA player is worth compared to the league average.

In layman’s terms, the main idea is figuring out exactly what an NBA team is paying for. If you’re the squad that’s shelling out big money for a journeyman in free agency, you had better hope that he’s prepared to produce. If so, then you’ve gotten what you expected. If not, then your cap is tied up with a player not good enough to push your team forward, and you end up looking for ways to get back out of the muck.

Determining where a player ranks relative to the NBA league average is important, because it’s the safest way to objectively determine whether the team was able to get enough value to at least “break even” on the acquisition of that player. Nobody wants to be the team to pay big money for average (or worse) production, because those “high upside” draft picks or risky contracts can become an anchor on your salary cap.

To briefly recap, we determine a player’s WS Value by dividing their annual salary figure by their total Win Shares rating. If that value is less than the league average, that player delivered a surplus for that season. If that value is higher, then the player drew more than they put back into the team’s success. It isn't an ideal formula, but gives us a clear look at what reasonable expectations can be in monetary terms, which are terms that each NBA franchise speak fluently.

The above chart shows the actual league average value for 1.0 WS for 2015-16, as well as the projected league average for 2016-17 and 2017-18. Based on those numbers, we can determine what the “expected” value for each Bucks player was last season (based solely on contract amount) compared to their actual production, as well as what the “expected” value looks like for players on the books for next season (sorted by 2017-18 salary figure):

Some observations about this data:

  • Giannis continues to be the best. Despite outperforming his Expected WS by double-digit last year, he still has a salary low enough (in terms of determining his Expected WS for next season) to reasonably assume that he’ll still outperform expectations by a significant margin next season. It helps that he ranked 10th in total Win Shares in 2016-17 on a team that struggled mightily for parts of the season.
  • There’s an awful amount of red around the Bucks other eight-digit contract players. Greg Monroe did well enough in a new role off the bench, and Khris Middleton missed over half the season due to a hamstring injury. But John Henson, Mirza Teletovic, and Matthew Dellavedova all look dreadful when you compare what the “average” player could have produced with their money, and what they ended up providing instead. It’s impossible to generate surplus value on every single roster spot, but having so many of your supporting cast rate poorly in WS Differential indicates a significant issue, whether it’s talent, fit, usage, or some combination thereof.
  • Miles Plumlee was the worst of the bunch, providing the Bucks with barely anything for his sizable paycheck, making John Hammond’s ability to move him to Charlotte all the more astounding.
  • When it comes to tertiary contributions, some of the Bucks’ role players knocked it out of the park. Jason Terry (old), Malcolm Brogdon (rookie), Thon Maker (a super-raw rookie), and Tony Snell (traded straight up for Michael Carter-Williams) all greatly exceeded their salary slots, which is the best way for a team to create value where there is little opportunity to do so.
  • In half of a season, Jabari Parker doubled the expected production for his salary slot. For all the flaws in his game and concerns about his durability, Jabari has proven the ability to contribute at the professional level. Whether or not he can contribute to winning basketball is still undetermined, which is why the talk about his rookie extension (or possibly lack thereof?) is so fascinating...and somewhat terrifying.
  • Based on the current cap outlook for 2017-18, the Bucks will be hard-pressed to maintain a roster of players that can contribute above the league average. Tony Snell’s salary is going to skyrocket, Jason Terry’s return is by no means guaranteed, and while Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker should improve even more than they did this season, Milwaukee has an awful lot of contributors who are in the red to worry about offsetting.

All in all, the Milwaukee Bucks still look like they’re in good position for the future. Giannis, Brogdon, and Thon should all continue to deliver a positive return on their investment (thanks again, rookie scale contracts!), and it’s fair to expect Khris Middleton to bounce back from his shortened season.

But the path forward is not without risk. Tony Snell’s contract situation needs to be resolved, as do the player options held by Greg Monroe and Spencer Hawes. Looming over everything is Jabari Parker’s possible extension, which will be a main focus for our Crossroads 2017 series. These issues further highlight the necessity of getting hits on each move in the near future, because the team cannot afford another John Henson contract while getting John Henson results.

What do you think? Are the Bucks in a good position to continue getting value out of the players currently on the roster? Which moves do you think would bring back a surplus of value next season? Let us know in the comments!