Basketball and Doug Pappas

 —  January 22, 2005

One simple and easy way to see what teams are choosing their players and spending their money well is to divide the number of wins into the money spent on payroll.

Kevin Broom over at Real GM has done that, and here’s what he found.

1. Phoenix Suns $680,040
2. San Antonio Spurs $740,041
3. Seattle Supersonics $870,239
4. Cleveland Cavaliers $981,325
5. Washington Wizards $992,984
14. LA Lakers $1,468,112

28. Portland Trail Blazers $2,484,539
29. NY Knicks $2,719,063
30. New Orleans Hornets $4,977,440

This can be used for any sport and can tell you a few things. But the late, great Doug Pappas went one better with “Marginal Wins per Marginal Dollar. (Pappas’ “Business of Baseball” was one of the first sports blogs I started reading regularly and his is one voice that has not, and maybe cannot, be replaced.)

Let me explain his concept, as applied to basketball: Let’s say the biggest idiot you work with (I know, there’s a lot to choose from) was given control of an NBA team. Said person is cheap and doesn’t care about winning (insert your Donald Sterling joke here). Well, the NBA not only has a soft salary cap, they have a salary floor (this season that’s $32.9 million). What’s more, as bad a team as your coworker fields, they’ll probably win about 10 games, only one NBA team has ever done worse.

Pappas figured that to calculate wins per dollar from the worst that could be expected was a better way to figure who was spending wisely than just the basic system seen above. He was right.

And Kevin Broom deserves some courtside seats next to Jack for pulling together Marginal Wins per Marginal Dollars for this season as well (using the league minimum payroll and a 10-win pace).

Thing is, you see a lot of the same teams so far this season:

1. Phoenix Suns $207,000
2. San Antonio Spurs $263,812
3. Seattle Supersonics $400,334
4. Cleveland Cavaliers $405,692
5. LA Clippers $419,676
14. LA Lakers $955,636

27. NY Knicks $2,512,677
28. Atlanta Hawks $2,906,998
29. New Orleans Hornets $20,583,951

(As a side note, the expansion Charlotte Bobcats were not included in this because they are allowed to operate under the salary minimum this year.)

Still, it tells you that most of the top teams in the NBA don’t spend their money blindly — they are looking for value. That’s what smart owners in any sport do. I’d also argue that NBA “moneyball” stats can help a team do that more efficiently.