Stephen Curry, the reigning two-time most valuable player, might not be in the running for a third MVP award, but his 2016-17 campaign has still been stellar by almost any measure. The Golden State Warriors guard has averaged 25.3 points per game, the second-best mark of his career, and made a league-high 319 three-point shots, giving him four of the top five seasons with the most three-point makes.
According to ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, which adjusts net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions for opponents and teammates, Curry is the third most valuable player (plus-6.9) after Chris Paul and LeBron James, with the Warriors outscoring opponents by 16.9 net points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court, compared to 1.9 net points per 100 possessions when he is on the bench. Curry is so good, the Warriors outscore opponents by 11.7 net points per 100 possessions with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the bench.
As a result, no player will benefit more than Curry, who makes $12.1 million this season, from the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which carries the potential for a monster five-year extension. Under those terms, Curry’s new deal should break the $200 million barrier and keep him in a Warriors uniform through the 2021-22 season.
But even at $47 million, the highest expected yearly salary for a new contract under the designated player exception, Curry would still be a bargain. In fact, he is probably worth closer to $50 million or even $60 million per year.
Here’s how to get to that valuation.
Players signed to league-minimum contracts in 2016-17 averaged minus-2.2 points per 100 possessions, making a team full of replacement players likely to produce a record of 14-68 after being outscored by 11 points per game. Divide $86.5 million, the money a team will spend after accounting for the cost of the minimum contracts for a 12-man roster, by 27, the number of wins it takes to go from replacement-level (14 wins) to league average (41), and you get $2.95 million per win.
Curry was worth 17.5 wins for his regular season performance, the second most after James (18.2), putting his value at $51.6 million for the 2016-17 season. And that doesn’t include any of his upcoming postseason performances, which produced an additional 3.5 wins above replacement (approximately $10.3 million) during Golden State’s playoff run in 2016.
However, the salary cap increases to $101 million this offseason, pushing the cost per win to $3.2 million. If we use a simple weighted projection of Curry’s past three seasons, we can reasonably expect him to produce between 17 and 20 wins above replacement in 2016-17, creating a valuation of between $54.4 million and $64 million for the upcoming season.
Curry’s not the only player set to get a big pay raise next season. Here are four other players who will be making more money next year and how their worth stacks up.
Griffin has scored 21.7 points with 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season, along with his highest true shooting percentage (56.9 percent) since 2013-14. He’s ending the regular season on a high note: During the Los Angeles Clippers’ past three games, they outscored opponents by 24.5 net points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the court, one of the best three-game stretches of his career.
His 8.45 wins according to RPM value him at $27 million per year, higher than the $21.4 million salary he will forgo to become a free agent in the offseason.
Rose failed to help the New York Knicks reach the postseason and required a fourth surgery on his knee after the 28-year-old suffered a torn meniscus a few weeks before the end of the regular season. Neither event is conducive to signing the embattled guard to a long-term deal, but that won’t stop him from seeking a max contract, nor will it stop a team from taking a chance at likely some relatively high-dollar amount.
However, it is clear Rose isn’t worth nearly as much as a max contract would pay.
By the end of the 2016-17 season, Rose was worth 1.1 wins, which carries a $3.5 million valuation under the 2017 salary cap. If he was to get back to his 2010-11 form, the year he was named league MVP, Rose would be worth close to $50 million. But that season is clearly the outlier, as he has been worth as much or less than a replacement player in each of the past four seasons since injuries derailed his career.
Otto Porter Jr.
Porter, the third overall pick from the 2013 NBA draft, has started to live up to his expectations, averaging 13.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game during 32.8 minutes a night this season. He finished fourth in three-point shooting (43.7 percent), a career high, while taking more than four shots per game from behind the arc.
Porter also finished No. 33 in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (plus-2.95), ahead of teammates John Wall (plus-2.82) and Bradley Beal (plus-2.1), who received a max contract from the Washington Wizards in the summer of 2016.
If Porter takes a similar step forward next season, he would be worth $17.9 million per year — an improvement, but shy of the $25 million per year he would get under a max contract.
Traded to the Dallas Mavericks at the deadline, Noel may finally solve the team’s hole in the frontcourt. The 22-year-old, 6-foot-11 big man has averaged 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and a block during the regular season, producing the 15th highest RPM among power forwards (plus-1.4, 2.9 wins).
A player with similar minutes played and value over replacement produced in his first three seasons is Andre Drummond, who struggled in his fourth year before reversing that trend in his latest campaign. Perhaps that sends up a caution flag for Noel, who is a free agent this summer.
Based on realistic projections for the upcoming season, Noel would be worth between $4 million and $5 million per year. Even if we doubled our expectations, he would still fall well short of a max deal. But in the big-spending NBA, someone will still lavish him with a rich contract.