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Kawhi Leonard Needs A Raise Even Though He Just Got One

Today in an article on FiveThirtyEight, I wrote about how the value of NBA free agents may change as the salary cap increases dramatically in upcoming seasons. In recent seasons, the players who used to be bargains were beginning to cost more — but that trend may flip-flop again as the cap rises ever higher.

I figured this out using an early beta of FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver’s NBA projection system, also known as CARMELO (“Career Arc Regression Model Estimator (with) Local Optimization,” obviously). I compiled a database of all the contracts from this year’s free-agency signings1 and projected whether players are likely to be underpaid or overpaid, and by how much. By finding the historical players a modern player is most similar to, CARMELO can spit out wins above replacement (WAR) projections for each of a player’s next seven seasons. Combine that with the per-win dollar values I derived, and I had a way to evaluate each player’s new contract.

Play around with the table below:

The San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard needs a raise despite just getting one. His max-contract — a five-year, $90 million deal — is going to underpay him by $134 million, making him the most underpaid player who got a new contract this offseason. The most overpaid player: Omer Asik, whose five-year, $60 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans should’ve been $30 million smaller.

Read more: No Matter How Much They Make, The Best Players In The NBA Are Vastly Underpaid


  1. Through July 12.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.