2015 NBA Finals – Points and Salaries

The 2015 NBA finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors has been one of the most exciting series in recent years.  The underdog Cleveland Cavaliers are up 2-1 and game four is scheduled for tonight.  In this write-up, chart-it looks at each player’s share of their team’s total points scored and total salary.  You can find the data used in this write-up here and here.  The source code for the data analysis can be found here.

LeBron’s importance to the Cavs has been widely discussed, particularly in light of injuries that will force three of the Cavs starters to miss the finals.  The 2015 NBA finals are essentially LeBron James versus the Warriors. But just how important is he?  Let’s look at points scored by each player in Figure 1 below. LeBron has scored more than 42 percent of the team’s points during the first three games of the series. The next highest is Timofey Mozgov, who’s scored just over 13 percent of the team’s points.  Mathew Dellavedova, a key player for the Cavs during the series, has scored 10 percent of the team’s total points.

The Warriors points are more evenly distributed with both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson each scoring about a quarter of the team’s points.  Andre Iguodala is in third place with 12.7 percent.

Figure 1.   Points Scored

CavaliersPts% Team TotalWarriorsPts% Team Total
Total Team Points291292
LeBron James12342.3Stephen Curry7224.7
Timofey Mozgov3913.4Klay Thompson6923.6
J.R. Smith3211.0Andre Iguodala3712.7
Matthew Dellavedova2910.0Draymond Green299.9
Kyrie Irving237.9Harrison Barnes227.5
Iman Shumpert165.5Festus Ezeli124.1
James Jones155.2Leandro Barbosa113.8
Tristan Thompson144.8David Lee113.8
Mike Miller00.0Shaun Livingston113.8
Andrew Bogut103.4
Marreese Speights103.4

Points scored understates LeBron’s contribution to team scoring as he’s also leading the Cavs in assists, averaging more than eight per game during the finals.  Looking at points scored directly by LeBron and points scored because of LeBron’s assists, he’s been involved in close to 60 percent of the team’s total points.  Curry is responsible for close to 38 percent of the Warrior’s points.  Klay Thompson, with just four assists all series, has not contributed much by way of assist points.  In general, the Warriors have lagged the Cavs in assists, with the entire team logging about 48 assists compared to the Cavs’ 61.

Figure 2.   Points Scored and Assist Points

CavaliersPts% Team TotalWarriorsPts% Team Total
Total Team Points291292
LeBron James17359.5Stephen Curry11037.7
Timofey Mozgov4515.5Klay Thompson7726.4
J.R. Smith3411.5Andre Iguodala6120.9
Matthew Dellavedova4515.5Draymond Green4515.4
Kyrie Irving3512.0Harrison Barnes248.2
Iman Shumpert186.2Festus Ezeli165.5
James Jones196.5Leandro Barbosa134.5
Tristan Thompson186.2David Lee155.1
Mike Miller00.0Shaun Livingston237.9
Andrew Bogut206.8
Marreese Speights103.4

For fun, we also looked at each player’s share of their respective team’s total salary.  The Cavs are currently fielding players who make up just 62.5 percent of their team’s total salary, which helps put into perspective the magnitude of the team’s injuries.  In fact, the 62.5 percent includes Kyrie Irving, who was injured in Game 1 of the finals.  Without Kyrie, the Cavs players make up about 54 percent of the team’s total salary.  By comparison, the Warriors players comprise 94.4 percent of the team’s salary.

Also interesting is that David Lee (who sat on the bench for most of the season and playoffs) is currently the highest paid player on the Warriors roster, earning 50 percent more than Steph Curry, the league MVP.  In fact, Curry isn’t even the second (Andrew Bogut) or third (Andre Iguodala) highest earner on the team. Curry’s $10.6 million salary, about half of what LeBron earns, ranks him fourth among his teammates.  Curry is clearly underpaid.  But Klay Thompson, who’s scored as many points as Curry during the finals, may be even more underpaid.  His $3.1 million salary puts him near the bottom of the team’s salary ranking.  Don’t feel bad for Klay though.  Under his new contract, he’ll be making upwards of $15 million a year starting next year, making him the team’s highest paid player, at least until 2017, when Curry’s contract expires.  The Warriors salary distribution is relatively even, with four players each accounting for 14-20 percent of the team’s total salary.

The Cavs have a more lopsided salary distribution with LeBron earning 40 percent of the total salary among players fielded by the Cavs in the finals (46 percent excluding Kyrie and 25 percent of the total Cavs salary).  Dellavedova’s salary is just under a million dollars, the lowest salary among all of the players who have played this series.

Figure 3.   Player Salaries **

% Total WarriorsSalary
($ mn)
% Total
Selected Players Total51.60.62569.50.944
LeBron James20.640% / 25%Stephen Curry10.615% / 14%
Timofey Mozgov4.79% / 5%Klay Thompson3.14% / 4%
J.R. Smith6.513% / 8%Andre Iguodala12.318% / 17%
Matthew Dellavedova0.82% / 1%Draymond Green0.91% / 1%
Kyrie Irving7.114% / 9%Harrison Barnes34% / 4%
Iman Shumpert2.65% / 3%Festus Ezeli1.12% / 2%
James Jones1.43% / 2%Leandro Barbosa1.42% / 2%
Tristan Thompson5.110% / 6%David Lee1522% / 20%
Mike Miller2.75% / 3%Shaun Livingston5.38% / 7%
Andrew Bogut1319% / 18%
Marreese Speights3.75% / 5%
Team Total82.6100%73.6100%

**  The left column under “% Total” is the player’s share of the total salary of the selected players (i.e., players who have been active during the finals). The right column is the player’s share of the team’s total salary.

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