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Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and the NBA Superstars: Who is Most Valuable?

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Shaun Powell at offers up another way of looking at the value of players in the NBA.

Most Valuable? Here's a Whole Different Way to Look At It |

In light of Forbes' recent publication of the most valuable franchises, Powell suggests that while the value of a franchise is determinable, the value of players is not as easy, and more prone to subjectivity. The best players aren't always (in fact usually are not) the most highly paid. Rather, the monster contracts are more a function of a GM falling in love with a player that fills a team's specific need to such a degree that the GM overvalues the player's market worth (for example, in comparison to what that player could have negotiated elsewhere). Says Powell:

Here's how we'll define value: box office and national TV appeal, ability to entertain, and degree of global name recognition ... in addition to talent, accomplishments and franchise clout. Does the player sell tickets and move merchandise? Or is he just a very good player who doesn't resonate beyond his home base? Basically, there's no complicated formula here; you know value when you see it.

I think what Powell is trying to do is stretch the player's value above and beyond his value solely to his own team. We already have some sense of what a player is worth to his own team, as I've written about Forbes' attempt to measure systematically the value of players who are the best bargains and worst deals.

Here are Powell's top 10:

Player/Team Player's League Value
Kobe Bryant/Lakers The Pied Piper of the NBA. Where he goes, money follows.
LeBron James/Heat One of maybe three players who can change a franchise's fortunes.
Dwight Howard/Magic Second only to Shaq with regards to commercial-friendly big men.
Dwyane Wade/Heat Persona and style seem taylor-made for Miami.
Blake Griffin/Clippers Has made the Clippers not just relevant, but interesting.
Kevin Durant/Thunder Resuscitated basketball in college football country.
Derrick Rose/Bulls An MVP candidate despite not having an outgoing persona.
Chris Paul/Hornets Hornets without Paul is a thought not long pondered by the local faithful.
Kevin Garnett/Celtics Moving him from a perennial loser to a perennial winner seems to have made him even more intense, if that were possible.
Tim Duncan/Spurs Kiss the ring(s).

After examining his list and not seeing anything I'd materially disagree with, I pondered whether there were some sort of measure as to a player's worth to the overall league. Lo and behold, there is, and we just got the final numbers in:

Player/Team All-Star Votes Salary ($M)
Kobe Bryant/Lakers 2,380,016 $24.8
Dwight Howard/Magic 2,099,204 $16.5
LeBron James/Heat 2,053,011 $14.5
Dwyane Wade/Heat 2,048,175 $14.0
Derrick Rose/Bulls 1,914,996 $5.5
Kevin Durant/Thunder 1,736,728 $6.0
Amare Stoudemire/Knicks 1,674,995 $16.5
Carmelo Anthony/Nuggets 1,299,849 $17.1
Chris Paul/Hornets 1,281,591 $14.9
Yao Ming/Rockets 1,146,426 $17.6

A few notes:

  • Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are the cheapest All-Stars to be voted in. Granted, they are both still on their rookie contracts, but this makes their presence this year all the more impressive.
  • Yao Ming is of course injured so will not be participating, and so it might be questionable as to whether his getting votes is a reasonable proxy for his value to the league. I would counter with, if over a million people took the time to vote for a guy they knew would not be playing merely out of principle, then those fans are likely still contributing to the league's popularity and earnings.
  • LeBron James seems to have weathered the "Decision" storm quite nicely.
  • The Lakers are getting good return on their Kobe investment. What will it take for him to lose his perch as the top dog in both votes and money earned?