Asking if an economist can watch a basketball game seems like the beginning of a bad joke — one that David Berri is well familiar with. Berri, a professor of economics at the University of Southern Utah, runs Wages of Wins, a website devoted to looking beyond conventional wisdom to explain how sports work. Berri and his team routinely use economic methods to crunch and analyze data, which often turn out results different from what’s commonly accepted in sports media.
The collective recently examined which National Basketball Association teams were “buying wins at the cheapest price.” Though this may seem difficult to chart, the data and approach behind the results were actually quite straightforward: Payroll was divided by wins over 82 games and by projected wins — wins expected in 82 games given the team’s offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency. Both wins and projected wins were based on the teams’ most recent standings at the time. Per those parameters, here are the eight NBA teams that spend the least cash on winning games.
1. Portland Trail Blazers
With $63.2 million for their 2013-2014 payroll, the most efficient team at the moment is the Portland Trail Blazers. Economically, they spend $1.07 million per win, much, much less than the average of $1.65 million per win.
2. San Antonio Spurs
With a $64.4 million payroll, the Spurs spend both slightly more financing their players and slightly more per win — currently, at least. For every win, the Spurs are spending approximately $1.09 million. Still, they’re projected to be the most efficient team by the end of the season, with the lowest rate of money spent per wins projected.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers spend $1.1 million per win, only slightly more than the Trail Blazers and Spurs. They currently lead the Eastern Conference with 46 wins and 13 losses (at the time of writing). I guess money can buy happiness.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
With a $71.8 million payroll, the Thunder have to finance stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Still, the paydays seem to be paying off: OKC spends $1.13 million per win, but that number is expected to increase to $1.18 million per win as the season continues.
5. Phoenix Suns
Though the Suns have a smaller payroll than some of the other teams on this list — $58.5 million — their win record isn’t nearly as successful, thus decreasing their efficiency to $1.16 million per win. Their dollars-per-wins projected is expected to go up slightly, too, meaning that there’s not much confidence in the Suns’ ability to pick up consistent wins.
6. Houston Rockets
The Rockets spend $1.23 million per win, much lower than the average cost per win of many NBA teams. They’re second in the Southwest Division, behind — guess who — the Spurs.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Though they have one of the lowest payrolls in the league at $57.4 million, the Hawks are currently lagging in the Eastern Conference in eighth place. With 32 losses to 26 wins (at the time of writing), they’re getting less value for their money; they spend $1.29 million per win.
8. Los Angeles Clippers
With a $74.5 million payroll and a 41-20 record (at the time of writing), the Clippers lead the Pacific Division (good for fourth in the Western Conference) and are getting their money’s worth. On average, they spend $1.34 million per win, a number that is expected to decrease as the Clippers continue to win.
Not on the list, or even close to being efficient? The Milwaukee Bucks, who spend $3.67 million per win on a $51.2 million payroll.