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Deandre Ayton still a top-35 value contract in the NBA?

Ayton got paid big time this summer, but did he get overpaid or not?

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, Deandre Ayton got the bag. After he entered restricted free agency, the Phoenix Suns center got an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers at the full maximum salary a 4th-year player can be offered, and the Suns exercised their right to match that offer and keep Ayton in purple and orange for the foreseeable future.

Now, your favorite ‘why won’t he dunk harder?!’ center will be paid over $30.9 million in the upcoming 2022-23 season and $133 million over the next four years. That salary places him as the second-highest paid player on the championship-contending Suns, right behind first-team All-NBA guard Devin Booker, ahead of third-team All-NBA guard Chris Paul, and miles ahead of first-team All-Defense forward Mikal Bridges.

Ayton, who has never made an All-Star game, is now being paid like a young All-Star. Of the 23 players who have received this same ‘post-rookie max’ contract since the 2014 Draft, only seven have not made an All-Star game before receiving said extension. The other players like Ayton who hadn’t made an All-Star game before getting this bag? Andrew Wiggins (1x since), Devin Booker (3x since), Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. Another three (D’Angelo Russell, Kristaps Porzingis and Brandon Ingram) of the 23 got their only All-Star appearance in their contract year but have not reached that status again.

Ayton is now being paid like a star. Does that mean he is overpaid?

Let’s look into it.


Ayton’s rank among salaries

First, where does Ayton rank among the highest-paid NBA players this coming year? He will be the 34th highest paid player in 2022-23, right around his contemporaries from recent drafts.

Salaries courtesy of Spotrac.com

That’s fine if he’s the 34th best player in the NBA, right? Or at least top-40?


Ayton’s rank among other NBA players

Last year, Ayton ranked 37th on the SI.com Top 100 list (up from 74th the year before).

37. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

(Previous rank: 74)

Ayton’s all-around evolution, particularly on the defensive side, earned him appropriate acclaim during the Suns’ Finals run. By sacrificing post touches and using his sheer size to influence the run of play, Ayton became more than simply the most physically gifted 7-footer in the sport. He’s one of the game’s best rebounders, a much-improved screener, and too mobile to scheme off the floor in the playoffs: in essence, why he was the No. 1 pick. — JW

ESPN had him at 35th overall.

No. 35: Deandre Ayton

Swing skill: With Chris Paul assisting, Ayton established himself as one of the best centers in the game while helping the Suns reach the Finals last season — with both players proving potent in the pick-and-roll. At just 23, Ayton is ultra-efficient (shooting a career-best 62.6% from the field last season) and a force on both ends (with a career-high 39 double-doubles last season). Ayton could land a max rookie extension, but he may need to shoulder a higher load and establish himself more if the 36-year-old Paul starts to play fewer minutes. — Holmes

Why he rose 17 spots: Ayton has been an almost nightly double-double for his whole career, but he made major strides as a defender in his third season. Ayton finished 11th in the NBA in DRPM as one of the highest impact defenders and anchor for the Suns’ top-10 defense. — Snellings

The rankings for the upcoming season are not out quite yet, but we can assume that Ayton will generally rank in the same area because he improved year over year during the regular season and through the first round of the playoffs (20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists/gm on 70% shooting against the Pelicans) before flaming out like the rest of his teammates in the second round. I’d expect he stays in the Top 40.

So, he’s the 34th highest paid player in 2022-23 and, at worst, the 40th best player.


Ayton’s ‘Real Value’

Hoopshype.com has put together a new ranking of NBA players based on ‘Real Value’ using a proprietary rating system called ‘Global Rating’ to determine a player’s true salary compared to their peers.

This rating system can generate a salary that’s pretty high (eg. Giannis Antetokounmpo coming in at over $74 million in real value) and pretty low (they stop at league minimum but the system can actually calculate negative salary values).

Here’s more on Hoopshype.com’s new ‘Real Value’ metric.

Using Global Rating as the main performance metric, Real Value takes into account the productivity of each player from the last three seasons, giving extra value to the official NBA games played in the last 365 days. That includes regular season, play-in and playoffs. With that base, we calculate how that would translate to the “deserved” average salary per year.

Also factoring into Real Value: A player’s age, availability, defensive performance and off-court issues. For example, if a player gets admonished by his team due to detrimental conduct, it will be directly reflected in his value. Our NBA insider Michael Scotto will help us with direct insight from executives, coaches and scouts around the league to make Real Value as accurate as possible.

The final number of every player will change almost every day for several reasons. On one hand, the algorithm takes into account games played in the last 365 days, so a new good game or a bad game from a year ago removed from the calculation will improve their Real Value, and the opposite. On the other, the money around the league is not infinite. The numbers will adjust considering the total money spent on salaries in the NBA. So if a franchise signs a player to a maximum contract adding $45 million to the 2022-23 pool, Real Values around the league will adapt accordingly.

Where does that leave the Suns?

How about four Suns players ranking among the top 41 in Real Value — meaning, that four Suns players should be making among the top 10% of salaries in the whole league (because the league has 450 roster spots every season).

Deandre Ayton comes in 34th by this metric. Sure, his ‘Real Value’ is lower than his salary, but you can see this rating system depresses salaries compared to real life. In real life, 41 players will actually make $30 million or more this season in the NBA, while this Real Value metric only gives $30+ million to 27 players.

If the graphic is too small to read, I’ll help you:

  • Devin Booker is worth more than $48.5 million in Real Value, 8th highest in the league
  • Chris Paul is worth almost $32 million, 24th highest
  • Deandre Ayton is worth almost $28 million, 34th highest
  • Mikal Bridges is worth over $24 million, 41st highest

Of those four, Ayton is the one negative — meaning his Real Value is lower than his contract value. On the list, DA is one of 12 players in the top-34 who are being paid more than their calculated ‘Real Value’ according to hoopshype.com


Bottom line: Ayton is not necessarily being overpaid, no matter how you look at it.

He’s not the best ‘value’ contract on the team, but in the immediate aftermath of signing his huge new contract it’s good to know he’s not being shoveled money he doesn’t deserve.