Ranking Curry, LeBron, Harden and top 50 NBA players by trade value

Stephen Curry, LeBron JamesGetty Images, NBAE via Getty Images

How do we determine a player's actual trade value? More to the point, how do we figure out which NBA stars have the most?

Who has more: Kevin Love or Blake Griffin? James Harden or DeMarcus Cousins? Steph Curry, Anthony Davis or LeBron James?

There are at least two ways to solve this: an objective statistical approach, and a more subjective approach. Several years ago I began working on the more objective approach, inspired by the subjective approach that was a popular ESPN staple. 

A player's projected net value, in my statistical model, is the difference between the dollar value of his production and salary. In the past, I've used a similar measure to rank the league's best contracts over the next three years (the period covered by my SCHOENE projection system).

For example, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry has been the most valuable player in the league by any measure. I estimate his production this year as worth about $36 million -- far more than the maximum salary. But Curry isn't making the max; he's actually paid $11.4 million. The $25 million in net value he's created makes him easily the NBA's best value this season. Nobody else has provided even $20 million in net value.

I also factored in the opportunity to underpay players on future contracts, assuming they would sign for their value or the maximum contract.

However, statistical projections can't capture factors like the off-court financial benefits of stars and players who are more valuable to their current team. And, of course, teams don't all evaluate players the same way. To account for these other factors, we asked the #NBArank panel, using the wisdom of the crowd, to rank players by their trade value.

The final rankings combine one part statistical projection and two parts #NBArank panel voting, and I've listed both factors for the top 50 players in the league.

1. Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors
Experience: 6 years
Net value: $107 million (No. 3)
#NBArank panel: No. 1

The reigning MVP and consensus best player in the league also has one of the best contracts. Curry signed an extension before he went from an injury question mark to the best shooter in NBA history, and he has still got one more season left at $12.1 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The only reason he doesn't rank first by the statistical method is that Curry's salary could subsequently skyrocket to nearly $30 million.

2.  Anthony Davis

New Orleans Pelicans
Experience: 3 years
Net value: $125 million (No. 1)
#NBArank panel: No. 5

Despite taking a step backwards in his development this season -- in part because of the injuries that have riddled the New Orleans backcourt -- Davis is still poised to become perhaps the league's best player over the next three years (he's projected as such). Remember, he won't turn 23 until next month and was getting MVP buzz before the season.

However, his top spot in the statistical projections does come with an asterisk -- I'm projecting here that Davis won't make one of this season's All-NBA teams, pegging the contract extension he signed last summer at an estimated $120 million over five years. If Davis makes All-NBA, his contract jumps to an estimated $144 million thanks to the so-called "Derrick Rose rule". In that case, Davis would drop to second.

3. Kawhi Leonard

San Antonio Spurs
Experience: 4 years
Net value: $115 million (No. 2)
#NBArank panel: No. 2

The numbers and voters agreed that Leonard was the second-best value, but because Curry had a wide edge in the voting and Davis a wide edge in the statistical projections, Leonard slips to third when they're combined. His production is projected fifth in the league over the next three-plus seasons, and Leonard is locked in at what will be bargain rates through at least 2019.

4. Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder
Experience: 8 years
Net value: $102 million (No. 4)
#NBArank panel: No. 4

The league's second-best player this season after Curry by ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) and my wins above replacement player (WARP) statistic, Westbrook has surpassed 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant as the brightest star in Oklahoma City. Westbrook also has a more favorable contract than Durant and LeBron James, who can both become free agents this summer and cash in on the rising cap.

Westbrook has one more year left at $17.8 million -- less than a million more than teammate Enes Kanter.

5. Draymond Green

Golden State Warriors
Experience: 3 years
Net value: $97 million (No. 6)
#NBArank panel: No. 8

Remember those debates last season about whether Green was a max player? He has put those to rest by emerging as a triple-double machine and one of the league's 10 best players. And remarkably, Green isn't making the maximum salary, having accepted about $10 million less over the life of his five-year contract than he could have made. Green's deal tops out at $18.5 million in 2019-20.

6. Karl-Anthony Towns

Minnesota Timberwolves
Experience: Rookie
Net value: $90 million (No. 7)
#NBArank panel: No. 7

Less than four months into his NBA career, Towns is already a top-10 value. He has put together one of the best seasons ever by a 20-year-old player in terms of box-score stats, surpassing what Davis did as a rookie. And Towns has three full years left on his rookie contract, which will pay him less total over that span ($20 million) than Joe Johnson is making this season ($24.9 million).

7. LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers
Experience: 13 years
Net value: $69 million (No. 12)
#NBArank panel: No. 3

James' production is projected fourth over the next three-plus seasons, behind Davis, Curry and Westbrook. The King drops this far because he stands to make the most money of anyone in the NBA over that span. That does reveal a limitation of the statistical method, which assumes teams can spend the extra money elsewhere.

Since Cleveland will be over the salary cap for the foreseeable future, James' salary matters primarily to Dan Gilbert's pocketbook. So voters put James in a three-way tie for third with the Thunder's stars.

8. Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder
Experience: 9 years
Net value: $61 million (No. 17)
#NBArank panel: No. 6

Durant has a chance to make more than anyone besides James over the next three years if he chooses to sign a one-year contract this summer and re-enter free agency in the summer of 2017, when he'd be eligible for the higher 10-year maximum salary pending a renegotiation of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.

Since SCHOENE also sees Durant as being at the high point of his production, his statistical projection is relatively low. Our #NBArank panel resoundingly disagrees.

9. Kristaps Porzingis

New York Knicks
Experience: Rookie
Net value: $73 million (No. 8)
#NBArank panel: No. 9

By RPM, it's Porzingis and not Towns who has been the league's best rookie. Only 20 and still adjusting to the NBA, Porzingis has plenty of room for growth. If he adds strength and moves to center on a full-time basis, Porzingis could be a matchup nightmare sooner rather than later.

10. James Harden

Houston Rockets
Experience: 6 years
Net value: $98 million (No. 5)
#NBArank panel: No. 17

Harden was the runner-up for MVP last season and has two years left on his contract at a combined $34.6 million, making him a terrific bargain. Yet our voters aren't feeling as positive about Harden, surely because of the defensive deficiencies I highlighted in arguing last week that the Rockets should consider trading their best player.

11. John Wall

Washington Wizards
Experience: 5 years
Net value: $71 million (No. 9)
#NBArank panel: No. 10

Over the summer, Wall famously noted that Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson got nearly the same contract as Wall's five-year, $85 million extension that kicked in last season. Wall was a victim of bad timing, and the Wizards will benefit with a below-market deal.

12. DeMarcus Cousins

Sacramento Kings
Experience: 5 years
Net value: $69 million (No. 10)
#NBArank panel: No. 14

Because of his temper and inconsistent effort on the court and his rocky relationships in the locker room, Cousins is the best player who might realistically hit the trade block any time soon. The Kings have resisted such a move because Cousins can be a one-man wrecking crew when he's fully engaged.

His contract, which pays $35 million over the next two seasons, is also one of the league's best.

13. Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls
Experience: 4 years
Net value: $63 million (No. 14)
#NBArank panel: No. 12

Like Leonard, Butler locked into a max contract last summer that won't allow him back on the market until the summer of 2019 at the earliest. Butler won't make more than $20 million per season over the life of the contract, making his deal an excellent one as the cap rises.

14. Paul George

Indiana Pacers
Experience: 5 years
Net value: $64 million (No. 13)
#NBArank panel: No. 13

George and Butler, both two-way wings who are 25 and 26, respectively, have virtually identical statistical profiles. While the projections give a slight edge to George, voters leaned in Butler's direction.

15. Kyrie Irving

Cleveland Cavaliers
Experience: 4 years
Net value: $28 million (No. 36)
#NBArank panel: No. 11

The injuries Irving has suffered -- most notably the fractured patella that forced him to miss the start of the 2015-16 season -- limit his statistical projections. Our #NBArank panel wasn't deterred, ranking Irving 11th in trade value on the strength of his ability to develop at age 23 and a max extension that locked him in through 2019.

16. Chris Paul

Los Angeles Clippers
Experience: 10 years
Net value: $49 million (No. 24)
#NBArank panel: No. 18

Along with James, Paul is the other player in the top 20 in his 30s (he'll turn 31 in May). He has demonstrated during Blake Griffin's absence that he can still carry a team as well as ever, though the time is coming when Paul's game will start to gradually erode.

17. Rudy Gobert

Utah Jazz
Experience: 2 years
Net value: $69 million (No. 10)
#NBArank panel: No. 22

The lowest-paid elite player in the league because he was drafted 27th overall and is still on his rookie contract, Gobert is making less money this season than 14 players who are getting paid by teams that waived them, including four Philadelphia 76ers (Furkan Aldemir, JaVale McGee, Gerald Wallace and Tony Wroten).

18. Klay Thompson

Golden State Warriors
Experience: 4 years
Net value: $17 million (No. 47)
#NBArank panel: No. 16

To some extent, Thompson's production is the result of playing next to Curry, which would make him less valuable to another team. But Thompson's shooting and ability to defend point guards is also the perfect complement to Curry's skills. From the Warriors' perspective, the panel placing Thompson 13th makes sense.

19. Damian Lillard

Portland Trail Blazers
Experience: 3 years
Net value: $56 million (No. 20)
#NBArank panel: No. 23

While Lillard came into the league a four-year college player, he has continued to develop his game in the NBA and has room for further growth at age 25. He'll begin a five-year maximum extension next season.

20. Andre Drummond

Detroit Pistons
Experience: 3 years
Net value: $51 million (No. 22)
#NBArank panel: No. 24

Drummond doesn't quite rank in the top 20 by either method alone, but he's a solid compromise candidate because he's just outside both top 20s.

Drummond is making $3.2 million in the last year of his rookie contract. He's a certainty to sign a max deal next summer as a restricted free agent after making his All-Star debut on Sunday.

Nos. 21-25

21. Kyle Lowry ( Projected surplus v alue: $48 million, Panel: No. 25)
22. Andrew Wiggins ($1 million, No. 15)
23. C.J. McCollum ($23 million, No. 19)
24. Isaiah Thomas ($50 million, No. 28)
25. Blake Griffin ($26 million, No. 21)

Wiggins might represent the biggest discrepancy between the two methods. Because of his poor RPM performance during his first two seasons, Wiggins' statistical projections are incredibly modest. But voters still see him as a future star based on his incredible scoring ability.

Nos. 26-30

26. DeAndre Jordan ($61 million, No. 32)
27. Myles Turner ($40 million, No. 29)
28. Nikola Jokic ($57 million, No. 36)
29. Giannis Antetokounmpo ($19 million, No. 26)
30. Derrick Favors ($42 million, No. 31)

Surely the most anonymous player on this list, Jokic was only the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. However, he has been one of the league's most productive rookies (he tops all first-year players in RPM) at age 20. Plus, Jokic will make less than the mid-level exception ($4.3 million total) over the next three years.

Nos. 31-35

31. LaMarcus Aldridge (minus-$1 million, No. 20)
32. Jae Crowder ($63 million, No. 47)
33. Devin Booker ($17 million, No. 27)
34. Kevin Love ($51 million, No. 41)
35. Eric Bledsoe ($59 million, No. 48)

Aldridge is another major point of disagreement. Though he was the prize of last summer's free agency and has helped the Spurs to the best start in franchise history, Aldridge's modest efficiency and poor RPM in 2015-16 suggest he won't live up to his contract over the next three years.

Voters still placed him 20th in their rankings, far ahead of cheaper, younger players such as Bledsoe and Crowder.

Nos. 36-40

36. Khris Middleton ($41 million, No. 39)
37. Marcus Smart ($33 million, No. 37)
38. Rodney Hood ($33 million, No. 38)
39. Serge Ibaka ($7 million, No. 30)
40. D'Angelo Russell ($24 million, No. 33)

A relatively slow start for Russell hasn't scared off the #NBArank panel, which voted him 33rd in trade value -- ahead of No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor. The statistical projections generally concur with that assessment.

Nos. 41-45

41. Paul Millsap ($29 million, No. 46)
42. Clint Capela ($34 million, No. 49)
43. Al Horford ($13 million, No. 35)
44. Gordon Hayward ($18 million, No. 40)
45. Danilo Gallinari ($15 million, No. 42)

Given the recent report by ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst that the Hawks are considering trading Horford before the deadline, the center is an interesting case. The impending free agent is likely to be fairly paid on the max contract he's sure to get next summer.

Nos. 46-50

46. Kemba Walker ($48 million, No. 62)
47. Robert Covington ($40 million, No. 59)
48. Jahlil Okafor ($minus-2 million, No. 34)
49. Aaron Gordon ($18 million, No. 50)
50. Marc Gasol ($7 million, No. 43)

A couple of Sixers present interesting cases here. Covington is the ultimate Sam Hinkie signing. A solid 3-and-D role player who can defend both forward spots, Covington will make the league minimum the next two seasons. Voters weren't as high on the merits of his cheap contract. Instead, they favored Okafor, whose horrendous RPM rating improbably leaves him with projected negative net value over his rookie contract.