Who's the NBA's MVP? If you consider salary, the answer will surprise you

Steph Curry, LeBron and Dwayne Wade are his friends
Steph Curry, LeBron and Dwayne Wade are his friends

Golden State Warriors' superman Stephen Curry will probably be crowned the most valuable player in the NBA this year. But it was Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside who had the most valuable contract for his team.

Whiteside had the best Player ROI, a new tool developed exclusively by CNNMoney to evaluate the big salaries paid to professional athletes -- from Best Bang for the Buck down to Really Overpaid.

Of course, Curry had an amazing season on the court -- one of the best ever. But his four-year contract pays him an average of $11 million a year.

Whiteside didn't make nearly Curry's impact. But he was paid a mere $1.8 million over the last two seasons, an average of $875,615 a year, according to salary tracker Spotrac.

CNNMoney's Player ROI analyzes a player's salary against the "game score," a weighted average of 14 common basketball statistics tracked by Basketball-Reference.com and compiled by STATS LLC. That means things like points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, as well as negative stats such as turnovers, fouls, turnovers and missed shots.

player roi regular season

Curry's total game scores for the season came to 1,942, as he led the Warriors to a record 73 wins. He easily outdistanced the second most productive player in the league, the Houston Rockets' James Harden, who had 1,794 game score points.

Despite his big salary, Curry is paid less than half of what the league's top-paid players bring in. So he qualified as a Good Bargain in our Player ROI.

Whiteside had a far more modest 1,072 game score points, but that total, combined with his modest salary, lifted him to the league's best Player ROI.

Check out Player ROI for the NBA playoffs

CNNMoney will be tracking the Player ROI during the NBA postseason, comparing their regular season salary to their performance each night in the playoffs.

So far Whiteside has been at the top of the heap in the playoffs as well. Meanwhile, an injury has sidelined Curry during the playoffs and likely will knock him into the lower reaches of the rankings for the rest of the postseason.

Top paid players such as LeBron James and Chris Paul, who are among the top five players in terms of game score performance during the season, were ranked as Overpaid in CNNMoney's Player ROI for the regular season.

That obviously doesn't measure the effect big-name players like LeBron have on ticket sales, television ratings and other money-making ventures that make owners happy to sign fat paychecks, no matter the ROI.

Related: NBA to feature ads on jerseys

And a good ROI doesn't always translate into wins for the team. See this year's Philadelphia 76ers.

Philly gave much of its playing time to inexperienced, and cheap, players. Four of them -- Ish Smith, Isaiah Canann, T.J. McConnell and Jerami Grant -- ran up their game scores with shots, assists and rebounds. Combined with their paltry salaries, they had among the best Player ROI rankings in the league. But the 76ers won all of 10 games, having one the worst seasons in league history.

By the way, low pay doesn't necessarily ensure a good Player ROI. The lowest category in our new metric, Really Overpaid, has its share of players who are paid at or near the league minimum, but who produced little on the court.

At the other end of the Really Overpaid spectrum this year was one of the best players of his generation: Kobe Bryant. He was paid $24.3 million and retired at the end of the season.

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