Yesterday, we brought you our list of the top 25 most overpaid players in the League. Today, we’re taking a break from condemnation and doling out some praise. Although the number is smaller, plenty of NBAers deserve a little more cash. Whether it’s because they’re on their rookie contracts or they exploded after signing a long-term deal, some guys could have some serious contract gripes. Here are, in our estimation, 25 of those underpaid players, beginning with No. 25.
*All players with an “(R)” next to their name are on their rookie contracts, which are controlled by the league-wide rookie salary scale.
*** *** ***
25. Mario Chalmers – Miami Heat
2013-2014: $4,000,000 (Team Option)
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh may grab all the headlines, but Mario Chalmers is Miami’s undisputed fourth best player. And even though the big guns rag on him all the time, he produces with solid defense, outside shooting and, more importantly, keeps defenses off balance by taking it to the cup every once in a while. No one thought Chalmers would develop into Miami’s x-factor, but over the past two seasons his value has been undeniable. And, for $8 million over the next two seasons, he’s a bargain.
24. Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics (R)
2013-2014: $2,511,432 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $3,581,302 (Qualifying Offer)
Bradley’s a tough one to rank, just because we only caught a brief glimpse of his talents – corner threes, running the floor with Rajon Rondo and hounding perimeter defense. And now that he’s coming off of a serious injury, no one’s sure how he’ll respond. Still, for the price Boston is paying, any type of production will make his contract seem minuscule in comparison. But if he does fulfill the potential of his brief flashes of brilliance, he’ll be worth far more than a couple million per year.
23. Jeff Teague – Atlanta Hawks (R)
2013-2014: $3,469,568 (Qualifying Offer)
Jeff Teague is quietly becoming one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Although he probably could have used a few more years refining his game at Wake Forest, Teague is rounding into the point guard many thought he would become. Hawks GM Danny Ferry has been shedding salary this offseason, so don’t expect him to shell out for Teague when he becomes a restricted free agent next year and is looking at a significant pay day – one well above the almost $2.5 million he’ll make in 2012-2013.
22. MarShon Brooks – Brooklyn Nets (R)
2013-2014: $1,210,080 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $2,179,354 (Team Option)
2015-2016: $3,201,471 (Qualifying Offer)
Even though the Nets were particularly terrible last season, first round draft pick MarShon Brooks showed he could put the ball in the bucket. Now that Joe Johnson has come on board, Brooks won’t have to shoulder a large part of the scoring load and can play within himself. So expect his 42.8 FG% to rise, and that $2.1 million salary to look exceedingly paltry by 2014-2015.
21. Wilson Chandler – Denver Nuggets
2015-2016: $7,171,662 (Not Guaranteed)
Wilson Chandler isn’t an all star by any metric, but he’s one of the most underrated scorers in the game today. Especially on a team like Denver, which likes to play at a fast pace, Chandler’s talents can especially shine. His NBA hiatus, thanks to a brief trip to China, took him out of the conversation for a while, and when he came back to the League his production took a nose dive. But once he’s back in the NBA flow next season, Chandler will outproduce his cap number and remind the Nuggets why they got a steal.
20. Isaiah Thomas – Sacramento Kings (R)
2013-2014: $884,293 (Not Guaranteed)
2014-2015: $1,148,163 (Qualifying Offer)
Jimmer Fredette had to step aside once Isaiah Thomas blew him out of the water and took the starting PG role in Sacramento. As the last pick in the 2nd round, Thomas made the least amount of money of any NBA rookie last season. So to get him for one more year at under $1 million is a fraction of what he’ll earn on the market next year.
19. Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks (R)
2014-2015: $4,330,469 (Qualifying Offer)
I’m particularly wary of Brandon Jennings and his type of player – a ball dominating point guard who doesn’t pass the rock well. Sure, he can put it in the bucket, but Jennings’ style of play demands that he’s the star player – except no team is winning anything with him at the helm. Still, he’s worth much more than a few million dollars.
18. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors (R)
2013-2014: $5,308,674 (Qualifying Offer)
If Curry comes back completely healthy and returns to his rookie season form, the potential is limitless. While Curry doesn’t possess ideal size or quickness, his lights out shooting and basketball IQ outstrips the competition by a long shot. The only reason why Curry isn’t higher on this list is because of that ankle – injury concerns should and do factor into contracts, so we can’t say that his inability to stay healthy hurts his value.
17. Paul George – Indiana Pacers (R)
2013-2014: $3,282,003 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $4,470,088 (Qualifying Offer)
Paul George seems like a bubble waiting to burst. Until Danny Granger finds a new home, it’s hard to see George exploding into the type of player his skill set could allow him to be. His 12 points and five rebounds per game don’t feel that impressive, so the money doesn’t seem all that out of whack. But George is 22 and locked in for at least two more years. And, since contracts should reflect expected return (although this is his rookie deal, so the terms were more or less decided by the rookie salary scale), do you not expect him to outperform his deal? Absolutely.
16. Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets (R)
Maybe we’re jumping the gun, since he’s never played in the NBA. But based on his college dominance and Olympic performance, I don’t feel like I’m going out on too much of a limb putting Davis on this list. At worst, he’s an elite shot-blocker and rebounder – which, in my estimation, is worth far more than $5 million a year.
15. Kenneth Faried – Denver Nuggets (R)
2013-2014: $1,367,640 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $2,249,768 (Team Option)
2015-2016: $3,257,664 (Qualifying Offer)
Rebounding always translates from college to the NBA. During the regular season, the Manimal grabbed 7.7 boards a game in only 22 minutes. In the playoffs, that number jumped to 10.0 rebounds in 27.4 minutes per game. Extrapolate that to starters minutes – somewhere in the 30-35 range – and we’re looking at one of the best rebounders in the league. Except he’ll only cost $3.5 million over the next two years.
14. Greg Monroe – Detroit Pistons (R)
Greg Monroe has toiled in relatively anonymity on an awful Pistons squad, his production and development going largely unnoticed. Last season he posted 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, as well as a PER of 22.09, 15th best in the NBA. On average, he’ll be making the same amount of money as Mario Chalmers, who, in our estimation, is underpaid. Something seem out of whack to you?
13. John Wall – Washington Wizards (R)
We’re all in on John Wall. Even though he hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far, he has the skills to become one of the NBA’s best. And now that Washington has cleaned house and rebuilt the roster around Wall, we’re confident that just under $6 million is a joke for this soon-to-be star.
12. Jrue Holiday – Philadelphia 76ers (R)
2013-2014: $3,776,891 (Qualifying Offer)
Holiday came into his own this past season, averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists on a team loaded with perimeter scoring options. While he may be overestimating his own value by seeking a max contract extension from the 76ers, he deserves to get paid more than a few million per year. He’s only 22 years old, so expect him to progress even further next season and earn good money on the restricted free agent market.
11. Tyreke Evans – Sacramento Kings (R)
2013-2014: $6,927,157 (Qualifying Offer)
What position does Tyreke Evans play? We’re not exactly sure, but his 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game, he’s an all-around player that be the number two player on a championship contender. If he were a restricted free agent this offseason, he would have earned max money, especially if Eric Gordon could. So really, what we have here is a max player playing earning $5 million instead. Quite a big discrepancy in money deserved vs. money made, if you ask us.
10. Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves (R)
2013-2014: $4,002,120 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $5,070,686 (Team Option)
2015-2016: $6,723,730 (Qualifying Offer)
Although his torn ACL clearly lowers his value, Rubio’s brief stint in the NBA proved he can be one of the elite point guards in the NBA right now. But because he stayed in Spain for two seasons after Minnesota drafted him, he’s still got three more seasons on his rookie deal – which means, for the time being, Rubio could be really underpaid. Then again, if his ACL just doesn’t hold up and he loses that signature quickness, we might have to swallow our words. But we’ll put our money on the former.
9. Serge Ibaka – Serge Ibaka (R)
2013-2014: $3,293,976 (Qualifying Offer)
The 2012 postseason was Serge Ibaka’s coming out party – even though he had an excellent regular season, it was in the playoffs when his rim-patroling proved its most effective. Once he develops a consistent jump shot, Ibaka will be one of the most value big men in the NBA. Both he and James Harden will be restricted free agents next summer, and both of them will get paid. OKC, however, will most likely not be able to afford both, so the question now becomes whom they value more. Either way, Ibaka’s looking a huge payday in the near future. But for now, he’s stuck at $2.2 million as Sam Presti smiles somewhere.
8. Ty Lawson – Denver Nuggets (R)
2013-2014: $3,610,686 (Qualifying Offer)
Lawson outmuscled fellow UNC alum Ray Felton for the starting point guard job in Denver and sent his career into a tailspin. Meanwhile, the Nuggets excelled in the post-Melo reign, with Lawson leading the run ‘n gun offense. Against the Lakers in this past year’s playoffs, Lawson dropped 32 points, handed out six assists and grabbed five boards in a must-win Game 5. He may not be an elite NBA point guard, but he’s easily in that second tier and looking at a number of suitors offering serious cash come restricted free agency next year.
7. DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings (R)
He’s a hot-head, he doesn’t always give 100% and he disrupts team chemistry. Say what you will, but no one has ever questioned DMC’s talent. He’s one of the best big men in the League when he wants to be, and if Sacramento can get its act together, a core of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins will allow the Kings to enter the Western Conference playoff conversation for many years. But even now, take a look at the numbers: 18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Those were Cousins’ averages last season, and Sacramento got way more than they paid, or will continue to pay, for.
6. Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves
2015-2016: $15,829,688 (Player Option)
Love was sixth in MVP voting last season and is one of a few true franchise players that exists in the NBA. Although he’s already making solid money, other franchise players are making upwards of $20 million per season. Love’s contract pales in comparison to that figure, even if he’s the only reason why Minnesota doesn’t lose 60 games every season.
5. Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors
2013-2014: $6,210,000 (Not Guaranteed)
Kyle Lowry exploded onto the scene as an elite passing point guard last season, throwing dimes left and right and, for a brief period, led the league in assists. Although injuries derailed his season, Lowry established himself as a more than viable point guard to lead a team. At only $6 million, Lowry deserves to get paid. Although with Jose Calderon still on the roster, his plans for a huge pay day might get derailed
4. Kyrie Irving
2013-2014: $5,607,240 (Team Option)
2014-2015: $7,070,730 (Team Option)
2015-2016: $9,191,949 (Qualifying Offer)
The NBA rookie of the year is already a top 10 PG and will more than likely find himself among the top five in no time. Even though he has three more years left on his rookie deal, Irving would already be a max player on the open market.
3. James Harden
2013-2014: $7,636,387 (Qualifying Offer)
He made Team USA, he’s the NBA’s sixth man of the year, and he’s arguably the third best shooting guard in the league behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. This is what OKC is getting for $5.8 million, and will definitely get max money when he’s a restricted free agent next season. Once again, Sam Presti’s drafting genius is on display.
2. LeBron James
2014-2015: $20,590,000 (Early Termination Option)
2015-2016: $22,112,500 (Player Option)
He’s the best player in the league, and he’s hardly making the most money. Until he’s raking in $30 million dollars, he’s underpaid.
1. Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is really unlucky. When cashed in with a five year deal from Boston, no one batted an eye. He was a very good NBA point guard that wasn’t quite elite. Over the last year, Rondo has put himself in the NBA’s best point guard conversation, except he’s stuck in that five year deal. While it’s not too terrible making $11 million a year, it hardly matches his on-the-court value. Without Rondo, it’s hard to say whether the Celtics are even a playoff team, let alone a championship contender.
The biggest of hat tips to Sham Sports for the contract info