Like all pro leagues, the NBA is a game of dollars. In this career, the tenure is short; many NBA players won’t see 10 years in the industry. Even the league’s top crop may only see 15 to 20 years of service.
So this is where it gets tricky; how do you get an individual who has a limited career window to take less money than he’s worth? If the player is a veteran who has bought into the system and city, maybe he will take less money to help the team. Clearly that’s not Kobe Bryant. Players on rookie deals don’t have any choice in the matter and always provide teams with some flexibility. Maybe the player has an injury history, or off-court disciplinary problem that lowers his market value.
With all these factors in mind, let’s count down the 25 biggest bargains in the league.
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25. DeMarre Carroll
$2,500,000 / 2,500,000
Although a rather unknown name by the public masses, Hawks fans have come to love the play of DeMarre Carroll. The fifth-year wing is averaging career-highs in minutes, points, assists, steals and rebounds. He’s also shooting career-high percentages from the field and three-point line. In the month of February, Carroll averaged 15.3 points and shot 51 percent from the field. The best part of Carroll’s current success is the Hawks have him under contract for the 2014-15 season at the same beautiful rate.
24. Jimmy Butler
$1,174,080 / 2,119,214
The Bulls have continued to compete to the surprise of everyone, including the Bulls front office, who tried to pull the plug earlier this season, sending Luol Deng to Cleveland. Clearly Joakim Noah has been the key cog in Chicago but Jimmy Butler is second on the team in win shares. Despite still being on his rookie deal, Butler has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive wings. If he can continue to develop his offense he may be a star in this league.
23. Kemba Walker
$2,709,720 / 3,452,183
The former UConn star has really come into his own as an NBA player. Although his overall skill was initially questioned, Walker has begun to silence his critics. Walker’s shooting percentages are still far from ideal but his on-court intangibles and leadership continue to be vital to a young and under-gunned Bobcats team. Walker and Al Jefferson have the Bobcats circling .500, sitting in the seventh spot of the Eastern Conference.
22. Jamal Crawford
$5,225,000 / 5,450,000 / 5,675,000
He’s a purely offensive player. He’s a combo guard and he’s a highlight-maker. When Crawford once said he’d never really worked to improve his game over the offseason until now I lost my mind. Imagine if this guy gave basketball his all? The Clippers’ sixth man can put points up in a hurry. He’s incredibly quick off the dribble, even at the age of 33. He’s also a solid playmaker and deadly shooter from deep. The Clippers look to him to jump start the offense on the rare off nights for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
21. Monta Ellis
$8,360,000 / 8,720,000 / 9,080,000
Previously Monta Ellis and former teammate Brandon Jennings were unfortunately nicknamed the “chuck brothers”. This year a fresh start in Dallas has changed a lot. Ellis has added a more conservative style to his game playing along Dirk Nowitzki and company. While he is still a streaky scorer, he has been a definite positive for a Mavericks squad that truly needed a second option to play alongside Nowtizki. Ellis is on a very reasonable three-year deal and will allow the Mavericks to play around in the offseason.
20. Paul Millsap
$9,500,000 / 9,500,000
When the Jazz decided to move on from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, many speculated Millsap would cash in on a large long-term deal. Instead he teamed up with fellow All-Star big man Al Horford for a generous $19,000,000 over two years. Millsap has meshed well in Atlanta; he’s kept the Hawks afloat after the unfortunate injury to Horford. Millsap also earned his first All-Star bid in a Hawks jersey this season.
19. Klay Thompson
$3,245,151 / 4,469,547
Surprise! The second Splash Brother is also on the list. Klay Thompson is still stroking his deep balls on a rookie deal. Thompson is shooting career percentages from the field and three-point line, and he’s also averaging a career-high 18.2 points. The Warriors are dangerous due to their big play potential. Between the Splash Brothers’ shooting no lead is ever safe. The Warriors can turn a game around faster than any other team in the NBA.
18. Kyrie Irving
$5,915,880 / 7,459,924
People have been quick to turn on Uncle Drew this season. Initially Kyrie Irving was a fan favourite and a league darling, and after one subpar season his stock has fallen immensely. People need to remember he’s still a kid. Irving is 21 years old and is averaging 20.8 points and 5.9 assists over the first three years of his career. To put things in context, he’s actually younger than rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams. Irving will bounce back as he is extremely talented and has a ton of room to grow.
17. Nikola Vucevic
$1,892,280 / 2,902,757
Quietly, Big Vuc has put together another solid campaign. He’s averaging 14 points and nearly 11 rebounds, contributing 32 double-doubles this season. He’s also shooting about 51 percent from the field despite not being your typical big man. Vucevic is not afraid to take jumpers and can stretch the defense a bit. Afflalo and Vucevic are both on very nice complementary deals for the growing Magic team. When young teams like the Magic don’t overpay for their non-star starters, that’s when contenders are born.
16. P.J. Tucker
I could probably throw three more Suns on this list but Tucker stands out. Tucker was the 35th overall pick in 2006. He quickly washed out of the NBA and spent five years playing pro ball in foreign leagues. He resurfaced last season as a Sun and has come into his own this season, playing over 30 minutes a game for Phoenix. On a team full of players looking for a second chance or reinventing themselves, Tucker is no different.
15. Kendall Marshall
The Lakers sort of fluked out into a sneaky gem here. After getting traded to the Wizards by the Suns, Marshall was released. After a brief hiatus from basketball, Marshall has found a niche with the Lakers. Although he still struggles immensely with scoring, he is a “true” point guard. Marshall is averaging 9.3 assists a game in less than 30 minutes per contest this season. He’s also on a minimum contract.
14. Andre Drummond
$2,462,400 / 2,568,360
Drummond is raw, he’s extremely raw. In fact I don’t believe Drummond has truly scratched the surface of what he’s capable of, which is an absolute compliment when you consider this guy’s production already. Drummond is averaging 13 and 13, shooting close to 62 percent from the field. He doesn’t dominate every single night but he’s on the verge of a takeover. He’s extremely efficient and doesn’t require any plays to be run for him in the offense to be effective.
13. Ty Lawson
$10,786,517 / 11,595,506 / 12,404,495 / 13,213,482
Lawson is having a career-year. His personal success this season has been downcast a bit by the rather disappointing campaign of the Nuggets overall. Lawson’s 18.2 points, 9.0 assists and 1.6 steals a game are all career-highs. The Nuggets are in a transitional period but the one piece they should be adamant on keeping is Lawson. Although $10-plus million over the next four years may not seem like a bargain, when you get a max contract-worth player for less it’s always a bargain.
12. Damian Lillard
$3,202,290 / 3,340,920
Although some argued he shouldn’t have made the All-Star Game, being the only player ever to play in five All-Star events shows the overall talent this kid has. Lillard is an exciting player; he can launch with the best of them from deep, or get to the rack with his sneaky, speedy wheels. He’s had a bevy of late-game heroics this season, and along with LaMarcus Aldridge, he’s been a key piece for the surprising Blazers squad. The Blazers have come down a bit since the All-Star break but are still sitting fifth overall in the brutal Western Conference.
11. Arron Afflalo
$7,562,500 / 7,562,500
Afflalo has slowed down substantially since just before the All-Star break, but he’s still having a career-year. He’s a gifted shooter and above average defensively. Although he isn’t and will never be a franchise player he’s very capable of being the third-best player on a championship team. He’s averaging a career-high in points and has scored 25 or more points 12 times this season–on 11 of the 12 occasions he shot above 50 percent from the field. Afflalo is valuable because he doesn’t force his shot, and doesn’t need to be the “guy” to takeover.
10. Mike Conley
$7,900,000 / 8,760,000 / 9,680,000
Conley is extremely underrated. Although he’s not as flashy as some of his point guard counterparts, he’s scoring a career-high 17.1 points per game and remains dominant on the defensive end. He’s the Grizzlies second-most valuable player, and along with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, he’s led the Grizzlies to franchise-best years. After a slow start this season for the squad, Conley has the Grizzlies playing their best basketball at the right time of the year. His remaining years on the contract are more than fair. A franchise point guard you never have to pay more than $10 million? Should we all be so lucky.
9. Anthony Davis
Davis is either exceeding or matching expectations depending on where you stood on the lanky Kentucky alumni. Davis is on pace with Karl Malone and Tim Duncan in terms of second-year production. Although the Hornets aren’t playing great basketball you can’t help but feel the team’s future is bright if they can stay healthy and sign Davis to a long-term deal.
8. Goran Dragic
$7,500,000 / 7,500,000
Although Afflalo might’ve originally been the favourite for the MIP award (Most Improved Player), it’s recipient at this point should be Dragic. You could make a case based on his excellent play this season that he’s been a top-three point guard in basketball. He’s averaging a career-high 20.4 points per game, on an unreal shooting line of 51-42-76. He can single-handedly just end teams. Lucky for Dragic, he may not have to. Fellow breakout star Eric Bledsoe has returned to the lineup after an extended injury hiatus.
7. Paul George
Next season Paul George is getting paid. But he is serving the last year of his rookie deal currently. Anytime you get a year out of a top-ten player on a rookie deal, well… that’s a win. Chalk it up. George is one of, if not the best two-way player in basketball. Despite recent struggles with his shooting stroke, he remains one of the game’s most valuable players. He will have to take his game even further this postseason if the Pacers want to upset the back-to-back champions.
6. Steph Curry
$9,887,642 / 10,629,213 / 11,370,786 / 12,112,359
This might be the best contract in the NBA. Steph Curry has become a superstar. Earning his first All-Star appearance this year, Curry is already being heralded as the greatest shooter of all time by many. Due in part to a past of injuries, the Warriors locked Curry down on an extremely generous deal. Curry is well worth a max in today’s game and although he does turn over the ball far too often, he’s lethal from virtually anywhere on the court.
5. Chandler Parsons
What’s better than a future All-Star on a first-round rookie contract? A future All-Star on a second-round rookie contract. The Rockets are paying Chandler Parsons pennies. The former 38th overall pick is averaging a career-high 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest. The Rockets are title contenders this year and Parsons is a big part of their success. The Rockets are especially deadly when Parsons moves the basketball, boasting a 12-2 record when Parsons has six or more assists.
4. Isaiah Thomas
Like Parsons, Thomas was clearly overlooked on draft day. Taken as the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has had to earn every minute of game time. He’s averaging a career-best 20.6 points and 6.4 assists, both of which are hefty increases from his previous mark. The Kings still haven’t figured it out but they may have the right set of guys in place. Keep in mind, 60th overall pick Thomas leads the team in win shares. His 7.6 win shares are more than former fifth overall pick DeMarcus Cousins, former eight overall pick Rudy Gay, former second overall pick Derrick Williams, and former 12 overall pick Jason Thompson. All four of the aforementioned teammates also have more NBA experience.
3/2/1. The San Antonio Spurs Big 3: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
The Spurs just get it. There isn’t a better run franchise in sports. Tim Duncan could be making max money but he took a hefty pay cut to help the team and is only making $10,361,446 this season. Tony Parker is making $12 million and took less than a max despite being a Finals MVP. Ginobili is making $7 million a year currently and in the 2014-15 season. While Ginobili and Duncan are past their prime, it’s no wonder this team continues to rack up more wins than any other team in the Western Conference. They are all about sacrifice. Even if you aren’t a Spurs fan, there isn’t an individual out there who can’t see the benefit of stars valuing the franchise over themselves.
What do you think?
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