A lasting impact of the 2011 NBA lockout was that NBA teams have become increasingly wary of overspending. Teams on the verge of a championship or legitimate contenders have traded away valuable contributors to avoid going over the salary cap and paying the punitive luxury tax. In the 2012/2013 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies traded James Harden and Rudy Gay respectively to avoid that problem. After winning the 2011 NBA title, the Dallas Mavericks let go of several members of their championship core to insure salary cap flexibility going forward.
Given the punitive tax penalties under the new CBA, acquiring NBA talent at team friendly or bargain prices has become increasingly important. This article lists ten NBA players that are undervalued in terms of their contracts and are on team friendly deals. It can be argued that someone like LeBron James, who is the eighth highest paid player in the NBA this year at just over $19 million, is undervalued and worth significantly more. While this may be true, there are limits to how much individual players can be payed in the NBA and LeBron did willingly take less money to insure the Miami Heat signed Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. This article will subjectively look at bargain players, rather than discuss high priced players like LeBron.
Also young All-Star players on rookie deals are great bargains. However the NBA has a rookie wage scale and so there is no way to fairly compensate players such as Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis and as a result this article does not list any lottery picks on their rookie contracts. This list will aim to pick out less common players, along with some underpaid superstars, and will be subjective while considering the salary implications of theese players. All statistics are valid as of February 10th, 2014.
10 Robin Lopez, $5.9 Million
On July 10th 2013, the New Orleans Pelicans traded away Robin Lopez in a three team trade that sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers and landed them Tyreke Evans from the Sacramento Kings. Lopez is a role player but his presence has allowed Portland's star player, LaMarcus Aldridge, to log more minutes at power forward, have a breakout season and help the Blazers compile a 36-15 record. Lopez has featured heavily with the Blazers and worked his way into being a major part of their team. Lopez makes just over $5.9 million this season and will make just over $6.1 million on the last year of his contract. His contract is extremely fair considering he is the defensive anchor of a team headed to the playoffs and is averaging 10.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 1.5 BPG, while shooting 53% in 31 minutes of playing time.
9 Kyle Lowry, $ 6.21 million
Kyle Lowry makes this list as he has been one of the most consistent point guards in the Eastern Conference this season. Averaging 16.6 PPG and 7.4 APG, while shooting over 39% from three point range this season, his omission from the All-Star team drew surprise from many NBA observers. Lowry followed up that omission by being the Easter Conference player of the week for the week between January 27th and February 2nd. He has helped the Toronto Raptors accumulate a 27-24 record this season, third best in the weak Eastern Conference, and they are poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Lowry is making $6.21 million this season, which is 113th in the league.
8 Jimmy Butler, $1.113 Million
Jimmy Butler was drafted outside the lottery as he was the last pick of the first round by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 draft. Butler is scheduled to make $1,112,880 this season and $2,008,748 next season and he is the 341st highest payed player in the NBA. In a league that values perimeter players who are athletic, shoot three pointers effectively and can defend, Butler is one of the most cost-effective players to fill this particular role. He averages 12.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 2.0 steals. While his shooting numbers are down from last season, he has shown the potential to shoot a high percentage from three point range as exhibited by his shooting over 38% last season.
7 7 . Paul Millsap, $9.5 Million
The upcoming All-Star game on February 16th will mark the first All-Star game appearance for Paul Millsap. The 29 year old Atlanta Hawks forward is averaging 17.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG and 3 APG in just over 33 minutes of playing time this year. This season Millsap is due to earn $9.5 million from the Atlanta Hawks and ff all the All-Star participants not on their original rookie contracts, Millsap and DeMar DeRozan make the least amount of money. So why have Millsap on this list and not DeRozan? Unlike DeRozan's contract, which pays him $9.5 million until the end of the 2016/2017 NBA season, Millsap's contract ends after the following season. He surprisingly signed just a 2 year, $ 19 million contract as a free-agent in the summer of 2013. According to BasketballReference.com, Millsap is tied for 12th in the NBA in defensive win shares and of the top 12 only two players make less money this year, with one being on a rookie contract.
6 Nikola Vucevic, $1.793 Million
The presence of the NBA rookie pay scale has allowed teams to acquire young, talented players and limit how much money they have to invest in them. Hence, most great rookie players such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard will always be great bargains thanks to the presence of a rookie pay scale. What makes Vucevic special is that he, like Jimmy Butler, was not a lottery pick and hence his contract is significantly cheaper than those players drafted just a few spots ahead of him. The Orlando Magic center was the 16th pick of the 2011 pick and is due to be paid $1,793,520 this season and $2,751,260 next year. Vucevic averages 13.3 PPG and 10.8 RPG this season on 49.8 % shooting and his rebounding numbers rank 8th in the league.
5 Chandler Parsons, $926,500
Continuing the trend of rookies drafted outside the lottery is Chandler Parsons. Unlike the previous rookies on this list, Parsons was not drafted in the first round at all. He was the 10th pick of the second round by the Houston Rockets in 2011. Parsons signed a four year contract worth $3,629,500 and is scheduled to make $926,500 this season and $964,750 next year. Parsons is the 3rd best player on a team with championship aspirations and averages 17.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 3.6 APG while shooting 49.9% from the field and 40.1% from three point range. Parsons' value to the Rockets was on full display in the summer of 2013, when Parsons was instrumental in helping the Rockets lure prized free agent Dwight Howard. Parsons spent time around Howard when he played at Florida (Howard was still part of the Orlando Magic) and they share the same agent. Parsons is the 361st highest player in the NBA.
4 Lance Stephenson, $1.005 Million
Lance Stephenson is another second round pick, playing out his rookie contract as a valuable piece on a contending team. Stephenson was the 10th pick of the second round in 2010 and signed a four year contract worth $3,360,000. This season, Stephenson's last under the current deal, will see him make $1,005,000. Stephenson has grown this season from a wildcard contributor to a more consistent two-way player for the Indiana Pacers. He is averaging career highs with 14.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 5.2 APG and has helped the Pacers post a league best 40-11 record. Stephenson has exhibited improved passing skills this year and his improved assist numbers have helped him accumulate four triple doubles this season, the highest number in the league. Stephenson is the 354th highest paid player in the NBA.
3 Goran Dragic, $7.5 Million
The Phoenix Suns point guard has had an eventful couple of weeks. He was omitted from the 2014 All-Star team, preventing him from collecting a $1 million bonus. He subsequently became the Western Conference player of the week by leading the Suns to a 3-0 record that week. He is averaging career highs of 20.4 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.6 RPG and has the Suns poised to make the playoffs where most prognosticators projected them having the worst record in the Western Conference. According to BasketballReference.com, Dragic is 10th in the NBA this year in terms of win shares and 4th in terms of offensive win shares. Dragic makes $7.5 million a year until 2015/2016 with the last year being a player option. Given his impact on the Suns this season and his being only 27 years old, his contract is a bargain.
2 Tony Parker, $12.5 Million
This All-Star game marks Tony Parker's 6th selection. His resume shows him to be a three time champion, a NBA finals MVP and three-time All-NBA team selection. He was a driving force behind the San Antonio Spurs making the 2013 NBA finals and is the best player on a 37-15 team this year. He is averaging 17.9 PPG and 6.3 APG while shooting 50%. Unlike his more celebrated contemporaries; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, Parker has enjoyed more consistent success and at the age of 31 is not considered old. His teams have advanced further in the playoffs on more occasions and he has been able to avoid injuries. Yet, Parker only earns $12.5 million this season. Thirty-eight players will be payed more than Parker this season. The aforementioned trio of point guards will all earn more than Parker this season and in Chris Paul's case, he'll make over $6 million more than Parker.
1 Stephen Curry, $11 Million
Stephen Curry averages 24.6 PPG and 9.1 APG while shooting over 40% from three point range. He is 5th in the NBA in scoring and 2nd in terms of assists for all qualifying players. He is making his first All-Star appearance this season. Curry is considered one of the most exciting players in the NBA and his selection to the All-Star team was courtesy of the fans. Curry is also only the 59th highest payed player in the NBA. He is in the first year of a four year $44 million deal and a major reason behind Curry's team friendly contract was fears over him being injury prone. That was because he played only 26 out 66 games in 2011/2012. Yet in three out of four of Curry's seasons he has played in at least 74 out of 82 games and has only missed three games this season.