The NBA has wealthy players because it is a generally high-paying league. Supposedly, more talent or more potential means more pay. But that is not always the case. Some players are overpaid and are producing much less than what they are being paid for. I can name many but in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s not talk about the negatives. Instead, we’ll take a look at the positives, that is if you’re looking at the point of view of team owners.
Owning an NBA team is balancing finances. That means that an owner must build a team with more than enough talent while trying to stay within the salary cap limit. This is tough to do but these owners have shrewd General Managers who do the job for them. One of them was to balance finances is to find bargains. Yes, there are bargains in the NBA. These players are those who are paid less than the numbers they are producing and less than their overall contributions to the team.
For this article, we excluded players who are in their rookie-scale contracts because those contracts are pre-determined. Now let’s take a look at who are the top bargain ballers in the NBA this season:
6. P.J. Tucker
When you take a look at P.J. Tucker’s numbers, you will say he is overpaid. At $8.3M, Tucker is only scoring 7.7 points per game while shooting at 43.3% from the floor. But when you look at the whole picture, he’s as underpaid as any of the names on this list. If you ask head coach Mike D’Antoni, he’ll tell you that Tucker is as important as anybody on his team. It’s just that Tucker isn’t sexy. No, he doesn’t have James Harden’s step-back three-point baskets nor Russell Westbrook’s furious drives to the basket. But when you look at the Houston Rockets, P.J. Tucker may be their MVP.
Tucker plays way bigger than his height. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with toughness and strength. This is one guy who is willing to battle every seven-footer in the league just to give Rockets the rebounds or protect the middle. When you have a small-ball team like the Rockets, Tucker is the biggest player on the team. And he’s 6-5. Sure, the Rockets get the points from Beard and Brodie, but it’s P.J. Tucker who does all the dirty work, for less than $10M per year. When you have to battle guys like Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Andre Drummond, Myles Turner, and Nikola Jokic among others and you’re below 6-6, that’s special.
5. Bogdan Bogdanovic
Bogdan Bogdanovic’s performance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup was an eye-opener of what this sweet-shooting guard could do when unleashed. Sure, he may not become a franchise player like Luka Doncic but he is an ideal second star on any team. This 27-year old Serbian is on the final year of a $27M contract which paid him $8.5M during the 2019-20 NBA season. Now $8.5M is a large sum of money for me, but when you play like Bogdan, that’s a bargain.
The 27th pick of the 2014 NBA draft was the leading scorer during the 2019 FIBA World Cup. This season, Bogdanovic averaged 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. He was one of only 20 players in the league who averaged at least 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.5 three-point baskets made per game. Among the 20, Bogdanovic and Paul George were the only player who played fewer than 31 minutes and Bogdanovic was the only player in the list who played fewer than 29 minutes per outing. Not bad, huh? Again, he may not become a franchise player but he’s a deadly scoring weapon for any team. Expect the Kings to bring him the Brink truck during the offseason.
4. Derrick Rose
You could make an argument that what Derrick Rose makes on the basketball court is just pocket change compared to what he makes in endorsement deals. In 2012, Rose signed a $185M deal with Adidas and even if his career has taken a slide due to injuries, he continues to be one of the brand’s top sellers. Those kinds of contracts make you think that Rose is merely playing ball to keep his basketball-related contracts alive and kicking. That could be one of the reasons why D-Rose agreed to sign a two-year deal worth $15M with the Detroit Pistons last summer. Of course, his injury history makes him a high-risk contractor so that adds too. But given Rose’s body of work during the 2019-20 season, he was underpaid.
This is no longer the D-Rose who won MVP in 2011 but if you take a look at his per 36-minutes average, this version is still putting up 25.1 points and 7.7 assists which are better than his 2011 MVP averages of 24.1 points and 7.4 assists. Rose shot the ball at 44.5% as the MVP but was shooting better this season at 49.0%. Sure, his three-point shooting is down this year compared to when he played for Minnesota. His defense has also been below average, as usual. But when the Pistons need Buckets, Rose delivers. How many times have we seen him hit game-winning or clutch baskets this season? At $8.3M? What a bargain!
Toronto’s super-sub was one of the key players on last season’s title-winning team. It was VanVleet who scored 22 points and made five three-pointers during the title-clinching game against the Warriors. He even finished runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 NBA Finals MVP voting. You know he was a good player off the bench but with Leonard gone this season, VanVleet has moved to the starting line-up and has played like a superstar.
VanVleet averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, and 2.4 three-pointers made per game this season. Not to mention that he is a pesky defender who has blossomed into a two-way player. Sure he is undersized, and he isn’t explosive nor is he super-athletic. But he’s a terrific shooter, an excellent passer, and a very smart basketball player. When the Raptors need big baskets, they have this pint-sized dynamo willing to take them. VanVleet will cash in during the offseason when he becomes a free agent but right now, while the season is unfinished and hanging in the balance, he is a bargain with a two-year $18M deal.
2. Montrezl Harrell
Steve Ballmer has made the most out of Montrezl Harrell. First, his Clippers got Harrell as an added piece of the Chris Paul trade and then they signed him to a two-year deal worth $12M one year later. Harrell has since become a key player on the star-studded Clippers team. Harrell earned his first double-digit scoring season in 2018 and increased it to 16.6 last season. This year, even with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George coming in, he’s putting up a career-high 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Harrell’s dramatic improvement earned him a call as one of the Finalists for the 2020 U.S. Men’s Basketball team. He doesn’t own a jump shot but he is still an elite scorer and is shooting at a high 58.0% field goal shooting. Harrell is ranked in the Top 26% in the league in post-up scoring, isolations, and pick and rolls. That just shows how good he is at putting the ball in the basket. He isn’t a solid defender though but you wouldn’t mind that for a player who is earning $6M this season.
1. Lou Williams
Lou Williams was one of the key pieces in the Chris Paul trade so you could say that it was perhaps one of the best trades that the Clippers have orchestrated. Not only did they get Montrezl Harrell, but they also bagged sixth man supreme Lou Williams who won the award last season. Williams earned $8M this season and that’s ridiculous considering he is averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.8 three-pointers in under 30 minutes of action per game this season. He is only one of 18 players in the NBA this season who are scoring 18 points with 5 assists this season.
The Clippers have Leonard and George but when those guys rest, the offense is turned over to Williams who is one of the most gifted offensive players we have ever seen. He is already 33-years old and he has lost some of his hops. But when it comes to creating openings and finding his sweet spots, there is no one better than Sweet Lou. Williams is one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA and he is earning less than $10M per year because he isn’t a star or a starter.