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11 NBA Players Who Are Criminally Underpaid

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2012

11 NBA Players Who Are Criminally Underpaid

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    I know what you're thinking: NBA players can be underpaid? Isn't this the same league that gives out nine-figure contracts to Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Rashard (bleepin') Lewis?

    If you turn your focus, however, from the dollar amounts to the market value, then yes, there are plenty of underpaid players in the NBA. For every Rashard Lewis contract, there are five players who are grossly underpaid.

    Lewis is the face of bad NBA contracts, and as the league's second-highest-paid player, he certainly deserves that spot.

    But who headlines the list of undervalued talent? Is it the rookie stuck on the back end of his rookie-scaled contract, waiting for that big extension? Or maybe it's the versatile role player who doesn't have a single "great" characteristic to sell on the free-agent market?

    If it was easier to spot these value players, they probably wouldn't come so cheaply. But they are all over this league.

    Here are the 11 most criminally underpaid players today.

10. Danny Green

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    Stats: 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 43.6 three-point percentage

    2011-12 Salary: $884,293

     

    In terms of percentages, no pending free agent may be in line for the type of pay raise that Green can expect.

    At 6'6" and 210 lbs, he has ideal size for the wing and uses his length to harass opposing offenses.

    He more than doubled his career games this season (66 this year, just 28 in his first two seasons combined) thanks largely to an improved three-point shot.

    To be fair, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tends to get the most out of his role players, and former Spurs don't always see the same type of success when they leave San Antonio. But Green's game has enough dimensions that some team will pay the man.

9. George Hill and Darren Collison

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    Stats: 9.6 points, 2.9 assists (Hill); 10.3 points, 4.8 assists (Collison)

    2011-12 Salary: $2.09 million (Hill); $1.46 million (Collison)

     

    When Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird was named the 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year, there were virtually no arguments to be made.

    Bird had amassed a great deal of talent through smart drafting, wise spending on the free-agent market and winning far more trades than he lost.

    When he pried Collison from the Hornets, he grabbed the then-hottest young point guard in the league. Collison is an electric player who makes up for the lack of a reliable jumper with strength, quickness and good decision-making.

    As for Hill, Bird snagged him from San Antonio for the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard. In Hill, the Pacers got a tough, gritty point guard with plenty of postseason experience and the confidence to take and make big shots.

8. Brandon Bass

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    Stats: 12.5 points, 6.2 rebounds

    2011-12 Salary: $4 million

     

    While the rest of the Boston's roster may be in flux this offseason, it's hard to imagine Celtics general manager Danny Ainge letting Bass walk.

    Bass declined his $4.25 million option for 2012-13, largely due to a well-timed career season for the journeyman (the Celtics were his fourth team in his seven-year career).

    He set career numbers in nearly every major category and then posted 12 postseason games with double-digit outputs.

    He has yet to have a full-time starting role for an entire season (his 51 starts with Orlando in 2010-11 were a career high), but his steady play should have earned him a starting gig (and a starter's paycheck) for next season.

7. Shane Battier

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    Stats: 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals

    2011-12 Salary: $3.135 million

     

    In case you missed the NBA Finals (and judging by the ratings, you didn't), you might be asking why Battier is on this list.

    Well, his nightly contributions to the Heat's championship campaign did not always show up on the box score.

    He routinely guards the opposition's biggest scoring threat (he guarded all five positions in the finals), which often allows LeBron James to roam on defense and save his wind for the offensive end.

    He's also been a steadying veteran presence to the locker room and an above-average threat from three-point land.

    His value to Miami is hard to quantify in dollars, but it'd be even harder if he hit the free-agent market and brought that leadership to an up-and-coming franchise.

6. Kyle Lowry

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    Stats: 14.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds

    2011-12 Salary: $5.75 million

     

    Lowry nearly improved his numbers across the board this season, despite seeing two fewer minutes a night this season and having such a poor relationship with Rockets coach Kevin McHale that he has reportedly asked to be traded if McHale remains with the club.

    Lowry's career started slowly in Memphis and then failed to take off during his early tenure with Houston. When Lowry hit the free-agent market in 2009, he failed to draw a major contract and returned to Houston on a four-year, $24 million deal.

    Since his return, Lowry has entered the upper half of the league's point guards, despite making significantly less than some of his less talented peers: Andre Miller ($7.8 million), Kirk Hinrich ($8.0 million) and Mo Williams ($8.5 million).

    Lowry should expect a more generous free-agent market when his current deal expires after the 2013-14 season.

5. Serge Ibaka

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    Stats: 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks

    2011-12 Salary: $2.25 million

     

    Ibaka is far from a one-dimensional player, but it bears noting that he averaged just under 1.5 more blocks than the league's second-best shot-blocker this season (JaVale McGee, 2.16 blocks).

    His ability to protect the paint can transform the Thunder from an average defense to an elite unit.

    But unlike most dominant shot-blockers, Ibaka also possesses one of the game's premier mid-range jumpers among forwards.

    It's his jumper that's arguably his most important asset to this team. When coach Scott Brooks plays his defensive-minded unit, he brings reliable offense unlike fellow defensive-stoppers Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins.

    And when Brooks looks for points, Ibaka can remain on the floor both through his own scoring and the spacing his jumper can create to open lanes for slashers James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

4. Jrue Holiday

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    Stats: 13.5 points, 4.5 assists

    2011-12 Salary: $1.74 million

     

    The Philadelphia 76ers put the league on notice when they disposed of the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs and then took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

    But their young point guard had put the basketball world on notice since being named the 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year after a sensational high school senior campaign at Campbell Hall School (Calif.).

    Holiday's numbers dipped slightly this year, but he remains one of the game's premier young point guards.

    The 76ers hold a bargain $2.6 million team option for the upcoming season, but they will certainly be adding some zeros to his next contract.

3. Brandon Jennings

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    Stats: 19.1 points, 5.5 assists

    2011-12 Salary: $2.49 million

     

    While Jennings made his "measly" $2.49 million this season, the Bucks were busy doling out nearly $13.5 million to Drew Gooden and Beno Udrih.

    Jennings has electrified the NBA since breaking Milwaukee's franchise record of most points scored in a game by a rookie (55). He has improved his scoring and shooting percentages in each of his three seasons, while decreasing his turnovers even as his minutes have increased.

    He should be energized this season as the Bucks move away from the slower-paced, inside-out attack they have featured in the past, as former All-Star big man Andrew Bogut was sent to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for electric scorer Monta Ellis, among others.

    Jennings and Ellis may face some unfavorable defensive matchups throughout the year (neither stands taller than 6'3"), but that should have no effect on Jennings' overall numbers nor the salary increase he'll see in the near future.

2. Greg Monroe

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    Stats: 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists

    2011-12 Salary: $3 million

     

    Here's the list of players to whom the Pistons paid more money than Monroe this season: Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Tayshaun Prince, (Chicago Bull) Richard Hamilton, Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Will Bynum.

    Ouch.

    But while the rest of his teammates (past and present) were counting their money, Monroe was busy posting the ninth-most double-doubles (30) and grabbing the 11th-most rebounds per game (9.7).

    While scouts praised Monroe's passing ability coming out of Georgetown, many questioned his ability to score consistently against NBA defenders.

    He's been better than an average scorer in the league, posting the 38th-best scoring numbers in the NBA last season.

    He's one of the game's most promising centers in the NBA, and he could see an astronomical raise once his rookie deal expires.

1. Blake Griffin

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    Stats: 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds

    2011-12 Salary: $5.73 million

     

    Does Griffin still need a more reliable post game? Yes.

    Does he need to bring a more consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor? Sure.

    But even with his flaws, has there been a more important player in terms of transforming his franchise in recent history? Not even close.

    Griffin not only captured the collective eye of the NBA fans with his nightly highlight reels, but he has turned the Clippers into viable contenders for Los Angeles with their Staples Center brethren.

    Without Griffin, the Clippers never enter the realm of discussion regarding Chris Paul. With Griffin, not only does Paul sign on for two seasons with the Clippers, he's also considering making this club his long-term home.

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